What are some misconceptions of Calvinism? Dr. J.V. Fesko addresses three common misunderstandings about Calvinism and clarifies the teaching of the Reformed tradition on each issue.
1. Calvinism is All About John Calvin
There are some popular misconceptions about Calvinism. The first is that people are signing off on the theology of John Calvin. Now, while it’s true that John Calvin is certainly one of the more important theologians in the tradition, we typically want to say that we are members or we are participants in the Reformed tradition—the Reformed confessional tradition, and Calvinism is simply just a popular name that has been applied to the Reformed tradition because John Calvin is such a notable figure. But we always say about these Reformed confessions that it’s not that these confessions in any way take priority or authority over the Scriptures, but rather you would find that all of these Reformed confessions always say that they are subordinate to the authority of Scripture. So that, perhaps, we could say is a first misnomer about the idea of Calvinism.
2. Calvinists Don’t Believe in Human Responsibility
A second misnomer is that Calvinists believe that God is sovereign to such an extent that we, as human beings, have no human responsibility or freedom. God is 100% sovereign and we’re 100% responsible for our actions.Sometimes people call this hyper-Calvinism: “God is so sovereign that we are basically robots.” And so this is something that the historic Reformed tradition has never embraced, but rather we always teach something that sounds seemingly contradictory, but it’s not. It’s something that the Bible itself does teach, namely, God is sovereign. Or, to borrow the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, he has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” But at the same time, we also teach that human beings are 100% responsible for their actions. And the Westminster Confession again says this in chapter three, paragraph one, when it says that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, yet in such a manner that he’s not the author of sin, nor does he do violence to the will of the creature. And so this means that, in very simple terms, God is 100% sovereign and we’re 100% responsible for our actions. It’s just that God is the king and we are his servants. And so it’s not that we are not responsible for our actions or that God’s sovereignty somehow robs us of our responsibility. In fact, we would say that it’s God’s sovereignty that enables us to be responsible for our actions.
3. Calvinists Don’t Believe in Evangelism
A third misnomer about the Reformed faith or about Calvinism is that we don’t believe in evangelism. And this is because if God has foreordained the elect unto salvation before the foundation of the world, then that means that those who are going to be saved are going to be saved, regardless of whether or not we evangelize or not—God will accomplish his will. We want to preach about Christ, and we want to see all of the elect of God come to a saving knowledge in Christ.And as popular as that misunderstanding is, we always want to recognize that God not only ordains the end—the salvation of his people—but he also ordains the means by which he accomplishes those ends. And that means is evangelism. And so one of the most important things that we as people in the Reformed tradition believe in is we believe in evangelistic preaching—the vitality of the Word of God in worship drawing sinners unto God himself. And not only that, but the importance of telling people about Christ, whether it’s our neighbors, whether it’s our friends, whether it’s our family members. Because in the end, we recognize that we want to tell the good news. We want to preach about Christ, and we want to see all of the elect of God come to a saving knowledge in Christ.