4 Misconceptions About Calvinism

Pastor Bob O'Bannon

While reading John Piper’s excellent new book, Five Points, it occurred to me how many misconceptions there are about the five points of Calvinism. My guess is that the main reason many people reject the five points, otherwise known as the “doctrines of grace,” is because they assume something that Calvinists actually don’t believe. Here are some common misconceptions:

Misconception 1: Calvinism teaches there is no such thing as free will.

Not really. This depends entirely on what one means by “free will.” Calvinists hold that unbelievers do not have the “freedom” or ability to come to Jesus on their own (John 6:65), to submit to God’s law (Rom. 8:7), or to understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14). These all constitute some level of limitation on a person’s freedom. But Calvinists do hold that unbelievers have the freedom to do what they want, say what they please, and think what they like. People do what they want – which is the essence of freedom. The problem is that they don’t want the right things, and will be enslaved to their sinful desires until God gives them new spiritual life.

Misconception 2: Calvinism teaches that Christians do not choose Christ.

It’s true that a person cannot choose Christ unless God first chooses him, as Acts 13:48 and John 15:16 state. But it does not follow from this that a person is excused from the responsibility of choosing Christ. Instead, we might say that the first evidence that a person has been chosen by God is when that person freely and gladly chooses Christ. Here is how the Westminster Confession of Faith 10.1 puts it:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call…and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.”

Those God chooses will come to Christ, and they will do so “most freely.” In other words, they will make a choice.

Misconception 3: Calvinism is a deterrent to evangelism.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The fact that God’s elect are out there, waiting to hear the Gospel, and that God has promised that He will save everyone He has determined to save (John 6:39), without exception, gives me the assurance that when my Gospel proclamation falls on the ears of one of God’s sheep, there is nothing in all creation that can keep that person from believing (maybe not at that moment, but eventually). That’s why Jesus told Paul to keep preaching the Gospel in Corinth: “I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10).

Misconception 4: Calvinism is a deterrent to righteous living.

Here’s how the argument goes: If a person is taught that he/she cannot lose his/her salvation, as Calvinism teaches, then what’s to keep that person from living an unrighteous life? With salvation in the bag, why not live according to the flesh? Why not ignore God’s commandments? The answer to the argument is that the Bible says those who live according to the flesh will die (Rom. 8:13), and whoever says he is saved but ignores God’s commands is a liar (I John 2:3-6). It is important to keep each of the five points of Calvinism together. The fifth point, “perseverance of the saints” (which teaches that a person cannot lose his salvation), presupposes the earlier points. The second point, “unconditional election,” teaches that Christians have been chosen to be “holy and blameless” (Eph. 1:4). The fourth point, “irresistible grace,” teaches that the Spirit gives new hearts to sinners that they might “devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:5-8).

Calvinism is not a perfect system. It has its own difficulties to explain. But the points listed above are misconceptions, and should keep no one from embracing these glorious doctrines.