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Calvinism is a Protestant Christian doctrine named after John Calvin.

The term "Calvinism" has two common uses:

  1. As regards the doctrine of grace, "Calvinism" refers to the soteriological system set out by Calvin, which received its authoritative form during the 1617 Synod of Dort, which denounced the teachings of Arminius.
  2. More broadly, "Calvinism" is often used as a synonym for "Reformed Protestantism", and encompasses the whole body of doctrine taught by Reformed churches. In addition to maintaining a Calvinist soteriology, a key feature of this system is an aversion to any form of worship not explicitly instituted in the New Testament.

Calvin had international influence on the development of the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation, beginning at the age of 25, when he started work on his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1534 (published 1536). This work, which underwent a number of revisions in his lifetime, plus his polemical and pastoral works and a massive collection of commentaries on the Bible are the source of Calvin's ongoing personal influence on Protestantism.

Calvinism marks the second phase of the Protestant Reformation, when evangelical churches began to form following Luther's excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. In this sense, Calvinism was originally a Lutheran movement. Calvin himself signed the Lutheran Augsburg confession in 1540. On the other hand, Calvin's influence first began to be felt in the Swiss Reformation, which was not Lutheran but rather, followed Huldrych Zwingli. It became evident that doctrine in the Reformed churches was developing in a direction independent of Luther's, under the influence of numerous writers and reformers, among whom John Calvin was pre-eminent, and thus this form of doctrine came to be called Calvinism.

Given that it has multiple founders, the name "Calvinism" is somewhat misleading if taken to imply that every major feature of the doctrine of the "Calvinist churches", or of all Calvinist movements, can be found in the writings of Calvin. The name applies generally to the Protestant doctrines that were held in common among the non-Lutheran national churches of Protestant countries and various minority Protestant reform movements, known as the Reformed churches, which formed outside of the Catholic Church in the latter two thirds of the 16th century (and in England in the 17th century).


Calvinism - Life is religion

The theological system and practical theories of church, family, and political life, all ambiguously called "Calvinism", are the outgrowth of a fundamental religious consciousness centered upon "the sovereignty of God". The doctrine of God is, in principle, given a pre-eminent place in every category of theology, including the Calvinist understanding of how a man ought to live. Calvinism presupposes that the goodness and power of God have a free, unlimited range of activity -- and, it works out as a conviction that God is at work in all realms of existence, including the spiritual, physical, intellectual realms, whether secular or sacred, public or private, in earth or in heaven. According to this viewpoint, the entire course of events is the outworking of the plan of God, who is the creator, preserver, and governor of all things. This attitude of absolute dependence on God is not identified with temporary acts of piety, for example, such as prayer; rather, it is a sustained and all-encompassing pattern of life that in principle applies to digging ditches as well as taking communion. For the Calvinist Christian, all of life is the Christian religion.

Popular summations of Calvinist theology

Calvinism is often identified in the popular mind, with the "five points of the doctrines of grace", remembered by the English acronym: TULIP .

Total Depravity

Men in their natural, unregenerate state do not have the ability to turn to God. Rather it is the grace and will of God through the Spirit that causes men who are dead in sin to be reborn through the Word.
  • Romans 3:10-11 "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God."
  • John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them."

Unconditional Election

Election means "choice". God's choice from eternity, of whom He will bring to Himself, is not based on foreseen virtue, merit or faith in the men He chooses but rather, is unconditionally grounded in His own mercy.
  • Romans 9:16 "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."
  • Ephesians 1:4 "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."
  • John 1:13 "born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
Recommended book "Chosen by God" by R.C. Sproul ISBN 0842313354

Limited Atonement

Also called "particular redemption" or "definite atonement" meaning that, Christ's death actually takes away the penalty of sins committed by those upon whom God has chosen to have mercy. (As opposed to Christ's death making redemption merely a possibility that we can perform). It is "limited" then, to taking away the sins of the elect.
  • John 10:15 "I lay down my life for the sheep."
  • Acts 20:28 "shepherd the church of God that He obtained with the blood of His own Son."
  • Ephesians 5:25 "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."
Recommended book "Death of Death" by John Owen ISBN 0851513824

Irresistible Grace

The saving grace of God is not resistible. Those who obtain salvation do so because of the relentlessness of God's mercy. Men yield to grace, not finally because God found their consciences more tender or their faith more tenacious than other men. Rather, willingness and ability to do God's will, are evidence of God's faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin.
  • John 15:16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you."
  • Ephesians 1:11 "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will."
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit."
  • Romans 9:11 "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call."
  • Colossians 2:13 "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him."

Perseverance of the Saints

Also called the "Preservation of the Saints". Those whom God has called into communion with Himself through Christ, will continue in faith and will increase in faith and other gifts, until the end. Those who apparently fall away, either never had true faith to begin with, or else will return. Thus Calvinists subscribe to the "once saved, always saved" concept popular among many Christian denominations.
  • John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
  • 1 John 2:19 "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."
  • Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

These five points are a summation of the judgments or canons rendered by the Synod of Dort, which was published as a point-by-point refutation of the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance. They are not a summation of Calvin's writings, or of the theology of the Reformed churches. The central assertion of these canons is that, God is able to save from the tyranny of sin, from guilt and the fear of death, every one of those upon whom he is willing to have mercy. God is not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of men because it is the unrighteous and the helpless that he intends to save.

Calvinism is often further reduced in the popular mind to one or another of the five points of TULIP. 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. The doctrine of 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 of His intentions to save. Nevertheless, non-Calvinist Christians strongly object that these doctrines are false and offensive, and that they discourage the world from seeking salvation.

While the idea of substitutionary atonement originated long before Calvinism (see Anselm of Canterbury), it is properly a doctrine that belongs to Reformed theology or Calvinism. This is because logically, if Christ substitutes for somebody's sins, that man must be saved. That is why historically Arminians have not held to substitutionary atonement but rather the governmental theory of the atonement.

These doctrinal emphases can be summarized in three words -- "God saves sinners":

  • It is God who saves, and not man.
Revelations 7:10 "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
  • He really does save us to the uttermost, not just make salvation possible.
Hebrews 7:25 "Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them"
  • It is sinners whom He saves, not the righteous.
Luke 5:32 "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

Attempts to reform Calvinism

Liberal reforms

Many efforts have been undertaken to reform Calvinism and especially the doctrine of the Reformed churches. The most notable and earliest of these was the theological and political movement called Arminianism, already mentioned in connection with the Synod of Dort. Arminianism was rejected by most Reformed churches, but ultimately prevailed in the Church of England, despite Calvinism being the formally adopted system of doctrine in that church.

Another revision of Calvinism is called Amyrauldianism , "hypothetical universalism", or "four-point Calvinism", which asserts that Christ's death atones for the sins of all men, but only those who repent and believe are elect and receive forgiveness. This doctrine was most thoroughly systematized by the French Reformed theologian at the University of Saumur, Moses Amyraut, for whom it is named. It was popularized in England by the Reformed pastor Richard Baxter, and gained strong adherence in the Presbyterian church in American colonies, during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the United States, Amyrauldianism is the most common form of Calvinism current among evangelical churches. Baxter himself differentiated his proposals from those of Amyrauldianism, on several rather subtle points. Baxter's influential form of hypothetical universalism is often called neonomianism , and is generally considered a milder proposal of reform than Amyraut's version.

In the mainline Reformed churches, Calvinism has undergone significant revision through the influence of Karl Barth and neo-orthodox theology. Barth was an important Swiss Reformed theologian who began writing early in the 20th century, whose chief accomplishment was to counter-act the influence of the Enlightenment in the churches, especially as this had led to the toleration of Nazism in the Germanic countries of Western Europe. The Barmen declaration is an expression of the Barthian reform of Calvinism. The revisions Barth proposed are radical and impossible to concisely discuss in comparison to classical Calvinism but generally involve the complete rejection of natural theology. Conservative Calvinists (as well as some liberal reformers) regard it as confusing to use the name "Calvinism" to refer to neo-orthodoxy or the other liberal revisions mentioned above.

Conservative reforms

A more conservative revision of Calvinism gained influence in the Dutch Reformed churches, late in the 19th century, which has been dubbed "neo-Calvinism", and developed along lines of the theories of Dutch theologian, statesman and journalist, Abraham Kuyper. This revision was a response to the influences of the Enlightenment, but generally speaking did not touch directly on the articles of salvation. Neo-Calvinism is a revision of the Calvinist world-and-life view, which is an extension of the Calvinist understanding of salvation to scientific, social and political issues (though some Calvinists would argue that it is not so much a matter of revision as a matter of emphasis, citing the Institutes, book 1, chapters 1-3, and other works). In the United States, Kuyperian neo-Calvinism is represented among others, by the Center for Public Justice, a faith-based political think-tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Neo-Calvinism branched off in more conservative movements in the United States. The first of these to rise to prominence became apparent through the writings of Francis Schaeffer, and a group of scholars associated with a Calvinist study center in Switzerland, called L'abri . This movement generated a reawakened social consciousness among Evangelicals, especially in response to abortion, and was one of the formative influences which brought about the "Moral Majority" phenomenon in the United States, in the early 1980s.

