Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Reformer John Calvin: Foe or Friend?

John Calvin is often demonized for his teaching on predestination. It is sad because Calvin did so much more for the Church than merely give us a biblical understanding of God’s election. Calvin is a hero of Christianity, but one who is treated as a villain, like Darth Vader.

Although Calvin did not create the following himself, the Five Points of Calvinism are easily remembered by the acrostic TULIP:


Total Depravity (Total Inability):

This is the doctrine that affirms the whole corruption of man's nature. According to the Calvinist, every aspect of the being of man is affected through the rebellion of the Fall, so that no one is capable of pleasing God through the efforts of his own natural disposition. According to the doctrine of total depravity, the human person not only cannot please God, but apart from God's effectual grace, no man or woman even has the desire to please Him. Since all sinned in Adam, the representative of all, all are born in sin, and none are innocent, not even infants. All carry the burden of Adam's guilt, since all are in Adam and he is the perfect representative. Since all who come after Adam inherit his guilt, so that everyone is totally depraved, having no natural ability or desire to know or please God, everyone who comes after Adam is also deserving of the hot wrath and punishment of a holy and righteous God.
The idea of total depravity, according to the Calvinist, is not that we all do all the evil we are capable of, but rather, that all parts of our beings are corrupted by sin, and therefore there is nothing in us which can naturally commend us to God.
The Calvinist therefore denies the common doctrine that men naturally hunger to know God, or that men and women naturally desire Him.


Unconditional Election:

Given that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," which means, according to the Calvinist, that we are all totally depraved, in order to be saved it is necessary for God to initiate salvation. He does this unconditionally, according to his own private desire, choosing whom He will save not according to each one's own merit, nor according to His knowledge of how each one will respond to Him, but rather, according to His own mysterious plan. God's election of those whom He will save is effectual from before the foundation of the world.
Some Calvinists differ on whom will not be saved. Those who teach "double predestination" assert that God also elects whom will be damned, while others assert that God merely overlooks those whom he has not elected to salvation, so that their own natural depravity damns them.
The Calvinst therefore denies the notion of free-will, as well as any idea that God and man works together in synergy in order to accomplish salvation.


Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption):

Since salvation is based solely on the desire and will of God, and not on the will of man, and since God unconditionally elects those whom He saves, while damning others, the atonement is logically therefore limited only to those whom He has elected.
The idea behind the doctrine of limited atonement is that God is absolutely sovereign, accomplishing salvation according to His will and power, not the will not power of man. Therefore, when Christ dies for sin, he dies only for the sins of the elect. It would not make sense for Him to redeem those whom God has chosen to damn, or those whom He has not chosen for salvation. Ergo, the atonement is never non-effectual, but it is totally efficacious, or powerful to save, in the lives of those whom God has elected.
The Calvinist would therefore deny the doctrines which assert that Christ dies for the whole world, including those who reject Him to their own damnation.


Irresistible Grace:

Again, undergirding this doctrine is the concept of God's absolute sovereingty, as well as the foregoing doctrines. Since the elect are saved according to the pleasure of God alone, not on the basis of their own merit or choosing; and since God effects this through the atonement which is achieved for the elect alone, God must therefore initiate salvation in the personal lives of the elect.
God does this through His grace, which changed the heart and nature of the elect person prior to conversion. Therefore, the elect person is regenerated (or "born again") prior to his conversion to Christ.
God initiates salvation by working upon the interior deadness of the person's heart and soul, bringing to life the desire to know Him, and as a result, the person whom God chooses in response chooses God. Just as there is no one who would naturally seek to know God, there is also no one who would willingly reject God's effectual grace towards salvation as His Spirit works upon the person's heart. His grace is completely efficacious, regenerating and converting the totally depraved souls of His elect people.

This doctrine is opposed to the idea that God's grace can be resisted, or that men can choose or resist the efficacious grace of God.


Perseverance of the Saints:

Those who are born as children of wrath, corrupt and sinful by nature, yet the elect of God, for whom alone Christ died, and who have experienced the efficacious grace of God leading to regeneration and conversion, will perservere to the end.
As a logical extension of the foregoing, the Calvinist asserts that the elect cannot fall away. His salvation, initiated and secured by Christ, rooted in the absolute sovereignty and power of God, is guaranteed to the end. In the eternal security of God's grace, according to the Calvinist, the elect person will experience the subjective knowledge of his own assurance of salvation.

Therefore, the Calvinist rejects the doctrine that one can be saved, then fall away from grace, or lose his salvation.


