What is Calvinism?
Calvinism is an heresy. It was the invention of John Calvin (1509 – 1564), a Protestant Reformer who was based primarily in Geneva. Calvin was brilliant, harsh and unfortunately for us, persuasive. Calvinism is growing among Protestants today — and it almost killed my faith.
Like all good heresies, Calvinism is an intellectually coherent theological system that destroys the heart of Christianity.
It starts with a true premise, namely that God is sovereign and all-powerful. It then makes this the controlling principle for everything.
If God is all-powerful, then He decides who is and isn’t saved. God chooses who to save (“the elect”) and loves them. He also chooses who not to save (“the reprobate”) and He hates them because they are sinners. In all His actions, God is glorified because His will is done — both to the elect and the reprobate. Simple, right?
When it comes to Calvinism, the real issue at stake isn’t about predestination, the will of God or totally depravity. It’s about Christ as the revelation of God. It’s not about how we are saved but about our Saviour: it’s about Jesus.
That’s why, as one comment on this blog aptly put it, the antidote to Calvinism is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s no accident that the devotion to the Sacred Heart among really took off in the 15th and 16th Centuries around the same time as Calvinism did among Protestants. (The same happened with Jansenism in the Catholic Church, or Calvinism Lite as it’s sometimes called.)
How Could I (Not) Be a Calvinist?
As an evangelical, I was a kind of Calvinist. I accepted the premise that God’s sovereign will was The Most Important Thing. I refused to believe that God didn’t love all people and desire all people to be saved — but I had no idea how to square that with the sovereignty of God. I felt a constant conflict between what I saw as the love and the strength of God.
If God is strong enough to save all but doesn’t, how can He love all?
If God loves all enough to save them but doesn’t, how can He be strong?
Forced by intransigent logic, I kept edging closer and closer to being a full-on Calvinist. I felt like I had little choice if I wanted to be theologically consistent. I couldn’t deny the omnipotence of God because then He wouldn’t be God.
On the cusp of embracing it all, however, I realised that I’d turned God into something far worse than a weakling. I’d turned Him into a tyrant. When I saw the inevitable outcome of such logic, I was horrified. I was confused and angry.
How could I possibly believe that? I couldn’t. But was I supposed to believe? What was God’s will for the world? How could I ever know God again?
Getting Back to the Heart of Jesus
Amid all the Calvinist theology I’d been taught, I’d also learnt much that was true and good. One of those truths saved me. Jesus is the complete revelation of who God is.
My view of Jesus was so distorted; my understanding of His teachings all filtered through a Calvinist lenses. So I prayed, begging the Holy Spirit to reveal the real Jesus to me. That’s when I discovered the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart.
I realised that if I wanted to know God’s will, I had to know God’s heart. I had to know the Heart of Jesus, true God incarnate by the Spirit. As I prayed, “O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in thee”, I read the gospels in a new light. It was the same light that had burst into my life with that first conversion to Christ.
All over again, I met the Jesus who loved and sought all people.
Burdened by their sin, He invited all to follow Him. Over and over again, Christ had compassion on people. His Heart was moved with love and sorrow for the lost. He said He came to do the will of the Father and this will was that all should be saved. God loves the world and sent Christ, not to condemn the world, but to save it.
Because of His love, Christ warned people about sin and rebuked many — but He never turned away from those who turned to Him. He wanted love, not theological exactitude, and faith, not cunning systems to control God.
His love led Him to the Cross. There, He suffered and was killed, the words “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do” on His lips. His Heart was pierced and out came blood and water, blood for atonement and water for new life in the Spirit.
And now, He is resurrected and ascended, still loving all and still calling all to come to Him: for He is gentle and humble of heart.
What the Sacred Heart Means
A devotion to the Sacred Heart meant that my focus was on Jesus, not theological systems, and on the love of God He reveals by His Passion and Death.
It is possible to read the gospels as a Calvinist. What you have to do, though, is assume you know “the real reason” Jesus does what He does.
Sure, He looks like He is calling all to repentance but He’s not really, that’s only for the elect. Sure, He seems to treat people like they have free will but that’s just a technique because obviously, they can’t. And yes, He says He has come to die for the sins of the world but He doesn’t actually mean that.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart points us to Jesus as he reveals Himself. It invites us to see His actions as a true reflection of His Heart and of the Heart of God.
If Calvinists want to know the will of God, they need only look to the Heart of Jesus.
“Behold this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return.”
– Jesus to St Margaret Mary