Calvinism: TULIP and the 5 Points

Calvinism is the belief that God unconditionally chooses who will be saved. Nothing, not even a choice to believe, qualifies a person to be chosen by God. On the negative side, God does not choose those who will be condemned, but rather simply allows them to continue in the path of perdition they are already on.

The 5 Points of Calvinism

Today Calvinism is known for five points that carefully define the doctrine. These points were not developed by John Calvin, for whom the doctrine is named, but were given by the Synod of Dort in 1619. The Synod of Dort was a response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance. Arminianism is a reaction to and denial of Calvinist doctrine that was led by Jacob Arminius.

The five points of Calvinism are known by the acronym TULIP. The points are:

The sovereignty of God and the word "predestination" are also discussed below. There is also a scriptural discussion of predestination according to foreknowledge.

Total Depravity

"Total depravity" suggests that humans are so depraved, so sold to sin, that they can't even choose to believe the Gospel when they hear it apart from the grace of God.

The Scriptures do teach that humans are slaves to sin. Romans 7 discusses the fact that giving us a law that teaches us not to desire something only causes us to desire that thing more. It says that we find it easy to want to do what is right, but almost impossible to actually do what is right. The first verses of Ephesians 2 tell us that we all were once influenced by the spirit of disobedience that is at work in the world, which John tells us lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 Jn. 5:19).

None of these verses, however, state or even imply that we are unable to believe when we hear the Gospel!

The basis of much false doctrine today is our predilection to interpret all-inclusive terminology in the Bible as literally all-inclusive.

Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we did that to each other in every day life? We would come home from work one day to tell our wife, "My coworker lied to me today! He told me everyone is going to the office party tonight. How could that be true when you don't even know about it!"

It is just as foolish to do this with the Bible. Paul begins his letter to the Romans with, "I thank my God ... that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (1:8). Really? The Chinese were discussing the faith of Christians in Rome in the first century? So were the Native Americans? I think it is obvious to all of us that Paul's "whole world" did not mean the whole world.

An example that will touch most of us is Psalm 14:3, which is quoted by Paul in Romans 3. King David sings, "There is none that does good, no, not one." Yet a verse later he says those same people "eat up my people like bread." A verse later, he says that "God is with the generation of the righteous."

How can God be with the generation of the righteous if there are no righteous?

In the same way when Romans 7 describes our inability to do what is good, we need to realize that this does not apply to every person the same way. Some are as fully enslaved as the wording in Romans 7 implies. Others are less so. And there are others about whom Paul says, "When the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, then these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves" (Rom. 2:14).

When Peter came to the household of Cornelius, he said, "Truly I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the one that fears him and practices righteousness is accepted by him" (Acts 10:35). He said this to Cornelius, who was told by an angel that his prayers and gifts to the poor had come up as a memorial before God (Acts 10:4). Apparently, the angel was unaware that God chooses people unconditionally! He thought Cornelius was chosen for his prayers and alms.

For the most part, speaking generally, humans are slaves to sin. They have a desire to do what is good, but they cannot find the power to do it. There are exceptions, which is why Jesus said, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:32).

All humans, however, can hear the Gospel, believe, and repent. This is why Paul says, "God once winked at the time of ignorance, but he now commands everyone everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). He later says, "[I] proclaimed ... to the Gentiles that they should repent and turn to God and do works suitable for repentance" (Acts 26:20).

Calvinism relies upon verses like John 6:44, which says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him."

If this were the only verse in the Bible, we could debate its several possible meanings. It may mean what Christians historically took it to mean from the earliest days of Christianity: the Father draws everyone through the Gospel, but only those who meet certain qualifications are given eyes to see that Jesus is really the Son of God. Or, if this were the only verse in the Bible, it might mean what Reformed theologians have suggested for a few hundred years: God has sovereignly chosen a few people since the very beginning, apart from any qualifications, and God only wants those people to come to him.

