How to Tell if a Church, Pastor, or Website is Calvinist (extended version)

(For the simplified version, click here.)

We just left our home church of almost 20 years because of the dogmatic Calvinist pastor who recently came on board.  Unfortunately, our church was one of the best around, with some of the most biblical teaching.  WAS!  And so now we are struggling with where to go next.  

(I just heard that, apparently, the elders were aware of how dogmatic he was before they hired him.  And so even if he left the church, I would have a hard time going back until I saw who they hired next.  Because I don't think I can trust their judgment.  It seems that basically all of the elders and other pastors are Calvinists too.  We had no clue because Calvinism never came up with the previous pastor.  No one ever pushed their Calvinist views on anyone else ... until this new pastor.  Read my "Letter to Our Elders Regarding Calvinism Growing in Our Church" here.)    

Anyway, for years, this church was the best around - best programs, best people, best size, with the most reliable theology.  All the other churches around here are either too big (mega churches), too small (we couldn't just casually visit with our family of 6 without drawing attention), or too doctrinally off-base (many, many of those).  

And being an introvert myself, and having been in various churches for over 35 years (seeing all the nonsense that can go with it), and being a little wary now about wayward churches ... I don't want to go to another church anytime soon.  We've been at that church almost 20 years.  We know those people well.  We have friends there.  We raised our kids alongside those people.  It's really hard to think about starting all over again somewhere else.  Sadly, we didn't just lose our home church; we lost our whole spiritual support system and our friends and the future we envisioned for our family, attending the same church with future generations, maybe even future in-laws if our boys found good spouses in that church.  

But now ... we are floundering like a fish out of water, flopping around on dry land, unsure of what to do next, of how to get back into the safety of the water.

I mean, I love visiting with other believers to talk about spiritual things, but I don't think I can go to another church building and start all over again with a new group of people.  I'm just not ready for that yet.  (Not sure if I ever will be.)  And so, for now, we are simply staying at home and watching good online sermons.  And that's got to be good enough for now.  

[I would actually love it if we simply met with another family on Sundays in each other's homes, watched online sermons together or did a Bible study, and spent some time praying and talking about spiritual things.  That would be ideal right now.  And since we can't serve at our old church anymore because we are no longer members - it hurt my husband deeply to have to leave the kids' ministries he's worked in for almost 15 years - I consider blogging as my way of contributing to the church - Capital C Church - the world-wide body of believers.  

Trust me, I wish I didn't have to write about these things.  I don't enjoy speaking against my old church that I loved so much.  I never planned on studying Calvinism or going on a crusade against it.  I didn't go looking for this job.  It came to me.  Calvinism hurt our church, our friendships, our future, and my family.  And so I cannot sit by quietly as it infects more churches and more families and more people's faith.  If this is the job God gave me, I will do it and I will try my best to do it well.  For the people, for the Truth of the Gospel, and for His glory!]

Anyway ... I've been thinking about what steps I would take to make sure we didn't end up in another Calvinist church, if we started looking at churches again.  And I figured I'd post my ideas here, in case they might help someone else too.  (Be aware that some of the links I provide are for pro-Calvinist sites and some are for anti-Calvinist sites and some are for Arminian sites, though I am not Arminian.  I try to note the Calvinist ones so that you are not misled by them, thinking that I am linking to only anti-Calvinist sites.)

So, how can you spot a Calvinist pastor or church or website?  What tips might help you avoid falling into a Calvinist church or website?  

This is by no means an official list or an exhaustive list, nor a “one size fits all” list.  And these shouldn't be taken as absolutes.  This is just my opinion of some of the “red flags” that would make me concerned and some of the steps I might take to determine if a church or pastor is Calvinist.  (TS00, a regular commenter at Soteriology 101, added a few ideas that I didn't think of.  Thank you.  I highly recommend the anti-Calvinist websites of Soteriology 101, Beyond the Fundamentals, and Hoppers Crossing Christian Church.)  

I'll look at websites later, but first:

How to Tell if a Pastor or Church is Calvinist:

1.  Find out what Calvinism really teaches first, so that you can learn to notice the signs.  Calvinists, especially if they think you disagree with Calvinism, will tend to be evasive about their true beliefs.  They will only tell you the parts you will agree with.  So get to know their theology well so that you can interpret what they're saying and know what they're hiding.  This will also help you know which questions to ask to get past the first "smoke-screen" answers they give you, to help you get to the inner layers of their theology, to flush out what they really believe.  Here is a post on Calvinism in their own words.  And here are two more to give you a good grasp of what Calvinism is: "Why I Disagree With All 5 Points of Calvinism" and "What's Wrong With 5-Point Calvinism".  

2.  Check out the church’s website, particularly their Statements of Faith.  This won’t always be a dead-give-away because Calvinist theology can be worded in a way that escapes setting off alarm bells.   

But it can provide clues, especially if you notice one or more of these kinds of words and phrases: election, predestination, decree, ordains, fore-ordains, sovereignty, sovereign control, "doctrines of grace," covenant theology, reformed theology, man is utterly depraved and totally wicked from birth, man is totally dead and unable to respond to God without the work of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit regenerates sinners before they can believe, or God fore-ordained all things since before time began.  

The phrase "Before earth was created, God chose to redeem for Himself a group of people" should make you concerned.  Many of us would interpret this as God choosing to take a group of people to heaven with Him, but that we have to decide to be part of that group or not, as in "God decided there would be people in heaven with Him, those who choose to believe in Him."  But it could be that they really mean that God chose who got to be in that group and who didn't, as in "God predestined who He would take to heaven, and those not chosen can never be part of this group."      

(And be aware that many Calvinist pastors know that Calvinism is a hotly-contested and highly-inflammatory subject, so they will do their best to avoid the terms “Calvinism” and “Calvinist.”  Check out this highly Calvinist theology by J.D. Greear, who is attempting to downplay his Calvinism:  "Pastor J.D., Are You A Calvinist?")

