Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Traced in History

This article is to provide ample evidence that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. It is the first of many articles I have written in defense of Calvinism.

I do not assert that you must affirm Calvinism in order to be a Christian. I do not assert that you are incapable of logical thought if you reject Calvinism. My goal is simply but firmly to prove that Calvinism is not an heretical system of theology. Here, I mean to relay Calvinism’s historical roots.

I hope this proves helpful to you.

A Faith Traced in History

First, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were present in the early church.

Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, with love towards our gentle and compassionate Father because He made us an elect portion unto Himself…Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness…There was given a declaration of blessedness upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Jesus Christ is the hope of the elect… – Clement Of Rome (A.D. 69)

We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation. – Barnabas (A.D. 70)

[Christ speaking] I see that I shall thus offer My flesh for the sins of the new people. – Ibid.

To the predestined ones before all ages, that is, before the world began, united and elect in a true passion, by the eternal will of the Father… – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

In all these discourses I have brought all my proofs out of your own holy and prophetic writings, hoping that some of you may be found of the elect number which through the grace that comes from the Lord of Sabaoth, is left or reserved [set apart] for everlasting salvation – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

Christ died for the salvation of His people…for the church – Tertullian (A.D. 200)

The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed. – Eusebius (A.D. 330)

Faith itself is to be attributed to God…Faith is made a gift. These men, however, attribute faith to free will, so grace is rendered to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt…They must cease from saying this. – Augustine (A.D. 370)

Second, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were clarified at the appropriate time.

In church history we see the development of doctrine, but only in a certain sense. Doctrine does not develop in the sense that the truth changes nor that it becomes more complex. Truth remains the same, yet our articulation of it progresses. As various controversies have risen, the need for clarification on Biblical truth has likewise been present.

For example, Trinitarianism needed to be articulated in light of Arianism. Does that mean that no one believed in the Trinity prior to the 4th century? Of course not – it means that the Scriptural testimony of our Triune God was not meticulously articulated by church leaders until the 3rd and 4th centuries. The same truth applies to Calvinism. Prior to the 16th century, did anyone believe in Calvinism? Well, the term “Calvinism” did not exist, but of course the teachings of Calvinism were present.

The truths of Calvinism were clarified when the need for clarification arose. The true church separated from the Roman Catholic church under grave conviction of certain doctrines, some of which are expressed in the “Five Solas” of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. The motivation to split from Rome ran deeper than “justification through faith.” For the Reformers, the deeper issue was synergism (“with two energies”) versus monergism (“with one energy”). Namely: who accomplishes salvation? Does God accomplish salvation in its entirety (monergism) or do we accomplish something therein (synergism)?

The Reformers saw Roman Catholic doctrine as synergistic, thereby robbing God of glory and leaving no true hope for mankind who is truly dead in sin. When God’s monergistic work in salvation needed to be clarified, many rose to the task and articulated His sovereignty in salvation. Martin Luther was one such champion of monergism when he wrote his famous Bondage of the Will.

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.  – Luther ed. Dillenberger, pg. 199, “Bondage of the Will” in Martin Luther

Third, notice that the tenants of Calvinism have been clearly confessed since their articulation in the 16th century.

Confessions in which Calvinistic doctrines are present include but are not limited to the following: 1528 Ten Theses of Berne, 1530 Augsburg Confession, 1549 Zurich Consensus, 1561 Belgic Confession, 1566 Second Helvic Confession, 1599 Geneva Study Bible, 1619 Canons of Dort, 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1675 Helvetic Consensus, 1677 Baptist Catechism, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1801 39 Articles of Religion, 1858 Abstract of Principles, 1966 Baptist Affirmation of Faith.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are now deceased, have included but are not limited to the following: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Zacharias Ursinus, Roger Williams, John Owen, Benoit Turretin, Francis Turretin, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Gill, John Bunyan, Augustus Toplady, J.C. Ryle, William Carey, George Mueller, Charles Spurgeon, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, Geehardus Vox, Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield, A.T. Robertson, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Martyn Loyd Jones, James M. Boyce.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are still living, have included but are not limited to the following: Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, James White, Bruce Ware, David Platt, Albert Mohler, Jason Allen, Owen Strachen, Matt Chandler, Jared Wilson, Greg Gilbert, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, D. A. Carson, Paul Helm, Douglas Moo, G. K. Beale, Vern Poythress, John Frame, Timothy Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Alistair Begg, Douglas Wilson, Bryan Chappell, Ligon Duncan, Voddie Baccham.

