Q&A 9 (Part 1): What Are Your Thoughts About Calvinism?

Question: Just what are your thoughts on Calvinism? Exactly what do you believe and think?

Reply #1: I appreciate the questions very much. I am often asked my thoughts about this issue, and I am more than happy to share my perspective. This is a complex question, and so I will take several posts to respond. Hopefully, I can bring some clarity to the issue and even help move the agenda forward for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel. It is obviously a timely question. My good friend Frank Page, President of the Executive Committee, recently spoke to the issue and the continuing conversation about it in the SBC. And, a Baptist Association in KY recently turned down a church for membership with the issue of Calvinism being raised as a reason.

A little narrative would probably be a good place to start. When I entered Criswell College I had no idea what Calvinism was. I had never even heard the name John Calvin. I knew of Calvin and Hobbs and Calvin Klein but that was it! In my first semester, I was taken one day by an older classmate into a room and “theologically assaulted!” By that I mean this, this brother, I am sure with good intentions from his perspective, spent more than an hour trying to convert me to double predestinarian, supralapsarian, five-point Calvinism. Never have I encountered a more fervent evangelist in all my life. After being put into a theological hammerlock, and pressed for a decision, I responded. Basically I said, “Brother, whatever you got this much I know, I don’t want it.” That experience left a very bad taste in my mouth with respect to an aggressive form of Calvinism that is more concerned about converting people to a theological system than our Savior. If someone would like my perspective on this in the context of a chapel message, see “The Danger of Loving a Theological System More Than the Savior.” So, in my first response to this question, I have always been suspicious of any aggressive theological system that is more concerned with converting people to it than they are the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have always been concerned about any approach to theology that would give greater emphasis to making converts of a particular theology than fulfilling the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus, the Great Commission. Now, does that mean I fear Calvinism, think it is a serious and ever present danger to the SBC, and could destroy our convention of churches? I will pick that question up in the next blog.

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  1. Bill Nettles   •  

    “And, a Baptist Association in KY recently turned down a church for membership with the issue of Calvinism being raised as a reason.”

    “I have always been suspicious of any aggressive theological system that is more concerned with converting people to it than they are the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Since the Association mentioned seems more concerned about having a Calvinism-free Association than associating with a church which could aid in evangelizing that area of KY, you would be suspicious. Did I connect the dots properly?

  2. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr. Akin:

    One strange issue about “Calvanism” is that I believe that it can be shown from Calvin’s own writings that John Calvin was not a Calvinist. At least he was not a strong “5 pointer”.

    [I only have the “Cliff Notes” of the Institutes as my source materal since I’m not heavy into either French or Latin.]

    Calvanism as “we know it” was formulated after Calvin’s death during “discussions” (maybe disputes) between some of John Calvin’s disciples — such as Theodore Beza — and people who took a different view — such as James Arminius as his crew.

    I don’t mind arguing about the “Doctrines of Grace” or “Reformed Theology”, but to consider that John Calvin has much to do with the debate is a stretch. Calvin died in 1564 and the “Five Points” did come up as a topic until the first decade of the 1600s.

    The “Five Points” are an inverse of the points raised by the Arminians. Lets say that you framed your view of life as “not killing babies”, “against euthanisia”, etc. Does it then follow that, since I’m on the opposite side of the theological spectrum from you, that I’m for abortion and also for extermination of “useless old people”?

    Bottom line: As far as I’m concerned the argument about “Calvinism” is a misnomer. I can’t see why people on either side get so worked up about it.

    I tend to view Reformed Theology positively because it features “sola scriptura” and “sempre reformada” — both of which Baptists of any stripe should be able to embrace. But I don’t waste time about Calvinism because it is an abstraction that has no real-world relevance.

    I think that Calvin would be turning over in his grave if he knew the debates that were going on in his name.

    Roger Simpson — Oklahoma City

  3. Danny Akin   •  

    Bill, you did if are referring to the association. I regret the decision of this association very much and think it was a mistake. I see no evidence that the church was trying to push a Calvinist agenda on others. I am convinced that there is room in the SBC for Carey, Rice, Judson and Spurgeon Calvinist and non-Calvinist. There always has been and that should not change.

