Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is Calvinism a Heresy?


Catholic Christianity vs. Calvinism

A few weeks ago we discussed the nature of heresy and used Calvinism as an illustration (see Through the Bible, Week 7, Applied to Heresy).  Orthodox and Catholics believe Calvinism is heretical and most Protestants (and Anglicans) do not.  Some of you have asked me to help you understand the Catholic position and why they would view Calvinism as heretical.  A good entree into the thinking of Catholics on this subject is the following quote by Peter Kreeft, a Catholic Philosopher who teaches at Boston College.

Peter Kreeft has distinguished the historic Church's soteriology (doctrine of salvation) with that of Calvinism by saying, "it is the Godfather, not God the Father, that makes you an offer you can't refuse." This memorable observation gets at why the Church has historically viewed Calvinism as a heresy: it's doctrine of God is deviant.  The idea that Kreeft is highlighting is that God is not a sovereign who acts like a Father, but rather the eternal Father who acts sovereignly.  His reign is characterized by his nature, which is revealed most fully to us in the life of his Son (who we know only did what he saw his Father doing).

Though I am sympathetic with this viewpoint, I still think it is too un-nuanced.  Many heirs of Calvin view God primarily as Father and only secondarily as sovereign. This can even be argued for Calvin himself (who is less "Calvinist" than many of his heirs).   Not all Calvinist confuse role with person.   For them, the person of Jesus remains a clear window into the divine nature.  We will discuss this further in future posts when I discuss some of my favorite Calvinist theologians. 


  1. Thank you, Tory. This is a very timely post for me. In my current understanding of "5 Point Calvinism" I have some strong areas of disagreement. I am in conversation with some Calvinists about this very topic and want to be clear in my own understanding of the theology - especially as it relates to "irresistible grace" and "limited atonement." I look forward to hearing more!

  2. Hi Kim,

    The most problematic of the 5 points (noted by the acronym TULIP), is ULI in the middle - unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. So your instincts are correct. If you want to better understand why these teachings are problematic, both biblically and philosophically, I would encourage you to read "Why I am not a Calvinist" by Joe Dongell and Jerry Walls.

  3. Another wonderful book is Reconsidering Tulip by Alexander Renault.

    "A biblical, philosophical, and historical response to the Reformed doctrines of predestination. This book is an Eastern Orthodox assessment of TULIP, bringing to the table 1,500 years of theology and thinking which is usually absent in the typical Calvinist vs. Arminian debates."