Of course, the Calvinist interpretation contradicts Acts 17:30, where Paul says that God is commanding all people everywhere to repent. It contradicts 2 Peter 3:9, where Peter says that God is allowing the earth to continue because he wants everyone to be saved, so he is giving as much time as possible for repentance. It contradicts 1 Tim. 2:4, which says that God wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

I said above that all-inclusive language is not always all-inclusive, and I gave you a couple examples in the Bible. But when the Scriptures say "all men" and "everyone everywhere" repeatedly, especially when it is talking about something that God is longing for, then it is safe to conclude that he is really using all-inclusive language.

Nonetheless, there can be exceptions. Pharaoh, it appears, was an exception. God did not want him to be saved. This was not an unconditional choice, however. There are reasons that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.

I'm getting ahead of myself here because Romans 9 needs to be addressed in the next section, but I need to point out that Esau is not an exception. Paul does not tell us that God chose for Esau not to be saved. He tells us that God chose for Esau to serve Jacob. Paul then goes on to quote Malachi 1:2-3, which says that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. The context, however, is not personal. The context in Malachi concerns nations. It is the nation of Edom, Esau's descendants whom God "hated." We know this because Malachi discussed Edom in the very next verse.

This is not far-fetched interpretation. The context in Romans 9 is also nations. The question being addressed is why God is choosing the Gentiles over the Israelites, not why God is choosing one individual over another.

But now I am getting ahead of myself. Let us move on to "unconditional" election.

Unconditional Election

"Unconditional election" teaches that God chose ("sovereignly elected") who would be saved in the very beginning, and that he did this unconditionally. This means that there is worth, value, or merit to a person that led to them being chosen for salvation. 

Leap to a one paragraph description of limited atonement or read on for a Scriptural discussion of unconditional election. You may also return to the 5 points.

Unconditional election is the basis of the TULIP system, and it is the one doctrine of Calvinism that horrifies us most. Reformed theology suggests that God has chosen certain people to be saved, a few at that, and the majority of humans ever born are to be tormented eternally for their sins despite the fact that they had not the slightest opportunity nor ability to escape this destiny.

What sort of monstrous god is this that Calvinism preaches?

Fortunately, we can be sure it is not a Biblical one.

We have already looked at several verses stating that God wants to save everyone (Acts 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). Let's take a look at the only passage that seems to contradict what we all know inherently (Rom. 1:19-20) must be true about God.

The only passage that can even be misconstrued to suggest that God doesn't want to save everyone is Romans chapter 9. Because our doctrines of justification, faith, works, judgment, and grace are so convoluted and violate the rule of faith handed down by the apostles to the churches, almost no one understands the book of Romans unless they've taken the time to read the early Christian writings and thus gained a very different way of looking at salvation. As a result, we have no decent competing interpretation of Romans 9 to give to the awful, God-insulting interpretation from Reformed theology.

Romans 9 does indeed argue that God, since he is the Creator, has the right to do whatever he wants. Thus, we have to agree that if God wanted to condemn the vast majority of humanity to hell without even an opportunity to change their fate, he could do so.

Fortunately, Paul had never heard of nor considered such an idea, so he does not mention it or bring it up. His topic is why God would choose to give the Gospel to the Gentiles. That's been his topic since he first brought up Jews and Gentiles back in chapter one, verse seventeen.

Paul spends not only all of chapter nine, but also all of chapters ten and eleven, explaining exactly why God is temporarily choosing the Gentiles over the Jews. This was certainly not an unconditional choice. In fact, the purpose of this choice was to lead to the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles.

I won't explain how that purpose works here. Paul does an excellent job of explaining that choice in Romans nine through eleven. You won't have any problem understanding it if you know that is the choice he's explaining. He is not explaining why God can pick one individual over another without one being more worthy than the other even though he's going to send the one he did not choose to hell. Paul had never heard of the doctrines of Calvinism.

Paul does bring up the matter of works. The Gentiles were not chosen over the Jews because their works were better. Works were not the reason for God's choice. His choice was "gracious." In other words, by a proper, biblical definition of grace, Paul is saying that God made his choice in order to empower both Gentiles and Jews to come to salvation.

Again, read Romans chapters nine through eleven and see if this is not obviously the choice of which Paul is speaking.

Limited Atonement

"Limited Atonement" teaches that Jesus died only for the elect (i.e., the chosen) and not for the lost.

Leap to a one paragraph description of irresistible grace or read on for a Scriptural discussion of limited atonement. You may also return to the 5 points.

One must hold to Thomas Aquinas' penal substitution theory of the atonement in order to come to the conclusion that limited atonement is true. There is nothing in the Bible that remotely suggests such a thing. There's not even a verse to misinterpret.

The Reformers were working at a disadvantage because Thomas Aquinas' version of the atonement had become the standard among intellectuals in the west by the time they came along. It has never taken root in the east, even to this day.

It was Thomas Aquinas who invented the theory of the atonement that most of you reading this page believe. We falsely think it has some historical or scriptural basis. He suggested that God required a payment for the sins of mankind, and that Jesus' death was that payment. This is why his theory is called the "penal substitution" theory.

The very fact that it was unheard of prior to the thirteenth century should be proof enough that it is false. It's not taught in Scripture, which was a surprise to me when I first discovered the penal substitution theory was a novelty. We talk about it so much, I had assumed it was clearly taught all over the New Testament. I never dreamed that I was reading Aquinas' interpretation into very general statements over and over again.

The easiest way to see that what I'm telling you is true is to go looking for a verse that says Jesus paid for our sins. No such verse exists. "Paying" for sins is just not scriptural terminology. It is only Roman Catholic and Protestant terminology.

Having dispensed with that theory of the atonement, let's look at how it produced the limited atonement aspect of Calvinism.

If Jesus death "paid" for sins, then no sin should be punished. Jesus has already taken the punishment for all sins. Yet Ephesians 5:5-6 God's wrath comes upon the sons of disobedience for sexual immorality, uncleanness, and greed. Romans 2:6-8 says that indignation and wrath will come upon the soul of everyone who does evil, whether Jew or Gentile (something Paul points out because the whole subject of Romans chapters one through eleven is the Jews and Gentiles; see "unconditional election" above). How can this be if all sins are already punished at the cross?

The answer of Reformed theology is that Jesus' death was only to pay for the sins of the elect. Since the elect are all going to heaven, this third point of TULIP allows the death of Jesus to pay for their sins alone.

Jesus' death was not a "payment" for sins, however, though it was an offering and a sacrifice. (I guess I'll have to do an atonement page to explain this; I'll make that my next project.) Worse, John explicitly states that Jesus died for those that are not among the elect:

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 Jn. 2:2)

It doesn't matter how much you argue that all-inclusive language isn't always literally all-inclusive (as I have argued above). This verse clearly states that Jesus propitiates sins of those that are not the elect. (The word "propitiate," by the way, like the word "atonement," has no solid definition. It needs to be defined by what the New Testament says about Jesus' death.)

That one verse rings the death knell of the doctrine of limited atonement. It is as though John had heard of the doctrine and meant to refute it.

We don't need that verse, however. No verse in the New Testament teaches a limited atonement or even remotely suggests it. The doctrine of limited atonement is simply an attempt to rescue the doctrine of penal substitution, and that doctrine is false itself. Thus, once penal substitution is dismissed as a novelty, there is no point to the doctrine of limited atonement.

Irresistible Grace

"Irresistible grace" is the teaching that if a person is chosen by God, then they will respond to the call of God. Grace cannot be resisted.

Leap to a one paragraph description of perseverance of the saints or read on for a Scriptural discussion of irresistible grace. You may also return to the 5 points.

The doctrine of irresistible grace is more difficult to discuss because the refutation is best given by reading the whole New Testament. The doctrine itself stands on only on verse:

All that the Father gives to me shall come to me, and the one that comes to me I will certainly not send away. (Jn. 6:37)

Addressing this verse is the same as addressing the whole subject of Calvinism. Obviously, this verse says that everyone that the Father gives to Jesus will come to him. The question, however, is how someone becomes a part of that everyone. Is it unconditionally, based completely on the Father's sovereign, and thus random, choice?

