Calvinism is on the rise. That label that once was considered bad in almost all Christian circles is actually experiencing some popularity. Surging numbers of Christians are attending Calvinistic conferences, listening to Reformed preachers online, and reading their books.
Calvinism is still grossly misunderstood, and has had to overcome so much negatively biased press. In spite of that, however, more people openly call themselves Calvinists or variations of that, like mild Calvinists or moderate Calvinists. Have you been labeled a Calvinist? How can you know if you or someone else is such an animal? In a moment I’d like to give you a simple test to determine just that.
The name Calvinist comes from the Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564). Although John Calvin taught through books of the Bible day by day in Geneva, Switzerland, he is known mostly for teaching that God is sovereign over the salvation of sinners. He taught that God chose to save some people before time began, and then predestined that they would become believers in Christ. The rest of people, according to Calvin, were free to reject God’s offer of salvation (which they would because of original sin leading them to become totally depraved).
It is probably unfair to call a Christian who believes that brief summary a Calvinist. First, John Calvin was just a Christian preacher. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted other Christians to call themselves by his name. Christians that do use that nickname only do as shorthand to say that they believe that theological summary, not because they give undo attention to Calvin the man.
Secondly, Calvin taught lots of things in the Bible. He preached verse-by-verse through almost every book in the Bible, and he wrote a four-volume massive systematic theology, that covers the Bible’s teaching about almost every area of Christianity. Even though the Reformer stood for so much more than predestination, today you only get the label Calvinist for believing that the Bible teaches predestination (not for believing everything else that Calvin believed). There are Calvinistic Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, and all sorts of Christians that are members of Independent churches.
There are also other misunderstandings associated with Calvinism. Some people say that Calvinists don’t believe in evangelism. That is simply not true. John Calvin himself was responsible for training and sending evangelists and pastors throughout Switzerland, his native country France, other parts of Europe, and even a failed mission trip to Brazil!
Other Calvinists throughout church history have been some of the most outstanding evangelists who ever lived. Pastors Charles Spurgeon and Jonathon Edwards, Evangelist George Whitefield, and Pioneer Missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson were all Calvinists.
It is true that a very small percentage of people believe that because God chose to save sinners before time and therefore it would be wrong to witness to others. They are called Hyper-Calvinists. They are as different from real Calvinists as those that believe salvation is only based on man’s free will!
Calvinists believe that the gospel is freely offered to every person in the world. Even though only those elected before the foundation of the earth will respond, because a Calvinist doesn’t know who the elect are, and because God commands all Christians to make disciples of every people group in the world, a Calvinist shares the gospel freely.
So then what is the test? How can a person know if they are a Calvinist? After all, because being a Calvinist is becoming so popular, many people are jumping on the bandwagon. Some seem to be testing the waters by cautiously saying things like, “I believe in Calvinism if you let me define the terms,” while others are saying “I’m a Calminian” (combining Calvinism with the teachings of Jacob Arminius who taught that man was free and able to choose Christ on his own). So, how can we know for sure if a person is a real Calvinist or not?
The test question is: Whose fault is it that you are a Christian? Virtually everyone (both Calvinists and Arminians) believes that God played some part in you becoming a Christian (for example, through God bringing someone to tell you about Jesus, you being raised in a Christian home, the gospel events themselves, and maybe the Holy Spirit convicting you of your sin and drawing you somehow to Christ). Virtually everyone also believes that you played some part in becoming a Christian (for example, listening to the gospel, thinking about it, repenting of your sin and believing in Christ). The big test question is: Who is ultimately responsible?
Do you think that you repented and believed because God had first chosen you and had opened your heart to hear and accept the gospel? Or, do you think that God chose you because he knew you would one day believe? Whose fault is it ultimately that you are a Christian?
If you look in your Bible concordance you will find the places where words appear in the Bible like “predestination,” “election,” and descriptions of God sovereignly choosing people. Of course, you will also find plenty of words like “repent” and “believe.” If you believe the Bible you have to acknowledge that both types of words and concepts exist within its pages. The important thing is figuring out how these words connect.
I am a Calvinist. I absolutely believe that it is God’s fault that I am a Christian. Yes, I heard the good news about Jesus dying for my sins and rising from the dead. Yes, I was responsible to repent and believe the gospel. But because of my spiritually dead heart, I would have never done that left to myself. God sovereignly opened my heart to get it. When I got it, I did repent and I did believe.
Seeing God’s sovereign hand in salvation means that I see God is much greater than I had realized. I also see that I am much smaller than I had realized (and much more sinful). But I also see that Jesus Christ and his work on the cross was a much bigger deal that I could have ever imagined.
Being a Calvinist doesn’t make me love John Calvin, it makes me love Jesus. It also helps me to understand the Bible’s big picture of God’s ultimate plan to save a people for himself. Ultimately, being a Calvinist means that I want the glory of God to be the accent over all of my life and ministry.