8 of the Best Features of Calvinism (or Christianity)?


Tim Challies, noted author and blogger, wrote a post called “8 Features of the Best Kind of Calvinism“. In this post he examines Ian Hamilton’s new short booklet What Is Experiential Calvinism? (amazon). The answer is that Calvinism is much “deeper and richer” than TULIP. Another reviewer (link) of this work writes:

Calvinism has sadly been reduced to five points and characterized as a cold academic system of thought. Ian Hamilton has set out to recast it in a light that is more true to its heritage and intent.

Challies’ post goes on to list 8 features of experiential Calvinism. Many of these “marks of experiential Calvinism”, listed in Challies’ post, are captured in “Heart-Warming Calvinism”, an article by Ian Hamilton (link).

I offered my thoughts as a comment and repost them, with some additions, here.

I often hear Calvinists express frustration along the lines that Calvinism is a view that means more than TULIP. As someone who does not adhere to Reformed doctrines, I still would heartily agree; Calvinism is much more than TULIP. There is much common ground between Calvinists and non-Reformers. That can be seen in these features, however, because most of them are not exclusively Calvinism. They are Christian.

Challies open with an excerpt from Hamilton’s booklet. Here I will quote this replacing “Calvinism” with “Christianity”.

Calvinism Christianity is natively experiential. Before it is a theological system, Calvinism Christianity is deeply affectional, God-centered, cross-magnifying religion. A man may loudly trumpet his adherence to the distinctive tenets of Calvinism Christianity, but if his life is not marked by delight in God and His gospel, his professed Calvinism Christianity is a sham.

The content in this statement applies as much to a non-Reformed Christian (for example Classical Arminianism) as it does to a Calvinist. Now some Calvinists may argue that non-Reformed views are not God-centered but we can make that a discussion for different a place and a later day (cf. Grace For All: the God at the Center).

The same was true for most of the 8 features of experiential Calvinism. These apply to Christians and are not reserved for Calvinists alone.

  • The experiential Calvinist Christian cherishes God’s grace.
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian has a deep sense of the sinfulness of sin.
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian lives before God’s face.
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian shapes all of life by the revelation of God’s unimpeachable holiness.
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian is … an obedience-loving believer.
  • the experiential Calvinist Christian seeks to have his life and the church’s life contoured by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord” (ie Scripture)
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian pursues godly catholicity.
    • obviously catholicity would not refer to Reformed creeds but to the “faith once and for all delivered” as captured in the earlier creeds out of Nicea and Chalcedon).
  • The experiential Calvinist Christian cultivates communion with God.

Taken in its entirety, Calvinism is more than TULIP.  It holds to the orthodox Christian creeds and upholds features of the Christian experience that can be found in other non-Reformed theological views. Those who are not Reformed, like myself, consider adherents of Calvinism as fellow disciples of Christ.

However, casting these marks as features of Calvinism, rather than features of Christians, only seek to further divide. Hamilton’s opening remarks in the booklet, aimed at showing Calvinism as more than TULIP, only drive the wedge deeper:

Calvinism was nothing less than biblical Christianity. Not merely a humanly devised theological system, … it was the gospel in its purest form.

What separates Calvinism and Arminianism are not the features of experiential Christianity, nor is it the core tenets of Christianity found in the earliest creeds. It is the doctrine of “meticulous sovereignty” and the aspects of doctrine captured in TULIP that form the points of departure. On these points the views differ sharply and that is why they get all the “press”.


Disclaimer: I have not read What Is Experiential Calvinism? and this post is not meant to be a review of that book.

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