In recent years there seemed to be a curious interest in Calvinism. Numerous Christians from all spheres of influence and all walks of life are stating their claim and defining themselves by this term. Brad Vermurlen, a Notre Dame graduate says,

“Ten years ago, everyone was talking about the ‘emergent church, and five years ago, people were talking about the ‘missional church.’ And now ‘new Calvinism.’ I don’t want to say the new Calvinism is a fad, but I’m wondering if this is one of those things American evangelicals want to talk about for five years, and then they’ll go on living their lives and planting their churches. Or is this something we’ll see 10 or 20 years from now?”[1]

There is in large quite a contention surrounding the words “Reformed” and “Calvinism”, and the contention of these terms would be best left for a future article. So what is the heart of Calvinism? Matt Slick writes; Calvinism “is a movement within orthodox Protestantism that was developed by John Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian.”[2] Professor Byron Curtis, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Geneva College, gives a four-point summation of Calvinist’s centrally held beliefs:

(1) Confessing what was established in Orthodox Christianity in the first five centuries of the Church.

(2) Confessing the four ‘Solas’ of the Reformation (Scriptura, Gratia, Fide, Christus).

(3) Holding to ‘monergism’ not ‘synergism’ (man is reliant on God for salvation and nothing of himself).

(4) Affirming always to God be the Glory (Soli Deo Gloria).

As for the merits of Prof. Curtis’ outline, there is very little to dispute and I am sure that the majority of Calvinists will hold to these precepts wholeheartedly.

So what is the problem? For the sake of brevity, my interest is not the contention of the term ‘reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ or even the doctrines of grace nor the merit of this tradition. Even though I do not agree with his dispensationalism, writer of Bible commentaries, magazine editor and member of the Plymouth Brethren Charles Henry Mackintosh made the following observation:

“God has not confined Himself within the narrow limits of any school of doctrine–high, low or moderate. He has revealed Himself. He has told out the deep and precious secrets of His heart. He has unfolded His eternal counsels, as to the Church, as to Israel, the Gentiles, and the wide creation. Men might as well attempt to confine the ocean in buckets of their own formation as to confine the vast range of divine revelation within the feeble enclosures of human systems of doctrine. It cannot be done, and it ought not to be attempted. Better far to set aside the systems of theology and schools of divinity, and come like a little child to the eternal fountain of Holy Scripture, and there drink in the living teachings of God’s Spirit.” [3]

I had a student speak to me one night at the seminary, and as the class emptied for their break, he leaned over to me and asked with a faint whisper, “are you a Calvinist?” Now, let me assure you that the lecture was on the merit of the Reformation and the need for our recognition of God’s sole work and purpose in our faith. However, we cannot preach the reformation at the expense of Christ. The purpose of the Christian is not to become Calvinist, it is to be Christlike. Malcolm B. Yarnell III cautions us that we

“are first, last, and always followers of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin.” [4]

One of the saddest realities is that people think affirming the t.u.l.i.p (Calvinism), d.r.e.a.m (Arminianism), or r.o.s.e.s (Molinism) system of soteriology gives them proximity and some form of identity. Ultimately, we lead people to say all the right things about doctrine, but lack to bring them to a clear and undivided reality of the Cross. An example of this is where Collin Hansen describes his newfound enthusiasm as:

“During the weekend when I visited Piper’s church, the college group was learning TULIP. The student-teacher spent about 30 minutes explaining unconditional election.” [5]

When the emphasis lands on all the wrong places, we can easily find ourselves being fervently religious without being essentially biblical. Jesus even cautioned the religious of his own day in that they have placed the emphasis on themselves rather than on him (Joh.5:39). Is it important to know the reality of Sin and Man? Absolutely, but these doctrines should never overshadow the primacy of Christ. When I read a social media status entitled “how Calvinism saved me” or “predestined to Calvinism” I think the emphasis is lost. What is central to the Scriptures? John Flavel writes,

“There is no doctrine more excellent in itself, or more necessary to be preached and studied, than the doctrine of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”[6]

I like what my friend Dr James White says,

“Christian scholarship should start with Christ, ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… ”[7]

Let me end by emphasizing Calvin’s clear priority when he wrote:

“When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minute’s portion of it from any other quarter. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that he possesses it; if we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, we shall find them in his unction; strength in his government; purity in his conception; indulgence in his nativity, in which he was made like us in all respects, in order that he might learn to sympathise with us.” [8]

Our identity is not found in our affirmation of the doctrines of grace or the denial of it. Our salvation does not hinge on the outcomes of the council of orange, dort, or the denial of another Christian soteriological right. We are called to Christ. The Apostles wrote, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor.4:5). Let it be our primary affirmation as well.

Grace and peace.

Rudolph P. Boshoff.







[6] From the Library of Charles Spurgeon Compiled by James Stuart Bell. Pg 131.

[7] The God who justifies .Pg. 33.