What is an Evangelical Calvinist?: Getting Passed the Shallow End

The language of “Evangelical Calvinism” can be very confusing for those being exposed to it for the first time; usually folks presume that it is basically Evangelical + Calvinism, but really this could not be further from the PICKWICK_Templatetruth. It actually has much more definitional depth than that, and is intended to capture its material reality and whence it finds its theological orientation (in contrast to what I like to call classical Calvinism). Here is what Myk Habets and myself co-wrote for the Introduction of our edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, pg. 12:

The specific term “Evangelical Calvinism” as [sic] been used a number of times in history and so it is not unique to the editors or contributors of this volume. To generalize, this form of Calvinism can have an unintended consequence of not promoting a full-orbed Trinitarian theology, as can be discerned in Calvin himself. Due to historical and cultural factors, various aspects of Calvin’s theology were diminished that Evangelical Calvinism seeks to redress. According to David Fergusson, the more “mainstream” forms of Calvinism tend “to subordinate grace to nature; it renders the justice of God essential but the love of God arbitrary; it yields a theory of limited atonement which is contrary to the plain sense of Scripture and which is divorced from the doctrine of the incarnation; and it fosters an introspective and legalist religion as the search for the signs of election is redirected away from Christ to the life of the individual believer.”32 It the editor’s belief that an Evangelical Calvinism can best represent the kind of Reformed theology Fergusson so rightly believes to be necessary.

And to be honest, I am pretty tired of arguing about labeling at this point. If someone doesn’t actually think what we are presenting or identifying is genuinely Calvinist in orientation, I honestly don’t care. I know that by using this kind of politically charged lingo ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Calvinist’ that we have pretty much invited some scrutiny that way, and indeed, may have erected a barrier to high for people to get past; but I would challenge anyone reading this, who might fall into that camp, to give what we are materially communicating a chance. To take away the language of Evangelical Calvinist, and get into the material reality, what you will find is that we believe that God is Triune love, who loved the world that he created (because he is love) so much that he freely choose to become us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him (in Christ). In this sense, we are the most evangelical theology you might ever encounter; that is if you are attempting to think about things theologically.

As you can see from the quote above, we are different from what normally passes as Calvinism or Arminianism for that matter. At the end of the day, though, I just want people to know that they can think theologically about things, and actually not imbibe what is usually on tap for those of you who want to. I know that even in communicating what I am here, that I am, indeed, drawing some distinctions and lines. Well, we do believe something, it is distinct, and at the end of the day, it is more evangelical, I think, than anything I have ever encountered in my short 39 years on this earth.


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9 Responses to What is an Evangelical Calvinist?: Getting Passed the Shallow End

  1. Joel says:

    Bobby, I feel we have a lot in common. I’m currently working on my MA at YDS and am very interested in Barth and Torrance, though I always tend to gravitate towards more Lutheran loci and lenses. I wonder what a dialogue between Evangelical Calvinism and Lutheranism would look like. Maybe it’s a project we could potentially work on together! Let’s be in touch.


  2. Evangelical Calvinism is the most evangelical theology I have come across as well. It’s just awesome. It gives me so much joy and hope.


  3. Bowman says:

    Joel does hint at a useful question: Why not Lutheranism?


  4. Bobby,

    Just so you know I just purchased a copy of your book for a friend.
    I’m doing what I can to share the message:)


  5. Steve says:

    Why, as far as it goes, would a Cal or Arm disagree with your statement, “we believe that God is Triune love, who loved the world that he created (because he is love) so much that he freely choose to become us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him (in Christ).”? Why would Horton or Olson disagree? What would be their one sentence version? I’m trying to pin-down EC a bit more. Thanks.


  6. Bobby Grow says:


    Hey what’s up! Cool, so you made it to YDS? Nice. Yeah, a Lutheran/EC convo would be an interesting one, indeed. We’ll have to stay in touch and work on that in the days to come.


    Hi. I got your email, I am sorry I have not responded to it yet. The reason EC is Reformed and not Lutheran is for a few reasons: it does not follow the Lutheran teaching on the communicatio idiomatum, it does not follow the Lutheran Law/Gospel dialectic, etc. Although, I do affirm a Barthian notion of the extra Calvinisticum in regard to the Lord’s body and presence as communicated by my friend Dr Darren Sumner in his PhD diss on the subject and in an essay he recently had published for the International Journal of Systematic Theology. So we could have some constructive dialogue on that issue based upon this redrawing of the subject.


    It is because, they, to one degree or another, think from a dualistic conception of a God/world relation. For Horton the problem becomes most pointed when thinking about election/reprobation (and for Olson as well, actually). For Horton, God is only love in relation to humanity, for only a small part of humanity; indeed, since the broad road that leads to destruction is for the many, for Horton, the defining attribute of God would really not be love, but justice devoid of effectual love for the reprobate. That is just one massive difference between us, Steve. Indeed, in the end, God is only love for a small portion of humanity as well; it is just that he changes his referent point and bases the determination of the range of God’s love on those ‘who will’ believe.

    This is a material difference, Steve.


  7. Bobby Grow says:


    Wow, humbled brother!


  8. Indeed Luther’s doctrine of the Pauline “theologia crucis” is so needed in the so-called Evangelical Church today! But this does also include the Law/Gospel aspect too. Also Staupitz pointed Luther to the crucified-Christ in the midst of his anxieties over election! Perhaps Luther’s hermeneutic of relating Holy Scripture to personal existence, and his Christological centre therein was also one of Paul’s best theological teachings! And the Lutheran Confessions are simply closely biblical and Christological also.


  9. Bobby Grow says:

    Hi Fr Robert,

    There are many things about Luther that I like, for sure!


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