In my reading and studying thus far, I have come across three distinct brands of Calvinism:

  • English-Westminster/Federal Calvinism (i.e. Five Pointers/Covenant Theology)
  • Free Grace Calvinism (i.e. some have called this, antinomianism)
  • Scottish Calvinism

The last “brand,” i.e. Scottish Calvinism, is a new brand that I just came across via T.F. Torrance’s book: Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell. The following is a brief description of this kind of Calvinism, from Torrance:

In chapter 1 on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, I have offered a general account of the deep doctrinal change that took place, but in the succeeding chapters I have tried to focus on the main issues that arose as a result of the adherence of the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Following upon the teaching of the great Reformers there developed what is known as ‘ Federal theology’, in which the place John Calvin gave to the biblical conception of the covenant was radically altered through being schematized to a framework of law and grace governed by a severely contractual notion of covenant, with a stress upon a primitive ‘ covenant of works’, resulting in a change in the Reformed understanding of the ‘ covenant of grace’. This is what Protestant Scholastics called ‘ a two-winged’, and not ‘ a one winged’ covenant, which my brother James has called a bilateral and a unilateral conception of the Covenant. The former carries with it legal stipulations which have to be fulfilled in order for it to take effect, while the latter derives from the infinite love of God, and is freely proclaimed to all mankind in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the imposition of a rigidly logicalised federal system of thought upo Reformed theology that gave rise to many of the problems which have afflicted Scottish theology, and thereby made central doctrines of predestination, the limited or unlimited range of the atoning death of Christ, the problem of assurance, and the nature of what was called ‘ the Gospel-offer’ to sinners. This meant that relatively little attention after the middle of the 17th century was given to the doctrine of the holy Trinity and to a Trinitarian understanding of redemption and worship. Basic to this change was the conception of the nature and character of God. It is in relation to that issue that one must understand the divisions which have kept troubling the Kirk after its hard-line commitment to the so-called ‘ Orthodox Calvinism’ of the Westminster Standards, and the damaging effect that had upon the understanding of the Word of God and the message of the Gospel…. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell,” X-XI)

As we can see, as Torrance highlights, Scottish Calvinism, in its formation, was at competitive odds with Westminster Calvinism. I think this is significant, because the Calvinism that we know, for the most part, in America today, is Westminster Calvinism or Federal Theology. We get the themes and motifs from this brand of Calvinism from many pulpits today. This is a Calvinism that deals from a rigid monadic view of God, who makes contracts with the elect; and as the elect “persevere” they will ultimately fulfill their end of the divine pact — thus experiencing glorification.

In contrast, Scottish Calvinism, apparently emphasized the relationality of God’s tri-une nature; consequently shaping salvation as a very intimate relational engagement between God and man. Interestingly, Free Grace Calvinists, mentioned above, sound very similar in emphasis with the Scottish Calvinist. They both emphasized the Trinitarian nature in salvation, and the Free Grace Calvinists spoke and framed salvation within the language of marriage (cf. Eph. 5:18ff). It will be interesting to see if the Scottish Calvinists speak the same way about salvation.

If you are Calvinist, which brand would you identify yourself as?

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