Friday, December 16, 2011

The Obligatory Paper on Calvinism

There was a first part to this paper, but it wasn't that good and was only there because my class required it.  

Consistent Calvinism
This paper however, is not concerned with what Calvin may or may have not believed1 but with the goal of consistent theology. The author believes that one cannot throw out the doctrine of Limited or Particular Atonement without the whole system of Calvinism breaking down. As Lorraine Boettner put it, “Prove any one of them [the five points] false and the whole system must be abandoned” (Boettner 46) RC Sproul also agrees:

I think that if a person really understands the other four points and is thinking at all clearly, he must believe in Limited Atonement because of what Martin Luther called a resistless logic. Still, there are people who live in a happy inconsistency. I believe it’s possible for a person to believe four points without believing the fifth, although I don’t think it’s possible to do it consistently or logically. However, it is certainly a possibility given our proclivity for inconsistency (Sproul 142).

A brief survey of the classic five points of Calvinism is in order, as most of the problem, which Sproul touches on, may lie in the fact that many do not fully understand the extent of each doctrine.
But before that, a look at the history may also be beneficial.
Many in the Reformed2 camp might be surprised to learn that John Calvin

did not create TULIP or limit his doctrine to the five points. Though he believed in the main tenets of Calvinism, which can be seen from his Institutes and commentaries on the Scriptures, he wasn't the one to put them into the system we know today as Calvinism. It was actually Jacob Arminius and his followers that helped produce the five points of Calvinism. As Michael D. Williams, who wrote, Why I am not an Arminian, states, “The irony here is that the five points did not begin with the Calvinists but arose within Arminian circles” (Williams 11).

 Jacob Arminius entered Geneva as a student under Calvin's successor, Theodore Beza in 1581 (16). There he enjoyed a friendly relationship with Beza and graduated in 1587 (16). He next pastored at a Reformed church in Amsterdam where he started developing and preaching against the Reformed view of predestination (16). No one can point to the exact time Arminius turned against the doctrine he had been taught in Geneva, however many think Theodore Beza's teachings that today look a lot like hyper-Calvinism had a huge impact (18).

 At the turn of the century, he took a teaching job at the University of Leiden where his more developed anti-Calvinist views were found out (17). Controversy erupted, but in the middle of it, during the year of 1609, Jacob Arminius died (17,26). But many had similar convictions to Arminius and the debate only intensified after his death (26).

 Forty-six of those who had similar convictions to Arminius met in 1610 to write up a Remonstrance, which means a complaint or protest, against the Calvinist theology (27). Included in this was the five points of Arminianism. Williams summarized the points as follows:

1.    Conditional Election
2.    Universal Atonement
3.    Total Depravity/Prevenient Grace
4.    Resistible Grace
5.    Conditional Perseverance (33)

The decision on the Synod of Dort only further deepened the rift between the two camps and it seemed the church was heading towards catastrophe.

 Finally, in 1618-19, almost ten years after Arminius' death, a national council was convened which came to be known as the Synod of Dort. This was far from a balanced council, as it was completely controlled by Calvinists. They summoned fifteen “Arminian” leaders in order that they might be examined. After four months of consideration, the synod found the defendants guilty of heresy and they, along with about two hundred more “Arminian” pastors, were fired from their posts and excommunicated (36). Also stemming from this decision came the synod's response to the “Remonstrance” of the Arminians, named “The Canons of Dort.”

 It is from these “Canons” that the five points of Calvinism emerged (Steele and Thomas 12). The Synod did not invent these doctrines but they did limit them to five points. Also interesting is that the Canon's five points are in a different order than today's TULIP. They were in the same order of the Arminians' points, since they were a response to them. Later, the points were changed around to become what we know today as TULIP.

 Our next task is to explain these five points, as they are what modern Calvinism rests on.3 The “T” stands for the Total Depravity of man, the “U” stands for the Unconditional Election of man, the “L” is for Limited Atonement, which I will focus more on later in this paper, the “I” is for Irresistible Grace, and finally the “P” stands for Perseverance of the Saints. As I will explain shortly, these five points are an “interwoven system of theology which must be accepted or rejected as a whole” (“Inconsistency”). As JI Packer relates, “The five points, though separately stated, are really inseparable” (Packer II.9).

