The ambiguity with the term Calvinism

I’ve been accused of trying to weasel out of what Calvinists believed.   From my point of view, I don’t see why I am obligated to adhere to a term which Calvin himself rejected and which is anachronistic of most any Reformed thinker before the 18 century.   As to setting the context, it’s pretty obvious that people aren’t dealing with the sources.    But here goes again:

There were some misconceptions about my objections to Arakaki’s post on predestination.  I was not suggesting that we reread Reformed sources to mitigate the presence of predestination.   I argued, by contrast, that Arakaki had a surface level understanding of Reformed theology.  Some points of clarification are in order:

  1. I have no problem with his use of the Canons of Dordt.  I simply dispute that the Canons reduce to the issue of predestination, and then cover the entire Reformed faith with this reduction.

  2. I have even more problems with his reduction of Reformed theology to TULIP.

  3. This raises the larger problem of whether we can even speak of the term “Calvinist.”  It might apply to soteriologically Calvinistic Baptists, but as an appellation of a specific church body, it is illegitimate.   It is even illegitimate in regards to individual theologians.  As Richard Muller observed, “Should a theologian almost a decade older than Calvin, trained in the Universities of Padua and Bologna, who subsequently taught in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Zürich, and who, for all his general agreement with Calvin did not speak of a double decree of predestination but rather identified predestination with election, who drew more positively on medieval scholastics (notably Thomas Aquinas and Gregory of Rimini) than Calvin, who did not view himself as a follower of Calvin, and whose abilities in Hebrew extended far beyond Calvin’s be called a Calvinist? The theologian in question is Peter Martyr Vermigli, whose work was quite influential in the development of post-Reformation Reformed theology” (Muller 5-6).

  4. I’ll add my own observation:  Should Martin Bucer, a generation older than Calvin, a man whom Calvin called the greatest exegete living, who was trained a Dominican and retained his Thomistic epistemology all his life, be considered a follower of Calvin?   Phrased in this way the question and problematic is not only wrong, it is silly.
  5. In perhaps the most thorough rebuttal to the idea of TULIP = Calvinism = Reformed theology, Muller notes, “It is really quite odd and a-historical to associate a particular document written in the Netherlands in 1618-19 with the whole of Calvinism and then to reduce its meaning to TULIP. Many of you here know that the word is actually “tulp.” “Tulip” isn’t Dutch — sometimes I wonder whether Arminius was just trying to correct someone’s spelling when he was accused of omitting that “i” for irresistible grace. More seriously, there is no historical association between the acrostic TULIP and the Canons of Dort. As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of  “five points of Calvinism” are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before  the nineteenth century (Muller 8).

In conclusion it must be restated that we affirm the propositions listed in TULIP.  We heartily reject, however, any reduction of the Reformed faith to a cute acrostic.  Where in TULIP, might I inquire, is any mention of the finitum non capax infiniti, the duplex cognito Dei, the archetypal/ectypal distinction, or even the Covenant?  I feverishly hate everything about the Federal Vision, but at least they were perceptive in this regard (if erring in the opposite direction). In some respects I retract my former post.  Not because I think it is wrong, but because in answering it I gave credence to a flawed and problematic understanding of the Reformed faith and Reformed historical sources.

For documentation Muller lists See Ken Stewart, “The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect,” in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology , 26/2 (2008), pp. 187-203. There are, of course, many early references to the “five points” or “five articles” in controversy between Reformed and Arminian: e.g., Peter Heylin, Historia quinqu-articularis: or, A declaration of the judgement of the Western Churches, and more particularly of the Church of England, in the five controverted points, reproched in these last times by the name of Arminianism  (London: E.C. for Thomas Johnson, 1660); and Daniel Whitby,  A Discourse concerning I. The true Import of the Words Election and Reprobation … II. The Extent of Christ’s Redemption. III. The Grace of God … IV. The Liberty of the Will … V. The Perseverance or Defectibility of the Saints . London, 1710; second edition, corrected, London: Aaron Ward, 1735), often referenced as “Whitby on the Five Points” or “Five Arminian Points”: note George Hill,  Heads of Lectures in Divinity (St. Andrews: at the University Press, 1796), p. 78. Occurrences of phrases like “five distinguishing points of Calvinism” also occur earlier, referencing the Canons of Dort without, however, specification of the points  themselves: see, e.g. Daniel Neal,  The History of the Puritans and Non-conformists … with an account  of their principles (London: for J. Buckland, et al., 1754), I, p. 502; Ferdinando Warner, The Ecclesiastical History of England, to the Eighteenth Century (London: s.n., 1756-57), II, p. 509; note also that the editor of Daniel Waterland’s sermons identified  justification by faith alone as one of the “five points of Calvinism”: see Waterland, Sermons on Several Important Subjects of Religion and Morality, preface by Joseph Clarke, 2 vols. (London: for W. Innys, 1742), p. xviii. 16.

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