Can one be a Pentecostal Calvinist?

Indeed this is an interesting question.  James K. A. Smith, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Calvin College writes on this topic as he shares his own thinking and experience on the issue in this Christianity Today Article: Teaching a Calvinist to Dance.  

Here is an excerpts to get your curiosity going: 

There, in that Pentecostal church in Stratford, Ontario—once home to Aimee Semple McPherson—God showed up. Encountering him in ways I hadn’t experienced or imagined before, God shook my intellectual framework and rattled my spiritual cage at the same time.

But let me add one more layer to this story: Just as I was being immersed in the Spirit’s activity and presence in Pentecostal spirituality and worship, I started a master’s degree in philosophical theology at the Institute for Christian Studies, a graduate school in the Dutch Reformed tradition at the University of Toronto. So my week looked a bit odd: Monday to Friday I was immersed in the intellectual resources of the Reformed tradition, diving into the works of Calvin, Kuyper, and Dooyeweerd.

Then on Sunday we’d show up at the Pentecostal church where, to be honest, things got pretty crazy sometimes. It was a long way from Toronto to Stratford, if you know what I mean—about the same distance from Geneva to Azusa Street.

For a lot of folks, that must sound like trying to inhabit two different space-time continuums. But I never experienced much tension between these worlds. Of course, my church and academic world didn’t bump into one another. Dooyeweerd and Jack Hayford don’t often cross paths. But in a way, I felt that they met in me—and they seemed to fit. I experienced a deep resonance between the two. In fact, I would suggest that being charismatic actually makes me a better Calvinist; my being Pentecostal is actually a way for me to be more Reformed.

Oooh… Juicy stuff! Looks like has some books I might want to think about reading and some blogs to think about adding to my blogroll (perhaps not a true blog since the comments are turned off).   

Let me know what you think! 


31 responses to “Can one be a Pentecostal Calvinist?

  1. I really like JKA Smith. This book should be interesting. I wonder if he is a 5 point Calvinist type. His book on Postmodernism was awesome. His book on Radical Orthodoxy just confused me and I didn’t finish it. I want to get his book on Creational Hermeneutics.


  2. I think the answer is yes. But if your focus, as a Pentecostal, is on personal experience, speaking in tongues, baptism in the holy spirit (as accompanied with sign gifts–not as someone like John Piper defines it), and doing many other things classic Pentecostals have done/preached (i.e. “slayings”, focusing more on Satan’s power than Christs, and preaching against the assurance of the believer) then you aren’t a Calvinist.

    Calvinism is about Christocentric worship, God-entranced worldview, an undying commitment to the sovereignty of God, and pursuing God’s end goal, namely his glory and our joy (see Westminster Confession, Q1). From my perspective in both interacting with Pentecostals most of my life and reading many articles/chapters about this perspective, that wouldn’t define most Pentecostals.

    With that said, I have no doubt that Smith is sincere and is both “Pentecostal” and “Calvinist.” (Though I don’t like the name “Pentecostal” becaues Pentecostal theology does not jive well with Reformed doctrine). However, I think the better question would be: Can you have a Pentecostal “experience” and be a Calvinist. The obvious answer is: Yes. Clear example: Paul. To call oneself a Pentecostal, with the connotation that has been assigned to it in America today, and a Calvinist seems, to me, a bit of an oxymoron.

  3. “Can you have a Pentecostal “experience” and be a Calvinist. The obvious answer is: Yes. Clear example: Paul.”

    Paul was a Calvinist? Hah! What a funny anachronism.

    I’m sorry your perspective of Pentecostals is so negative and that you do not see them as Christ centered and concerned with God’s glory. But I don’t think any Pentecostal would say those things you listed as Pentecostal focuses are really their FOCUS, but instead important aspects of their faith that they beleive need to be brought back into practice by the church instead of dismissed or relegated to a less important status when in fact they are gifts from Christ to his church and thus should be put into practice because Christ obviously thought they were important enough to give them to us.


    • Im so sorry that so much time has gone by, but I am elated by your answer to the question; Pentacostcalvinists? I would like to know if you still hold to this (as I do)? and would you mind contacting me for discussion and fellowship?

