Critiquing Calvinism

From my experience, most critiques of Calvinism focus on soteriology, i.e., the TULIP scheme. Said critique is then carried out by examining Calvinist proof texts for their soteriology and offering counter-proof texts for another soteriology (more times than not Arminian). But this is unsatisfying for a number of reasons. The main reason I think this approach fails is because it reduces Calvinism to its soteriology. But Reformed theology is much more full-orbed than that; it encompasses an entire worldview and salvation is but a part of it.

Calvinists believe certain things about God, the world he has created, and the beings that inhabit it that in turn affect what they believe about how God has gone about his task of redeeming a chosen people. This isn’t to say that Catholics or Arminians or Orthodox don’t have presuppositions about the same things that affect what they believe about salvation as well; but it is to say that in order for a critique of Calvinism to be successful, it’s going to have to engage Calvinism as a worldview, and not simply an acronym about salvation.

B”H

11 thoughts on “Critiquing Calvinism

  1. In reality, no. tulip is the outworking of prior commitments. Now many of todays young calvinists push tulip hard, which helps to explain the focus on it in critiques, but their apologetic for tulip is as disappointing as critiques that focus on it alone. But calvinist soteriology flows from calvinist theology proper. What they believe about God determines what they believe about his acts.that’s how they can read the same proof texts as Arminians and come to such radically different conclusions.

  2. If TULIP is flawed then it seems like that form of systematic theology would likewise have to fail? It just seems like if the calvinist soteriology has flaws then the system would fall apart. I agree that Reformed Theology is more that Soteriology but if that (Soteriology) is messed up that sure seems like a pretty big problem. Also, how does Theistic Determinism fit into this? Do you view TD a foundational belief of Calvinism?
    Please bear in mind these questions come from someone that knows (Oops, thinks) Paul didn’t write Hebrews, but if you could just humor me I would be ever so thankful.

  3. Steel: I’m not convinced that if a part is flawed then the whole fails. At least if we’re talking about the entire Calvinist worldview. If we’re just limiting ourselves to their soteriology, then sure, the system stands or falls together, although some folks would contend that limited atonement is negotiable (I’d disagree with them, but they claim it anyway). But let’s say that Calvinists are absolutely wrong about the who, what, where, when, and why of election. Does it then follow that their entire understanding about God is wrong? Of course not. All Christians agree on certain things about God, such as him being Trinity, and yet they have divergent understandings of how God saves.

    As for determinism, yes, some form of determinism is foundational for Calvinism; at least if we understand compatibilism as a form of determinism. It’s the part of the Calvinist worldview that allows them to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility. And I’m pleased to see you correct your presumption about the authorship of Hebrews. ;-)

    Mike: I hear ya, but at the same time, I get it. It’s easy to remember; easy to understand; and it’s popular.

    Kevin: Same here.

  4. Perhaps within a anthropological / sociological framework – yes, i love this term…:) Calvinism is shifting… I would argue that Calvinism is no longer focussed on a narrative theology, though historically it can be argued it is.. but is now focussed around the TULIP acronym.

    Look at the restless reformed mob, all eager to join hands and defend that position, coming from a proof texting, propositional and for the most part, a cessational basis. One of the difficulties in dialogue is the language we use. Take the Baptism of the Spirit for one, many reformed use and understand this term to mean ‘salvation’ whereas others mean it as a distinct working of the Spirit, apart from salvation. .

  5. Craig: If we were to limit Calvinism to the popular theology we see among young to middle-aged American Reformed types then I’d agree. But there are still plenty of folks in the generation before there’s who adhere strongly to the more full-orbed Reformed confessions. And when we look to Europe we don’t see quite the soteriological emphasis that we find over here. They seem to be better with the big picture as well.

    The issue about Spirit baptism is an interesting one that’s worth exploring. I find the disparity between Reformed folks on that subject to be fascinating. I wonder what it says that some of the most popular Calvinists in evangelical circles (e.g., Grudem; Piper; Driscol) are charismatic, or at least open to the charismata.

    T. C.: But don’t you find that those concerned so much with the points are really just Arminians who believe in eternal security? The Reformed Baptists, like James White, for example, are pretty good with taking the whole worldview into account.

  6. So what books might you recommend to help someone understand both the deeper differences between a fully orbed Reformed worldview and the narrower tulip defenders of recent years?

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