The Heart of Calvinism

The Calvinist is the man who sees God: God in nature, God in history, God in grace.  Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart.  The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will.  [The Calvinist] makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life activities; [he] casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of his salvation.  -B.B. Warfield

1.  The Heart of Calvinism

What makes Calvinism what it is?  For most people the word “Calvinism” usually evokes ideas of predestination, limited atonement, or the sovereignty of God.  These doctrines, rightly understood, are biblical and serve as the believer’s absolute comfort in life and death (see Heidelberg Catechism 1.1).  But while each of these is important to rightly understand Calvinism, they don’t quite get to the heart of the matter.  Sovereignty is perhaps the closest to the center, but it too has a source from which it flows.

The heart of Calvinism is the supremacy of God in all things.  The Calvinist confesses that all of life is related to God (religion, education, art, music, science, literature, politics, family, and so on), and that God is preeminent in and over everything.  With Paul, the Calvinist rests all his hope in the fact that “from God and through God and to God are all things” (Romans 11:36).  At the center of it all, the vision of God’s supremacy in and over all things is what makes Calvinism what it is.

2.  Why Argue about Calvinism?

Calvinism is not for fighting over or arguing about.  It is for every Christian everywhere.  The comprehensive scope of Calvinism means that it has something to say about everything.  Calvinism is an entire worldview which touches on how Christians live coram Deo, before the face of God.  How we live, how we work, how we play, how we laugh, how we cry, how we get married and remain married, how we worship, how we spend our time, how we engage in politics and society, how we read, how we watch: Calvinism has something to say about all these things because God is supreme over all these things.

My simple definition of Calvinism is that it is the Christian worldview which posits the supremacy of the triune God in and over all things, according to the word of God, the Bible.  This means that Calvinism is a distinctively Christian worldview.  Not only that, but Calvinism simply is the Christian worldview rightly understood and properly applied.  As Valentijn Hepp says, “Calvinism is the broadest and deepest Christianity; or, if you will, it is the purest Christianity.”

3.  God-Centered vs. Man-Centered

Calvinism is theocentric, or God-centered.  God is the supreme source and sustainer of all things and therefore all things must be understood in relation to Him if they are to be understood correctly.  God is at the center of our worldview, and everything else is peripheral.

It’s no surprise, then, that Calvinism is so different than what many people in the U.S. think when they think about Christianity. The cultural air we breathe is anthropocentric, or man-centered. The average American lives as if they were the center of the universe. As a consequence, most of American Christianity is anthropocentric. Most of the popular blogs, books, sermons, music, and Bible studies are all about us.  For the non-Calvinist, God is only supreme if He makes us supreme.  At the end of the day, though, we are still supreme.  And the one who is supreme gets all the glory.

Perhaps this is why Calvinism is so different.  The confession of the supremacy of God in all things grates against our default way of thinking as humans, which is reinforced on every side by an unbelieving, God-hating culture.  We are supreme in our own minds and hearts and lives.  But in the midst of all the anthropocentrism of American culture and Christianity, God declares, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8).  The God who created all things and sustains them by His power stands as utterly supreme over His creation.

4.  Lord of Creation

Though it is true that we by nature bristle at Calvinism’s theocentrism, for the believer in Christ there is no greater comfort than the thought of God’s supremacy in all things.  Consider how the Heidelberg Catechism frames and applies this notion of the supremacy of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil.  He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.  Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him (1.1).

Drawing from Matthew 10:29-31, the Catechism says that God preserves His people such that a hair cannot fall from their head apart from His sovereign permission.  The supreme God accomplishes this because “He works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).  What a tremendous comfort it is to know that the supremacy of God is not an esoteric doctrine.  It is not an impersonal or aloof God who is supreme; rather, the supreme God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3).

5.  Lord of Salvation

Thus this truth also naturally leads to a consideration of God as the Lord of salvation as well.  The supremacy of God in all things means that He is utterly and absolutely sovereign over human salvation.  Indeed, God saves humans for the praise of His own glorious grace (cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

Every Christian, even if they disagree with Calvinism, knows that God is ultimately and finally in control of who is and isn’t saved.  Take, for example, the matter of prayer for our unbelieving friends.  When we pray and ask God to save them, opening their eyes to the truth of His beauty, we do so because we know that He is capable of doing so.  I’ve never heard anyone pray something like this: “Father, please do everything in Your power to save them, but don’t actually save them.  Do enough to make an impact and to tear down barriers, but at the end of the day make sure to leave it ultimately up to them.”  The reason no one prays like this is because such a prayer is ridiculous.  When we pray for our unbelieving friends, we ask God to save them, knowing He can.

Perhaps the most precious truth of Scripture is Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  This is a rock-solid, God-exalting promise to which all Christians should cling in times of adversity.  It is a tremendous comfort to know that all things work together so that we are conformed to the image of the Son (cf. Romans 8:29).

But notice what the foundation of the promise is: “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined…and those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).  What rests underneath the most precious truth in all of Scripture is the doctrine of the supremacy of God in salvation.  Christians can be utterly assured that all things work together so that we are conformed to Christ precisely because God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us.

The supremacy of God in all things is why the Psalmist could say, “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).  The supremacy of God in salvation is why the Psalmist could say, “my soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your word!” (Psalm 119:25).  With the Psalmist, the Calvinist sees all of life as being under the sovereign control of God, knowing that God is supreme over everything.  Yet the supremacy of God is not an esoteric doctrine meant only for professional theologians.  Rather, it is the most life-giving, joy-producing, and fear-destroying doctrine in the Christian faith.  Calvinism is not for fighting over.  It is for embracing and subsequently living all of life underneath the majestic God who is supreme over creation and in salvation.


Thanks for reading.  Have any additional thoughts?  Leave a comment below.

 

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