Changing the 5 Points of Calvinism

Despite the popular misconception, John Calvin never wrote the five points of Calvinism, also know as TULIP. These however were five points that were drawn up some time after his death in an effort to summarize the key doctrines for which Calvin and the Reformed faith stood. While anyone who is well read in Calvin will attest, these five points are probably a very narrow view of Calvin’s theology, none-the-less, they can be helpful in thinking through some of the key points of the Reformed faith.

The other day I began reading a book by Roger Nicole entitled, Our Sovereign Saviour. In chapter 4, Nicole seeks to reword the five points in an effort to, in his words, “prevent misunderstandings.” I found his rewordings and thoughts interesting and thought I’d share them briefly here (please note the paragraphs quoted after each section are but a small part of Nicole’s argument, but I thought they best captured his intention):

Total Depravity Radical and Pervasive Evil

May I suggest that what the Calvinist wishes to say when he speaks of total depravity is that evil is at the very heart and root of man. It is at the very foundation, at the deepest level of human life. This evil does not corrupt merely one or two or certain particular avenues of the life of man but is pervasive in that it spreads into all aspects of the life of man. It darkens his mind, corrupts his feelings, warps his will, moves his affections in wrong directions, blinds his conscience, burdens his subconscious, afflicts his body. There is hardly any way in which man is called upon to express himself in which, in some way, the damaging character of evil does not manifest itself. Evil is like a root cancer that extends in all directions within the organism to cause its dastardly effects

Unconditional Election Divine Initative

What we need to recognize here is that the sovereign initiative in salvation is with God. It is not with man. It is not by virtue of something that God has foreseen in a man, some pre-existing condition which is the source or root of the elective purpose of God, that God saves him. God in his own sovereign wisdom chooses, for reasons that are sufficient unto himself, those who shall be saved. We may, therefore, much better speak of ‘sovereign election and preterition’.

Limited Atonement Particular Redemption

We ought rather to talk about ‘definite atonement’. We ought to say that there was a definite purpose of Christ in offering himself. The substitution was not a blanket substitution. It was a substitution that was oriented specifically to the purpose for which he came into this world, namely, to save and redeem those whom the Father has given him. Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps it is less precise than ‘definite atonement’, is ‘particular redemption’. For, the redemption of Christ is planned for particular people and accomplished what it purposed. The only alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

Irresistible Grace Effectual Grace

We ought not to give the impression that somehow God forces himself upon his creatures so that the gospel is crammed down their throats, as it were. In the case of adults (those who have reached the age of accountability) it is always in keeping with the willingness of the individual that the response to grace comes forth. This is surely apparent in the case of the Apostle Paul, for whom God had perhaps made what might be called the maximum effort to bring him in. He resisted, but God overcame his resistance. The result is that Paul was brought willingly and happily into the fold of the grace of God.
What we mean here is not ‘irresistible’—it gives the impression that man continues to resist—but ‘effectual’. That is, the grace of God actually accomplishes what he intends it to accomplish.

The Perseverance of the Saints Perseverance of God with the Redeemed

The advantage of this formulation is that there is, indeed, a human activity in this process. The saints are active. They are not just passive. In a true sense they are called upon to persevere. But there is a devastating weakness in this formulation in that it suggests that the key to this perseverance is the activity of the saints. It suggests that they persevere because they are strong, that they are finally saved because they show that kind of stability and consistency which prevents them from turning back into their original wickedness. This is never the case. The key to perseverance is the preservation by God of his saints, that is, the stability of his purpose and the fixity of his design. What is to be in view here is not so much the perseverance of those who are saved, but the perseverance of God with the sinners whom he has gloriously transformed and whom he assists to the end. We ought to talk about ‘God’s perseverance with his saints’. That is the thing that we need to emphasize.

Taken from, Roger Nicole, Our Sovereign Saviour (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 47-54.

The Conformity of the Believer to the Image of Christ

The Apostle Paul speaks about Christ being the prototype of all the sons of God, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29 AV). Calvin highlights this as being one of the greatest privileges that the believer enjoys as being an adopted son of God. He writes,

“God had so determined that all whom he has adopted should bear the image of Christ…that he might teach us that there is in Christ a living and conspicuous exemplar, which is exhibited to God’s children for imitation.”

Elsewhere he writes that,

“. . . the final end of our adoption is, that what has in order preceded in Christ, shall at length be completed in us…we have eyes prepared to see God.”

This conforming to Christ’s image will prepare the believer to behold Christ in his glory, removing impurities, weaknesses and sin.


