"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
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