The first point of Total Depravity is defined as the nature of man is completely corrupted and sinful. “Total” refers to the totality of man. His mind, soul, body, and will are corrupted by sin. In Romans 3:9-12 Paul teaches, “There is none righteous, not even one,” and “All have turned aside,” “There is none that do good, not even one.” Due to such corruption, Calvinism teaches that man has a Total Inability to do anything spiritually good pertaining to his salvation. Man is incapable of true good in the eyes of God. He is utterly enslaved to the evil one, the god of this age, to do his will. He is in a constant state of sin4 (Piper). Man's will is enslaved to evil.
Now the crux of this doctrine of Total Depravity is the teaching of man's inability to change. This teaching holds that man, in his dead state, cannot come to Christ, have faith, repent, or even receive the gift of salvation (Giesler 53). This italicized part is massive, and what usually goes unnoticed to the modern Christian. The Westminster Confession of Faith5 puts it this way, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so, as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (“Westminster”)6. Again, its that last part, the “preparing himself thereunto” that is so important. This implies that man cannot seek God, or even call out to Him for help by himself. It must be God who does it. JI Packer wrote, “Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him” (Packer II.4)

The biggest difference between a Calvinist and an Arminian (as shown earlier, Arminians also believe in Total Depravity which does include Total Inability7) comes down to what God does next to free the sinner from complete spiritual death. Arminius taught that God gives every person Prevenient Grace (Birch). That is, God frees man (who is completely dead in his sin) with His grace to respond to the gospel. It is all God and God alone who does this. Still sounds like something right out of Calvin's Institutes. Arminius goes on to say that man, even after God's grace, can reject the gospel (Birch). Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that once God starts moving you towards salvation, He doesn't stop. God does not allow man to resist Him. They also believe that God does not do this for all men, but solely for the elect. Both Calvinist's and Arminians believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity which includes Total Inability. They both believe that God must be the one and the only one that gives man the power to receive the gift of salvation. Therefore, the first point of Dort's TULIP is not contested by either side. Calvinist doctrine is not distinguished until it asserts that God only gives the power to believe to a limited number of people – the elect; and that God's grace is indeed irresistible.
The Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity and the way God responds is one of the most foundational belief's of all of Calvinism. If one believes in this doctrine fully and completely (especially with how God responds to man's depravity), the rest of the points are only logical extensions of it. Lorraine Boettner put it this way – Total Depravity is “The fundamental basis upon which the doctrine of Predestination[I.E. Calvinism] rests” (Boettner 59). What I have found is that most don't fully understand what the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity entails, and even this quick overview isn't going to be enough, so I would advise any seeker to truly dive into this doctrine, dissect it, meditate on it, and try and understand its implications. If one is successful, he will either reject it and in so doing, reject Calvinism, or accept it, and see that he must also accept the rest of Calvinism, as he will understand how the rest of the points builds upon Total Depravity.
Either way, he will remain true to sound logic and reason, which I believe to be more important than whether or not one is a Calvinist. Because with a man's reason and God's revelation, one can come to a fuller knowledge of truth (Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 4:13-16) and be prepared to identify and stand against heresy. As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 --

But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity [of devotion] to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear [this] beautifully.”

 And in an even more serious tone Paul warns Timothy:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

The next point of Calvinism is Unconditional Election. The simple doctrine of election is biblical (Ephesians 1:4-11) and almost every bible believing Christian holds to it8. It states that before the foundation of the world, God chose the “elect” or the faithful in Christ. Where Calvinism differs from other Christians is the conditions of this election or choosing. Calvinism teaches that this election depends on nothing from man, it’s completely God's decision (Steele and Thomas 27). God does not look down the tunnel of time to see who would have faith and then pick them, as an Arminian might argue. God picks sinners based completely on His own will, with no regards to the sinner (27). What must be emphasized is that election itself does not save sinners, it is merely God's choosing of who will be saved (27).

Unconditional Election is but an extension of Total Depravity. If man cannot do anything to save himself, not even turn to God for help, then it follows that the only reason any are saved is because God chose to save them from the beginning. From this, we can also logically gather that God did not elect all, or choose to save all, since we can see that not all are saved. The results of this can be seen in the next point, Limited Atonement.

However, in order to understand Limited Atonement, the point of Irresistible Grace should be discussed first as it is the natural second step in man's salvation from our point of view9. I apologize for going out of the normal order of TULIP, but as I demonstrated with Total Depravity, the difference between Calvinists and most of the rest of Christianity is the nature of the grace of God. The term Irresistible Grace is quite self-explanatory. When God calls to salvation, man cannot resist. Calvinism does distinguish between the “general” external call, and the efficacious or irresistible inward call. The general call of God is through the gospel that proclaims all who hear and obey will be saved. Because man cannot believe on their own and respond to this general call, God must give man the ability to do so.

