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Calvinism is a complex doctrine that is often summarized with the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints.  In general, Calvinists do not resent this acronym but rather accept it and sometimes even use it in their own teachings.  These tenets do not stand alone, but they are interwoven and interdependent such that the whole doctrine rises or falls on the merits of a single tenet.  This will be demonstrated in the following.


To understand the doctrine of Calvinism, a good starting point is the Calvinistic concept of grace.  However, let us first consider the definition of grace.  The word “grace” in the New Testament is translated from the Greek charis and has various and broad meanings.  In one objective sense, it is “that which bestows or occasions pleasure, delight, or causes favorable regard.”  In another objective sense, it is an effect, i.e. “the spiritual state of those who have experienced its exercise.”  To one who performs an act of kindness, grace is “the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds.”  For one who receives the benefit of a kindly act, grace is “a sense of the favor bestowed, a feeling of gratitude.”  All of these meanings are found in various contexts of the New Testament.  (All of the above quotations are from the definition of grace found in Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.)


The Calvinistic concept of grace flows directly from the precept of total depravity.  According to this precept, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, man is by nature completely corrupt and incapable of any good whatsoever.  According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (a 1646 creed accepted by most Calvinist denominations), “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.” (Chapter VI, Article IV).  According to this doctrine, because man is completely incapable of any good, he is incapable of receiving what is good, including the gospel of Christ.  Therefore, man needs a special act of God through the Holy Spirit in order to “make them willing and able to believe” in order to be saved. (Westminster Confession, Chapter VII, Article III)  To the Calvinist, this act of God through the Holy Spirit is God’s saving grace.


Therefore, according to Calvinism, whether or not a person will be saved is completely the choice of God without conditions.  This is the doctrine of unconditional election.  According to the Westminster Confession, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” (Chapter III, Article III)  According to the Calvinist, God chose each individual before the beginning of time for salvation.  Therefore, the number of the saved is fixed and cannot increase nor decrease.


The precept of unconditional election necessitates the other precepts of irresistible grace, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints.  Irresistible grace is a necessary doctrine because if the number of the saved is already determined and fixed, and God calls one of the saved by His grace, then that person has no choice but to heed the call of the Holy Spirit.  He cannot resist it.  Limited atonement is a necessary doctrine because only those who were chosen will have their sins forgiven due to the sacrifice of Christ.  The Calvinist teaches that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all but effective for only the elect.  The doctrine of perseverance of the saints is also required because of the belief that the number of saved is fixed and cannot be altered.  By this, if one is called by irresistible grace, then he is saved and nothing can change that.  Should a person renounce his faith, then the case is that he never was among the saved in the first place.


Now, let us compare the doctrine of Calvinism to the Scriptures.  Many comparisons can be made, but only a few are really necessary.  As stated before, all of the tenets of Calvinism stand or fall together.  If one part of Calvinism is disproved, the entire doctrine unravels.


Let us return to the concept of grace.  The Calvinist teaches that saving grace is the irresistible act of God through the Holy Spirit upon only the elect to “make them willing and able to believe.”  Yet the Bible says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing them to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)  There is no denying that God’s saving grace is considered here, and such grace is directed to all men, not just a few elect persons.  That grace is not a force that “makes them willing and able to believe”, but rather it is the revelation of the truth and instructions of the gospel, which all men are capable of hearing, believing, and obeying.  Likewise, all men are capable of resisting this grace if they choose not to believe and obey the gospel.  In this way, God has offered salvation freely, but with conditions, through grace to all people, and each person has a choice of whether or not to accept it.


However, Calvinism denies that God offers salvation to all people.  Yet, according to Paul, prayers should be made on behalf of all men because, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).  Similarly, Peter states that the Lord is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)  If God desires salvation for all men, then certainly He has offered it and is hopeful that all men will accept it.


This particular statement in 2 Peter 3:9 presents a great difficulty for the Calvinist.  If this statement by Peter pertains to all people, then salvation is available to all men, and the doctrines of limited atonement and unconditional election are invalid.  If it pertains only to a few elect, then it implies that some of the elect can perish, which invalidates the doctrines of perseverance of the saints and irresistible grace.  Either way, the verse is incompatible with the tenets of Calvinism.


One of the difficulties in discussing Scripture with Calvinists is that their concepts of irresistible grace and total depravity cause them to interpret many passages as being limited in application to only those individuals who are called by God through irresistible grace.  Therefore, if a passage such as John 3:16 is cited to prove that anyone from the world can believe and be saved, the Calvinist disagrees because he believes that only those who have been called by irresistible grace are capable of believing.


