Doxological Calvinism

Doxology is, literally, a word or words of praise

Doxologies punctuate the Bible because they punctuate the life of faith. This at least was Paul’s understanding of the life of Abraham: “he was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:20).

 

Let me invite you to take a simple word-association test. The usual procedure for such a test is that the administrator says a word and the subject responds with the first word that comes to mind. Thus, the word horse might immediately prompt the word cart from some people, but race (as in horse race) from others.

Here, then, is the word-association test:

Calvinism__________________.

Did the noun doxology or the adjective doxological come to mind? The terms Calvinism and doxology are not ordinarily associated with each other, even by Christians. Yet it is the overall contention that Calvinism is always doxological—otherwise it cannot be either truly biblical or truly Calvinistic, and therefore, at the end of the day, cannot be true theology. For true theology always leads to doxology.

Doxology is, literally, a word or words of praise. Doxologies punctuate the Bible because they punctuate the life of faith. This at least was Paul’s understanding of the life of Abraham: “he was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:20). The rhythm of the Christian’s life is always determined by the principle that when the revelation of God in His glory is grasped by faith, the response is to return all glory to God.

Paul himself summarizes this truth at the climax of three chapters of the most tightly woven theology found anywhere in Scripture. In Romans 9–11, he traces God’s ways in faithfulness to His Word, in divine election, and in distinguishing grace (chap. 9); in gospel proclamation (chap. 10); and in sovereign, divine providence toward Jew and Gentile (chap. 11). Then he draws the conclusion: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

What is being underlined here is, surely, that the knowledge of the sovereignty of God exercised in all of these spheres leads to a single response from the heart of faith: “Glory to God forever,” or, in the familiar Latin words by which the teaching of the Reformation is often summarized, soli Deo gloria—to God alone be the glory!

These considerations notwithstanding, the expression doxological Calvinism may seem strange to many people—an oxymoron or even a straightforward contradiction in terms. Whether one thinks of the so-called five points of Calvinism (in terms of their origin, more accurately labeled “the five corrections to Arminianism”), of the much larger vision of John Calvin himself, or of the teaching of his followers, such as John Knox and the Puritans, doxology, praise, worship, and adoration may not be words that come to mind in any word-association test.

But if with B. B. Warfield we consider Calvinism to be no more and no less than biblical theology expressed in its fullest and richest way, we readily see that the effect of such theology will indeed be doxology. That is true because Reformed theology emphasizes doxology-evoking biblical teaching, it is illustrated in the expressions of Calvinistic singing we find in church history, and it is evident in the Christian experience of those who have embraced the Reformed faith and lived it out as a lifestyle.

This article previously appeared on Ligonier.org, and is used with permission.