Calvinism Has 5 Points?!

“What’s in a Name?” [1]

People close to me have probably heard me rant at one point or another about how I dislike the term “Calvinism,” or even calling myself a “Calvinist.” The poor folks who had to listen to those rants on occasion must be scratching their heads at the title of this blog, and so this is my explanation, for whom it may concern.

“What Exactly Is a Calvinist?”

The term “Calvinism” in contemporary Evangelicalism has essentially none of the meaning it once did. Gary North describes the slow death of Calvinism as the process by which theologians “narrowed their definition of Calvinism to a handful of exclusively theological principles that the humanists and the Arminians were uninterested in stealing, namely, TULIP.” [2] The idea in contemporary Christianity that a Calvinist is someone who merely gives assent to God’s sovereignty in the ordo solutis hardly does justice to the historical position of John Calvin or his followers. [3] My gripe with the term “Calvinist”—used in the narrow, TULIPy sense—comes precisely at this point; I would not shy away from associating myself with the Reformed tradition, or the teaching of John Calvin specifically, but I would shy away from associating myself with the watered-down contemporary theological structure that bears his name. When I call myself a Calvinist, that doesn’t mean I’m joining the ranks of contemporary Baptists. It means I’m Reformed, and classically Reformed at that. It means that I affirm sola scriptura, that I am a sacramentalist, that I believe in God’s covenant with His Church, that I believe in Christendom, that I’m a confessionalist, and a whole host of other doctrines. I’m an Augustinian, and I am glad to associate myself with those men. What drives me crazy is when people who know nothing about the Reformed tradition, or those doctrines associated with it, call themselves Calvinists.

“You Said Sola Scriptura?

I want to make it explicitly clear that I am a follower of Christ. Jesus is the one who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Jesus is the one who is ruling and reigning at the right hand of the Father, until all things are put into subjection under His feet. Jesus is the one who will build His Church, and He is the Church’s foundation. Let me make that perfectly clear. I do not worship John Calvin. I do not hold tradition above the Scripture itself. I have not headed for Rome. Why bother even identifying myself as a “Black Coffee Calvinist” then? The Church is at a crisis point in history: an identity crisis. Protestantism has so many schisms to its name, that it is hardly recognizable. I don’t think that a further separation from historical and orthodox Christianity will help bring about unity at all; you can’t get out of the hole by digging, you need to stand somewhere. I have chosen to stand on the scripture alone, and have made the decision to put myself under the weight of Christian teaching on the Scripture throughout history. God has given teachers to his Church, and we are to listen to them (cf. Heb. 13:7).  I am standing somewhere, and identifying myself.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Many know that Philadelphia Biblical University has recently undergone a name change to Cairn University. During the discussions, this question had been asked. This is a play on…questions?
  2. North, Gary. Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991. Page xii.
  3. The five points actually came about after the Canons of Dordt, in response to the Ariminian Remonstrates.
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