Calvin: On The Importance of The Community of Believers

Cog 2003 03 WikiIn his stirring commentary on Psalm 16 (Psalm 16:3) Calvin remarks:

This passage, therefore, teaches us that there is no sacrifice more acceptable to God than when we sincerely and heartily connect ourselves with the society of the righteous, and being knit together by the sacred bond of godliness, cultivate and maintain with them brotherly good-will. In this consists the communion of saints which separates them from the degrading pollutions of the world, that they may be the holy and peculiar people of God.

The community serves, it seems, the dual purpose of knitting believers together in godliness and sanctity and in separating believers from the ‘degrading pollutions’ of the world.  Calvin may well be on to something here that modern Christianity might need very much: i.e., the community as refuge.  Christianity has never been, and never can be, an individual concern.  It is a community of saints, believers gathered together not simply for worship but for fellowship, mutual encouragement, and mutual edification.

In our over-individualized culture what we need, perhaps more than anything, is the security which the communio sanctorum alone offers.  Calvin, it is my opinion, understood this and in putting thought to paper has allowed us all to see the value of it as well.


Calvin Didn’t Master the Languages

It seems to be the common opinion that John Calvin was neither a master of Greek or Hebrew, yet he passionately perused them and encouraged and instructed all pastors to do the like. I find encouragement in the fact that Calvin wasn’t a master of the languages. It helps me see that some things were hard work for Calvin, yet he persisted because the worth of the goal was great. He believed in the importance of the original languages and it showed in all he did.

Calvin firmly believed in an educated pastorate, and part of this eruditio was mastery of the languages of Scripture. Prudence and fairness requires us to agree with the assessment of David Puckett when he concludes that Calvin ‘probably should not be regarded as a expert Hebraist, as was Münster, but he did know the language a great deal better than the seventeenth-century Roman Catholic scholar Richard Simon believed.’ Basil Hall perhaps provides an accurate judgment when he says that Calvin was ‘competent in Hebrew without being a distinguished Hebraist’ and that he was an ‘homme trilingue, a worthy representative of French biblical humanism.’ The reality is that ‘there is scarcely a Reformed exegete of the sixteenth century who did not have a good knowledge of Hebrew and was passionately concerned to establish the hebraica veritas.’ Calvin was an excellent Greek scholar, yet, again, he was not alone. Indeed, Reformed interpreters of the sixteenth century were masters of the Greek language, and men like Beza even surpassed Calvin in it.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 77-78.

Adoption being a Major Role of Calvin’s

The doctrine of adoption plays a major role in Calvin’s tracts, letters, sermons, Institutes, and most importantly, his commentaries. Timothy Trumper states on this matter, “It is increasingly apparent that the commentaries are indispensable to an appreciation of Calvin’s theology of adoption.” When one considers Calvin’s development of adoption he begins by stating that it is motivated by the Father’s electing grace in Christ.  This is best seen through Calvin’s own words:

“It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.”

Calvin saw that adoption was designed for the glory of God, in that those saved by the gospel are then to live for the glory of God in holiness, purity, and doing every deed in obedience to honor their heavenly Father. To Calvin, adoption was not just a blessing; he knew that the privileges that were given to the believer upon the act of adoption came with responsibilities. Calvin saw adoption not only as a promised inheritance for believers, but also as a way in which believers are to think, live, and transform their new life according to the Word of God.

Quotes take from; Dr. Timothy Trumper, “An Historic Study of the Doctrine of Adoption in the Calvinistic Tradition” on page 47 and John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Ephesians, page 198.

Calvin’s Thoughts on Seminary

John Calvin’s aim of the Genevan Academey is inspiring and should most certainly be applied, or should I say adopted, by more seminaries today:

The creation of the Academy was perhaps Calvin’s crowning achievement. However, it needs to be noted that Calvin’s purpose in establishing this enterprise was not merely to produce scholars. In reality, ‘one of its chief titles to renown has always been, up to very recent times, that of having formed a body of pastors provided with a high degree of intellectual culture.’ His aim in the schola publica was to raise up and train pastor-scholars. These were men who could work well with the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, who could perform proper exegesis of a text, and who understood theology and philosophy; yet, they could take all that intellectual work and translate it to the masses. These were pastor-scholars who did not stay in the ivory tower, but they sought to find the truth and then apply it to the people. The purpose of the academic work was to affect the church and the world with the truth and power of the Word of God.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 60.

