“We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold men to the vital truth, and therefore we are sorry to see any quitting it who have once accepted it” (“The Downgrade Controversy” by C. H. Spurgeon).
Some time ago I purchased two DVD’s from Caryl Productions entitled “Wide is the Gate” volumes 1 and 2. They expose the New Age and Emerging Church movements using various Christians who have been involved with them and who are therefore considered by them to be authorities. I was particularly interested in the chapter on Reformed Theology in Volume 1 because that is my theological and Christian background. I was shocked at the way Calvinism was misrepresented, their only “authority” being a woman named Brenda Nickel, who spent fourteen years in Reformed churches. There were a few other speakers but they were not Reformed and I doubt they even have first-hand knowledge of Calvinism or have read any Reformed books or books by John Calvin.
Most haters of Calvinism get their misinformation from other haters of Calvin and Calvinism from authors who speak as authorities but who have read little or nothing about the subject. Dave Hunt, for example, a favourite of Caryl Productions staff, wrote a popular book denouncing Calvinism but admitted that he hadn’t read anything about it or by Calvin. (See my article on this website entitled “Dave Hunt’s Appalling Misrepresentation of Calvinism”). And Brenda Nickel, although she spent fourteen years in Reformed churches, exposes herself as having no real knowledge of Calvinism. Granted, she was involved with Reformed churches, but her statements on the film only prove that the Reformed churches she was involved with were not faithful to Calvinism. I spent twenty three years in a so-called Calvinist abusive church/cult where Reformed theology was taught but John Calvin or any solid Calvinist would regard them as frauds misrepresenting the truth. They damaged so many lives in the time of their existence but thankfully their small denomination shrivelled in size and eventually vanished. Good riddance!
Calvinism: Misunderstood and Misrepresented
The criticisms of Calvinism on the DVD are in the areas of Eschatology, Free Will, and Evangelism. Unfortunately, there is also an attempt to associate Calvinism with the Emerging Church, and Calvinism with Lutheranism. This is disappointing and thoroughly misleading and, in my view, detracts from the integrity of the speakers, and distracts from the real issues.
Unfortunately, the early source of much of what most critics of Calvinism today think they know about John Calvin is probably gained indirectly from a vengeful converted monk (he later returned to the Catholic Church) who vilified Calvin in print. “But Calvin’s theological certitude withstood many challenges and conflicts, including the trial of Jerome Bolsec, a former Catholic monk who had become a Protestant physician. Bolsec vigorously countered Calvin’s doctrine of predestination – the very underpinning of his clerical and civil authority. (Bolsec was banished and later wrote a slanderous and historically destructive biography of Calvin.)” (Preface to “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” p. xiv).
But even the online Catholic Encyclopedia says of Bolsec’s biographies of Calvin and Beza, “These works are violent in tone, and find little favour with protestant writers. Their historical statements cannot always be relied on”. CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Jerome-Hermes Bolsec (newadvent.org)
Brenda says or implies that Calvinism teaches baptismal regeneration; she also says it teaches that the Eucharist is salvific. The DVD accompanies this by showing a film clip of Lutheranism’s High Church Catholic worship, calling it “Reformed”, and implies that Luther and Calvin had the same theology. But the truth is that their theologies were very different in several respects, Calvin making a more thorough break from Catholic theology and practice than did Luther. Calvin’s church polity was Presbyterian and based firmly in Scripture, while the Lutheran Church is closer to Anglo-Catholicism in its polity and worship. And Luther’s view of the sacraments was very close to Rome’s, while Calvin’s view was definitely and clearly Protestant.
So in her 14 years in Reformed churches Brenda only had to look at the Confessions of Faith of any Reformed church and her wrong understanding would have been corrected. For example:
The Larger Catechism (Calvinist and Presbyterian)
“Q. 165 What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into Himself, of remission of sins by His blood, and regeneration by His Spirit, of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life, and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s”.