This verse does not say, nor even suggest, that the Father gives people to Jesus by random choice. Instead, the Gospel suggests repeatedly that the Father gives people to Jesus because they heed his call. Acts 17:30 says that God is commanding everyone everywhere to repent, not just random ones that he has chosen.

Here we should pause to discuss my use of the word "random." Calvinists prefer the word "impartial." They like to suggest that their version of "God's sovereign choice" is impartial. However, "impartial" is usually the opposite of "unconditional." In the Bible, "impartial" is most often used in reference to the judgment. God is impartial because he doesn't grant anyone any special favors, and he judges according to what each person has done. That is the opposite of unconditional.

"Impartial" can be used in ways that are similar to "unconditional," but predestination is not a context in which that is true.

When it comes to predestination, we read that predestination is according to foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2). Thus predestination is not unconditional, though we know that it must be impartial because God is "not a respecter of persons." Predestination is conditioned upon something that God knew in advance.

Since we know that the Gospel calls for people to believe and repent, it is apparent that what God foreknew is who would believe and repent!

Let us add that Romans 8:29-30 says that those he called the predestined, justified the called, and glorified the justified. In other words, that passage implies that everyone that is foreknown will be also predestined, called, justified, and glorified. As a result, we need to conclude that God foreknows not only who will believe and repent, but also who will continue to the end and be saved.

Thus, John 6:37 does not require grace to be irresistible. It only requires what we find in the writings of the early Christians, who were part of the apostles' churches. They believed that the elect were those who heard the Gospel, believed, and continued to the end. The elect, chosen because God foreknew they would do those things, are the ones that are given to Jesus, and God knows from the beginning who those people are.

Other verses clearly indicate that grace is not irresistible. Paul says that he does not frustrate the grace of God, implying that without his choice it would be possible to frustrate God's grace (Gal. 2:21). Later, he tells the Galatians that if they return to the Law, then they have fallen from grace (5:4). The writer of Hebrews talks about the severity of the judgment of those who insult the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). He also commands people not to fall short of God's grace (Heb. 12:15).

Perhaps the clearest indication that grace is not irresistible is in the verses that discuss the called and chosen. The doctrine of irresistible grace teaches that those whom God calls must respond to him.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 22:1-14 in which servants went out to call the citizens of a kingdom to a feast the king was holding for his son. Most made excuses and did not come. The king then invited even travelers from the highway to come to his feast. Finally, the king's hall was filled. At the feast, however, there was a man who had come improperly dressed. The king found him and threw him out. He not only threw him out, but he had him bound hand and foot and thrown into utter darkness, a clear indication this was no earthly illustration. This story has to do with the kingdom of God and eternal judgment.

At the end of the story, Jesus presents the moral in one sentence, "Many are called, but few are chosen."

What is the clear indication of that parable? The ones that are chosen are the ones that heard the call and also showed up at the wedding appropriately dressed. Everyone was called. There were no specially chosen ones until there were actions in response to the call.

This was Jesus' illustration of the kingdom of God. To Jesus, the ones who are not chosen had every opportunity to be among the chosen. Grace was extended to all, but it was only received by those who heard and acted.

In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven." Note that Jesus does not say that those who are elected and chosen apart from anything they did will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of the Father.

There is hardly a page of Scripture that could not be used to argue against the doctrine of irresistible grace in this way. It could be said that the story of Scripture is the story of God's people resisting the grace of God. Paul makes it clear that under both the old and new covenants those who resist God's grace will be punished, and those who yield to God's grace in obedience will be rewarded (1 Cor. 10:1-12).

Perseverance of the Saints

"Perseverance of the saints" teaches that those who are chosen cannot or will not fall away. They will continue to follow God until the end. Those who appear to be Christians, but then fall away from a life of righteousness were never really chosen. They only had the appearance of grace.

Read on for a Scriptural discussion of perseverance of the saints or return to the 5 points.

