In Defense of Calvinism: A Response to Those Who Are Concerned

By: Moses Jesutola

It may be prideful to assert that many in Nigeria are just beginning to interact with the age-long debate between Calvinists and Arminians. But it won’t be wrong to aver that some of those who have become unnecessarily feisty about these conversations have not only failed to grasp the two positions but have also not been imbued with the spirit of charitable conversation – what Paul calls “speaking the truth to one another in love” (Eph. 4:15). We all, in fairness to them, can be like that or have once been like that. But as we grow past the childish ways that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:11, we begin to apply charity in our conversations.

That said. As far as qualification is concerned, I am most likely the least qualified to undertake what the title of this article seeks to address; and that for reasons that are irrelevant to this article. Nevertheless, I feel inclined to write a response to those who are concerned, especially as a young man to concerned young men and women. The guiding aim of this article is not to contribute something new to the ongoing conversations but to, with pastoral sensitivity, write to the concerned and address a few of the points that have been raised against Calvinism and Calvinists. To the question of the necessity of this article, I’ll leave the readers to decide – of course; you should know what my answer is to that.

To begin with: What is Calvinism? If you look the word “Calvinism” up on the internet, you’ll be greeted with a lot of definitions. But, for the sake of my audience, I attempt to simplify. Hence, I posit that Calvinism is a system of beliefs which hold the sovereignty of God as the ultimate in all of life, especially with respect to salvation. Now, an objector may say this “definition” runs the risk of excluding the responsibility of men in the happenings in the world. But this criticism will hold water if the word ‘ultimate’ is out of the way. Ultimately, the Scripture, alongside affirming human responsibility as a given, emphasizes that God reigns in the affairs of men (Dan. 4:17). It is God – not God alongside men, or men as God’s demigods – who reigns in the affairs of men. Nebuchadnezzar learnt this truth the hard way (Dan. 4:25-35).

Next, one of the criticisms that have been launched against Calvinists is that we are followers of John Calvin and thereby guilty of what Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians 3:4-6. That sounds plausible until the text in interaction with the matter in question is further probed. But I won’t be engaging in such exploration here. I’ll just try to make a case for the fact that the technical name for a body of doctrine which is the result of a serious study of the Scripture does not run contrary to 1 Corinth. 3:4-6. However, it is crucial to state that Calvinists are not necessarily proud, blind and die-hard loyalists of John Calvin. In fact, I, like others, disagree with him on his view of church government. That should suffice to quell the criticism. But let me make one more case: the way of distinguishing between a system of beliefs and another, and truth and errors, et al. is rooted both intrinsically in God and in his actions in the world. Human’s intellectual ability to tell things apart is the gift of God to them based on the image of God that is in them. Genesis records God making a distinction between Day and Night, a day and another day, et al. (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13). But this distinction itself mirrors on a creaturely level the inherent distinction between the Triune God: One Being, Three Person. We are at this point confronted with the question: how does this point address the fact that people boldly wear the tag ‘Calvinist’? It does, in some sense.

If we collapse the distinction between truth and error, or say, Christians and non-Christians, then the price will be much: we’ll be losing our ability to tell truth and falsehood apart. In short, if we lose the distinction between a system of belief and another system of belief, which is displayed both in their technical names and body of teachings, there’ll be (mental?) chaos! As such, I propose that the tag ‘Calvinism and Calvinist’ be taken not as though those in the camp are merely avowed followers of John Calvin, but as a way of telling a system of belief apart from another. Perhaps this way of thinking can equally fructify the recent argument on denominations. Now, it is possible to come away from the foregoing with the impression that Calvin has absolutely nothing to do with Calvinism. But such conclusion misses the point.

In addition to that, there is a tendency towards factionalism especially because of people’s belief in a body of doctrines, namely, Calvinism. Such tendency doesn’t invalidate the need for distinction which the technical name “Calvinism” seeks to underscore.  But it is here that Calvinists must bring to bear Paul’s words in 1 Corinth. 3:4-6. The Bible also cautions against becoming unnecessarily divisive (Titus 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). In fact, Peter says to be gently polemical – that is, in Paul’s words, speak the truth with a loving heart and charitable tone (1 Pt. 3:15). (Yes, 1 Pt. 3:15 also mention the readiness that must attend your heart when the faith is questioned – that is after you have sanctified the Lord in your heart). A few months ago, I heard a young preacher say, “Calvinists make God out to be evil.” That is a misrepresentation, and is against the spirit of ‘speaking the truth in love.’ Even that statement is untrue. However, this pugilistic and prideful tendency is even truer of Calvinists than of adherents of other system of beliefs. We must keep in mind that people do not have to verbally profess Calvinism to be saved. I am often stunned whenever people say to me, “Am I still a Christian even with my disagreement with Calvinism?” I often answer with, “Who says you are not?” John Wesley, an Arminian himself, is, I believe, in heaven – in spite of his disagreement with this great truth of the Scripture. Consequently, yes, Calvinism is biblical. Yes, we can profess to be one without necessarily becoming factionalists. Yes, the human’s invention of the technical name “Calvinism” to tell a system of belief apart from another mirrors God’s way of making a distinction between things, which itself mirrors the distinction between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Nevertheless, we must be charitable. And – it bears mentioning – others must equally be charitable to Calvinist; even the ones who are immature in their approach. It must be etched in our minds that we are Christians, in spite of our disagreement on doctrinal issues. But, of course, some matters are weightier: the teaching of God’s sovereign grace in salvation is one of such.

