Defining Calvinism

Content Author: 
Will Hoit

Defining Calvinism 

Invariably any discussion of Calvinism will be countered by “you don’t really understand Calvinism.” Of course what they mean to say is that you don’t understand their particular set of beliefs about Calvinism. But to their credit, they are right to a degree. Calvinists are highly fragmented and divided about their own theology. Of the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) there are 5 pointers, 3 pointers, 1.5 pointers, and so on. So as you see, many of Calvinism’s adherents are unsure about what it means, let alone others. In fact, most who claim the name of Calvin for their theology do not agree with him on all 5 points. The fact that this troubling and complicated system is at odds with scripture is made glaringly evident by the dissention within its own camp. So keep in mind that when I say Calvinism, I do not mean what some say about Calvinism, I am referring to what John Calvin said about his theological system. To side with the Calvinists for moment, I too believe that the great majority of folks really don’t understand what Calvinism is all about. But I also believe that many of the ones that do know try to skirt the issue and confuse its discussion to defend it. Since I have had a doctoral level course on Calvinism, and read about, debated, and counseled people for many years on the subject, I think I have had sufficient enough experience with which to comment. Succinctly put, Calvinism is a theological system that teaches that God directly causes people to be saved without them having a choice in the matter, and puts people in eternal hellfire without them ever having an opportunity to repent and believe. They can use all the confusing terminology, deflective debate tactics, and accusations of misrepresentation they like, but that doesn’t change what Calvinism is.  The first four points of Calvinism are based solely on this viewpoint (not scripture).

TULIP

A full dissertation on all the nuances of this concept would be quite lengthy and unnecessary for the purposes of this article; therefore I will attempt to give you the highlights. TULIP is the acronym used to summarize the theology taught in John Calvin’s four volume literary work entitled “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” I think that most agree it does a pretty effective job of capturing the essence of what Calvinism teaches. The “T” stands for total depravity. But the actual definition includes the idea of total “inability” to choose eternal life with Jesus over damnation. The Bible clearly teaches that we are wretched sinners through and through, thus we are totally depraved. But it just thoroughly drives the point home over and over that we can choose. This concept of people choosing to place their faith in God and trust in Him is drummed into our heads all throughout scripture. Only the bias of a theological system could cause one to disregard this. The “U” stands for unconditional election. God “elects” or chooses you with no “conditions” placed upon that election, including belief. So we see thus far that you cannot choose, and God chooses irrespective of conditions. The “L” refers to limited atonement. This is the idea that if we cannot choose, and only God chooses who is saved, and not everyone is chosen for salvation, the atonement for sin Jesus made on the cross was only for those sovereignty elected for salvation. The “I” stands for irresistible grace. It stands to follow that if your choices are immaterial, and God’s choices are all that matter, then God’s choices cannot be resisted. Grace is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification. I believe this is a biblically correct definition. In Calvinism grace is more than assistance, it is a force that is irresistible, or essentially being “zapped” into salvation. The “P” stands for perseverance of the saints. All those chosen by God are sovereignty preserved by Him. While this is akin to eternal security, it is based on a fundamentally different mechanism. The eternal security of the born again believer bases his trust in the promise of God that those who “believe” upon Him for salvation receive “eternal life” as a present possession. While I do not want to make this article a defense of eternal security, there are many, many passages that teach this to be a fact. One of the most prominent New Testament declarations on this matter is that we are “sealed unto the day of redemption” in Ephesians 4:30. Similar use of this term “sealed” is also used in 2Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13. This is just one of many lines of converging evidence for this doctrine. But the point in terms of TULIP is that eternal security is sound doctrine because God keeps his promises and genuinely loves us, and not because He supernaturally brainwashes you into loving Him.