Here is an example of what's clearly a Calvinist Statement of Faith.  Notice that most of it sounds fine, worded in such a way to not set off any alarms.  But here are the things that should alert and alarm you:

... "reformed" and "doctrines of grace"

... the role of the Holy Spirit is to basically give us faith, instead of Him responding to our choice to put our faith in Jesus.  [Calvinists don't believe faith is a choice, but that it's something Calvi-god gives to the elect, and only the elect.]

... because of the fall, man became "inwardly depraved and, apart from a special work of grace, utterly incapable of returning to God.  This depravity is radical and pervasive."  [Calvinists love to emphasize how "depraved" we are, as if to show how supremely humble and "God-honoring" they are to reduce themselves so low and elevate God so high.  (Yet they do this in a way that is not biblical, that God Himself doesn't even support - such as by deciding that "God is sovereign" must mean that "God has to control every tiny detail, even our sins, or else He's not really a sovereign God."  Yet God Himself shows us in His Word that He has chosen to not use His sovereign power to control everything.  He is over and above all and has the final say in everything and works all things into His plans, but He has allowed us to have a certain amount of freedom and to make real choices within boundaries.  This is how He has decided to use His power, as clearly seen all throughout His Word.  And I wonder, if Calvinists alter the Gospel and God's character to show how "humble" and "God-honoring" they are, can that really be considered humble and God-honoring?  Sounds like a satanic scheme to me, using humility and the desire to honor God against God, against Truth.)  And it takes a "special work of grace" (Calvi-god's election of certain pre-chosen people and their regeneration by the Holy Spirit) to cause people - the elect only! - to return to God.]

... This depravity "extends to his mind, will, and affections.  Unregenerate man lives under the dominion of sin and Satan."  [This doesn't just mean that the Fall affected all parts of us negatively, that it separated us from God and put us under the influence of sin and Satan.  It doesn't just mean that depraved people don't generally want God or seek God.  It means that depraved, unregenerate people (ultimately meaning those predestined to hell, because the elect are predestined to be regenerated) are incapable of seeking God, wanting God, or thinking about God.  They can only always want to sin and choose to sin.  They can never want to - never have the ability to - seek God, want God, choose God, or obey God, because Calvi-god predetermined they would get the "unregenerate" nature, which only comes with the desire to sin and rebel and reject God.  Whereas, Calvi-god regenerates the elect by giving them the Holy Spirit to "wake them up spiritually," giving them the "regenerate" nature which contains the desire to seek him, obey him, repent and be saved.  Calvi-god determines which nature you get, and you can only do what your nature tells you to do.  And you can never do anything to change or affect your Calvi-god-determined nature, meaning that the unregenerate can never be or want to be regenerated.  If you weren't chosen as one of the elect, then your mind, will, and affections (desires) will always be depraved, and you will always be incapable of wanting/seeking/choosing/obeying God, and you will never be able to do anything to change your condition.  Because you weren't chosen.]

... "Man's response to the gospel is rooted and grounded in the free and unconditional election of God for His own pleasure and glory."  [This means that Calvi-god decides who responds to the Gospel and who doesn't, for his pleasure and glory.  And this means that Calvi-god is pleased to predestine some to heaven and the rest to hell, that it's for his glory that some are in heaven and the rest are in hell.  Both are equally glorifying to him, just as evil and good are, since he causes both things - all things - for his pleasure and glory.  (Think about the implications of that!)  The "unconditional" part doesn't mean that Calvi-god offers salvation unconditionally to everyone.  The "free and unconditional" part is only for the elect, meaning that Calvi-god gives faith/salvation to the elect without any conditions they must meet first, not even "choosing to believe the Gospel" or "choosing to put your faith in God" or "accepting Jesus."  Because Calvinists believe these things are "working for salvation."  And since we can't work for salvation, they say that we can't do these things either.  (But the problem is they mis-define these as "works," which changes the whole Gospel and how we get salvation.)  And so the elect are prechosen for salvation and regenerated (filled with and regenerated by Calvi-Holy Spirit) before they can even understand/respond to the Gospel and before they believe and repent.  In Calvinism, being chosen and regenerated has to come first, so that the elect have the ability to hear/respond to the Gospel and to believe and repent.  Everyone else - those not chosen - remain prisoners to their depraved "sin nature" and can never be saved.]

... "the gospel is only effectual to those who genuinely repent of their sins and, by God's grace, put saving faith in Christ."  [In Calvinism, this doesn't mean that anyone can repent, just that those who do repent - which will only be the elect! - will be saved.  (Just like Calvinists say that anyone can come to Christ if they "want to," knowing full well that they believe only the elect can and will want to, that the non-elect can never want to.  It's word trickery, to make you think they are saying that anyone can come to Christ, that salvation is truly available to all, when they are really not saying this at all.)  In Calvinism, "God's grace" determines who has faith and who doesn't.  And Calvi-god's grace is only for the elect.  So if he didn't choose to give you his grace, then you never have the chance to find saving faith in Jesus.]

... "Anyone turning from sin in repentance"  [I only include this because, while it is a critical part of salvation, Calvinists say this instead of anything having to do with someone putting their faith in Jesus, or accepting Jesus, or choosing to believe in Jesus.  There is no room in Calvinism for these things because, as I pointed out, they believe this is "working for our salvation."  And so in the absence of those kinds of phrases, they say "repenting of sins."  Although I don't know how they can think that choosing to believe in Jesus is "works," but repenting of sin is not.  Interesting!  Although they would probably say that the elect don't repent to become saved, but that they repent because they were already chosen to be saved, because the Holy Spirit regenerated them.]

... "persevere in the faith (one of the five petals of the Calvinist TULIP] ... the believer's ultimate confidence to persevere is in the sure promise of God to preserve his people to the end."  [This means that if you are definitely one of the elect then God will cause you to persevere, to keep your faith till the end.  But the downside is that if you don't persevere, you must not have been one of the elect.  And you won't know for sure whether you are truly elected or not until the end, until and unless you persevere to the end.  Talk about "working" for your salvation!  See the section on "evanescent grace" in this post, to see how "secure" a Calvinist's salvation really is.] 

