Part 2: What is Calvinism and/or Reformed Theology?
Are Calvinism and Reformed Theology the Same Thing?
Many people use these terms interchangeably. It is currently popular to do so. I believe that it can be convincingly demonstrated that many Baptists who qualify as Calvinists prefer to use the word “Reformed” instead due to the fact that the term “Calvinist” comes saddled with a lot of negative baggage they’d rather avoid. I believe their desire to avoid the label “Calvinist” has very little to do with rejecting doctrines that are accurately identified as Calvinist, and much more to do with public relations.
In reality, the two terms are not at all identical. To be Calvinist in the strictest sense (a 5-point Calvinist) indicates that one affirms the doctrines of the TULIP acrostic:
T = total depravity
U= unconditional election
L = limited atonement
I = irresistible grace
P = perseverance of the saints
We’ll discuss each of these more thoroughly below. You should also know that Calvinists are not a monolithic group, meaning that they hold differing views on various points within the system itself. This is why giving a general overview of Calvinist doctrine may draw criticism from Calvinists who claim that their view is being “misrepresented.” Clearly, it is impossible to account for each and every stripe of Calvinism in an introductory article. For example, some call themselves Calvinists even if they reject the “L.” These can be referred to as Amyraldian, 4-point Calvinists, or moderate Calvinists.
What does it mean to be Reformed then? Prolific Arminian scholar, Roger Olson, explains:
“To historical and systematic theologians this rise of identification of ‘Reformed’ with ‘Calvinism’ and vice versa is annoying. Even many theologians strongly embedded in the Reformed tradition have scoffed at the idea that being Calvinist in soteriology is enough to make one historically-theologically Reformed. The two are related but distinct. And, in fact, many Protestants are Calvinist but not Reformed and many others are Reformed but not Calvinist.”
“Historically-theologically, being ‘Reformed’ means holding to the ‘three symbols of unity’—the Heidelberg Confession and Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort.”
“A case can even be made, and has been made, that Jacob Arminius and the early Remonstrants were Reformed but not Calvinist and that many non-Wesleyan Arminians since the seventeenth century belong to the wider Reformed category—historically and theologically.”
“…But unless you believe in infant baptism as the New Covenant equivalent of Old Covenant circumcision you are almost certainly not Reformed in the classical sense. And you really ought to stop calling yourself ‘Reformed.’ It’s like someone who doesn’t believe in or practice speaking in tongues calling himself/herself ‘charismatic’ just because he/she raises hands in worship (while singing contemporary Christian songs).”
To the average layperson, the term “Calvinist” may come with a lot of negative baggage. The Gospel Coalition is a Calvinist organization, yet they discuss one common stereotype in their article, Why Are Calvinists So Mean?:
“The stereotype of the mean Calvinist exists for a reason. There’s a reason, after all, that clichés become clichés. If you spend any time in evangelical social media or have a more traveled experience in evangelical churches, you’ve been on the receiving end of a mean Calvinist before. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered at some point, “Why do those who subscribe to the doctrines of grace frequently seem so graceless? Is there something in particular about Calvinism that makes people mean?”
The article goes on to explain a number of reasons for why Calvinism has earned this stigma and a call to action to repair the damage.
As mentioned earlier, some higher forms of Calvinism (which may more accurately be referred to as more consistent forms of Calvinism) are known for particular positions that more moderate Calvinists may soften or reject all together. These moderate Calvinists may feel offended and misrepresented when a non-Calvinist assumes a definition of high Calvinism that they don’t hold.
To the contrary, the word “Reformed” may avoid triggering those negative connotations for the average layperson. Instead, they may associate the term “Reformed” with merely what it means to be Protestant as opposed to Roman Catholic, with a key focus on salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, not a result of good works, so that God alone receives all the glory. In other words, it raises no red flags.
I think it is clear at this point that when a new or prospective pastor prefers to refer to himself as “Reformed,” it usually means that he affirms Calvinist doctrine, but is loath to associate himself with the term “Calvinist.”
Let’s talk about TULIP. When learning about a particular belief system, I like to go straight to the source in order to let actual adherents of the view detail what they believe. In fact, I’m pretty adamant that that’s the best way to learn about a belief system rather than coming to conclusions about what someone believes based on sources that are negatively biased against it. The definitions of each doctrine of TULIP listed below are those of the well-respected and capable Calvinist theologian, R.C. Sproul. In my experience, Calvinists tend to keep their introductory presentations of TULIP restricted to the bare basics. Unfortunately, this contributes to confusion regarding the entailments that go along with each. Therefore, below Sproul’s definition, I am going to add additional information that I’ve noticed generally gets omitted.
