I was quite shocked to stumble upon a Christian news website the other day that went on to very convincingly prove that, much later in his life, John Calvin had actually recanted of the doctrine that has become widely known as ‘limited atonement’, or ‘particular atonement’.
Many people are not aware that John Calvin did not actually formulate the Five Points of Calvinism. Rather, it was the Dutch Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619 that laid out the precise doctrines as espoused in the ‘five points’. This was all in refutation of the specific doctrines known as the Five Articles of Remonstrance that had been formulated by the infamous Jacobus Arminius. Yet, though Calvin did not formulate the ‘five points’, it was his teachings that the Synod of Dordt used to produce the ‘five points’.
But, the history lesson aside, what can we make of this? John Calvin recanting on the doctrine of limited atonement? This could get a little shaky for reformed theologians, even for myself. For those who do not know, the doctrine of limited atonement recognizes that the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all humanity (meaning His sacrifice is sufficient to save all), but the efficiency of the atonement is limited to the elect that God would save (meaning it will only effectively achieve such a work for the elect).
The website – http://www.gotellitonthemountain.net – states this:
‘After reading such letters written near the end of Calvin’s life, we are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had strong doubts about the doctrine of limited atonement.’
After considering such, all I have to say now is this…
I am only kidding! There was no such article on a Christian news website, and if you did try and check the URL above, you will see that there is not even such a website.
So what’s the point of such a nasty trick, or at least nasty to those in the reformed camp, maybe good news to those in the Arminian camp? Well, I only wanted to get your attention to ask you these questions: What if we found out that our specific systematic doctrines that we held to were actually not founded on very solid ground? What if Calvinism or Arminianism or supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism or preterism or dispensationalism or __________ was shaken and fell by the wayside? What if some empirical evidence and proof was given to counter your, or my, particular doctrinal stance? What if a specific ‘ism’ that you held to, even in a Christian context, was shown to be lacking?
For many, this would leave us devastated, including me. I have strong leanings towards reformed theology, and so, if the above were true – not the article, put real proof from letters Calvin had written – I would be left wanting, left confused, left disillusioned.
And so, in all of this, the challenge comes to remember that our particular system of doctrines and ‘isms’ are not as important as founding our lives on Jesus Christ, the King, and His kingdom. The writer to the Hebrews stated it this way:
This phrase, “Yet once more,” [referring back to Haggai 2:6] indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:27-28)
You see, God regularly brings a shaking to our lives, and that includes bringing a shaking to our precious and pet theological systems. I give a major testimony in my own life:
During the first two years of my new life in Christ, I was a part of church with some 25,000 members. But, after praying, seeking counsel, and praying about things for a good 6 to 8 weeks, I knew God was calling me to be a part of another church. The thing was that this new church God was calling me to had only 60-70 people (including children). And not only that, I had moved from meeting in a massive building to meeting in an old, beat-up warehouse. Talk about some shaking that had to be done in my theology, especially in regards to gaining a healthy understanding of the kingdom of God and church. This probably would not be such a shake-up for you, or for me now, but it was for a two-year old Christian that thought ‘church’ was about really big numbers.
Thus, we must take to heart that, as followers of Christ, we are truly called to follow Him first and foremost, even with the willingness to abandon our theology if necessary. Please understand that I love theology. I have a theological blog, I am part of a theological network with hundreds of other bloggers, I study the Scriptures regularly, I read theological treatises constantly. But I know all of those things become secondary to the voice of Christ. This voice is not ascertained by independency outside of the community of God, the ekklesia. But, in the end, my point is that we realize we are not called to follow Calvin, Arminius, nor any theological system. We are called to follow Christ alone.
Paul said it this way:
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13-14)
So, in the end, the call is to follow the One who was slaughtered and rose on our behalf. I want to discuss theology, and I might even try my hand at drafting a theological work one day. But, when all is said and done, there is only one thing we are to build on as a solid foundation – the kingdom rule of God – and there is only One person we are to keep our eyes fixed on – Christ, the King.