Is Calvinism a useful label?

Richard Muller argues that it is not:

As for the terms “Calvinist” and “Calvinism,” I tend to avoid them as less than useful to the historical task. If, by “Calvinist,” one means a follower of Calvin who had nothing to say that was different from what Calvin said, one would be hard put to find any Calvinists in the later sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. If by Calvinist one means a later exponent of a theology standing within the confessional boundaries described by documents such as the Gallican Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism, then one will have the problem of accounting for the many ways in which such thinkers – notably, Amandus Polanus von Polansdorf, Bartholomaus Keckermann, William Perkins, Franciscus Junius, and Bucanus, just to name a few – differ from Calvin both doctrinally and methodologically. One might even be forced to pose Calvin against the Calvinists. Given the diversity of the movement and the fact that Calvin was not the primary author of any of the confessional norms just noted, the better part of historical valour (namely discretion) requires rejection of the term “Calvinist” and “Calvinism” in favour of the more historically accurate term, “Reformed.”
PRRD, 1:30

(Inspired in part by the discussions over at ThomasGoodwin).


8 Responses to “Is Calvinism a useful label?”

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    I see Muller’s point for rejecting the term ‘Calvinism’. However, that was the term used by the many of the English Puritans, the Princetonians, Abraham Kuyper, Bavinck, and Berkhof. It has been the term used by just about every Church in the Reformed Tradition. It is the term the oponents of that doctrinal system, such as the Arminians and Lutherans, use. I highly doubt the term is going to go away any time soon, regardless of Muller’s opinion.

  2. thomasgoodwin Says:

    Incidentally, my supervisor at Leiden didn’t like Muller’s point … she was happy with Calvinism … and I thought I was being so cooool in my thesis with Muller’s contention.

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    Yes I agree with you – Calvinism as a term is here to stay.


    I made what I guess was a similar throw away comment when discussing Durham’s relationship to Calvin. It also did not make the final draft!


  4. Kyle LaPorte Says:

    I think the term “Calvinist” being used to describe ones soteriology is out of date due to the many people who reject the sovereignty of God in salvation calling themselves “Calvinists”. It seams to be the new “cool” evangelical term.

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Kyle

    Do you have anyone particular in mind? I’m not aware of that charge being levelled against the “new Calvinists”. Undoubtedly though when people speak of being “Calvinists” they mean adherence to the “5 points” or something similar.

    Every blessing

  6. Good question! « Life of a Seminary Student Says:

    […] Posted in Theology by submodo on May 18, 2009 Is Calvinism a useful label? Richard Muller says no, and I agree. I’ve never liked the term, especially because most […]

  7. Good question! | grove city college Says:

    […] Is Calvinism a useful label? Richard Muller says &#110&#111&#44 and I agree. I’ve never liked the term, especially because most&#32“evangelicals” narrowly def&#105&#110&#101 Calvinists as people who believe in predestinatio&#110&#46&#32Many, many Christians that I have known did so. Bu&#116&#32&#97s Scott Clark likes to point out, lots of people i&#110&#32&#99hurch history believed in predestination, includin&#103&#32&#84homas Aquinas (see “Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry“). Gottschalk was another. […]

  8. RS Says:

    I think Muller’s point should be taken on board. At the very least one must recognise that Calvin was not the lone pioneer of the Reformed tradition and should not be considered the final arbiter. That means ‘Calvinism’, if we must persist in using it, must be explained or qualified but I guess that goes for words like ‘evangelical’ too these days. Huh?

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