What is Evangelical Calvinism?

These fifteen theses, authored by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, reflect the core convictions that constitute the heart of the Evangelical Calvinist stream of the Reformed tradition. They also undergird and inform much of what I write here at Reformissio. The term “Evangelical Calvinism” originates with Thomas F. Torrance who in his book Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell traces the development of an ‘evangelical’ mood within Scottish Reformed theology in contrast to the ‘federal’ trajectory codified in the Westminster Standards. While the name may seem to imply novelty, the essence of Evangelical Calvinism is actually quite old, extending back not only to John Knox and its namesake John Calvin but beyond them to patristic theologians such as Athanasius and Irenaeus and, ultimately, to Scripture itself. Each of the following theses condense a significant amount of critical theological material, and for further exploration of their meaning I would recommend the book from which they are drawn: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, pp. 425-52. Here, according to Habets and Grow, are the fifteen theses:

Thesis One. The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.

Thesis Two. The primacy of Gods triune life is grounded in love, for God is love.

Thesis Three. There is one covenant of grace.PICKWICK_Template

Thesis Four. God is primarily covenantal and not contractual in his dealings with humanity.

Thesis Five. Election is christologically conditioned.

Thesis Six. Grace precedes law.

Thesis Seven. Assurance is of the essence of faith.

Thesis Eight. Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ.

Thesis Nine. Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialectical theology.

Thesis Ten. Evangelical Calvinism places an emphasis upon the doctrine of union with/in Christ whereby all the benefits of Christ are ours.

Thesis Eleven. Christ lived, died, and rose again for all humanity, thus Evangelical Calvinism affirms a doctrine of universal atonement.

Thesis Twelve. Universalism is not a corollary of universal redemption and is not constitutive for Evangelical Calvinism.

Thesis Thirteen. There is no legitimate theological concept of double predestination as construed in the tradition of Reformed Scholasticism.

Thesis Fourteen. The atonement is multifaceted and must not be reduced to one culturally conditioned atonement theory but, rather, to a theologically unified but multi-faceted atonement model.

Thesis Fifteen. Evangelical Calvinism is in continuity with the Reformed confessional tradition.

At first glance, it may be somewhat difficult to grasp the full implications of these theses and form them into a cohesive picture of what Evangelical Calvinism is all about, especially for someone who may be unfamiliar the theological history that it seeks retrieve, develop, and/or correct. If so, then the following quotation may be of assistance. Here is T.F. Torrance, putting it all together and succinctly summarizing the gospel in a truly evangelical way:

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, p.94.

The reason why this gospel is truly good news is because from first to last, it is always
God’s being and act for us in Christ that provides the unshakeable ground of our assurance. At no point do we need to wonder about who God is or what he intends for us,
because, as Torrance was fond of saying, there is no God that is hidden behind the back of Jesus Christ. What Christ has done, he has not done for a select few whose identities cannot truly be known because they remain shrouded in the inscrutable recesses of the divine decree. Rather, in assuming our humanity, the Word made flesh revealed unequivocally the love of God for all the world.

Furthermore, at no point are we ever thrown back upon ourselves to determine whether or not we are good enough, whether or not we have repented enough, whether or not we have believed enough. As Athanasius stated, Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, came not only to minister the things of God to humanity, but also the things of humanity to God. This is the meaning of Christ’s incarnation, his mediation as our faithful high priest. Jesus does not simply offer us, from the side of God, a salvation that we can receive only on the
that we are able to respond appropriately, for our response has already been made for us vicariously by Christ himself! This is not to downplay the importance of our faith, rather it is to say that Christ’s response enables our response, so that through union with him by the Spirit, our faith is always grounded, undergirded, and surrounded by his faithfulness on our behalf.

The reason why many will not respond in repentance and faith to the gospel will always be a mystery (thesis 12), but what we do know is that God cannot let go of us any more than he can undo the incarnation. As the apostle Paul so beautifully put it in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is good news. This is Evangelical Calvinism.