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Question:

"I heard someone describe himself as a "Five Point Calvinist". What does that mean?"

Answer:

Calvinism is based on the teachings of John Calvin, who was born in 1509 (see Calvin, John Offsite Link). There are five main doctrines in modern-day Calvinism, which are often described using the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity:
Because of the Fall, sin extends to every part of our being (our thoughts, our emotions, and our wills). Non-Christians are dead in their sins, and therefore they are completely incapable of making proper moral choices. Since they are dead in their sins, they are therefore deaf to the Gospel message. This is the essence of the idea of "Total Depravity," which is also called "Total Inability."
Unconditional Election:
Because of the "Total Depravity" of mankind, our salvation is completely dependant upon God. Before the Creation of the world, God predestined certain people to receive salvation, and we humans have no choice in the matter. We have the ability to make certain types of choices because we have "free agency," but we will never make the proper spiritual choices on our own because we do not have "free will" which would allow us to choose to make Jesus our Lord and Savior. This is sometimes referred to as "single election." The idea that God predestined certain people (the "elect") to receive salvation, and that He also predestined everyone else to go to hell is called "double election." The condemnation of the non-elect is referred to as "reprobation."
Limited Atonement:
Because of our "Total Depravity" and God's "Unconditional Election," the only people who will ever receive salvation are those whom God had predestined before the foundation of the world (i.e. the "elect"). Therefore, Jesus did not die to purchase salvation for all of mankind. Instead, Jesus' atoning sacrifice was "limited" because it was intended only for the purpose of purchasing salvation for the elect. His death atoned for the specific sins of specific sinners, but not for all sinners.
Irresistible Grace:
Because of our "Total Depravity," there is nothing we can do on our own to influence our salvation. Our salvation is entirely due to the grace of God. Since Jesus' "Limited Atonement" purchased salvation only for those who were foreordained to salvation, this means that everyone who was predestined to salvation will be saved. They have no choice in the matter, and therefore God's saving grace is "irresistible." The elect cannot resist God's grace, and therefore every elect person throughout history will receive salvation.
Persistence of the Saints:
Because God had predestined certain people (the "elect") to receive salvation, and because of God's "Irresistible Grace," every elect person will receive salvation. They have no choice in the matter, they have no "free will" to resist God's grace, and therefore they will all go to heaven. The "Persistence of the Saints" means that the elect cannot lose their salvation because God had foreordained it.
These are the five main points of modern-day Calvinism (often represented by the acronym TULIP), and those who believe these things sometimes refer to themselves as "Five-Point Calvinists." For more on Calvinism, which is also known as "Reformed Theology," try this website: The Five Points of Calvinism Offsite Link.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Calvinism is Arminianism. Jacobus Arminius was born in 1560 (see Arminius, Jacobus Offsite Link), and he became a strict Calvinist scholar. He was influenced by a man named Beza, who had become Calvin's successor after Calvin's death. Beza took Calvin's doctrine of predestination a step further and developed the "supralapsarian" view which says that God first preordained those who would be saved and those who would go to hell, and then God permitted the Fall as the means through which each individual's predestination would be carried out. The "infralapsarian" view says that God first permitted the Fall, and then God decreed election as the means of saving certain fallen humans.

During the sixteenth century (and continuing to this day) there were big debates between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Jacob Arminius, being a respected Calvinist scholar, was called on to defend Calvinism and supralapsarianism against those who opposed these views. As Arminius studied and prepared, however, he began doubting the idea of unconditional predestination. Arminius came to believe that predestination is based on God's foreknowledge of who would believe in Jesus for salvation and who wouldn't. He believed that Jesus died to purchase salvation for everyone, but only those who believe in Jesus will receive salvation. He also believed that God's grace is not irresistible, and that it is possible for a believer to fall from grace. These are some of the main points of Arminianism. For a short synopsis of the five "remonstrances" of Arminianism and the five points of Calvinism, see Calvinism and Arminianism Offsite Link.


So which view is right, Calvinism or Arminianism, or is there perhaps a more balanced view (between these two extremes) which is more accurate? After studying some strong arguments in favor of Calvinism, I asked the Lord to lead me to any strong arguments against Calvinism if Calvinism is not correct. That same day, I came across the following two articles which I believe effectively argue against Calvinism. Without trying to endorse everything that these authors say, here are some articles for your consideration: As these articles demonstrate, all five points of Calvinism are flawed.

Does this mean that Arminianism is the correct doctrine? Not necessarily. Some people make the assumption that if a person is not a Calvinist then he must be an Arminian or a Pelagian (a person who believes that humans have the natural capacity to seek God), but this is a false assumption. Calvinism can be refuted from Scripture without having to believe in Arminianism or Pelagianism, as the above two articles demonstrate.

One thing that we need to keep in mind is that God's ways are higher than our ways, and God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts:
""For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
This means that sometimes we will encounter truths in the Bible which are clearly taught but which seem contradictory to our fallible human minds. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that there is one God who exists in three Persons (see my article called Do Christians Believe in Three Gods?), but our minds cannot grasp how this is possible. Consider that I am one person who is both a father and a son, but the "father" part of me cannot separate itself from the "son" part of me. They cannot talk to each other and interact with each other as separate individuals. Yet my article (above) shows that God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit can interact with each other as separate individuals, even though they are one God. This type of seeming contradiction is referred to as "truths in tension" (try doing a Web search for "truths in tension" and you'll see how this expression is used by theologians). Here's another example of "truths in tension." The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is fully God (see my article above), yet the Bible also clearly teaches that when Jesus came to earth He was fully human (He was born as a baby, He grew to manhood, He walked, He talked, He ate, He drank, He grew weary, He slept, He cried, He bled, He died, and so on). If we say that Jesus is half man and half God then we are diminishing His divinity by 50%, which the Bible does not support. Somehow Jesus is 100% God and He is 100% human, both at the same time. Even though our minds have trouble understanding how this is possible, these facts are clearly taught in Scripture and so these are two truths which are held in tension.

I believe that this idea of "truth in tension" also applies to predestination. Calvinists use passages like John 6:44 ("No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him") in order to show that each person's salvation is initiated by God, and I believe that the Calvinists are quite correct on this point. Arminians, on the other hand, point to other passages which show that God commands each person to believe in Jesus as a free will choice (see the two articles on Calvinism listed above), and I believe that the Arminians are quite correct on this point. The Bible teaches both of these things, even though they might sound contradictory to our limited human minds. Mankind is fallen and would never choose to believe in Jesus unless God first initiates it, but after God begins drawing us to Jesus He allows us to exercise our free will in whether or not to choose to believe in Jesus.


Conclusion

What I see in Scripture is that a person's salvation depends on God (as Calvinists claim) and the person's salvation depends on his free will decision (as Arminians claim). These truths are both taught in Scripture, and they are held in tension with each other just as the two truths that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human are both taught in Scripture and are held in tension with each other. Whether or not we can grasp these "contradictory" truths is not the issue, the issue boils down to the fact that these "contradictory" truths are clearly taught in Scripture. God's ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts! (Isaiah 55:8-9).


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 02/20/2005 - Modified the explanation of the five points of Calvinism in order to be more accurate in describing the Calvinist viewpoint. Added a link to a Calvinist website.
  • 06/10/2003 - New article.