Jesus Christ Invites Us so Gently to His Table

Communion was no light topic for the reformers. That’s why I’ve enjoyed reading some of Calvin’s writings on the subject. While there is a heavy emphasis on personal examination prior to coming to the table, I enjoyed finding the assurance that even our self examination is to be found wanting and that, eventually, we just have to come in faith and receive the gift of God in the table. Despite our weakness, he bids us come. In The Manner of Celebrating the Lord’s Supper Calvin puts it this way (emphasis mine):

Next, let us not be ungrateful to the infinite goodness of our Saviour, who displays all his riches and blessings at this table, in order to dispense them to us; for, in giving himself to us, he bears testimony to us that all which he has is ours. Moreover, let us receive this sacrament as a pledge that the virtue of his death and passion is imputed to us for righteousness, just as if we had suffered it in our own persons. Let us not be so perverse as to keep back when Jesus Christ invites us so gently by his word; but while reflecting on the dignity of the precious gift which he gives us, let us present ourselves to him with ardent zeal, in order that he may make us capable of receiving him.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 121.

Centrality of the Languages in Study

In the establishment of the Genevan Academy we see Calvin’s passion for the biblical languages shine. It is clear from the heavy emphasis on the Biblical languages that Calvin felt they were of utmost important for those who would be pastors of the church. As I read the section below, I could not help but wonder what great things might come of us leading our children towards Hebrew and Greek at young ages:

The Genevan Academy had two departments: the schola private (the lower department) and the schola publica (the upper level). The former was for children beginning school at six years of age. There were seven levels of education; the seventh class was the most rudimentary and the first class was the highest order in the school. The content of the various levels are well-known and we do not need to repeat them here. When one reads them, however, one is immediately struck by the amount and centrality of the linguistic work. Bilingual instruction commenced in level seven, that is, the opening grade: students began to learn both French and Latin at this early age. By the fourth class they were introduced to the Greek language. In the upper three class levels the students were preparing almost all of their work in the original languages of Latin and Greek: they read, for example, Homer, Virgil, Cicero from their original tongues. They also translated directly from the New Testament; in level two they were reading the Gospel of Luke and in level one they were translating the Epistles.

The schola private served as a feeder to the schola publica; the latter had its primary purpose to train future ministers of the gospel. These were students who were preparing to preach the Word of God. And since ‘the exposition of the Bible was central to the sermon, Calvin ensured that the biblical languages were given primary place in the curriculum.’ Walker concludes that Calvin’s purpose was to ‘make Geneva the theological seminary of Reformed Protestantism.’ To Calvin, the Academy was to be an institution of great learning. And he believed that erudition required mastery of three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 57-58.

Of Confidence in the Forgiveness of Sins

John Calvin wrote against the Adultero-German Intrim in his tract The True Method for Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church. However, there is still some really great stuff in there . For instance, there is a great reminder to the church throughout all time the confidence which the have in the powerful blood of Christ. (emphasis mine)

“Then care must be taken that we do not either make men too secure and confident in themselves, or drive them by anxious doubting to despair. Wherefore, since Paul says, (Gal. 2.,) that he was indeed conscious of no sin, but yet by this was not justified, man cannot believe that his sins are forgiven without a doubt of his own weakness or indisposition. But although he ought not to boast in himself, he is not to be so terrified as to doubt the promises of God, and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ, and despair of obtaining the forgiveness of sins and salvation. All hope, and the assurance of all confidence, ought to be in the precious blood of Christ, which was shed because of us and our salvation. In him alone we both can with certainty, and we ought, to breathe and confide, having the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 201-02.

Calvin Taught Directly From the Greek & Hebrew

Not only did Calvin teach and preach without any notes, he did so directly from the original language:

Calvin would then read a text in Hebrew or Greek, and offer a very literal translation of it into Latin. After that, he would provide a smoother Latin translation, followed by his commentary. Jean Crispin, a publisher of Calvin’s day, attended some of the reformer’s lectures. He commented on Calvin’s lecture style as follows: ‘… but he kept on lecturing continuously for a full hour and did not write down one single word in his book to help his memory.’ The book in question was the Hebrew Old Testament and, thus, Calvin was sight-reading the Hebrew text without any linguistic aids. Then, also without notes, he made comment on the text that had been read.

Colladon also remarked on Calvin’s teaching style; he said:

When lecturing, he always had only the bare text of Scripture; and yet, see how well he ordered what he said! Even when (some years before his death) he was lecturing on Daniel, although at some places he had to narrate historical facts at length, as we see from the lectures, he never had any paper before him as an aide-mémoire. And it was not as if he had adequate time to prepare; for, whatever he may have wished, he simply had not the opportunity. To say the truth, he usually had less than an hour to prepare.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 47.

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