Well I finally got around to it – I am reading through some of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. I say “some” because the complete work spans more than 1500 pages and deals with some of the most weighty and complex theological issues known to mankind. I have chosen for now to plod my way through the most controversial aspects of Calvin’s writings; the topics of predestination and election.
Most of my friends who call themselves Calvinists are eager to disassociate themselves from the doctrine of “double predestination”. They state that God has predestined some to eternal life, but they assure me that He would never send people to hell. People get there on their own, I am told. And what did Calvin teach? I ask. Usually, I receive some sort of vague answer – like how Calvin’s writings are difficult to understand or how misunderstood he is by other denominations. Ok, I get that. He was an intellectual giant – but what did he say about double predestination and if you don’t know exactly, then why do you call yourself a Calvinist?
So I decided to have a look for myself. Surprisingly, The Institutes of the Christian Religion are not so difficult to read or comprehend, despite the complexity of the topics discussed.
Calvin begins his discourse on the doctrine of predestination and election in Chapter 21 of Book 3 of his Institutes. If one just reads the title of this chapter and nothing else, he or she quickly ascertains Calvin’s view on double predestination – for the chapter is titled “OF THE ETERNAL ELECTION, BY WHICH GOD HAS PREDESTINATED SOME TO SALVATION, AND OTHERS TO DESTRUCTION.” That’s pretty clear, is it not?
But in case you still doubt his position, allow me to share with you this excerpt from Section 5 in Chapter 21:
All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.
He goes on to address the “arrogant” and “blasphemous” objections which are leveled at his view of predestination. And there are plenty of such objections. In typical Calvin style, he does not back down nor does he attempt to soften his message. God ordains some people to heaven and some people to hell, end of story.
“If that is what Calvin truly taught,” a Calvinist friend told me recently, “then I shouldn’t call myself a Calvinist. That’s not what I believe.”
There is no doubt that Calvin fully subscribed to the doctrine of double predestination. He invented it! Maybe it’s time for some Calvinists to revisit these Institutes of his and reevaluate their desire to affix this label on themselves.
Calvin, John. Institutes of Christian religion. Trans. Henry Beveridge, Esq. 1599. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Nov. 1999. 20 Sept. 2001 <http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/institutes.html>.