IT IS AN INTERESTING QUESTION. If John Calvin were alive today, would Calvin be a Calvinist? Oxford reformation scholar, Diarmmaid MacCulloch, doesn’t think so.

“It is a mistake to see predestination as the dominant idea in Calvin’s theology, although for some of his Reformed successors, it seems often to become so. Rather it was part of Calvin’s growing conviction that he must proclaim the all-embracing providence of God in every aspect of human life and experience, so just as affirmation of a double predestination grew in Calvin’s successive remolding of the Institutes, so did his positive and comforting discussion of providence.” [1]

Oxford church historian, Alister McGrath agrees.

“Far from being a central premise of Calvin’s theological ‘system…predestination is…an ancillary doctrine…Calvinism places an emphasis upon this doctrine (predestination) which is largely lacking in Calvin’s thought.”[4] 

Later in the same book, McGrath writes, “It must be stressed that at no point does Calvin himself suggest that Christ died only for the elect.”[5] 

Of course Calvin believed in predestination. It is all over the Bible. But many today think that predestination was the central concept in his theological system. It was not. “Calvinism”‘ was a synthesis of Calvin’s thought, put together by his disciples in the decades after his death. “Calvinism” rather than Calvin, put the central emphasis on predestination. Calvin, to his credit, had the ability to hold seemingly contradictory theological ideas (i.e. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility) in tension than many are today. 

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? 

[1]Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Reformation, (New York: Viking, 2003) pg 236
[4]McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin, pg 169, 209 (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990)
[5]McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin, pg 216 (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990)