Calvinism (named after John Calvin and also called the Reformed faith, or Reformed theology) is a theological system that emphasizes the God's sovereignty or control over all things. It bears the name of this 16th century French reformer, because of his prominant influence in the development of Calvinist Theology. Calvinism is especially well-known for its doctrines of predestination and limited atonement.
Calvinism stresses the complete ruin of humanity's ethical nature against a backdrop of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It teaches that fallen humanity is morally and spiritually unable to follow God or escape their condemnation before him and that only by divine intervention in which God must change their unwilling hearts can people be turned from rebellion to willing obedience.
In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on them. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners. Views of predestination to damnation (the doctrine of reprobation) are less uniform than is the view of predestination to salvation (the doctrine of election) among self-described Calvinists.
In practice, Calvinists teach sovereign grace primarily for the encouragement of the church because they believe the doctrine demonstrates the extent of God's love in saving those who could not and would not follow him, as well as squelching pride and self-reliance and emphasizing the Christian's total dependence on the grace of God. In the same way, sanctification in the Calvinist view requires a continual reliance on God to purge the Christian's depraved heart from the power of sin and to further the Christian's joy.
Five points of Calvinism
Calvinist theology is sometimes identified with the five points of Calvinism, also called the doctrines of grace, which are a point-by-point response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance and which serve as a summation of the judgments rendered by the Synod of Dort in 1619. Calvin himself never used such a model and never combated Arminianism directly.
The points therefore function as a summary of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, but not as a complete summation of Calvin's writings or of the theology of the Reformed churches in general. In English, the points are sometimes referred to by the acronym TULIP, though this puts the points in a different order than the Canons of Dort.
The central assertion of these canons is that God is able to save every person upon whom he has mercy and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of humans.
The doctrine of total depravity (also called "total inability") asserts that, as a consequence of the fall of humanity into sin, the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.)
The doctrine of unconditional election asserts that God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy alone.
The doctrine of unconditional election is sometimes made to stand for all Reformed doctrine, sometimes even by its adherents, as the chief article of Reformed Christianity. However, according to the doctrinal statements of these churches, it is not a balanced view to single out this doctrine to stand on its own as representative of all that is taught. Unconditional election, and its corollary in the doctrine of predestination are never properly taught, according to Calvinists, except as an assurance to those who seek forgiveness and salvation through Christ, that their faith is not in vain, because God is able to bring to completion all whom He intends to save. Nevertheless, non-Calvinists object that these doctrines discourage the world from seeking salvation.
Also called "particular redemption" or "definite atonement", the doctrine of limited atonement is the teaching that Jesus' substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its design and accomplishment. The doctrine is driven by the concept of the sovereignty of God in salvation and the Calvinistic understanding of the nature of the atonement. Namely, Calvinists view the atonement as a penal substitution (that is, Jesus was punished in the place of sinners), and since, Calvinists argue, it would be unjust for God to pay the penalty for some people's sins and then still condemn them for those sins, all those whose sins were atoned for must necessarily be saved.
Moreover, since in this scheme God knows precisely who the elect are and since only the elect will be saved, there is no requirement that Christ atone for sins in general, only for those of the elect. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power (in other words, God could have elected everyone and used it to atone for them all), but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is designed for some and not all. Hence, Calvinists hold that the atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.
The doctrine of irresistible grace (also called "efficacious grace") asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith.
The doctrine does not hold that every influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit is able to overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible and effective. Thus, when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved.
Perseverance of the saints
Perseverance (or preservation) of the saints is also known as "eternal security." The word saints is used in the Biblical sense to refer to all who are set apart by God, not in the technical sense of one who is exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven. The doctrine asserts that, since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return.
This doctrine is slightly different from the Free Grace or "once saved, always saved" view advocated by some evangelicals in which, despite apostasy or unrepentant and habitual sin, the individual is truly saved if they accepted Christ at any point in the past; in traditional Calvinist teaching, apostasy by such a person may prove that they were never saved.
This term is an integral part of John Calvin's theological framework, which emphasizes the depravity of man and the complete sovereignty of God. God's plan for the world and every soul that he has created is guided by his will, or providence. According to Calvin, the idea that man has a free will and is able to make choices independently of what God has already determined is based on our limited understanding of God's perfection and the delusion that God's purposes can be circumvented. In this mode of thought, providence is related to predestination.
After the reformation of the 16th century, Calvinism spread to France, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, England, Scotland and Ulster. It was brought to South Africa by French Huguenots and Dutch and German Calvinists. Large numbers of English Puritans also took the Reformed faith to the United States.