T is for total depravity:
“As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, the entire human race fell, and our nature as human beings since the fall has been influenced by the power of evil…. The idea is that we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners….the idea of total in total depravity doesn’t mean that all human beings are as wicked as they can possibly be. It means that the fall was so serious that it affects the whole person.”
Additional Relevant Information Regarding Total Depravity
Beyond the definition above, what Calvinists mean when they say “total depravity,” is actually more clearly stated as “total inability.” A common analogy they use to illustrate this is the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Lazarus was dead. He was completely incapable of hearing or responding to anything at all. All a corpse can do is lie there. This, says the Calvinist, is the state we are all in from birth. Jesus calling for Lazarus to “come out” is viewed as a parallel to the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual, enabling him/her to hear and respond positively to the Gospel message. The problem with using the story of Lazarus as analogous with our salvation is that the Bible doesn’t define “dead in sin” that way. In his article, Dead Means Dead!, Leighton Flowers points out that not even the Calvinist applies the word “dead” that consistently. Calvinists, “all affirm that the ‘DEAD’ are at least able to respond negatively to the gracious truth of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).” The question is can they respond positively? Flowers lists five examples in which “’dead’ doesn’t mean moral inability.” I’ll cite the first three:
- “Jesus referred to the church in Sardis as ‘DEAD’ and called them to ‘wake up’ (Rev 3). Given Christ’s use of the idiomatic term ‘DEAD’ in reference to this church, should we presume that his hearers cannot respond positively to Christ’s appeal in this passage as well?”
- “The Prodigal was ‘DEAD/lost’ then ‘alive/found’ demonstrating that the term ‘DEAD’ is idiomatic for ‘separated by rebellion’ not ‘innate moral inability’ (Luke 15:24).”
- “’When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15).’” Flowers asks, “Are we born ‘DEAD’ according to James? Or is DEATH birthed in those who sin after its ‘full grown?’”
You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Total Depravity at the following link:
U is for unconditional election.
“God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.”
This is a much toned down definition of unconditional election. Therefore, I am going to cite the more comprehensive one provided by Wayne Grudem:
“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” (emphasis mine)
Additional Relevant Information Regarding Unconditional Election
A logical question which arises is, if God only chose some people to save before creation, didn’t He, by default, also choose the rest of the people to be tortured in hell for eternity? The answer to that question is going to depend on which Calvinist you ask. There are those that answer affirmatively, meaning that they acknowledge that this indicates that God had to have also chosen those who would go to hell before creation. This is referred to as “double predestination” in that God both predestined the elect to salvation and the reprobate to damnation. John Calvin taught double predestination. Examples of Calvinists following him in this are Jonathan Edwards and John Piper.
Other Calvinists, such as Emil Brunner, holds to “single predestination,” meaning God predestines the elect to salvation, but doesn’t predestine the non-elect to damnation. Brunner argues that while he believes the Bible does clearly teach the first, it never clearly teaches the second so we just shouldn’t go there either. If you’d like a more full explanation of Brunner trying to square that circle you can check out R.C. Sproul’s article, Is Double Predestination Biblical?
Then there are the Calvinists (probably the majority position) who prefer to straddle the fence between the two positions above. Sproul is one such example. They hold that single predestination isn’t tenable, but double predestination needs to be carefully nuanced. In the article linked above he writes, “The distortion of double predestination looks like this:
“There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. […] This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.”
Sproul says this is not the case. He argues:
“In this view [the classic Reformed position] predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.”
What Sproul is getting at is that, sure, double predestination is the only position one can hold without choosing to live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance. However, while God is certainly 100% responsible for the salvation of the elect, He is simultaneously 0% responsible for the damnation of the non-elect because He deals with these two groups differently.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking: What in the world? Speak English Sproul. Daniel Hyde, writing for Ligonier Ministries in Predestination: What Does it Mean for the Non-Elect, breaks it down for us:
“Preterition is God’s passing over some when He choose others. Condemnation is God’s actual consigning the passed over to eternal punishment. Condemnation, therefore, is subsequent to preterition. In other words, election and reprobation are not precisely parallel, as God’s positive choice in grace is what makes us elect, while His withholding of grace by passing by means that others will be left in their sins and because of that are therefore condemned by God.” (emphasis mine)
Therefore, it’s not that God has actually made the non-elect reprobate before creation, it’s just that He completely “passed over” them such that He would never enable them to have faith, repent and believe. I can’t imagine feeling any better about this than original double predestination. In fact, it sounds an awful lot to me like they’ve inserted God in the role of the priest and the Levite who pass by the man lying half dead in the ditch in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Unconditional Election at the following link:
I also highly recommend Dr. Adam Harwood’s sections on predestination and election in his Christian Theology book.
