Piety in the Canons of Dort -- By: Matthew Barrett

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 03:1 (Jan 2011)
Article: Piety in the Canons of Dort
Author: Matthew Barrett

Piety in the Canons of Dort

Matthew Barrett

Edwin H. Palmer was unmistakably accurate when he said that, for the “uninformed pastor, the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ seem harsh, cold and spiritually deadening.”1 The terms Calvinism, total depravity, election, reprobation, limited atonement, and irresistible grace give him the shivers. As he views it, the God of Calvinism is arbitrary and His decree of reprobation is “horrible.” Such “fatalistic” teachings, he believes, make men morally lazy, give a false sense of security, hinder missions, and deaden human responsibility. Therefore, instead of utilizing these teachings in his pastoral work, he may oppose them or at least ignore them.2

In light of Calvinism’s faithfulness to Scripture and biblical accuracy, such nausea to the doctrines of grace is tragic.3 Moreover, as Palmer observes, such a knee-jerk reaction to Calvinism results

in caricatures, chief among them being the claims that Calvinism is responsible for spiritual laziness4 and a false sense of assurance.5 Consequently, Calvinism’s influence in pastoral ministry and the spiritual life of the believer is seen as damaging, destructive, and counter-productive to true spiritual grace and humility.6

To the contrary, this essay will demonstrate that, for the Calvinist, the doctrines of grace do not serve to hinder but actually promote true, genuine, evangelical piety.7 Nowhere is this so obvious than in the very core of Calvinistic theology: the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1619). It is Dort which is the hallmark of five-point Calvinism, an expansive and rigorous defense of God’s sovereign grace against the synergism of the Arminian Remonstrants, which came to be definitive for so many sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Puritans.8 And yet, these same Canons which expound high Calvinism

are also the same Canons which see Calvinism as the very spring of evangelical piety and spirituality. While it is not the intention or purpose of this essay to defend the five points of Dort per se or to extensively explain the historical background that gave rise to the Synod of Dort, the Canons ...

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