Common Misconceptions Of Evangelicals Regarding Calvinism -- By: Steven B. Cowan

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 33:2 (Jun 1990)
Article: Common Misconceptions Of Evangelicals Regarding Calvinism
Author: Steven B. Cowan

Common Misconceptions Of Evangelicals
Regarding Calvinism

Steven B. Cowan*

In the evangelical community today there is much opposition to the system of doctrine known as Calvinism. In the minds of many people the word itself conjures up the image of a cruel God who determines the fate of each human in an arbitrary and capricious manner, or perhaps the image of a cold, dead Church, unconcerned with discipleship or spiritual purity.

There is no doubt some truth to the idea that many who have claimed the name Calvinist could be associated with such images.1 Yet it is my contention that these images do not correctly portray classical (or orthodox) Calvinism and that much of the opposition is based upon prevailing misconceptions regarding what most Calvinists believe and proclaim. True Calvinists are not antinomian, supralapsarian, or anti-free-will, as they are often accused of being. If rightly understood it is highly possible that antagonism toward Calvinism will be lessened, or at least placed on surer theological footing. Some of the more prevalent misconceptions are discussed below.

I. Belief In Degrees Of Calvinism

It is quite common in discussing Calvinism to hear someone confess to being a three- or four-point Calvinist. This of course means that some of the so-called five points of Calvinism are accepted while others (usually limited atonement and/or irresistible grace) are rejected. Such a position seems to imply that each of the five points is a separate and unrelated concept. One can pick and choose whichever one likes.

A notable example of this innovation can be seen in the recent work of H. Leon McBeth. When speaking of the influence of Calvinism on the history of Baptists, McBeth frequently uses terms like “strict,” “moderate,” and “soft” to describe what he considers to be varying degrees of

* Steven Cowan is a master of divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Calvinism. He usually associates “strict” with what are known as hyper-Calvinism and antinomianism.2 “Moderate” represents orthodox Calvinism “softened” by an emphasis on evangelism.3

Whether McBeth’s understanding of the tenets of both hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism is sound is not the issue here, though he does seem to make the common mistake of confusing the two kinds of double predestination (as discussed below). What is important is that the belief in degrees of Calvinism is itself a serious misconception.

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