5 Reasons I’m A Calvinist (But I’m Not A Jerk – I Promise)

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Calvinism”? A grumpy, cold-hearted person who only wants a select few people to get into heaven? An annoying guy who won’t stop rambling on about Romans 9? That awful, sterile, passionless church you used to go to?

I get it.

Calvinism (also known as “Reformed Theology”) doesn’t have a fantastic reputation, at least in some circles. Some people feel like it focuses more on theology than on loving people.

Others have had really bad experiences with Calvinists. They’ve had even the most basic theological discussions get turned into boxing matches by aggressive Calvinists (aka “cage stage”) who are more interested in winning a debate than building a friendship.

calvinism vs arminianism

And some people think it runs counter to the beautiful free offer of grace found in the Bible.

But what if someone who is not a jerk (at least most of the time) could talk about Calvinism in a way that didn’t make you want to smash your computer? What if you could get a calm, level-headed answer to the question, “What is Calvinism?”

That’s what I’m going to try to do in this post. I want to explain why I’m a Calvinist, why it brings me great joy, and why I think it’s profoundly biblical. If in the end, you disagree with me, that’s okay. We can still be BFS (best friends sometimes).

I can’t answer all your objections in this post. I’m not intending to turn this into a furious, spittle-flying debate. Think of this as a pleasant conversation over a craft beer (or coffee if you’re a Baptist).

What Is Calvinism (Reformed Theology)?

what is reformed theology

Before we dive off the deep end, I should take a minute to define what I mean by Calvinism. A simple definition of Calvinism is this:

Calvinism is a series of doctrines that describes the state of humanity apart from God, how God saves people, and how God will ultimately bring those people to Glory. 

A common acronym used to remember the doctrines of Calvinism is TULIP:

T – Total Depravity

To say that humans are totally depraved does NOT mean that we’re all as evil as we can possibly be. It means that depravity (sin) has affected the totality of our being, both body and soul. Both sin and sickness are the result of total depravity. And yes, I realize that the word “depravity” sounds like the way a serial killer is described. But the point is simply that sin/depravity affects and distorts every part of our being.

U – Unconditional Election

Unconditional election simply means that God chooses people to be saved apart from any merit on their part. He chooses men and women to be saved according to his own sovereign plan, not because they will choose him or because they possess something that makes them worthy.

L – Limited Atonement

Limited atonement means that Jesus fully paid for the sins of his people, as opposed to paying for the sins of everyone in the entire world, regardless of whether they ever believe in him. This tends to be the most controversial point of TULIP theology. Part of it has to do with the phrase itself, which makes it sound like the sacrifice of Christ was insufficient in some way.

calvinism definition

I think a better phrase is “Particular Atonement”, which makes it clear that the glorious sacrifice of Christ is not insufficient, and is fully able to save ALL his people.

I – Irresistible Grace

When God chooses someone to be saved, he irresistibly draws them to himself. In other words, his grace is irresistible. This doesn’t mean that he overrides our will or turns us into unthinking robots. It means that, because of his sovereignty, he is able to cause us to choose him according to our own free will. He chooses us first and then irresistibly draws us so that we choose him.

P – Perseverance of the Saints

Those whom God has called, he will also preserve to the end. In other words, if God has elected us, drawn us to himself, and then caused us to be born again, he will also keep us following him until the very end. He will use his sovereign, mighty, shepherding power to sustain our faith, even amidst trials and struggles and challenges. We won’t lose our salvation.

Now that we’re all on the same page regarding the what of Calvinism, let me explain why. I’m a Calvinist because…

#1 – Calvinism Is All Over The Bible

john calvin

I am not a Calvinist because of John Calvin. In fact, if John Calvin never existed I would still be a Calvinist (except it wouldn’t be called “Calvinism”). I don’t have man-crush on Calvin, nor do I think he’s the greatest person since Jesus. I won’t name any of my kids “Calvin”.

Calvin simply took some biblical ideas and organized them. Actually, I prefer the term “Doctrines of Grace” rather than Calvinism. It better describes the doctrines, which are all about God’s staggering grace. Plus it takes the focus off John Calvin who, just like everyone else, had some great strengths and wicked weaknesses.

If I embraced Reformed Theology because of the peerless character of John Calvin…let’s just say I would have some problems.

I believe in the doctrines of grace because they run throughout the entire Bible, like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation.

In Genesis 6:5, we start to get a taste of just how depraved humanity really is: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

This theme continues into the New Testament.

In Romans 3:10-12, Paul paints a bleak, apocalyptically bad picture of our total depravity. He says:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

In the Old Testament, we see that God unconditionally chose Israel to be his people.

Deuteronomy 7:6-7 says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples…

This theme, of God choosing a people for himself, comes up again and again, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God clearly chose Israel to be his people, and that choice was not based on anything they had done. It was an unconditional choice.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter uses this same language to reflect the way God continues to choose those who will be his people:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This language is used repeatedly throughout the Bible. God chose a people for himself, not because of anything in them but because of his good, profound, wise purposes. Apart from God’s choice, we would never choose him, He always acts upon us first.

