Category Archives: Calvinism
Herman Bavinck, “The Future of Calvinism,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review (Jan. 1894), 20:
Calvinism gladly honors the good features of the Christian labor of our age. It by no means favors the idea of fleeing from the world; it does not encourage idleness and somnolence. It is active, points out to each man his moral calling, and urges him to labor in this with all his might. On the other hand, it is no less averse to that worldly type of Christianity which would transplant the turmoil and clamor, the agitation and strain of our times, within the pale of Christianity.
Calvinism maintains the independent value of religion, and does not suffer it to be swallowed up by morality. It has a vein of deep mysticism and it cultivates a devout godliness. It considers God alone as the highest good, and communion with Him as supreme happiness. Calvinism sets the rest of being over against the restlessness of becoming, and makes us feel the pulsation of eternity in every moment of time. Behind the vicissitudes and transitoriness of this life it points to the unchangeableness of God’s eternal counsel. Thus it offers a place of rest to the weary heart, in which God has set eternity, and protects man from all overexcitement. Those that believe shall not make haste.
Calvinism is deeply convinced that the husband as father of the family, the wife as mother of her children, the servant girl in the kitchen, and the laborer behind the plough, are as truly servants of God as the missionary.
Kenneth J. Stewert, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (IVP/Apollos, 2011), pages 288–289:
What is true of us individually is also true of the particular movements we are part of now. We need to see that every resurgence of the Reformed faith is, in fact, new-old; that is, it is a fusion of elements from long ago with contemporary elements. That blend is important because the quality and staying power of any particular wave of Calvinism will lie, in large measure, in how these two factors are held in creative tension. If a Calvinist movement stresses only the reiteration of ideas and doctrines from long ago, its tendency will be antiquarian and fogyish; its devotees might actually wish to be living in a different time and place! On the other hand, if a Calvinist movement glories chiefly in its affinities with the contemporary scene (whether these affinities are musical, in the arts, the trappings of pop culture, etc.), the necessary link with historical markers of the movement may be very hard to locate.
John Newton (Works 6:151):
I remember that, three or four years ago, I mentioned some part of the gospel truth to a gentleman who called on me here, and he answered, “If it is a truth, you are indebted for it to Calvin.” As well might he have said, because Calvin had seen the sun, and has mentioned it in his writings, we build our knowledge of its light and influence upon his testimony.
The doctrine of God’s divine election of unworthy sinners is a humbling truth. Or to use Spurgeon’s words, “a sense of election causes a low opinion of self.” That is the bullet point under which the following quote from Spurgeon comes to us, as recorded in a sermon delivered on July 1, 1888:
Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.
Recently I had the honor of reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists (Crossway). Hansen is an editor at Christianity Today. From my perspective, the book reads like the reader is riding shotgun as Collin travels around the country in search of discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism so obvious among large groups of young Christian men and women.
The book does not set out to answer the question: “Where’d all the Calvinists come from?” But it does document the rise in a fascinating and engaging way and looks closely at the major figures and movements and how they shape the theology of the next generation of Calvinists.
Read it for the details. Read it to discover the influences among young folks. Read it it to hear stories of how individuals have been transformed by the doctrines of grace. Read it for the descriptive perception of the author. If you watch for new and excellent books, this one by Collin Hansen is a must-read coming your way in 2008. Due out April 30th from Crossway.
Few things have been more surprising to me at TSS than the overwhelmingly positive response to the Humble Calvinism series we began at the start of this year. The series was birthed out of a personal interest in John Calvin — a man I knew was important, but for whom I had little direct exposure.
I should not have been surprised, though! The response to the series was a fitting illustration of the influx of Calvinism within the broader American Christian culture.
You’re probably already aware of this sharp increase in interest for Calvinism and the Reformed faith. Spearheaded by men like John Piper, Sam Storms, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Josh Harris and movements like Together for the Gospel, the Resolved conference, New Attitude, and a host of other conferences, aggressive church planting ministries, global evangelism, influential preachers, theologians and leaders, Calvinism is noticeably on the rise. Interestingly, this list of names and movements committed to Reformed theology includes diverse groups like Missional, Charismatic, Non-Charismatic, Baptist, Presbyterian, traditional and modern.
But most interesting to me, all of these characters and movements are having a strong impact on the 16-30 age group, sewing seeds of a Reformed theology that will blossom for many years to come. Christianity Today captured this trend in a cover story aptly titled, “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback, and shaking up the church.”
The Church is shaking because Calvinism — an understanding of God as He acts and moves according to His own purposes and for His own glory — is on the move.
Roots of Calvinism
So the question many younger Christians are asking now is simply, What is Calvinism and where did it come from? And that probably explains why our series Humble Calvinism has caught the attention of so many blog readers.