... God "creates the Church, calling sinful men out of the whole human race"  [To me, this sounds like they are NOT saying that God calls all sinful men of the world to repent and become part of the Church, but that Calvi-god has called and chosen certain, specific men from the whole human race to be part of the Church.  Big difference!]

Also pay attention to any other "historic confessions" that they believe in, such as the London Baptist Confessions, Westminster Confession, New Hampshire Confession, Abstract Principles, Canons of Dort, Heidelberg Catechism ... (Check out this list and this other list of the historic confessions that are common in reformed churches.  I haven't read these confessions myself; I am just passing on what I've found online.  And apparently, the "Baptist Faith and Message" 2000 seems to have a clear Calvinist-bent, especially given that Albert Mohler is one of the main shapers of that statement.  See point #5 in that link, about the trend towards Calvinism.)

3.  Watch some of their sermons online and read their blogs.  Listen for things that I mentioned above, for messages on predestination, election/being one of God’s elect, the sovereignty of God, Doctrines of Grace (code word for "Calvinism"), the total depravity of man.  (And be forewarned, Calvinists LOVE God's grace.  They talk about it all the time.  But they don't mean that God's grace is for all people.  They mean that God's grace - His saving grace - is only for the elect, for them.  Lucky, special people!)    

Even listen for things like “Man can't seek God on his own.  The Holy Spirit has to regenerate us before we can understand the Gospel, seek God, or believe in Jesus.  God opened Lydia's eyes.  Man's main purpose is to glorify God.  God’s greatest focus and priority is His glory.  His biggest goal is to be famous among the people.  He loves Himself more than people, because if He didn’t, He’d be an idolater.”  

Does he talk about Romans a lot, especially Romans 9?  Ask around to see if he's done any long series in Romans.  (Calvinists love Romans 9 because they believe it proves their view.)  

(For a "hypothetical" story of how one church was taken over by Calvinism, see "What the Best Way to Make People Agree with Your Calvinist Views?"  And on a different note, my own personal opinion is that Calvinism and legalism go hand-in-hand.  If you are in a church that seems highly critical and that highly emphasizes "proper" behavior, "for God's glory, of course," then you may be in a Calvinist church.  Calvinist leaders tend to have a high view of themselves, of their authority, and they like to maintain a "tight ship."  So just be aware of this.  Because it may trap good Christians who really just want to do their best to live a life that honors God.)  

4.  Google the church to see if anyone says anything about them.  Are there reviews on yelp or something like that?  

I recently posted a yelp review, saying that although it's a great church that we loved, we had to leave due to the pastor's Calvinism, a theology we don't agree with.  And I challenged people to study this issue for themselves, to see if they think it's biblical or not.  I just wanted to make sure that other people were alerted to what's going on, to the fact that there's something they should be aware of and maybe be concerned about.  Many people have little to no clue what Calvinism is, and so they don't know how to listen for it and they don't know to be concerned about it.  And I feel like if I don't make my concerns known to others, then it will be partly my fault if they fall into it.  

And pay attention even to the name of their church or blog.  It may be a clue, especially if the words “reformed” or “grace” or “sovereign” are in it, such as the church in the "statement of faith" link above: "Sovereign Grace."  It doesn't get much more Calvinist than that, unless it was called "The Reformed Calvinist Church of God's Sovereign Grace and Sovereign Control in Election and Predestination."  (Here's a link that shows some of the denominations that are known to be Calvinist: Christian Theology: 5 Christian Denominations That Follow Calvinism.)

5.  And when listening to sermons, don’t just listen to what they do say, but also listen for what they aren’t saying.  This is huge!  Oftentimes, it's not what they say that's the problem, but it's what they don't say that's the problem.  And it's these underlying, hidden beliefs that make all the difference.  Because they will usually present only the easy-to-swallow stuff, cleverly disguised to be palatable and "biblical," but they will hide the really ugly parts of  Calvinism.  The parts that - if you knew about them - would make you run the other way.  

(I am not saying that they are being deliberately deceptive or trying to lead people into error.  The sad thing is, they truly believe this stuff for themselves, and they've surrounded themselves with "proof" for Calvinism, from all the Calvinist theologians out there.  But since they are aware of how divisive Calvinism is - and how much it will scare people off if they laid it out clearly - they will usually only tell you half of half of what they really believe.  Reeling you in bit by bit.  So never trust their first answer.  It's just the outer layer on the onion.  (See "Confronting Calvinism's Deceptive Nonsense" and "When Calvinism's 'Bad Logic' Traps Good Christians" and "Why Is Calvinism So Dangerous.")  

Are the sermons all lofty theological messages, devoid of practical encouragement and help?  (My Calvinist pastor is a very academic, lofty-type speaker, as though he should have been a seminary professor or the author of a book.  He's a pastor for the head, not the heart.)  

Do they not do altar calls?  Do they refuse to call people to "ask Jesus into their hearts," focusing instead on calling people to repent?  (Doing altar calls and calling people to "ask Jesus into their hearts" implies that we can make a choice about God.  And Calvinists do not want us thinking we can make choices regarding our salvation.)  

What is their view of missions, evangelizing, reaching out to the community?  Due to the fact that Calvinists believe that God elects who will believe and that the elect are destined to become believers no matter what and that there's nothing anyone can do to change it, some Calvinist pastors do not have a passion for missions or even see the point of it.  

But this isn't always the case.  

My Calvinist pastor has a huge passion for mission work.  And I couldn't figure out why ... until I found some articles he wrote where he shared his reason and goal for missions.  His reasons sounded okay at first, but then I noticed that something was missing: God's love.

His reason for missions has nothing to do with sharing God's love for people, telling them how Jesus loved them enough to die for them, calling them to reach out to Him, to accept Him as Lord and Savior (because, once again, that would imply we have a choice about Jesus).  It mainly has to do with "making God famous" (because, according to him, God's highest goal is to be famous) and "telling people to repent."  So a Calvinist may indeed have a heart for missions, but for very different reasons than you would think.  

