John Calvin’s theological system was centered around five points constructed in the acrostic: TULIP. His theology is most often mirrored with James Arminius’ interpretations. Both Calvinists and Arminians often get a bad rap because of those who have taken either theological system to extremes. But the basic system of John Calvin can be summarized in this way:
Total Depravity – Man are so utterly infected with sin that he is rendered completely helpless. He is deeply infected in heart, mind and body. Man is so saturated by sin and his heart is so depraved that it is not possible for such a sinful heart to seek a holy God. Therefore, men have no part in their own salvation. They are completely at the mercy of God. If God chooses to save them they will be saved. If God chooses to damn them they will be damned.
Unconditional Election – There is nothing within any individual that merits salvation. A man’s salvation is arbitrarily decided by an all sovereign God. Man’s will has nothing to do with his salvation. He may want to be saved but still be lost or he may want to choose the way of sin and yet be saved against his own will. Nothing man wants or decides can overcome the sovereign will of God.
Limited Atonement – Jesus didn’t die for all men, he only died for those who have been predestined for eternal life by the will of the Father. When Christ hung on the cross he was saving only the sheep and not the goats. He bore the sins of many but not the sins of all.
Irresistible Grace – God’s sovereignty overwhelms the will of men so that they cannot resist when he calls. There is a general, external call to all men but the internal call to the elect can never be rejected. It may be compared to a law officer coming to your door to arrest you. You may not want to go with him but he has chosen that you go so you shall whether you agree or not.
Perseverance of the Saints – You cannot lose your salvation. If you have been chosen by the Father and purchased by the shed blood of the Son and called out by the voice of the Holy Spirit you are saved and made eternally secure. Nothing can take away your salvation. If you experienced saving grace but returned to your old sinful ways you were not really saved in the first place. You experienced a false conversion. It can be likened to ‘Motel California’, once you’ve checked in you can’t check out?
My Calvinist friends come in at all different levels. Some are 3-point Calvinists, some 4-points Calvinists. Most are 5-point Calvinists. I can probably claim to be a 1-point Calvinist. I believe strongly that the heart of man is totally depraved and cannot in and of itself respond to the call of God. I believe no man comes to God lest the Spirit of God first call him. It’s like sitting in the doctor’s office. You don’t walk in to see the doctor until he calls you in. I believe this is prevenient grace, the Spirit of God preparing the heart to receive salvation as a farmer prepares the earth for planting in the spring. Men cannot determine the time and manner in which they come to Christ. I believe not so much that men have free will as I believe that God frees their will through prevenient grace.
I agree with James Arminius when considering the Perseverance of the Saints. I have trouble balancing the sovereignty of God with the free will of man. I know God will finish the good work he has started in us. I know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I know that we are granted eternal life, not when we die, but when we confess our sins and accept salvation. But I resist the idea that when we are saved we become prisoners and we are locked behind bars. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of whether we can or cannot decide to walk away from Christ. I think rather it is more a matter of whether we will or will not. I can’t imagine arriving at heaven, spending a day and then deciding I’d rather go to hell. If we experience true genuine salvation and enter into a personal relationship with Christ, who in their right mind would decide they didn’t want that?
My heart leans heavily toward Arminianism because I cannot seem to reconcile the middle three points of Calvinism. I may yet be convinced if perhaps one of my Calvinist friends would give me convincing answers to the following questions:
1. If God has already determined who is and who is not to be saved, why do Calvinists witness to and pray for others? If man cannot be saved by any of his own effort why would we think he could be saved by our efforts of witnessing and praying? His salvation is unaffected by our effort because he was chosen before the foundations of the world. Is it not a waste of energy and time?
2. I have three sons. Suppose all three are drowning and I have an opportunity to save them. But, I arbitrarily decide to save two and let the third die. Would my love for my sons be considered somewhat deficient? Isn’t the love of God perfect? If so, how can he demonstrate love by arbitrarily determining some of his children will perish while others will not?
3. The good news isn’t so good for some. When Paul and Barnabas preached to the pagans they were told that there was good news (Acts 14). Christ had died for their sins. This is problematic because Christ actually didn’t die for all pagans, he only died for some pagans and the good news is actually bad news for some.
4. If some are predetermined to damnation before they were even born how are they accountable for the punishment they will receive? If a man is penitent and falls to his knees, sincerely seeking repentance, shall we say to him, “You may or may not be saved. God alone knows if you are of the elect?”
5. Is God a loving God? Is he just and is he good? Does God love the elect unconditionally but despise the non-elect? Is God’s system of justice inferior to man’s system of justice? In the American system all men are declared deserving of a fair trial. Is God fair and just when he unconditionally chooses some for heaven and some for hell? If God is good how is it that he can create some to go to heaven and purposely create others to send to hell? What is the predetermined quota God has determined for heaven and hell? If that number is already set, why does the Bible indicate that God decided to send more to hell than to heaven “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14)
6. Why did Jesus teach about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? There is a sin for which there is no forgiveness but if the non-elect can never be forgiven anyway what is the point?
7. What is the explanation for the evil and suffering that men experience in this life? Is suffering not the instrument that draws men toward God? Did he not say, “Take up your cross?” But if you are of the non-elect, for what purpose do you suffer? Does God delight in torture?
8. Historically, the Calvinist view seemed to have its roots in Augustine approximately 380 A.D. Are there any church fathers before Augustine who taught the tenets of Calvinism? Did Jesus teach Calvinism to his disciples? The words of Jesus are capsulated in John 3:16 "For God so loved the world (not just the elect)that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever (not just the elect) believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is blatantly obvious that Jesus is not willing that anyone should perish. Jesus never taught election.
9. Is it possible that God predestines us for salvation based on his foreknowledge? He knows who will and who will not commit to become Christ followers? Therefore, he arranges for the ‘elect’ certain circumstances conducive to their own salvation. He knows that given the right opportunities these ‘elect’ will make a decision for Christ. (Molinism)
10. If men are deprived of free will to accept Christ (hyper-Calvinism) then why are they granted free will to reject him? Why does God, in his goodness and love, not predestine all men to eternal salvation rather than just some men?
James Arminius did not oppose Calvinism to defend the free will of man, he opposed Calvinism to defend the love and goodness of a holy God.