Few topics have the ability to stir up as much “passionate” (often, acrimonious) discussion as the distinctives of Reformed theology. Much of the criticism leveled against the doctrines of grace (Reformed/Calvinistic theology) is the result of a misunderstanding or a caricaturization of what Reformed theology really is. I’m always appreciative when efforts are made to “clear the fog” surrounding these misunderstandings. Recently, Dr. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, wrote an excellent piece providing some correctives to a handful of myths about Reformed theology. Below is his answer to one myth in particular, but you may read the entire post HERE. Further down the page I offer some other available articles and resources that further address misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Reformed theology…be sure to check them out.
Michael Horton writes, concerning the myth cited below:
“Reformed Theology Makes Us Robots in God’s Plan”
First, this impression rests on a basic misunderstanding of Reformed teaching. Regardless of what individuals teach, our confessions teach that human beings are never forced to believe or do anything against their will. Unpacking that requires more space, so I can only refer folks to For Calvinism, where I treat this question at length.
Second, “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1 NIV). God is not a supporting actor in our life movie. We exist for his purposes, not the other way around. Nor do we “make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior.” He is the Lord and Savior of the world; otherwise we would have no hope of salvation.
Third, the whole emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is on the work of the Triune God in freeing us—our mind, will, emotions, and bodies—from slavery to sin and death. Apart from this grace, we are indeed “robots” in a sense, slaves to our sinful rebellion, as Jesus said (John 8:34). “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 35). Regenerated by God’s grace through the gospel, we find ourselves loving the God who was our enemy, attracted to the law that once condemned us, drawn outside of ourselves to look up to Christ in faith and out to our neighbors in love and service.
Zondervan published a dialogue between Dr. Horton and Arminian theologian, Dr. Roger Olson, in the form of a two-volume set, For Calvinism and Against Calvinism. These volumes are extremely accessible and must-reads for those desiring a clearer understanding of both positions. The books may be purchased as a set (at a great discount) through WTSBooks.
Last year, Dr. Ken Stewart, Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College, released a book through InterVarsity Academic entitled, Ten Myths About Calvinism. In correlation with the book’s release, Dr. Stewart was kind enough to write a couple guest posts which I featured here on the blog.
- MYTH: TULIP Has the Imprint of Antiquity – Did the famous TULIP acronym originate with Calvin himself? Where did it “first bloom”? Dr. Stewart gives a brief history of the origination of the acronym and provides helpful correctives to some common misunderstandings…
- MYTH: Calvinism Promotes Antinomianism – If sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that salvation is secure, does that not lead to a life of lawlessness and a disregard for personal sin? Dr. Stewart addresses the common misunderstandings that abound when the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is misconstrued.
What theological system do you think is more often misunderstood: Arminianism or Calvinism? Why?