“The Trouble with Calvinism” – Catholic Answers Live Interview with David Anders

Apr 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In this interview from April 1, 2011, Catholic Answers host Patrick Coffin and I discuss the life and legacy of John Calvin. Some points of interest include Calvin’s attitude towards “denominationalism,” adultery and divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Calvin on predestination, Calvin’s relationship to Luther and Augustine, and the theological innovations of Calvin’s successors.


Download the mp3 here. For other formats, click here.

“Catholic Answers Live” airs live Monday through Friday beginning at 6 P.M. Eastern Time, 3 P.M. Pacific Time, on many AM and FM stations across America, on Sirius satellite radio, as well as around the world on EWTN Global Catholic Radio (shortwave) and on the Internet.


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  1. Great spot! Thanks for sharing!

  2. If you are a Calvinist, you need to listen to a fair and honest engagement of his thought. Great interview David!

  3. Agree with Tom–great interview! There’s something almost fun about your interviews (thinking of Fr Pacwa’s too) despite the weight of the subject matter–infectious good humor or something.

  4. I reject the speaker’s understanding of Calvinism in that Calvinism is not primarily about being an intellectual. It is primarily about the reformation of worship. He even admits it at 44:50.

    “If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz. a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church. pg. 13 (ed. H. Beveridge [Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844])

    I suggest the Westminster Directory of Worship or the Genevan Book of Church order that Calvin approved in 1556. Calvin came around on some issues of puritan worship that pca ministers still use to refuse puritan worship.

    I have yet to meet one person who was schooled in the rudimentary principles of these issues who went Anglican, Eastern or Roman Catholic. At 45 minutes he argues that instruments were in the Old Testament, yeah, so were animal sacrifices.

    Assertions and opinions from 7-9 minutes which from what I understand would not even be allowed comment status at this blog.

    At around 10 minutes the guest speaker mentions the removal of man made traditions from Christianity. A question: is that the way it was in your PCA church? I am speaking to the x PCA Roman Catholics.

    Church and State: In Cœna Domini; Concerning the Papal Bull In Coena Domini that was originally published in the 14th century, wherein the Popes were boasted to be the monarchs of the world. After much opposition from rulers in the western world and fellow Catholics, the bull was abrogated in the 18th Century due to the threatening nature of it. I don’t want to hear Catholics complain about church and state with Calvinists after considering these things.

    Will he touch the issue of the Papacy as antichrist?

    14 Minutes, Rutherford and the Scottish Church is strict on doctrinal uniformity as well.

    At 26:45ish-27:10ish the issue of a previent or efficacious grace is addressed and then an assertion of cooperation afterward is asserted. How does this condemn the reformed view? Did the ex protestant never actually know what the reformed position was?

    Girardeau asserts the free will of man restored after conversion,
    “As then efficacious grace. the fruit of election, RESTORES TO HIM THE LIBERTY TO WILL HOLINESS, SO FAR FROM BEING INCONSISTENT WITH THAT LIBERTY, IT IS PROVED TO BE ITS ONLY CAUSE.” Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism

    Girardeau muses over the problem of determination and the will of man post redemption. I think Shaw answers this. Commenting on WCF 10.2 Robert Shaw says,

    “7. That in this calling the sinner is altogether passive, until he is quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Here it is proper to distinguish between regeneration and conversion; in the former the sinner is passive – in the latter he is active, or co-operates with the grace of God. In regeneration a principle of grace is implanted in the soul, and previous to this the sinner is incapable of moral activity; for, in the language of inspiration, he is “dead in trespasses and sins.” In conversion the soul turns to God, which imports activity; but still the sinner only acts as he is acted upon by God, who “worketh in him both to will and to do.”

    Regeneration he is passive in conversion he is active and co-operates.

    At 33:00 the issue of Augustine appears. Could you show me in Augustine the support of the goddy views of worship that are in the Roman Church? He condemned musical instruments in worship as most Christian churches did until his time as did Aquinas [http://olivianus.thekingsparlor.com/the-regulative-principle/musical-instruments-in-worship-in-thomas-aquinas-summa-theologica].

    Worship is a fundamental issue. Don’t side step the issue.

    At 35: Free Will issue appears- does he define free will? No-He admits that grace is needed for salvation- I reject that he understood Luther’s book because that is what Luther meant. And even if he is not as strong on the effectual call as Luther would have been, anyone who has ever read Luther’s book knows that he addressed a looser view of the effectual call and said it was far better than the Pelagian view it was just that Erasmus made other statements directly contrary to it and in keeping with the Pelagian system. What it sounds like from the speaker, what you are really going to have to swallow to reject Luther’s book is John Cassian’s view where man’s natural faculty post-fall is still strong enough to apply itself to salvation but then subsequently God’s grace comes to continue him in that.

  5. Dear Drake,

    I completely agree with your characterization of the Reformed tradition regarding worship.
    Calvin and the other Reformed theologians were primarily concerned about the reformation of worship, not about being intellectuals. As you note, I mentioned this in the interview.

    I do not think that Reformed spirituality is primarily about being an intellectual. However, I do think that there is a heavily intellectual component in the culture of the Reformed Church. Do you disagree with this? I see this as both a strength and a weakness of Reformed culture. It’s also the main reason I went on for graduate study in Reformation history.

    thanks for listening.

    all the best,


  6. Great interview. The longer I am a Catholic and study this or that saint and how they lived their lives, whether it is St. Francis (who was a reformer) or St. Catherine, Augustine or Margaret etc… I am STUNNED at the difference between their lives and Calvin’s. You said that you have never found a place in ALL of Calvin’s writing where he apologizes for anything. What a contrast with Catholic saints.

