What is Calvinism?
"When the Bible speaks, God speaks." - John Calvin
If you have spent any amount of extended time in church or a Christian school, you have likely heard the term, "Calvinism."
It's often a hotly debated term with some claiming they are "Calvinists" while many others claim they are most certainly not. But, even with all of the debate and discussion around the topic, it seems that there still is a lack of understanding about what the term actually means.
This fact begs the question: What is Calvinism?
First off, Calvinism is a type of Christian theology that was advanced through the life and work of a protestant man named John Calvin. Specifically, it was brought to popularity by his published work called "Institutes of Christian Religion."
If you're feeling froggy, give it a read!
This theology, though much more extensive the more you dig in, can basically be broken down into five points. The five points form the acronym TULIP, here they are:
T : Total Depravity. Because of Adam's initial sin in the garden, every person is negatively affected. We are all dead in our sins and shortcomings, with no ability to save ourselves.
We are totally depraved of any goodness or godliness because of our sinful nature (Gen. 3, Romans 3).
U: Unconditional Election. In light of the fact that we cannot save ourselves, God's salvation is unconditional. Meaning this: You being saved has nothing to do with what you do and everything to do with what God did for you on the cross.
God loves us. That's the only reason we get a shot at salvation.
When it comes to election, Calvinism asserts that God chose people at the beginning of time that He would save. Basically, we don't choose God... He chooses us. Namely because we are so sinful (Remember: total depravity) we would never choose him anyways (Eph. 1:4-6)
L - Limited Atonement. This is a tricky one to navigate. Let's define terms: "Limited" insinuates that something is not in infinite supply. While "Atonement" means a reparation for a wrong. In Christianity, it is Christ's work on the cross covering our sins' penalty.
So then "limited atonement" means that there is not an infinite supply of God's forgiveness for our sins. It is for the elect, not every person in the world. Only the elect can get saved and experience God's grace (John 17:9).
To be clear, I do not agree with this position. So don't shoot the messenger.
I - Irresistible Grace. Basically the fact that once God "elects" us that we will not be able to resist His call on our lives to be saved. Making the idea of stiff - arming God impossible.
This makes the illustration of a God idly waiting for us to choose him a falsehood. When God wants us, He gets us. (John 6:44)
P - Perseverance for the Saints. Simply put, once you're saved, you're always saved. You cannot lose salvation - it is an impossible endeavor.
Think about it: If you did NOTHING to earn salvation (unconditional election) than you can't do ANYTHING to lose it. No amount of sin or slander is going to result in God leaving someone He chose (Romans 8:38-39).
God knew what He was getting into when He saved you in the first place. He knew your shortcomings and faults ahead of time. He's not going anywhere.
Those are the five points of Calvinism! It's important to note that even Calvinists do not hold fast to all the points. Some only adopt four of them, making them a "4 point Calvinist."
With all of that said, doctrines like this are helpful to look at but should always be pondered in light of the fact that God doesn't fit neatly into any box or doctrine. He is God and He ultimately makes the rules.