I don’t think of myself as a Calvinist, although I greatly benefit from Reformed theology. This was not always my experience. As a child, I once heard this horrified whisper in church concerning a newcomer: “I know about him. He’s a Calvinist!”—as if the man were an alien or baddie. In another church, I saw a man actually cover his ears during a sermon on predestination, so adamant was he against it.

Clearly, what you believe concerning salvation has a profound effect, e.g. on your view of God and yourself, your assurance of salvation, and your approach to evangelism. Christians often define their theological understanding of salvation in terms of Calvinism or Arminianism.

Coming from an independent Baptist background, I am curious whether most IBs in Australia hold a negative view toward Calvinism today. Or are their churches more open to it? If not, what do you think are the primary objections?

Probably the main objection is to predestination and God’s unconditional election. “We still have a free will,” I’ve often been told. There’s concern over limited atonement (fair enough), and perhaps a suspicion that evangelistic zeal will be numbed by the Reformed emphasis of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

Maybe many Christians baulk at Calvin simply because they were taught inaccurate or misleading information about Calvinism. Charles Spurgeon (who himself has often been misrepresented) described the problem this way:

To this day, there are many of our opponents, who, when they run short of matter, invent and make for themselves a man of straw, call that John Calvin and then shoot all their arrows at it. We are not come here to defend your man of straw—shoot at it or burn it as you will, and if it suit your convenience, still oppose doctrines which were never taught, and rail at fictions which, save in your own brain, were never in existence. We come here to state what our views really are, and we trust that any who do not agree with us will do us the justice of not misrepresenting us. If they can disprove our doctrines, let them state them fairly and then overthrow them, but why should they first caricature our opinions and then afterwards attempt to put them down? (C.H. Spurgeon, Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace. Quoted from Debating Calvinism, Dave Hunt and James White).

Calvinists, Arminians, and everyone in-between are welcome to comment…

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About Ben Kwok

Ben is part of a church plant team establishing the Rouse Hill Church. He holds a Master of Divinity degree. Ben and his wife Diahanna live in Sydney, Australia with their four young children.


  1. RoSeZ 6 April, 2011 at 6:16 am - Reply

    I think whether or not churches and Australia’s IBs are open to Calvinism depends on the church. I’ve seen dozens of churches embrace it or remain open to it…while I’ve also met churches who avoid it like the plague and condemn anyone with Calvinistic leanings.

    From my personal experience, it seems those who oppose it most strongly are either misinformed or naive on the subject, or are unwilling to unsettle their comfort zone by even opening up their minds to think about it.

    fwiw… =)

  2. Greg 6 April, 2011 at 7:24 am - Reply

    I still think that any church/christian that actively opposes any organisation that announces to the world that Jesus Christ is God (and by active opposing, this could mean everything from boycotting to pamphlet writing etc) is wasting energy and resources that could be better used increasing this announcement to the world and actively engaging in more christian activities within their community. Sure that other church may be wrong, and in some fundamental ways, but we need to consider our priorities. What is more important? The christian who was wrong about calvinism becoming right? Or the non christian becoming a christian?

  3. Ben Kwok 6 April, 2011 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Thanks … I think we can speak only anecdotally here (I’m not aware of local stats on churches and Calvinism). It’s good to hear your input!

    Greg, I agree the Gospel is paramount regardless of one’s theological stripe, but also would suggest this topic is more nuanced and more important than you might think, e.g. Calvinism’s impact on a church’s approach to worship, evangelism, etc.

    Just wondering about others’ experience with this, for better or worse…

  4. PJ 6 April, 2011 at 8:53 am - Reply

    @ Greg – Agree. Truly ‘independent’ churches should be happy to live and let live on this issue and get on with reaching the lost and edifying the saints. (Denominations have fights about these kinds of things.)

    That being said, just two points –

    i) I think part of the problem in this unending debate is with terminology. What is ‘Calvinism’? Is it the TULIP? What is ‘Arminianism’? Did Arminius believe in unconditional election? We probably don’t know our history of doctrine well enough to have a truly informed debate and often it degenerates into slogans and name-calling.

    ii) All that being said, I do think this whole question is fundamental because what we believe about the character of God is at stake.

  5. Jason Harris 6 April, 2011 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    My experience is that the intensity of the debate often results in people being polarised (all one way or the other). It is difficult to get people actually discussing the real issues with real opponents because the “enemy” is so demonised.

    On the other hand, I’m confident that the gospel itself has been mutilated and perverted in many Australian independent churches by an unwillingness to ground it in a coherent Scriptural theology.

    To actually answer your question, my church has a spectrum of views represented. I’ve encountered some other churches that are open to discussion. But the majority of Australian, Baptist, Independent churches I’ve interacted with tend to be, not Arminian, but rather anti-Calvinist.