L is for limited atonement.
“Did God simply send Christ to the cross to make salvation possible, or did God, from all eternity, have a plan of salvation by which, according to the riches of His grace and His eternal election, He designed the atonement to ensure the salvation of His people? Was the atonement limited in its original design? I prefer not to use the term limited atonement because it is misleading. I rather speak of definite redemption or definite atonement, which communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him.”
Additional Relevant Information Regarding Limited Atonement
This is the doctrine many moderate Calvinists reject. According to limited atonement, God did not die for the non-elect. I like what David Allen says about it on p. 71 of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique:
“Limited atonement is a doctrine in search of a text. No one can point to any text in Scripture that states clearly and unequivocally that Christ died for the sins of a limited number of people to the exclusion of others. Most Calvinists admit this. Alternatively, a dozen clear texts in the New Testament explicitly affirm Christ died for the sins of all people, and another half dozen indirectly suggest it.”
Essentially, limited atonement is a doctrine that Calvinists deduce due to the presuppositions required by their systematic.
You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Limited Atonement at the following link:
I is for irresistible grace.
“In historic Reformation thought, the notion is this: regeneration precedes faith. We also believe that regeneration is monergistic…. it means that the work of regeneration in the human heart is something that God does by His power alone—not by 50 percent His power and 50 percent man’s power, or even 99 percent His power and 1 percent man’s power. It is 100 percent the work of God. He, and He alone, has the power to change the disposition of the soul and the human heart to bring us to faith.”
Additional Relevant Information Regarding Irresistible Grace
Sproul did not flesh out the “irresistible” part of irresistible grace. It means exactly what it sounds like. Calvinists do not believe individuals have the ability to resist this grace, meaning once you are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (which is required for you to be able to demonstrate saving faith), you will be saved. So what about the Gospel call that goes out to all? Don’t some resist this? Calvinists break that down into two distinct types of calling: a “general calling” that goes out to all, and an “effective calling” that goes out only to the “elect.” Calvinist scholar Wayne Grudem explains this in his condensed systematic theology book, Christian Beliefs. He defines “effective calling” on p. 96-97:
“This calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith. Because it comes from God and always results in saving faith, it is sometimes referred to as effective calling.”
He defines “general calling” on p. 97:
“But there is a broader sense of ‘calling’ that refers to any preaching of the gospel to anyone, whether they respond or not. In distinction from effective calling, which always brings a response, we can talk about the ‘gospel call’ in general, which goes forth to all people, and which is sometimes referred to as external calling or general calling.”
Dr. Lemke treats this topic extensively in his section of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique. He cites numerous Old and New Testament texts which affirm resistible grace; he cites examples of resistible grace in the ministry and teachings of Jesus; he cites resistible grace in the all-inclusive invitations in Scripture, all-inclusive invitations in the prophets, all-inclusive invitations offered by Jesus, all-inclusive invitations in the proclamation and epistles of the early church, and all-inclusive invitations in John’s Revelation; as well as resistible grace in descriptions of how to be saved in the teachings of Jesus (pp. 136-150). Specifically regarding the Calvinist distinction between “effective” and “general” calling, Lemke writes:
“These verses mention no difference between a ‘general call’ and a ‘specific call,’ or between ‘common grace’ and ‘enabling irresistible grace.’ Therefore, when we see the same all-inclusive invitation over and over again in the various genres of Scripture, the question must be asked if the Calvinist theological system is doing justice to the text. Calvinists should take seriously Paul’s admonition in Rom. 9:20 (NIV): ‘But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?’” (p. 147)
Regeneration precedes faith? You may have noticed that this Calvinist doctrine also comes pre-packaged when the Lazarus story is used as a salvation analogy (an application the Biblical text does not make, by the way). On p. 99 Grudem writes:
“After the invitation to respond to the gospel is given, God must bring about a change in an individual’s heart before he or she is able to respond in faith. That change, a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us, is sometimes called regeneration. We play no role in this regeneration; it is completely an act of God.”