There is a sense in which Perseverance of the Saints is accurate and a sense in which it is not. It is true that a person who begins to live a Christian life and then falls away is not one of the elect. John states this explicitly:

They went out from us, but they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but [they went out] so that it would be revealed that not everyone was of us. (1 Jn. 2:19)

This is a little different terminology than we would use today. We tend to think of the church as a building or an organization that we attend. When we join, it is in much the same way that we might join the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, or the Moose Lodge.

To John and to the rest of the early Christians joining the church was joining the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). The church was your new family. While you would have your own private possessions, you shared anything and everything as there was need. You believed and knew that any excess that you had was so that you could share with your brothers and sisters in Christ as they had need, and you knew that when you had need, they would supply you (2 Cor. 8:14). You saw the saints every day (Heb. 3:13), and the need to see the saints daily is reiterated in early Christian tracts like The Didache and The Letter of Barnabas.

Thus, "falling away" and "going out from us" would have been equivalent terminology in the early church. When you "went out from" the church, you were not going off to follow Christ on your own. You were abandoning the faith because being in the faith meant that you were in the church and part of the family of God. It was unthinkable to say, "I don't need you" to your brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Cor. 12).

So John says in 1 John 2:19 that those who go out from the church were never really of the church. They seemed to be, but they were not.

This does not mean, however, that these people—who left the church but were never of the church—had never received grace. Paul told the Galatians that if they returned to the Law of Moses, then they had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:5). In other words, they had grace, but they turned away from it and lost that grace. In the same way, those who left the church were never "of us," but they had received grace but had then rejected it. We are those who embrace the grace of God, so those who reject the grace of God and go away from us were never "of us."

This brings us to the modern argument about eternal security or "once saved, always saved."

Today, we bring up the subject of eternal security by asking, "Do you believe that a person can lose their salvation?"

We can only ask this question because we have lumped terms like born again, eternal life, justification, and everything else related to salvation together in one pot. We believe that those who are born again are already guaranteed heaven. It is unthinkable to us that a born-again Christian who has the Holy Spirit living in him could arrive at the judgment and be told that he has failed and is going to hell.

It may be unthinkable, a thorough violation of our modern traditions, but it is neither a violation of Scripture nor a violation of the traditions the apostles passed to their churches. In the early days, the churches did not mix their ideas. They knew that being born again and possessed by the Spirit of God empower the Christian to do the good works that would get them to heaven.

It is in the letter to the Romans, the great letter of faith from the apostle of faith, that we read:

[God] will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good he will give eternal life. (Rom. 2:6-7)

Eternal life, Paul says, will be given to those who seek immortality by patiently continuing to do good.

I changed the word order in that passage to make the meaning clear, but you can feel free to consult any translation of Romans 2:6-7 to see that I have accurately portrayed its meaning.

Every verse on the judgment says the same thing. We will be judged according to our works. While Christians today admit that to be true, almost no Christian is willing to admit that the judgment will include a determination of eternal life versus condemnation. Yet there is no doubt that the Bible teaches this.

Here are just a few proofs of that:

  • 2 Peter 1:5-11 says that we must diligently add to our faith if we expect to be granted an entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:19-21, and Eph. 5:5 all tell churches—that would be Christians—that if they live unrighteously they won't inherit the kingdom of God.
  • Galatians 6:7-9 tells people with the Spirit of God that if they sow to the Spirit they will reap eternal life, but if they sow to the Spirit they will reap corruption. Galatians 6:9 uses the terminology "do not grow weary in doing good" as a rough equivalent to sowing to the Spirit.
  • Romans 8:12-13 says exactly the same thing as Galatians 6:7-9 using "die" and "live" rather than "corruption" and "eternal life."
  • The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that he had not yet attained to the resurrection and still needed to expend effort towards that goal (3:11-14). He then tells all of us who are mature to have the same attitude (3:15).
  • Paul makes this point very practical in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where he says that he disciplines his body and brings it into subjection so that he will not be disqualified.