There is not even a hint of regeneration as a result of being baptized with water or of baptism being salvific in this statement. Rather, baptism is specifically stated to be a sign and seal of the benefits of salvation already received through faith and given through the grace of God.
“Q. 168 What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, His death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon His body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with Him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship with the other, as members of the same mystical body”.
In this statement there is no hint of any kind of regeneration given or salvific activity by God, or in the believer, or in the elements of bread and wine themselves; rather, it is clear that those who partake of the sacrament are believers, and therefore regenerate already; and that only those who are regenerate can receive the benefits of participating in it. And both this statement and the one above are almost lifted out of Calvin’s Institutes where he covers baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
God is God – He Calls the Shots!
Free will in human beings is the sacred cow of all non-Calvinists; it is non-negotiable for them, and this was made clear in the DVD, in which Pastor Chris Quintana denies that God acts according to his sovereign will, doing with sinners as he pleases. It doesn’t seem to worry him that unregenerate humans do not have free will to choose God (Rom 9:16, 18, 22-24); and that God expressly says he does act according to his sovereign will, having chosen before the foundation of the earth those who will be saved; and he gets glory from doing so (Eph 1:3-6). There is simply no way around these passages and many others like them but to understand and accept that the eternal destiny of every human being is in the hands of the living God. But Chris and the others on this DVD would rob God of his right and his glory and hand over the sovereignty to fallen and sinful human beings.
The apostle Paul even forestalls resistance to God’s sovereignty by challenging his readers with their weakness and insignificance, saying, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault?’ For who can resist his will? But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its moulder, ‘Why have you made me thus?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?” (Rom 9:19-20 RSV).
God does not explain himself in this matter – he simply states the truth, through the apostle Paul, that he is in control of his creation: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for his glory” (Rom 9:22-23). “…all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing; and he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?’” (Dan 4:35).
The truth is that all humanity is already under the condemnation and wrath of God because they are born in sin (Ps 51:5; Rom 3:9-12; Eph 2:1-3) and are enemies of God (Rom 3:18; Col 3:6); and they will not turn to God (Jn 5:40). However – and this is the greatness of God’s free grace – God, in mercy to the lost, exercises his sovereign will in choosing some of them to receive the free (to them) gift of salvation and life through Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23). Because humanity is dead in trespasses and sins and is totally unable to come to God, if any sinner is to be saved, God must reach down from heaven and rescue them by doing everything necessary for their salvation – not merely providing the means and leaving it up to humans to choose whether they will accept the precious gift, but stepping into their lives and making them willing. That’s why Paul writes, “So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy” (Rom 9:19). Contrary to what Pastor Chris Quintana says, God doesn’t send anybody to heaven or hell because they’re elect but on the basis of whether they receive or reject the gospel. This is the clear teaching of Scripture and therefore of Calvinism. Calvinism is the only theology which shows how predestination and the gospel combine and harmonise in the salvation of sinners.
How the Gospel and Predestination Work Together in Salvation
If it’s true that only those can come to God whom he has chosen to do so, what’s the point of preaching the gospel? The bible answers this question: “For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5). See also Eph 1:3-6.
Again, it is clearly stated that we are excluded from life and heaven by unbelief: “And to whom did he vow that they should not enter his rest, if not to those whom had refused to believe?” (Heb 3:18 REB).
When the gospel is preached, the invitation to come to Christ is genuine. When the elect hear it they are made willing and they come to Jesus (Acts 16:14). They acknowledge their sin, repent, are born again, and receive the Holy Spirit. They receive Christ and his gift of eternal life by faith and they commit their lives to him and rejoice that he has shown them mercy. As Paul states: “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). And so the gospel is the means by which the elect are brought into the kingdom. They’re not saved, and their election is meaningless, until they respond in faith and repentance to the gospel.
