The term “Calvinism” is based upon the systematic soteriology of a man named John Calvin. (1509-1564) Ironically, though, he attributes his theology from another man named Augustine. (354-430)
John Calvin: “Further, Augustine is so much at one with me that, if I wished to write a confession of my faith, it would abundantly satisfy me to quote wholesale from his writings. But, not to be too prolix on the present occasion, I shall be content with three or four passages by which it will be established that not even in a single point does he differ from me. From the whole course of the work, it could be established even more fully how solidly he agrees with me in every particular.”57
So, why isn’t “Calvinism” called “Augustinianism”? Perhaps it is because John Calvin Augustine’s view, just as Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) popularized the opposition view, which had come to be called “Arminianism,” even though opposition to Augustinian Predestination long preceded him, particularly when the early Church fathers (that preceded Augustine) had vigorously defended the biblical concept of “free-will” against the Gnostics who rejected free-will.
“Calvinism” is a teaching that God unconditionally elected and predestined that only certain pre-selected individuals called “the elect”would become believers and be saved. The rest of humanity are termed the “non-elect.” Due to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden—which Calvinism teaches was designed by God to happen as part of a “total plan”of all things—effectively keeps the elect and non-elect in their predestined roles. To get only the elect saved—and not the non-elect who were never intended to spend eternity with God in Heaven—the elect are given an Irresistible Grace and a Persevering Grace which overcomes their fallen condition so that they can believe in the gospel, and then remain saved so that they can never fall away. Some Calvinists—not all—teach that Jesus only died for the predetermined elect, rather than dying for all humanity.
The doctrines of Calvinism are referred to as “TULIP” which is an acrostic representing the following:
T: Total Depravity (Total Inability)
U: Unconditional Election (Elective & Adoptive Grace)
L: Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption, Atoning Grace)
I: Irresistible Grace (Regenerative Grace)
P: Perseverance of the Saints (Eternal Security, Persevering Grace)
Erwin Lutzer: “Thus the doctrine of total depravity leads directly to that of unconditional election—a dead man cannot respond to the gospel’s appeal.”58
This is a teaching whereby unbelievers are incapable of simply believing in the gospel message about Jesus, because all men are born haters of God and enemies of God, which cannot be overcome unless the Holy Spirit first regenerates his nature and makes him preemptively and unconsciously Born Again in order to believe in the gospel.
John Calvin: “Christ says that the elect always belonged to God. God therefore distinguishes them from the reprobate, not by faith, nor by any merit, but by pure grace; for while they are far away from him, he regards them in secret as his own.”59
John Calvin: “This way of speaking, however, may seem to be different from many passages of Scripture which attribute to Christ the first foundation of God’s love for us and show that outside Christ we are detested by God. But we ought to remember, as I have already said, that the Heavenly Father’s secret love which embraced us is the first love given to us.”60
This is the idea that God chooses His sheep. According to Calvinism, God does not want everyone, and those whom He does not want are created fallen so they will never want Him, but those whom He does want are irresistibly made to want Him, and He preserves them in a state that keeps them wanting Him. He only died for the ones He wants.
Erwin Lutzer: “This simply means that Christ did not die for all men in general but gave himself only for the church, the elect.”61
Erwin Lutzer: “If God from all eternity purposed to save one portion of the human race and not another, the purpose of the cross would be to redeem these chosen ones to himself. We can know whether we belong to that number.”62
However, it does not appear that John Calvin actually believed in the doctrine of a Limited Atonement:
John Calvin: “That Christ, the redeemer of the whole world, commands the Gospel to be preached promiscuously to all does not seem congruent with special Election. … But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all.”63
John Calvin: “Therefore Christ intends that the benefit of his death should extend to everyone; so people who exclude anyone from that hope of salvation are doing Christ a disservice.”64
John Calvin: “It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world.”65
John Calvin: “Hence it follows, first, that faith is not produced by us but is the fruit of spiritual new birth. For the evangelist says that no one can believe except he who is born of God. Therefore faith is a heavenly gift. Moreover, faith is not cold and bare knowledge, for no one can believe unless he is born again by the Spirit of God.”66
Perseverance of the Saints
Erwin Lutzer: “Historic Calvinism stresses the ‘perseverance of the saints,’ namely that true believers never fall away, and if they do, it is not for long. If a person fails to continue in the faith, he is giving proof that he was never saved.”67
57 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 63.
58 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 181.
59 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 393.
60 Ibid., 76.
61 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 183.
62 Ibid., 187.
63 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 102, 103.
64 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 40.
65 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 148.
66 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 24.
67 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 231.