In his article titled, Does Regeneration Precede Faith, Flowers cites 16 passages that list faith as logically prior to being granted “new life” (regeneration). Even the beloved Calvinist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, could not get behind this Calvinist teaching. He says in his sermon titled, The Warrant of Faith:
“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.”
Another logical question that arises here: where is man’s responsibility in all of this? Sure, we don’t “earn” salvation. No non-Calvinist believes that. But where is our responsibility to believe? Calvinists view salvation as a pie, and any size “slice” that man is responsible for, reduces God’s “slice” of glory by an equal amount. For non-Calvinists, salvation isn’t viewed as a zero-sum game (the pie analogy). Instead, 100% of an individual’s salvation is God’s gift, and 100% of an individual’s salvation is his/her responsibility.
On Calvinism, God’s pre-creation decree determined who He would elect to salvation. Also, if God decreed before creation to “pass over” the non-elect, thus not enabling them to have faith, repent, and believe, then how is it just for God to cast them into hell for eternity? What is the role of man’s free will, if any? Most modern Calvinists have an answer for that called compatibilism.
If asked what man’s free will is, most people (who aren’t familiar with Calvinism) will assume a libertarian definition of free will. Leighton Flowers gives an excellent definition of libertarian free will (which he shortens to LFW) as it relates to man’s salvation in his article The Doctrine of Free Will :
“…the categorical ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action.” He continues, “So, in relation to soteriology, LFW is mankind’s ability to accept or reject God’s appeal to be reconciled through faith in Christ. Given that mankind is held responsible for how they respond to Christ and His words (John 12:48), there is no biblical or theological reason to suggest that mankind is born unable to respond to His powerful, life-giving words (Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Rm. 10:17; John 6:63; 20:31*). It makes no practical sense to hold mankind responsible (response-able) to Christ’s words, if indeed they are unable-to-respond to those words, nor is it ever explicitly taught in Scripture.”
Libertarian free will is very different from compatibilist free will. Compatibilism. The very name indicates that it is an attempt to posit that man’s free will can indeed be compatible with God’s deterministic decrees. Grudem explains compatibilism on p. 87 of the book cited above:
“Many believe that if the doctrine of election is true, then we aren’t really free. The difficulty in thinking this way is that many different definitions and assumptions surround the word free, and these differences easily lead to misunderstanding. In this case it is helpful to use a term other than free so as to communicate more carefully what we want to say… We aren’t forced to make choices contrary to our own will. We ultimately do what we desire to do.” (emphasis mine)
Did you see what he did there? You’re free because you’re choosing to do what you want to do. Since you’re actively choosing to do what you want to do, it is just for God to condemn you to hell for those decisions. The catch is, unless God has chosen before creation to elect you to salvation, granting you regeneration, you cannot desire to have faith, repent or believe. This is a desire God did not decree you the ability to have. Compatibilism as a concept cannot be found in the Bible. It’s a philosophical construct conceived to rescue God from shouldering the responsibility for man’s decision to reject Him, even though the rejection was decreed before creation. In my opinion, it isn’t successful.
You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Irresistible Grace at the following link:
P is for perseverance of the saints.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, ‘He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end’ (Philippians 1:6). Therein is the promise of God that what He starts in our souls, He intends to finish. So the old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance of the saints is this: If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.”
Additional Relevant Information Regarding Perseverance of the Saints
This is very similar to what non-Calvinist Baptists would refer to as “once saved always saved” or “eternal security.” Flowers has this to say in his article Can You Lose Your Salvation? Once Saved Always Saved?:
“Those of us who hold to ‘The Corporate View of Election’ (the most widely held view of Southern Baptist biblical scholars), likewise affirm the Calvinistic doctrine that ‘those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation.’ Some Calvinists feel it is inconsistent for those of us who deny any part of the TULIP doctrines to try and maintain the doctrine of perseverance. This accusation, however, is misapplied because it fails to recognize that we affirm the effectual work of regeneration, just like our Calvinistic brethren. We disagree as to the ‘ordo salutis’ (order of salvation) in that we do not affirm the concept of pre-faith regeneration (irresistible grace). Instead we believe as John clearly stated, ‘These are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. -John 20:31”
You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Perseverance of the Saints at the following link:
Hidden Terms and Conditions
Did you notice the magnitude of the additional relevant information baked in, but not clarified, in most of Sproul’s definitions of TULIP? In my experience, these get glossed over in Calvinist presentations, and that includes the vast majority of the ones I’ve heard preached from the pulpit. To me, the latter often comes across as dizzying double-speak, which is precisely why I believe laypeople unfamiliar with what Calvinism teaches can sit under a Calvinist pastor for quite some time and never actually comprehend what that pastor is actually teaching. As with so many other scenarios in which someone selling you something wants to get you to sign on the dotted line before too many specifics are examined, that fine print can be a doozy.
