Luther and Calvin on Predestination (Church History)

iruo February 21, 20236 Comments
luther an calvin on predestination

Hello everyone! I trust you are doing great! Today, we are going to be talking about Luther and Calvin on the subject of predestination. Let’s get right to it. Enjoy!

Luther and Calvin on Predestination

I’ll start off by saying if there is any doctrine, subject, or topic that needs explanation on it before even delving into the historical teachings of these two men, it is the doctrine of predestination. Too often what is said, and we’ve touched on this before, when we talked about Calvin and Calvinism, is that the doctrine of Calvinism is a Calvinistic doctrine, as if Calvin himself is the only one who ever taught this doctrine, as if it sprung from his mind alone and therefore it is the Calvinists who are to blame for all these talks on the doctrine of predestination.

That’s just a popular misconception! Well, that reality of the way Calvinism is viewed as the, sort of, standard bearer of predestinarian language comes about itself from historical contexts. The first, of course, is the Arminian debate of the 17th century. There is the famous Synod of Dort (1618 – 1619) which laid out the concept of what today is called the five points of Calvinism. First off, I’d like to say, this comprehension of Calvinism as if it is merely five points or as if the five points that are described at the Synod of Dort are themselves Calvin’s teachings, we are going to have to resist. This is because the fact of the matter is, the Synod of Dort while certainly within the context of the reformed faith and while not necessarily antithetical to the teachings of Calvin, do come from the context of the reformed world and Calvin, obviously, is part of the reformed world.

There are some doctrines that Calvin never said anything about, an example of that is Limited Atonement, or if he did say anything about them, he certainly didn’t talk about them with the same clarity and justification as was said at the Synod of Dort. So the Arminian – Calvinist debate in the 17th century of the Netherlands has given shape and vocabulary to this debate that we carry in on today. At least, they are often sited as issues today. Now, we should go ahead and dispel the myth that the Synod of Dort famously called TULIP..

luther and calvin on predestination

No one at the Synod of Dort spoke English, the language of choice would have been Latin or for the locals, it would have been Dutch. They certainly would not have come up with an English acronym as a mnemonic in order to understand the five points. More of Arminianism itself was coming out of the reformed world. Arminius had been a student of Beza, who was s student of Calvin. So, the Arminian – Calvinist debate was really a pregnant moment in the development of the Reformed language as it sought to clarify and articulate, again more deeply than Calvin himself did, some of the doctrines that they were holding.

The other historical context involves the teachings of John Wesley. John Wesley, of course, was, perhaps, the finest early preacher of the new world. He and George Whitefield were friends with each other. Although Whitefield, strangely enough, a Calvinist, both rode up and down the circuit, preaching revival and evangelizing those in the new world. Well, Wesley was an Arminian, and to be on that, he was pretty zealous Anti-Calvinist. It is to Wesley that a number of the urban legends about Calvin’s teachings and some of the ferocity/anger amongst people that come from the Wesleyan Revialist Tradition, whether they know it or not, come from. They are from the genealogy of Wesley himself.

So, setting aside the issue that Calvin is to be assumed only in the lives of these two later figures or moments, we need to look at it in the context of its own day because here’s the thing, Calvin was not the first to talk about predestination in the Reformation, neither was he the only one in the Reformation in particular. It’s like almost to a man. The early reformers themselves taught a generic concept or understanding of predestination; Thomas Cranmer did, John Calvin taught it, Martin Luther did, etcetera. what we have to look at though is the shading of it. Put simply, it is the basic Protestant assumption that we are dead in our sins and we need a saviour, and avoiding the language of our own works and merit which was systemic in the middle ages.

The reformers always aired with a view that God has saved us, we have not saved ourselves, we have not contributed one iota of the obedience to the law that Christ Himself has accomplished. So, that’s the base. The base is all of the reformers, in some way, teach the doctrine of predestination. The next thing to realize though is that they are not the first in history to teach this doctrine. There is an entire well-spring of folks, going back, at least, to Augustine, though it could be argued that it goes back to the age as well before him. Still, certainly Saint Augustine, there was an accent, you might say, an underscoring of God’s work for us, of God choosing us before we have chosen Him, i.e, responded to Him..

For an individual to say that they are Augustinian to this day, has its root, this idea that they believe in unmerited grace, that God has rescued us, and saved us, and called us and that all of our response to God is read in the light of His calling us first. So that’s first, we have to get off the idea that only John Calvin talked about the doctrine of predestination. The next thing though, is the careful language of predestination. That we will discuss in the next article.

Credit: Ryan Reeves

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Comments (06)

  1. Paul
    March 13, 2023

    Luther… My guy!! I’ve been wanting to know where they differ on predestination though.

    • iruo
      March 13, 2023

      Lol… IKR! People associate megalomania with him because of his demeanour. They think he was insane. Well, there’s a thin line between insanity and genius, however, we can’t help but be thankful for his role in the Reformation.

  2. Osas
    March 13, 2023

    Dope! One of my favourites. @Paul, same here.

    • iruo
      March 13, 2023

      Thanks! He is one of my favourites too.

  3. Debby
    March 13, 2023

    Lovely… I love church history.

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