Thursday, May 8, 2008

Misunderstanding Calvinists

Throughout the centuries, Calvinists have been misunderstood, misread, misinterpreted. It happened in history, it happens today, and it will continue to happen as long as sinful people live in a fallen world. As Calvinists, we should probably get used to the things said about us, but to those who are not Calvinists, we desire that you try to learn what we really believe. Just because we believe in predestination, doesn't mean we think repentance and believing in Jesus is a waste of time. In fact, we believe the opposite. If one does not repent and believe, he will not be saved, evidence that he or she was never among the elect of God. Scripture teaches this. We aren't a bunch of people who think evangelism is a waste of time. In fact, again, it is the exact opposite. We believe that God ordains all things, including the means of conversion. God ordained that it is through repenting and believing one is saved, and he has also ordained that the preached word is the means of converting a sinner. Evangelism is a high priority for the consistent Calvinist.

In history, the great man John Gill was accused of so many things. Gill was accused of being a Hyper Calvinist and an Antinomian. Gill once said:

The harvest is great and the painful ministers are few. There are scarcely any that naturally care for the estate and souls of men, and who are heartily concerned for their spiritual welfare; all comparatively seek their own things, their honor and applause from men, their ease, reputation, and riches; and none or few the things that are Jesus Christ's, or which relate to his honor, glory, kingdom, and interest in the world.

Gill was passionate about evangelism and lamented the fact that so many ministers are not! Yet people have taken some things Gill said out of context and made him out to look like a monster. Well folks, he isn't a bad guy. Gill was a great theologian and a passionate evangelist. The church may do well in his concern for peoples eternal state. Yet for some reason people always will think Calvinism kills evangelism.....


Gordan Runyan said...

I confess that I love reading Gill. I'm not sure why Matthew Henry is so popular, even among non-Calvinist readers of commentaries, and Gill is so unknown. Gill seems to me more interested in the meaning of a text, rather than commenting on it. His style is more plain-spoken and down-to-earth. The really unique feature of his commentary is his personal familiarity with Talmudic writings, and his investigation of the ancient manuscripts of Scripture.

On the other topic of this post, it has been my experience in many non-Calvinist churches that hardly anyone does any personal witnessing or evangelism. In fact, I have come to believe that synergism kills evangelism.

kingofbleh said...

I think I may have figured out what is so distasteful to me about the title "Calvinist". I think when we call ourselves "Calvinists" or allow others to call us "Calvinists" it gives us a distinction in people's minds of being "faction" within Christianity. But Calvinism is not a faction within Christianity, Calvinism IS Christianity. All other sects or groups within the evangelical realm that do not affirm the doctrines of grace are simply attempting to rationalize in earthy terms what Calvinism affirms in Biblical terms.

Am I saying that only Calvinists can be saved? No way! Am I saying that non-Calvinists cannot be Christians? Nope! But to claim to affirm ChristianITY - a collection of doctrines rooted only in God's revealed Word - one my affirm only doctrines rooted in scripture.

Machine Gun Kelley said...


Your observation is very accurate.

If you have a church with 500 +/-on the membership roll, you'll be lucky to see 20 people show up for an evangelism training class. At that, I think you'll find that it's mostly the top 1% who's the backbone of the church already.

Only 3 of the "Secret 9" had ever shown their face in my evangelism classes. Out of those 3, only 2 ever came out to actually witness and pass out tracts.

Come to think of it, the later 2 were the only ones of the Secret 9 who ever saw it fit to regularly attend church outside of Sunday mornings anyway, but I digress...

J.C. Thibodaux said...

While I won't deny that the point is true (I've never argued that Calvinism kills evangelism, et al, simply that it's not biblical), I will state that a lot of Calvinists are not making any friends for themselves in the being charitable & understanding department, and their doing so thus far has gone largely unchecked by more moderate Calvinists.

Case in point, the rather historically indefensible 'Arminians are Semipelagians' myth of old is still widely propagated among even scholarly Calvinists, flatly unchristian vitriol by certain of the reformers accusing Synergists of worshiping free will and other such ignorance is still touted as 'good reading,' and there's not a few times I've seen among reformed writings both old and new the charge that Arminianism is heresy/heterodoxy (which has fueled some of its more rationally challenged fans in leveling the same charges at me). Pushing one's beliefs with that sort of nonsense makes people disinterested concerning said beliefs, as it makes its proponents look like lunatics. Or as a Calvinist going by 'Nang' recently retorted to the question of Universal Atonement,

Right. Which proves my continuous contention, that the core objection to Calvinism is the anger of others against God that He did not universally save all. All non-calvinists are therefore Universalists, in one form and degree or another.

To put it in perspective, when you hear someone say something like 'Limited atonement is heresy,' does that make you even want to understand the history and reasoning behind that person's beliefs better?

Gordan Runyan said...


I don't diagree with your point, that there are Calvinists who aren't helping matters in the "misunderstanding" department.

But I also think that there is a large swarm of Calvinists who understand and lament that very thing, and who work hard to be precise and charitable. I used to know one once.

Machine Gun Kelley said...


when you hear someone say something like 'Limited atonement is heresy,' does that make you even want to understand the history and reasoning behind that person's beliefs better?

No, not at all. In fact, it makes me want to rip my garments, scream "blasphemy," and slap the person so hard that it leaves a mark for about 3 weeks.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

Okay... So that comment was a joke.

(I wouldn't actually rip my garments)


Rev. said...

Gordan - I think you make an astute observation related to synergism. I contend, however, that the major issue is neither monergism nor synergism, but a cold heart (apathy). However, if congregations believe evangelism centers upon them and their efforts (rather than upon divine power), that decidedly inhibits evangelism.

KoB - like you, I disdain the label of "Calvinist." I don't, however, believe "Calvinism IS Christianity." It is the most consistent expression of the Christian faith, perhaps, but it is not itself the Christian faith.

JCT - Point well taken.

The Mole said...

I agree with Rev. here....While it is aggravating that Calvinists are so misrepresented, I will say that we cannot nor should we ever say that "Calvinism is Christianity." I was saved by God's grace long before I affirmed the doctrines of Calvinism. In fact, I was called to ministry before I was a Calvinist. To say that Calvinism is Christianity, would then mean, in my own life, I was called to ministry before I was a Christian. We would then, not be saved by grace, but saved by our knowledge or particular understanding of the Bible....I would be careful..

I don't think you intended to say what came across, but be careful making statements like that. It is almost like say "Jesus was a Calvinist" when Jesus ascended to the Father long before Calvinism was formulated as a doctrinal system. However, I do believe we can point to the teachings of CHrist if we want people to understand what we are talking about. Sure Jesus taught those doctrines, but you can't say Jesus was a Calvinist.

We need to be careful how we contribute to the dialogue.