  6. PJ 6 April, 2011 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    @Jason: I think you’re right when you draw a distinction between being Arminian and anti-Calvinist – I doubt most people have ever read Arminius or the Remonstrance. But I also wonder if its necessarily a bad thing if an independent church has a strong view one way or another, even if that view is anti-Calvinist?

  7. Jason Harris 6 April, 2011 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    @PJ, Fair enough. A strong view is not a bad thing at all. My concern would be when the strong view is not “according to knowledge.” *tongue in cheek*

  8. Ben Kwok 6 April, 2011 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Interesting points PJ & Jason. Jason — when you say Aust churches mutilate and pervert the gospel by lack of theological grounding, what examples have you seen?

    Man-centred preaching comes to mind, e.g. moralistic, Christless sermons. I’ve been guilty of that in the past.

    Also: “New Calvinism” is a definite influence in US churches. Is there a similar movement happening here, perhaps beyond the stream of IB churches?

  9. Jason Harris 6 April, 2011 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    @Ben, One example is that believers often place their trust in their trust instead of in Jesus Christ. That would be an example of the man-centred gospel I suppose. Another form of this is to place trust in a past experience or prayer.

    The most common mutilation I’ve observed is to view the gospel as the means of our regeneration, but then to teach that the means of our sanctification is works. This unvarnished Galatianism was referred to by Paul as “another gospel.”

    Here are a few more examples…
    -I have been corrected on quite a few occasions for using Scripture’s statements that we are “being saved.”
    -Statements that suggest that we will be saved are seen as incompatible with Scripture even though they are richly rooted in the theology of the gospel and the explicit statements of Scripture.
    -The suggestion that God saves sinners is agreed to in token, but in reality, if you suggest that God saves sinners (refusing to interject any human work into the equation… i.e. monergism), many reject the comments as unbiblical.
    -If you ask people in many churches what is the gospel, you will get answers like “You have to let Christ take control” or “Give your life to Jesus” or “Let Jesus wash away your sins” or “Jesus will forgive your sins.” Yet none of these addresses the great theological themes of the gospel such as substitutionary atonement, propitiation, redemption, justification, or regeneration.

    My experience regarding the list of doctrines above is that the members of many Australian, Independent Baptist churches know little of them and if they do know them, tend to view them as obtuse technicalities to be discussed among the theological elites.

    As an example of this, I find anti-Calvinists are wary when I try to discuss the atonement with them because their primary interaction with the doctrine surrounds the debate about limited atonement. In other words, when I say “atonement” (which is the very heart of the gospel), they think “Calvinistic debate” and shut down. That is very, very sad to me.

    I would be hopeful that the broader picture among Australian, Baptist, Independent churches would be different.

  10. Steve 8 April, 2011 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Regarding the “New Calvinism” or New Reformed influence that Ben referred to, which I think has become more influential here because of the internet and the many books to hit our Christian bookshops, I think it has had an impact on the Reformed denominations most obviously but also on Christians who would not necessarily call themselves Calvinist.

    Some writers that come to mind are Piper, Keller, and Macarthur. Most of their stuff is excellent and very helpful to Christians in general, although having mentioned Macarthur, one must be careful about Lordship salvation, since we are talking about mutilation of the gospel, and the subtle manner in which it has crept into Christian thought in general, even in Independent circles, which are known as watchdogs of error.

  11. Theodore A. Jones 10 June, 2011 at 8:22 am - Reply

    If anyone has made a more excellent shot against the assumptions of contemporary church teachings than this:
    “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13, I don’t know whom it could be.

  12. James 21 June, 2011 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I find it interesting too that in my part of the country, I notice it’s the anti-Calvinist side that is very vocal about their views, and shout heresy at any opportunity when the sovereignty of God is mentioned.

    They also like the term robots, as anti-Calvinists think that once God is sovereign we become like puppets.

    While it’s normally the people who lean towards Calvinism aren’t as vocal about it. (Which I guess if you believe in the sovereignty of God, no matter how loud or argumentative you are, you aren’t going to turn any body’s heart anyway.) However the defence of their faith is normally not emotionally charged, and makes sense in light of all the scriptures.

  13. Eco 29 June, 2011 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    i would like to know if Independent Baptists are Christians. This is semi-rhetorical. I’ve been ostracised by a lady who loved me a great deal. She was from the picturesque Diamond Valley area outside Melbourne, Australia and from Independent Baptist stock. She is a PK. My friend lived with her parents and sisters. She decided one day recently to abruptly close down her email account. No warning of course. This was our only form of communication. The lady had said earlier in good times that her Sunday School teaching as well as her time at a Liberty University may well have over-influenced her repulsion to anything reeking of Roman Catholicism.