  4. The Paul comment was intended humor (partially). Sometimes that’s hard to convey on electronic mediums. haha. But we do have to have labels–people like labels. Shouldn’t Calvinists then be called Paulinians? Wouldn’t that make more sense since Paul clearly teaches (as does the whole of Scripture) a Calvinistic theology?

    I will admit, that I do have a negative perspective with Pentecostals–but not because of what I’ve read. I have seen and experienced things that are just simply not in line with Scripture. My mom’s family is entirely Pentecostal (not my mom, though). I’ve dated two Pentecostal girls (don’t ask me why–that’s a horse of a different color). Bottom line, for my entire life (as short as it is), I’ve been around Pentecostals, been hurt by them, and have seen their, what seems to me, “hokey” theology.

    I believe all the spiritual gifts exist. Do I speak in tongues? No. Do I have the gift of healing? No. Some people have those gifts, but if they are not performed in line with the teaching of Scripture (esp. 1 Cor. 14) then it’s not longer “Pentecostal” or whatever you want to call it–it’s disobeying God.

    • To refer to Paul (the apostle of Christ) as a calvinist is very much off the mark. John Calvin was the man behind the Calvinist theology or to put it better – teaching.
      There were som things that Johj Calvin promulgated that were totally foreign to Paul’s teaching.
      “Even so, Calvin made this remark regarding Servetus, showing that he believed death for heresy was justifiable.
      “But I am unwilling to pledge my word for his safety, for if he shall come [to Geneva], I shall never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail.” [1]
      During Servertus’ trial, Calvin remarked: “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.” [2]

      Paul would have rebuked John Calvin for this, just as he did Peter for his hypocrisy.. These kinds of practices of JCalvin did not show the tender heart of Paul who wept over the ones going astray.
      There are many other things that are revealed in the post above – but suffice to say that to call Paul a calviinist is to distort truith.
      Jesus said by their fruit you shall know them.
      Paul could weep day and night over his congregations, fasting often for them with prayers and much intreaty and tenderheatedness. Moses was the meeknest man on the earth for a very long time yet he had such audience with God.
      Paul was of the same ilk as Moses, incredibly meek yet knew the power of Christ more than most. Moses intereceded with God for fourty days and nights in a fast, to procure the mercy of God foir His people.
      John C may have been an intellecttual giant, but the fruits he portrayed as given in the post above do not measure up to the principles of 1 Corinthians 13.

      But in saying this I do not condemn John C. I hope that he changed before he breathed his last. Jesus did say that how you have judged others, you will be judged.
      May the Lord have mercy on us all

  5. An anachronism is to read one thing back into another previous thing – to take the term deacon in 1&2 Timothy and apply that back into the case of Acts 6 would be a bit anachronistic – I think calling Paul a Calvinist is also an anachronism because it is reading Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture back into Paul trying to say Paul’s view of things was Calvin’s – that would seem to be in danger of elevating Calvin over Paul. Calvin had his interpretive grid through which he understood Scripture (the 1500’s; a Feudal Lord-Peasant system, etc) Paul had his own (Second Temple Judaism, Phariseeism, encounter with the risen Lord, etc).

    I also think splitting Pentecostalism and Reformed theology may be a false or unnecessary dichotomy – though in truth the majority of Pentecostals are more Arminian in their theology. I guess I am on the side of a more rational Pentecostal theology that emphasizes a Spirit empowered life glorifying to Christ – this can still fall under the rubric of God’s sovereignty – there are lots of Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, and Reformed (the list goes on) folks who are also Pentecostals.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding.

  6. Brian, as I said, the Calvin-Paul comment was supposed to be humorous, but still, if we were to ask, “Who was the first Calvinist?” We would say in jest, “Paul.” I know what an anachronism is, and the point I was making is, yes someone can, for example, speak in tongues and believe in predestination. Paul was such a person.

    I was in no way elevating Calvin over Paul–sorry if it seemed like I was doing that. It wasn’t my intention. I was simply trying to make a point.