Will the Real Contradiction Please Stand Up?
Let me be clear: the fact that a Calvinist is employing what the non-Calvinist clearly discerns to be double-speak, does not also mean that the Calvinist is lying. Calvinists frequently appeal to mystery when simultaneously holding views that are mutually exclusive. There is not anything necessarily wrong with appealing to mystery. When it comes to the Bible there are certainly going to be mysteries that our finite minds can’t grasp. From a non-Calvinist perspective, I consider it perfectly reasonable to appeal to mystery when a Calvinists asks me how God knows everything. I don’t know how He knows. The Bible says He does and I believe it. Most Calvinists do not accept that particular appeal to mystery, and argue that God knows everything by virtue of the fact that He has determined all that will come to pass.
By the same token, the non-Calvinist does not recognize some of the mysteries Calvinists appeal to as valid. The non-Calvinist often views some of the mysteries Calvinists appeal to, not as valid mystery, but as an acceptance of a state of cognitive dissonance in that they have accepted that two mutually exclusive claims are simultaneously true. (In the opinion of the non-Calvinist, of course. It’s certainly fair for the Calvinist to disagree with this assessment and provide a defense.) However, it would be unfair to say that the Calvinist is lying, because in the mind of the Calvinist, they’ve decided to suspend reason to hold a particular view. Therefore, for them, making two contradictory claims is not a lie. For example, Grudem makes the following statement regarding God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility:
“Therefore, if we respond to Christ’s invitation in a positive way, we can honestly say that we chose to respond to Christ while also saying that it was (in ways we cannot fully understand) ordained by God. If we can’t fully understand how these two things can be true at the same time, then we must acknowledge that there is mystery here. At least in this age, we cannot completely grasp this mystery.” (p. 88)
From the pulpit, this commonly gets illustrated using Charles Spurgeon’s famous train track analogy:
“Just as the rails of a train (track), which run parallel to each other, appear to merge in the distance, so the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, which seem separate from each other in this life will merge in eternity.”
The non-Calvinist may rightly point out that the merging of train tracks in the distance is an optical illusion. They never do meet in reality. The problem for many non-Calvinists is that Calvinist leaders often leave the issue there, and don’t continue by expounding on the fact that accepting this concept at face value entails the acceptance of an underlying philosophical construct many people would be less willing to adopt when applied to theology, if they understood that they were embracing it.
In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Calvinist J.I. Packer’s offers a defense of this accepted cognitive dissonance, which he calls an antinomy:
“The whole point of antinomy- in theology, at any rate- is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can be true together.” (p. 18-19)
In footnote number 24 of Clay Jones’s book, Why Does God Allow Evil, he challenges the wisdom of this reasoning:
“The trouble for Packer and Sproul and other determinists is explaining how we know when a contradiction between two theologies is only an apparent contradiction and not a real one. Obviously, if it were a real contradiction, then one of the views would be necessarily false. What would we say to a cultist who, when we pointed out a contradiction in his or her theology, replied, ‘It is only an apparent contradiction, not a real one’?” (p. 221)
Calvinist scholars also realize this is a potentially dangerous thought process. In his book, The Providence of God: Contours of Christian Theology, Calvinist Paul Helm notes that “appealing to an antinomy could be a license for accepting nonsense.” (p. 66) The non-Calvinist may argue that is exactly what the Calvinist has done. Have you ever heard this fleshed out from the pulpit? I haven’t.
There are a few more Calvinist views that I believe are important to clarify: original sin as inherited guilt, a definition of God’s sovereignty which entails exhaustive divine determinism, and the two wills of God.
