Some of my Calvinistic brethren (usually those of the “young, restless, and reformed” variety) act as if The Five Points were written by the finger of God when in reality they were the result of doctrinal development over time. What I just said already has some people upset and the rest is guaranteed to make more upset. I didn’t write this to pick a fight, however, simply to point out some things that I do not often hear that I think need to be said.
1. John Calvin did not write the Five Points of Calvinism
This is easily verifiable historical fact. Calvin died in 1564. The Synod of Dort published the Canons of Dort, from whence the famous Five Points are derived, in 1618. (My supposedly graduate-level seminary church history textbook got this wrong. And that’s what we call sloppy scholarship.) More about Calvin’s relationship to the Five Points later.
2. There are Five Points of Calvinism because the Arminians had Five Points
This, too, is easily verifiable historical fact. In Holland at the end of the 16th century, the Remonstrants, following the teaching of James Arminius, put forth five points of disagreement with the Reformed teaching then en vogue in Holland. (This means that, technically speaking, there is a “Reformed” Arminianism.)
In 1618 the Synod published its canons articulating what they considered the true doctrine which they expected to be taught in the churches and schools of those participating.
Two things about these canons:
- The five canons don’t follow the TULIP order everyone is familiar with. The U is first and the T & the I are together which means…
- There are five points or four points depending on how you look at it. The Canons articulate five points but combine the third and fourth heads of doctrine (as articulated by the Remonstrants; we would know them as the T and the I of the TULIP) and even named that section “Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine” even though it’s only one section.
3. Reformed Theology is about more than the Five Points
People call the church where I serve all the time and ask if we are a “Reformed Church.” I have learned to respond by asking, “What do you mean by Reformed?” Sometimes the person on the other end answers me like I’m stupid (one guy told me that since I asked I must not know) but I’m asking because the term “Reformed” is one of those words that now seems to have as many meanings as there are people who use it. Some are simply looking for a Calvinistic church. Others are looking for a Calvinistic church that is not seeker-sensitive or that has traditional worship. Still others want something like a strict Presbyterian church but that doesn’t baptize infants. My experience is that most of them don’t know what they want because they don’t have a firm grasp of what it means to be “Reformed.” (This is a common problem with what has been termed the “young, restless, and reformed” movement.)
Being Reformed has a certain set of identifiable markers (historically speaking). I’ve been saying for years that no Baptist can be “Reformed” in the historic sense because Baptists, by definition, do not baptize their infants. But there are other sticking points.
Scott Clark, in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession, makes a case that being “Reformed” (historically speaking) also embraces things like voices-only singing and only singing Psalms or Scripture-songs.
Still others points out that covenant theology and covenant amillennialism are also part-and-parcel with the historical development of reformed theology.
I would also include such things as the Three-fold Office of Christ, since it was first articulated by Calvin. Still others would include the rejection of natural theology. And still more would include some form of elder-led church government.
In addition, there are different Reformed & Calvinistic traditions, historically speaking. The Scottish Reformation was instrumental in bringing us Presbyterianism and Evangelical Calvinism while the English Reformation brought us Congregationalism and the Baptists (contrary to what some “Trail of Blood” Baptists keep asserting).
4. There are still questions about how Calvinistic Calvin himself was
I know this is a tricky subject. Bear with me, please. The most widely-known proponent of the view that Calvin was less Calvinistic than his successors is R. T. Kendall who wrote Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649. Kendall asserts that later Calvinism, beginning with Beza, was revisionist so that we end up with a Calvinism/Reformed Theology as espoused by the later Reformed Scholastics and even the Puritans was more Calvinistic than Calvin himself. Paul Helm took Kendall to task but focused primarily on Calvin’s Institutes (he cited the Institutes 46 times while only citing Calvin’s other works 17 times, with only 8 references to Calvin’s commentaries and only two to Calvin’s sermons). Yet he criticizes Kendall and others for using only a handful of references to make their case (see P. 39 n. 20). Perhaps those few references should be given more weight.
While Kendall’s work did contain some errors, I don’t think Kendall’s main thesis has been taken seriously enough nor has it been adequately answered. Despite Kendall’s errors, there is ample evidence that Calvinism/Reformed theology underwent development or some sort after Calvin’s death and I really don’t know why that alarms some people (especially if we’re supposed to be “always reforming”).
5. Rejecting Calvinism does not equal rejecting the Gospel
The Gospel is pretty well spelled out in the New Testament and it doesn’t encompass predestination or the extent of the atonement. The gospel as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 involves the following:
- Jesus is the Christ, the Son of David
- Jesus died in place of his people in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy
- Jesus was buried, verifying his death
- Jesus was brought back to life from the dead, again in fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture
- Jesus’ life after his death, burial, and resurrection was verified by those who knew Jesus most closely, namely his disciples.
(For more see this post where I discuss the elements that comprise the Gospel proclamation: What “the Gospel” is and what it means to “Preach (or Proclaim) the Gospel”)
One who receives and believes (yes, the New Testament actually says we must “receive “ it) stands justified before God.
We can debate whether one who receives and believes this proclamation was chosen beforehand or not, whether Christ’s death secured it or simply made it possible. We can discuss the natural state of the person who believed, we can dispute whether or not the person receiving it had an ability to resist the Gospel call, we can debate whether or not this person can later lose this faith and hence their salvation, we can discuss whether this Gospel should have been offered to them in the first place.
All of these are relevant and necessary points for discussion to be answered by Scripture. But none of these points which can be discussed make up the Gospel itself. There are people on both sides of each one of these questions who have genuine faith in Christ. To make a particular answer to one of these questions the basis for whether or not one has genuine faith is to go beyond the Gospel and to add to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Please note that comments are moderated.