Unregenerate Sinners are Unable to Turn to Christ
When the reprobate hear the gospel, they reject it because God has not made them willing. In their natural state, they reject Christ because they want to, they choose to; unless God first opens their heart, they will never come to him. “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). And Jesus said, when speaking to Nicodemus the Pharisee, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Unless God does something to and in unbelievers they will never turn to him because by nature they are hostile to God. Those who reject the gospel do so because they choose to, and God will justly hold them accountable for it. They act in accordance with their fallen nature and they would feel violated if their will was overridden; as Paul writes, “…they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess 2:10).
Motivation for Evangelism
When people accuse Calvinists of not preaching the gospel or not taking it to lost sinners, they only reveal their abounding ignorance. There is a corrupt form of Calvinism, known as Hyper-Calvinism (the most well-known current version of it being Westborough Baptist Church) which does not preach the gospel to the lost because they believe that God will bring the elect to salvation in his own time and way. In this they are just like some Dispensational Premillennialists (e.g. Billy Graham) who refuse to preach the gospel to the Jews who, they say, are already God’s people. But genuine Calvinists correctly understand the relationship between the gospel and predestination.
John Calvin: church planter and trainer of missionaries
In the 1550’s, while Calvin was at Geneva, he received many refugees fleeing from Catholic persecution; while they were there, sitting under his preaching and pastoral care, many of them began feeling burdened for their homeland and wanted to return and take the gospel with them. So Calvin taught them theology and how to preach, and he assessed their moral character before he sent them out. And once they were involved with their work he prayed for them constantly and corresponded with them frequently to support, advise, and encourage them as much as he could.
By 1559 the church at Geneva had planted 100 churches in France and by 1562 there were more than 2000 churches there. Some of these churches were so successful that they had to conduct three services every Sunday to cater to the many thousands who attended them. He also sent missionaries to Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and even as far away as Brazil. Calvin’s heart was for the preaching of the gospel and during the last ten years of his life, missions were his “absolute preoccupation”. For example, in a sermon on 2 Timothy 1:8-9, Calvin said, “If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honour, when we shall see the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine….let us here observe that St Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unthankful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it”.
William Carey: Father of modern Missions
It’s well known that the man who began the modern missionary movement was a Baptist Christian named William Carey. However, it is not as well known, or at least acknowledged, that Carey was a Calvinist? His church was one of the Particular Baptist (Hyper-Calvinist) churches. Carey and some of his Calvinist friends founded the Baptist Missionary Society in order to take the gospel to the heathen. So the first modern missionary and the first modern mission society and the impetus for all missions since then came, humanly speaking, from within Calvinism. Obviously these Calvinists understood the essential link between predestination and the gospel.
Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…
Here is a partial list of missionaries and revivalists, every one of them a Calvinist:
- John Eliot – first missionary to the American (Algonquian-speaking) Indians (1600’s)
- Jonathan Edwards preached during the “First Great Awakening” (a huge revival) and he recorded what God was doing during that revival. His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” caused multitudes to turn to Christ and be saved. He was also a missionary to the Housatonic Indians, and established Princeton University. It was established to train young men for the ministry but has since been hijacked by liberals who deny everything in the bible and train all their students to think the same. Many have lost their faith through the influence of this one establishment
- David Brainerd – a friend of Jonathan Edwards and missionary to the Mohawk Indians
- William Tennent, founder of the “Log College”, a Calvinist theological college where many preachers were trained; these men preached during the “First Great Awakening”
- Samuel Davies preached the gospel to the slaves in Virginia, and many hundreds were saved
- Robert Moffatt took the gospel to “Darkest Africa”
- David Livingstone also took the gospel to Africa
- Robert Morrison was a missionary to China
- Peter Parker (not Spiderman) also took the gospel to China
- Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, bible translator, and church planter
- John G. Paton, missionary to Vanuatu
- Charles Simeon, Anglican minister and founder of the Church Missionary
- Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia
- Samuel Zwemer, missionary to Bahrain, Egypt, Arabia, and Turkey – known as “the Apostle to Islam”
Another criticism that Brenda Nickel and Paul Williamson make against Calvinism is that it teaches what they term “Replacement Theology” i.e. that Old Testament Israel has been replaced by the New Testament Church., thus spiritualizing the promises and prophecies given to Israel. But the apostles themselves spiritualized those prophecies and promises. For example, see John 18:36; Acts 15:14-17; Romans 2: 25-29; 9:8; Galatians 4:19-31; Philippians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:9-10; to mention just a few.