Fourth, notice that Calvinism has played a foundational role in Baptist history.

Baptists sprung from the Puritans in England, who were entirely Calvinistic. From this body Baptists differentiated themselves in two main groups: Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists. In 1790, America boasted 979 Baptist churches, most of which were Calvinistic. The trend would continue until the mid-19th century split into Northern and Southern Baptists, to resurface in the 1980’s on the back of the Conservative Resurgence. H. Leon McBeth writes, “There can be no doubt that Calvinism has been a major part of Baptist heritage” (McBeth, pg. 699, The Baptist Heritage; all information in this paragraph was taken from McBeth).


In light of these four brief points, I submit to you that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. Labelling Calvinism “unchristian” is historically untenable. Though the assertions of Calvinism need not be confessed by a Christian, they cannot with any historical weight be considered heretical. Heresy is different than error. Orthodoxy grants you full liberty to say, “The Calvinist is in error,” yet historically no one can fairly claim, “The Calvinist is heretical.”

Baptists have always included those who are Calvinistic and shall continue to do so. Baptists claim Calvinistic believers as fellow believers and work hand in hand with them as they serve the Lord together. – David Allen and Steve Lemke, 9, Whosoever Will

A Testimony to the Value of Reading: Five Books That Have Shaped My Life

Outside of the Bible, five books have shaped my life in an un-ordinary way. These are books that so impacted me that my life trajectory was literally and significantly re-directed. I would like to present them to you as a testimony to the value of reading and engaging our mind in the teachings and stories of those who have come before us in the faith.

Justification and Regeneration (Charles Leiter)

Length: 176 pgs.
Leiter, Charles. Justification and Regeneration. Hannibal: Granted Ministries Press, 2009.

I discovered this gem by accident. I ordered it practically on a whim after it was recommended by a pastor I enjoy listening to. Before I had time to regret my decision, I rejoiced in it. This book, as the title suggests, outlines the two primary works of God in the conversion of a Christian. It centers primarily on regeneration, but the few chapters dealing with justification are worth every page. I walked into this short volume having practically no understanding of what it means to be re-born – I walked out able to teach it. Leiter’s discourse on imputation is invaluable – I refer to it before Horton or Grudem’s systematic theologies. He is also helpful clarifying the problem of man, Biblical assurance, and the Biblical illustrations of regeneration. From this book I realized the sufficiency of Christ and God’s powerful work in my salvation. I have not been the same since.

Justification is a declaration by a Judge; regeneration is an act of creation by an omnipotent Creator. (pg. 47)

Everything about you cries out instead for your damnation. Apart from the blood and righteousness of Christ, you have no hope… A criminal’s remorse for his crimes does not satisfy the just demands of the law. neither does faith pay for sin! Only the blood of Jesus can pay for sin! Justification is based on the blood of Christ. (pg. 34)

No man can ‘start a church’; God must do the impossible and make something out of nothing for a church to exist. (pg. 53)

The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges)

Length: 153 pgs.
Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006.

The number of pages betrays the amount of Biblical exposition and theological implication packed into this book. After Leiter clarified conversion, Bridges did the same for me with sanctification. I never understood my responsibility to pursue holiness until reading Bridges. This book makes plain the holiness of God and every believer’s commission to “be holy as God is holy.” The Pursuit of Holiness beautifully displays and illustrates mortification (putting sin to death) and vivification (delighting in Christ). Bridges is clear and straightforward, and he draws all of his points from Scripture. From this book I realized the capabilities for holiness within my new self (united to Christ) and my helplessness apart from His Word. I have not been the same since.

Our attitude toward Christ was expressed by the words of His enemies: “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Luke 19:14). But if we have been delivered from this realm, why do we still sin? Though God has delivered us from the reign of sin, our sinful natures still reside within us. Even though sin’s dominion and rule are broken, the remaining sin that dwells in believers exerts a tremendous power, constantly working toward evil….Our sinful natures resort to a sort of guerrilla warfare to lead us into sin. (pg. 55)

It is the Holy Spirit’s ministry to make us see that we are poverty-stricken because of our sins. He comes to us and says, “You are the man!”….When the Holy Spirit shows us our sinfulness, He does not do this to lead us to despair but to lead us to holiness. He does this by creating within us a hatred of our sins and a desire for holiness. (pg. 73)

The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. (pg. 80)

Whosoever Will (ed. Allen & Lemke)

Length: 298 pgs.
Allen, David L., Steve W. Lemke, et al. Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

This impacted me in a different way than the others. I read this at a time when I was just beginning to clarify where on the “reformed spectrum” of theology I would land. As the various SBC theologians in this book critiqued Calvinism, I saw – one after another – their dependence on traditional beliefs and ideas. Throughout the book, I was astonished to find such simple passages of Scripture misinterpreted, even in an honest attempt to know the truth. I walked into this book a shaky 3-point Calvinist. I put it down firmly convicted of all 5 tenants. From this book I realized the vast amount of assumed truths that we as evangelicals – and sadly, Southern Baptists – are convicted of. I have not been the same since.