Furthermore, another objection that has been raised against Calvinism is whether or not it is biblical. To address such matter will take a whole book. And, yes, many books have been written on that. I must refer readers to them.1 Suffice it to say that the truths that Calvinists teach are biblical: God ordained that the Fall will happen without being guilty of sin; God plotted the biblical storyline that will lead to the coming of the Son of God who will die for the elects that have been chosen by the Father before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6). The redemptive-historical storyline of the Bible is, by the way, not a myth or fiction. The Bible is a historical book of real-life events. That said, God befriends Jacob with his love and rejects Esau (Rom. 9:12-13). God chooses a people for himself and passes over the rest (John 15:16; Rom. 9:25-26). In short, the God that is revealed in the Bible is the God of election and reprobation: he actively works faith in the hearts of his elects and passes over the non-elect (Rom. 9:18). He is the God who actively softens the hearts of the elect and passively hardens the hearts of non-elect like Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17-18). Is God guilty of sin? No. Is man responsible for his moral failings? Yes. Does God have favorite? No. Is God partial? No. Does this teaching make God out to be evil? No. At this point, we must listen to God’s word from Paul’s pen: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:20). This is a mystery that we cannot wrap our minds around and that is just fine. It is worthy of note that, as Andy Naselli also mentions, if what you believe about predestination and reprobation doesn’t attract the questions in verses 14, 20 and 21, then you do not believe what Paul believes and teaches. In fact, you do not believe what the Spirit of God teaches about these things, since all Scriptures are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). In addition, it is sinful and prideful to demand explanation from the Sovereign God for choosing to do whatever pleases him. That is akin to slipping into the temptation of the first Adam: the desire to be like god by mastering God’s mind, and subjecting God to human scrutiny. Such a god is a god of our own making. Now, those who have no space for mystery in their theology may feel irritated. I have no response to them. In sum, the sovereignty of God and human responsibility are compatible truths both in the Scripture and in God. The conundrum lies with men. That is just fine: God is not a man – the Creator-creature distinction must be maintained.

In conclusion, Andrew Naselli, in his book Predestination: An Introduction, has an analogy which helps to set forth this biblical truth in a simple way: the analogy of a novelist and the characters in his story. If a character in a novel is ordained to do evil, who is responsible for the evil done? The character is morally responsible for his evil deeds; the novelist is not. The novelist ordained what the character has freely chosen to do. By analogy, God who ordains the whole story even to the minutest details, controls the plotline of the story, chooses the characters of the story, as well as, determines the roles of each character – yet the characters are responsible for their choices. Of course, as with any other analogy, this analogy affirms a real truth, in spite of its limitations. God is not exactly like a human author. But as the narrative of the Scripture itself goes, God has created a world which bears his character (Rom. 1:20). Psalms 23 is a case in point, where David appeals to his shepherding experience to express truths about God. In the same vein, the analogy of a novelist and the characters in his story is a helpful analogy. God has created a world with analogies which express his character, although in a limited way – for no one can master God or his world; no analogy can comprehensively and exhaustively capture God.  But if this analogy is probed further, it reveals even more truth: it cannot be said of the novelist that he now loses his attributes because of how he chose to employ the characters in his book. A reader cannot judge the novelist to be unfair for the evil done by a character. By analogy, God remains who he has always been, and the doctrine of election and reprobation neither diminishes him nor adds to him. In short, as the sovereign, omnipotent God of the universe, he does whatever pleases him and whatever pleases him accords with who he has always been, is, and will continue to be. Thus, God remains loving as he is just and holy in his sovereignty. There is no unfairness in God for unfairly loving some of those who deserve to be damned and passing over the rest. I hope the non-Calvinist finds this helpful. Nevertheless, until some of our brothers who still struggle with this biblical doctrine come to the knowledge of it – be it here or hereafter – we, the Calvinist, must continue to ‘speak the truth in love’ with the eagerness of maintaining the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:15; 3).

Moses Jesutola is a student of Institute of Pastoral and Theological Training (IPTT), Egbe, Kogi State, Nigeria. He sent this piece from Egbe.


  1. Naselli, Andrew Predestination: An Introduction

Posted by Deji Yesufu


  1. Atiang Jonathan July 7, 2024 at 9:03 pm

    I wasn’t aware young Nigerians were dealing with these issues. Could it be just within IPTT? To the best of my knowledge,few pastoral students in my Seminary, unless at the Masters of Theology level and above, have any knowledge of Calvinism.


    1. Well, it is a consequence of the growth we have been praying for. Yet, the enemy stands by to sow seeds of thorns. This is why our brother wrote the piece.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *