Where Calvin Went Wrong

October 18, 2013

by Dr. Scot McKnight

Dr. McKnight — professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. — is the author of  the award-winning The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete, 2004), which won the Christianity Today book of the year for Christian Living. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986), and is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies. He is author or editor of 40 books, has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and regularly speaks at local churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries in the USA and abroad. SBCToday is grateful for his permission to link to this article.


At the core of Calvinism is God’s sovereignty, but just what sovereignty means is the essence of Calvin’s core: sovereignty means determinism in that God elects, God awakens, God shows grace, God predestines, God regenerates, God preserves and God glorifies. John Wesley, on the other hand, can be said to teach each of those, but where he thinks Calvin went wrong is that Calvin’s view of sovereignty so overwhelmed his theology that he ends up denying the capacity of humans to choose to believe. We are looking at Don Thorsen’s fair-minded comparison of John Calvin and John Wesley, in his book Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Life in Line with Practice.

Do you think meticulous sovereignty denies human’s capacity to choose (for and against) something? Does it deny, in that sense, “free will”? Do you think Christ died for all?

In his study that compares their views of salvation, Thorsen begins with conversion experiences — comparing Wesley’s famous Aldersgate experience and Calvin’s cryptic comments in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, which differs slightly from other tellings of his experience. What perhaps ought to be observed is that folks like Calvin and Wesley didn’t up and say “Here’s when I got saved.” (That, perhaps, is worth our pondering more than it is often pondered.)

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