Original Sin as Inherited Guilt:
On p. 63 of Grudem’s book he writes:
““We received not only Adam’s sinful nature, but also his sin-produced guilt. Adam’s action resulted not only in his own guilt, but also in the guilt of every other human… Therefore, when Adam sinned, God thought of us all as having sinned.”
Dr. Adam Harwood addresses the topic of original sin in his section of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique, and describes two basic Christian views of original sin:
“Inherited guilt is the view that all people inherit from Adam sinful inclinations, mortality, and the guilt of Adam’s sin. Inherited consequences is the view that all people inherit from Adam sinful inclinations and mortality, not the guilt of his sin.” P. 17
Why does this matter? It impacts ones answer to the question of where babies go when they die. Calvinists have differing views. Some argue that all babies are saved with a variety of explanations. There is the age of accountability argument. Some say that God has providentially ordered the universe such that any baby that dies was indeed one of God’s elect. Some, like Luther, believe that babies of believers are all saved. Some, like Augustine, believe that babies may possibly be saved if baptism is administered before they die in order to cleanse them from the guilt that is imputed to them from Adam’s sin. All of those are guesses since the Bible doesn’t speak explicitly to it. In my opinion, it’s one of many unnecessary problems that the non-Biblical doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt creates.
It also creates major Christological issues. How did Jesus, born of Mary, escape the stain of original sin as inherited guilt? Two weird doctrines have been devised in an attempt to address this complication: the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception (that Mary herself was born sinless due to God’s special intervention), and the Protestant idea that sin is passed sexually through males, but not females (therefore Jesus couldn’t have inherited it from Mary). In any case, I highly recommend Dr. Harwood’s The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal.
A Definition of God’s Sovereignty Which Entails Exhaustive Divine Determinism:
In his article, A Non-Calvinist, Relational View of God’s Sovereignty, Olson explains the Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereignty:
“Anyone who has studied Edwards or Piper knows they have a distinctive view of God’s sovereignty. It’s enjoying great popularity, especially among twenty-something Christians. According to it, whatever happens is planned, ordained and governed by God. Another way of saying that is that God foreordains and renders certain everything that happens without exception. As John Piper has said, according to his view, if a dirty bomb were to land in downtown Minneapolis, that would be from God.”
“Many people simply believe this view is what is meant by ‘God’s sovereignty’ and anything else is a denial of God’s sovereignty. If God is not the all-determining reality, then he is not sovereign. Or, as Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul likes to say, if there is one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not God. Or, as British Calvinist Paul Helm says, not only every atom and molecule but also every thought and intention is under the control of God.”
“According to all versions of it [divine determinism], all events are traceable back to God who controls history down to every detail according to a blueprint. God has never taken a risk. God micromanages history and individuals’ lives. Nothing surprises God. Nothing can happen that is contrary to God’s will.”
“Now, of course, there are many versions of divine determinism. Hardly any advocate of that view likes my label for it. Sproul, for example, adamantly rejects ‘determinism’ as a descriptor of his view. However, a quick look at any major English dictionary will reveal why it’s a fair descriptor. By whatever means, even if through ‘secondary causes,’ God determines what will happen and that determination is as Helm says ‘fine grained.’ Nothing at all escapes it.”
In his article, Reformed, or Calvinist, or Both? An Important Distinction, Olson makes one more clarification, “Some Calvinists will deny divine determinism of all events, but they usually mean that God does not cause sin and evil; he only renders it certain (the words of Charles Hodge).”
Olson is a proponent of what he refers to as a “relational” view of God’s sovereignty that I believe far more accurately represents God’s revelation to us through Scripture:
“Oord, one of the editors and authors of Relational Theology, defines it this way: ‘At its core, relational theology affirms two key ideas: 1. God affects creatures in various ways. Instead of being aloof and detached, God is active and involved in relationship with others. God relates to us, and that makes an essential difference. 2. Creatures affect God in various ways. While God’s nature is unchanging, creatures influence the loving and living Creator of the universe. We relate to God, and creation makes a difference to God.’ (p. 2) Another author, Barry Callen, says of relational theism (or theology) that it focuses on ‘the interactivity or mutuality of the God-human relationship. God is understood to be truly personal, loving, and not manipulative. The interaction of the wills of Creator and creature are real.’ (p. 7)”
Another component of God’s sovereignty Olson incorporates into his view is called “mediating.” Olson writes:
“These are views that attempt to combine, usually with some appeal to paradox, divine determinism with relational theism. An excellent example is the late evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch. Throughout his career Bloesch boldly expressed and defended the paradoxical nature of Christianity following Kierkegaard and Barth. In his book The Evangelical Renaissance he declared that:
God knows the course of the future and the fulfillment of the future, but this must not be taken to mean that He literally knows every single event even before it happens. It means that He knows every alternative and the way in which His children may well respond to the decisions that confront them. The plan of God is predetermined, but the way in which He realizes it is dependent partly on the free cooperation of His subjects. This does not detract from His omnipotence, for it means that He is so powerful that He is willing to attain His objectives by allowing a certain room for freedom of action on the part of man. (p. 53)
This may sound relational or deterministic and Bloesch reveled in that ambiguity. ‘The plan of God is predetermined’ is deterministic; ‘The way in which He realizes it is dependent partly on the…cooperation of His subjects’ is relational.”