This is where the efficacious\irresistible call comes into play. The irresistible call is an inward working of the Spirit within the elect. Through this working, the Spirit gives the grace of God and creates a new, believing heart that can understand the things of God. The sinner's will is renewed during this process so that he can come to Christ of his own free will. The main point of this doctrine is that this working of the Spirit cannot be resisted by the sinner. As Steele puts it, “The Spirit is in no way dependent upon their help or cooperation for success in His work of bringing them to Christ” (Steele and Thomas 53).

The P, or Perseverance of the Saints is merely Irresistible Grace applied to the full extent of the believer. If man cannot resists God's call to salvation and has the Spirit working within him to turn Him towards God, why would God stop there. To be consistent with His nature, would He not continue to employ this method until the man has finished the race? Or would he suddenly leave man to his own devices and let him fall back into sin. Since the Bible teaches that God will never forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5), Perseverance of the Saints only explains the details. Basically, once God starts the process, He will see it through to the finish. The implication of this is that if one is truly part of the elect and thus a believer, he cannot fall away but will surely persevere until the end.

The common thread in these points so far should be obvious to the reader. Though I initially believed it was the doctrine of Total Depravity that was the crux of the system as I am researching and writing this paper I am realizing it boils down even further to how God works to save man. All Christians will affirm that man is totally dead because of sin. Most Christians will affirm that man is so dead and corrupted that he cannot even call out or turn to God. What divides Christians, is whether God gives man a choice to be His. A non-Calvinist would argue that though God is sovereign and all-powerful, He has chosen to limit Himself when it comes giving man the choice to serve Him. Calvinist's affirm that God is divinely sovereign over all His creation. If God wants a man to be saved, God will save him, plain and simple. A little thing like man's will will not deter God (Romans 8:16,19-20). With this understanding of God's ways and the use of reason, one must take all five points. I hope I have adequately proven this with the T, U, I, and P. Let us now turn to the L.

Limited Atonement is an oft-confused point of Calvinism and what I want to focus on with this paper, as most of today's “moderate” Calvinist's choose to throw this out. Limited, or particular, atonement means exactly how it sounds – Christ death atoned for a limited amount of people, specifically the elect, as opposed to every single person. This is the logical extension of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. If man cannot turn to, respond to, or have faith in God by himself, and if God's grace is irresistible, and if it is God alone who elects based solely upon His sovereign will, then the atonement is God's way of saving His people. It is through the cross that man is reconciled to God, and if God is the one doing every single thing involved and has planned it so since the beginning of time, then the atonement must be for a limited amount of people.

Before one can dive into the question of who Christ died for, we must first consider the actual accomplishment of the cross. If you were to say that Christ died for every human, then the nature of the atonement would be very different from is Christ died only for believers (Piper 5.5). The atonement would then become not pure salvation for men, but only the possibility of salvation for men (Packer II.12). This is the logical conclusion if Christ died for all men in the same way, because not all are saved.

The implications of this, according to John Piper, are that “it did not actually remove God's punitive wrath from anyone, but instead created a place where people could come and find mercy -- IF they could accomplish their own new birth and bring themselves to faith without the Irresistible Grace of God” (Piper 5.5). Piper explains, “For if Christ died for all men in the same way then he did not purchase regenerating grace for those who are saved. They must regenerate themselves and bring themselves to faith. Then and only then do they become partakers of the benefits of the cross” (5.6).
Piper clarifies:

In other words if you believe that Christ died for all men in the same way, then the benefits of the cross cannot include the mercy by which we are brought to faith, because then all men would be brought to faith, but they aren't. But if the mercy by which we are brought to faith (Irresistible Grace) is not part of what Christ purchased on the cross, then we are left to save ourselves from the bondage of sin, the hardness of heart, the blindness of corruption, and the wrath of God (5 par. 7).

Ware, who I touched on earlier, argued that faith is necessary for the Atonement and even the Elect need saving faith in order to be saved (Ware II.2.C.3.d). But five-pointers like Piper would counter that the cross is what saves us, and through the cross we are granted the gifts of faith and repentance. As David Steele writes, “The salvation which Christ earned for His people includes everything involved in bringing them into a right relationship with God, including the gifts of faith and repentance” (Steele and Thomas 40)
Piper does make the distinction that all men are intended to benefit from the Atonement (Piper 5.10). The cross grants common grace to all people like the rising sun and the rain to water the crops, etc. What he, and the rest of consistent Calvinism denies, is that all men in the same way are intended to benefit from the cross (5.10).

See how it all goes back to Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace? If man cannot have faith of himself, and if grace of God cannot be resisted, Limited Atonement must follow. If you remove Limited Atonement, the rest of the points would crumble.