Because God chooses us, he will also preserve us to the end.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul pens these inestimably comforting words:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Jude 24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”

These verses are just the tip of the iceberg. The doctrines of grace / Calvinism / Reformed theology are EVERYWHERE in scripture. From start to finish, it’s abundantly clear that God does everything when it comes to our salvation. He elects us, calls us, pays for our sins, draws us to himself, and preserves us to the end.

#2 – Reformed Theology Ensures God Gets All The Glory

One thing that is abundantly clear in the Bible is that God is intent on getting all glory for himself. He absolutely will not allow anyone else to take credit for what he alone has accomplished.

God called the people of Israel for his glory alone. As Isaiah 43:6-7 (and many other verses) says:

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

We see this same thing again in Ephesians 1:5-6 speaking of God’s New Covenant people:

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

God does all the choosing, he does all the saving, and he gets all the glory. I did not choose God, therefore I get zero credit for saving myself. He did it all and he gets all the praise, glory, and honor.

R.C. Sproul puts it this way when he describes Reformed theology:

Reformed theologians, however, self-consciously see the doctrine of God as informing the whole scope of Christian theology. That’s one of the reasons why Calvinists tend to focus so much on the Old Testament. We’re concerned about the character of God as defining everything—our understanding of Christ, our understanding of ourselves, our understanding of salvation. 

#3 – Calvnism Explains ME AND The World So Well

When I look at myself and look at the world, I see people who are totally depraved. Totally depraved does not mean completely depraved.

Someone who is completely depraved does all evil all the time. Total depravity means that every facet of our being – our thinking, our actions, our bodies, our motives – have been distorted by sin.

As it says so clearly in Romans 3:12:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

I’m certainly not righteous. It takes me about two seconds to figure that out. And the more experience I have with people, the more I realize that no one is righteous. Every person and every thing is totally distorted by the presence of sin in the world.

I’m not a Calvinist because of my experience, but my experience certainly confirms what I see scattered broadly through the Bible. This world we live in is a damnable, wicked place.

#4 – I Know I Couldn’t Have Chosen God

Given what I know about the darkness in my own heart, I could not and would not have ever chosen God of my own initiative. It just wouldn’t have happened. I’m too stubborn. Too self-righteous. Too self-reliant. I’ve got a heart of stone.

Yes, in one sense I did “choose” God, in the sense that I place my faith in Christ to save me, but I only did that after he worked upon me. God chose me, which allowed me to choose him.

This isn’t some sort of, “Woe is me!” speech. This is just reality. I know that I’m cold-hearted. I know that I’m all about me. Only God could make me all about him. As Charles Spurgeon said:

I must confess I never would have been saved if I could have helped it. As long as I could, I rebelled and revolted and struggled against God. When he would have me pray, I would not pray. When he would have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied him to melt my heart. Then he gave me the effectual blow of grace, and there was no resisting that irresistible effort. It conquered my depraved will and made me bow myself before the sceptre of his grace.

You know, it’s odd but I also see this at work in my children. They’re cute, crazy, and desperately in need of Jesus. There are many times when my kids actively don’t want to even ask God for help. They would rather me give them consequences than pray to Jesus (yeah, it gets that crazy sometimes).

I’ve always said that I’m a Calvinist because it’s in the Bible and because I have kids [insert rimshot].

#5 – The Doctrines of Grace Give Me Great Comfort

You know what scares the heck out of me? The thought of falling away from Jesus. Of going apostate. To use the old summer camp language, of backsliding.

Why is this so scary? Because I know myself! I know how easily I can get sucked into sin. I’ve seen solid Christians completely wreck themselves upon the rocky shores of wickedness. It’s a terrible, frightening thing to behold.

You know that line from “Come Thou Fount” about being “prone to wander”? That’s me!

This is where the doctrines of grace give me great comfort. As a Calvinist (and more importantly, Bible believer), I know that:

  • I am totally depraved apart from God, unable to save myself.
  • In spite of that, God called me to himself and saved me.
  • In light of his unconditional calling and irresistible grace, I know that God will also cause me to persevere to the end.

This God-given perseverance is my only hope. My only hope for salvation is that God himself keeps me to the end. Thankfully, he’s promised to do just that!

As Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

what is reformed theology

And again in Romans 8:30:

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God predestined, called, and justified me. He’ll finish the process by glorifying me. That gives me incredible comfort.

Being A Calvinist Isn’t Everything

I used to think being a Calvinist was super important. Like, if you’re not a Calvinist you’re somehow a lesser Christian. Thankfully, I’m past that annoying/arrogant/please go away stage.

I’m grateful for the Doctrines of Grace. I believe they’re very biblical. They encourage me deeply and give me hope for my future. But if you’re not a Calvinist, it’s cool. We can still be good friends.

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Hey, I'm Stephen Altrogge. I'm a dad and published author. I've written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, ERLC, Church Leaders, Crosswalk, and many more outlets. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook .