Three Things this Methodist Learned from Calvinists

C. S. Lewis once cautioned against the blindness inherent in every age. Like others in our day, he warned, we are “specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.” For Lewis, the solution was reading old books. New books share the presuppositions of our time; old books challenge our generational narrow-mindedness. The same warning could be issued with regard to theological tradition. If we read only those who share our basic framework and agree with us on most things, then we nurture devotional and theological nearsightedness. To counteract this tendency, we ought to be disciplined in reading other traditions and perspectives, not just to critique them but also to discover what we can take in from them. We may be surprised to find how much we have to learn.

I’m a United Methodist pastor, but I’ve learned a lot from reading Reformed authors and listening to Reformed preachers. While we certainly disagree on some important matters, we also stand together in the broad stream of Protestant orthodoxy. I’ve learned there is great wisdom and insight to be gained from Reformed voices both past and present. Here are three ways in particular that I’ve benefited from the Reformed tradition.

Seriousness of Sin

It’s easy to under-emphasize the magnitude of sin and its consequences. We don’t enjoy hearing what is wrong with us, and we tend to minimize our own sinfulness, even if this tendency itself manifests the problem we are so hesitant to face. By sitting at the feet of Reformed instructors, I have discovered the benefit of seeing clearly the great ugliness and horror of our sin, our complete inability to do anything about it, and the holiness of God in justly condemning human rebellion.

The Reformed understand that fudging on the seriousness of sin diminishes the beauty of the gospel. The better I understand my own depravity, the more accurately I perceive the extravagant mercy of Christ and the abounding grace of his self-giving love. I thank the Reformed tradition for that insight.

Creation’s Covenantal Structure

This one is big, and it’s something I learned from Presbyterians. God related to Adam and Abraham covenantally, and he relates to you and me in this way. When the covenant representative of the human race rebelled against God, we all suffered the excruciating reverberations. Our covenant head introduced sin and death into God’s good creation, and we, along with all of creation, now experience the agony of it. We stand together under the curse stipulated in God’s covenant with our first father. That is how covenants work.

But thanks be to God that covenants also work to bless, and thanks be to God that he has given a new covenant with a new representative. Through faith in Christ we are brought into covenantal union with him, and represented by Christ we have peace with God. We move from condemnation to justification, from death to life, and from darkness into his glorious light. All of creation is structured covenantally. When we live in accord with the covenant as God has given it, creation enjoys God’s blessing; when we do not, the whole world feels the pain. I don’t know that I would have ever seen this structure so clearly had I not learned it from Reformed teachers.

God’s Love for His Own Glory

This insight sometimes leaves those of us outside the Reformed tradition a little nervous. Our nervousness usually grows out of an honest effort to accurately present God as characterized by self-giving love, and we are cautious about language that sounds inconsistent with that character. How can the God whose character is most perfectly revealed in the self-giving love of Christ on the cross also be consumed with love for his own glory?

But the theme of God’s love for his own glory runs all the way through Scripture. So we have to take it seriously. I came to fully embrace the biblical insistence on God’s passion for his glory by listening to the preaching of Calvinists. They helped me begin to see there is nothing more beautiful that God’s glory, and we ought to love that which is most beautiful. To grant our highest and most passionate love to that which is not most beautiful would be idolatry and sin, and the same is true for God. He rightly loves that which is most beautiful, even and especially his own glory. Anything less would tarnish the purity of his holiness. Remarkably, God’s love for his glory does not undermine or contradict his self-giving love; the self-giving love of Christ is the perfect glory of God.

You will understand my excitement when I discovered that this insight is not absent from the thought of John Wesley, the father of Methodism, even if he did not emphasize it to the same degree as his Reformed counterparts. In his sermon on “The General Deliverance,” while reflecting on whether God might, in the new creation, endow animals with the capacity to know, love, and enjoy “the Author of their being,” Wesley concluded that, whatever happens, “[God] will certainly do what will be most for his own glory.” I nearly fell off my chair in surprise and excitement to find in Wesley this deeply biblical truth that I had learned from Calvinists. God will do what brings him the most glory. There’s something Wesleyans and Calvinists can agree on.

These are a few of the most important ways that Reformed thinkers have helped me to begin to see beyond my own theological blinders. I’m grateful for their instruction, and I hope they will likewise learn from and be grateful for my tradition and others. We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day for our justification. When we listen to and learn from each other, the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be glorified by our love for one another.

  • Ken Stewart

    Bravo! Let’s hear additional Methodist voices on TGC.

  • Matthew Johnson

    There are a few of us around, Mr Stewart. Three of us Methodist clergy sat together at TGC ’11 ;-)

    • JAS

      That is MOST encouraging to hear. Visiting the UMC congregation that I was raised in today, I’m extremely discouraged. My congregation would be faithful to the Gospel if Scripture were actually preached, but in the Northern Illinois Conference, I can’t really imagine a pastor coming to us who will faithfully preach Scripture.

  • Melissa Fulton

    As a former Methodist, this article brings me much hope. Too many churches within the United Methodist Church have fallen away from sound teaching for the sake of a cotton-candy gospel that eventually makes us sick. Thank you for sticking to the truth of the gospel!

  • Travis Johnson

    Great post! Just wish Calvinists were as quick to learn something from Wesley.

  • Jason B. Hood

    Thanks Matt, great words. Grateful for it.

  • Jon S.

    Having grown up Baptist and now an active Presbyterian, I often think Calvinists need to at least read Wesleyan and Revival theologists every now and again.

    In the vein of this article, a few Biblical vignettes I’ve learned from my Baptist upbringing and my Methodist friends/family that I wish I heard more from Calvinist pulpits:

    Salvation is a deeply personal experience – one that can often be experienced through a radical expression of the Holy Spirit. (Sometimes, you need an alter call or a reminder to read your Bible and to pray every day.)

    The importance of wrestling with Christian freedoms and discovering which you should avoid. (You can eat bacon for every meal and drink a bottle of wine every day, but should you?)

    Striving towards perfection in every area of your life – though unattainable – is not only a good “idea” but a Biblical, New Testament command. (If you’re becoming lax in your sin, then are you really redeemed?)

  • Alan

    Great article Matt, thanks for sharing it.
    Just reflecting on your the final point, if it was a surprise to find that Wesley taught this, then as much as it’s true that Wesley believed it, it surely did not occupy a central enough role in his total theology if it had to be searched for. Though you say Wesleyans and Calvinists can agree on that point I fear Wesleyans may need a little persuasion given your own surprise, and I hope that it can be brought to prominence and bring a better overall balance to the Wesleyan system – and I don’t mean to sound like a smug Calvinist as I say that, it’s a doctrine that I hope does the same for mine, which is in just as much need of balance and constant reforming!

    I sincerely hope as well that the comments here follow your tone in this. It would be a real shame if this became tribal, with Wesleyans scoring points on Calvinists not having your attitude (Travis! ;) Naughty!), or with Calvinists taking it as an invitation to point out other things they think you should learn from them rather than following you in sharing how they have been challenged and helped by those outside their own tradition.

    And on that point, as much as the so-called 5 points may count you out of calvinism, these three doctrines are far closer to those that were Calvin’s own focus. I suspect you would stand a lot closer to Calvin than some who claim to be directly in his tradition! When the tribalism inevitably descends in will come the caricatures, doctrinal lines-in-the-sand and smoke-and-mirror tricks.

    • Matt O’Reilly

      Hi Alan, thanks for reading and for your comment.

      There are probably a couple of reasons I was surprised.

      First, my response was probably conditioned on my perception of present day Wesleyanism. As I said, many of us are a little nervous because we don’t want to malign the character of God by suggesting he is somehow inappropriately self-oriented. We often take our impressions of key theologians in light of their self-identified followers. So, my surprise was more accurately about the distance between Wesley and his followers rather than the extent to which Wesley emphasized God’s passion for his own glory.

      Second, I’ve been thinking about the accuracy of suggesting Wesley didn’t emphasize God’s love for his glory. He didn’t use that language as much as Calvin and Calvinism has. However, he had a remarkable emphasis on God’s holiness. I don’t want to criticize Wesley too much because he emphasized what he thought was missing in 18th century Anglicanism. Calvin emphasized what he thought was missing in a 16th century Roman Catholic soteriology. How much of a dichotomy do we really want to press between God’s glory and God’s holiness? I’m somewhat inclined to say that this quote shows a Wesleyan resonance with Calvin, even if Wesley did emphasize that aspect of God’s character that his context needed to hear. I suspect you are right that some Wesleyans may need to be persuaded. Well, that’s one reason I wrote this post.

      With regard to your last paragraph, I’m actually quite close to Calvin on a number of points (just not U, L, I, or P). I agree with his view of the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Eschatology, Sin, and the Covenants. That’s probably as much or more in common w/ Calvin than a Reformed Baptist could say. What does it take to be Reformed?

      Thanks again for your thoughtful interaction!

      • david


        Reformed Baptists agree with Calvin where it matters–on soteriology.

        • Alan

          The only problem with that clean answer is that theology is messy. Where does soteriology begin and end? Would election be part of it, or just closely related? And how about the sacraments? I imagine Calvin would consider them more part of it than most today outside the Presbyterian church at least.

          As valuable as systematic theology is, the Bible doesn’t spell it out that way; it has to be synthesised from the Bible, and so it is not an infallible tool.
          It’s a huge, interconnected web. No wonder such great minds can devote themselves to it, never get to the end of it, and still disagree amongst themselves on huge issues!

          • david


            TULIP is the summary of orthodox soteriology. In other words, it really is the essence of the Gospel. You are correct in saying that TULIP hangs together. That is why I believe Reformed Baptists are closer to Calvin than the author. If you don’t believe in one of the doctrines, you compromise the rest of them.

            • Alan

              David, that’s actually what lies behind my initial comment. TULIP is not at all the summary of orthodox soteriology like some kind of badge of honour; it is the summary of a very specific defence given at the synod of Dordt to 5 specific challenges to Protestant European Christianity at that time, made by Arminians.
              I do agree it is a good summary, but only of what it actually summarises. And I also agree that it is compromised when any one aspect is taken out, but I stand by what I said that God’s love of his own glory, the seriousness of sin, and covenant were far bigger in Calvin’s thought than TULIP. Calvin certainly never formulated any summary remotely like TULIP, his Institutes were huge and he constantly revised and enlarged them. And the incessant debate over whether or not he even believed L should warn us against being too dogmatic.

              Far bigger than TULIP is the sovereignty of God for example. And though it’s hard to uphold it without TULIP (indeed, those of us who believe TULIP may not be able to conceive how it could be possible!) we surely have to admit that TULIP serves the larger construct, which can exist happily before any thought has been given one way or the other to any of the smaller parts.
              (Those who disagree find our position equally ludicrous and unthinkable, so if we start off on that foot we’ll never get anywhere!)

              I would happily defend each of the 5 points within a Calvinistic setting, but isn’t the point of this article that there is a deeper unity, based on larger, broader truths, that even Arminians and Calvinists can influence each other on and have fellowship over? I hope, as dearly as you and I hold to TULIP, that we wouldn’t say a person who denies any of them cannot be a Christian. And if that is true, as important as they may be, as much as they may affect the rest of our system of beliefs, and as much as we may dogmatically hold to them, teach them and preach them in our churches, we must find ways to reach out further than those bounds and embrace fellowship amongst the wider Christian community.

              And yes, Dordt itself does make TULIP part of orthodoxy, but go back 200 years from there and indulgences were part of it too. If the Pope’s not infallible, why do we think we are? We’re not talking as the one, united Protestant church to a small group of dissidents either.
              So, how can we come together more without abandoning any of these precious doctrines? Well, isn’t that the point of TGC?

            • david


              This is my last post on the subject.

              “TULIP is not at all the summary of orthodox soteriology like some kind of badge of honour…”

              Is not soteriology, essentially, how man gets right with God? Is that not synonymous with the Gospel? I believe it is.

              “And I also agree that it is compromised when any one aspect is taken out, but I stand by what I said that God’s love of his own glory, the seriousness of sin, and covenant were far bigger in Calvin’s thought than TULIP.”

              In my opinion, one is not “bigger” than the other. TULIP is the summary of God’s love of His own Glory, the seriousness of sin, and covenant. I think you are mistakenly pitting one against the other.

            • Alan

              Fair enough David. As you want to call this one quits I’ll try not to say anything new, but I don’t think you’ve quite got what I was trying to say from that response, so I’ll have a quick go at rephrasing it if that’s okay.

              I think we’re missing each other because we’re coming from opposite sides.
              You’re right, viewing things purely systematically, but if you were to look in terms of how these doctrines were discovered and formed you might see that TULIP isn’t quite what you are making it out to be.

              Soteriology is how man gets right with God, synonymous with the gospel, but is TULIP the sum total of, or even the best way of presenting soteriology? That was certainly not what it was when it was formed, and I believe to treat is as such is an imbalance that, while not being wrong per se, will upset the proper balance.
              I was only pitting one against the other to show how the one is not equivalent to the other. You’re right, they aren’t in conflict, but neither are they the same.

              Put it this way: in 1960 a mechanic tells you how to fix three problems with your car. 50 years on, the car having been passed down through multiple owners, the latest owner discovers the mechanic’s note. Should they regard it as a total summary of how the car should be cared for? If they do that then vital areas of the car will be neglected, the resurrection and ascension for example.

              Please look up Dordt, see how the five points came about, independent of Calvin (he was dead by then!); they are important, but are not the centre or essence of what it is to be Reformed. To treat them as such you may be right in all the details, but you’re overall theology will be imbalanced.

          • Theo K

            Reformed soteriology is all about monergism (aka grace alone). Those that deny monergism are closer to Rome than the Protestant Reformation.

      • Alan

        Thanks for your thoughtful interaction with my thought! :)
        I think you’ve fleshed out and said better everything I was getting at there. And the point of understanding people in their contexts is always worth stressing, although with giants like Wesley and Calvin perhaps less so as they influenced huge communities and were perhaps able to actively shape them more than only reacting?

        So even if you couldn’t do the gardening with Calvin when you got to sowing those particular seeds to flower in years to come, at least you could ask him if he realised he’d planted L over a shared cup of T? ;)

        In terms of what it means to be Reformed, I suppose the aim to be always reforming would make that hard to define a few hundred years on, but I suspect holding tightly to every single doctrine as taught then would be less in line than those who differ radically in places. And saying that, it’s quite hard to tell from Calvin and others exactly which of their doctrines they would be happy to see reformed – certainly not some of the ones I conscientiously disagree on anyway!
        Can we at least say that the high Anglican churches that fell for the Oxford movement and took back a lot of Romish tradition aren’t? The rest of us will have to argue our relative faithfulness vs. further reforming doctrine by doctrine!

        • Matt O’Reilly

          Hi Alan, I think you’ve summed the issues up well. Thanks a lot for your charitable tone and for digging into the substance of the post. Your comments have challenged me to think even more (and hopefully more clearly!) about the relevant issues.


      • Theo K

        Mr O’Reilly,

        You reject the perseverance of the saints! Do you really want to claim that a regenerate believer, a new creation, a person that has been united with Christ through faith alone, can be lost?

        Your ‘good news’ are not that good, are they?

        • Matt O’Reilly

          Hi Theo, thanks for reading the post and comments, and for raising a few important questions. These questions do move the discussion a bit beyond the scope of the original post. So, rather than going into detail in this thread (and if I’m allowed to post external links), I’ll reference you to what I’ve written elsewhere about scripture and perseverance.


          If you want to interact in any of those threads, I’ll be happy to engage your comments.

          Thanks again for your thoughtful interaction!
          Matt O.

          • Theo K

            Mr O’Reilly,

            Thank you for the links. I would like to answer here, if you don’t mind.
            I studied your arguments, I am sure you will agree that there isn’t anything new in them, they have already been stated and objected to for at least 5 centuries now.

            Brother, I am sorry to say that you have a very confused understanding of the gospel. And because the gospel is of primary importance, you depart from Calvin in the area it matters most, soteriology. Of course a reformed Baptist would have more in common with Calvin than you do. I am not trying to insult you, I am just stating a fact. And I don’t necessarily, or mainly, have in view the TULIP when I say this. The reformed understanding of the gospel (the gospel all the 16th century Reformers agreed on) is beautifully expressed by the 5 solas: salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

            Anyone who claims that a genuinely regenerate believer can be lost, by necessity rejects ‘grace alone’ and ‘Christ alone’ – at least according to their original meaning. You may protest it isn’t so, but all you have to do is study what the Reformers meant when they cried grace alone, and Christ alone. Indeed, grace alone equals monergism. Anyone who denies monergism is closer to Rome than the Protestant Reformation. And this is a historical fact.
            The good news is not that Jesus makes salvation possible. The spectacularly good news is that Jesus saves to the uttermost (perfectly, and forever) His people.

            It is my eager hope for you, and I do pray toward that end, that as you keep studying the scriptures, God will lead you to a better understanding of the gospel so that you will become a passionate messenger of God’s grace in Christ.

            • Matt O’Reilly

              Hi Theo, thanks for this further comment and for taking a look at what I’ve written elsewhere. You’ve taken us rather far from the original topic, which was about what we could possibly learn from one another and how we might honor God by approaching believers with whom we disagree with a bit of grace and no small amount of charity. God, after all, approaches all of us that way, despite the many, many things about which we are all wrong. So I’m going to refrain from using this thread to debate topics that weren’t in view in my original article. I do hope that you will continue to pray that God will increase my passion in proclaiming his grace in Christ, and I hope that prayer will be answered affirmatively.

              Grace and much peace,

  • Daniel Wilcox

    Referring to Calvinists, you say “We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins…”

    I don’t understand, or am confused, because it’s exactly the opposite is it not?

    Calvinists claim Jesus DIDN’T die for our sins, but only for the sins of a theologically determined limited number of humans.

    Clearly, Calvinism claims God foreordained most of us to eternal damnation. These are Calvin’s own words and the words of every Calvinist!

    Daniel Wilcox

    • Chuck Marshall

      Daniel Wilcox,

      You may be on the wrong site for building straw “calvinists” up to tear them down.


      • Daniel Wilcox

        For Chuck, from John Calvin himself:

        “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestinated to life or death.”
        John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

        Etc. Since I first encountered Calvinism as a teen, this has been the view of every Calvinist I have spoken with, dialogged with and read…

        I suggest Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, A.W. Pink, etc.

        How is all this “building straw ‘calvinists'”?

        Daniel Wilcox

        • Alan

          I feel this tune has been danced to before. The next step is we mention everything else Calvin every taught, or we go straight to the big guns and bring out Romans 9:11-22, to which you mention 1 Timothy 2:3-4, yada yada yada. We’re hardly going to solve this one here after all these years, and even if we do who will see it?

          The point about being in the wrong place to pick a fight still stands, at the very least this is not the right article. How about we put the pitchforks down and stick to the remit of the article?

  • Tim Høiland (@tjhoiland)

    Great post! As I tweeted in response, and as a few other commenters have hinted, I can’t wait for TGC’s generous follow-up post: “3 Things Calvinists can learn from Methodists.” :-)

    • kevin

      i was kind of thinking the same thing…so far, this has just shown that it’s good to read/listen to reformed teachers. we all already knew that :-) however, this is not precisely the same thing as saying it’s good to read/listen to those outside of one’s tradition…curious to hear how it might go the other direction.

  • Daniel Wilcox


    I wasn’t trying to “pick a fight” but point out that
    that Matt’s statement “We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins…”
    isn’t true.