(And personally, I think "making God famous" instead of "telling people about God's love for them and the truth of Jesus's sacrifice for the world" is a wrong reason for evangelism.  I think it misses the heart of God and His true goal for us.  And of course, if they do tell the people about God's love for them and Jesus's sacrifice for them, they mean it's only for the elect.  It's just that they don't know who the elect are, and so they tell everyone ... when what they really mean is that God's saving love, grace, and offer of salvation is only available for the elect.) 

Does the pastor focus on the glory of God, on how our main purpose is to bring God glory (they elevate His glory so high that they do damage to His love for us, to the relationship He wants to have with us)?  Does he talk about how much God loves Himself, with little to no focus on God’s love for mankind and His desire for a relationship with us?  (See "Are We Only Here For God's Glory?  What About God's Love?")

Also listen for "either/or" dilemmas, with no other options given.  Calvinist pastors do this to force you into Calvinism.  "Either God actively controls everything or else He controls nothing."  "Either God is sovereign over us or we are sovereign over ourselves."  "Either God saves us or we save ourselves."  This is to cause you to feel so "humbled," so ashamed for thinking too highly of yourself, that you will accept their teachings just so you don't look like you are reducing God and elevating yourself.  It's manipulation.

[Additional note:  One thing to watch out for with Calvinists is that they will say one thing in one place but the opposite thing in another place.  So never trust a quote from a Calvinist author or theologian.  Because there will be another quote you didn't hear where they said the exact opposite.  Or they will simply add a bunch of qualifiers to what they first said which will change the meaning completely.  (It's like I say: It's what they hide that makes all the difference!).  

Here are a couple examples from John Calvin himself:

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 1, he says:  "For, until men feel that they owe everything to God ... they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience ..."

This makes it sound like men have the free-will to choose to obey or disobey God.

But how is "voluntary obedience" possible when, according to Calvin, ...

"... everything done in the world is according to His decree..."  (Book 1, Chapter 16, section 6) and ...

"... the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as [God] permits - nay, unless in so far as he commands ..."  (Book 1, Chapter 17, section 11) and ...

"The counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined" (Book 1, Chapter 16, section 8)?

Additionally, in Book, 2, Chapter 2, section 8, he scolds people for believing in free-will and says that they should not believe in it, saying, "If any one, then, chooses to make use of this term [free-will] ... but I am unwilling to use it myself; and others if they will take my advice, will do well to abstain from it."

Never mind the fact that Calvin just said he is "unwilling" to use the term "free-will" - that he wills himself to not believe in free-will (ha ha ha, what a joke!) - but this contradicts his view that we can obey God voluntarily, of our own free-will choice.  (And ... just wondering ... but how can he reason with people to not believe in free-will when he believes that God makes all of our choices for us?  Talk about nonsense!)

Another example:  In Book 1, Chapter 17, Section 5, Calvin says this about wicked people:  "I deny that they serve the will of God."  He says that we CANNOT say that "he who has been carried away by a wicked mind are performing service on the order of God" because the evil person is "only following his own malignant desires," not acting in obedience.

And yet ... just a couple sections later, as we see above ... he says that all the ungodly are held in the hand of God so tightly that they cannot even conceive a thought unless God commands it.  And a chapter earlier, he said that everything happens according to God's decree (according to how God planned it to happen), that God controls our wills in order to move us in exactly the course He predestined us to go in.

But now ... in this section ... he dares to say that wicked men are acting on their own, outside of God's control, that God doesn't cause them to do the wicked things they do!?!

And a chapter later, in Chapter 18, section 2, Calvin says, "The sum of the whole is this, - since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service."

So ... he denies that wicked men serve the will of God and he says that they are "not performing service on the order of God" ... but then he says that "the reprobate do him service"!?!

Which is it, Calvin!?!  Make up your mind!!!

Is Calvi-god in control of evil or not!?!  Does he control everything or not!?!  Do we have free-will or not!?!

Do not trust what a Calvinist says in one place ... because they will say the opposite somewhere else or simply be hiding what they really believe!  And they usually do this to hide the fact that Calvi-god is the cause of evil.  They try to say he controls everything and that there's no free-will, but then they struggle with how to hide the fact that this makes him responsible for evil.  For more on this, see "Do Calvinists Really Believe God Causes Sin?  Let Them Speak For Themselves!"]

6.  Speaking of manipulation, listen especially for manipulative phrases such as “My view is what the Bible says.  I am teaching right from Scripture.  Humble Christians will accept what I’m saying.  It's normal to have trouble accepting what I'm saying; I struggle with these things too.  (They're saying the problem is with your willingness to accept the truth, not with what they're teaching.)  You only have three choices about what I'm teaching: ignore it, get angry about it, or accept it.  You don't have to like it, but you do have to accept it because it's what the Bible says.  Who are you to talk back to God anyway?  God’s ways and understanding are far above us, so who are we to think we can or should fully understand Him anyway?  God alone holds the 'secret things' that He doesn’t want us to know, His mysteries, and so who are we to try to peer into these “secret things/mysteries” of God?  Don’t ask ‘Why would God send anyone to hell,’ but instead ask ‘Why would God choose to save anyone when we all deserve death?’  Are you going to claim credit for your salvation, as though you saved yourself or earned your salvation!?!”  (For more on this see “Predestination Manipulation”.)

7.  Who does the pastor quote in his sermons?  Which authors or theologians does he like and recommend?  Try to find a list of blogs or books the pastor recommends, either on the church website or the church blog.  Or simply ask the pastor which blogs, authors, and websites he likes best.

