John Calvin
John Calvin (Photo credit: jimforest)

Calvinism is a theological system found in the writings of the Protestant John Calvin, having much in common with those of Martin Luther but differing on some key issues.

Common beliefs among Luther and Calvin include:

  • Scripture is the ultimate authority on matters of faith
  • Free will is enslaved by original sin
  • The doctrine of justification by grace through faith

Calvin believed that the authority of scripture is twofold. Scripture is divinely inspired but, at the same time, believers subjectively experience its divine authenticity through the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.”

Calvinism differs most dramatically from Lutheranism by having a:

  • radical dependence on scripture for church doctrine and practice
  • emphasis on predestination

According to Calvinism, an omnipotent God predestined some (called “the elect”) for heaven and others, (called “the dammed”) for hell.

Signature of John Calvin
Signature of John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike Luther, Calvin believed in a theocracy (church rule over national, regional and civic affairs) while Luther defended the separation of Church and State.

Calvin believed in the Eucharist but like many churches, had his own spin on just what goes on while believers partake in this holy meal.

The Reformed churches, following the teachings of John Calvin, believe in an immaterial, spiritual (or “pneumatic”) presence of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and received by faith.¹

Although Calvin believed that all works outside the Christian faith are evil (even good works), he stressed the importance of good works among the Christian community.




  1. I clicked though as I noticed a trackback from the Reformed Reader. Thank you for drawing attention to Calvin in what is a readable and straight forward descriptive post of the Reformer.

    I’d humbly suggest that many of your statements, however, could stand a bit more nuance and distinction. The idea of “radical dependence” on scripture doesn’t really account for Calvin’s high view of the church and belief in the ministerial role of tradition. (Calvin extensively read and cited the early church fathers.) Also, predestination is hardly emphasized in Calvin’s writings. (Though he did, of course, believe it.) Richard Muller has written extensively on Calvin from a historical-theological perspective and shown several strands of continuity between Calvin and the later protestant scholastic theologians, and has forced the academy to reassess some of its long-held assumptions about Calvin, especially the place of predestination in the Reformed theological system. (See his book “Christ and the Decree.”) Also, Calvin’s view of the relationship between the civil government and the church is being studied extensively. (Several of Matt Tuininga’s links above will point you toward some of that research.) All this to say, it’s hard to sustain the claim anymore that Calvin disagreed substantially with Luther’s Two Kingdoms. (Usually this misunderstanding is due to a misreading of what *Luther* was actually saying about the two kingdoms, then reading a misunderstanding of Calvin against that.)

    This is not to be overly critical of what you’ve done here – please don’t take it that way. Just an encouragement to readers that descriptions of the main tenants of Calvinism often need to be scrutinized in light of particular writings of the Reformers and their heirs.




    • Thanks for your comments. What makes me happiest here is to stimulate debate. I’m not surprised that you find this falling a bit short of the mark. It’s mostly derived from secondary sources. That much said, I did note in my research that differences of interpretation and practice can be found. Even from recently talking to a Calvinist, I noticed that his take on a certain issue differed from what seems a majority view.

      I find a similar thing in my own religion (Catholicism). Many people say they’re Catholics, but once you get talking to them, a considerable variation of beliefs and practices emerges.

      So I embrace your comments and will take them into serious consideration–especially during the next edit.


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