Introduction - Calvinism
is a theology which emphasizes the sovereignty
of God. The 5 points of Calvinism are: The total depravity of man,
unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and
perseverance of the saints. The goal of this study is to describe what a
Calvinist means by the terms and then to comment on each of the five
by comparing them with the Scriptures.
Total depravity of man
- Total depravity to the Calvinist means the total
inability of a human to participate in their eternal salvation in any fashion.
Because of total inability in humanity, God gives saving faith to those
whom He wishes.
Humanity is spiritually dead in sin (Romans 5:12).
Humanity is greatly defiled in heart (Mark 7:20-23). However, humanity
is not so depraved that they do not have volitional choice (for example
see John 7:17 and 1 Corinthians 7:37) or volitional accountability before
God (see Revelation 20:13). “Total depravity” is not a Biblical term.
“Total depravity” is theological vocabulary framed to defend God’s
sovereignty and the avoidance of works in salvation. This theological
vocabulary framing is unnecessary. God is so sovereign, even human
freewill is included in His plan. There is no merit to human volition in
and of itself. God gave volition to all humans. Humans did not create
the volition which they use. Where Calvinists go too far is to state that
God gives man the faith to believe in Christ. See “irresistible grace”
below. John 3:16 is a genuine offer of salvation to “whoever believes”
for “eternal life.”
- Unconditional election to the Calvinist means
that God sovereignly elected some to heaven and others to hell with no
“Unconditional election” is also theological vocabulary
framing. “Unconditional election” is not a Biblical term. Just the
opposite is expressed in 1 Peter 1:1b-2a, “chosen according to the
foreknowledge of God the Father” (NASB). God’s choosing (eklego - to
choose out, gather out or elect) was not arbitrary but according to His
omniscient foreknowledge. God’s sovereignty does not function apart
from His other essence characteristics. To say that God does things
arbitrarily, attacks the truth of His other attributes. Justice,
righteousness, love and veracity for examples. God’s foreknowledge is
not synonymous with His sovereignty. There is some semantic overlap,
but prognosis (before, to know) is not whatever Koine Greek or Hebrew
word you can find to translate “sovereign.” Incidentally, the Calvinist,
coloring so much of their theology with God’s sovereignty, should try to
find a particular Biblical Hebrew or Greek word to translate “sovereign.”
It will be an interesting exercise. I believe God is sovereign because of
passages such as Daniel 4:35, but the lack of a definitive Biblical
sovereignty vocabulary is interesting. Foreknowledge is not sovereignty.
It is heresy to think of God as sovereignly arbitrary. This is why the
prognosis vocabulary exists. It is impossible for the omniscient God of
the Bible to not know about the nonmeritorious faith choices of
humanity from eternity past.
I would like to comment on
Romans 9:12-13 in relationship to
God’s unconditional election, as this is one of the proof texts used by
Calvinists. These verses are a citation of Genesis 25:23 and Malachi
1:2-3. The context of each of these Old Testament passages concerns
the nations of Israel and Edom. Romans 9:12-13 concerns God’s
promotion of faithful Israel versus unfaithful (works) Edom. God’s
arbitrary salvation of individuals is not the subject of these verses. God’s
omniscient foreknowing plan to promote the faithful nation Israel is the
context. ‘Promotion of the faithful versus works’ is also the theme of the
other examples in Romans 9 - Isaac over Ishmael (vv. 6-9), Jacob over
Esau (vv. 10-11), Israel over Edom (vv. 12-13), Israel over Pharaoh (vv.
14-18) and the Potter over the clay (vv. 19-23). The climax and
conclusion of Romans 9 is found in verses 30-33. These verses contrast
faith for righteousness with works for righteousness, not God’s arbitrary
unconditional election of some for salvation and some for hell.
Romans 9:30-33 (NASB) - 30What
shall we say then? That
Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained
righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31but
Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it
were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33just
as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a
rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be
Limited atonement: -
Limited atonement to the Calvinist means that
Christ died only for the sins of the elect.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only
begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have
eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). “So then as through one transgression
there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of
righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Romans 5:13,
NASB). “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge
of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, NASB). “Not wishing for any to perish but
for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b, NASB). There is no
exegetical warrant to understand “world,” “whoever,” “all” or “any,” in
the verses above, as anything other than genuine statements of “love,”
“justification” and “eternal life” available to humanity. Calvinistic
theology may read-in “elect” to the plain sense of these verses, but that is
eisegesis (reading in) not exegesis (reading out). “Only for the elect” is
not found in or near these verses or anywhere else in the Bible. In an
effort to defend God’s sovereignty, let us not attack the sufficiency of
Christ’s work on the Cross!
For the Calvinist, irresistible grace is the sovereign
forcing of the elect to be saved.
More theological vocabulary framing. “Irresistible” is
never found with grace in the Bible. Having studied the context of every
use of charis (grace), the following is my Biblical definition: “Grace is
God’s beneficial opportunity for mankind to approach Him for eternal
salvation and spiritual growth based on the Person and work of Jesus
Christ.” See Romans 5:1-2 and Acts 20:32. One could say, “Grace is
irresistible because God is sovereign.” One can better say, “God is so
sovereign, salvation by faith in Christ through grace is offered to any.”
Human volition is a nonmeritorious gift from the God of the Bible. Only
the object of one’s faith--Jesus Christ--is worthy of any merit in God’s
Perseverance of the saints:
Calvinistic perseverance of the saints means
that the saint whom God has elected to salvation is both eternally secure
and will grow spiritually.
Ephesians 4:30, John 10:28 and Romans 8:34-39 are
just a few of the many Biblical references to the Believer’s eternal
security. However, “perseverance of the saints” is the final example of
Calvinistic vocabulary framing. It usually carries a connotation such as
this: ‘Because God is sovereign, those that He gives faith to be saved will
automatically persevere and mature until the end of their earthly life.’
With this interpretation is the following application: If a person commits
any one of a subjective list of sins (depending on the list of the Calvinist
you are dealing with), then they were not really initially saved. In an
effort to defend God’s sovereignty, a subtle system of works to prove
one’s salvation can develop. Doubting one’s salvation because one still
sins, can hinder the Christian’s spiritual growth.
five points of Calvinism have the admirable goal of
portraying God as sovereign. He is. However, the theological vocabulary
framing used by the five points of Calvinism lead to greater problems
than they solve. Sovereignty is not more important than any of God’s
other essence characteristics. God’s essence characteristics do not include
being arbitrary. Sovereignty is not synonymous with foreknowledge.
Human volition is not synonymous with works for salvation. Volition is
nonmeritorious before God, it is simply the vehicle by which He
appropriates real glory for Himself. All the credit, merit and glory is in the
object of our faith: Jesus Christ. God is sovereign over human volition
having created it. God’s sovereign plan from eternity past included
human volitional choices--impressive sovereignty.