If you see several of these names (learn them, remember them), sit up and take notice because it’s a good clue your pastor might be a Calvinist:

Randy Alcorn
Thabiti Anyabwile
Voddie Baucham
Alistair Begg
Jon Bloom
John Calvin (of course)
D.A. Carson
Tim Challies
Francis Chan (commonly referred to as “Calvinist Light”)
Matt Chandler
Vincent Cheung
Ray Comfort
Tim Conway
Mark Dever
Kevin DeYoung
Mark Driscoll
Ligon Duncan
Jonathan Edwards
Louie Giglio
J.D. Greear
Wayne Grudem
Collin Hansen
Joshua Harris
Michael Horton
Phil Johnson
Tim Keller
Abraham Kuyper
Steve Lawson
John MacArthur
CJ Mahaney
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones
Al Mohler
Russell Moore
J.I. Packer
Arthur Pink
John Piper
David Platt
R.C. Sproul
Charles Spurgeon
Rick Warren
Paul Washer
James White
Doug Wilson

These are just some of the more well-known Calvinist authors and/or preachers, but there’s many more not listed here.
Odds are, if it's a big name theologian or author, it's probably a Calvinist.  They're everywhere.  And they're aggressively spreading.  So look them up if you wonder about them.  (I read a post where the author said that you should assume that any church you look into is Calvinist or on their way to being taken over by Calvinism.  Unfortunately, you have to assume they are guilty until proven innocent.  And I agree!)  

(Check out this post for some examples of Calvinist theologians and authors and groups and websites:  Is J.D. Greear a Calvinist?.)  

8.  Are all the elders Calvinists too?  The pastor may not tell you if he's a Calvinist, but you might be able to find out if the elders are.  If most or all of them are, then it's likely the pastor is too.  

Also ask which books or training programs the pastor requires the elders to go through.  If it's something from the authors listed above (or google the author if you're not sure), you can pretty much know they are being put through “Calvinist Indoctrination" (he won't call it that, of course), such as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Arthur Pink's The Sovereignty of God or R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God and Chosen By God.  

[For a list of popular Calvinist theologians and authors, see American Calvinist and Reformed Theologians and My List of Reformed Theologians and Famous Calvinists (from a Calvinist website that basically calls Billy Graham a heretic!).  And here are some books (from a very Calvinist website) that Calvinists often recommend:  Best Resources For Reformed Theology.]

Also, try to ascertain if the elders are "yes men," if they all agree with the pastor's view on theology.  Does the pastor allow other views on debatable subjects (which Calvinism most definitely is, even if dogmatic Calvinists won't admit it)?  I'm not sure how you can find this out ... but where there's a will, there's a way.

9.  Which Bible does the pastor use?  

A major “red flag” is an ESV, especially the ESV Study Bible.  It appears that many Calvinists prefer the ESV.  And there's got to be a reason why.  (Wayne Grudem and J.I. Packer were editors on the ESV.)  

Also watch out for the Macarthur Study Bible (as in John MacArthur, Calvinist hero to many) and the HCSB, which has been updated to the CSB.  

[Lifeway Christian Resources is the publisher of the CSB, and Lifeway is a Calvinist group.  See their Beliefs here, note the one on election.  Also see "Is Lifeway Pushing Calvinism Through The Gospel Project?" and "Calvinism at Lifeway - New Curriculum Alert".  I am not saying that I know what to think of all this, but I am sharing it for you to consider for yourself.  And while most of us grew up with the NIV, there is some concern about this translation being more Calvinist than others.  See Calvinism and the NIV.  D.A. Carson is the general editor of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.]

(Yes, I've looked at this issue from many angles.  And sadly, the more you look into it, the deeper this rabbit-hole goes!)

10.  What seminary did the pastor go to?  Ask him or find it on the "about us" page of the church's website, and then google the school to see if it's one that heavily promotes Calvinism.  (Also see List of Calvinist Educational Institutes in North America)

11.  Ask them if their church is elder-ruled or congregation-ruled?  What is the role of the elders?  How do they lead?  Are they responsible for making all the decisions?  What say does the congregation get in matters?  Who do the elders and the pastor answer to?  (If even just asking these questions causes them to react harshly or defensively, I'd be very concerned.)  

This might be a hard one to figure out and to be discerning about.  (I myself am just learning about this.)  But it seems that Calvinist churches (at least the more dogmatic, legalistic ones) tend to be elder-ruled.  They believe that they are in authority over you, and that no one is in authority over them.  And so they don't take kindly to being questioned or challenged.  

And these churches may end up putting more and more power into the hands of fewer and fewer elders, until only a few Calvinist men are in power over all.  

[If you hear talk about changing by-laws, or if they recently changed the by-laws, sit up and take notice, and find out what they changed or what they want to change, and why.  They may be slowly, subtly implementing more aggressive complementarian policies (I will look at this soon), shifting power into the hands of the elders, or concentrating the power into the hands of less elders.  When all the power is in the hands of less people, with no one to oversee them, it opens up to the door to potential spiritual abuse and dogmatic legalism.]  

And if you want to, ask how many times they've disciplined members and what they will discipline members for.  If you notice that they are pretty aggressive with their discipline and that they discipline for lots of "smaller" things, I would be concerned.  (Do they have a clear idea of the things they discipline for, or do they wing it?  Winging it opens the door to over-discipline - doing it whenever they feel like, whenever they don't like something, whenever they feel threatened.)  

[For your consideration: 
"Elder Rule increasing in Baptist life, and so is controversy over the role"  (The Southern Baptist Church is having trouble with Calvinist take-over: How Calvinism is Dividing the Southern Baptist Convention)  

SBC Insurrection: Calvinists Go for the Crown, JD Greear, David Platt, et all

Calvinism and the Cultural Spoon-Feeding of Control and Tyranny  (A must-read if you want to know why Calvinists are so controlling of their churches.  Be sure to read the article he links to in the first paragraph, written by 9Marks.  Also see his "New Calvinism and Hotel California.")]

12.  What studies do they use in the church?  Do the Sunday Schools use resources from Lifeway or The Gospel Coalition or Crossway?  (I found lots of Calvinist authors/articles on the Crossway site.  Not all of them are, but lots of them.  So be discerning.)  How about The Gospel Project (see "The Subtle Secrets of The Gospel Project")?  MacArthur Bible Studies?  (Ask them which Bible studies, Bible resources, or programs they use, or try to find them on the church website.  And then google them.)  

