What is Calvinism?

by Matt Slick

john calvinCalvinism, also known as reformed theology, is a movement within orthodox Protestantism that was developed by John Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian. John Calvin was eight years old when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses. Calvin and Luther never met.

Calvin was a lawyer who later became a Pastor in Geneva, Switzerland. He was married in 1539.

Calvin produced many commentaries on various books of the Bible, but he is best known for his seminal work known as The Institutes of the Christian Religion, a marvelous work expounding Christian theology, which he published at the age of 26.

The system of Calvinism adheres to a very high view of scripture and seeks to derive its theological formulations based solely on God's word. It focuses on God's sovereignty--stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence to do whatever He desires with His creation. It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace, predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual to where he is then able to and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation.

Arminianism, on the other hand, maintains that God predestined but not in an absolute sense. Rather, He looked into the future to see who would pick him, and then He chose them. Jesus died for all peoples' sins who have ever lived and ever will live--not just the Christians. Each person is the one who decides if he wants to be saved or not. And finally, it is possible to lose your salvation (some Arminians believe you cannot lose your salvation).

Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God and his eternal decrees by which he has ordained whatsoever shall come to pass. Calvinists take the Bible very seriously and try to harmonize all its concepts. It teaches monergism, that salvation is accomplished in God's work alone (John 6:28-29; Phil. 1:29), and that nothing occurs in the world except that God has given permission (Eph. 1:11). Some critics have maintained that Calvinism makes God the author of evil, but Calvinists are quick to deny such an accusation and teach that God is sovereign even over the forces of evil and that he uses evil within his eternal plan for the world and mankind: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur." (Acts 4:27-28).

TULIP

Basically, Calvinism is best known by an acronym: T.U.L.I.P.

  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

These five categories do not comprise Calvinism in totality. They simply represent some of its main points.

Total Depravity: Sin has affected all parts of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin. The doctrine of Total Depravity is derived from scriptures that reveal human character: Man's heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and sick (Jer. 17:9). Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:14-20). He does not seek for God (Rom. 3:11). He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). He is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15). And, is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist asks the question, "In light of the scriptures that declare man's true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?" The answer is, "He cannot. Therefore God must predestine." Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature, we are born again not by our own will but God's will (John 1:12-13); God grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29); faith is the work of God (John 6:28-29); God ordains people to eternal life (Acts 13:48); and God predestines (Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 8:29; Rom. 9:9-23).

Unconditional Election: God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:9-11) without any consideration of merit or quality within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him (lest God learn and react to man's choices). Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15,21).

Limited Atonement: Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect. Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 where Jesus died for 'many'; John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 where Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him--not those of the entire world; Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27 which state that the Church was purchased by Christ--not all people; and Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion where he would bear the sins of many (not all).

Irresistible Grace: When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call, and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Rom. 9:16 where it says that "it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy"; Phil. 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to eternal life; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man's will but by God's.

Perseverance of the Saints: You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure. They are eternally secure in Christ. Some of the verses for this position are John 10:27-28 where Jesus said His sheep will never perish; John 6:47 where salvation is described as everlasting life; Romans 8:1 where it is said we have passed out of judgment; 1 Cor. 10:13 where God promises to never let us be tempted beyond what we can handle; and Phil. 1:6 where God is the one being faithful to perfect us until the day of Jesus' return.

Hyper-Calvinism

The Hyper-Calvinist emphasizes the sovereignty of God to such an extent that man's human responsibility is denied. In actuality, Hyper-Calvinism is a rejection of historic Calvinist thought. Hyper-Calvinism denies that the gospel call applies to all; and/or denies that faith is the duty of every sinner; and/or denies the gospel offer to the non-elect; and/or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal; and/or denies that there is such a thing as "common grace"; and/or denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect. Calvinists do not agree with the Hyper-Calvinists.

 

For more information on Calvinism, go to calvinistcorner.com.

 

 

 

 
 
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