Calvinism Beyond 5-Points – Its Surpassing Vision of God’s Glory

By God’s grace and for his glory –  let every Calvinist be a God-intoxicated Christian!

A good friend posed this question to my earlier post, “SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty: “But have you succeeded in providing an “accurate and fair summary of Calvinism”? Have you not merely produced an adaptation of the 17th Century reply to the Remonstrants, however crucial that may be?”

Pardon me if I get a bit carried away and wax poetic in my response: How not to, when one meditates on the glory of God with the heart and mind of Calvin and his distinguished followers like Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield?

Anyone one who has the slightest acquaintance with Calvin’s thought and its theological elaboration in the writings of Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield would know that Calvinism offers a most comprehensive and intoxicating vision of God’s  glory and love in the world. This is what the last paragraph of my earlier post, “SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty points to. Was it not Abraham Kuyper who declares that for the Calvinist? – “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of my personal devotions and churchgoing over which Christ does not cry: mine!”

It would be an impoverishment of Christian faith if Calvinism is reduced to only 5-points. Calvinism is a whole way of life set before the glorious presence and lordship of God. It would be a pity if one sees only a tulip (however exquisite its beauty) in one’s garden. No, Calvinism is more than a tulip, or, for that matter a bed of many-splendoured flowers. It is more than a botanical garden despite all its logical and precise ordering of faith and godly living. No, it is a luxuriant and overwhelming jungle! Did not Karl Barth, one of 20th century greatest theologians, exclaimed?

This little bit of “Reformed theology” that I teach is really nothing in comparison to the trumpet blast which needs to be blown in our sick time…Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.” Source: Karl Barth, Revolutionary Theology in the Making, James D. Smart, trans. (John Knox Press, 1964), 101.

 

By God’s grace and for his glory –  let every Calvinist be a God-intoxicated Christian!

 

5 thoughts on “Calvinism Beyond 5-Points – Its Surpassing Vision of God’s Glory”

  1. A Calvinist is not someone who only subscribes to the 5 points. And definitely not someone who only reads Sproul, Piper, Carson or Keller. Who then is a Calvinist?
    “The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on one hand with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God’s sight as a creature, and on the other hand, with adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners. He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral and spiritual – throught all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.” (B.B. Warfield)
    May God help me to be a Calvinist.

  2. I would consider Calvin a great theologian but in my own spiritual pilgrimage I find we have to keep moving in our understanding of the Word in its application and relevance to our current times. Some of Calvin’s thoughts and arguments would be timeless like some of St Augustine’s or even John Stott’sb but only God’s Word in its original text is eternal. I have learnt not to limit my understanding and reading of God’s Word to only through the “spectacles” Calvin or Luther or any great theologian or a particular school of theological thought. At best Calvin spoke to the people of his time locked in the issues of his era. Eras change and society evolves and we will need to find new ways and thinking to understand what God is saying through His Word today and for that Calvin does not have all the answers despite my admiration of him and God’s mighty use of him.

  3. Hi Phye Keat,

    I fully agree that only the Bible as God’s Word has infallible and enduring authority. How one applies God’s unchanging truth to contemporary issues raises a host of hermeneutical issues on textual interpretation and contextual praxis.

    I shall only note that we do not formulate new theological understanding in abstraction or de novo. We stand on the shoulders of giants as we try to look and move into the future. In this matter, I feel some kindred spirit with the Roman Catholic idea of ressourcement (loosely translated as ‘renewal through return to sources’) as a prerequisite to a hermeneutically successful aggiornamento (renewal, refreshing, updating). Without theological ressourcement, theological aggiornamento becomes merely ad hoc accommodation of the Gospel to modern culture.

    Theologizing as ‘renewal through return to the sources’ requires immersing oneself in one’s theological tradition and mastering its resources in order to move forward. The question is, “which sources should be privileged?” Of course as an evangelical Christian, the Bible is the fons et origo, the origin and final authority for theology. After the Bible, the theological tradition which I follow closely is essentially Augustinian – [a more subordinate role for Thomism] – Calvinism – Reformed.