Another Calvinist movement, more radical in the eyes of some, has been influential in American family and political life. This movement is called Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism is a separate revision of Kuyper's approach under the leadership of the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, son of Armenian immigrants, Reformed scholar and essayist, who based much of his understanding on the apologetical insights of the late professor Cornelius Van Til. The movement has marginal influence in some of the conservative Reformed churches in which it was born, and in Calvinistic Baptist and charismatic churches mostly in the United States. Not a political movement, strictly speaking, Reconstructionism has been influential in the development of the so-called "religious right"; it aims toward the complete reconstruction of the structures of society on Christian and Biblical presuppositions, although not in terms of "top down" structural changes, but through the steady advance of the Gospel of Christ as men are converted. In keeping with the Theonomic Principle , it seeks to establish laws and structures that will best instantiate the ethical principles of the Old Testament, as expounded in the case laws and summarized in the Decalogue.


Main article: Hyper-calvinism

Calvinism has frequently appeared in various forms, which are called "hyper-Calvinism" by critics of that version of doctrine, on the supposition that it is a corrupted form of Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is not necessarily believed by anyone (indeed, it can't be believed in all of its varieties); it is a label applied to any extrapolation of a point of Calvinism which undermines the theological system, sometimes mistakenly attributed to Calvinism by critics. The name "hyper-Calvinism" is also applied to beyond-orthodox reform movements, which attempt to improve Calvinism by removing perceived inconsistencies. Many Calvinists may reject hyper-Calvinistic beliefs as destructive to the Christian faith, such as:

  • that God is the source of sin and of evil
  • that God from all eternity has acted to irresistibly compel men toward sin and unbelief, just as he pursues those upon whom he desires to have mercy
  • that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
  • that the number of the elect at any time may be known by men
  • that it is wrong to evangelize
  • that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith
  • that men who have once sincerely professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do
  • that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others
  • that the children of unbelievers dying in infancy are certainly damned
  • that God does not command everyone to repent
  • that the sacraments are not means of grace, but obstacles to salvation by faith alone.
  • that the true church is only invisible, and salvation is not connected with the visible church
  • that the Scriptures are intended to be interpreted by individuals only and not by the church.
  • that no government is to be obeyed which does not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord, or that Biblical Law is its source of authority
  • that the grace of God does not work for the betterment of all men
  • that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination
  • that only Calvinists are Christians

Of course, there are Calvinists who believe that these are not caricatures of Calvinism and conscientiously hold to some of them in the belief that these are a logical outworking of their faith. Such Calvinists vigorously object to being called "hyper-Calvinist".

The substance of Calvinism is total dependence on God. Every good thing any man has is there because of God's unmerited grace, and salvation is particularly dependent on grace. Calvinism is intentionally such that all credit, for everything, must go directly to God; humans are but miserable sinners. The "solas" exist to keep all the credit where it belongs, and to exclude any illicit additions such as those the Reformers claimed Catholics had made. The five solas were the summary of Calvinism, indeed of the Reformation, before the Framing of TULIP .[1] [2]

See also

External links

  • Monergism Classic Articles and Resources of the Historic Christian Faith. Largest collection of Reformed/Calvinist resources on the Internet.
  • What is Monergism? . The doctrine that sets Calvinism apart from synergistic constructs of soteriology.
  • Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry Reformed / Calvinistic Christian doctrines of grace robustly defended.
  • Desiring God God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper.
  • The Perseverance of the Saints - An article showing the differences and similarities between Arminian and Calvinist viewpoints on the perseverance of the saints while arguing for assurance of salvation
  • Unconditional Election - Focusing on the "Unconditional Election" concept.
  • Why Calvinism is Cool - A Southern Baptist waxes lyrical about how wonderful Calvinism is.

Last updated: 02-06-2005 20:54:58
Last updated: 03-02-2005 05:44:48