    My main sin was that i went to Catholic schools and did NOT renounce Mary as a personage of deep respect. I was honest with the lady but it was sometimes like ‘walking on eggshells’. What’s interesting is her sisters are separated or divorced and that such ostracism is very un-Christlike behaviour. Surprisingly I hadn’t heard of the IB denomination before. But I surely have now…

    Surely in AD2011 we have evolved beyond warmongering between denominations? What should i do if i meet an IBer again?

  14. Wesley Pittman 5 October, 2011 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    @ECO – Yes, We in the Independent Baptists are Christians. Unfortunately, some IB Christians have forgotten what Christ taught was to love the sinner and pray that God will convict of past sins.

    To all those that believe in Calvinist teachings I must say that it is an oxymoron belief especially if you are a pastor or missionary. Unfortunately, it is coming from USA Independent Baptist Bible Colleges and men like John Piper who are blinding hearts of Pastors who claim to be IB and Fundamental and then turn their backs on the King James Bible and the Fundamentals of the Faith.

  15. Jason Harris 5 October, 2011 at 6:53 pm - Reply


    Many of the great pastors and missionaries in history have been Calvinists. For instance:

    William Carey (Father of modern missions)
    Hudson Taylor (missionary, founder of China Inland Mission)
    D. James Kennedy (founder of Evangelism Explosion)
    Charles Spurgeon (Prince of preachers)
    Jim Elliot (missionary martyr of the 20th century)
    George Muller (pastor, founder of large orphanage)
    George Whitefield (Evangelist of the Great Awakening)
    David Livingstone (Explorer and missionary)
    David Brainerd (pioneer missionary to the American Indians)
    John G. Paton (pioneer missionary to Vanuatu)
    Henry Martyn (missionary to India)
    Adoniram Judson (missionary to Burma)
    John Knox (fearless leader of the Scottish Reformation)
    John Bunyan (Baptist author and pastor)
    John Newton (Author of Amazing Grace, pastor)
    Jonathan Edwards (Pastor, leader of Great Awakening)
    John Foxe (author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)

    Some more Calvinist pastors, missionaries, and theologians:

    Benjamin Keach
    C. I. Scofield
    Ian Paisley
    William Wilberforce
    B. H. Carroll
    Andrew Fuller
    Lewis Sperry Chafer
    John Owen
    Andrew Murray
    A. W. Pink
    Thomas Watson
    B. B. Warfield
    Philip Schaff
    Francis Schaeffer
    J. C. Ryle
    John Owen
    Wayne Grudem
    Charles Hodge
    Robert Murray M’Cheyne
    Thomas Boston
    Horatius Bonar
    John Gill
    James Boyce
    J. Gresham Machen
    H. R. Mackintosh
    John Clarke
    John Rippon
    J. R. Graves
    A. H. Strong

    Why do you feel that it is oxymoronic to be a pastor/missionary and a Calvinist? How would you explain these men and their ministries considering your comments?

  16. Christopher 21 November, 2012 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    “it is an oxymoron belief especially if you are a pastor or missionary”… “How would you explain these men and their ministries considering your comments?”

    Because the Calvinism these men embraced was a repackaged Calvinism. It is a blend of true Bible theology with Calvinism theology. These men embraced a “Calvinism” they learned from reading books or were introduced to it by a friend or a Calvinist institution. No true Bible Believing Christian would embrace a theology that dam’s some to hell and gives no hope of knowing your saved. If you know 100% for sure you are going to heave you are not a true Calvinist.The Calvinism today is a repackaged Calvinism by those who have read another Calvinist, with J.C. Name attached to it.

    Calvinism is Roman Theology that came through Augustine.

    ” Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I would do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writing” J. Calvin

    Calvin also said ” I should not believe the gospel unless I was moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church”

    ” Any man who apposed infant baptism was accursed”

    ” We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which He compacted with Himself what He willed to become for each man, For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others”


  17. Jason Harris 21 November, 2012 at 3:41 pm - Reply


    You just condemned dozens of the most significant leaders and theologians of the Christian faith throughout history as being ignorant, gullible, and stupid. As if Spurgeon was just too ignorant to realise that he wasn’t really a Calvinist? Like Jonathan Edwards was too stupid to understand theology? Like William Carey was just too gullible to understand that his theology was completely incompatible with his life’s work?

    From your comments here, it is you who does not understand Calvinism. And unless you understand it, you cannot repudiate it with integrity.

  18. Christopher 21 November, 2012 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    So Jason you believe that God predestined many to hell. As John Calvin does?

    • sylvia 6 April, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      I agree with you Christopher and God is love and kind and given us free will to choose him we are not elected and they subtract his word and very wrong! Augustine and John Calvin and Luther were murderers and not loving men of God look what happened in Geneva what they did Flee from this false doctrine and just listen to Jesus!

