Calvin and Calvinists

I recently listened to a series of interviews by Paul Dohse Sr. in which he posed the following seven questions to several groups of young adults:

1. Do we keep ourselves saved by preaching the gospel to ourselves every day?

2. Do sins committed in the Christian life separate us from our salvation?

3. Do we need to be reconciled to God daily in a saving way?

4. Are Christians totally depraved?

5. Are Christians still under the law for Justification?

6. Do pastors have the authority to forgive your sins?

7. Do you believe that the New Testament Christian life is the Old Testament Sabbath; i.e., if we do works in our Christian life we will die spiritually?

Mr. Dohse’s clear intention was to show that people who call themselves “Calvinists” don’t really believe what Calvin believed.

As it turns out, there were actually nine questions. He first asked each group if they would consider the speakers at the conference “Calvinists.” Then he asked them if they would consider themselves “Calvinists.”

My response to both those questions would have been, “What do you mean by that?” If Mr. Dohse’s accusations about what Calvinists believe were true, I would clearly not be a Calvinist. Usually what Calvinists believe and what non-Calvinists think we believe is vastly different.

Though the young adults he interviewed articulated their views relatively well, their answers did not necessarily reflect what most Calvinists believe. I found it interesting that he did not interview any of the speakers at the conference who no doubt would have given more articulate answers to these questions. Since Mr. Dohse is so brave and bold, one wonders why he wasn’t brave enough to confront the speakers at the conference.

I would like to make a few observations about what I saw and heard.

1. Whether modern “Calvinists” believe or would endorse what Calvin wrote is irrelevant. Being a Calvinist does not mean a person is a follower of John Calvin. One young man who was interviewed stated it well when he said, “We are followers of Jesus Christ, not followers of John Calvin.” “Calvinism” is merely a theological label used to identify those who believe salvation is a monergistic work of God rather than a synergistic or cooperative effort between God and the sinner.

I know of no Calvinist who believes in the infallibility of John Calvin or the inerrancy of his writings.

2. Paul wanted “yes” or “no” answers, but he did not ask “yes” or “no” questions. Usually when a person gives him other than a “yes” or “no” answer, he accuses them of “double-speak.”  For example, I would answer question number one (Do we keep ourselves saved by preaching the gospel to ourselves every day?) in the same way I believe Calvin would have answered it. I believe Calvin would have said that we are not the keepers; God is. Commenting on 1 Peter 1:5 Calvin wrote,

And, indeed, we see that under the Papacy a diabolical opinion prevails, that we ought to doubt our final perseverance, because we are uncertain whether we shall be tomorrow in the same state of grace. But Peter did not thus leave us in suspense; for he testifies that we stand by the power of God, lest any doubt arising from a consciousness of our own infirmity, should disquiet us. How weak soever we may then be, yet our salvation is not uncertain, because it is sustained by God’s power. As, then, we are begotten by faith, so faith itself receives its stability from God’s power. Hence is its security, not only for the present, but also for the future (Calvin’s Commentaries).

In addition to that, Calvin would have said that God keeps us through sustaining our faith. In Mr. Dohse’s theological [and I use that term very loosely] world, faith is a one-time act. We make a decision, and it is behind us. Everything after that is “learn and do.” Any good Calvinists would say that God uses the good news of grace in the redemptive work of Christ to sustain that faith. If that were not the case, why would the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhort his reader to “look to Jesus” and “consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself lest they be wearied and faint in their minds?” Why would the apostle Paul so often repeat the glorious verities of the gospel to his Christian readers? Mr. Dohse likes to say “the Law [though one never knows what he means by “law”] informs our sanctification. If by that he means the Scriptures of the New Testament, I would agree. In reality, it is not the law of God that sanctifies; it is the salvation bringing grace of God that sanctifies us (see Titus 2:11-14). In Mr. Dohse’s world, that is “double-speak.”

3. We need to remember that Calvin was often arguing against a different group of antagonists and answering different questions than we would normally encounter. As in seeking to understand any body of literature, we must always consider the historical and literary contexts. We should not assume that theologians who lived five hundred years ago were necessarily concerned with the precise theological issues that concern us. If we could resurrect John Calvin and ask him to answer our questions in a modern context and against modern heresies, his answers might be different from what we read in The Institutes or in his commentaries.

4. In my view, there is no question but that the rest we enjoy in Christ is a fulfillment of the Old Covenant Sabbath. If we rest in our works to any degree, we are not fully resting in Christ. My understanding of Calvin’s position is that he believed even “good works” performed by believers have no merit before God. The issue is not whether God is pleased with his children’s obedience, but whether a time ever comes when a believer’s obedience becomes meritorious.

5. Though we do not regard John Calvin or any other writer as our master, we can appreciate the theological understand God gave them. As we “stand on their shoulders” God may give us understanding of his truth that they may have missed. We should not despise the truth he made known to them because it may have been mingled with error.


2 Responses to “Calvin and Calvinists”

  1. January 20, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Anyone merely reading Dohse’s questions can tell his argument is built on a false foundation. Many people who disagree with “Calvinism” don’t know what is meant by the term. As Spurgeon remarked, Calvinism (rightly undestood as the doctrines of grace) is nothing but the biblical gospel!

  2. 2 Peace and Grace
    January 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Perhaps Mr. Dohse has interpreted “rest” via his dictionary. In much of Greek and therefore Western thought generally, the principle of rest is basically reduced to the absence of motion.

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