A Brief Quid Pro Quo: What is Right about Calvinism

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Since I spend so much time expounding upon what I find wrong in Calvinism, I thought I would briefly survey what I find right in Calvinism. This will be my brief quid pro quo — lit. something for something. Since I am always offering people thoughts against Calvinism and never offering them insights of truth which Calvinism promotes, I thought it would be appropriate to do so — to offer something for something.

First, I will confess that Calvinism, in my opinion, is not heretical. I believe it is heterodox, but not heresy. Heresy, strictly speaking, is divisive teaching in the Church which it has universally deemed as unscriptural. No universal Church council has ever deemed either Calvinism or Arminianism heretical. Though it is true that one local gathering of Calvinists condemned Arminianism as heretical (at the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands), it has no bearing on the Church universal, since only a very small portion of it made that conclusion, and that only by Calvinists.

Second, I will confess that Calvinism has more to offer the church than TULIP theology. Calvinism rightly affirms that mankind is wicked and undeserving of God’s grace, or the suffering and torment which Christ Jesus endured for our salvation, or the work of power which the Holy Spirit applies — enabling us to believe on Christ for salvation. God is sovereign and is not obligated to save any sinner. When sinners sin, they do so freely.

Third, I will confess that Calvinism affirms the divinely inspired Word of God. The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches:

      1. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in diverse manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better of preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. . . .

4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.1

Fourth, I will confess that Calvinism affirms salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone to the glory of God alone. Calvinist Wayne Grudem writes:

      When the New Testament talks about people coming to salvation, it speaks in terms of a personal response to an invitation from Christ himself. . . .

It is important to make clear that these are not just words spoken a long time ago by a religious leader in the past. Every non-Christian hearing these words should be encouraged to think of them as words that Jesus Christ is even now, at this very moment, speaking to him or her individually. Jesus Christ is a Savior who is now alive in heaven, and each non-Christian should think of Jesus as speaking directly to him or to her, saying, “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This is a genuine personal invitation that seeks a personal response from each one who hears it.2

That is as good an altar call invitation as I have ever encountered. I have fought the temptation to peel back the layers of Grudem’s message, knowing the underlying doctrine of Unconditional Election to which he subscribes. What is important here is that he and most Calvinists deliver the gospel in this fashion — genuinely calling upon all without distinction to trust in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, and to do so immediately.

Fifth, I will confess that Calvinism rightly emphasizes the work of God’s grace in order for any lost sinner to trust in Jesus for salvation. Since Classical Arminians agree with Classical Calvinists on the issue of the bondage of the will (or Total Depravity / Inability), we rejoice to read that the Westminster Confession teaches the following: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”3 Arminius and Classical Arminians wholeheartedly agree with this Classical Calvinist statement.

Sixth, I will confess that Calvinism rightly exalts the glory of God. King David writes: “Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah” (Psalm 24:7-10 NASB). Though Calvinists tend to take the glory of God farther than what I think Scripture warrants, they are right to draw our attention to His glory.

I would never promote, encourage, or advocate Calvinism as a biblically viable theological system for any Christian to maintain. However, at the same time, I have to acknowledge that Calvinism gets many things right, even if it does, in my opinion, lead to or imply things about the character of God and His accomplishments among mankind which I consider erroneous.

1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, in The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, ed. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), I:1, 4:2175.

2 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 297.

3 Westminster, IX:3:2179.