    Calvinists and non-Calvinists don’t stand “united by the good news that Christ died for our sins” because
    Calvinists (at least Calvin, Boettner and all the ones who hold to unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace)
    that Christ “died for our sins” except for a limited number foreordained to salvation.

    For all the rest of us, there is no Good News according to Calvinism.

    Thank God that I grew up in the days of Billy Graham when the Good News was Good News
    for everyone and I was saved by the love of God, and got to participate in sharing the God’s infinite love.


    • Tyler

      But the Good News isn’t Good News for everyone. If it was, then everyone would believe it. There are people that mysteriously remain hardened in their sin. My own Father would be one. He was dying and hated God. The Good News left him unchanged. He had nothing to lose except his pride. But the knee wouldn’t bend. He heard the same Gospel that I had heard, but his heart wouldn’t open to God.

      When God saved me, I loved the same sins that my father did. What was the difference then? God’s Sovereign will in salvation. I had heard the Gospel 4 other times in my life before I was saved. Each time it was a reasonable presentation of the truth. I remember each of the persons who witnessed to me with love. But it was the Lord who took out my heart of stone on the fifth time.

      God is Sovereign in election. If he wasn’t I would have ended up just like my father. An embittered man on his way to Hell. Something had to change me or rather somebody had to change me.

      Glory to God for his Sovereignty in salvation.

      • Daniel Wilcox

        Hi Tyler,

        I am glad–thankful beyond what I can express–that you repented.

        However, as I said above, the Gospel is only Good News if God loves to save us. But if God foreordained most of us–or even some of us–to eternal damnation long before we were born,
        then the Gospel isn’t Good News but only despair.

        Then Jesus didn’t die for “our sins” as Matt said. Then I can’t continue to share John 3:16 with people as I have done for 57 years,
        because allegedly (according to Calvinism) Jesus didn’t die for so many of them.:-(

        I have no interest at all in such theological determinism. It is totally contrary to everything I learned of God.

        God is LOVE.

        • Ethan

          Daniel, if you believe in substitutionary atonement, you basically have two choices:

          1. You believe Christ died for all, and all are saved.

          2. You believe Christ died for some, and some are saved.

          You cannot believe Christ substituted himself on the cross, taking on the full wrath of God for the punishment of sin, and yet it was ineffectual for many. I.e., if Jesus died in someone’s place, that person could never go to hell. That is simply irrational. Finney even knew it was irrational and logically (though incorrectly) denied substitutionary atonement.

        • Ethan

          I will also add that Calvinists have every right to say Christ died for “our sins” when they are speaking with another brother or sister in the Lord. When speaking with an unbeliever (or to a general public audience), it may be more appropriate to say that Christ died for the sins of mankind.

        • Tyler

          I share the Gospel with people, because Christ deserves to be Glorified before men. He deserves to be exalted and his redeeming work should be made known among all people. Elect and non-elect.

          When I quit trying to save people and entrust their fate to the Father, then a funny things happens: I talk about my Lord and saviour more. With pressure off of me, I can quit trying all of the manipulative techniques that evangelistic people employ in trying to change the so called Free will that humans supposedly have. I trust that the Gospel has power to impact people because it works 100% of the time for those that have been chosen by God.

          I am not God. I don’t have knowledge of who has been chosen. So I share the truth with anybody. And God is glorified by that.

          • Daniel Wilcox


            So you would share the “truth” with me and others even though you have no assurance that God even loves us?

            How tragic:-(

            Instead, listen to the real Good News as preached by Billy Graham (and many followers of Jesus all the way back to the early Church Fathers)–
            that God wills for everyone to be saved.

            • Ethan


              See this is the problem. No one ever said God does not love all men. He is their Creator, after all. The difference is that God has a particular love for his elect. Just as he did for the people of Israel, he also does for the New Testament church.

            • Tyler

              God loves even the reprobate. He shows them mercy all their lives by allowing them to continue living. He gives them a beautiful creation to live in, and gives them talents and abilities to utilize that creation to sustain their lives. This fallen humanity has done amazing things. And yet they will not give the him glory and the worship he is due. He is exceedingly kind to a humanity that doesn’t seek him and quite frankly hates him with every fiber of their being.

              The love of God for humanity has never been in doubt. HIs Word clearly reveals that he has been showing the race of Adam love from the very beginning.

              I have assurance that God loves us, sir.

              Perhaps you should contemplate how much mankind hates the God that created them. God is like a man that buys you dinner every day and all he gets in return is your spittle in his face. Such disrespectful treatment . . . yet God continues picking up the tab. Such love . . . to people who hate him. People that one day he will judge. To all good things (like the love of God) there must come an end.

              They act freely according to their nature, and their nature is that of rebels. They aren’t sitting there begging him to come and fill the God-shaped whole in their hearts. My coworkers who misuse the name of Jesus? They hate God.

              If you think the doctrine of predestination is offensive, then what about Hell? Shouldn’t it be done away with? How can we be assured that God even loves us? Hell is eternal. What a mean God . . . he doesn’t give people a do over in regards to their eternal fate. I am sure that you believe that people in Hell deserve to be there? Correct? What an unloving thing to do. Allowing fallible people to flub the biggest decision of their lives. Rejecting or accepting the Gospel. They choose wrongly, but shouldn’t he give them a second chance. That would be loving.