13.  Do they believe in complementarianism and Wayne Grudem’s Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?  (This, of course, isn't a conclusive sign that they are Calvinist, but it seems that legalistic Calvinist churches tend to support the complementarian view of gender roles, a stricter view of "men lead and women follow."  And, of course, Wayne Grudem is a huge Calvinist. 
For your consideration:
Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt 2, John Piper's Vision

Is there a Calvinist-Complementarian Connection?

Calvinism and Complementarianism: A Response to Kevin DeYoung

The Actual 4 Dangers of Complementarianism: A Response to the Gospel Coalition

FYI, I don't know where I fall on the whole "complementarian or egalitarian" spectrum.  (I haven't even studied them to see what the differences are.)  But based on my view of what the Bible says, I believe that the only "reserved for men" positions are the head pastors and head elders.  (See "Why I Don't Trust Women-led Churches", my reaction against the feminist movement's efforts to take the head pastor positions in churches.)  But other than that, I think there are plenty of places for women in the church to serve and teach.  And I believe they should have a voice and a say in things.  

Complementarian churches, though, (Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Churches) can end up taking the "men only" thing too far, refusing to listen to women or include women, excluding them from most positions, even ones God doesn't seem to have gender restrictions on.  Just something to be alert for.  

(Click here for an interesting look at Calvinism, complementarianism, and the ESV.  Not sure what to think about it, but it's here for you to consider.  And here is a book review I did for a woman who saw these kinds of this first-hand: "A Review of 'Once an Insider, Now Without a Home Church' - A Look At How Churches Go Wrong.")

14.  Ask what conferences the church or pastors attend or support?  Look up those conferences and speakers online.  

[I have barely looked into what conferences are out there, but you can assume they are getting a heavy dose of Calvinism if they go to conferences by or associated with The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, Acts 29, G3, T4G (Together for the Gospel), Kuyper, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Ligonier, Weekender (Grace Community Church, led by John MacArthur), Founders, and Cross conferences.  And be discerning about any that are sponsored by Lifeway or Crossway.  But google them for yourself to see.  Of course, these aren't the only Calvinist conferences out there.  And a conference can host a whole bunch of different pastors from different theological views, so just because there are a few Calvinist speakers there doesn't mean the whole thing is Calvinist.]

15.  Email the pastor or ask him directly if he is a Calvinist.  If you don’t get a straight “yes” or “no,” but instead get some round-about answer about God’s sovereignty or grace, turn and run.  (Or ask him to answer in a "yes" or "no."  And then if he still won't do it, turn and run.)  Do not keep asking questions.  Do not let them manipulate you into agreeing with them.  (That's how they get people, reeling them in bit by bit.)  If they don't answer you directly (and they won't, if they suspect you are critical of Calvinism), then you can assume they are Calvinist but trying to hide it.  (Or ask him "How many points of T.U.L.I.P. do you agree with?"  And see what he says.)  

Check out this story from a Calvinist pastor who out-right lied, by omission and deflection, about if he was a Calvinist ... after he was asked directly if he was a Calvinist and was told that he wouldn’t be hired if he was.  He ought to be ashamed of himself!  So dishonest!  And he knew that he was doing it!  

And here is an article from a Calvinist website, basically teaching Calvinist pastors how to hide their Calvinism: Saying What You Believe Is Clearer Than Saying "Calvinist"  

[Umm ... how can it be a "bona fide offer of salvation to all people" if God Himself refused to give most people the ability to respond to that offer?  If He actively prevents them from responding to it?  If He never even sent Jesus to die for their sins anyway?  

If I hold a hundred-dollar bill over a three-year-old's head, way out of their reach, and tell them they can have it if they can grab it, knowing that they can never reach it, is that a "bona fide offer"?  If I push someone out of a plane without a parachute and tell them they can be saved if they just grab the rope that I don't throw out to them, is that a "bone fide offer" to save them!?!  

Very strange and deceptive for a Calvinist to say this!  And way to make your views sound good, when in reality they destroy God's grace and love and justice, Jesus's sacrifice, people's hope of salvation, and their relationship with God.  It's poison disguised as Kool-Aid!] 

Also worth reading:

Churches Beware: Calvinism on the Sly  (Notice the pastor's deceptive use of "Jesus died for the sins of His people," which most people would hear as "Jesus died for all people" ... when what the pastor is really saying is that Jesus died ONLY for the sins of His PRE-CHOSEN people.)

A Guide for Determining a Pastoral Candidate's Level of Commitment to Calvinism

16.  Are they listed in church-finders at Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, 9Marks, or in a Calvinist church-finder?

17.  Check out this study done by Wondering Eagle blog on how Calvinism has infected the EFCA.  He is working his way through every EFCA church, by district, to see which have (or potentially have) fallen to Calvinism: Evangelical Free Church Neo-Calvinist Project

Additional note about 9Marks and Acts 29 churches:
When we were thinking of leaving our church, we were invited by a wonderful family (who also left our church) to the new church they had been attending.  They love this church.  They rave about this church.  And so we contemplated visiting it.  But when I looked up the church in the church-finders above, I found out that it's a 9Marks church.

No way!  Not gonna do it!

I am sure that it is a good church, but 9Marks churches are definitely Calvinist.  And we are not going to support a Calvinist church.  (Thank God for church-finders on Calvinist sites.  Helps me know which church to NOT visit.)

Anyway, I have never been in a 9Marks church or an Acts 29 church, but in researching Calvinism online, I'm running across things about them that concern me.  While they are Calvinist churches, for sure, (like those associated with The Gospel Coalition), they seem to have the additional feature of being a tightly-controlling, authoritarian kind of church, resulting in leaders having strict control over the members and in lots of church discipline of members for things they maybe shouldn’t be disciplined for.  