Our goal in Humble Calvinism is not to explore the whole body of Reformed faith. Nor are we here trying to trace out the developments of Calvinistic theology. Our goal is simply to get back to our roots by familiarizing ourselves with the teaching of John Calvin, a reformer who lived between 1509-1564. We are not attempting to canonize Calvin’s works, nor induct him into the hall of sainthood. His teaching is only valuable to the level that it faithfully represents the Word of God.
No single individual is more central to Calvinism than John Calvin.
You would think this obvious fact would protect Calvin from neglect. Not so! Just this year a book was written that concluded with a lament over the neglect of Calvin’s sermons and commentaries by scholars [Herman J. Selderuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Baker Academic: 2007) pp. 284]. For all the talk of a sharp rise in Calvinistic theology in our culture, there is an odd silence over Calvin’s works among the academia.
What better time to study Calvin for ourselves?
If Calvin today suffers from neglect, he also suffers from inaccurate historical slander, too. The caricature of Calvin as a harsh, grumpy, heretic-burning fundamentalist bent on ridding the world of dissent is sadly misinformed fiction. Physically he may resemble an anemic Saruman, but his godliness is well documented, his compassion was rich, and his piety was genuine.
Yet slanderous caricatures of Calvin flourished throughout church history. One angry author wrote that Calvin was “a persecutor of the first class, without one humane or redeeming quality to divest it of its criminality or to palliate its enormity … one of the foulest murders recorded in the history of persecution” (Wallace; 1850). Ouch!
Truthfully, in an age of heretic-burning, Calvin’s Geneva was a place of compassion. During Calvin’s entire stay at Geneva only one man was burned for his heretical beliefs (Servetus). And this fate was decided by a secular lawcourt – Little Counsel – that openly opposed Calvin! But Calvin did play a role in Servetus’ arrest and this one burning was one burning too many.
Without glorifying Calvin’s errors here, this lone event must be contrasted to the myriads of executed Protestants by the hands of Rome (as fill the pages of Foxes’ Book of Martyrs). If we take care to understand the times, we see John Calvin was a man of compassion in an age of theological intolerance.
The truth is that Calvin was no stoic! He enjoyed jokes and publicly taught his people to appreciate laughter as a gift of God. And Calvin enjoyed the gift with a mouth wide open! But he also cried in the sorrows of life. Aware of God’s sovereignty in all things, Calvin was acquainted with grief, personal loss, and persecution.
Striking to me is John Calvin’s character. He was orthodox, magnetic, humble, beloved, followed, and esteemed. He attracted a large following, which accounts for the massive movement he left at his death. He led a theologically rich movement that — because of its biblical fidelity — continues to shake the Church!
So what did Calvin teach? Next time we resume this question. And more specifically we ask a question Calvin is ready to answer: What is genuine saving faith?
Related: see all posts in the Humble Calvinism series index.
In light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:
- Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?
- Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?
- In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?
These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.
Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,
“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).
God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.
What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.
As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.
I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!
My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.
Part 2: The Biblical Basis for Seeking Assurance
Today we embark on a study of personal assurance. To have assurance is to know with certainty in my Christian experience that I am known by God and adopted into His family through the gospel. It’s one thing to read in the Bible that salvation comes to those who repent and believe in Christ. But how do I know that God’s sovereign and saving grace has been poured out into my own soul? Because of its practical implications the pursuit of “full assurance” (Heb. 10:22) is one of the most important doctrines of the Bible. As Joel Beeke writes, “Many doctrines may escape a typical believer’s notice without serious consequence, but assurance is not one of them” (Quest, 281).
This study is connected with, but distinct from, a study on the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine of perseverance concerns God’s faithfulness to lead His children home without letting any of them perish. The doctrine of assurance, however, is more concerned with how I know that I am in fact one of God’s children (I’ll show later how these two are connected).
The diligent pursuit of assurance
The best place to begin this study of assurance is to open Scripture and see that we are in fact to labor and search after personal assurance. So my goal today is simply to let you read these passages for yourself with minimal comments. For the sake of space I have limited these passages to the New Testament.
2 Peter 1:10-11 … “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 6:11 … “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end”
2 Corinthians 13:5 … “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
These calls to assurance would be unnecessary if (1) Christians were not called to attain assurance and (2) if all Christians were naturally imbibed with this assurance.
Paul’s deep assurance
Related to these calls to assurance is the example of assurance demonstrated in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. He lived in a profound sense of personal assurance. Notice in these passages not only the sovereign power of God to persevere His children, but especially how convinced Paul is that he is in fact one of God’s children.
Galatians 2:20 … “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
2 Timothy 1:12 … “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
Romans 8:35, 38, 39 … “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 1:13-14 … “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Paul’s words are a model of assurance for every Christian.
Dangers of false assurance
The seeking of true assurance is motivated by warnings in Scripture of those who have rested in false assurances to their eternal condemnation. If it were impossible to be convinced of the genuineness of our assurances these passages would drown our souls under doubt and despair.
