Are Calvinists the Worst Sinners?


Hello fellow bloggers.  I’ve been pretty absent lately, b/c life is nuts right now.     Despite all the tasks to do, i thought i would sneek a quick post in.

In Thomas A. Smail’s work, The Forgotten Father, he approvingly cites Anselm’s belief that “our Christology is not determined primarily by our philosophy, but by our estimation of our plight and what it took to cope with it – quantum ponderis peccatum (how mighty was our sin).

This reminded of a thought i have often had about Calvinism.  Most people think that Calvinism focuses on the mystery or sovereignty of God, and the rest of their beliefs follow from that.  I sometimes think that what is actaully foundational for Calvinist beliefs is a particular conception of sin – total depravity.

Cornelius Plantinga has desribed Calvinists as “the guardians of sin” or something close to that.  If he, and Anselm are right, does that mean that Calvinists are the worst sinners? 

(Note: Read the above as a light-hearted way to stimulate genuine reflection over the implications of one’s understanding of sin)


8 responses to “Are Calvinists the Worst Sinners?

  1. In my younger days, when Punk music was new, I made up an imaginary song by Alvin and the Calvins, called “Totally Depraved and I LIke It.

    One of the verses was

    That cat Servetus, he really burns us
    denied the trinity
    we call it blasphemy,
    that cat Servetus, he really burns us
    . . .
    So we burned him!

  2. Re: Servetus – he would have been burned anywhere in Europe at the time. Geneva asked for and received written opinions to that effect from other Protestant cities. Also, Calvin tried to get the sentence commuted to the more humane form of beheading. He also visited Servetus in jail, pleading with him to recognize his error and save his life. Finally, let it be remembered that Calvin acted only as ‘theological witness’ in the trial, explaining precisely how Servetus’ beliefs were heretical.

    Now that I’ve set the historical record straight…

    I don’t know if Calvinists are the worst sinners. But, I will say that it is certainly the case that one’s Christology is closely tied to one’s soteriology, and that is tied to sin. Depending on what exactly you think sin is, you conceive of what salvation is, and then you conceive of what Christ needed to be like to provide that salvation. Furthermore, if you have preconceived ideas about what Christ is like, that limits what you will think of salvation and sin. All these issues are intrinsically linked.

  3. wtm,

    I agree that all those issues are interrelated. I guess to clarify my thoughts a bit better, i have wondered if hamartiology is the root starting place for Calvinist thought, instead of their soteriology or Doctrine of God.


  4. You would have to go further back and ask this of Augustine, and then you would have to unravel the relation of grace to sin in the development of his thought. Big tasks. 🙂

    I will say this, however. Unlike Luther, whose soteriological scheme began with the Law and our inability to keep it and moved on to God’s provision, the Reformed have always had a tendency to move in the other direction.

  5. WTM,

    You are right, Calvin was not responsible for the inhumane form of Servetus’s execution, and he did tried to spare his life and his soul. And Servetus no doubt was incredibly arrogant and foolish not to realize that “he would have been burned anywhere in Europe.” My song (which by the way, never made it to Billboard’s top 40), was like Dtrain’s post, just a bit of satirical fun.

    Still, I think Christopher Hitchens would find solace in the belief that someone with a defective understanding of the trinity would have been burned anywhere in Europe and the best and most enlightened Christian of the day pleaded for the more humane punishment of beheading.

    That in itself is proof enough of original sin and total depravity.

  6. Seneca, a philosopher and opportunist, who wrote some noble sentiments on ethics but whose own morals are suspect, wrote a treatise to the emperor on Clementia, i.e. tolerance. He urged that an enlightened ruler should exercise restraint in punishing his enemies. Calvin, as a young humanist wrote a scholarly commentary on Seneca’s Clementia.

    The fact that an educated, enlightened person who had been elected, regenerated, sealed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit–could believe that the Glory of God is so fragile that it needs defending by the state’s power of the sword; that fact that he believed the state would be exercising clemency if they only used a humane form of execution to kill a heretic–this shows the extent of human depravity. There is no part of our nature or activity, even our zeal for the glory of God, and our desire to protect the people of God from false teaching, that is not tainted by sin.

  7. Dr. Alterman,

    Interesting post. I’m having trouble understanding if your last two post are satiricle in nature or if this is truly where you are coming from. If you wish to not respond, that would be fine as well, since at this point, we will be diverting tremendously from Derek’s non-serious/serious post. Thanks amigo.


  8. The satirical rogue says that old men have gray beards . . .
    (I think that’s from Hamlet)

    Well, my song was satirical. As to the rest, there are some serious thoughts in there. I think killing people to save their souls or to protect the souls of God’s people is a bad thing.

    I agree that Calvin was no worse, probably better, than the times in which he lived, as far as killing for the glory of God.

    I am serious in saying it is a weak view of the Glory of God to think it needs to be defended by lethal force.

    I think there must be some truth in the critique of religion in general; that it spoils everything.

    I think the best apologetic answer we can give to Hitchens and Dawkins is to live rational, calm, compassionate, nonviolent lives.

    I suppose I was serious in saying that religious-inspired violence is proof of the doctrine of total depravity. Sin infects even our zeal for God.

    One more thought on the idea that “religion spoils everything.” Religion is nearly as ubiquitous as language; so it is a little like blaming all the ills of the human race on language. Nearly every criminal, tyrant, bully, homicidal maniac has used language in the commission of his atrocities and has used language, of some form or other, to justify his crimes. So, if we could just stop indoctrinating children in human language–or at best, wait until they are sixteen to choose whether they want to learn a language, and if so which one–then peace would break out everywhere.

    OK, maybe that is a bit satirical, but I think there is a little bit of validity to the comparison. See my post “Is There No Difference? over at Faith Matters.

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