Ten Myths About Calvinism, Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition

Kenneth Stewart, professor of theological studies at Covenant College has written a book that should be in the hands of every reformed pastor and teacher, especially those identifying themselves as Calvinists. This is a very important and timely book. I would actually like to write something about each of the ten chapters but I will forgo that desire and simply encourage you to read this book.

The author shares a concern regarding our heritage in the Calvinistic tradition of the Christian faith. Recently, I was together with a number of knowledgeable Christian leaders discussing the contemporary scenario of the American Christianity, not all were Presbyterians. At one point in the conversation the statement was made that it seems that if there is to be a reformation in American Christianity, it will come from the Baptists. That stung a bit because of my hopes that those churches historically connected with Calvinism and the Reformed faith through the years would be that catalyst.

It is somewhat in that context of desiring to see the PCA play a predominate role in that direction that Stewart’s book resonated with me. Before briefly but positively commenting on the book, I have some concerns that we could easily see two extremes among us, thus neutralizing our emphasis on reformation-one is to treat the “Reformed Faith” so narrowly and thus unnecessarily alienating those with a somewhat different slant on that faith; and second, not to take the heart of reformation theology as seriously as we ought, resulting in giving us diversity that divides rather than diversity that unifies, broadens, and strengthens our commitment to that faith.

I agree with Stewart that we would probably do better to refer to ourselves as “Reformed” rather than as “Calvinists” lest we be guilty of trying to freeze the 16th century, to the extent of not seeing the developments within the Reformed faith in the Calvinistic tradition since that time.

Stewart identifies ten myths which he believes tend to cause an extremist view, where we mount our hobbyhorses and fail to see and appreciate the breadth of the whole picture. He does point out that such is not merely a problem for Calvinists only. It is also true of certain Methodists, Pentecostals, Baptists, etc. He does say that maybe Calvinism demonstrates a little more of that tendency but we all can be guilty of extremes. He also makes clear his desire for us within the Calvinistic tradition to continue to move forward and not remain static. He writes, “…the supposition that the sixteenth century has provided us with a good script, and that we have only to adhere to that script and all will go well. But this notion of one size fits all seriously misjudges the diversity evident in the century of the Reformation.”

He reminds us that Calvinism is a complex system and within that system there is diversity. There are those people who have used Calvinism to justify many different perspectives as though their interpretation represented the final word.

Stewart’s title tells you what the book is about, the ten myths of Calvinism. To name a few: Calvin’s view of predestination must be ours, or TULIP is the yardstick for being “reformed,” or Calvinism is anti-missionary or Calvinism is anti-woman or it has fostered racial inequality.

Why read this book? 1. Kenneth Stewart is an excellent scholar to lead us through such a topic. 2. The issues highlighted need to be kept front and center in our thinking and actions, if we are to be instrumental in a revival of the Reformed Faith. 3. It will provide some good material not only to encourage us to think more consistently but it will be a good resource to use with one another for study and discussion. 4. It will remind us how “multi-faceted” (to use Richard J. Mouw’s term) Calvinism really is.

As I read through the book, I remembered when I was called to be Coordinator of CEP, an older Christian said to me, “Mr. Dunahoo, I want you to remember that we are Scotch Presbyterians, not Dutch.” I replied that by God’s grace I am committed to the Westminster Standards but I also have a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg catechism, which I guess makes me some kind of Reformed hybrid and hopefully balanced Calvinist. That I believe is the aim of this book, to keep us faithful to whom we are as Calvinists which in turn will hopefully make us more effective and more willing to dialogue with those with whom we might differ at certain points.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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