I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Are The Contours of Calvinism?

Here’s a bit more from Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (to view this fine work at Amazon, see linked title in the post below).

In the earlier sections of the book, Boettner labors to demonstrate the necessary foundation required for the weight of the subsequent arguments he develops in defense of the doctrine of Predestination. This foundation is first the superlative vision of God, indicative of Calvin’s systematic exposition of the biblical religion; and secondly, the foundation is the structure—Predestination is merely one part of a system of utter coherence, a “unity of truth," as Van Til would say, which the Westminster Standards maturely summarize.

The question that arises from the conversation is this: Does subscription to the “Five Points” of the Canons of Dort warrant the name “Calvinist” or “Reformed”? Or, to put it otherwise, How many other “points” of the traditional Reformed system and symbols may one dismiss before they must also dismiss the titles “Calvinist” or “Reformed” as badges of honor?

Boettner quotes Kuyper, urging that, “It is a mistake to discover the specific character of Calvinism in the doctrine of Predestination, or in the authority of Scripture. For Calvinism all these are logical consequences, not the point of departure—foliage bearing witness to the luxuriousness of its growth, but not the root from which it sprouted” (p. 6).

Boettner then adds, “In the minds of most people the doctrine of Predestination and Calvinism are practically synonymous terms. This, however should not be the case, and the too close identification of the two has doubtless done much to prejudice many people against the Calvinistic system. The same is true in regard to a too close identification of Calninism and the “Five Points”...While Predestination and the Five Points are all essential elements of Calvinism, they by no means constitute its whole” (p. 7).

If you don’t have Boettner’s book (then I’d recommend getting it!), Kim Riddlebarger has posted Dr. Richard Muller’s article, “How Many Points?”, originally published the Calvin Theological Journal. Boettner only scratches the surface of this question. Muller’s article addresses it head-on. What Boettner can only allude to because of the constraints of his immediate purpose, Muller argues explicitly. Here is an excerpt.

“Calvinism or, better. Reformed teaching, as defined by the great Reformed confessions does include the so-called five points. Just as it is improper, however, to identify Calvin as the sole progenitor of Reformed theology, so also is it incorrect to identify the five points or the document from which they have been drawn, the Canons of Dort, as a full confession of the Reformed faith, whole and entire unto itself. In other words, it would be a major error — both historically and doctrinally — if the five points of Calvinism were understood either as the sole or even as the absolutely primary basis for identifying someone as holding the Calvinistic or Reformed faith. In fact, the Canons of Dort contain five points only because the Arminian articles, the Remonstrance of 1610, to which they responded, had five points. The number five, far from being sacrosanct, is the result of a particular historical circumstance and was determined negatively by the number of articles in the Arminian objection to confessional Calvinism.”

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