I am not saying this is representative of all these churches.  And I am not trying to work against the Church (capital C - Church, the body of Christ on earth).  But as churches grow bigger and bigger, and as they try to reign in people more and more, I do think there is more and more possibility for spiritual abuse or for the church being too controlling.  So all of these links below are simply to make you aware.  It's information to tuck into the back of your mind as you look into churches like these or if you are part of one of these churches.  We learn from other people's stories so that we are less likely to make those same mistakes ourselves or to end up in their unfortunate situations: 

9Marks Church Authority Over Church Members

9marks Spiritual Abuse and How Church Members Can Fall Through the Cracks

Why Are 9marks Churches So Unhealthy?

Problems of Abuse at 9Marks Churches

Christmas Letter from Hell

Do Acts 29 Churches Share the DNA of the Mothership, Matt Chandler's The Village Church?

FBC Sapulpa Mails 9Marks Church Discipline Letters

Thoughtful Pastor: Is Acts 29 a Cult?  Why Do They Marry So Young?

New Calvinism’s Dirty Little Secret: How They Practice "Redemptive" Church Discipline

9marks Category at The Wartburg Watch

Acts 29 Category at The Wartburg Watch 

The Gospel Coalition Category at The Wartburg Watch

Church Membership Covenants - Legal Contracts that are NOT Biblical

Further Proof You Are Signing A Legal Contract Not A Membership Covenant: Courtesy of The Gospel Coalition

How to resign from a church whether or not you are under church discipline

(For a disturbing example of church discipline gone wrong in one of these churches, click here and follow the links.)

A little more about The Gospel Coalition, behind its "Christian" front (for your discernment, to tuck in the back of your mind):

I never realized how politically "left" The Gospel Coalition is (our ex-church was listed with their 'church search,' probably because of our new Calvinist pastor), until this article:  TGC Doesn't Want You To Vote For Trump.  WE GET IT!

And so I looked a little harder ... and found these (I'm sure I would've found more, but I only looked for a few minutes):

Evangelical Leaders: Tell Us to Vote for Clinton  [Personally, I think "But look what kind of a person Trump is, so we have to vote for Hilary" is a pathetic excuse Christians use to rationalize their desire to vote for someone who would clearly drag our country down even more into immorality and godlessness.  That's my own opinion.  And I'm allowed to have it.  But what in the world is a supposedly godly organization like TGC doing making political endorsements like this!?!  I'm beginning to think they aren't as Christian as I assumed they were.  Here is someone's well-written opinion on the TGC's opposition to Trump:  The Gospel Coalition vs. Donald Trump.  You know what?  I'm praying that Trump gets in again in the next election, that God would bless Trump with another 4 years in office simply so that, in part, God can show people (like the liberal left, the rabid feminists, and people like the "Christians" in the so-called "Gospel" Coalition) that He can thwart their plans, no matter how much they rage against Him or how powerful they think they are.]

Obama Staffer Now Writing For The Gospel Coalition, Pushing Liberalism

Tim Keller's Subversive Social Justice Takeover of the Evangelical Church

Liberals May Win Control of Largest U.S. Protestant Denomination

Be wary!  Be discerning about where you get your "Gospel" from!

Avoiding Calvinist Websites:
And now onto "How to avoid Calvinist blogs and websites" ...  

Did you ever wonder about the websites that pop up when you type a religious question into a browser?  Who are they?  Are they reliable?  Is the advice you're getting biblical and accurate?  What is their theological view?

It's too easy to type in a question, find some "biblical" answer on a site, and think it’s the truth.  We, Christians, tend to be a trusting bunch of people, especially when someone uses a lot of Bible verses or when it's a popular website with big name theologians or authors.  And so we will probably not notice the Calvinist-bent that are found on many websites and blogs.  
I wonder how many people have been led astray in this way.  Probably a lot, because many of the popular sites - the first ones to pop up when I type in a question - are Calvinist.

Be careful about who you get your theological answers from.  Do not just trust the website because they're "Christian," but research them a bit before putting stock in their answers.

1.  If they have one, look at their statements of faith.  Or look in the "about us" site to see if they identify themselves as "reformed" or "Calvinist."  And look for the things I mentioned for the churches.  (Or do they call anyone a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian?  Calvinists love to accuse people of this.)

2.  Do a search on their site for "predestination" or "election" or "Calvinism" or "reformed theology" to see what their view on these issues are.  (Once again, this is a very Calvinist article by J.D. Greear, even if he seems to be downplaying the Calvinism: "Pastor J.D., Are You A Calvinist?")

3.  Google the name of the site, along with the words "Calvinist" or "reformed" and see if anyone else has identified them as a Calvinist site.

4.  Find a tab on their site that shows you what resources they recommend or authors they like.  Look for the things I warned you about for the church websites.

5.  Look up Calvinist websites to see which blogs or websites they recommend.  Calvinists tend to stick together.

6.  Google to find lists of reformed/Calvinist sites, such as:

Known Calvinist Sites:
I looked up some of the most common theology websites that popped up when I typed in a Bible question, and from what I can tell (and from lists I’ve found online), here are some websites that are (or most likely are) Calvinist:

The Gospel Coalition
Acts 29
9 Marks
White Horse Inn
Desiring God
Wayne Grudem
Got Questions (I found plenty of Calvinist articles and authors here) (John MacArthur's Grace To You, a.k.a. "Grace To Few")
Albert Mohler
Reformation 21
Tim Keller blog (Alpha and Omega Ministries, James White, FYI: Apologia Studios is listed as related to aomin)
Greenbaggins.wordpress blog
Monergism blog (Tim Challies)
Reclaiming the Mind
Ligon Duncan's blog
The Cripplegate
The Resurgence (I found this in a list, not sure what the actual name of the blog is.  The Resurgence Report?)
Pyromaniacs  (Phillip Johnson)
Josh Harris ( (Tullian Tchividian)
Reformed Theology
Ed Stetzer (I'm not sure if he is or not.  Look it up yourself.)
Adrian Warnock (he writes at (Blog & Mablog, Douglas Wilson)
J.D. Greear
Truth for Life (Alistair Begg) (After looking up "predestination" and "election" on this site and reading some of the articles, it appears that some are not-too-Calvinist and some are quite Calvinist, but in a "softened" way.  Just my opinion.  I would call it a "soft Calvinist" site.  So be discerning.) and almost anything else with "reformed" in the title