Modern Christians often will make every effort to twist the consequences of such verses so that it sounds like we are merely losing rewards in heaven rather than losing the reward of heaven. Those efforts are fruitless and, in my opinion, embarrassing.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:27, one can look up the six times that the word for "disqualified" is used in the New Testament, and it becomes obvious that Paul is talking about being the equivalent of a non-Christian, not losing rewards. On top of that, clear statements like the passage in Philippians 3 that I reference above show that Paul was making efforts to be worthy of heaven. The fact is, though, that we Christians are rarely Bible believers; we are tradition keepers. We don't research and compare verses trying to determine what they really say. We don't look at historical precedent and give consideration to the way the apostles' churches understood the apostles' words. We don't want to because we are frightened that the truth will threaten our traditions. Rather than wanting to be rescued from our false traditions, we battle bravely and gallantly in their defense. Unfortunately, it is the truth of the Gospel that we battle against in the the defense of modern tradition.

Once it is established that being born again is not equivalent to going to heaven, the question of whether a Christian can lose his salvation disappears. The salvation we are talking about, going to heaven, is a salvation a Christian does not yet have. You can't lose or keep what you do not yet have.

Let me give you one more passage, which I have always found very interesting in expressing the idea that there is a salvation that Christians have—being born again and possessors of grace by faith—and one that they do not have—the right to enter heaven:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:9-10, NASB; italics in original)

Paul's attitude here is one of confidence out of trust in God, as it always is. Nonetheless, he clearly distinguishes between what we have—justification and reconciliation with God through Jesus' death—and what we do not yet have—salvation from the wrath of God through Jesus' life in us.

Warning verses frighten us. Paul writes many of them, and several are quoted above. But Paul's attitude is generally one of confidence. "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Php. 1:6). " ... waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also keep you firmly until the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7-8).

We should have that same confidence. However, we should not have that confidence out of some hope that God is going to do everything for us. He will work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, but we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Php. 2:12-13).

We talk about the confidence today all the time. We need a bit more fear and trembling, especially if our works testify against our ability to pass the judgment that is coming.

We have seen that Paul disciplined his body and pressed toward the mark, hoping to attain the prize that he had not yet attained. In the end, however, he did know:

I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. (2 Tim. 4:7-8, my rendering, italics added for emphasis)

Let us bring this all back to the subject of the perseverance of the saints.

As we have seen above, predestination is based on foreknowledge. God knows in advance who will believe and who will continue to the end. The elect are those whom God foreknows will not only believe but will also to the end.

Thus, it is true that the elect will continue to the end, but not because irresistible grace compels them to continue to the end. Grace empowers; it does not compel.

We have now completed the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), none of which are true at their basic level, though the first and the last—total depravity and the perseverance of the saints—come the closest. Let us move on to some further definitions, addressing terminology that is used by Calvinists as well as other ideas we should not ignore.

Further Definitions: Sovereignty of God

Calvinists love to talk about the sovereignty of God, as though the free will of man brings it into question or as though allowing free will made God less majestic. This is not true any more than a tyrant is more majestic than a benevolent ruler.

In fact, the difference between a tyrant and a benevolent ruler is exactly what is at question here. Personally, I cannot escape the idea that the sovereign god of Calvinism is a malevolent and evil ruler of the universe.

The God of Scripture and historical Christianity is every bit as sovereign as the god of Calvinism; he is simply more merciful, caring, and kind. He wants everyone to be saved, and through the Gospel he affords a route to the grace that can save them. He is even delaying the destruction and renewal of the heavens and the earth so that more people can come to repentance.

Those who hold to Reformed theology, when they want to make themselves known as Calvinists, often say, "I believe in the sovereignty of God." This is a veiled insult to other Christians. Except liberal Christians that have abandoned a belief in the Bible, all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God. No matter how much they believe in free will, they believe that God granted that free will. Stealing all free will from men does not make God sovereign, it makes him cruel. (Philosophically, it removes the most obvious reason for creating humans in the first place. Why bother creating robots?)

Further Definitions: Predestination

Predestination is a scriptural term. It is used four times in the New Testament.

