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Calvinism – What is it? Is Calvinism biblical?

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Many people think that Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, was invented by French theologian John Calvin, and that Calvin came up with the acronym TULIP. The truth is that the theological system that bears Calvin's name came about to oppose the teachings of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius whose "five Remonstrances" were presented by his followers at the Synod of Dort in 1610, the year after Jacob Arminius died and 46 years after Calvin died. The judgments of the Synod, known as the Canons of Dort, opposed the Arminian view with five points of doctrine, each in answer to one of the five articles of the Remonstrance. It was this response which gave rise to what has since become known as the Five Points of Calvinism.

The acronym TULIP is a simple way to remember the five points of Calvinism in regard to salvation. The letters stand for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. These are summarized below.

Total Depravity - As a result of Adam's fall, the entire human race is affected; all humanity is dead in trespasses and sins. Man is unable to save himself (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18).

Unconditional Election - Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, in eternity past God elected certain people to salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional in that they are not based on man's response (Romans 8:29-30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6, 11-12). Scripture is clear that man is both unable and unwilling to respond to God.

Limited Atonement - Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God's unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone, thereby limiting the atonement to the elect. All whom God has chosen – those for whom Christ died – will be saved (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).

Irresistible Grace - God draws those He has chosen through grace that is irresistible. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds, not because he is forced, but because that is the desire of his changed heart (John 6:37, 44; 10:16).

Perseverance of the Saints - The precise ones God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-14).

While all these doctrines have a biblical basis, many people reject all or some of them. So-called "four-point Calvinists" accept Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints as biblical doctrines. Man is definitely sinful and incapable of believing in God on his own. God elects people based on His will alone. Election is not based on any merit in the person chosen. All those whom God has chosen will come to Christ through the gift of faith. All those who are truly born again will persevere in their faith. As for Limited Atonement, however, four-point Calvinists believe that atonement is unlimited, arguing that the Bible supports the idea that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, not just for the sins of the elect. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Other verses used to oppose limited atonement are John 1:29, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:6, and 2 Peter 2:1.

The five-point Calvinists, however, see problems with four-point Calvinism, in particular that if Total Depravity is true, Unlimited Atonement cannot logically also be true. If Jesus died for the sins of every person, then whether His death is sufficient for an individual depends on whether that person "accepts" Christ. But man in his natural state has no capacity to choose God, or even to desire to choose God. Therefore Total Depravity makes Unlimited Atonement impossible.

There are many arguments on either side, but the most important thing to remember is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved (John 3:16) and that He will turn away none of those the Father has given him (John 10:27-29). Jesus said "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). Even if we do not fully understand the inner workings of God's mind, we can trust that every person who desires God will be with God, and has full access to the work Christ accomplished on the cross (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

Related Truth:

Reformed Theology – What is it?

In the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, which side is correct?

Sovereign grace – What is it? What is irresistible grace?

What is the doctrine of predestination?

Is unlimited atonement biblical? Is the atonement provided by Jesus Christ unlimited?

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