Calvinism with a Heart and Legs

Listening to Receive the Glory over on Worship Matters today, I was reminded of why I am drawn to Calvinism: Calvinists score high on giving the glory to God and not to ourselves.

I just don’t know about the word Calvinism. It brings up strong feelings — often negative — at the mere sound. When I mention I am becoming more Calvinist, most people retort with, “Doesn’t the Bible say we should NOT claim to be of Paul, Apollos, or Calvin? That we should claim to be of Jesus alone?” Obviously, Calvin wasn’t around when scripture was written, but in principle, yes! the Bible clearly states we should be dependent upon the Lord Himself and His word alone.

What I think of when I hear the word Calvinism must not be the same thing those who react negatively are thinking. When I say I am becoming more Calvinist, I certainly don’t picture myself bowing a knee to a medieval saint, nor signing away my soul to a contract of uptight religious ideals. I simply mean that I am coming to see that God has a lot more to do with what we see going on on our planet that I could have imagined, and the inverse, that this is all about Him and for Him.

It could be that dear old Calvinism has simply been often misunderstood. Check out Pyromanics, about halfway down this post, for an extremely interesting comparison of Historic v. Internet Calvinism (the post and ensuing comments are worth a read themselves). The only thing I would add to Johnson’s ideas is that it isn’t just the Internet that has given Calvinism a bad name — many people have blown Calvin’s words far out of proportion and wielded them as swords against innocent bystanders, whether on-line, in books, on television or in real life — but isn’t this simply reality? Doesn’t this happen to every people group in one way or another? Haven’t plenty of so-called Christians given authentic Christianity disgustingly ugly marks? Or even so-called Republicans or so-called Democrats, who speak out for “the rest of us,” when they haven’t a freaking clue what they are saying? To me this seems a human problem, not one unique to John Calvin or the genuine theology behind Calvinism.

Or maybe its just that one cannot see the genuine theology behind Calvinism with a man’s name tatooed to the front of it (not to mention a silly little flower being the basis for explaining its theological points!). The new buzz word for Calvinism is “Doctrines of Grace” or more simply “Sovereign Grace.” Now, that hits the nail on the head for me. The person of Calvin is dropped from the terminology, and its place are an emphasis on God’s Sovereignty and God’s Grace — two attributes of God that permeate scripture. There’s even an entire new (wonderful!) denomination, aptly named Sovereign Grace, that is built around “Charismatic Calvinism.”

Ummm. Yum.

I have also recently heard today’s Calvinism as being referred to as Neo-Calvinism, or Reformational (rather than simply Reform). In fact, Brian Borger, of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, defines the word Reformational in a way I wholeheartedly embrace:

“Reformational: A word coined to describe a new brand of Calvinists who take the ideas of the Protestant Reformation beyond theology and abstract debates about the nature of the atonement and church life and rather seek to bring about Christian cultural change and social transformation. Serious, lasting change, however, can only come about after serious and radical re-formation of the philosophical assumptions currently deforming each sphere of culture. Reformational folk realize that to be “light in the darkness,” we need to re-think the inner structures of each academic discipline which shape each area of life.”

I like to think of this “new” movement as Calvinism with a Heart and Legs. We’ve heard lately a lot about the Emerging Church, but as Calvinism makes a comeback, I think we ought to watch for the “Re-surging” Church. As the Church re-surges back to God’s Word Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, for God’s Glory Alone, She will pack a strong punch. Her strength will be built on the foundation of God Alone. Her charm and loveliness will become evident by her heart of compassion for the poor, needy, hurting and hungry. Her devotion will be revealed by her legs ready to run and meet the physical and spiritual needs of others as She spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

I am of the opinion that as a Church we need to re-surge, or reform, more than we need to emerge or evolve. Re-surging brings to mind reforming, and changing back to the way things once were. For you see, rather than coming up with a new gospel, The Five Solas of the Reformation point us back to God’s Word and God Himself. The New Testament does this same thing, and does it better, of course.

The Emerging Church has done us all a favor by pointing out many of Christianity’s current issues and blindspots. I would submit to them that these problems will be solved with resurgence — because God’s Word has answers that work in any time or age. My hope is that as the Emerging Church grows and matures it will join hands and stand together with the Re-surging Church on the Truth of God’s Word.

John Calvin would not have wanted glory for his ideas, he would have wanted the glory to go to God. This is the heart of Calvinism — whatever you want call it — to God be all the glory.


For a good debriefing on historical and theological Calvinism, check out a few of these articles on John Piper’s Desiring God Website.

Check the sidebar for few ministries that seem very “Reformational,” “Neo-Calvinist” or “Sovereign Grace-ish” to me.


11 thoughts on “Calvinism with a Heart and Legs

  1. Debbie,
    I read your post with interest- esp. The new buzz word for Calvinism is “Doctrines of Grace” or more simply “Sovereign Grace.” I looked at the arguments which neglect half of scripture to prove their point. You would be much better off to simply acknowledge God as sovereign and man as totally cupable- biblicist if you will. Somewhere at the beginning of your post someone did posit that Calvinists, of which he was one, do not do very well at evangelizing people. Can you really believe that a resurgance to Calvinism will lead to a resurgance of the faith? It would seem that God is much more willing to cause people to choose than Calvinists would. In that they err. My opinion anyway, and if I am right, how much are we costing the development of our own church growth by our heresy?

