Calvinism: Pastor, what does this mean?

By Haddon A. Haynes

We trust that this brief article will introduce you to the Biblical doctrines of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. In theological circles these truths are often identified as "Calvinism" or "Reformed Theology".

Calvinism – An Old Theology

These truths are not a new teaching. Many godly men of the past have embraced these teachings. We list men such as William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and C. H. Spurgeon. Many of the great confessionals such as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith clearly present these truths.

Here is how passionately Charles Haddon Spurgeon felt about "Calvinism".

"I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel . . . unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; and not unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it on the special, particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and allows the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor." (C. H. Spurgeon)

Calvinism – A Debated Theology

This theology has been an area of heated debate throughout the centuries. One is forced to embrace one of two theological orientations – Arminianism or Calvinism. One does not begin to explore and to grasp the significance of the Christian faith without grappling with the tensions between Arminianism and Calvinism. As difficult as it may be, it is a necessary study.

Arthur C. Custance writes:

"Now the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, which were not really Calvin's to begin with though truly representative of his theology, were formulated implicitly by Augustine, who drew his inspiration for them from Paul. All through the centuries thereafter down to Luther's time these same five points have been argued over, denied, believed, explored, written about, and misunderstood.

-whether man is totally depraved and spiritually dead or only very sick,
-whether Election is based entirely on God's pleasure or on foreseen merit,
-whether the sacrifice of Christ is intended for all men or only for the elect,
-whether men can or cannot resist the grace of God,
-and whether the saints are eternally secure in their salvation or can fall away and be lost again: these are the basic issues of debate in the theology of salvation.

Calvin did not put an end to the debate but he so crystallized the issues, and showed so compellingly the logic of their relatedness, that it has ever since been understood by the truly informed that they all stand or fall together. And Calvin showed why they all stand or fall together. He set forth in lucid terms the logical consistency and coherence of the doctrine of sovereign grace and showed that, granted any one of these Five Points, the rest must follow inevitably: deny any one of them and the whole structure is endangered. One cannot satisfactorily defend some points but not others.

(Source: The Sovereignty of Grace, Arthur C. Custance, pg. 71. Doorway Publication, 1987)

To enter into a study of these two differing views of salvation is to begin to build a theological system of truth.

Calvinism – A Defined Theology

Although there is much more to Reformed Theology, the five points known as TULIP serve as an overview of this teaching. The following explanation of the “Five Points” is taken from the appendix in the book The Reformed Doctrine Of Predestination by Loraine Boettner.

Total Depravity
Because of the fall in Adam, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the Gospel. The sinner is spiritually dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free but is in bondage to his sinful nature. He is as spiritually dead and estranged from God as are the fallen angels. Therefore he will not, indeed cannot, choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently it takes regeneration by which the Spirit brings a sinner to Christ - it takes regeneration by which the Spirit brings a sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of Salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.

Key Verses
John 6:44; Romans 5:6; 8:7, 8; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13

Unconditional Election
God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation, before the foundation of the world, rested solely on His own Sovereign Will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause, of God's choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Key Verses
Romans 9:11; 11:5, 7; 11:28; 8:38-39; 1 Thessalonians 1:4 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 14:2; 2 Peter 1:10 Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10

Limited Atonement
Christ's redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, thereby guaranteeing their salvation.

Key Verses
Matt. 1:21; John 6:37-40, 10:14-16, 26-28, 15:13-14; Acts 20:28; Heb. 10:14; Rom. 8:31-34; 1 Cor. 8:11; Eph. 5:25-27; 1 John 4:10-11

Irresistible Grace
In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the Gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected, whereas the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God's grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

Key Verses
Eph. 1:19, 20; Ezek. 11:19; 1 Cor. 4:7; John 17:2; John 5:21; Acts 13:48

Perseverance of The Saints
All who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

Key Verses
John 6:37-39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Peter 1:23

Arminianism – The Opposite View

Let us take a look at the philosophical basis of Arminianism. J. I. Packer, in analyzing the system of thought embodied in the Remonstrance, observes:

"The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation... From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions:

-first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him;
-second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal.

Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions:

1. Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him,
2. nor is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.
3. God's election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.
4. Christ's death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.
5.It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost.

Thus, Arminianism made man's salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man's own work and, because his own, not God's in him."

Calvinism – A Humbling Theology

We reject the Arminian view of salvation which gives to man a (if not the) leading role in determining salvation. We oppose the view that it is man’s choice (free will) to exercise faith or not to exercise faith that seals his eternal destiny. Man is not capable of determining his spirituality. The Calvinist’s position humbles man by demonstrating that left to ourselves we would never embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour. We are too sinful, too spiritually dead, too opposed to God in mind and heart to ever come to Christ. If we ever come, it is because we were chosen to come, and enabled to come by the sovereign grace of God. Left to himself, man is hopelessly lost.

Jesus – The focus of our Theology

With Mr. Spurgeon we would declare:

"I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a 'Calvinist'; I do not hesitate to take the name of 'Baptist'; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, "It is Jesus Christ." My venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity, admirable and excellent in its way; but the Body of Divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system, or any other human treatise; but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious person, embodiment of the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

It is our commitment to hold up the Lord Jesus Christ as the great Saviour. We gladly invite every man, woman, and child to COME to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Knowing that only God can enable men to do so, we would join with the apostles Peter and Paul and say:

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved..." Acts 16:31