It is true that the prevailing view (but not exclusively so) of eschatology within Calvinism is Amillennial. Of the Chiliasts, an early form of Premillennialism, Calvin wrote: “….shortly after the chiliasts arose, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. This fiction is too puerile to need or deserve refutation. Nor do they receive any countenance from the Apocalypse, from which they extracted a gloss for their error (Rev 20:4), the thousand years there mentioned refer not to the eternal blessedness of the church, but only to the various troubles which await the church militant in this world” (Institutes Bk 3, Chap. 25:5).
Eschatological Views in the Early Church
The doctrine of a premillennial return of Christ (also known as chiliasm or millenarianism) was not held universally, nor regarded as orthodox doctrine by all, in the early centuries of the Christian Church, as Brenda and others insist. The church historian Eusebius wrote about the views of an early Christian named Papias (70-155 CE). Papias wrote of himself that he received the truths of Christianity from those who were acquainted with the apostles. Eusebius (263-339) was one of those who did not hold a premillennial, view; he says of Papias, that “he set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Savior, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth”(Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1, “Fragments of Papias” p. 154, Hendrickson Pub.)
And Justyn Martyr (100-165 CE), in his “Dialogue with Trypho” (a Jew), admitted that while he himself held to a millenarian view, not every Christian did. To Trypho, Justin replied, “I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise”(Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 1, Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr, p. 239, Hendrickson Publ.)
But the form of millenarianism held in the early Church was quite different to the Dispensational Millennialism held by many fundamentalist Christians (including Brenda and her friends) today. In Chiliasm, there was no Rapture, no Great Tribulation, and no restored national Israel in a thousand-years-reign of Christ on earth. The Israel of Chiliasm was a spiritual Israel i.e. all who confessed Christ as Saviour, regardless of ethnic origin. The Israel of Chiliasm was the Church that Jesus was building (Matt 16:18; Eph 2:13-22 cf 3:10, 20).
A False Gospel
Caryl Productions and Brenda Nickel’s dispensationalism is a false gospel because it has a restored national Israel reigning with Christ for a thousand years on earth, with a fully restored Levitical priesthood complete with temple, altar, and animal sacrifices. And in order to implement this, Christ’s work on the cross and his unique priesthood (Heb ch 7) is shoved aside, and the New Covenant (Heb 8:6) replaced by the temporary and insufficient Old Covenant (Heb 8:8-9), and God’s people put back under Mosaic law (Heb 8:10-13). Such a doctrine is utterly blasphemous. They would dethrone God and nullify Christ’s finished work in his life and on the cross (Jn 17:4; 19:30) just so they can promote their own false gospel (Gal 1:7-9).
Calvinism, which is so confidently and ignorantly rejected and vilified by Caryl Productions had been the life, soul, energy, and motivation of the churches in England, Europe, and the USA. However, spiritual lethargy began to set in as Christians began to abandon Calvinism and replacing it with its antithesis, Arminianism, (the central doctrine, along with Dispensational Premillennialism, of those on the DVD), and this led to apostasy and corruption of the churches, denial of the deity of Christ and of the sovereignty of God, and the efficacy of the gospel.
It should be obvious by now that Brenda’s repeated claim that Calvinism via Augustinianism is just restored Roman Catholicism is ridiculous, and it reflects badly on her personally. In contrast, Spurgeon eloquently states: “The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.” (“A Defence of Calvinism” by C. H. Spurgeon.
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns’” (Rev 19:6).
Unless otherwise stated, “The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright, 1952, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.”