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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"What Is a True Calvinist?"

That was the question asked by Phil Ryken in a little pamphlet published by Presbyterian & Reformed in 2003. I picked this pamphlet up the other day while grabbing some books for my upcoming fall classes. Over the next couple of days, I thought I’d share how Ryken answers that question and add a few personal reflections on this as well.

The question about a true Calvinist is a big one in the SBC for several reasons. First, the SBC is currently undergoing a study on the influence of Calvinism in the SBC. I see this as a good thing so long as they consider the following point. Second, almost everyone whom I have heard in disagreement with Calvinism has not properly defined it or treated it fairly. Case after case, sermon after sermon, I hear misrepresentations, caricatures, and straw men. This makes the study of Calvinism in the SBC very difficult. Inasmuch as one would go to a dedicated and authentic Christian to understand Christianity, methinks it would be good advice to do the same with Calvinism. Simply listening to sermons by preachers who are anti-Calvinism will only lead one to a skewed perspective not based on fact but bias. Imagine going to someone who is an atheist and have them define or describe essential truths of Christianity. We would be foolish to think an atheist would present a clear and thorough explanation of Christianity, especially when he is militantly against it.

Third, with the growing popularity of Calvinism, there will be cases where offshoots and erroneous professors will be taken as normative for evangelical Calvinism. I suppose any person can take an extreme example or exception and attempt to make them the poster boy of something they are really the antithesis. Over the course of this past year, I have heard several different attempts to lump Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism together, even by those who know better. To make such an error is to say all Arminians are Open Theists, which no one without substantial evidence can do so. Furthermore, new terminology is being employed, such as the term “neo-Calvinism.” Dr. Timothy George most recently used this in his article in the current First Things publication. In addition, news outlets intended to paint Calvinism in a negative light have used this term in a pejorative way to turn their readers against Calvinism. Others on the internet are familiar with the initials “TR” which means “truly reformed.” As Ryken explains, “the ‘Truly Reformed’ are considered narrow in their thinking, parochial in their outlook, and uncharitable in their attitude towards those who disagree” (5). Most notable among those who use this term is Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) and the eclectic group in the Boars Head Tavern. Rule #40 has shown to be a badge of honor for many Calvinists in the blogosphere.

Fourthly, the medium through much of the discussion of Calvinism, (namely the Internet) has often lead to polemics and well-deserved criticism. For example, let me direct you to Phil Johnson’s first article on his widely-read blog called “Quick and Dirty Calvinism.” Johnson makes some good and justified points about the dangers of being “an ugly Calvinist.” Ryken acknowledges this as he adds that “some Christians who identify themselves as Calvinists seem to be in a perpetual state of discontent with their pastors, often making uninvited suggestions for their personal improvement. Others seem overly concerned with converting people to their ecclesiological denomination. Still others have memorized TULIP but somehow seem to be missing the heart of the gospel” (5-6). Ryken then responds by saying that “this ought not be. In fact, it cannot be, provided that Calvinism is rightly understood” (6).

While I am most certain there are other brothers who can do a much better job in explaining the heart of a true Calvinist, I would like to add a little contribution of my own by sharing some of my own thoughts from reading Ryken’s little pamphlet. I have learned that whenever I approach someone attacking Calvinism to ask them to define their terms and discover what and how much they actually know about the doctrines of grace or Reformed theology. After hearing their caricature, I end up telling them, “No, I am not that kind of Calvinist.” So, as we enter into a little discussion and attempt to answer the question, “What Is a True Calvinist?” my hope and prayer is that some questions can be answered, misrepresentations can be corrected, and a humble commitment to the biblical truths of Calvinism will be strengthened.

For some resources about Calvinism, see:

Founders Library Founders Journal John Piper TULIP Seminar (scroll down to “Free MP3’s under T.U.L.I.P.) J.I. Packer’s Intro to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ Monergism (General) Monergism (Calvinism) Fide-O Articles


Blogger Stephen Newell said...

Interesting and informative post, brother. I wonder if this booklet (which I've not yet seen) is similar to Boice and Ryken's chapter on "true Calvinism" in their book The Doctrines of Grace? If it is, you've hit paydirt, in my opinion. There's no better discussion of what a Calvinist is supposed to be than theirs.

8/14/2006 05:12:00 PM

Blogger ajlin said...

I thought "true Calvinist" was another name for "lousy drunk." >:)

8/14/2006 08:00:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I am not sure what you mean when I hit "paydirt." Could you elaborate on that please?


(I saw you huffing and puffing outside the rec center today BTW; I have to look out for my "strange" brothers.)

Indeed, according to the plethora of assumptions out there, a "true Calvinist" could be as just an odious term as "puritan" was in 17th century England and attributed to any antithetical idea upheld by its opponents. We are in a label game today where people want assign their own definitions and universalize them. This is one of several reasons why I am wanting to write these posts. I could say that every person who went to college at Auburn is intellectually challenged, undiscerningly foolish, and naively impassioned, but that wouldn't be accurate, would it? :)

Oh, and that definition could not be possible at Southern either. You should know that by now.

8/14/2006 08:43:00 PM

Blogger Stephen Newell said...

By "paydirt" I mean to say that is a goldmine. Boice and Ryken in the aforesaid book show their vision for how the doctrines of grace must be put into practice. It is a heavily compelling vision, easily summarized by saying that a "true Calvinist" genuinely seeks the mind of Christ and conformity to it in all parts of our lives--our work, our play, our disciplines such as art, finance, science, history, government, and so on. I can only describe what they have put forth here as wholly Christian. I found it very exciting, to be quite honest!

8/15/2006 04:54:00 AM

Blogger Nick Kennicott said...

Timmy, I look forward to these posts. It should be an informative, worthwhile discussion.

8/15/2006 07:39:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...

@ Stephen,

That makes sense then! Now I have a new word in my small storehouse of vocab! I will check out that book soon. Thanks for the info Stephen!

@ Nick,

Thanks man. I hope that these posts will be helpful for the discussion in the SBC. It is so hard to discuss something when people are talking past one another and using alternative terms that seek to either redefine or misrepresent evangelical Calvinists.

8/15/2006 11:03:00 AM


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