I’ll conclude this section with the following two citations from Olson’s article:
“The key insight for a non-process relational view of God’s sovereignty is that God is sovereign over his sovereignty. The missio dei is God’s choice to involve himself intimately with the world so as to be affected by it. That choice is rooted in God’s love and desire for reciprocal love freely offered by his human creatures. None of this detracts in any way from God’s sovereignty because God is sovereign over his sovereignty. To say that God can’t be vulnerable, can’t limit himself, can’t restrain his power to make room for other powers, is, ironically, to deny God’s sovereignty.”
“Finally, in sum, then, a relational view of God’s sovereignty is one that regards God’s will as settled in terms of the intentions of his character but open and flexible in terms of the ways in which he acts because he allows himself to be acted upon. Only such a view of God’s sovereignty does justice to the whole of the biblical drama, to God as personal, to human persons as responsible actors and potential partners with God in God’s mission.”
The Two Wills of God:
In much the same way as the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt creates a completely unnecessary issue which must then be resolved, a view of God’s sovereignty that entails exhaustive divine determinism creates its own crisis of consistency in the Biblical text when attempting to reconcile what God has revealed to us about His will. Due to their doctrinal presuppositions, Calvinists must deduce that God actually has two wills. The first is called His secret will, or will of decree, and the second is called His revealed will, or will of command. Dr. Harwood has published a review of John Piper’s book in which he attempts to defend the Calvinist understanding of the plural wills of God. The following are excerpts from Harwood’s review:
“Piper explains his aim ‘is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for all people to be saved and his will to choose some people for salvation unconditionally before creation is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion’ (13). Piper begins by labeling 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:8–9, Ezekiel 18:23, 32, and Matt 23:37 as ‘perplexing texts’ (13). He assumes as true the view that ‘God chooses unconditionally whom he will save’ (15). Piper then deduces that because God desires to save all but elects to save only some, ‘there are at least “two wills” in God.’”
“The strength of this book is that it seeks to address an Achilles heel in Reformed theology, namely the charge that affirming unconditional election requires a denial of God’s desire to save all people. The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people by appealing to a theological framework of two wills in God, which is deduced then imported into one’s reading of the Scripture. The result is that Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”
“Piper commits the error D. A. Carson specifically warned against in his dissertation, pointing to a hidden will to negate God’s revealed will.”
“For readers who seek to reconcile unconditional election to salvation with God’s desire to save all people, Piper’s brief treatment provides an argument which may prove satisfying to the already convinced. But readers looking for an unambiguous answer of ‘yes’ to the question in the title of the book [Does God Desire All to be Saved?] are advised to look elsewhere.”
To be Calvinist is not necessarily to be Reformed, and to be Reformed is not necessarily to be Calvinist. However, it is true that the two terms are very commonly used synonymously to indicate that one holds to the doctrines of TULIP. It seems that many Baptist pastors prefer to use the term “Reformed” rather than “Calvinist” even though they mean the exact same things when they use those terms. More than anything else, this appears to me to be a public relations tactic.
Ron Hale provides the following definition of “Calvinism in a nutshell:”
“…God the Father choosing a people (a certain number of persons before creation), Jesus the Son of God died for them (them alone, the elect- not the whole world), and God the Holy Spirit works to make Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect (only those chosen before creation) to Christ, thereby causing them (drawing or dragging them) to obey the gospel. This entire process of (predestination, election, regeneration, salvation) is the work of God determining who will be the recipients of his salvation or ensuring salvation for those he chose before the foundation of the world.”
Whatever you do, don’t forget to read the fine print.