(of particular interest, I point the reader to chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11, to illustrate my comments)

Shadow of the Almighty (Elisabeth Elliot)

Length: 347 pgs.
Elliot, Elisabeth. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

No single book outside of the Bible has influenced me to the extent that this one has. In Jim Elliot I quickly found a kindred spirit. Specifically, I related well to the manner of his comprehension of God, delight in God, devotion to God’s Word, abandon to God’s mission, and struggle with not wasting time on earth. One great impact that quickly took effect was seeing Elliot’s struggle to pass the “test of free time.” What do I do when I don’t have anything to do? Elisabeth’s commentary is wonderful as well. From this book I realized the fragility of life, the glory of life lived for God, and the joy in giving all to Him. I have not been the same since.

Yea, Lord, if it cost me my bride in this life, let me have Thy grace and power to bring to the Lamb the reward of His sufferings. (pg. 113)

Let nothing turn us from the truth that God has determined that we become strong under fire, after the pattern of the Son. Nothing else will do. Our silken selves must know denial. (pg. 125)

Christ needs some young fellows to sell out to Him and recklessly toss their lives into His work. (pg. 165)

Ah, for a place where Scriptures have not yet been twisted! Lord, send me to Ecuador! (pg. 193)

The Gospel’s Power and Message (Paul Washer)

Length: 274 pgs.
Washer, Paul. The Gospel’s Power and Message. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Paul Washer has given in this book an wonderful response to the cheap-gospel of today’s North American evangelicalism. Through Washer’s teaching on the gospel I was called into the gospel ministry. It would be near impossible to over-emphasize the brevity of value within his chapters on the divine dilemma of Exodus 34:6-7, the cross of Christ and He as propitiation, the vindication of God in Christ’s suffering, Christ’s ascension as the High Priest of His people, and the necessity for preaching to make much of sin in the pulpit. I have yet to hear a more accurate, clear presentation of the gospel than Washer’s. From this book I realized the heart of our faith in the cross of Christ and my own call to preach the gospel in vocational ministry. I have not been the same since.

Do we recognize that the power to save is found uniquely in the gospel? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It is not just the core, or part of what is needed, but the whole. For it to have great effect upon men, it only needs to be proclaimed. It does not require a revision to make it relevant, an adaptation to make it understood, or a defense to validate it. If we stand up and proclaim it, it will do the work itself. (pg. 58)

Man is unable to love God because he hates God. He is unable to obey God because He disdains his commands. He is unable to please God because he does not hold the glory and good pleasure of God to be a worthy goal. Man is not a victim but a culprit. He cannot because he will not. His corruption and enmity toward God are so great that he would rather suffer eternal punishment than acknowledge God to be God and submit to His sovereignty. (pg. 119)

Imagine two giant millstones, one turning on top of the other. Imagine that caught between the two is a single grain of wheat pulled under the massive weight. First, the stones crush its hull beyond recognition, and then its inward parts pour out and are ground into dust. There is no hope of retrieval or reconstruction. All is lost and beyond repair. Thus, in a similar fashion, it pleased the Lord to crush His only Son and put Him to grief unspeakable. Thus, it pleased the Son to submit to such suffering that God might be glorified and His people might be redeemed. (pg. 191)


I have, in this blog, bore witness to five books which have changed the trajectory of my life. I encourage you, the reader, to find a solid author and dive into one of their books. Go read!

The Act and Purpose of Creation

The Act of Creation

God created the universe out of nothing. Scripture teaches this via strong implication. God made all things, thus prior to His creative work nothing but Him existed. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens , the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You” (Neh 9:6). “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host…For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps 33:6, 9). “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (Jn 1:3). In these passages it seems plain that all things had a beginning. All things were created by God, and prior to His creative work, none of these things existed. Therefore, we say that God created all things ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”

Physical and Spiritual

Christians make terrible naturalists. Scripture seems to clearly divide creation into physical and spiritual. God made both. “The God who made the world and all things in it…” (Ac 17:24). “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb 11:3). “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev 4:11). “‘O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them’” (Ac 4:24). “Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; when I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop’?” (Job 38:8-11).