This is a summary view of the five points of Calvinism. The underlying theme is that God alone is responsible for every aspect of salvation, from beginning to end, election to glory, and man contributes nothing to it.
Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory) was the cry of Calvin’s heart, and it should be the heart cry of all Christians, for salvation indeed is by grace alone, through faith alone because of Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Ted M. Gossard said...

haha, Ltl Luther,

I'll take you to task on this, when I get more time.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Actually don't mean to sound disrespectful on that. Was joking.

But it requires time I may not have just real soon, yet.

It will be fun to work on it when I have time.

Litl-Luther said...
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Litl-Luther said...

The sound of oxygen being breathed mechanically escapes from Triston's lungs as he says to Ted, "Come to the dark side Ted and tiptoe through the TULIP with me.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm trying to get the nerve to come in.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Did you intend the print to get bigger as it went?

Soli Deo Gloria! INDEED!

Ted M. Gossard said...
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Ted M. Gossard said...

Sorry, Ltl Luther, about me not cleaning that comment up. It needed it! You'll be thinking in ways different than me, as to how! :)

I've got to keep pushing preview before sending.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Okay, I cleaned it up, at least in my eyes, though I admit, it's not as pretty as I'd like it to be.

TULIP for me falls on the view that Hebrews 6 teaches that a true Christian can apostasize.

I buy T. I do believe that within human beings is eternity in the sense that includes a vacuum in our hearts which can be filled only by God himself. But no one apart from grace seeks the true, living God.

U. John 17 refers to the disciples and the choosing and giving there was for service, I believe. And we are told to make our calling and election sure.

L. Limited in the sense that it is effectual only to those who believe. He is the Savior of all, especially of those who believe, the Scripture says.

I. I don't know how one can hold to this. Paul and Barnabas urged believers to continue in the grace of God. In Hebrews believers are urged to make sure that no one among them falls short of the grace of God, and it speaks in that book of drifting away from the faith, and apostasizing, as I stated already. My opening sentence here is just my own response, but I certainly understand that good Christians simply interpret things differently here, as in other places.

P. Yes, God works in us by grace to cause us to persevere. But it's something we also must do. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us, for us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Php). I take that to mean that we're to work out what God is working in us.

The glory does indeed go to God, but like the solos of the Reformation, the truth in Scripture nuances things more, without denying the validity of the solos, I believe. So that here, it does make a difference what we do and fail to do, and it's not all reprogrammed or decreed by God.

I've been told by a Calvinist here in Calvinist country that whatever happens and whatever we do is all decreed by God, and that we should just pray "Our Father, Amen." Of course he's not a fair representation of Calvinism, but just the same I think what's called for here is getting at what all of Scripture calls us to, our responsibility in it under grace. I know you agree on that broadly and we disagree in specifics as to how that's worked out in God's word.

Litl-Luther said...

Hi Ted,

Thanks for your response.

The problem is Hebrews 6 does not teach that true Christians can apostatize. Rather it teaches that those truly saved won't apostatize. It teaches that people like Judas can apostatize—people of whom Jesus says He "never" knew them—people whom John says went out from us (apostatized) precisely because they were never of us, for if they had been of us, they never would have never left—clearly showing that genuine Christians do not apostatize. This text (1 John 2:19) shows true Christians will not apostatize.

It's late here and I don't have a lot of time. I'm sure you know the texts of which I speak (above) even though I didn’t reference them all.

Your interpretation must deny Jesus' promise that He will lose none of all that God has given Him—which is what Jesus clearly promises in both John 6 and John 10.

If you buy the T in the TULIP, then you should realize that no one is capable of believing in Christ or seeking Him unless God does a first work (which I supposed you would say is previent grace)

Election is to salvation, not merely to service. How can anyone read Ephesians 1 and not see it truly baffles me. It says that we have been "predestined to adoption as God's sons." What could be greater than being a son of God? We are predestined to be sons of God. If that is not salvation, I don't know what is? What could be better than being a son of God?

Everyone, including you, limit the atonement. Non-Calvinists limit its power, saying it was for all but secures the salvation of none. Calvinists limit its intent but not its power, demanding that the atonement did not just make salvation possible but actually secures the salvation of all for whom it was intended.

Grace is irresistible in the fact that when God opens the eyes of the blind, spiritually dead sinners and gives them a new heart, they see clearly how beautiful and necessary Jesus is, and therefore they run to Him willingly. No one who truly sees Jesus for who He is can help but desire to come to Him. Jesus is still irresistible to me. I cannot imagine life without Him and that is the testimony of every Christian. I don't care who it is, if God opens the eyes and heart of someone so they can actually see how lovely Jesus is, they cannot help but long to follow after Him. Nothing seems more true and natural to me than the "I" in the TULIP.

