Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The wounds of Calvinism have been healed

Written by: on October 19, 2023

July 20, 1996, I was being interviewed for a Youth Pastor position. The one question I remember from the lead pastor was, “Are there any topics you tend to emphasize more than others on a consistent basis?” I felt the atmosphere in the room change after that question. No one had ever asked me that question before or since. I answered “No.” I accepted the position and stayed 15 years at that wonderful church. After being at the church for about two months I realized why there was an uneasiness with the pastor’s question from the committee. Nearly every sermon, and I mean nearly every sermon it was obvious he was a strong Calvinist. What came out in his messages were:

1. God hates sinners but loves the saints
2. Predestination is the most important doctrine in the bible
3. Man is a retched sinner.
4. Psychology is a feel good tool we need to be cautious about
5. Worshiping God should be our priority and not evangelism
6. It’s sacred or secular, us vs. them. The “them” also meant Catholics, Charismatics, or even the seeker sensitive churches.

Hearing the above 6 in some type of way nearly every sermon can emotionally wear a congregation down. Thankfully he was such a loving, gracious, and caring person. His question during my interview process meant others had already spoken to him about preaching Calvinism on a consistent basis. By the time I left I was wounded by anything that looked like Calvinism and didn’t want to be around anyone or any material associated with Calvinism.

Eleven years later I have been exposed to three books I would have never read, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain by D.W. Bebbington, Identity by Francis Fukuyama, and The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism by Max Weber. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three because they have educated me greatly in how capitalism has played a significant role in the growth of evangelicalism in several ways1 and learning about the concept of identity and its role in contemporary politics and society. It was huge for me to see that the human desire for recognition and a sense of identity is a fundamental aspect of human nature.2 But as I read Weber’s book, I realized that my wounds from being exposed to Calvinism so deeply were healed. Healed so much, I enjoyed seeing the word “Calvinist” and being reminded about so many sermons, eldership meetings, and business meetings that brought out Calvinism from my dear pastoral friend. I was free to read, learn, grow, and critique Weber’s book.

Weber begins by examining the idea of the “Protestant ethic” which he defines as a set of values and beliefs associated with certain Protestant religious groups, particularly Calvinism. The Protestant ethic includes values such as hard work, thrift, discipline, and a sense of duty in one’s calling or vocation.3 Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation, particularly Calvinism, contributed to a significant transformation in religious beliefs.4 Calvinists strongly believed in predestination, which meant that only a predetermined few would be saved. This led individuals to an intense sense of personal responsibility and an ascetic lifestyle, characterized by hard work and frugality.

Based upon this, it is no wonder Weber contends that the Protestant ethic, with its emphasis on hard work and saving, became a driving force behind the development of modern capitalism. The “spirit of capitalism” is marked by a rational, systematic approach to economic activity, the pursuit of profit, and the reinvestment of profits for future economic growth.

But throughout his book, Weber made both empirical and theoretical arguments. An empirical argument is based upon observation or experiment, it describes facts that can be proven. For example, Weber’s claim that protestants are more involved than Catholics in capitalistic activities is an empirical argument, based upon his observations in Germany and other studies, which means I might question the validity of such a claim.5 Theoretical arguments are more speculative, their purpose is to give meaning to empirical observations. For example, Weber notices a correlation between ascetic Protestantism and the “spirit of capitalism.”6 What could explain such a connection? It is not possible to simply run an experiment or do a statistical study, which might show correlations, but it will not tell a casual story. Weber looks at his information through the lens of his theory, and ideally his theory would account for all of the relevant facts available.

Of course, I appreciated learning about Calvinism and even appreciated the history of its influence.

1. D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730’3 to the 1980’s, 21.
2. Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, 15.
3. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism and Other Writings, 8.
4. Ibid, 142.
5. Ibid, 314.
6. Ibid, 6,225.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

10 responses to “The wounds of Calvinism have been healed”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    What a great deep dive into Weber and Calvinism. And you paint such a great picture of that interview room in 1996, I can feel the discomfort emanating off of the others in the room. I’m thinking back to what we heard in Oxford, “All leadership is autobiographical.” The case of that pastor sounds a bit extreme, but I wonder what was in his background that made him lean so heavily into Calvinist principles. Then I wonder what are the autobiographical lenses through which I and each of us view the gospel.

    • Hello Kim, it was a Mennonite church and the pastor had grown up in the Mennonite denomination. His parents, especially his dad was a very strict “black bumper” Mennonite who grew up in the Deep South: Alabama. That gives a little more insight but maybe not much. I love your insight about all of us viewing the gospel through our own autobiographical lens because it is so true!

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Todd,
    I am glad that your wounds are healed and you really can preach from your scars!

    I must be lazy. I think it must be hard to live as a Calvinist. Come to think of it, it might be equally hard to be an Arminian.

    I claim Grace and rush the alter.

    I keep on circling back to capitalism as a cultural aspect that can taint our faith if we let it. Certainly in the U.S.A. consumerism (the cousin of capitalism) has intertwined itself into our faith.

    I am sure that whatever Satan meant for evil that God can turn to Good.


    • Hey Russell, I never thought consumerism was the cousin of capitalism but now that you say it, I can see it. I can see how both feed each other as the cycle goes round and round. This gives me something to think about during my next blog. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, sir!

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    Thank you for sharing from your life story and recounting it with such grace and love for the pastor you served under. It’s interesting how you may not have been able to articulate what the cause was, but you felt something was off and eventually saw the results.
    I’m so thankful that no matter what we go through, especially in ministry, God uses it to shape and form us for His glory.

  4. Hey Esther, thanks for pointing out how God uses life to shape us. After reading your words I thought, “Yeah, how did the culture of Calvinism impact me?” The truth is, it wasn’t Calvism, it was more of my friend’s consistent teaching of the same thing over and over and over again. Therefore, because of this experience, it gives me more patience and understanding for when a person is so committed to their doctrine that they are unaware of how they are emotionally causing damage to their listeners. Thanks for allowing me to process this.

  5. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Todd!

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.
    I am surprised that your past experience shows how hurt you are because of such massive exposure to Calvinist doctrine. Thank God you have now recovered.
    In your perspective, does the doctrine of predestination still have the same impact on its adherents as it did in the past?

    • Hey Dinka. it is challenging hearing nearly the same thing every week and also having to navigate when someone left because of the strong Calvinists beliefs. But it helped me to be patient with others for their strong beliefs. Something, I am thankful for.

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Todd, I really enjoy where you settle in with life and the church, your own past and the concept of healing! Keep being a voice of reason in this world Todd, it needs you deeply!!

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