So then, let us determine whether the Bible teaches that man is so depraved that he is incapable of believing the gospel without a preparatory act of the Holy Spirit.  The Calvinist will cite a passage such as Romans 8:7-9 to show that man is incapable of believing in his depraved state.  That passage says, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”  There is no denying that this passage teaches that the mind set on the flesh cannot subject itself to God, but the question is: How is the mind set on the flesh changed so that it can submit to God?  Is the lost soul capable of hearing the word of God and changing his mindset without a miraculous act of the Holy Spirit?


For the answer, let us consider Romans 10:12-17.  Verse 13 states that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Notice that this passage teaches that the prerequisite condition for salvation is calling on the name of the Lord.  The prerequisite condition for calling on the name of the Lord is belief.  The prerequisite condition for belief is hearing, and the prerequisite condition for hearing is preaching.  Nowhere in that process is there mentioned the necessity of a preparatory act of the Holy Spirit.  “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord” is anyone who will hear the word of God, believe it, and call on the name of the Lord for salvation.


A practical example of this process is found in Acts 2:14-41 when Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension.  Notice that verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart…”  It was at the point when the Jews heard the truth about Jesus that their hearts (minds) were changed.  It was hearing the word of God that changed their minds rather than a miraculous act of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)  Once their minds were changed by hearing the truth, they asked and were told what to do for the remission of sins, which they in turn did.  This is hearing, believing, and calling on the name of the Lord, i.e., the conditions of salvation.


The Calvinist will rebut this by citing an example such as Acts 16:14, which says that Lydia “was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”  The Calvinist interprets this as irresistible grace that made Lydia willing and able to believe.  However, this text indicates that God opened her heart to respond to (“to give heed to” or “to attend to”) what Paul was saying.  It other words, God worked through the word spoken (which was inspired by the Spirit) to open Lydia’s heart to respond in submission to Him, which she did when she was baptized (Acts 16:15).  The opening of Lydia’s heart was not so that she could believe, but rather it was because she believed.  This is another example of the process revealed in Romans 10:12-17.  God sent the preacher (Paul), Lydia heard the word of Christ, she believed, she called on the name of the Lord, and she received salvation.


Calvinism takes the power of God for salvation out of the gospel and places it into irresistible grace.  By Calvinist teachings, the gospel is powerless for all of those who do not receive the call of irresistible grace.  Yet, Paul wrote by inspiration, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16)


Calvinism also removes any responsibility from the individual for his or her salvation and places it entirely upon God.  According to Calvinists, God has already appointed each individual for salvation or destruction, and there is no changing that appointment.  However, the gospel appeals to all men to be saved according to the desires of God.  It gives instructions for how to be saved, and also gives warnings to those who have been forgiven lest they fall away.  “Once saved, always saved” is incompatible with the abundance of Scriptural evidence that a person can forfeit his salvation.  See 2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:4-6; Galatians 5:4; Acts 8:9-24; Luke 8:13.


Likewise, Calvinism takes the decision to seek God out of the hands of the individual and places it in unconditional election.  The Calvinist misinterprets passages such as Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5, and Acts 13:48 to mean that every individual’s destiny was determined before that individual even came into existence.  Yet, these passages simply mean that God ordained before time that He would chose those individuals who would conform themselves to His will and the image of His Son.  This is why Peter instructs Christians to “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you.” (2 Pet. 1:10)  To the Calvinist, the Book of Life has already been written with the names of the saved and cannot be changed.  Yet, Psalm 69:28 says of those who commit iniquity, “May they be blotted out of the book of life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous.”


Also, Calvinism takes the desire for God, salvation, and eternal life away from the individual due to total depravity.  Yet, in Acts 17:24-31, Paul told the idolatrous and unbelieving Athenians that God had made all men such “that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (v. 27).  Every man and woman has a fundamental need and desire for God according to God’s design.  While many live in denial of this and smother their desire, the truth of this fact is evident in every family, nation, culture, and age of man.


Dear reader, we could continue on at great length with this line of reasoning from the Scriptures, but the constraints of this space do not permit.  What has been stated is sufficient to demonstrate that Calvinism is fundamentally wrong.  As stated before and now again, the precepts of Calvinism rise and fall together.  The Scriptures have demonstrated that irresistible grace is a false requirement for salvation, and therefore man must not be totally depraved beyond the ability to desire salvation and seek for God.  If all men can desire salvation and seek for God, then all men are capable of believing and obeying the gospel, which are conditions for salvation.  Therefore, all people can be added to the roster of the saved elect.  If this is true, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not limited to a few, but is available to all.  And if a person can be granted salvation by the grace of God through faith (Eph. 2:8), then a person can also forfeit his salvation if he or she abandons that faith.  Thus, Calvinism is a false doctrine and must be rejected based on the standard of God’s word.


Stacey Durham



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