It’s always interesting to hear Non-Calvinists interact with Calvin and his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Most recently, James R. Rogers, a political science professor at Texas A & M and a self-described non-Calvinist, made some astute observations about Calvin, Luther, and Augustine. Here is his lead paragraph.
I picked up John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion some years back. Dipping into it, I anticipated a dry, grim, and doctrinaire treatise. Perhaps because I came to it with such low expectations, the books surprised me. I found the Institutes surprisingly accessible, written by a lively, engaged mind. I anticipated the argument of the books to be tightly wound around the theme of God’s sovereignty—with the focus on God’s glory coming at the expense of humanity’s abasement. Instead, as in Martin Luther’s treatment of predestination, I found that God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination played a manifestly pastoral role in Calvin’s theology. The focus was not on obliterating the human, but rather underscoring God’s great love for his people in rescuing humanity from death, darkness, and despair. The upshot of the doctrine as I read Calvin was “This is a God you can trust.”
I would whole-heartedly agree with Rogers. Anyone who critiques Calvinism carte blanche has never read Calvin. Calvin’s Institutes—aside from his polemical arguments against Roman Catholicism—is entirely devotional. It beckons the reader not to know theology, but to know God. Predestination for Calvin—and the Calvinists I know—is not a heady doctrine to figure out who’s in and who’s out. It’s the humbling truth that God from eternity past has been at work to secure my salvation.
Rogers whole article, “Credit the Calvinists,” is worth reading, as it recognizes a major reason why Calvinism is both loved and hated today. Against the current spirit of the age, Calvinism offers an anthropology (i.e., a view of humanity) that bespeaks man’s moral inability to seek after God. He summarizes why many oppose Calvinism,
Modern man does not want to be transparent before God, or before anyone else. We deem it an invasion of our privacy and of our autonomy. We want our hearts to be the one place in creation so sacred that even God dare not tread there.
Rogers is right. No one naturally desires to relinquish sovereignty over his life. As Paul put it, quoting the Psalms,
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)
The glory of a Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) is that the Triune God liberates the heart enslaved to sin, so that regenerate man might freely choose Christ. Calvinism does not decimate free will; it rehabilitates it by means of the resurrecting power of the effectual call. May we rejoice in that truth and preach the gospel to all men, so that the good shepherd would claim his sheep by name.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss