Calvinism: A Comprehensive Guide and Defense

What are the doctrines of Calvinism, and is Calvinism biblical? This is a complete guide to and defense of everything related to Calvinism.
Calvinism
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Table of Contents

  1. 5 reasons why Calvinism is worth teaching and defending
  2. Introduction to Calvinism
  3. The Five Points of Calvinism
    1. Total Depravity
    2. Unconditional Election
    3. Limited Atonement
    4. Irresistible Grace
    5. Perseverance of the Saints
  4. Answers to Objections
    1. "All"/"World" - The Bible says that God wants "all" people and the "world" to be saved (John 3:16, 12:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9
    2. Author of Sin - Did God create sin?
    3. Evangelism - Is evangelism unnecessary?
    4. Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11 - "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?"
    5. Fairness - Is Calvinism fair?
    6. Foreknowledge - Does God predestine based upon passive foreknowledge?
    7. Free will is more glorifying to God
    8. God commands people to "obey," "choose," and "believe," which implies free will (Joshua 24:15, John 3:18, 15:10)
    9. Prayer - Is prayer unnecessary?
    10. Prevenient Grace - God grants everyone grace so that they can make a free will decision.
    11. Puppets/Robots - Are we mere puppets and robots?
    12. Responsibility - Can we be responsible if salvation is unconditional?
    13. "Unwilling" - The Bible says that God wants people to be saved, but they are "unwilling" (Matthew 22:3, 23:37)
    14. "You're just trying to explain away Bible passages that contradict Calvinism."

^ 1. 5 reasons why Calvinism is worth teaching and defending

  1. Calvinism glorifies God because it teaches the truth about God.
  2. Calvinism glorifies God because it gives Him all the credit for our salvation.
  3. Calvinism gives us joy because the more hopeless we were in our sin, the more magnified God is in saving us.
  4. Calvinism gives us peace and confidence because we know that our salvation is in God's powerful hands alone, and not at all in our own fickle free will.
  5. Calvinism gives us confidence in evangelism because we depend upon the power of the gospel, rather than upon our ability to persuade people.

^ 2. Introduction to Calvinism

Although the term "Calvinism" technically refers to all of the teachings of John Calvin, who was Reformed in his theology, the term Calvinism is most commonly used to refer specifically to Calvin's teachings concerning predestination.

What did Calvin teach about predestination?

Calvin essentially taught that God is completely sovereign over creation, including salvation, which means that:

  1. humans are not saved because of a free will decision to have faith in Christ, but rather because
  2. God unconditionally predestines humans to salvation by granting them faith in Christ.

^ 3. The Five Points of Calvinism

Calvin's teachings concerning predestination are commonly summarized as the Five Points of Calvinism, also known as TULIP.

The Five Points of Calvinism are actually a response to the Five Articles of Remonstrance (1610), in which Arminians presented five objections to Calvin's teachings.

These are the Five Points of Calvinism:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

First, we will define and provide Scriptural support for each of the Five Points of Calvinism, and then we will answer objections against Calvinism.

^ A. Total Depravity

The doctrine of total depravity teaches at least three things:

  1. Every Human Being Is Born with Original Sin
  2. Even the "Good" Works of Non-Christians Are Sinful
  3. Humans Cannot and Will Not Turn to Jesus for Salvation

For a full explanation and defense of the doctrine of total depravity, check out Total Depravity: Definition, Scriptural Support, and Defense.

^ B. Unconditional Election

The doctrine of unconditional election teaches that individuals are saved by God's sovereign choice, and not by their free will or anything good or bad that God foresees in them.

For a full explanation and defense of the doctrine of total depravity, check out Unconditional Election - Definition, Scripture, and Defense.

^ C. Limited Atonement

The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Jesus did not come to die for every single person in the world, but rather, only for God's elect, or for "his people." Limited atonement is sometimes also referred to as particular atonement or effectual atonement.

For a full explanation and defense of the doctrine of total depravity, check out Limited Atonement - Definition, Scripture, and Defense.

^ D. Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace teaches that God will irresistibly draw all of His elect to have saving faith in Jesus by regenerating them, or giving them a new nature that loves and desires God.

^ E. Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints teaches that God will enable all of His elect to continue having saving faith in Jesus until their death. In other words, none of God's elect will ultimately turn away from God.

^ 4. Answers to Objections

^ A. "All"/"World" - The Bible says that God wants "all" people and the "world" to be saved (John 3:16, 12:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9

There is good reason to believe that when the Bible uses the words "all" or "world," it is not referring to every single human being, but rather to one of the following:

For a fuller response, check out Calvinism and "desires all people to be saved" (1 Timothy 2)

^ B. Author of Sin - Did God create sin?

God is not the "author" of sin in the sense that God is not the one who commits sin, and God is not guilty of sin.

At the same time, because God is completely sovereign over creation and is metaphysically the ultimate cause of everything, God can be said to be the ultimate "cause" of sin.

This does not make God immoral because the one who commits and is guilty of sin is always the sinner, and not God.

For a fuller response, check out Is God the author of sin? - Gordon Clark's answer.

^ C. Evangelism - Is evangelism unnecessary?

Some argue that if everyone who is predestined to salvation will definitely be saved, then there is no reason to evangelize.

However, here are two responses:

  1. God commands Christians to evangelize, so there must be a good reason for evangelism.
  2. God does not save His elect in a vacuum—God's elect are saved through faith, which comes as a result of evangelism. God has chosen to use evangelism to bring His elect to salvation, and we should be such an important part of God's plan. We should humbly trust how God has chosen to do things, rather than attacking the way God has chosen to do things.

^ D. Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11 - "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?"

The context is that the Israelites were saying that God was unjust and would not forgive them even if they repented (verse 2, 19, 25). They were saying that God had "pleasure" in punishing them.

In response, God says that He does not have "pleasure" in punishing the wicked, and that He is completely ready to forgive the wicked if they turn to Him in repentance. God "would rather" that the wicked turn in that God has commanded righteousness, and righteousness is better than wickedness.

There is simply no contradiction between these statements:

  1. It is God's revealed will, or desire, that people are commanded to repent of sin.
  2. It is God's secret will, or desire, that He has created some people to be "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Romans 9).
  3. God does not take "pleasure" in punishing the wicked in that He does not do so unjustly or maliciously.
  4. God is always ready to forgive sinners when they, by His grace, repent.

In other words, God desires repentance in the sense that He has commanded repentance and will forgive anyone who repents, but God does not desire repentance for some people in the sense that He has not chosen to grant them repentance. There is no contradiction here, and this interpretation is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

For a fuller response, check out Calvinism and Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11 - Interpretation.

In response, God says that He has no "pleasure" in punishing the wicked

^ E. Fairness - Calvinism isn't fair because some people are predestined to hell

Calvinism is fair because people who are punished with hell fully deserve that punishment because of their sin. The fact that their fate was predestined by God does not mean they do not deserve this fate.

The objection that Calvinism is "unfair" uses an arbitrary, foreign definition of "fairness" that the Bible simply does not teach.

^ F. Foreknowledge - Does God predestine based upon passive foreknowledge?

When we examine what Scripture teaches concerning God's foreknowledge, we find that God's foreknowledge refers to a "foreloving" of particular people, or a prior commitment to have a special relationship with particular people, rather than to a passive knowledge of what people would do in the future.

For a fuller response, check out God's "Foreknowledge" and Unconditional Election.

^ G. Free will is more glorifying to God

Some argue that free will is more glorifying to God because people freely choosing God is more glorifying to God than if God simply predestined people for salvation.

However, this assertion is subjective and arbitrary. We could just as easily say that Calvinism is more glorifying to God because it gives God all of the credit for salvation, and gives sinners greater dependence upon God, greater joy in recognizing that they were saved from utter hopelessness, and greater assurance in their salvation.

^ H. God commands people to "obey," "choose," and "believe," which implies free will (Joshua 24:15, John 3:18, 15:10)

That God commands people to "obey," "choose," and "believe" does not necessarily mean that people must have the free will to do these things. It simply means that people should do these things. There is no reason to exclude the possibility that God commands these things, yet people, on their own, are unable to do these things.

There is simply no justification for the assertion that God commanding these things must mean that humans have the free will to do these things.

Rather, the Bible clearly teaches that humans, in their natural sinful state, would never choose God.

For a list of Bible passages that teach that humans, left to themselves, are both unwilling and unable to obey, choose, and believe in God, check out Top 24 Bible Verses about Inability to Turn to God (ESV).

^ I. Prayer - Is prayer unnecessary?

^ J. Prevenient Grace - God grants everyone grace so that they can make a free will decision.

The Arminian view of prevenient grace is simply not taught by Scripture. Rather, Scripture is clear that everyone who is "drawn" or "called" by God definitely will be saved, and that faith is not generated by human free will, but is rather the result of regeneration, or being "born again" by God.

For a fuller response, check out Prevenient Grace - Why the Arminian Definition Fails.

^ K. Puppets/Robots - Are we mere puppets and robots?

That humans do not have free will apart from God does not mean they are puppets or robots. Humans are completely different from puppets and robots because they have a will that makes meaningful decisions. That our will is not free from God does not make our decisions meaningless.

Our decisions and actions are meaningful, which means they can be rewarded and punished. In contrast, puppets and robots are inanimate objects that do not make meaningful decisions that can be rewarded or punished.

For a fuller response, check out Predestination, Calvinism, Puppets, and Robots - Gordon Clark.

^ L. Responsibility - Can we be responsible if we don't have free will?

Responsibility does not depend upon free will, but rather upon there being an authority who will judge us for our actions. Whether we are free or not ultimately does not matter. What matters is the answer to this question: "Have we done something that deserves punishment?"

If we argue that it isn't fair for God to punish us for something we don't have the ability to overcome, then we have a false definition of what is "fair." God is the sovereign creator, and because He has decided to punish totally depraved sinners because of their sin, that is fair simply because that is who God is and what God has decided to do.

For a fuller response, check out Predestination, Free Will, and Responsibility - Gordon Clark.

^ M. "Unwilling" - The Bible says that God wants people to be saved, but they are "unwilling" (Matthew 22:3, 23:37)

"Your children" and "you" refer to different groups of people. Jesus desires to gather "your children," (His people), but "you" (the Scribes and the Pharisees) were unwilling.

The people who were unwilling were the Scribes and the Pharisees, not the people Jesus desired to gather.

For a fuller response, check out Matthew 23:37 and Calvinism - "you were not willing".

^ N. "You're just trying to explain away Bible passages that contradict Calvinism."

We simply desire to interpret the Bible in a manner that is consistent and non-contradictory, which is necessary for a worldview that does not result in skepticism.

Scripture is extremely clear in teaching the doctrines of Calvinism. The answers to objections that Arminians raise against Calvinism are reasonable and logical.

That you simply do not like the answers does not mean they are illegitimate.

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