Thursday, November 10, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of my book review of Against Calvinism:

Chapter 2 — Whose Calvinism? Your guess is as good as mine

Olson attempts to delineate the terms "Calvinism" and "Reformed." Unfortunately, Olson starts by questioning the embrace of TULIP as being part of Calvinism as he looks at the older established historic Calvinist and Reformed denominations and ecumenical bodies. Specifically, Olson looks at the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) (p. 29). Olson's argument in this chapter basically boils down to this: some of these denominations, some theologians who call themselves Calvinist or Reformed, these world bodies who call themselves Reformed — all of them basically deny TULIP so therefore TULIP is extreme or "radical Reformed theology" (p. 28).

First of all, such is horrendous historical revisionism. "Calvinist" and "Reformed" historically mean something. If a theologian, church, denomination or ecumenical body denies any part of what has been historically held to be Calvinism or Reformed theology, that they are the ones departing from the tradition and therefore should not co-opt the term by redefining it. Just like the person who denies Christ cannot continue to call himself a Christian, so those who deny Calvinism cannot continue to call themselves Calvinists. This is basic use of nomenclature. As Dr. R Scott Clark says in another form, it is inherently narcissistic to think that whatever someone who calls themselves Reformed teaches must be Reformed also [2]. Olson's methodology here therefore fails. What Calvinism is or what Reformed theology is cannot be determined by what those who call themselves "Reformed" and "Calvinist" believe and teach, but rather what is historically and objectively taught by the Reformed churches in their confessions.

It must be noted here that for the WCRC one of the member churches in America is the PCUSA [3]. It is astonishing that Olson think that a liberal denomination that denies the authority of Scripture and the Gospel of justification by faith alone can even be considered as a legitimate representative of the Christian faith, nevermind Calvinism and Reformed theology. Conversely, one struggles to find confessional Reformed denominations such as the OPC, URCNA, RPCNA or even Kuyper's denomination in the list. Olson thus makes a categorical error even in trying to identify Calvinism and Reformed theology by reference to these mainline churches and theologians, in an effort to paint historic Calvinism and Reformed theology as being "radical." A truly more representative group who embrace Calvinism and Reformed theology is NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council), although of course it is our creeds and confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt, Westminster Standards) that define what Calvinism and Reformed theology is.


[2] R Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confessions: Our Theology, Piety and Practice (Phillipsberg, NJ: P&R, 2008), p. 18

[3] WCRC churches, Accessed Nov 7th 2011

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