    I hope to hear more from you on radio and tv Dr. Anders.

  7. The link here is to the wrong interview, one by Fr. Mitch Pakwe.

  8. Thanks Jocelyn. We fixed it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. David,
    Thanks to you and the other writers at CtC for the work you have done. I’m not Catholic but have learned a lot from this site and am getting a better grasp of what the underlying issues are. I’m considering rcia,

    I heard a Calvinist apologist state something along the lines of – he could not imagine converting to Rome because of the works-righteousness system. The works-righteousness aside, my impression is that the honest question may never really occur to him that maybe he is teaching heresy and not Catholicism. For a Calvinist could even asking that question (Is my theology wrong?) be a sign that one is not elect, not hearing Jesus’s voice, and therefore a big obstacle to dealing with these questions honestly.

  10. Dave (re:#9),

    As a former “Reformed Baptist” Calvinist and a Catholic “revert,” I can definitely say amen to your comment.

    For approximately five of the six years that I was a Reformed Baptist, I never even *dreamed* of seriously considering that Catholicism might be true. I had had so much “Biblical teaching” (according to the R.B. paradigm, that is) which had thoroughly inculcated me with the view that “Catholicism is a false gospel of works-righteousness.” The only reason that I *ever* looked into the Catholic Church, for most of the time that I was a Calvinist, was so that I could “Biblically refute” the Church and her teachings.

    The story of how that began to change for me, and how my Biblical and church-historical studies, with prayer, of course, led me back to the Catholic Church, would require a treatise here. I’ll just say that it was utterly terrifying to even *begin* the process of questioning “Sola Fide” and “Sola Scriptura,” because I had been convinced for so many years that anything else was from Satan himself.

    Partially, it was the witness of a very Christ-centered Catholic author (Peter Kreeft) who *first* led me to start questioning some of my anti-Catholic bias, but serious Bible study and reading the early Church Fathers played the bigger role over the long run.

    I will be praying for you, brother. In this older comment here at CTC, I gave more details of my journey back to the Church (and actually announced my intention to reconcile with her– a happy memory for me!): http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/reformed-imputation-and-the-lords-prayer/#comment-9248

  11. Hi Dave #9

    I’m Susan, and am a brand new convert to the Catholic Church. I was received this past December. I think you make a very good observation when you ask:

    “For a Calvinist could even asking that question (Is my theology wrong?) be a sign that one is not elect, not hearing Jesus’s voice, and therefore a big obstacle to dealing with these questions honestly.”

    It was definitely an obstacle for me, and so I tried very hard to stay within the sola fide framework. I tried to keep my mind from “going there”, if you know what I mean:), even though there were other issues( The Eucharist, ontological authority vs. derivative authority, sola scriptura…)that were pulling me towards the Catholic side. I felt I was tied to two steeds and was being pulled apart. Both sides….the Reformed and the Catholic touted authority and so I didn’t know where to place my allegiance ( evidence that sola scriptura wasn’t working for me). The Reformed were authoritative because of sola fide, and sola fide was where Jesus was, or so I believed. It took me a long time to entertain the possibility that the Reformers could be wrong about this. The Catholic had authority because they had unity of doctrine concerning essentials……meaning that the RCC actually is the locus where essentials lay as opposed to the different Reformed denominations that called their differences surrounding the sacrament of the Eucharist, unimportant/nonessential. But when I took into consideration that Reformed theology doesn’t have infallibility…a doctrine that was to safe guard sola scriptura….I realized that it was possible that they could be wrong about sola fide. They had, in fact, provided a loophole that I could “unfortunately” appeal to, even though I felt like a heretic doing so. The father’s of The Reformation just couldn’t see what they were doing by splitting. Revealed religion just doesn’t lend itself to this kind of doing. In hind-sight, the holes are huge.

    There is security in the Reformed schema, because they believe that they are erring on the side of Jesus, and so to entertain the idea that the magisterial Reformers were wrong, is tantamount to disbelieving St. Paul and therefore God’s inerrant word. This was the juncture where sola scriptura crumbled. I came to the conclusion that either I was not elect because I could no longer hold to one of the 5 solas, or that Protestantism is wrong. It is very hard to let go of sola fide, but when you discover that the Catholic Church does have a doctrine concerning “faith”…..one that actually doesn’t pit faith against works, you can let go.

    Glad to make your aquaintance:)

  12. Hey Chris and Susan,

    Thanks for sharing your journey and thoughts with me. I appreciate it. Personally I don’t have a big issue with exploring sola fide. I’m not from a strict Reformed background but when I listen to or read some protestant apologetics I feel like sola fide is often treated like it should be an absolute given. It occurred to me, when it was touched on in the podcast how Calvin could label those who disagreed with him as non-elect, that there could be a lot of pressure for a Reformed person to stay within that framework and to avoid questioning that belief because it could be a sign to them that they are not elect.
    I can identify with your past experiences in searching for the true Church. I find my thoughts are currently taking in all kinds of other considerations/pressures/biases besides the search for truth. Its hard to know if I’m being honest and objective.
    My family and I will remember you in our prayers and if you could remember me I’d be thankful,

  13. Anyone have a link for this? Can’t seem to find it anywhere.


  14. Zeke, (re: #13)

    I fixed it, so the links should work now. Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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