A Wesleyan’s five-point salute to Calvinism

By Talbot Davis, Special Contributor…

I am a Wesleyan today because I was first a Calvinist.


Yeah, my first extended church experience after coming to faith as a teenager was at a lovely church in Dallas called Believer’s Chapel.

Though I was very new to the faith and didn’t initially have the language for such things, I gradually learned the leadership of the church believed and taught that God has predestined all that happens, including the eternal destinies of men and women. It’s really a double predestination: some to heaven and some to hell.

That teaching, I later came to find out, is called Calvinism, the legacy of a 16th-Century French and Swiss theologian named John Calvin.

The people at Believer’s Chapel were fine, wise, loving and biblical folks. Yet even as a 17-year-old, I knew I couldn’t hang with them on the part about double predestination. So that experience started me on a journey looking for fine, wise, loving and biblical folks who believed in free will. And that journey led me ultimately to the theology of John Wesley and the people called Methodists.

Talbot Davis

Wesley, in fact, once wrote a pamphlet called Predestination Calmly Considered, which is one of the more ironic titles in printed literature. If you open the booklet and read what Wesley says about Calvin and Calvinism, it is anything but calm:

“. . . It represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. More false; because the devil, liar as he is, hath never said, ‘He willeth all men to be saved:’ More unjust; because the devil cannot, if he would, be guilty of such injustice as you ascribe to God, when you say that God condemned millions of souls to everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, for continuing in sin, which, for want of that grace he will not give them, they cannot avoid: And more cruel; because that unhappy spirit ‘seeketh rest and findeth none;’ so that his own restless misery is a kind of temptation to him to tempt others.”

So all these years later—34 of them!—why would I devote time to extolling the virtues of a theological perspective that I left as soon as I understood it? Why would I take any time at all to appreciate a system towards which our own dear Mr. Wesley felt such vehemence?

Well, three reasons. First—and it pains us Wesleyans to admit it—they have the celebrity power going in Christian circles these days. The Rev. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and the Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City are two of the most widely read and deeply respected pastors in all of evangelicalism. And both lean Calvinist, Dr. Piper more defiantly so than Dr. Keller.

Speaking of Dr. Piper, a second reason to devote some time and space to appreciating Calvinism is that in preparing my own sermons, I often check to see what he has to say about biblical passages that I am preaching on—sometimes for inspiration, other times for disagreement, but always for engagement. His website—www.desiringgod.org—has an astounding amount of biblical and theological material.

And third, I recently had a post on my own blog, The Heart of the Matter (www.talbotdavis.blogspot.com), that told of the impact believer baptism is having in our church while also asking some hard questions about nature and the role of infant baptism. In the online mini-furor that erupted, one of my Methodist critics cyber-speculated that I am really a Calvinist at heart.

So with all that in mind, here are five things I believe we free will-loving Methodists can appreciate about Calvinism and our Calvinist friends:

1. They remind us of the sovereignty of God. We look at Romans 9 and grimace (not that we should; we just do). The Calvinists read it and throw a party.

2. They recognize the sinfulness of humanity. Ephesians 2:1 says this: “and you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” We Wesleyans read that and interpret it as “mal-adjusted” or “in need of improvement.” In the Calvinist world-view, dead means dead.

3. They are, for the most part, amillenial in their eschatology. I consider the fanciful end-times teaching of the Left Behind movement a far greater misreading of biblical truth than Calvinism. Neither my Calvinist friends nor I will ever be “Rapture ready.”

4. They encourage us to preach sermons that are more about God than about people. Interestingly, my friend James Howell—a Wesleyan-Arminian if there ever was one—says the same thing in his book The Beauty of the Word.

5. They believe God planned for me to write these words all along.

The Rev. Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Charlotte, N.C.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Todd McGill

Just a quick question, did God ordain sin? Another question since we supposedly can’t resist God then why do we keep sinning?

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