I should say something about Calvinism at the outset: I am not particularly fond of this brand of theology. I wanted to mention this as a “disclaimer” of sorts because I have biases toward the “opposing” view (known as Arminianism, though that distinction is problematic by itself). With that said, I believe that “Calvinists” are Christians too and I will not attempt to split the church of Christ simply because I have a different understanding of theology. I will attempt to provide a fair representation of this system of theology and, if you think that I have misrepresented this position, please leave a respectful comment and we can have a dialogue about this theology.
Calvinism is a misnomer. It is named after John Calvin and his system of thought, but the idea, popularly referred to as Calvinism, was present long before the 16th century when Calvin came on the scene. Really this system of thought traces back to popular thinkers such as Augustine that came along prior to John Calvin. However, for ease of reference, I will continue to call this system of theology Calvinism.
Calvinism is an important theology, because of its wide range of influence, that emphasizes, primarily, the sovereignty of God. It suggests that God is all-powerful, even to the point of possessing and exercising complete and total control. This sovereignty is present in many aspects: from the salvation of person, to the creation of the world, to the security of one’s salvation, etc.
Though it may not be complete, one of the most helpful “tools” in describing Calvinism is the acronym “TULIP”. I will explain what each letter stands for as well as provide a brief description of what each tenet of theology implies:
- Total Depravity – The idea of Total Depravity suggests that humans are corrupted totally by sin and that, on our own, we can do no good deed that pleases God.
- Unconditional Election – Because humans are corrupted so totally by sin, they cannot save themselves. Therefore, God takes the initiative and he chooses that some will be saved (these are called the “elect”) and that some will not (these are called the “reprobate”). God chooses who will be saved based on his own purposes and not based on anything that the person has done.
- Limited Atonement – Because God chooses some to be saved and not others, the effects of Jesus death only saves those who are part of the elect.
- Irresistible Grace – And, because of God’s perfect power and sovereign decree, those who are part of the elect will come to salvation and it cannot be denied or resisted.
- Perseverance of the Saints – Because the elect will come to salvation, due to God’s election of them, the elect cannot fall away from this state of salvation. One then cannot “lose their salvation”, as it were.
Calvinism is often contrasted with Arminianism which, although they share the same basic, creedal affirmations of a Triune God, Jesus’ divinity, etc., they are different in their outlook of salvation. On the website for the Society of Evangelical Arminians, they provide a counter acronym, “FACTS”, that is helpful in comparing the two views:
- Freed to Believe by God’s Grace – God frees the human will so that the human can believe upon God for salvation.
- Atonement for All – Salvation, through Christ alone, by grace, is offered to all people. However, only those who freely choose Christ will be saved.
- Conditional Election – One’s participation in election, the saved people of God, is dependent upon the person’s choosing of Christ. Arminians do not believe this to be a good work that saves them, but, rather, it is a willing submission to the grace of God for their salvation.
- Total Depravity – See above.
- Security in Christ – So long as one continually believes upon Christ for their salvation and continually walks with him, that person is considered to be part of the elect and, therefore, saved.
These systems have “butt heads” for many years. Oftentimes this causes denominations who follow these different theologies to attend different churches (Calvinists often attend Presbyterian, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, and some Baptist churches and Arminians attend Methodist, Pentecostal, and some Baptist churches, though these are generalizations, of course) and get into heated online debates.
The important thing to recognize in this brief discussion about these two theologies is that they both have their merits. They are both influential and have had great impacts upon the Christian community. They both seem to have their views supported by Scripture. And they both represent humanity’s struggle to wrap their minds around the majesty and immensity of the deity that we call God.
I do not have the time to explore the issues that I take with Calvinism or the issues that Calvinism has with Arminianism, but I hope that I have provided a survey of these two theologies that helps you to understand, or at least inquire into, what you believe for yourself. Calvinists are, indeed, my brothers and sisters in Christ and I love them dearly.
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