  4. Louis   •  

    Great post, Dr. Akin!

    I really try to avoid the topic of “Calvinism” for the most part, or the arguments regarding “Reformed Theology.”

    I like much of what Calvin had to say and I like much in Reformed Theology.

    But what I like about those things should, in my view, be cast in terms of what the Bible says and what Jesus taught.

    We witness for Christ, not Calvin. We teach the Bible, not Reformed Theology.

    I feel the same way about denominations, though I am a member of a Baptist Church. I want to be known as a Christian, not a Baptist. And I don’t want to be known as a follower of a 15th century theologian, however great he may have been. I want to be known as a follower of Christ.

    All of these labels, to me, are secondary. When they become primary, it really is not appealing, and it’s not faithful to Jesus, in my opinion, because He is primary.

  5. Thomas Waters   •  

    I was against Sovereign Grace, which many refer to erroneously as Calvinism. I am 71 years old, and only in the last three years have I become a believer that Scripture teaches a Sovereign God and Sovereign Grace. I welcome anyone to send comments or start a godly discussion on the Sovereignty of God and Sovereign Grace.

    What I would like to hear what people that deny the Sovereignty of God and Sovereign Grace understand Eph. 1:4-5 to teach.

    Ephesians 1:4-5 (KJV 1900)
    4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

    Choosen before the foundation of the world. Now Brother that is pure GRACE.

    There are those who claim God may chose or elect some to position(s), but never to salvation. Then please explain;

    2 Thessalonians 2:13 (KJV 1900)
    13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

    Let us depart from what Saint Augustine or Calvin, or even Charles Spurgeon taught and believed; but discuss what specific verses in Scripture teaches.

    I have no less enthusiasm for evangelism than I had before, so dismissing Sovereign Grace as being a cause to kill evangelism let that straw horse die, for it carries no weight as to what the Scripture teaches. One of the greatest soul winners in the latter half of the 20th Century was the Late D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Through his training others and through his book, “Evangelism Explosion,” has prepared more people how to witness to others than any man I know.

    I also have lost many good friends, some will not speak to me, while others call me a heretic. Why, because we disagree in doctrine? I recently visited a friend in Denver, Colorado that attends a New Testament Church that has believers on both sides of this fence, but they don’t brake fellowship with one another.

    Again, let’s discuss this matter but keep to the Scriptures and leave personalities and personal character assassination out of it.

    Tom Waters
    Orange City FL

  6. Roger Simpson   •  

    My previous comment in this thread could be misconstrued because I was sloppy in terms of the referent of the word “you” in my discussion regarding “Calvin’s” Five Points. To clarify, my use of the term “you” is generic.

    I am willing to stand corrected, but based upon historical sources at my disposal, I’d say there is significant reason to question the extent that the five points represent the views of the disciples of Calvin during the first several decades of the 1600s as compared to a retrospective historical narrative that codified the five points through the lens of being 180 degrees out of phase [some would say only 90 degrees out of phase] with the view of James Arminius and the Remonstrants.

    Personally, I don’t have a major problem with the “five points” regardless of the extent that Calvin and/or his disciples-such as Theodore Beza — and/or the Remonstrants and/or historians contributed to their codification for posterity. I do have a problem with “double predestination” which ostensibly is a logical outgrowth of “limited atonement”. The problem I have is not that I necessarily disagree with “limited atonement”. Instead, my problem is that I’m too ignorant to debate the extent to which “limited atonement” is, or is not, operative. God has not revealed to me any methodology that would enable me to know how “efficient” He is in “not wasting his time” dying for those who are going to end up rejecting him. So, even in principle, I don’t think I can know about this stuff and I don’t think anyone else can either.

    It is crazy for people to beat each other up arguing over stuff — which for us on this mortal coil — is unknowable.

    Roger Simpson OKC

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