Almost anything with Calvinist in the title (unless it's a site against Calvinism)

Blogs listed with Calvinist site, The Gospel Coalition:
Between Two Worlds and Evangelical History (Justin Taylor)
Christ is Deeper Still (Ray Ortlund)
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed (Kevin DeYoung)
Pure Church (Thabiti Anyabwile)
Wit's End (Melissa Kruger)
Kingdom People (Trevin Wax)
Heavenward (Scotty Smith)
The Gospel-Driven Church (Jared C. Wilson)
Ordinary Pastor (Erik Raymond)
For the Love of God (D.A. Carson)

Other Calvinist (or potentially Calvinist) Ministries, Groups, or Conferences:
Anything by The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, Acts 29, Ligonier Ministries

Kuyper conferences

G3 Conferences for pastors and leaders (some big name Calvinist speakers there like Tim Challies, James White, Paul Washer.  And some Calvinist ministry partners like The Gospel Project, Founders, Grace to You, 9Marks.)

Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries.  I'm not sure if these guys provide programs or resources for churches, but I'll include them anyway because they are a big name. )

Shepherd's Conference (a ministry of Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur)

Weekender Conference (hosted by 9Marks)

Founders Conferences

Cross Conferences  (Together for the Gospel conferences, sponsored by Lifeway and Crossway.  A celebration of all things Calvinist, with dogmatic Calvinist speakers like John Piper, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile, and more.  Oh my goodness!  It doesn't get more Calvinist than this!  It should be called "Together for Calvinism"!)

The Gospel Project (see this link for more on this, or google "The Gospel Project and Calvinism")


And A Bunch More Links That Are Worth Reading:

Churches Infected With Calvinism

[Danger!] 6 Massive Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Church Takeover Success Using Strategies from the Calvinista Playbook

A Calvinist Pastor Was Challenged By Members Who Read the Bad Internet, So Why Aren't They Reading the Calvinist Blogs  (This is a response to a post from 9Marks - Calvinist Pastors and Non-Calvinist Churches, Candidating, Pastoring and Moving On.  The 9Marks article is trying to make it sound like anti-Calvinists have been led astray by the internet, and it seems to give tips for Calvinists on how to "buddy up" to the congregation to get them to better accept your theology: )

Is Calvinism or Reformed Doctrine Taking Over Your Church?

My Journey into Calvinism (pdf)

Testimony of a Former 5-Point Calvinist

Who Are The New Calvinists, Part 1 and Part 2  (A Reformed website, but it's a useful article because it identifies a lot of today's Calvinists)

The Troubling Trends in America's Calvinist Revival

Who is "Got Questions?"

Covert Calvinists

Calvinist Rhetoric: The Series

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From  (from the Calvinist website, 9Marks, but it gives a suggestion for how Calvinism became as prominent as it is)

Impossible Questions to ask a Calvinist, Part 1 (This has links to the other parts in the series)

More "Questions to ask a Calvinist" 

A Question that Calvinists cannot answer - because it's a paradox

Caution: Children and Predestination  (A sad look at what Calvinism's theology does to a child's heart!  I wonder if Calvinism is responsible for so much of the atheism out there today.  I wonder if people who reject God are really just rejecting the god of Calvinism.  They just don't know that there's a difference.)
[A recommendation to pastors about how to live out the 5 Points of Calvinism in your church on Sundays, from the Calvinist giant, 9Marks.  If this sounds similar to how your Sunday mornings go, you may be in a heavily-Calvinist church.

I find the first paragraph under "Total Depravity" to be remarkable.  In this paragraph, the author says (paraphrased) that "God gets glory when the pastor reminds the people of how depraved they were, of their deep depravity before God saved them.  And preaching about the depth of man's depravity reminds the unbelievers of what's wrog with their hearts."

Very interesting!  I think reminding us of God's great love would make us more thankful and more willing to praise Him, not reminding us over and over again of how wicked and depraved we were/are.  Also, what glory does God really get when we wretched, depraved people turn to God, if we had no choice about accepting Him or loving Him, if He "forced" us to accept and love Him? 

(Calvinists won't say the elect are "forced" to love God or believe in God, against our wills.  They will say that God worked the desire into our hearts to love Him and believe in Him, so that we willing make the choice to believe in Him because we want to.  Dress it up however they want, this is still "God causing it."  If God elects you, you have no choice but to believe in Him.  And if He doesn't elect you, you can never believe in Him because salvation is not available to you because Jesus didn't die for your sins anyway.  However, they will say that salvation is available to the non-elect (remember - it's a "bona fide offer to all"), just that the non-elect won't want it because God gives them the desire to refuse it.  And so when they refuse the "offer" of salvation, they are doing it because they want to.  Even though God caused them to want to refuse it!  Do you see how they hide what they really mean?)

Yes, it's good to point out how unworthy men are, to show how loving God is, but Calvinists love to hammer on this over and over again (with very little emphasis on how God loves us or wants a relationship with us), even going so far as to saying how wicked babies are.

Also, why in the world remind the unbelievers of what's wrong with their hearts!?!  If they are currently unbelievers but one of the elect, then they will eventually believe in God because God makes them do it, and nothing you can say or do will affect that.  And if they are one of the un-elected, they will never believe in God because He will not give them faith, no matter how much you remind them of their depraved hearts.  And so all you are doing is kicking the damned while they are down.  Contradictory and wretched!]

Well, I think this is long enough, so I'll stop here!  But before I go, one last suggestion for avoiding a Calvinist church:

Pray!  Pray that God guides you to the right church and blocks the doors to any wrong ones.  Pray that He grants you the wisdom and gives you the information you need to make a wise decision.  And then keep your eyes open.  I believe this is a prayer God will always answer! 

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