Help on Calvinism vs the Reformed etc.

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Ed Walsh, Jan 28, 2016.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I could use a little help answering this email I received at They are not well crafted questions but I think I know what he is getting at. Any help would be appreciated as I like to answer all such requests. If this goes well I might just send him a link to this page, so don't pick on him too much. :)



    I have questions about Calvinism, so I thought I can turn to Calvin College.
    I myself am not a Calvinist.

    1. Is there a difference between "Calvinism" and "Reformed"?

    2. On an international level, which books/creeds is Calvinism based on?
    Institutes of the Christians religion / Canons of Dordrecht / ...

    It seems to me that there are differences between the opinions of Canons
    of Dordrecht and Calvinism, Luther, ...

    3. Is there a uniform teaching or are there many different opinions? Do you
    have an overview of the different opinions about these things?

    4. Is Calvinism the same as Tulip?

    I would be grateful if someone could answer these questions.

  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    The way I might put it (not trying to be terribly theological, but merely reflecting current usage):

    It depends on the speaker, and you should know that some people get quite insistent that others use the terms exactly the way they were taught to use them, but...

    In general, a "Calvinist" is one who affirms God's grace and sovereignty in salvation. This is summarized in the five points. Dordrecht is the prime statement on this matter. "Tulip" is a popular way to refer to it.

    "Reformed" is a broader system of thought that includes Calvinism. Calvinism is an important part of how Reformed people think about the way they were saved. But Reformed people also have Reformed ways of thinking about Christian obedience, worship, the unity of the Scriptures, prayer, the work of the Spirit, and many other matters of both doctrine and practice.

    Using the words this way, John Calvin's writings are a good introduction to early Reformed teaching. Calvin's teaching is a full system of beliefs and practices. It is a mistake to think Calvin spent most of his time emphasizing the particular points commonly called "Calvinism" today. He would have agreed with those points (which is why they bear his name), but his teaching is much broader—it is "Reformed."

    Now, what I've just described is the traditional difference between the words "Calvinism" and "Reformed." But you should be aware that many people use these terms differently. I know people who use "Calvinism" to refer to all of Calvin's teaching. And many, many people these days use "Reformed" to refer only to agreement with the five points. This is probably why you are confused. Different people use these words in different ways. So, often you will need to read carefully to understand what a writer means when these words are used. And when you use those words, it might be helpful to explain how you are using them. Otherwise, some people will misunderstand.
  3. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    A. Calvinism is based upon the Bible. Some works are helpful in summarizing what the scriptures teach. Along those lines, see, for the Continental stream, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism. For the British stream, see Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Other works are useful in explaining in greater detail what the Scriptures teach. Along those lines, see Calvin's Institutes on the Christian Religion.
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Names are given and acquired for a variety of reasons; and the reasons they are retained can be just as varied. Names can be taken by choice, or assigned by force. And various people will assume different and sometimes incompatible definitions for that which may be covered by the name.

    With those recognitions, in a general way "Calvinism" and "Reformed" can be synonyms. In practical terms, "Calvinism" today is most often reduced to the doctrinal defense of salvific predestination summarized in the Canons of Dort, often summarized and reduced to "the Five Points (of Calvinism)."

    The descriptive "Reformed" is intended as a larger word, to describe a whole system of doctrine that expresses a particular faith-and-life. This faith-and-life is given specific form in the Creeds and Confessions of one of the Reformation eras main streams of tradition. There are a number of streams flowing from the rupture of the Western church. The Reformed faith was unquestionably the most geographically diffuse. The creedal statements of the Reformed faith come from virtually every corner of Europe. When one analyzes these statements looking for common beliefs, there is discovered a unity born of a shared interpretation of Holy Scripture.

    In time, because of the historical moment and the tides of history, the Dutch and English creedal expressions--the Three Forms of Unity, and the Westminster Standards--have become historical international "standards of orthodoxy" respecting the Reformed tradition. Many churches still hold onto one set or the other of these documents after centuries, considering them to be faithful expressions of the true Christian faith.

    There is a related strain of Reformed tradition derived chiefly from the English Baptists. While dissenting from the mainstream Reformed tradition, particularly in regard to ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), one branch of them retained the greater part of the Westminster Confession in one of their own, modified statements, the London Confession (final form 1689).

    Strictly speaking, the Reformed Faith is 1) doctrine and 2) practice, together. The Reformed Baptists (a 20th century name) and Congregationalists (a much older name) have in different degrees marked affinities and marked differences with the tradition from which they mostly sprang.


    John Calvin's own Institutes of the Christian Religion is invaluable for demonstrating the "baseline" of early Reformed theology. Calvin, the man, did not set out to be a movement-leader, but to be a retired writer/scholar, and then (reluctantly) a parish pastor. His writings were offered among many men's contributions in that era. Time proved the lasting value and impact of his lucid and effective presentation of biblical truth.

    In the early stages of the Reformation, men generally stood either with Luther or against him (with Rome). So, Calvin would have considered himself aligned with Luther once he was converted. Eventually there were lines of distinction drawn between the later Lutherans and the later Reformed, generally along the lines that Luther sketched (and sometimes carved into tables). Still, the Reformed do have rights to claim great swaths of Luther as their proper heritage.

    But there are certain areas (esp. Christology, Sacraments, and Election) where Lutheran confession and Reformed confession differ. Lutheran confession was far less geographically diffuse (not that it had less spread overall), being concentrated in northern Germany, and reaching north and east especially. With this kind of unity on the ground, and support of northern princes, Lutheranism's confession is mainly held in one major statement of faith: the Augsburg Confession.

    I would dispute the idea that there is any basic conflict between Dort's opinions and Calvin's. There must have been development and sharpening of ideas over the time, unavoidable extensions of the doctrinal wrestlings of Calvin's own day. The argument (one could say) is whether those more faithful to the Reformed's legacy (including, but not limited to, Calvin) won the day at Dort. Obviously, we who agree with Dort believe "Calvin" won, and he stands (so to speak) with us.

    Hopefully, you can see some of the unity and diversity in what I've already written. Here is a link to the first of 4volumes containing many of the Reformed Creeds of the 16th & 17th centuries,

    There is great unity. Studying the many creeds an confessions will reveal that. Or you can take my word that the Westminster Standards (or the Three Forms of Unity) are themselves definitive statements of this faith, which will reward your study.

    This question is related to what I said in response above about the diversity of the names of things. A "truncated" Calvinism is T.U.L.I.P., which is an acronym for a (reorganized) Five Points from the Synod of Dort. It is "shorthand" for one major element of doctrinal commitment of Reformed faith.
  5. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you one and all for taking the time to answer Diederik's questions.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page