Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calvinism: An Introduction to an Introduction

I grew up in a church environment where Calvinism was only whispered about. It was a deeply frowned upon doctrine in my circle, and the pastors would quickly pay you too much attention if you even expressed interest in researching the subject. It didn’t take too long before I developed a staunch and fervent attitude against Calvinism. There was only one Calvinistic church that I was aware of, and I honestly hated that people were flocking there in droves once they embraced the teachings of Calvinism. Already in this paragraph there are more mentions of the term “Calvinism” than I had heard unashamedly and openly at church by the time I was 18 =).

For those who knew me between the ages of 16 and 19 must think it is the irony of ironies that I am now a firm believer in the doctrine of Calvinism because I was once utterly opposed to it. Whenever I meet someone who is an Arminian and reacts a little too surprised at my Calvinistic beliefs I am able to sympathize with them because I was once there in their shoes. I know what it is wonder how anyone could believe something so different. I know what questions pop into your mind: “Doesn’t God love the whole world?” … “What about free will?” … “Why would God not choose to save everyone?” … “If God has ordained all things why bother preaching the gospel?” … and other deserving questions. What I want to say to folks when I am asked these kinds of questions is this: These are excellent questions, and there are excellent answers.

One of my favorite things about the Christian faith is the clarity of the truths of Scripture. Predestination, God’s sovereignty, His rulership over all things – including salvation, God’s freedom to do as He pleases, His holiness and justice, and how He always accomplishes His ordained will are many of the subjects that need to be addressed while entering into a study of Calvinism. The idea that there are only “five points” is a bit misleading, and in fact the reason there were five points of Calvinism produced was to respond to the Arminians making their case in the seventeenth century to the churches in England with their five points.

This entry will not attempt to respond to key verses believed to teach Arminianism (some of which include: John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Matthew 23:37). You can bet that I will write a lil’ somethin on these in the near future =). What I will attempt to do is briefly introduce what Calvinism is accompanied by some Scriptural support. This will not be exhaustive and will not respond to all questions that may arise. But please ask if you have a particular question and I’d be happy to address it.

Even though it is overly simplistic, but because this is really an introduction I will utilize the “TULIP” acronym to summarize Calvinism, followed by a compare/contrast with Arminianism which will include some Scriptural support.

T – Total Depravity. Man is so affected by sin that he is unable to make positive advancements towards God in faith. This does not mean that men are as bad as they can be, because God’s common grace restrains the evil that we want to do. However, sin reaches to all aspects of man, even touching his will. In fact, Scripture refers to men as being “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and their “mind set on the flesh [being] hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7). Our Lord Christ also says of man’s will, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). Men are dead in sin, unable to subject themselves to the law of God, and unable to come to Christ in faith.

By contrast, Arminianism teaches that men have libertarian free will. Sin has not affected men to the extent that they are unable to come to Christ in faith. Men are born with an inherent ability to accept or reject God’s truth.

U – Unconditional Election. God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rests solely on His sovereign will. This was not based on anything within men, including any foreseen response or act on their part. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation (Steele and Thomas). The Apostle Paul wrote, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Jesus also says, ”All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). God choice of the elect before the foundation of the world is solely based upon the Father’s choosing. There is no mention of God responding to foreseen knowledge of men choosing Him.

By contrast, Arminianism teaches that God’s choice was based upon God’s foreseeing who would freely respond to the gospel in faith.

L – Limited Atonement (also referred to as “Definite Atonement” and “Particular Redemption”). Christ’s redeeming work was meant to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary atonement for all their sins in which he paid for particular sins and particular sinners on the cross (Steele and Thomas). Peter says that Christ actually “bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). The angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus ,for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus actually bore the sins of His people on the cross. They were paid for in full, and therefore will save His people from their sins.

By contrast, Arminianism teaches that Christ’s redeeming work was meant to save every individual, but did not actually save anyone. His death was not a substitutionary atonement but is theoretical, being applied only when men choose to receive it.

I – Irresistible Grace (also called “Efficacious grace”). In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to all men individually, the Holy Spirit extends to God’s elect a special inward call that will result in their coming to Christ in faith. When the Holy Spirit draws someone to the Lord he always comes. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended (Steele and Thomas). Paul in Ephesians writes this, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). Earlier in this chapter the Apostle calls them dead sinners, but here explains why it is that some come to Christ in faith: God made us alive with Christ. We were dead, but God made us alive.

By contrast, Arminianism teaches that God’s inward call is given to all who outwardly hear the gospel. The Spirit’s call can be resisted by the will of man. Therefore, the Spirit’s call is often overpowered by man, and is not invincible (Steele and Thomas).

P – Perseverance of the Saints (also referred to as “Preservation of the Saints”). All who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end (Steele and Thomas). God began the work of salvation and He is the one that finishes it. Sometimes called the Golden Chain of Redemption, the beautiful text of Romans 8:28-30 shows the work of God in the life of the believer linked together in an unbroken chain of events, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called; He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Those whom He foreknew (which, throughout the Bible, the verb ‘to know’ always refers to God’s special love directed towards His people) He predestined, called, justified and … glorified. It is an unbroken chain of events that will take place. As you continue to the end of the chapter, Paul says we are more than conquerors because of God’s power in salvation. What a great God we have to provide such a secure salvation! Truly, salvation is of the Lord!

By contract, Arminianism teaches that since salvation is contingent upon man choosing or rejecting salvation he may lose his salvation. I should say that not all present-day Arminians believe this – I didn’t when I was one. But the question needs to be asked of the Arminian: if you enter salvation by your choice, why would you not have the choice to abandon that salvation?

Because this is a lot of information to get started in a study on the subject of Calvinism, I’ll try to wrap this up. For further study, I would highly recommend The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele and Thomas, and The Sovereign Grace of God by Dr. James R. White. Both are excellent reads and are simple enough to understand and work through.

If you are wondering if the study of Calvinism versus Arminianism is a worthwhile endeavor, please allow me to offer a few thoughts. I believe that while it is not essential to salvation, it is nevertheless extremely important to the believer. What is at stake is a theocentric (God-centered) gospel versus a anthropocentric (man-centered) gospel. Is God able to save? Or does God require the cooperation of man? And to the Arminian who may challenge my line of questioning by asking me: “Well, why can’t God choose to give man free will?” I would respond by pointing out that were that the case God’s ordained will is not accomplished as the Bible declares that it is and will be.

The Lord is a mighty God, and He accomplishes His purpose. And again I point to that beautiful text in Romans 8, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. All things. What things? Paul later mentions those powers who are against Christians, and then concludes the chapter by including literally everything. The gospel is good news because sinners are so corrupted by sin that we will not and cannot choose to believe in Christ. But He has mercy on some and chose them before the foundation of the world – not based on anything in them – it is by grace alone. Christ secured their salvation by accomplishing salvation on the cross. The Lord draws His people unto Himself at the appointed time, and then He continues to work within them so that they will not fall away from the truth.

From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. He is the author and finisher of our faith. Praise be to such a triune God as ours!

Thanks for reading,


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