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When I first heard about Calvinism and Reformed theology, I detested it. I considered it heresy, a misrepresentation and twisting of the meaning of Scripture. I believed that it mischaracterized God and that anyone who believed it had been deceived by unbiblical teachers. For more than two years I fought against Calvinism with every ounce of free will I could muster. It was a losing battle. I finally came to accept it, literally crying out to God in a field one night in a moment of extreme spiritual crisis. The more that I have reflected on that moment over the years, the more I think that it was perhaps my moment of conversion to Jesus Christ. I had come to a point where I had to either deny the inspiration of Scripture or accept the sovereignty of God over all.

In coming to accept these doctrines as biblical, however, I did not like that they were so affiliated with a man or a movement. I later came to understand that John Calvin and the other men of the sixteenth-century Reformation would have thought similarly. Calvin and the other Reformers didn’t want to be innovators of new theology; they were merely striving to bring the church back to its original form. That is what reformation is all about. Ultimately, the Reformers helped the church return to Apostolic faith and practice. Like John Wycliffe (c. 1328–84), Jan Hus (c. 1370–1415), and others before them, the Reformers called the church back to the sources, back to the original languages of Scripture, and thus back to a faithful reading of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures instead of the poorly translated and twisted interpretations of the medieval church.

The Reformed pastors and theologians eventually defended their teachings against the false teachings of the Remonstrants, followers of Jacobus Arminius who had distilled their teachings to five points in 1610. The Reformed countered in 1618–19 with their own five points, which, under the acronym TULIP, have become a simple way to explain the Calvinistic understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation and Christ’s atonement for His people. The Reformed never wanted to suggest that the glorious biblical fullness of our salvation could be completely explained in five simple points, yet they knew that they could convey the basics of biblical soteriology (doctrine of salvation) in a simple way. That is the beauty of the doctrine of salvation set forth in the gospel—it is simple. As Charles Hodge said, “The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.”

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From the December 2023 Issue
Dec 2023 Issue