              I find no fault with how he runs his universe. I am just happy he showed me mercy.

    • Alan

      Sorry Daniel, I called you on coming in picking fights because you brought up a subject the author had avoided, your post was confrontational rather than, er, discussional (for want of a real word), and the actual point you raised is false anyway.

      Wesleyans and Calvinists ARE united by the news that Christ died for their sins because (presumably) they are all saved. The disagreement concerns the efficacy of Christ’s blood for those who remain unsaved. They do actually agree on their own standing, if not exactly how it came about.

      So I’m sorry, but it looks like you’re trying to find issues and finding them in the wrong places, and not at all along any of the lines the article raised.

      Incidentally, the problem you raise about evangelism is one of your own making. You have decided that if Limited Atonement is true you cannot evangelise. That truly is a straw man argument, no Calvinist has never drawn that conclusion. Check out the puritans, Spurgeon, most pre-20th Century missionaries, etc; you are arguing against what you think your opponent should believe, not what they actually do. Your argument is actually against hyper-Calvinism, and most Calvinists would happily join you in that!

      • Daniel Wilcox


        As I said before, I am not here to fight. So I won’t point out why I strongly disagree with your counterpoints.

        God’s ultimate glory is the incarnation and love for the whole world.
        1 John

    • Lin B

      Hello Mr. Wilcox,

      I am semi-reluctant to comment on this, because it seems totally backward to what Matt was saying in his article, which I thought was very well written, encouraging, and challenging. It is good to see different perspectives and to consider their truths. We often become so blind because we stick to two things: (1) what we know, and (2) what we think we know about others. I apologize in advance if I come across as offensive/defensive in any way.

      I would say that Matt’s statement, “We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins…” is in fact true because he was speaking of believers who are united in Christ despite doctrinal differences. It’s not doctrine that saves us. It is Christ. No matter what our theology, if we believe in Christ and him crucified, we are united.

      The other thing I would say is that you believe the doctrine of limited atonement, perhaps without knowing it. Unless, of course, you believe that Christ died for all men’s sins, so all people will go to heaven whether or not they put their faith in Christ Jesus. You wouldn’t have to tell people about John 3:16 anyway, if all men were already forgiven their sins. You must believe that Christ died for a limited number of a sort if you believe that only those who believe are saved. The doctrine of limited atonement simply specifies that God foreknew those who would be saved, elected them unto salvation, and passed over others for reasons that remain a mystery to us. That doesn’t mean we don’t take the gospel to all the world. :)

      I thank God that we are still among a generation of believers who declare that the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is available for everyone! We can still preach Christ and him crucified to all, for we do not know how the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts. It is not up to us, but to God, who is merciful.

      Like Matt said, we do stand unified in believing that Christ died for our sins, and that salvation is free to all who will believe. We can stand unified in the fact that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

      May the Lord bless you!

      In Christ,

      • Daniel Wilcox

        Hi Lin,

        You say,
        “I would say that Matt’s statement, “We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins…” is in fact true because he was speaking of believers who are united in Christ despite doctrinal differences.”

        But that was my point. The doctrinal differences are so drastic! between those who trust God loves every single human being versus those who subscribe to the 5 points of C.
        that they are talking of different Christs! I don’t believe in the Calvinistic concept of God.

        Let me give you an example. I am not trying to be negative but show you why I think Matt misspoke in his effort to create unity.

        John Wesley said that the concept of God in Calvinism makes God into a “tyrant.” And that he, John Wesley, would rather be an atheist than believe in such a concept of God.

        That’s where I am. I grew up in the Moody/Graham/Rogers/Finney/Erasmus/Anabaptists/
        quakers/early Church Fathers understanding based on the overall NT that God loves the “whole world” meaning every human.

        and that is the God who saved me.

        I don’t believe in the Calvinistic view of God at all.

        There can be no unity between those who think God loves to save everyone who will respond to his Spirit’s wooing and those such as Calvin and his followers who think God has foreordained only a limited number of humans to be saved.

        No, I strongly oppose Limited Atonement with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind.

        I completely disagree with Dabney, Boettner, White, Piper, Sproul, Beza, etc.

  • Miroslavs

    Thank you for these insights ! I am preparing to preach on Ephesians ch 1:3 and I saw how important is Gods glory. This article supported this wonderful idea and encouraged.

  • Jon Panner

    Calvinistic Methodists, before Whitefield gave the reins to Wesley, were fully Reformed, robustly evangelical and cutting edge.

    Whitefield worked with Wesley after the split despite his denounciation of Calvinism and is a worthy model (except for the slaves bit).

  • B-tone

    It might be useful to just read through the letters between Wesley and Whitefield on this issue instead of re-hashing the same predestination arguments over and over. Internet forums tend toward less relational grace than letters between friends.

  • Daniel Wilcox

    Hi Ethan,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective with me.

