Baptists and Calvinism

I recently had the joy of visiting The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London which in years past echoed with the preaching of a man who was known as the Prince of Preachers. He was also known as a Calvinistic Baptist. The man was Charles Spurgeon.

As Spurgeon once said:

“We are Calvinistic Baptists, and have no desire to sail under false colors, neither are we ashamed of our principles; if we were, we would renounce them tomorrow.” The Metropolitan Tabernacle: Its History and Work. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876). Preface, Page 4.

Sometimes the question is asked today: Why bother with labels? The short answer is this: Those who love truth are committed to distinguishing truth from error. Often times it is helpful, even necessary, to use labels to do this.

Some people in Spurgeon’s day said that Calvinism must be a man-made system because of the name it bears (i.e. ‘Calvin-ism’). There are also some in our day who make the same criticism. But this is based on a serious misunderstanding. Loraine Boettner, in his book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, makes these helpful comments:

“We call this system of doctrine ‘Calvinism,’…yet names are mere conveniences. ‘We might…quite as appropropriately, and with equally as much reason, call gravitation “Newtonism,”…Men had been fully conversant with the facts of gravitation for long ages before Newton was born. These facts had indeed been visible from the first days of creation, inasmuch as gravitation was one of the laws which God ordained for the governing of the universe…So to with Calvinism. The inherent principles of it had been in existence for long ages before Calvin was born. They had indeed been visible as patent factors in the world’s history from the time of man’s creation. But inasmuch as it was Calvin who first formulated these principles into a more or less complete system, that system, or creed, if you will, and likewise those principles which are embodied in it, came to bear his name” (p. 4).

Surely, if there were competing theories in existence to account for the reason why apples fall to the ground instead of float in the air, then the theory of gravity would be called ‘Newtonism’ in order to distinguish it from all other false theories. But there are not other competing theories on gravity, so it is just called gravity. In the same way, if there were not differing theories regarding God’s ways in the world and in salvation, there would be no need for a particular label in order to distinguish true teaching from false.

Similar to Boettner, in his work A Defense of Calvinism, Spurgeon responded to this same criticism when it was directed at him. He approached the issue this way:

“We only use the term ‘Calvinism’ for shortness. That doctrine which is called ‘Calvinism’ did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Spirit of God, from the diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them of the Holy Ghost, from Jesus Christ, the great founder of the Christian dispensation. We use the term then, not because we impute any extraordinary importance to Calvin’s having taught these doctrines. We would be just as willing to call them by any other name, if we could find one which would be better understood, and which on the whole would be as consistent with fact.”

As I toured the grounds of the Tabernacle, I reflected on the enduring popularity of Spurgeon among evangelicals today. I find it interesting that many Christians who talk affectionately about Spurgeon and freely quote him, seem totally unaware that if he were still alive he would wholeheartedly reject many of their doctrines. Spurgeon believed that to deviate from what was commonly called “Calvinistic” teaching was to compromise the very doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this, Spurgeon simply viewed himself as standing alongside Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Gill, Whitefield, Knox, Edwards, Owen and other faithful gospel preachers in ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ.

“The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.”

Here is a helpful series of articles from The Reformed Reader designed to help Baptists today understand and express the same theological clarity and sound forth the same gospel of true and pure grace.

   What is Calvinism?
   More Than A Calvinist
   What is a Reformed Baptist?
   What is an Historic Baptist? 
   What is Calvinism’s Passion for Men’s Souls
   What is Calvinism’s Effect on Evangelism?
   What is Calvinism’s Relationship with the SBC?
   What is meant by T.U.L.I.P?
   Will Calvinism Kill Evangelism?
   The Doctrines of Grace
   Conserving Power of the Doctrines of Grace
   Southern Baptists & The Doctrine of Election
   Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism
   Baptists & the Sufficiency of Scripture
   Southern Baptists at the Crossroads
   Reformation & Controversy in the SBC
   Baptist History Out of Focus
   Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism
   Southern Baptists & The Doctrine of Election
   A Primer on Baptist History

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4 responses to “Baptists and Calvinism

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Pastor Billy. It was very helpful and very interesting to me. I’m so glad you shared with us!!
    ~Rachel

  2. tractsandtreatises

    Rachel,

    I am glad that you were helped by it!

    Billy

  3. – i enjoyed this post 🙂

  4. tractsandtreatises

    Glad to hear it Ami!

    Billy

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