Church History – Calvin and Calvinism 2

iruo February 1, 20234 Comments
calvin and calvinsim

Hi guys! I trust we are all doing great. Still on Church History – Calvin and Calvinism. Let’s continue where we left off.

Note: If you haven’t read the prequel, please do. There is a link to them at the bottom of this page.

Let’s get right to it.

Calvin and Calvinism (Reformed Tradition)

5 Points of Calvinism (TULIP)

We can think of popular fallacies or misapprehensions of Calvin and Calvinism. One of the more unabating ones is that Calvin and Calvinism all boil down to 5 points. We heard all kinds of debates in the 20th and 21st centuries about whether or not someone adheres to TULIP. The acrosticTULIP is the acronym used to explain the five points.

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

Students often complain to their professors about Calvin and his teachings of TULIP. Of course, the issue with all of this is that Calvin never said all of this. These so-called five points of Calvinism actually come from the 17th century with the Synod of Dort which was a conference held in the Netherlands that was meant to be a response to the five points of Arminianism. The followers of Arminius had come up with five essential points of their view, and the Synod of Dort came up with 5 answers to the five points of Armininism.

So, right on, you clearly can see, that the essence of Calvinism is not the 5 points, one of the reasons being that it didn’t originate within Calvinism, it was an answer to an alternative set of presuppositions. Another thing is the use of the acrostic, “TULIP” as a mnemonic device, has no historical value outside of the 20th century. No one used it frankly until the 20th century to describe Calvinism. First off, if the five points of Calvinism come from the Synod of Dort, which is from the Netherlands, why in the world will they use an English spelling to describe a flower, the Dutch word for tulip is tulp, which doesn’t have an “i: in it.

Similarly, the Synod of Dort had very few English speakers at it. So the idea that they came up with the five points of Calvinism is just one of the great myths that have persisted all the way down until today. More pervasive though is this, sort of, fundamental belief that Calvin and Calvinism boils down to five simple points. No one believed this. Even at the Synod of Dort, no one believed that the essence of their own faith is 5 basic points.

Reformed Tradition

another misconception is that Calvin is the originator of everything regarding the Reformed Tradition. This is more Americanism than anything else, but is also historical, as it is seen in the history of Luther. There already was a reformed tradition long before Calvin converted, Calvin comes to the Faith in the 1530s, then he converts and moved to the Swiss regions where he really functions more like a younger brother to men like Luther, Bullinger, and others in the Reformed Tradition. Although Calvin had a profound influence on the reformation, Calvin is not the originator of the reformed tradition.

However, because of the myths out there that goes, Calvin is the originator of the reformed tradition. You have all kinds of, again, popular misconceptions out there about Calvin’s theology and its relationship to modern reformed thinking. Like Ryan said “I can remember being in a class at one point in my education and having a very devout Presbyterian professor tell me that Calvin was the inventor of the Presbyterian system of government and that it was Calvin who invented Presbyterianism. I remember finding this altogether strange because it simply ignored the fact that Presbyterianism is Scottish.

calvin and calvinism

Presbyterianism comes from the Scottish world in the reforms of John Knox. Apparently, John Knox loved John Calvin and was a supporter of Calvin’s ideas, however, Calvin was not the inventor of Presbyterian forms of Government, but it is clear that this instinct portrays every single doctrine back to the man Calvin himself. It is quite perennial. It makes Calvin simply the inverse of Luther. Now, the connection between Luther himself and later, Lutheranism is relatively equivalent, as we know regarding the legacy of Luther, it is quite hard to think of anyone calling themselves Lutheran until the 20th century. So people always reach for Calvin and expect him to always be, sort of, a Luther for the Reformed tradition and that is simply not the case.

Hence, the issue for historians and students or people new to the subject is we have to get right and get in our mind’s eye the proper understanding of the relationship between Calvin and Calvinism. Again, there has been a massive amount of debate on this but thankfully, in the context of right now, in today’s world, we have been massively helped, in particular, by the scholarship of several scholars, but in particular, the work of Richard Muller out of Calvin’s Seminary has become really the standard bearer for a real clear focus on the relationship of Calvin and the later reformed tradition.

Furthermore, Muller’s position can be quickly summed up, it’s a position that simply bears out a historical record. When Muller looks at the question, what is the relationship between Calvin and Calvinism, we can sum up what people mean by that by looking at two tendencies. The first tendency, as we’ve already seen, is the belief that Calvinism is simply the theology of Calvin. It says that Calvin implicitly taught all types of doctrinal debates that arise for a century or a century and half after his death. Issues like church polity, and different forms of government. Doctrinal issues like supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism (Sorry about the big words guys), and a whole bevy of different ideas that are associated with what is called Reformed Scholasticism, which is the real serious debate and writings by reformed thinkers extending long after Calvin’s death.

We’ll stop here, for now, to pick it up where we left off in the next article. Do stick around!

Credit: Ryan Reeves and Tom Richey.

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Comments (04)

  1. Paul
    February 2, 2023

    Wow! Calvin is lovable now though. Always loved him.

    • iruo
      February 8, 2023

      Same here. I’ve always loved him. Thank you again paul.

  2. Osas
    February 6, 2023

    Always great write-ups. We need more of Church history please.

    • iruo
      February 8, 2023

      Thank you so much, Osas. I definitely will keep it coming.

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