    And by the way, I go to a PCA church (though I’m not a Presbyterian). I don’t know any of them who are Pentecostal–and the same goes for Lutheran and Baptist, etc. I’d be interested in hearing why you made that statement.

  7. Shouldn’t Calvinists then be called Paulinians? Wouldn’t that make more sense since Paul clearly teaches (as does the whole of Scripture) a Calvinistic theology?

    It’s funny how Calvinists are the only folks who seem to see this. Must be one of the benefits of election. 😉

    And Brian, would you consider those groups you named as actually Pentecostal, or simply Charismatic? I’d opt for the latter.

  8. Mike, there are two main differences between Pentecostals and Charismatics. The first is theology centering around if tongues are the primary sign of Spirit Baptism or not. The other one is a historical difference. I talk about the tongues difference here and the historical difference here.

    It’s not perfect and there are probably other things I could mention but I think it is sufficient. Hope this helps. -Brian

  9. Mike: Basically, I see Charismatics as non-cessationists (or continuationists, whichever you prefer) in practice. ‘Charismatic’ is a broad category that encompasses many denominations, so you can have Charismatic Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc. So I’d say that all Pentecostals are Charismatics, but not all Charismatics are Pentecostals. Kind of like all ducks are birds, but not all birds are ducks. The way to differentiate would be to look at the distinctive doctrines of each denomination.

  10. Nick, I can’t tell if your comment about Calvinists is sarcasm or seriousness. The winking face doesn’t help me out.

    In today’s world, it’s hard to differentiate between Charismatics and Pentecostals. The two camps have practically been merged. I am Reformed. I believe all the gifts are still available today. I do not speak in tongues. I side with Wayne Grudem on the issue of Baptism the Holy Spirit (see Systematic Theology, ch.39). I hope, by God’s grace, I use my gifts in a way that shows the supremacy of Christ, not the gifts.

    Most people would say that this would earn me the label of a “Reformed Charismatic.” However, the word “Charismatic” has such negative connotations in today’s Evangelical lingo that I refuse to apply it to myself.

  11. Pentecostals and charismatics have not merged at all. There is overlap but they are not the same. Being a Pentecostal is like being a Methodist or a Baptists or a Presbyterian; it’s a denomination. Being charismatic means you hold to beliefs and practices about the Holy Spirit (specifically in regards to the gifts) that historically were unique to Pentecostals (although now Pentecostals by default would fall under the umbrella of charismatic). You can be part of most any denomination (including the Catholic church or even nondenominational) and be a charismatic. Whereas Pentecostals generally hold to other beliefs about the church, eschatology, etc. and not just about the Holy Spirit.

    And I don’t think “Charismatic” has negative connotations in Evangelicalism. That may just be the case in the circle you run in.


  12. Mike: According to people such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Stanley Horton, and Donald Dayton, it’s a recognition and emphasis on four fundamental doctrines: (1) Salvation, (2) Healing, (3) Baptism in the Holy Spirit, (4) Second Coming of Christ. Dayton says:

    These four themes are well-nigh universal within the movement, appearing, as we have been arguing, in all branches and varieties of Pentecostalism. (Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, (Hendrickson, 1996), 21-22)

    I’d say that the main distinctive is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. We generally view this as an event subsequent to salvation while not all Charismatics do.

  13. Turner is a Baptist (a charismatic Baptists). He has a good book on the Holy Spirit called The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts.

    As Mike mentioned Fee and Turner don’t believe in baptism subsequent to the HS and in fact I think Fee has specifically taken on his denomination on this (as far as writing papers against it).

    Craig Keener lists in his book “Gift and Giver” (a wonderfully candid book) other scholars who are charismatics or Pentecostals like Ben Witherington, Richard Hays, Peter Davids, Michael Green, Michael Holmes, and he said he’s even heard that Martin Lloyd Jones was.


  14. Dear brothers,
    Was Jesus a Calvinist, or a Pentecostalist, or a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, or an Arminianist? Or was He all of them? Or none of them?
    Paul said each one of you is saying they are of Apollos, or of Peter, another of Paul and another of Jesus. He went on to say that this is carnal thinking, fit for babies in the faith, but not mature sons of God. We are infatuated with Labelism.

