An Introduction to Calvinism
Very few doctrines are more pervasive in modern churches and theology than Calvinism. Although not modern by any means, this doctrine is recognized by its most successful proponent, John Calvin (1509-1564). A Frenchman and church reformer, Calvin formalized these doctrines in his Institutes of Christian Religion, first published in 1536, at the age of 27. Contemporary with Martin Luther, Calvin's work quickly became associated with many of the reformed churches of his day and remains even today in many of the denominational creeds and confessions of faith, especially the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.
Calvinism in a Nutshell
Many people have never heard of Calvinism, while some disregard it as an academic subject with little practical relevance. Since many may need an introduction or refresher to the subject, let us first consider the following summary of Calvinism, and in subsequent articles we will more closely examine the components, or tenets that make up Calvinism.
It should first be understood that Calvinism is a highly logical, systematic, and interconnected system of belief that relate to our spiritual nature and ultimately our salvation. It contains many truths that are undisputed by most Christians, but it also contains many statements that would be contested as false by some. Consequently, it is important that we separate the truth from the error, and cling to the truth as shown in the Bible (I Thessalonians 5:21).
The foundation of Calvinism is the complete and total sovereignty of God. According to Calvin, since God is sovereign, He has made all choices and man is, therefore, without choice and free will. Calvin further reasoned that one of these choices, which God made, is that man would sin. This sin, which God forced man to commit, corrupted man's nature making the entire human race totally deprived of good, wholly inclined to evil and sin.
Calvin argued that to save man, God chose certain people to be saved. Since man became depraved and would have been unable accept God's conditions on his own, these elect few were chosen without prerequisite. To bring about man's salvation, the Holy Spirit moves the chosen few toward God, thereby condemning the rest to eternity in hell. These chosen people can not resist God's grace and, therefore, cannot be lost or become lost. The purpose of God's choice was to bring about His own glory.
The results of these beliefs, which teach that man has no free will, is that he has no control over his life and destiny. God has unconditionally chosen some people to be saved, who cannot be lost regardless of their behavior. Those not elected unto salvation are unavoidably sentenced to hell regardless of their behavior.
Although Calvin did not arrange his beliefs according to the acronym, TULIP, a prominent denomination did. They used this acronym to outline and identify their beliefs, fundamental to their creed. In following articles, we will study the foundation of Calvinism, the Sovereignty of God; then the tenets of Calvinism, and some summary thoughts as outlined below:
- Sovereignty of God
- Total Inherited Depravity of Man
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints
- Frequently Asked Questions: Responses to the Calvinist
- Why I am not a Calvinist: A Personal Defense
It should be emphasized that all tenets of this doctrine are tightly interconnected. Calvin's system of belief was very logical, which has two implications. First, if one tenet is assumed, the rest will naturally follow. But, if one tenet should be disproved, then the remainder are of necessity disproved and the entire system of belief crumbles.
Why Study Calvinism?
To some this study may seem like an exercise in academics. To others it might be a dogmatic advancement of their denominational creed; however, if the Bible addresses the doctrine or its tenets, then it must be by definition a topic of grave importance and concern to us.
Also, the doctrines of Calvinism are actually the doctrinal foundation of most denominational creeds. It is therefore inherently crucial that we examine the root of these creeds. Since they relate to all of our most basic spiritual beliefs, including free will, the character of God, and even forgiveness of sins, we must therefore, diligently study this subject before we rashly adopt or cling to these beliefs. A falsely drawn conclusion or blindly accepted creed at this point would produce untold doctrinal and moral errors, leading to faith without scriptural foundation or hope.
Calvinism is a set of highly logical and interconnected beliefs that influences many denominational creeds and confessions of faith. It attempts to explain man's basis for salvation through the sovereignty of God and affects almost all aspects of one's beliefs, morals, and behavior. Since it is so far reaching and widely accepted, it is inherently important that we examine this doctrine, even if in brief.
Next: Sovereignty of God
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