Calvinism is the term used for a particular type of Christian theology that began with the teaching of John Calvin. Calvin was a Protestant Reformer in the 16th century who formed the Presbetyrian Church in Switzerland. His followers further developed the theology of Calvinism. Calvinism is perhaps best known for its doctrine of predestination. Its history is associated with some notable experiments in Christian theocracy.
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Calvinism is based on the understanding that God is completely sovereign and has preordained all that comes to pass. "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will..." (Ephesians 1:11). Because the Bible teaches that not all people are saved and that God is not frustrated in his plans or desires, Calvinism maintains that God has predetermined who will be saved and sovereignly dispenses saving grace accordingly. The theological terms most often associated with Calvinism are "predestination" and "election", which refer to the particularity of God's grace in salvation.
Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin, whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names, such as "Augustinianism", because Calvin basically followed Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.
In a broad sense, Calvinism can be virtually synonymous with "Reformed Protestantism", encompassing the whole body of doctrine taught by Reformed churches and represented in various Reformed Confessions such as the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).
Five points of Calvinism (known by the acronym TULIP)
The Calvinist doctrine of salvation is summarized in what is commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism. These five points summarize the Canons of Dort, which in turn was the judgement of the Synod of Dort (1618 -1619) against related Arminian teaching. These five points are not intended to be a comprehensive summary of Calvinism or Reformed doctrine, but only an exposition on the particular points in disputes raised by the Arminians of that day.
The effect of the fall upon people is that sin has extended to every part of our personality – thinking, emotions and will. This does not necessarily mean that people are intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to our entire being.
The unregenerate (unsaved) person is dead in sin (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural person is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why total depravity has also been called "total inability." The person without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge unless God makes that person alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Unconditional election is the doctrine that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of God, not based upon any merit shown by the object of grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected some people for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15,21). This election occurred before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4-8) and based solely upon the counsel of God's own will.
Limited atonement (also known as "definite atonement") is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, "for whose sins did Christ atone?" The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died for many people, but not for all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church – the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name "Christian" (Ephesians 5:25, 1 John 2:2).
The result of God's irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ himself taught that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). People come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God's beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14).
Perseverance of the Saints
Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28-39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in the elect will continue until it reaches its fulfilment in eternal life (Philippians 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the "last day" (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ's promise that he will perfectly fulfil the will of the Father in saving all the elect.
The Five Solas of the Reformation
The Five Solas of the Reformation are not unique to Calvinism, nor are they necessarily unique to the Reformed tradition in Christianity, however, they are integral to the theological perspective of Calvinism and therefore bear restating here:
- Sola Fide – by faith alone, in reference to Justification.
- Sola Scriptura – by the Scriptures alone, in reference to authority.
- Solo Christo – by Christ alone, as our sole mediator and intercessor before God.
- Sola gratia – by grace alone, in reference to salvation.
- Soli Deo gloria – to God alone the glory.
Common caricatures of Calvinism
Note: These are commonly used to caricature Calvinist or Reformation doctrine, but most only apply to those who hold to some form of "Hyper-Calvinism".
- No need for evangelism - "If God has preordained whatsoever comes to pass, and pre-selected all whom he is going to save, then where is the need for evangelism?"
- God's coercion of sinners and saints - "Calvinism says that God forces people to do things against their will."
- What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism (Bethlehem Baptist Church Staff)
- Defining My Terms: Calvinist And Reformed, by Tim Challies
- The Five Points of Calvinism Considered, by David Kirkwood
- Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist, by Steve Jones
- Reformed Praise A Great Site For Free And Biblical Songs!