William Barclay was a Calvinist: True or False?


William Barclay, one of the most popular Bible teachers in the 20th century, is the author of the widely-read Daily Bible Study series. Though Barclay was ordained in the Church of Scotland, some of his theological views are considered unorthodox.

William Barclay was not a Calvinist or Reformed, even though he was ordained in the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which articulates Reformed theology, but Barclay was a professing universalist.

How is a universalist different than Calvinist? What other views did Barclay have that didn’t adhere to the beliefs of the Church of Scotland or orthodox Protestant Christianity? Keep reading to learn more.

Are you interested in learning more about William Barclay? See Was William Barclay a Universalist? to learn more.

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William Barclay was not a Calvinist or Reformed, even though he was ordained in the Church of Scotland, which subscribes to those teachings

What did Barclay believe?

Barclay described himself as a “liberal evangelical” in his autobiography, which isn’t a category than aligns with Calvinist theology.

  • To his fans, Barclay was ahead of his time in adopting progressive ideas that came to dominate the later 20th century and early 21st century in mainline Christian churches.
  • To his critics, he succumbed to the worldview of the modern age to the detriment of classic, orthodox Protestant theology, including the convictions of his own denomination.

What’s a universalist? Barclay was a professing universalist, which means he believed that all people, no matter if they have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone while on Earth, will eventually live forever in heaven. In other words, no one, not even unbelievers, will go to hell. This contradicts Calvinist and Reformed positions.

Was he merely accused of being a universalist? Barclay was a proud universalist. Sometimes critics of a theologian will attach labels to him or her that they don’t accept. This was not the case with Barclay. Universalism isn’t an inference his critics made. On the contrary, in his autobiography, Barclay said,

“I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.”

A Spiritual Biography, p. 65-67

William Barclay wrote several books. See Was William Barclay: The Daily Bible Study series to learn more.

Barclay and Calvinism

A Calvinist, a term that is often used interchangeably with “Reformed,” describes someone who follows the teaching of the French pastor and theologian, John Calvin (1509-1564).

To be clear, Calvinists aren’t merely following a person per se, but they believe Calvin’s teaching best reflect Scripture. In this sense, Calvinist or Reformed theology is synonymous with “biblical theology” for those who subscribe to the doctrine.

What has the Westminster Confession have to do with it? The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 articulates Reformed theology. The Confession acts as the doctrine of the Church of Scotland and it’s a centerpiece of Presbyterian theology as well. It is named after the location where it’s authors convened, Westminster Abbey in London, England.

People’s commitment to Reformed theology is often described in relation to their commitment to the Westminster Confession. If a person disagrees with the Confession, some other Reformed thinkers wouldn’t consider them Reformed at all.

What is “broadly Reformed” and “classically Reformed”?

First, it’s important to note that the “broadly Reformed” tend to make this distinction and use these terms, while the “classically Reformed” don’t. (The terms are used in this article to make the point that Barclay wouldn’t fit in either category.)

  • Someone who is broadly Reformed subscribes to the five points of Calvinism as expressed in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. They may or may not hold other tenets of Reformed theology such as infant baptism and the belief that the Church has replaced Israel in the New Testament era. Barclay’s theology doesn’t fit this description.
  • Someone who is classically Reformed subscribes to the doctrines expressed in T.U.L.I.P., but more than that, they are committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith in its entirety. Some classically Reformed Christians don’t consider broadly Reformed Christians to be Reformed because they don’t subscribe to the entire paradigm. Barclay’s theology doesn’t fit this description either.

While Barclay associated with a denomination that has historically held Calvinist or Reformed convictions, it’s clear from his teaching and writing that he didn’t align with any form of the theological paradigm.

Because of church affiliation could he be described as a Calvinist? Perhaps one could say that Barclay was a Calvinist because he associated with a Calvinist or Reformed denomination, yet those terms describe a theological perspective that he didn’t have.

Also see What is an Exegetical Commentary? to learn more.

Universalism and the Westminster Confession

The doctrine of universal salvation directly contradicts the teachings of the Westminster Confession on several matters. The example that will be used below to represent these differences is eschatology, i.e. end times, because that doctrine relates to universalism’s claims. The Confession includes three statements on the Last Judgment (Ch. 33).

Section 1

UniversalismWestminster Confession
Eschatological judgment, or lack thereof, is based on God’s goodnessEschatological judgment is based on God’s righteousness
Demons may be restored, according to some forms of universalismThe judgment and punishment of demons is final and eternal
All people will be restored, according to all forms of universalismOnly people who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone will be restored

Westminster Confession Ch. 33, Section 1: God hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, (1) to whom all power and judgement is given of the Father. (2)

In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, (3) but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.(4)

(1) Ac 17:31 (2) Jn 5:22,27 (3) 1Co 6:3; Jude 6; 2Pe 2:4 (4) 2Co 5:10; Ecc 12:14; Ro 2:16; Ro 14:10,12; Mt 12:36,37

Also see What is an Critical Commentary? to learn more.

UniversalismWestminster Confession
All people are ultimately “elect,” though the term isn’t favoredOnly the elect are restored
Damnation isn’t the eternal destination for anyoneDamnation is the consequence for the reprobate as a result of their wickedness and disobedience
There is ultimately no eternal torment for anyonethe unsaved will “be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction”

Westminster Confession Ch. 33, Section 2: The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient.

For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness [sic] of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (1)

(1) Mt 25:31 to the end; Ro 2:5,6; Ro 9:22,23; Mt 25:21; Ac 3:19; 2Th 1:7-10

UniversalismWestminster Confession
The day of judgment is not bindingThe day of judgment renders a permanent result

Westminster Confession Ch. 33, Section 3: As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (1) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen. (2)

(1) 2Pe 3:11,14; 2Co 5:10,11; 2Th 1:5-7; Lk 21:7,28; Ro 8:23-25 (2) Mt 24:36,42,43,44; Mk 13:35-37; Lk 12:35,36; Rev 22:20

Also see Are Bible Commentaries Necessary? to learn more.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source

Daniel Joseph Isaiah

Daniel has been in Christian ministry for 25 years. He has been an Associate Pastor and a Senior Pastor. Currently in higher education, Daniel has taught more than 25 different undergraduate courses in Bible and theology-related topics.

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