  • In Romans 8:29, we are told that God predestined the ones he foreknew (discussed below to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
  • In Romans 8:30, we are told that God called everyone he predestined.
  • In Ephesians 1:5, we are told that we who are Christians are predestined to be adopted as God's children. (This is equated with the redemption of our bodies after the resurrection in Romans 8:23.)
  • Ephesians 1:11 says that we have an inheritance because we are predestined according to God's purpose, though what we are predestined to is not stated.

It is easy to forget that the word "predestined" needs clarification.

  • To what are we predestined? As you can see from the Scriptures above, there are several things to which we can be predestined. Christians are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus, to have our bodies redeemed, and to have an eternal inheritance. Jesus, it appears, was predestined to be 'crucified and slain by wicked hands.' Scripture states he was "delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23).
  • On what basis are we predestined? The doctrine of Calvinism presupposes that we are predestined unconditionally, but the word "predestined" itself implies no such thing. When Scripture mentions predestination, it states that it is the foreknown who are predestined (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2). Foreknowledge implies that there is something in the person that leads to their predestination.

The Roman Catholics use words and phrases such as "apostolic succession," "tradition," and "early church fathers" much more than Protestants do. As a result, if we find "tradition" in the Bible or "apostolic succession" in the writings of the early churches, we tend to assume that those words have the same definitions that the Roman Catholic Church infuses them with. This is not true.

In the same way, Reformed churches and individual holding to reformed theology use the word "predestination" more than other Christians do. As a result, when we read "predestination" in the Bible, it is easy to assume that it carries the same definition that Calvinism infuses it with.

That's a bad assumption, as you can see from the last set of bullet points and from the section above on unconditional election. Despite how well we've covered this, let's go one step further and discuss foreknowledge.

Further Definitions: Foreknowledge

"Foreknowledge" is used twice in the New Testament. In both cases, Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2, our being chosen by God is said to be "according to foreknowledge."

There's really only one way to interpret these two statements. God predestined or chose us because of something that he knew in advance.

What he knew in advance is not specified, but because of something he knew in advance he chose us. This means that predestination is not unconditional. Again, the condition is not specified, at least not in these two verses, but there is a condition. That condition is whatever it was that he knew in advance that led to him choosing us.

Really, these two verses should have ended any discussion about unconditional election long ago even if it were not true that the entire tenor of the New Testament—in fact, the whole Bible—is against it. (We really have to come to grips, for our own sakes, with the idea that Christians, on the whole, are not Bible believers but tradition keepers. It is possible that this is what they should be if they could find the right tradition, but it is certain that this is what they are.)

Conclusions on Calvinism

The five points of Calvinism are based on Scriptures that are taken wildly out of context. There are dozens of verses that directly contradict all five points, and anyone who reads the Bible can tell that it preserves, on a page by page basis, the free will of humans and their choice in their own salvation.

History, too, testifies against Calvinism. The early churches testify regularly against every tenet of Calvinism as part of their refutations of the Roman god Fate. The basic concept of unconditional predestination was not even suggested until the beginning of the fifth century by Augustine. Yet even such a prominent and respected teacher as Augustine was not able to turn the entire church away from its abhorrence toward such an idea.

Anselm, the eleventh-century bishop of Canterbury, laid a foundation for election with his substitutionary or "penal substitution" theory of the atonement, but only in the new and smaller Reformation movement, whose theology was vested in the hands of a small group of leaders, could Calvinism gain a foothold. (Note that something like unconditional predestination was held by Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, before John Calvin ever came on the stage of history.)

Thus Calvinism is a novel doctrine with no real Scriptural support which finds its foundation on a few misinterpreted verses. It is insulting to God, who is left unjustly and eternally tormenting people who had no possibility of controlling their actions.

Fortunately, most Calvinists find it impossible to live according to their doctrines. Almost every Calvinist pursues evangelism, exhortation, and teaching as though they were aware that Christians have free will that can be helped or hindered by the grace of God, but is not eradicated by it.

spacer

Search Christian-History.org

Custom Search
Christian Theology Top Site

The Early Church History Newsletter

Delivered monthly.

Back issues available.

Email

Name


Don't worry—your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you the Early Church History Newsletter.