The C-word, Calvinism. Just mentioning it is asking for a fight. On the one hand are the “cage-stage” Calvinists. These are the obnoxious clods who have come to embrace Calvinism and are ready to defend its five points against all-comers. In fact, they are more than ready. They are on the prowl for opportunities to assert and aggresively defend Calvinist claims. On the other hand are the “cage-stage” anti-Calvinists. They are just as rabid and just as unpleasent in their fight to refute Calvinist claims. They may be Arminian, or they may claim the title of “biblicist”, or they may just be against what they understand to be Calvinism without articulating an alternative belief of their own.
Recently I have noticed that “cage-stage” Calvinists and anti-Calvinists have been squaring off in several of the FaceBook forums dedicated to Dispensationalism. They are no doubt egged on, in part, by a series of youtube videos by Dr. Andy Woods, a classic dispensationalist whom I greatly respect, who advocates an anti-Calvinist view. I find this family feud to be especially disappointing. Dispensationalism seems to be on a decline and the last thing we need to be doing is fighting among ourselves. How much more productive might it be if we were instead focused on asserting the distinctives of Dispensational theology?
At the risk of joining in the fray rather than trying to break up the fight let me simply point out that the historical fact is that Dispensationalism was systematized and spread by Calvinists. Consider John Nelson Darby. His biographer, William Turner, wrote that in about 1831 Darby was invited to Oxford University to defend Calvinism in a public debate with a non-Calvinist.1 He must have done well because he was invited to a similar debate in Calvin’s adopted hometown of Geneva Switzerland to do it again.2 On yet another occasion Darby became involved in a controversy within the Anglican Church over the reformed doctrines of predestination and election. He wrote, “I believe that predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, He firmly decreed, by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and destruction those whom He had chosen in Christ out of the human race, and to bring them, through Christ, as vessels made to honour, to eternal salvation.”3 Sounds pretty Calvinist to me!
Dispensationalism came to America through Presbyterians and Baptists who shared Darby’s Calvinism. Of particular note is James H. Brookes who was pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Brooks welcomed Darby and other early dispensationalists to speak in his church. He also discipled a new believer in Jesus by the name of C.I. Scofield. Scofield went on to pastor congregational and presbyterian churches, which share a Calvinist outlook. He also of course went on the author the Scofield Reference Bible and was a significant influence on Lewis Sperry Chafer.
Besides establishing Dallas Theological Seminary, once a bastion of dispensational thinking, Chafer also wrote the eight volume Systematic Theology which C. Fred Lincoln characterized as “Calvinistic, premillennial, and dispensational”.4 Similarly, John Walvoord, Chafer’s successor as president of Dallas Theological Seminary, decribed his work as “broad and moderate Calvinism”.5 Chafer was clearly what one calls a four-point Calvinist, rejecting the doctrine of limited atonement.6 Chafer also wrote “It is Calvinism which seeks to honor God—Father, Son, and Spirit—by its views respecting depravity, human guilt, and human helplessness, and these in the light of divine sovereignty, divine supremacy, and the sufficiency of divine grace.”7 He also wrote “…what is termed Calvinism—largely for want of a more comprehensive cognomen—is, so far as devout men have been able to comprehend it, the essential Pauline theology, especially in its soteriological aspects.”8 Note this quote carefully. In Chafer’s view Calvinism is essentially the Apostle Paul’s view on theology particularly soteriology.
Mal Couch was the founder and President of Tyndale Theological Seminary. This school’s mission is to carry on the teaching of classical dispensationalism held by Chafer, Walvoord, Pentecost, and Ryrie. At a 2009 address at Clifton Bible Church Couch identified himself as a four-point Calvinist, also rejecting limited atonement. He identified Dallas Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia College of the Bible, and Drs. Chafer, Walvoord, Pentecost, and Ryrie as Calvinist in theology.9
For a very comprehensive treatment of this subject I recommend you look up Dr. Tommy Ice’s excellent article titled “The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism”.10 It is accessible online from Liberty University. I put the link in the footnote for you.
My purpose here has not been to be either an obnoxious clod, nor a rabid unpleasent attacker. Instead my point is that there is nothing inherently anti-dispensational, ungodly, or anti-Christian in Calvinism. As dispensationalists we should recognize our shared heritage while we engage in a respectful, informed, and civil dialog. Let’s not destroy ourselves from within. Rather lets rather assert and affirm the distinctives of dispensational theology.
1 William G. Turner, John Nelson Darby: A Biography (London: C. A. Hammond, 1926). 45
2 Ibid., 58
3 J. N. Darby, “The Doctrine of the Church of England at the Time of the Reformation,” in The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/DOCTRINE/03001E.html
4 C. F. Lincoln, “Biographical Sketch of the Author,” in Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), Vol. VIII, p. 6.
5 (BSac 105:417 (Jan 48)
6 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 184
7 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 273.
8 Ibid. 313.
9 Mal Couch, Address at Clifton Bible Church, 2009. https://archive.org/details/Dr.MalCouchCalvinism, accessed September 2019.
10 Thomas D.Ice, “The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism” (2009). Article Archives. Paper 11. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/11