Friday, August 7, 2009

Calvinism 1: What is Calvinism?

What is calvinism/reformed theology?
The basics of Calvinism are summed up by the word TULIP, which stands for:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Many people put themselves into the camp of either Arminianism or Calvinism. I should perhaps add here that "reformed theology" is basically another way of saying "calvinism," and for those who do not like to be labeled as "calvinists," I respect that. However, since it's easier to type "calvinist" than to type "people who believe reformed theology," for the purpose of this writing, I will just use the terms "calvinism" and "calvinists" while also referring to "reformed theology" and "people who believe reformed theology."

I’m not an Arminian, so I’m not going to bother going over their doctrine. I once read in a book that before you attempt to prove a point, you must tell your readers what you are not trying to prove.

So I’ll say right now that I’m not trying to disprove Perseverance of the Saints (once saved—always saved) I do believe that the Bible clearly teaches that if a person is promised salvation from eternal damnation, he cannot “lose” that promise. Whatever God promises will come to pass. I am also not trying to disprove God's soverignty, monergism, or original sin.

Now, let me first try to explain further those concepts that I mentioned above and will be arguing against: (These definitions are all copied from a Calvinist website,

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:
  1. · Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21–23) and sick (Jer. 17:9).
  2. · Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20).
  3. · He does not seek for God (10–12).
  4. · He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).
  5. · 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.”

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. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21).

Irresistible Grace: When God calls his elect into salvation, they do not 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:
  • Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy.”
  • Philippians 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 believe; and John 1:12–13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.

Here’s how I would sum up these three concepts:

  1. Total Depravity: Man cannot do enough good to merit going to heaven. In fact, man can, in and of himself, do nothing morally pleasing to God, including having faith. Man cannot come up with the faith necessary for salvation. Man cannot so much as desire God. He is that bad, there is no good in him.
  2. Irresistible Grace: Among all mankind who does not want God (see above point) some are saved. Since man cannot of himself have saving faith, it is obviously God’s grace that produces that faith in him. Not everyone is saved, obviously enough, and the Bible teaches that God appoints people to believe. Now if God appoints someone to believe, then they will believe, because we know that we can always believe the word of God, the decrees of God, and the promises of God. If God appoints someone to believe, and that must happen, then the grace He gives cannot be resisted. No one trusts Christ as Savior unwilling, though, so we know that God’s grace changes their heart and they desire the Lord. Irresistible does not mean that someone will resist and yet be conquered, irresistible means that God’s grace will change their heart so that they will not want to resist.
  3. Unconditional Election: We know that not everyone is saved. We also know that works will not achieve salvation. Therefore, when choosing those who will be saved, God does not choose on the basis of who we are or what we do (works) but rather unconditionally, according to the mysteries of His will, which we cannot argue with or question.
That would be my summary of the logic used.
Sounds pretty logical, doesn’t it? Now to disagree, where should I begin?

Most people would begin arguing about unconditional election: God’s "cosmic dice" style of determining who will be with Him eternally, and who will be burned alive forever in the lake of fire. But, you see, that point follows logically from the first two points.

A- Man cannot have saving faith unless God gives Him that faith directly
B - If God does give him that faith, he will be saved for sure.
C - Not all are saved, therefore God must only give that saving faith to some. If faith is not the condition, and works are not the condition, there is no condition possible left. The choice is unconditional.

If A and B are correct, then C must be true. So I will start with pointing out the flaws of point A: Total Depravity. I also will cover irresistible grace before I discuss unconditional election, even thought that's not in "TULIP" order. But before I get to all that, I will write out a bunch of my thoughts about God's sovereignty and glory, which is where everyone likes to start!

1 comment:

Silas Reinagel said...

I like the introduction overall. It seems like you state the Calvinist position well.

However, your A, B and C points at the end aren't divided and postulated appropriately. C contains not one, but several propositions; namely:

1 - Not all are saved, therefore only some are saved
2 - God does not choose to save on the basis of faith (since no man can have faith)
3 - God does not choose to save on the basis of works (since no man can do good deeds)
4 - There is no other condition, besides faith and works, which God might use to determine whom to save

Some might attack the fourth premise of C, and suggest that there are other conditions God uses to decide whom to save. Although, I think that most advocates of such a stance would also assert that whatever conditions these are, they must be mysterious and unrevealed.

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