Lastly, consider Psalm 90:2. “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” The Psalmist clearly ascribes to God a pre-creation existence. Before creation, there was God. God gave birth to the earth and the world ex nihilo. Creation has no pre- or post- in relation to God.

Mankind

In all that God created, the crown of His work was mankind. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” After God made man, He made woman: “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (2:21-23). The glorious mark of mankind is that he bears God’s image (Gen 1:26). This means that humans naturally exhibit something that is true of God.

Marriage

In addition to creating man and woman (Gen 1:18), God also created the first institution: marriage. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (v.24). God created marriage to be a reflection of His own relationship to His people (Eph 5:31-32). It is a holy institution: exclusive and restricted to all outside of its contract (Prov 5:15-20). It is of God, not man (Matt 19:6), to the extent that the breaking of the marriage contract is a grievance to God (Mal 2:16) and has been allowed only to those of hard, unrepentant hearts (Matt 19:8). God’s intention for marriage has always been that a man and a woman would be united together under covenant until death, as a living/breathing example of God’s relationship to His people: the wife submitting to the husband as the church submits to Christ and the husband unconditionally loving the woman as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:22-33).

The Trinity

As we look at creation, it would be unfaithful to not consider it in the context of God as being triune: three persons in one being, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father served as the main initiator and orchestrator of the creative work. We see His sovereign will being submitted to within the economic Trinity. “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt 26:39). “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). It was the Father Who initiated and orchestrated the creation of all things, just as He did in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ (Jn 3:16; Ac 2:23) and will do in the end of all things (Matt 24:36).

The Father created all things through the Son. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from His nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn 1:1-3). “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have  been created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). Heb. 1:2, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:2). The relationship between the Father and the Son, concerning the creation of all things, can also be seen in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” Consider Andrew Davis’ words: “In some mysterious way God spoke the universe into existence out of nothing, and Christ was the word by which God did this powerful creative speaking. The universe was created for Christ, and God appointed Christ ‘heir of all things.’ So, in some astonishing way, every atom in the physical universe and every entity in the spiritual realm belongs to Christ by rights” (Creation, The Gospel Coalition Booklets, pg. 10).

The Spirit’s role in creation is much more vague and nuanced in Scripture. However, we know that He was involved (Gen 1:1-2). We can say that His role was the completing, filling and giving life to creation. “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground” (Ps 104:30). “The testimony of Scripture to the specific activity of the Holy Spirit in creation is scarce. The work of the Holy Spirit is brought into much greater prominence in connection with the inspiring of the authors of Scripture and the applying of Christ’s redemptive work to the people of God” (Grudem, 267).

THE PURPOSE OF CREATION

After studying the act of creation, it is now important for us to understand why God created all things. What is the purpose? What reason did God have in creating the world?

For His Will

Consider first that God has absolute right over His creation: “Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Rom 9:21). God clearly has a right to do with creation as He desires. “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3). The purpose of creation is to adhere to His will. Whatever God pleases to happen, creation is to conform to it. Solomon understood this: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecc 12:13).

For His Glory

Part of God’s will for creation is the manifestation of His attributes: putting Himself on display. “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). From the beginning of time itself, all of creation has served as a canvas for the attributes of God! “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Ps 19:1-2). Also, Isaiah 46:9-11 testifies that God knows the future because God accomplishes the future. Creation was created and is being orchestrated according to the will of God; no one can reverse it (43:13). Creation also glorifies God, but there is a special part of creation that especially brings God glory: His people.

Consider Isaiah 43:6-7, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Although all of creation glorifies God in some way, God’s people are a special creation in relation with His glory. Consider these texts: Ex. 14:4, 18; Ps. 25:11; 106:7-8; 1 Sam. 12:20, 22; 2 Sam. 7:23; Isa. 43:6-7, 25; 48:9-11; 49:3; Jer. 13:11; Ezek. 20:14; 36:22-23; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 1:4-6; Phil. 1:9, 11. Also, consider Jesus Christ’s own concern for His Father’s glory: Matt. 5:16; Jn. 7:18; 12:27-28; 14:13; 17:1, 24; Rom. 3:25-26; Rom. 15:7. The church of God has been entrusted with a solemn charge: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). It is also clearly expected that all creation should glorify God. Scripture warns lest we think otherwise (Ac 12:23; Rom 1:22-23; 3:23).

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev 4:11).