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.


Tiptoeing Through the T.U.L.I.P.s

ImageWith all the debate going on out there about Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I thought I’d weigh in with where I stand. So here it is:

I stand on the Bible. I believe all of it. Every word.

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners who abide under the wrath of God, and that the only way to escape the just penalty for our sin –an eternity in hell—is to repent from our sin and place our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross as payment for that sin, and in His bodily resurrection.

Precisely how God accomplishes salvation at the nanosecond of a human’s repentance and faith, and the minutiae involved in predestination that isn’t revealed in Scripture, along with some of the other fine points of disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians, are, and will remain, a mystery understood only by the mind of God. And no amount of debate will change that.

Scriptures concerning election, predestination, and free will are constantly tossed back and forth in this debate, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard either side bring out:

Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

I Corinthians 13:9,10,12: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

How are we doing on the things that have been clearly revealed to us in Scripture? Is the entire world evangelized? Is the church a pure and spotless bride ready for Christ’s return? Has false doctrine been eradicated? Is every widow and orphan cared for?


Then we are to be about the business of “the things revealed” and leave “the secret things” to the Lord.

The truth is, when we get to Heaven, no matter where we land on the spectrum of Arminianism vs. Calvinism, we’re probably all going to find out that none of us had every single aspect of this theological construct precisely correct. What is the point of debating to the death something we may eventually find out we were wrong about?

Let us “Be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth,” (II Timothy 2:15) and, “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12) as we seek to work together to carry out the Great Commission.