Foreknowledge

It is an evident fact from scripture that God knows who will and will not be saved, and He has known this since before the foundation of the world. In Revelation 17:8 it mentions those “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” This is definitive. And it is not the only passage that says so. God is all knowing, including the future. This fact has not dawned on some people, but it is certainly evident in scripture. But what are we to make of this? Does the fact that God knows negate our ability to choose? Does it really mean that God set things up in such a way that some people cannot believe on Jesus? I don’t entertain that thought for a moment. It’s a fact that some will not be saved, but this does not mean that they cannot. God ordained things in such a way that all men have an opportunity at salvation. That is a part of His will He has expressed clearly.  But He still knows who will be saved. In 1Peter 1:2 we who are saved are said to be “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” And in the last part of Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.” In the two places where foreknowledge is discussed in relation to saved people, foreknowledge comes first. It is important to understand that time is one of those constraints that is a part of our experience, but not God’s. It does not determine our choices; it merely provides a span in which to make them.

Calvinism Preys on Weak Believers

I truly believe that a lack of understanding regarding the foreknowledge of God is behind some being shocked into believing Calvinism has merit, especially since they do not truly understand all that Calvinism entails. Young believers are exposed to the “sovereign grace book club” and indoctrinated into following this man Calvin. They are shown all the men that followed Calvin since the reformation as proof of its merit, unaware they have been brainwashed into interpreting the Bible through the eyes of a man. Since Calvinist’s focus almost exclusively on God’s sovereignty they often deepen the understanding of some in the sovereign aspect of God’s nature. Unfortunately, there is a whole dark caldron of theological thinking that goes with it. Once enlightened on this new aspect of God’s nature, they wonder just how far it extends.  They are tempted to believe this whole theological system of Calvin has merit, rather than recognize the overemphasis of just one attribute of God’s nature.  I think that some people are caught off guard when they discover from scripture how much God knows and how much intervention He does. This stems partially from having been brought up in Churches that do not get deep into scripture. The fact is that those churches leave many ill prepared to deal with false doctrine of this nature. Another problem could be being brought up in a Christian home, as strange as that sounds. Those who were saved out of licentious living later in life, realize how bad things can get and view salvation more as a gracious gift we choose to receive, and less a decree that we are born with, generally speaking. This is the “prodigal son perspective” we find our Lord discussing in Luke 15:11-32. We have this principle of heart perspectives taught over and over again in scripture. Go read Luke 7:36-50 for the whole story, but the gist is that those who are forgiven much loveth much (Luke 7:47). In other words, heroin addicted prostitutes that get saved are less likely to see salvation as an elite position determined before they were born than those from privileged families.  The fact of the matter is that they are more in touch with their depravity, and what a remarkable loving gift salvation truly is. It’s a heart issue, and it colors the way you understand reality, and perceive the nature of God. Calvinism (in its purest sense) sees God from a cold legalistic sense, and no wonder since it came from a brilliant young legal mind, a mind not thoroughly seasoned in the Word of God and corrupted by the teachings of the likes of Augustine. The Bible says that from the mouth of babes is praise perfected (Matthew 21:16). That is why the saved prostitute sees salvation as what it is, the remarkable loving gift available to all unworthy souls by an immensely warm and loving creator. I believe adherence to Calvinism is a heart issue, and that is why I oppose it so strongly. I also believe that those who have done great evangelical work as professing Calvinists have done that work in spite of Calvinism. I believe they had to reject tenants of Calvinism at a heart level.

The Impact of Romanism

The negative effect on Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is incalculable. The great scarlet, harlot church, drunken with the blood of saints, brought a vicious, elitist element into the psyche of Christianity that will go down in eternity as maybe the darkest time spiritually this Earth has seen since before the flood. This system that established itself through men of reprobate minds, destitute of the truth, still has 1 billion adherents worldwide. Clearly men love error and apostasy. To understand the spirit of Calvinism one must first understand Romanism. Rome brutalized Christians for hundreds of years after the apostolic church. But early in the 4th century a man named Constantine came to power in Rome, and he orchestrated the greatest merger of the holy with the profane in human history. Seeing the resolve of the Christian faithful in martyrdom, I believe he thought it had the potential to make the already powerful Rome even more so, and help bring him into power and establish a long rule for him. Making Christianity the state religion would also be advantageous to controlling this burgeoning force in culture.

Augustine and Unholy Ideas

Those beaten by Rome, some still with lash scars on their backs, were now led to the upper rooms of Roman government and given positions of power to establish their faith. Since Rome controlled most of the civilized world at that time, this was a tantalizing prospect and a heady time for those who had been on the outside for so long. But it was also a breeding ground for apostasy, and even worse, outright perversion of biblical Christianity turning it into a brutal, elitist regime. Shortly after this happened a man named Augustine who fancied himself a thinker and theologian would publish many ideas about Christianity, some of which would help usher in the 1000 year reign of terror by Romanism, and others that reformers would pick up and carry on with unto today. Augustine put forth the idea that, in essence, the kingdom of God on Earth had been brought in with this merger. The word Catholic means universal. The idea was that God had established his kingdom through the Roman Church and that it was universal (all encompassing) among men. Talk about an elitist idea. Of course that would make the priests, bishops, cardinals and other church representatives God’s literal emissaries here on Earth. Logic follows that if the kingdom has been established in a literal, physical way, and you are God’s emissary in a theocratic government, then all who are on the outside and disagree are the enemies of God. Further, if you now have the governmental power to execute justice on this Earth pertaining to religious matters, and those powers were given you by God, then you have the duty to do so. With the influence of past brutality of the Romans, this was a dangerous brew of ideas.

Elitism and Christianity

You have to understand these concepts to understand why the RCC for over 1000 years persecuted and killed millions of dissident believers. You have to understand this to understand why the RCC kept the scriptures from the common person and refused to even translate it into a language the common person could understand. They viewed themselves as God’s elite representatives, the only ones that could rightly interpret the scriptures, and with theocratic governmental agency to inflict justice on God’s enemies. In the hands of commoners the scriptures only created more heretical dissidents that would have to be done away with. Now that you know this, the horrid history of the RCC and this false, heretical thinking, and that the thinker Augustine was used by Satan to get this whole thing going, now for the bombshell. We also know that Calvin praised this man Augustine highly and considered his writings to be virtually inspired. You see, Augustine also believed in an unbiblical form of predestination. He wrote about this, but did not develop this idea fully. This was the seed of thought that germinated in the mind of John Calvin. And certainly after 1000 plus years the RCC had moved to an entirely works based system. But the RCC system possesses elements of this elitism in its doctrine. They believe that God ordained their church to bring about salvation. It was the elitism that brought about the errors of the RCC, and that thinking was solidified substantially by Augustine. Calvin’s reliance on this false teacher led him also to create a viewpoint of Christian thought that was elitist. In the reformation, justification by grace rightly supplanted justification by works, but with it this idea of God’s elite would live on through Calvin and his adherents.

Reformation not Restoration

I have great certainty that Calvinism is an over-correction of the protestant reformation. After all, what could be more antithetical to salvation by works than salvation by eternal decree?  The erroneous mechanism of works for justification was correctly replaced during the reformation by grace based justification. But the over-correction comes in with the mechanisms of justification. When addressing the salvation of individuals the Bible focuses on choice, receiving, belief and faith. Calvinism on the contrary does not, but in essence deems them irrelevant. The protestant reformation is just what it is called, an attempt at “reforming” the Roman Catholic Church by those within it that “protested” against its doctrinal views. It stopped far short of restoring biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity puts the justification completely in God’s hands, but it does not remove man’s responsibility to choose.

Imputed Justification not Faith

Choosing to believe or have faith is not a work. Faith is contrasted with works extensively in the New Testament, so there should be no confusion there. If faith were a work there would be no contrast as we find discussed in the Bible. But faith is not an eternal decree either. The Bible says in Romans 10:17 that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Of course this, as any other verse on faith in the Bible can be twisted by the perverted logic of Calvinism. They would contend that God decreed them to have faith upon hearing the word of God. A thorough study of the biblical use of the word “imputation” is in order here. Imputation is a New Testament term that is doctrinal in relation to the justification component of salvation. The imputed righteous of Christ is what justifies us in God’s site, and not works. It is interesting to note that wherever this term is used in the Bible it is used in relation to justification after faith and/or belief is discussed. Calvinism carries the idea of imputed belief or imputed faith, but this is not biblical. Justification is imputed after belief, after faith. If faith or belief were imputed as Calvinists contend, why does the Bible not say so where it has the chance? This concept of imputation is thoroughly thrashed out in Romans 4. Faith is not imputed, plain and simple. This false doctrine of imputed faith mechanisms preceding justification should be preached against and separated from.

Calvinism Versus Bible Belief

Spurgeon vs. the Hyper-Calvinists by Iain Murray is a book that provides perspective about the issue. I think it is clear that Spurgeon was not a Calvinist in practice, and that he plainly said that where Calvinism contradicts scripture it is scripture that is authoritative, regardless of any perceived inconsistencies.  This is the difference between a Bible believer and a Calvinist. A Bible believer interprets the Word of God in context and by comparing scripture with scripture, and not by viewing it through the lens of a manmade theological construct. A Bible believer is someone who searches the scriptures daily to see if things are so, just like the noble ones of Berea that received Christ with all readiness of mind (Acts 17:11). Faith should be centered on scripture, and not on any man-made theological systems. Exposure today to preachers and teachers who espouse this profound truth above all other viewpoints is something that is woefully missing, and thus leaves many open to the 500 year old false teaching of Calvin. It is important to understand that the general knowledge of scripture among lay people was lacking before the reformation. Scripture was just simply not in print in mass before then. The printing press was invented during the reformation period, and is really the technology that made it possible for everyone to own a Bible. So scripture had just become widely available at that time. Now that scripture has been widely available for over 400 years, many people have been able to study it, and folks of my persuasion that exalt the scripture above theological systems have found many errors in the doctrinal systems of protestant writers as well as those that came before and after the reformation. Spurgeon’s statement that scripture must always supersede manmade theology is a viewpoint we share. I do not find the beliefs of any man an authority above scripture. I’m sure that every Christian believes their faith is built on the Bible, but I think it is clear that anyone who adheres to the aberrant theology of Calvin when faced with the enormous scriptural inconsistencies has shown themselves to not be basing their beliefs solely on the extant Word of God, but rather a theological viewpoint.

Calvinism / Armenianism Bifurcation Fallacy

Keep in mind that in debating Calvinism do not allow yourself to be trapped in the bifurcation (black and white or two option only) fallacy that non-Calvinists are Arminianists. This is a good example of a false dichotomy being used to distract people from the real issue at hand. You can reject both if you like. You can be neither. The fact is that these two viewpoints represent two extreme views, the outer boundaries on a continuum, but the real answer is somewhere in between. The final answer is not that salvation is God zapping you into being a believer, or that you must work your way to heaven. Salvation is of the Lord, but there is still something you must do. You must make a choice to repent and believe or not. And this truly gets to the heart of the matter, and the reason we have enough will to choose.

Calvinism = God’s Sovereignty Equivocation Fallacy

It further must be pointed out that Calvinism does not equate to belief in God’s sovereignty.  This is another false claim made by Calvinists. Bible believers believe God is sovereign, but we don’t believe people are robots that are zapped into heaven and banished to hell with out a “fair” opportunity from a just and righteous creator.  Sovereign grace (a facet of God’s sovereignty taught by Calvinists) is in the final analysis an unfair, unjust and unrighteous selective grace and not the biblical portrayal of God’s grace. The sovereign grace we find in the Bible is one that is offered without respect of persons to all out love by a supremely fair and just almighty creator. Do you disagree with this? The Bible says we are made in God’s image, with an eternal soul, knowledge of right and wrong, and a capacity to choose. We are not horses or dogs. We are not merely the advanced nanotechnological cellular robotics systems that make up our bodies, we have a soul. We are a special creation of God with immense capabilities, and one of those is our ability to choose good over evil, to choose God over Satan, and to choose eternal life over eternal death. You must understand that these capabilities are at the center of our depravity, not a decree from God. Pride in our near god-like capabilities, so much so we see ourselves as sufficient without God, is what keeps us from God, and not that He ordered it so. To blame God for this through a misplaced desire to bolster God’s sovereignty is the uttermost height of folly. God is to be thanked for this miraculous gift, but not to be blamed if we misuse it.

Paul was a Calvinist?

John Calvin was a young lawyer, unseasoned in the Word of God, and he devised a cold, legalistic view of God. The power of this viewpoint to cause someone to go back and redefine the nature of God is exhibited in the behavior of his adherents. I believe that some have illustrated the extra-biblical bias of Calvinism when stating that Paul was Calvinistic in his writings. The very nature of this statement shows how they are going back and reinterpreting scripture in light of this viewpoint. This allegation is simply not true. Paul understood the Sovereignty of God in the biblical sense, but he certainly never taught what Calvin taught about salvation. Paul never taught you are regenerated and saved before believing. Paul never taught that God chooses who He will regenerate and who He will damn eternally, and your will is inconsequential.  Paul didn’t teach that Christ died for the elect only, that grace is irresistible, that depravity means inability to choose good over evil, and that there are not any conditions on election as Calvin did. Paul taught exactly the opposite of these false assertions made by Calvin. These two viewpoints, that of Calvin and that of Paul, could not be more diametrically opposed to one another. People that equate the two either do not understand Calvinism or do not understand what Paul was inspired to write, or both. Oh sure, you can take some passages out of context and not compare them with other scripture and make the Bible teach Calvinism, but is this really the way you want to handle the Word of God? Some have said that many good Christians believe Calvinism. But after discussions with many of them I am not even sure they truly understand Calvinism. After all, it seems every Calvinist you meet has a different viewpoint on the matter. I firmly believe that many that teach its supposed merits truly don’t understand it and its dire doctrinal ramifications.

Calvinism is a Heart Issue

Why would anyone want to exalt the theological system of John Calvin over clear scriptural teaching? I think the answer is in how we define the nature of God. And how we define the nature of God comes from the heart. The aspect of his writing that exalts God's sovereignty is correct, but it is not the end of the story when talking about Calvinism. Calvinism took God’s sovereignty to an unbiblical level that actually makes God unjust. In essence, the young lawyer John Calvin took God’s sovereignty and used it to reinterpret the entire Bible and portray God as heartless, cold and legalistic in His dealings with man. Like an old time preacher once said: “ever since God created man in His image, man has returned the favor.” I believe the young lawyer Calvin recreated God in his own legalistic image, and in doing so created a system of interpretation that would appeal to like minded people. This is a dangerous, soul suffocating system that is to be avoided at all costs. Is a god that puts people in hell without ever having had a chance at eternal life the loving God of the scriptures? Is this the one that said to love your enemies? The one that suffered reproach, humiliation, torture, and a cruel death on the cross for Adam’s poor sin cursed race? Is that the one we are talking about? What a cold thought to consider God indiscriminately damning folks to eternal torment who never had a chance to believe. Calvinism may be loosely construed to fit God's sovereignty and His knowledge, but it doesn't fit the nature of His heart. Before I proclaimed Calvinism to be true about God I would want it spelled out explicitly in scripture, and not based on questionable assertions about a few passages that interpreted in a Calvinistic framework do not make sense in light of vast array of other scriptures. And just because there are Calvinists that are evangelical does not make Calvinism correct. The Pharisees were highly evangelical and fervent for the Word of God, but they were hard hearted. Consider these verses in light of what I have just said. In Matthew 23:15 Jesus said to them "ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."  Think of it, they were actively evangelical. But this evidently is not enough. Their hearts were wrong, and their converts became just like they were. When they wanted a strict legalistic answer on divorce Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 that "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."  Here it plainly states that their hard heartedness was the problem. Their cold, indifferent, strictly legalistic view of God was the problem. In Hebrews 4:12 God tells us "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."  It is our hearts that determine how we see God. Our thoughts and intents flow from our hearts, and if our hearts are hard, our thoughts concerning God will be also. All the proof I need that Calvinism is wrong is the way it characterizes God's heart and what that does to my heart.

Will Hoyt

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 24:20

For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.