What is Calvinism?

A Daily Little Lesson

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Today’s question, “What is Calvinism,” is a great question. Calvinism is a theological belief about how God saves people, that is how he keeps them out of hell and gets them into heaven. Calvinists uniquely believe that God has sovereignly selected some to be saved, but not all. It’s not God’s will for all people to be saved in Calvinistic theology. He only selected some, in fact, he selected a minority to be saved. The rest, of course by default, he has selected them not to be saved. You can’t have one without the other, okay?

man thinking about calvinism

Now, you might be surprised about this, but that’s what Calvinism is all about. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand Calvinism at all. More specifically Calvinists can be delineated by their five cardinal doctrines, that happen to be easily remembered by the acronym TULIP. It stands for T, total depravity, U, unconditional election, L, limited atonement, I, irresistible grace and P, perseverance of the saints. Calvinists, of course, use that easy way to remember their five cardinal doctrines themselves.

Let’s take them one by one. They’re all really inter-related. Really if you believe one, you have to believe the others, because they’re completely dependent upon each other. In fact, if you knock out one, that would knock out the rest as well.

Let’s start with the T, total depravity. Now, you don’t have to read much of the Bible to find out that people are sinful; they fall short of the glory of God, they’re rebels without a cause and they’re in big trouble because of that rebellion against God. I think it’s safe to say from the Bible that people are depraved; you can even go so far as to say they’re totally depraved. Calvinists have a unique spin on this: human beings are so totally depraved, that given the opportunity, they would never, ever repent and turn to Jesus.

Of course, that is partially true, because Jesus did say that no one can come to the Father, no one can come to Him, unless the Father draws them. Apart from the Holy Spirit drawing us, none of us would ever come to Christ. But this leaves out the thousands of other scriptures that indicate that we do have a free will, and that under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, free moral agents can exercise that will and take that little tiny step of saying, “I am sorry I sinned, and I am going to make my best effort to change.” Of course, the Holy Spirit goes right to work when you do that. This is not salvation by human works. This is salvation by grace through faith. The Holy Spirit goes right to work in someone who has, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, begun to take steps of trying to submit. The Holy Spirit helps that person submit. Okay, lots more to be said about that.

Then U, unconditional election. That is, God has elected certain persons from before the foundation of the world. Out of everyone He has created, Calvinists say He selected some to be saved, and then by default, selected some not to be saved. It was an unconditional election. Nothing he foresaw in them, like faith in Jesus, that caused him to select them. It was unconditional, just by “God’s good pleasure”, some Calvinists say. Well, the whole phrase “unconditional election” is an oxymoron, right? All elections are conditional. You elect political candidates because they meet your conditions. In fact, all choices are conditional. If it’s not a conditional choice, then it’s not a choice at all. It’s just random chance. If Calvinists would think about this, they’d have to agree that people are saved not by grace, but they’re saved by chance. A flip of the coin. There’s nothing that God saw in anybody that caused him to select them. He just selected them. It’s random. It’s not an election at all.

We ought to pray, “Oh, thank You for the luck that has saved me,” but it’s not luck at all. That’s unconditional election. Of course Scripture does talk about the fact that we’ve been elected, but again, Calvinists have added the word unconditional before that. They’ve redefined what an election is and created an election that really isn’t an election whatsoever. I believe in a conditional election. God foresaw those who would, under his gracious influence, repent and make an attempt to believe in Jesus Christ, and then He went to work for them.

Hurrying along here, L, limited atonement. Of course, if God has only pre-selected a minority of people to be saved, why would Jesus die for everyone? That’s a great question. In Calvinist theology, Jesus didn’t die for everyone. He only died for those whom God pre-selected. Even though the Bible says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Even though John wrote that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” That’s not what Calvinists subscribe to. It’s amazing the lengths they go to to undo those scriptures that I’ve just quoted, and many like it.

Then irresistible grace, that’s the I in TULIP. Those whom God has pre-selected at his chosen time, he zaps them with a grace that’s irresistible and that’s what causes them to be born again, against their wills, as it were. Even though the Bible is a book, practically from cover-to-cover, about people who resist God, and God lamenting it, and God calling everyone to repentance, and God telling us to go preach the Gospel to everyone in the whole world, calling everyone to repent… but you’re not going to repent unless God has pre-selected you and zapped you with some irresistible grace, according to Calvinists.

Finally, perseverance of the saints. Obviously if God has pre-selected some people to be saved, those people will be saved. When they come to faith in Christ and are born again, they’ll never fall away. They’ll never turn the other way. Even though the Bible is full of examples and warnings of that very thing happening! We’re saved by grace through faith and we have to continue to believing to be saved, and that is why there are so many admonitions to continue in the faith in the New Testament. But this is not a possibility in Calvinistic theology.

Where do Calvinists come up with these ideas? By isolating scriptures from the rest of the Bible. That’s how all wrong and bad theology is concocted. You have to harmonize your doctrine with the other 30,000 verses in the Bible. I could easily take the Calvinistic proof text and harmonize them with the rest of the Bible and it fits my theology quite well. Calvinists can not harmonize their proof text, rather their interpretation of their proof text, with the rest of the Bible. They love Romans 9, of course taking that out of its context, saying this is how God chooses someone and doesn’t choose the other, whereas Paul was not talking about people being individually saved. He was arguing about the fact that if God wants to, He can sovereignly choose to save Gentiles by faith, the same way He’s been saving Jews for all that time. He can save Gentiles if He so desires, and he does so desire. That’s up to God. Praise the Lord! Not by works, not because of what the Gentiles did, but because of God’s love and his grace.

I’ve written many articles on Calvinism and all the specifics of it and taken a look at all their various arguments on my website. You can read some of what I’ve written here.

In closing, we love Calvinists, but we don’t like their doctrine. Thanks for joining me. God bless you.