(Editor’s Note: Bethany Tanis has authored many great comments on the BJS website, particularly concerning Calvinism and so we asked her to do a little writing for us on the relationship between Calvinism and Evangelicalism. It is a good thing for the Brothers and all our readers to understand the various denominational tag lines out there as we seek to uphold the Lutheran Confessions and distinguish them from false confessions. Bethany has a Ph.D. from Boston College in modern British history and is starting an assistant professorship in modern European history at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI in the fall. This is part two of a five part series.)
In the last post we saw that the formal principles of Lutheranism and Calvinism differed and led them to different theological conclusions. The material principles of Lutheranism and Calvinism also differ. The material principle of Calvin’s theology is the sovereignty of God.
Whereas Lutheran theology takes its start from receiving God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; Calvinist theology starts from speculation about God’s sovereign nature. This is why the doctrine of predestination assumed such importance for Calvin and his followers. Predestination is a matter of God’s sovereign will. Using His sovereign will, God predestined all men either to heaven or hell before the beginning of the world. The problem with this emphasis on God’s sovereignty is precisely that it does lead us to speculation about His hidden will, something that He has not revealed to us, rather than directing us to something He has revealed to us, His will according to the cross of Jesus Christ. By emphasizing that salvation lies in God’s sovereign decisions made before the incarnation, Calvinists inadvertently make the atonement appear only incidental to salvation. This also results in Calvinist theology being “theocentric (God-centered)” and not usually “Christocentric (Christ-centered)” like Lutheran theology. Whereas Lutherans strive to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified, Calvinists tend to preach God’s sovereign power to redeem all creation, without necessarily emphasizing Christ’s role. In fact, while a student at Calvin College I once asked my professor of Pauline Literature (a proponent of the New Perspective, by the way) whether it was fair to say in an assigned paper that Luther was more Christocentric in his thinking than Calvin. I did not want to say this if 1) it was not true or 2) if it would take a lot of extra writing to prove. My professor replied that I could merely assert that Luther was a more Christocentric theologian because this was common knowledge and did not need elaborate justification.
In my time worshiping at Calvin’s chapel during week days and on Sunday evenings, I did notice a distinction between the Christ-centered Cross-focused (to echo Issues Etc.) sermons preached by my Lutheran pastor at the Divine Service and the messages focused on God’s will and power preached at Calvin. Although John Calvin’s theology was not “Christ-less” by any vast stretch of the imagination, his tendency to move the center of gravity in his theology away from Christ and His work and toward God’s hidden essence and sovereign will may have paved the way for the type of “Christ-less” Christianity we see among American Evangelicals today. John Calvin would be shocked today to see that sermons about power for living have replaced sermons about Jesus’ work, but his body of theology nevertheless helped move Christianity in this direction.
 See Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, Lutheran Quarterly Books, Jeffrey G. Silcock and Mark C. Mattes, trans. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), xxiv.
 See the Canons of the Synod of Dordt (1619); Internet, Christian Classics Ethereal Library; accessed 4 February 2009. Notice that the “first head of doctrine” is “Divine Predestination,” while the “Second Head of Doctrine” is “The Death of Christ and the Redemption of Man.”
 See Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008). Mike Horton is, in fact, a Calvinist concerned with the direction of contemporary Evangelicalism.