  19. Jeremy Crooks 21 November, 2012 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Calvinism is a topic that leads to extreme statements. It is foolish to say that John Piper is ‘blinding the hearts of pastors’. Just as it is foolish to say that ‘Jesus was Reformed’. https://jasonharris.com.au/why-i-am-not-reformed/

    Augustine has made some silly statements. So have you. So have I.

    The problem I have with the Reformed/Non-Reformed debate is now the debate itself. For many, the content is no longer the issue, but rather the elevation of the camp one is in.

    We spend hours trying to read into history as to how a particular church leader would have defined themselves. When we have direct access to Jesus and his teachings, let us realise that such activities and definitions are futile.

  20. Christopher 21 November, 2012 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Jason do you believe this?

    “Who then shall be saved? That is what His sovereign will decides and nothing else. It is purely a matter of the divine sovereign will which, doubtless for good reasons known to God Himself but none of them relative to anything distinguishing one man morally from another, chooses some and rejects the rest. God’s election has nothing to do with foreknowledge except in so far as he foreknows who are to be members of the human race” (Calvin’s Institutes III, xxiii, page 10).

    “The reprobate like the elect are appointed to be so by the secret counsel of God’s will and by nothing else” (Calvin’s Institutes II, xxii, Page 11).

    “Their fate was the direct immediate appointment of God, justified indeed by their life but not in necessary consequence. He might have saved them from their doom as He did in the case of the elect who were no more worthy in themselves to be saved; but that doom was fixed from all eternity and nothing in them could transfer them to the contrary class, any more than anything in the elect could result in their becoming reprobate…” (Calvin’s Institute III, iii, Page 4).

  21. Christopher 21 November, 2012 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    “No one ever became a Calvinist by reading the Bible but by reading another Calvinist”

    Christopher :)

  22. Jason Harris 21 November, 2012 at 6:45 pm - Reply


    I believe that God justly damns all men to hell because all men rejected him in Adam and all men reject him themselves. I further believe that God has graciously chosen to lavish his love on those he chose and the reason is not to be found in those he chose, but in the counsel of God’s will. Indeed, I believe that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. No man will run to Jesus Christ for rescue and be turned away. None.

    “No one ever became a Calvinist by reading the Bible but by reading another Calvinist”

    This statement creates for me one of those moments in which I wonder if the speaker has ever met a real Calvinist. Most Calvinists I know started out hating and/or fearing the doctrines of grace and were compelled to the position against all desire by precisely the Scripture. Even John Piper testifies to this and speaks of a period of grieving the loss of the God he grew up knowing.

  23. Christopher 21 November, 2012 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    “A real Calvinist”, well Jason, I grew up a “Real Calvinist” all points and then some. I had a Calvinist pastor, Pink was my guy. I can say without apology I am not one on any points now. There is no scriptural proof “in context” for what John Calvin believed, give me one. Honestly there are no real Calvinists. A real Calvinists follow John Calvin 100% none do especially modern day Calvinist who’s theology is not pure but mixed with many theologies. That is why a Calvinist can say silly things like “I am a whosoever will Calvinist”

  24. Jason Harris 21 November, 2012 at 11:04 pm - Reply


    To define Calvinism as strictly the exact beliefs of John Calvin is obtuse at best. For instance, I assume you refer to Calvin’s soteriology, not every aspect of his theology. But Calvin merely developed a theological system passed down through the centuries. He expected others to stand on his shoulders just as he stood on the shoulders of those before him.

    If Charles Spurgeon wasn’t a Calvinist, then I’m not sure there is such a thing as a Calvinist.

    You’ve said you were a “real Calvinist” which raises a serious question. Why are you misrepresenting Calvinistic theology?

    One more question. Why aren’t you using your full, real name?

  25. Paul 30 August, 2013 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    Good debate but there is nothing in life that is superior than God and his Word: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” Ephesians 1:4-7 (KJV)

  26. Christine 17 June, 2014 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Calvinism is seen negatively when it has caused/causes division in Christian fellowships. The certainty of those who “hold the truth”, their desire to promote only these truths, their separateness and exclusivity leads to a general impression of arrogance that offends others. The domineering style of US celebrityCalvinist preachers like Mark Driscoll give the impression of cussing Cultish cliques which lack any expression of humility and Godly love. The impact of Calvinism is present and discussed in many Australian churches and communities I know. My 17 year old daughter attends a Christian school where the doctrine is pushed at them and she has rejected it due to what she has seen and the arguments about pre-destination she has witnessed although she has a strong Christian Faith and is very committed to reading the scriptures and exploring avenues of Social Justice. May she follow Jesus all her life! I am so grateful God in his grace has brought us to know him – that is the simplicity of where my faith meets “Calvinism”.

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