What is the Full Gospel according to Calvinism?


In an interview, posted in October on the Desiring God site, John Piper was asked:

Can an Arminian preach the gospel effectively — Christ and him crucified?

This question was prompted by Charles Spurgeon’s claim that “[t]here is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism”.

Arminian’s do preach an effective gospel, affirms Piper, if by effective it is meant that there is “enough of gospel truth so that God is willing to use it to save sinners.” While admitting that an Arminian can preach an effective gospel, Piper underscores the point that they cannot preach a full gospel; only one that is defective and harmful.

piperfullgospel

Can an Arminian preach the gospel fully?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel without implicit or explicit theological defects?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel without tendencies that lead the church in harmful directions?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel in the most Christ-exalting way?
And my answer to all those questions would be: No, they can’t.

Piper explains that when gospel truth is presented it can and often is stated in such a way that both an Arminian and a Calvinist would readily accept it.

However, he rightly notes that as one unpacks the terminology in that presentation that there would be a different “direction” or meaning behind many of the words and phrases that are used. Differences that, Piper notes “really do matter as people grow in faith.”

In answering the question “what is the gospel”, Piper gives the following 6 points.

The gospel is…

  1. A plan
  2. An event in history (Christ died)
  3. An achievement through that event (sins were paid for)
  4. An offer to the world that is free
  5. The application of the achievement (through faith)
  6. A means to the end (bringing us to God)

This is an effective explanation of what the gospel is, but is not a full answer. At least not according to Spurgeon or Piper because both Calvinists and non-Calvinists could affirm these 6 points as stated.

So what would a full Calvinist gospel look like? According to Spurgeon and Piper it would contain the following points:

  • justification by faith, without works
  • the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace
  • the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah
  • the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross
  • saints [cannot] fall away after they are called

But even looking at these points, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists could affirm all but the last of them. However, God’s plan, how He exercises sovereignty, who are the elect, and the extent of the atonement would be explained in very different ways by each group.

So, what would a full Calvinist gospel look like that attempted to be more explicit and avoid any ambiguity. Let’s take the effective gospel presentation that Piper gives us in the article as the basis for what a full Calvinist gospel might entail. The italicized portions were added by me.


God is a glorious, all-holy, all-righteous, all-just God, and he created us for his glory. The glory of God is achieved as he pours out both his mercy and his wrath. Some people will glorify God’s grace by receiving his mercy and being spared wrath. Others will glorify his justice when they suffer his wrath.

God is not unjust, for all people have sinned by not living for the glory of God, but preferring other things over God and, thus, dishonoring God. Therefore, we are all under the just and holy wrath of God [and] will all perish eternally if we cannot be saved from his wrath.

But God in his mercy has sent his own Son into the world, Jesus Christ, to bear the sins and to endure the wrath of all those who believe on him. Faith alone unites us to Christ so that his death counts for us and his righteousness can be imputed to us.

But we are by nature rebellious and we cannot change ourselves without divine help. This divine help, is not just the sending of a Savior to offer us salvation. Nor is this help an enabling of a stubborn heart to freely respond to the offer of salvation.

Divine help is the unfailing and regenerating act of God which powerfully removes our resistance and bestows not the potential for faith, but faith itself. For it is not in our power to express faith in Christ.  It is a gift that is supernaturally given.

Now, whether a person will receive the gift of faith or not was determined by God before they were born. This decision, known as a decree, was unchangeably made before even the foundation of the world. [1] Those chosen to glorify God by receiving His love and forgiveness are known as the elect. They alone are given the gift of faith through regeneration.  The rest, known as reprobates, were passed over by God and will receive no mercy. [2]  The reprobate will not receive this gift of faith or regeneration. They will be left to glorify God when they receive the wrath that they deserve.[3]  Although this unchangeable decision was made before anyone was born, it is important to understand that a sovereign God cannot be questioned on this matter.

Further, the death of Christ did not secure salvation for all people nor even make it possible for all, rather the blood of Christ saves only the elect. For, if Christ had died for the sins of the reprobate as well as the elect they too would be saved. [4]  

Everyone, therefore, no matter how terrible your background has been, no matter what your ethnicity is, or intelligence, or gender, or socio-economic status, or family background, everyone who believes — simply believes — on Jesus, that is, everyone that was unconditionally elected to salvation and is given divine aid so that they will receive him as Savior and Lord and Treasure will be saved and have eternal life. So, I present to you this sincere offer so that if you are among the elect you will be enabled to, turn from your sins and give up all self-reliance and trust in Jesus.


[1] WCF III.3, 5, 7

[2] In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. (“Double” Predestination by Sproul). See also God and Unbelief.

[3] See Articles 10, 11, 12, 14  under the Third and Fourth Main Points of the Synod of Dort as well as the Rejection of Errors point VI.

[4] in the cross, God had in view the actual, effective redemption of his children from all that would destroy them, including their own unbelief. And we affirm that when Christ died particularly for his bride, he did not simply create a possibility or an opportunity for salvation( What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism by Piper). See also John Owen’s argument: For who did Christ die? and Rejection of Errors VI under the Second Main Point of the Synod of Dort.

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