    Every tradition has its strengths and weaknesses and Christians have the liberty to adopt different theological traditions as the framework for doing theology, so long as it is acknowledged that all theologizing must be subordinate to infallible biblical authority

  4. Thanks Kam Weng – always a learning experience to hear from you indeed. My problem is that when constructing a theological model to engage postmodernism it may not just be looking for answers to new problems from the same (old) model. It may be that the model does not work any more because it was designed to answer a different set of questions. What worries me are that there are the Reformed who seem to say “if the answers you formulate don’t fit the Calvinist position then it can’t be Biblical and is therefore to be rejected”. Surely one can be Biblical and disagree with Calvin not because Calvin was wrong but rather because a new era or paradigm has emerged which needs a new model. The “liberty” and grace you mention sometimes to me is not apparent when speaking to those of the Reformed persuasion. I am still trying to get a landing for my own understanding and ministry. Please don’t get me wrong – I am aware and praise God for what great theologians like Calvin have contributed and continue to contribute to church growth. Just that at the same I feel we should not get “stuck” with Calvin for want of a better term.

  5. Hi Phye Keat,

    First, the 22 volumes (22,224 pages) of Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible and Calvin’s multi-volumes sermons show that that he is more a bible scholar and preacher than a builder of a rigid theological system. Even then, his Institutes is replete with scriptural references. Calvin was a man of his times and it would be ridiculous to uphold him as someone who offers definitive answers to questions raised by Christians in different social contexts. Calvin’s insights may be appropriated for our times only insofar as they are demonstrated to be in congruence with biblical teaching. Certainly, Calvin would approve of Christians who insist that his teaching should be measured by its fidelity to Scripture.

    Second, it would be an anachronism to rely on Calvinism as a rationalistic system [which would be a caricature of Calvin] to answer questions posed by contemporary postmodernism. Calvin was not the rationalist that he is made out to be, by both his over-zealous followers and critics. Calvin’s scholarship was more influenced by post-renaissance Christian Humanism than by rationalistic medieval scholasticism. He was true to the spirit of Luther and Augustine. [See Charles Partee, Calvin and Classical Philosophy (Westminster Press, 1977).

    It is no accident that I pointed out that Calvinism may be seen as part of the wider Augustinian tradition. Note also my deliberate comment that Thomism be assigned a “more subordinate role”. Indeed, many philosophers [both Christians and non-Christians] are looking to Augustine for insights on how to engage with postmodernism.

    Third, it is unfortunate that sometimes Christians from Reformed churches can come across as arrogant people who consider themselves as ‘superior’ Christians because they have a better grasp of the Bible. They would do well to remember the humility of John Calvin who wrote in Institutes 2.2.11

    11. I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility;” and still more with those of Augustine, “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.” By humility he means not when a man, with a consciousness of some virtue, refrains from pride, but when he truly feels that he has no refuge but in humility…As our insignificance is his exaltation, so the confession of our insignificance has its remedy provided in his mercy. I do not ask, however, that man should voluntarily yield without being convinced, or that, if he has any powers, he should shut his eyes to them, that he may thus be subdued to true humility; but that getting quit of the disease of self-love and ambition, philautia kai philoneikia, under the blinding of which he thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think, he may see himself as he really is, by looking into the faithful mirror of Scripture. [I can easily give a dozen quotable quotes on humility and self-abasement from Calvin, but this would suffice for the moment]

    Indeed, Calvin’s humility is exemplary when he gave specific instructions that he should be buried in an unmarked grave, as he dreaded the possibility of pilgrims visiting and paying veneration at his resting place. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey explains:
    [Calvin] was buried on Sunday [May 28, 1564] in an unmarked grave at a secret location somewhere in Geneva. In one of the last commentaries he wrote, he commented on the death and burial of Moses, “It is good that famous men should be buried in unmarked graves.”[1] This conviction guided his own burial. He rejected the superstitious veneration of the dead and wanted no pilgrimages to his grave. he had lived to make Christians, not Calvinists. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor (Crossway, 2009), pp. 198-199.

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