Again, in John 6 and in John 10, one must deny Jesus' several promises to persevere and raise up on the last day His people if you are going to say a genuine Christian can be lost. Jesus is a liar if any genuine Christian is lost because He has promised to lose none of them.

These topics:
- PROPONENT (Advocate)
- PARACLETE (Holy Spirit)

All of these seven topics can be shown to be the Christians guarantee of salvation.


Ted M. Gossard said...

It's hard for me to read this. You come across as so certain in ways that to me are not convincing. I believe we are to be certain in the truth in Jesus. But I consider certainty in theology on the level we're discussing to be not foolproof or 100%.

The Reformers had plenty to learn themselves, and so did Augustine. They didn't get it all right. And neither does any one group, or any individual. Not one!

And what's most serious for me is the notion that to deny TULIP is to deny God's grace and truth. I think we have to formulate all things, and keep working at it, according to the words of Scripture, not according to Dordt, or anything else. I know that is your goal, but where Christians disagree, I believe in emphasizing and underscoring, along with finding in the first place, how we do agree. After all, we are to be of the same mind in the Lord! I consider some of our exchanges is front of nonbelievers not helpful, and I was a culprit in that. At the same time, I do appreciate your gift and call and faithfulness to that in sharing the good news of Jesus, there and everywhere else.

Keep at it brother, and stay encouraged in the Lord. You're doing a good work!


Litl-Luther said...

Hi Ted,
I'm not sure how to respond to that. Admittedly, I write in a rather dialogue-unfriendly way. But the thing is, I actually believe this stuff. I really do believe it and so I write as one who believes it to be true, without doubt.

Though Of course, Christians don't have to believe or even know the first thing about the TULIP and they would still be true Christians.

Jorge said...

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arduous and interesting Subject.
Surely it will be of your affability.
We invited to you that you read what pleases of him and makes an opinion on he himself.
Its contribution will be valuable.
In blog it will find a translator of the page in several languages if he needs it.
A hug from Argentina.

Andrew said...


This is the first time I've stopped over on your blog. I have so little time these days. We can both take Ted to task over this (just kidding), being a pretty firm Calvinist myself (albeit with some Lutheran sympathies).

Andrew said...

Oh, by the way... (a) I made a veiled reference to you on my latest post, which actually concerns the Large Hadron Collider. (b) You wanted to pick a theological issue and debate/discuss it. I love to do that, but I don't think I have time right now; neither do I think that doctrines and such are items for debate. Yes, we need to discuss them, but to simply debate for debate's sake is, I believe, harmful to the church and grieves the Spirit of God.

Litl-Luther said...

You are right. Let's "dialogue" or "discover together more deeply" a topic of discussion would have been a better request. Sorry. I do believe it is good to discuss doctrine though. Everyone grows and increases in the knowledge of God as a result--and after all, if we want to walk worthy of the Lord and fully please Him, then continually growing in the knowledge of God is one thing we are called to do (Col. 1:10)

Thanks for stopping by bro!! I left one comment at the most recent post at your blog (great post by the way), and I left two posts at “Logic of Faith 2” and one post at “Logic of Faith 1). It seems like you and I see quite eye to eye on many things. For instance, recently by email I had the same debate with Ted on Romans 7.

Susan or Ted can give you my email address too, by the way.

Anonymous said...

"Calvin is a hero of Christianity"Only if you also count the Inquisitors are heroes of Christianity. This guy did go around using the power of the state to perforate people's tongues if they called him a hypocrite. And he burned Servetus at the stake just because he didn't believe in the Trinity. Granted the Trinity is Biblical doctrine, but how does murdering those who disagree with the Bible make one a "hero of Christianity" rather than a worthless scum-bag? Jesus said by their fruits you will know them. Both Calvin's doctrine (which calls God the author of evil) and his life (or persecuting those who disagree with him) show him to be an antichrist! It is a historical fact that Calvin would get so upset when anyone disagreed with him that he would have to puke out bile! I guess the only way to calm his demonic stomach after that was to watch some poor sucker bleed or burn for his "heresy."

Litl-Luther said...
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Litl-Luther said...

Beowulf2k8, you deny that Paul was an Apostle of Christ. You deny that His writings are God's Word. You say that some of Peter's epistle has been changed--basically you try and discredit God's Word (which was breathed by God's Spirit). So it is encouraging for me to know that someone as blind as you are so opposed to Calvinism. That fact is good evidence for the God-centered truth behind much of Reformed teaching. Thanks! You've helped me see that Satan also hates Calvinism, since you are one of Satan's servants!