  2. “Calvinists score high on giving the glory to God and not to ourselves.” Whether you realize it or not, I think this to be the chief hole into which Calvinists fall. Ascribe all to the glory of God for it is his providence, say the Calvinists. But when they see evil in its face (as Miroslav is wrestling with now), then they question their faith as such: How can there be evil with a God who is totally provident?
    The problem that they face is not really one with faith- rather it is with their false doctrine. There are many areas where God does not choose to be provident. Rather he chooses to let us choose. One of them is faith- He will call and convict (providence) but we must hear and respond (free will). Do not go too far with ascribing all to God; rather ascribe the wonder of his creation to his glory as does the psalmist so often (Psalm 19)

  3. Funny, Dad, because that seems to refute what you and I were talking about at dinner last night–about how the spiritual is a greater force than we’d imagine. I think that Debbie is simply saying God is behind more than we’d imagine–and you’re saying no way. How are those two thoughts reconcilable?

    Deb–I love it. Our poor dad is going to feel ganged up on by me and you.

    I was reviewing Thomas Aquinas yesterday. He said that God infuses a person with grace, moving him to justice; but, “when a person has the use of his free will, God never moves him to justice without the use of his free will.” Is that a cop out, to say God uses free will? Maybe. But I struggle to see that any will can be “free” at all unless it is in service to the Lord.

    See John 8:38 and Romans 6 on freedom–even here it is not the prisoner that finds the key to freedom; he is set free.
    And all of Paul’s letters on being chosen. It still seems to me that you are ignoring these verses. ie, Romans 8 and Ephesians 1.

    I don’t know the answer here; I’m not satisfied with Thomas’ solution, either, but I do think that it is a bit closer to the truth.

    Also–I still wonder how much of this matters. Of course, it is wonderful to talk about and try to figure out, in the same way that it is delightful to discuss the people we love. But in my interactions with others, both Calvin and Wesley (or any other solid Armenian thinker you can think of…I can’t) would say that I should do the same thing. I should still choose to live a life of obedience.I should still choose to share my faith in Christ with others. I should still do my best to work out my own faith. I should still choose to do what is right over what is evil. In practical matters, as far as I can see, Wesley and Calvin would agree. What we need to do is get off our duffs and start loving people to Jesus!

  4. Hey Dad!
    Thanks for chiming in!
    “You would be much better off to simply acknowledge God as sovereign and an as totally culpable- Biblicist if you will”
    I always felt this way, until I realized that Calvinists, at least the ones I’ve met and read so far would say exactly this — God is sovereign, man is culpable. I don’t know about 5 point Calvinism, but your basic run-of-the-mill stuff is grounded in scripture. And, so far as I’ve found, Calvinists don’t seem negate free will. Most of them believe in free will, but that God’s sovereignty is the stronger force, if I’m explaining that correctly (maybe some of my Calvinists friends can clarify — hello, out there!)
    As far as evangelism goes, I have limited understanding of historical Calvinism, although I been digging and learning a little every week. But from ancedotal evidence, the 2 people who “formally introduced” me to Calvinism are Kathy — a MISSIONARY, and John Piper — EXTREMELY into missions and encouraging believers to be evangelists around the world. Both of these folks are obviously VERY into evangelism, so I see no practical discrepency between believing in Calvinism and reaching the world for Christ.
    One very attractive thing to me about Calvinism is how it encourages God to be a part of all of our lives — family, work, the arts. There isn’t the secular v. religious that I feel many Christians have succumed to recently.
    Anyway, I’ll get into this more later. I really enjoy hearing your reasoning, it helps me think things through.
    Auntie Dani – I hope everything came out OK…
    Your comments were right on with what I am thinking — thank you. I don’t know the answers, either. I just really like the practical way I have seen Calvinists living out their faith in the midst of a messed up world, loving others, and above all giving glory to God. This is what has drawn me into checking things out.
    You are good at understanding both dad and me 🙂
    If you get that book, lemme borrow it, k? Love ya, sis.
    More later!

  5. Just found a few quotes of Spurgeon’s (who was an excellent evangelist).

    Spurgeon’s summation of Calvinism, “A Calvinist believes that salvation is of the Lord.”

    and he also said,

    “”The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.”

    from A Defence of Calvinism, found at

  6. Calvinist or non-Calvinist should never be our claim. To wave proudly the Calvinist flag wreaks of theological pride, and misses the point entirely.Of the hundreds of pages of John Calvin’s institutes, I’ve personally read a small percentage. However, what Calvin and those of like mind have emphasized in their theology is of underlying importance. What does God’s word say? How highly do we really esteem the word of God, as opposed to our own emotional and/or logical leanings? Most “Calvinists” , including myself, are fed up with a modern day church that casually ignores the difficult teachings of scripture, and fails miserably at teaching the full counsel of God. The modern church, as the writer of the Hebrews so clearly states, is full of babes who partake only of milk, and are therefore “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” Of course it goes without saying that any skill attained in the word is rendered useless if never practiced in Christian life. Pages and pages could be written on defending the doctrines of grace which I embrace in faith, as I believe they are clearly taught in scripture. Suffice it to say that one needs to exercise caution in defining the concept of free will. To be “dead in our trespasses and sins” as Paul tells the Ephesians, leaves us with no more free will than Lazarus who lay dead in the tomb. A natural man, which all of us as believers once were, is incapable of receiving the things of the Spirit of God as Paul tells the Corinthians. As one who loves God’s word, I can’t read the book of Ephesians without giving God every bit of the glory, who by his sovereignty, took a dead sinner and made him alive and anew in Christ. The theological tension of God’s full sovereignty vs. man’s responsibility has no humanly logical remedy. As for the answer to the question , “Is God fully sovereign and elects sinners as he wills, or do men choose God?”, I would answer YES. It is undeniable that men must choose, but we must understand without the regeneration of our hearts, we neither could nor would ever choose him.

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