    You last said, “No one ever said God does not love all men.”

    Though I’ve studied and taught the basics of Calvinism (such as the Puritans including Wigglesworth and Edwards) for years as an American literature teacher, I still
    admit NOT to understanding such statements.

    My own understanding of “love” is based on 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John,etc. So for Reformed people to say to us that God loves “all men” but has from eternity foreordained us to eternal damnation in a theologically determined way–
    that I don’t understand.

    Why would God create me in order to foreordain me to Hell and call that love!?

    I think of all the students I’ve prayed for over many years, knowing God loved them dearly, despite their sin and the abuse their parents committed against them.

    I am not trying to argue, but to point out that my understanding of Scripture and my own experience being saved by Go and other times of God’s love
    are totally contradictory to Calvinism.

    Please understand, my background is as a Baptist pastor’s kid, as a Baptist youth pastor for a short time, an elder,blah, blah;-)

    All of that still leads me to see God’s will is loving toward everyone. I agree with the great evangelists such as Billy Graham
    as I already mentioned.

    If theological determinism is true–I’m convinced it is not–then me, my family, my saved friends are all part of the foreordained
    to damnation…

    Earlier you said,
    “I will also add that Calvinists have every right to say Christ died for “our sins” when they are speaking with another brother or sister in the Lord. When speaking with an unbeliever (or to a general public audience), it may be more appropriate to say that Christ died for the sins of mankind.”

    But according to the Calvinists I’ve studied and dialogged with over the years, Christ didn’t die for “mankind.” Isn’t that
    the whole point of L in the infamous flower, and U?

    Besides, I could never claim to be sharing the Gospel with people when all along I knew that actually, most of them weren’t loved by
    God, that God had foreordained them to damnation.

    That isn’t the God who saved me, not at all.

    But thanks for dialogging with me even though we live in different universes;-)

    • Tyler


      You said . . .

      ”If theological determinism is true–I’m convinced it is not–then me, my family, my saved friends are all part of the foreordained
      to damnation…”

      The entire human race is born in a fallen state. God created humanity, but our individual existence is the result of the reproductive process that the Lord put into place when he told Adam and Eve (our federal head and his spouse) to be fruitful and to multiply. God doesn’t create individuals for the sake of damning them. They are born according to their corrupt nature.

      This includes you, your family, your saved friends . . . and me, my family and friends. We are all in Adam before being put into Christ. God created the human race. Individual human beings are not created to be damned. By virtue of our nature we are born into this world in a state of alienation from God.

      From out of this fallen humanity, God chooses a people for himself. None of these people deserve this act of generosity. In doing this God glorifies himself.

      You also said: “Besides, I could never claim to be sharing the Gospel with people when all along I knew that actually, most of them weren’t loved by God, that God had foreordained them to damnation.”

      What about people that never hear or heard the Gospel message? Aren’t they being foreordained to damnation? If God is unfair in electing some and not others, then he is obligated to make sure that every single person in existence or who has existed or will ever exist gets to hear the truth. What of the gentile people before Christ came? God has seriously wronged them if he didn’t give them the chance to choose. How do you live with yourself if you don’t witness to every single person that you meet every day? People are going to Hell. Eternally. Doesn’t that make you complicit in their fate?

      Once again, I proclaim the Gospel because Jesus deserves to be exalted. That is a Christocentric way of doing evangelism. Not a man centered one. When people are saved it is because the glory of God is revealed to them and because they were chosen, this regenerates them. God’s love is glorious. God’s wrath is also glorious. It is good that he punishes evil. If he didn’t that would make him evil.

      When I share the Gospel, I know that God has been good to every single person that hears the truth. He has shown them much grace all of their lives. He does love them. Sadly they hate him back . . . unless he acts upon them.

      Glory to God who is sovereign in Salvation.

  • Daniel Wilcox

    Hi Tyler (again:-)

    You say, “If you think the doctrine of predestination is offensive, then what about Hell?”

    Huh? I completely believe in the doctrine of predestination!

    One of my secular college profs at Cal State Long Beach looked askance at me when I explained my belief in predestination, and said, “I didn’t know there were any of your kind left.”

    :-)That was way back in the ’60’s.

    Also, I think Hell is very real.

    I just don’t subscribe to Calvinism’s understanding of those terms.

    You also said,
    “God loves even the reprobate.”

    Oh then you don’t subscribe to A.W. Pink’s view then. As I recall when reading him a lot, he often spoke of God hating the non-elect.

    But even so, again, as I mentioned to Ethan, your saying “God loves the reprobate” doesn’t make sense to me at all. It doesn’t sound like the love of 1 Corinthians 13.

    How can God possibly be said to love us who Calvin and Boettner and others claim God has, from eternity, foreordained to Hell?

    If before I was saved, I had been told that God had foreordained most us to Hell, but he might love some people and that we have no choice, this wouldn’t have made any sense to me. Still doesn’t.

    Then you say,
    “He shows them mercy all their lives by allowing them to continue living.”

    But of what worth is that since he has foreordained us to eternal torment?!