    God in His mercy and in His Sovereignty works in spite of the labels we so proudly or not so proudly wear.
    Why can’t we get back to beiing disciples of Jesus Christ the Lord. and hear and do all that He says? We are supposed to think the same thing and make the same judgments. – 1 Cor 10 This was a charge given by Jesus Christ to Paul, and Paul issues it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Not unimportant in the least.

    Unless we become as little children we will not enter into the Kingdom of God.- Jesus said this to His own learned disciples. Humility and innocent dependance.

    Last time I read Corinthians, Paul was sayig by the Holy spirit, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were just that “Gifts of (belonging to) the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has not moved or changed. People have.
    Paul particualrly details what he means by the term ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit.’ 1 Cor 12. There are nine listed, and these are gifts belonging to the Holy Spirit. They always remain the Holy Spirit’s property…but He dispenses them as HE WILLS.
    The gift of tongues and interpretation following is to build up the body of Christ, while being a sign to the unbeliever. Prophecy is a sign to the believer.

    When Paul says I pray in tongues more than you all, he was not speaking about the gift of tongues and its interpretation following for the assembly meeting. He is talking about speaking in tongues (a language unlearned by human means) to God privately. When so praying his spirit is being edified, but his understanding is unfruitful. This means that his mind does not comprehend what his mouth is saying in prayer. Paul was a linguist par excellence, but whenever he may have prayed using those languages he mind was fruitful because he understaood what he was saying in prayer by them.
    About this activity he calls it praying in the spirit, and he is NOT at that time speaking to men, but speaking directly to God via his spirit. He is conscious of what he is doing by faith in the enabling of the Holy Spirit and he is in full control of his faculties, but it is just that his mind is infruitful.
    About this acitivty which Paul says is praying in the spirit, he wishes that all would pray/speak in tongues, but rather that you prophesy in the assembly.

    Jesus Himself said that we ought to ask the Father to fill us with His Holy Spirit, and that the Father would do so. and this was for believers to receive not unbelievers.

    But the praying in the spirit (with the Holy Spirit’s enbabling) is praying directly to God bypassing our human minds. This is a blessing that God has given His people so that they may edify themselves in more private prayer times. What would God not want each of His children to pray in this way as did all the early church believers? Or are we better than they?

    let us receive all from the Lord Jesus He has provided for His bride, through His own sacrifice. God bless you all in Jesus


  15. …another point to make is that there seems to often have been ‘extremes’ or what has been called so in modern accounts of ‘revival’ or ‘moves of God’.

    Let is be said that in the work of the Holy Spirt of God there are no extremes. The work of the Holy Spirit is always orderly and decent. – 1 Cor 14:40.

    We must also keep in mind the railing of the hardhearted against the work of God. Jesus full of the Holy Spirit was referred to as being out of His mind. The 120 in the upper room were ridiculed as being drunk.
    And sadly and tragically, some who call themselves by the name of Christ capitalize on such statements to emboldened their own ungodly teaching or practice on the matters of the gifts of the Holy Sprit and bring a reproach upon the name of our Lord and His house.

    But these ungodly and unholy ‘extremes’ might better be referred to as works of the flesh – soulish rather than pure spiritual works born of the Holy Spirit.

    God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap.

    It is dangerous to call something born of God by some other label; it is equally dangerous to call something not born of God, the work of God. There is fault on botehr sides of the camp. True spiritual activity always glorifies Jesus Christ, and always produces the fruits of the HOLY Spirit – the peacable fruits of righteousness,in the recipient.
    And one last thing here, while Paul plainly states that we are NOT to despise prophesies, nor are we to forbid speaking in tongues, and that we are to rather seek the most appropriate gifts, the gifts are not to be an end in themselves but rather that they are meant to establish the true Gospel – Word of the Lord Jesus Christ in the hearts of His people.
    We are to seek the GIver above all things.
    Just because we are ignorant is no grounds for us to dismiss the things that God has made available through the Giving of His Beloved Son for the blessing of His people and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
    All the gifts and fruits are part of the grace of the God of all grace.

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