Let us again consider a few of the points in relation to Unlimited Atonement. Total Depravity asserts that man cannot have faith on his own. Four-Point Calvinism implies that man is incapable, but at the same time, capable of choosing Christ (“The Inconsistency”). The doctrine of Election is even clearer. God determined beforehand that some would be saved, and He passed over others (“The Inconsistency”). Why would Christ die for all (“The Inconsistency”)? The essence of universal atonement is that God wills to save all, completely contradicting Unconditional Election (“The Inconsistency”).

Irresistible Grace also runs into inconsistency for a four-point Calvinist. All Calvinist's agree that the Elect will be pulled into the blessings of eternal life. Unlimited Atonement teaches that Christ pays the ransom yet leaves us in prison10. To teach that Christ died for all men “is equivalent to saying that Christ either cannot or will not apply redemption to the redeemed-which is unacceptable in light of Unconditional Election” (“inconsistency” par. 7).

The most basic point of Calvinism is that God saves. Man cannot add to any part of that. Packer puts it beautifully, “The five points assert no more than that God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that He is sovereign everywhere” (Packer II.7).

Unlimited Atonement goes against this whole idea. It teaches that God willed all men to be saved and was unable to accomplish His task. It teaches that man must do something apart from the cross in order for Christ to redeem him. JI Packer stated it perfectly when speak of the five points, “They hang together; you cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them” (II.9).

Free Recommended Reading:

The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination - A work that is considered a standard among Calvinists even today

JI Packer's Introductory Essay to Death of Death in the Death of Christ - A good short essay that summarizes Calvinism and compares it to Arminianism

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ - John Owens contribution to the description of Calvinism

Bruce Ware's take on Limited Atonement - Here, Ware argues for four point Calvinism

Wesminster Confession of Faith - Written up in 1646, this creed has become something like the 
constitution of Calvinism

Canon of Dort - This is where we get TULIP today and was a reaction to Arminianism - A good Calvinist website

Five points of Calvinism:weighed and found wanting - An indepth book that evaluates each point, compares it with Scripture, and concludes that the points are bunk

Calvinism's Five Points Considered - Another long article that looks at each point

Books that should be in everyone's library:

These books are about $8-$10 and well worth it
Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented - This is a good solid introduction to Calvinism and gives good resources for further study

Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will - Norm Giesler takes an in-between view which is basically one or two point Calvinism. Its quite interesting and breaks down the points of both Calvinism and Arminianism, responding to Scriptural arguments from both sides.

Why I am not a Calvinist - The title explains it all. Walls and Dongel are both Arminians. I am pretty sure Walls at least teaches at Asbury Seminary, a Wesleyan Seminary in Kentucky.


1 Whether or Calvin held to Limited Atonement is a matter of debate and in no way clear.
2 I am going to be using the terms Reformed and Calvinist as synonyms for this paper.
3 The goal is to thoroughly explain the parts of the doctrine that are usually misunderstood. For a complete analysis of the points I will suggest books at the end of the essay.
4 Because as the Bible says, anything that is not of faith is sin
5 Basically the constitution of the Calvinist doctrine
6 Chapter 9, section 3
7 Arminius wrote in Twenty-Five Public Disputations: Disputation XI. On the Free Will of Man and its
Powers: “In this state [I.E. Natural man], the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only 
wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its 
powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers 
whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.
8 The other view being corporate election, a doctrine I have yet to research. So, if that turns out to be correct, I apologize in advance.
9 John Piper agrees, and also explains the doctrine of Irresistible Grace right after Total Depravity in his church's statement of faith
10 I feel like I got this phrase from somewhere else but I can't find it anywhere.

Works Cited

"The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)." The Spurgeon Archive. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Anonymous. "The Inconsistency of Four-Point Calvinism." Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

Birch, William. "God’s Proactive, Enabling, Sufficient, Prevenient Grace." The Arminian. Web. 7 Dec.
2011. <>.

Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1932.

Driscoll, Mark. "Mars Hill Church | Christ on the Cross | Unlimited Limited Atonement." Web. 9 Oct.
2011. <>.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free: a Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will.
Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010. Print.

Packer, JI. "Introductory Essay to John Owen's Death of Death in the Death of Christ." Grace
Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <>.

Piper, John. "What We Believe About the Five Points Of Calvinism Revised March, 1998 - Desiring
God." Home - Desiring God. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <

Sproul, R. C. The Truth of the Cross. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2007. Web.

Steele, David N., and Curtis C. Thomas. The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended and
Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Ref, 2004.

Ware, Bruce. "Extent of the Atonement: Outline of The Issue, Positions, Key Texts, and Key
Theological Arguments." Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <

Williams, Michael. "The Five Points of Arminianism." Presbyterion 30.1 (2004): 11-36. Web

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