The much-anticipated documentary from Les Lanphere finally dropped this September.
Calvinist gathered buzz before filming even began. Three days after launching his Kickstarter for the project, Lanphere met his goal. By the time it ended, he had more than doubled it. Prominent Reformed leaders even went out of their way to contact him to express their support and offer their help.
The documentary traces the resurgence of Calvinism in America over the last several decades, explaining the basic tenets of Calvinism along the way.
The film isn’t coy about its position. In one part of the film (and you can see it in the trailer below), an animated portrait of John Calvin knocks down a portrait of Jacobus Arminius with a hammer. The interviewees—mainly well-known leaders like R.C. Sproul, Kevin DeYoung, Shai Linne, and Paul Washer—do not shy away from describing the weaknesses they see in other theological systems. But mostly they speak in positives, testifying warmly to the doctrines of grace they’ve come to know, love, and build their lives on.
While the film overwhelmingly endorses Calvinism, it does practice some self-awareness. Among others, Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition acknowledges shortcomings and needed improvements in Reformed circles when it comes to racial and socioeconomic unity.
“There’s been a real challenge for Reformed theology throughout history,” he said, “and it’s tended to be on the side of the powerful, of the highly educated, and has not always connected well with people on the margins of society.”
In another part of the film, interviewees describe situations where young Calvinists approach their newfound confession with such zeal that they actually cause harm. It’s sometimes called the “cage stage,” because it would be better for those persons to confine themselves to a cage than to go around bludgeoning others with arguments for Calvinism. As R.C. Sproul explains, “Anytime somebody is awakened and changed from one position to another, they have a tendency to be extremist.”
Whatever someone thinks of Calvinism, the film is educational and entertaining. Mixing animation and live interviews, it traces Calvinism back to the Protestant Reformation, outlines its basic tenets, and explains why so many American Christians have embraced this 500-year-old worldview over the past several decades.
Despite its clear criticisms of Roman Catholic theology and Arminian theology (the idea that we are free to choose God or not), the film doesn’t seem set on tearing down other systems, nor on converting every viewer to Calvinism. Rather, it defends Calvinism biblically, raises awareness of its resurgence, and, ultimately, glorifies the Lord by rejoicing over his salvation.
As Kevin DeYoung says toward the end, “To have a cranky, proud Calvinist should be a contradiction in terms. It’s often not, but it should be. And if we really understand what we believe and what we are teaching, it should make us humble, joyful, incredibly glad-hearted Christians.”
How to watch
You can stream the documentary right now on FaithlifeTV with a permanent streaming license.
If you are in church leadership, consider a group license so you can watch it as a church. Paired with small-group discussion questions or even a panel discussion, it could be an edifying experience for many, regardless of where they come down on the issue.