Calvinism is the theological system associated with the Reformer John Calvin that emphasizes the rule of God over all things as reflected in its understanding of Scripture, God, humanity, salvation, and the church. In popular vernacular, Calvinism often refers to the Five Points of Calvinistic doctrine regarding salvation, which make up the acrostic TULIP. In its broader sense, Calvinism is associated with Reformed theology.

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Background

Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as "Augustinianism" because Calvin followed Augustine (A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.

In a broad sense, Calvinism can be virtually synonymous with "Reformed Protestantism" or Reformed theology, encompassing the whole body of doctrine taught by Reformed churches and represented in various Reformed Confessions such as the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).

Scripture

The principle of Calvin's system can be expressed by the term Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This principle of the Reformation demonstrates the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore the final authority in belief and practice. A common mistake is made when Sola Scriptura is understood as the Bible "alone." Calvin and the Reformers, believed strongly in church tradition, e.g. Calvin consistently and often cites the early church fathers. However, Scripture had the final authority and tradition was given a subordinate role. The authority of Scripture was not through rational argumentation or proofs, but through the witness of the Holy Spirit. [1]

See main page: Scripture alone, Authority of the Bible

God

Calvinism affirms and confesses the historic doctrine of the Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is perfect in all his attributes, and is self-sufficient. Therefore, God is not subject to time or other beings, nor is he reducible to matter or spatial categories available to human reasoning or examination.[2] God is also mysterious, or hidden, except as he chooses to reveal himself to men, which He has done in the Scriptures.

Salvation (Five Points of Calvinism)

The Calvinist doctrine of salvation is summarized in what is commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism, or the Doctrines of Grace, known by the acronym TULIP. These five points are a summary of the Canons of Dort which in turn was the judgment of the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) against related Arminian teaching. These five points are not intended to be a comprehensive summary of Calvinism or Reformed doctrine, but an exposition of the sovereignty of God in salvation -- arranged to address the particular points in dispute raised by the Arminians of that day.

Note: The summary wording below is adapted from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics

Total depravity

Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people's natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).

Unconditional election

Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15, 21). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).

Limited atonement

Limited atonement (also known as "definite atonement") is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, "for whose sins did Christ atone?" The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church -- the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name "Christian" (Ephesians 5:25).

See main page: Definite atonement See also Atonement of Christ and Penal substitutionary atonement

Irresistible grace

The result of God's irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God's beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!

Perseverance of the saints

Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28–39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the "last day" (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ's promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.

The Church

Theology of the sacraments

Calvinists regard the sacraments as gracious gifts from Christ to his church, the substance of the sacraments being Christ and their benefits being appropriated by faith. They are memorial and symbolic in nature, but not simply memorial and symbolic, as Jesus is faithful to his promise. Thus, if a thing is signified by a sacrament, he will certainly bestow the thing so signified on a faithful participant, and indeed he himself will accompany the sign. Consistent with Protestantism in general, Calvinism acknowledges the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as being specifically instituted by Christ for the church.

The Five Solas of the Reformation

The Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, while not unique to Calvinism, are integral to a Calvinist theological perspective and therefore bear restating here:

Notes

  1. Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, section 7, chapter
    1. See also book 1, section 8, chapters 1-13.
  2. W. S. Reid, "Calvinism", p. 202 in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, ed. 2nd ed. (Baker, 2001)

See also

Further Reading

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Introductions

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