Matthew 7:21-23 … “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’“
James 1:22, 26 … “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves … If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
James 2:17-18 … “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Revelation 3:15-17 … “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.“
“We know” in 1 John
But praise God, His children can know for certain they are saved! And if there was a single book of the Bible devoted to the Saints pursuit of assurance it would be 1 John. Listen to the wording as we are called to “know” that we are saved.
1 John 2:3 … “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”
1 John 3:14-24 … “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
1 John 5:2 … “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
And the purpose statement of the entire book in 1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
It cannot be mistaken here that while we are saved by the Cross apart from any works, we are assured of partaking in the Cross by a life marked by change. These passages say to us, “take note of your own heart and labor after full assurance.”
Where has assurance gone?
We don’t need a Ph.D. in church history to see that a pursuit of personal assurance – the personal question of whether I am truly a child of God — is no longer a prominent theme in the Church today (and a reason why Puritan spirituality is so alien).
I think there are two reasons why.
1. The Gospel call has been separated from the call to Cross-bearing. It is fascinating to watch Jesus evangelize. Just listen to one example: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). This is no tit-for-tat salvation where we do good things and get life for our obedience. Rather, in Jesus’ call there is a union into Christ’s death (Rom. 6). This union to Christ means salvation and justification, but also self-mortification and self-crucifixion. The goal of the Gospel is total life transformation, beginning in sanctification here, and glorification at the first sight of Christ’s glory (1 John 3:2).
If, from the beginning, sinners were aware that Jesus was calling them to a radically new Cross-centered life, pursuing evidences of grace and assurance would be an obvious step of consideration. The Gospel carries with it God’s holistic transforming grace evident to others and powerful enough to form part of the basis of our personal assurance.
It may be that because salvation in Christ comes by faith alone that we also think assurance is by faith alone. When this happens, the passages above that call us to pursue full assurance are viewed as uncomfortable oddities to be avoided, rather than the means to great joy and delight and personal security in our Father.
2. A neglect or denial of God’s sovereign grace. Probably the most radical passage in Scripture on assurance comes in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities [virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love] you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Here Peter calls us to make certain our personal calling and election by the demonstration of godliness. Think about this for a moment… God’s children were elected from before the foundation of the earth and here we are called in our Christian experience to make this election certain (Eph. 1:4). God did not pencil us into His family until we wrote our names in Sharpies. Rather, the elected child of God will live a life that affirms God’s sovereign election! In our Christian experience we can know with certainty that we were elected in Christ!
But it’s not only 2 Peter that ties assurance directly to God’s sovereign grace (see also 1 Pet. 1:1-7 and Rom. 8:28-39).
The only way we can pursue our assurance of salvation is to know that God sovereignly preserves His chosen. Where an emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is not found, the pursuit of assurance will not be found either.
For example, Roman Catholicism teaches that “common Christians” will never know for certain they are children of God. At the Council of Trent Rome made it clear that none can know with any certainty that he or she is justified (6.9). It’s no wonder. God’s sovereign preservation of the Christian and the Christian’s assurance in this world undermines the foundations of mass, purgatory and the authority of the church as dispenser of sustaining grace. As Francis Turretin aptly noted, “For he who would be certain of his own salvation would betake himself neither to the patronage of the saints, nor to the merits of martyrs, nor to the absolution of priests” (Elenctic, 15.17.4).
But also for Protestants who believe that salvation can be lost, the pursuit of assurance would not make sense either. How can we ever find assurance in a salvation that we ourselves can undermine?
Theologian John Murray writes, “every brand of theology that is not grounded in the particularism which is exemplified in sovereign election and effective redemption is not hospitable to this doctrine of assurance of faith” (Writings, 2:267). The joy of pursuing personal assurance can only be pursued within a solid understanding of God’s sovereign election and perseverance of the sinner. Our fallible self-sustaining power would prove too flimsy a foundation to base any assurances.
The goal of assurance in the Christian life is not a labor of self-centered, self-righteous and introspective drudgery. The goal of pursuing assurance is a transcendent joy in our Abba Father who adopted His children in love! We are opening our spiritual ears to hear the witness of the Holy Spirit in our own spirits (Rom. 8:16).
Scripture (and especially 1 John) challenges me. I want to know with certainty that I am a child of God. I want to see the life-transforming effect of God’s grace in my heart and enjoy the humbling fact that I was elected from the foundation of the earth.
The act of pursuing assurance is one of deep communion with God that produces nothing short of a deep and abiding joy in the life of the Christian. This assurance is the “summit of intimacy by which the believer both knows Christ and knows he is known of Him” (Quest, 279). Next time we ask the big question … How do we labor after this “summit of intimacy” with Christ?