Calvinism/Arminianism, Mailbag

The Mailbag: What is Calvinism?



What is Calvinism?

Calvinism, or Reformed theology (most people use the two terms interchangeably) is a theological framework, drawn from Scripture, for understanding the Bible, salvation, the nature of man, and the character of God. There are five basic tenets, or “points,” of Calvinism (also known as “the Doctrines of Grace”) which are often presented via the acronym “TULIP” (Please note that these are very brief, general descriptions. See the resources below for more nuanced information and scriptural support.):

Total Depravity: Due to the Fall (Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden), all people are sinners from birth and in need of salvation.

Unconditional Election: God sovereignly predestines certain people to salvation. tulip-1227493_960_720Whether or not a person is predestined, or “elect,” has nothing to do with her merit or good deeds. God’s reasons and criteria are known only to God. We have no way of knowing who is elect and who is not, only that people who are genuinely saved were predestined to it.

Limited Atonement: The atonement for sin that Christ made on the cross applies only to those who are, or will, in the future be, saved.

Irresistible Grace: Those who are predestined to salvation are drawn to Christ by God and will desire and accept, rather than reject, God’s offer of grace for their sin.

Perseverance of the Saints: (Sometimes called “eternal security,” or “once saved, always saved.”) Those who are truly saved will continue in the faith for the rest of their lives. Someone who “used to be a Christian” was never truly saved in the first place.

I don’t describe myself as a “Five Point Calvinist” or a “three pointer,” etc., because, while I pretty much agree with all five points (and don’t reject any of them outright), I simply think these doctrines are far more nuanced than they are often presented by Calvinists. We don’t have everything all cut-and-dried figured out about what’s going on in the mind of God about electing people. With regard to human will, we don’t know precisely what God does in a person’s heart, and how He does it, at the exact moment of regeneration. We believe what Romans 9 says about election while simultaneously believing 2 Peter 3:9, that it’s not God’s desire for anyone to perish.

And you know what? That’s OK. It’s OK to hold those things in tension while we’re here on earth. We believe what Scripture says God does, but, where the Bible is silent as to how He does it, His reasons for doing it, etc., well, we trust God and believe Scripture there, too, because it says:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

So that’s where I am, theologically speaking (I’ve written a little more about it here.) I guess you could say I’m a Reformed gal who leaves room for the mysteries of the mind of God.

Additional Resources:

What are the Doctrines of Grace? at Got Questions

Calvinism at Theopedia

What is Calvinism? at Ligonier Ministries

TULIP and Reformed Theology: An Introduction at Ligonier Ministries

Why I Am a Calvinist by Phil Johnson

If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

3 thoughts on “The Mailbag: What is Calvinism?”

  1. Hey Michelle, I happened across your blog as I was searching for a picture for a post on my own blog! I am glad to have found you, I really like what you are doing here. We are quite similar except that I am Reformed and not baptist 🙂 I appreciate what you have written in this post. The so called 5 points of Calvinism had their origin in the Canons of Dordt, which were a response to the Arminians of the time.

    I wish more Christians would point to the CoD when talking about TULIP. WHile they are theologivally deep, they are not meant to define an entire system of doctrine, but merely were intended as a statement against the 5 points of the Arminians (or Remonstrants as they were known as in 1618).

    Blessings Ryan


  2. Hi Michelle,
    Your blog /website is an excellent resource. Thank you so much for your service. Regarding election, you stated 2 Peter 3:9 says that it’s not God’s desire for anyone to perish. But according to both John MacArthur and Dr. James White, this verse is talking about elect believers.


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