    Then you said,
    “The love of God for humanity has never been in doubt. HIs Word clearly reveals that he has been showing the race of Adam love from the very beginning.”

    Not in Calvinism

    At least not in the Calvinism that I was taught. One of my professors at university earned his doctorate on Jonathan Edwards.

    And one of the first Calvinist leaders I heard speak, preaching on Philippians claimed that God plans every rape and murder that ever happens!

    Imagine how baffled this Baptist preacher’s son who had been a volunteer at a Billy Graham crusade, was, etc.
    I was totally shocked…and still am.

    “For God so loved the world…”

    He loves us despite our sin, and that is the glory of God!

  • Alan

    I’m disappointed this has descended into a debate on controversial Calvinistic doctrines. There wasn’t anything in the article that invited this, the article actually was about the positive things we can learn across these divides when we avoid getting hung up on the differences.

    Clearly we’re not engaging at base level and examining the foundations of our beliefs; each side is colliding with fully formed theories and opinions of the opposite side, with years of reasons behind them. What’s the point? What are we expecting?

    Daniel, with all you’ve taught on Calvinist giants in your literature courses, is there anything you’ve you learnt that you have appreciated and benefited from?

    • Daniel Wilcox


      You asked about “Calvinist giants”. I have great respect for the fact that the brilliant American Puritan Cotton Mather refused to listen to the Puritan doctors when they argued against inoculation against small pox. Mather had learned of inoculation from Muslims and prescribed it for Americans. Allegedly according to many historians his standing up for new science saved many lives.

      Also, as I recall (I’m getting a bit rusty in my aging) Jonathan Edwards at times defended Indians. Didn’t he also think the Indians should be paid for their land?
      I know Roger Williams paid for his land, but became a Baptist for a short time.

      And there are many other good actions that Puritans in
      America did.

      Where I disagree is their Reformed beliefs, denying that humans have libertarian choice, denying that God loves to save everyone, denying…the infamous flower…

      As I already mentioned I am of the school of Billy Graham, etc,

      God’s ultimate glory is the Incarnation–his love for all humans who have been born and who will ever be born:-)John 3:16

      I disagreed with Matt because he seemed to misstate Calvinism. U and L in Calvinism clearly show that Christ didn’t die for “our sins” but only
      for a limited number of humans.

      Of course, I suppose maybe that Matt is himself a Calvinist. In that case maybe he was saying “Christ died for “our sins” meaning those who believe in the Reformed concept of God, not meaning all humans such as myself, my family, etc.

      I am down helping my ill elderly parents after my mother went to bed, so typing this at a
      Barnes and Noble. Thank God for capitalism;-)–which according to some scholars was an outgrowth of Calvinism (though that gets historically complicated).

      • Matt O’Reilly

        I will say that the one thing I didn’t expect upon publishing this piece is that someone might suppose I was a Calvinist.

        Daniel, thanks for your passionate defense of an unlimited and conditional atonement. I’m with you there. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the sentence of mine that you’ve focused on is drawing on 1 Cor 15:3 and Rom 4:25. I don’t think I misrepresented the Calvinist view because I can’t imagine any Calvinist disagreeing with what amount to biblical quotations, though a Calvinist would interpret the “our sins” part differently than I do.

        I am always trying to get better at representing those with whom I disagree accurately and fairly. And I try to distinguish their actual view as they present it from what I think may be problematic implications of their view. I aim to improve in this area because I’ve had my arguments misrepresented in these sorts of debates more than a few times, and since I want others to interact with my views fairly and accurately, I attempt to offer them the same courtesy. And I do think it is a matter of courtesy to accurately represent the views I’m critiquing. I’m happy for people to disagree with what I say, but I prefer them to disagree with what I actually say rather than a misconstrual of what I actually said.

        All that to say, every Calvinist would be happy to say, “Christ died for our sins.” It was Paul who said it first, after all. And I want to represent their views as accurately as possible. I didn’t qualify my sentence to note different interpretations of this verse because that wasn’t really the issue in this post. It was not an essay on the extent of the atonement. That’s also why I’ve refrained up to this point from jumping into this line of comments. I only comment here in an effort to deal with the charge I was misrepresenting the Calvinist view. I wasn’t, and whether or not I agree with that view wasn’t really in the scope of the article.

        Thanks again for reading and thinking about these important issues.

  • Ken Nichols

    I enjoyed the article. It was extremely encouraging to see cross-pollenating between two different evangelical tribes. It points out that while we may differ on some issues, we can still learn from one another without compromising firmly held convictions, and still call one another brothers in Christ.

    However, I would warn against something I hope the Methodists don’t learn, and that is how to hijack the comment section of a well-written, well-intended post with arguments and debates not in keeping with the content and tone of the article.


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  • Bernard A. Rosario

    I believe that the Book of Discipline of the UMC gives much allowance for a United Methodist to embrace Calvinistic convictions. I have written about some of it here: . There are a bunch of Methodists here in the Philippines who have tie TULIP on their foreheads… I am one.