QUESTION: Can you give me a concise summary of what is meant by “Calvinism”? Also, can you tell us briefly why these teachings are erroneous? What Bible verses would show this?
ANSWER: Okay, this is a challenge; but here I will identify the main doctrines of Calvinism, and identify the key Bible passages that refute them.
ONE. The OMNICAUSAL SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. In Calvinism, divine sovereignty means that God CAUSES everything, to the smallest detail. Whatever happens is simply the outworking of the DIVINE DECREE (essentially a nearly-infinite computer program or blueprint), defined as eternal, comprehensive, unconditional, and efficacious. The practical result is that there is NO (truly) FREE WILL.
The Biblical view is that divine sovereignty is God’s absolute LORDSHIP over all things, understood not in terms of causation but in terms of control (being in control). God’s decision to create free-will beings was a sovereign act of self-limitation. God exercises complete control by causing some (not all) things to happen, and by permitting the rest. By his own choice he permits us to use our free wills even when we go against his own will for us. Some key Bible texts are Matt. 23:37; John 7:17; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9. Compare John 5:21 & 5:40.
An important application: the idea that “there is a reason for everything” is FALSE. This is a Calvinist idea.
TWO. TOTAL DEPRAVITY. (We are now turning to the T-U-L-I-P doctrines.) Calvinism teaches that, by God’s design, Adam sinned, and the entire human race came under the curse of original sin. (To prove this they use their interpretation of Romans 5:12-19.) Original sin includes inherited total depravity, the essence of which is the bondage of the will, which involves a total inability to respond to the gospel call. This is how “dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) is understood. The fallen world is a graveyard.
The Biblical view says that the key text that refutes this doctrine is—guess what—Romans 5:12-19! Properly understood, the main point of this text is not original sin but ORIGINAL GRACE! Christ intercepts and erases the (potential) effects of Adam’s sin for EVERY HUMAN BEING.
An important application is that all babies are born redeemed (with no need for infant baptism to take away original sin). Depravity is an acquired condition, and it is never total but always partial.
THREE. UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. This is the Calvinist version of predestination. It says that since the entire human race is born totally depraved and unable to respond to the gospel, God himself must unilaterally and unconditionally decide who will become a believer and thus be saved, and who will never believe and thus go to hell. He does this as part of his eternal decree; it was settled even before the creation occurred. Human beings thus have no say in their eternal destinies.
In the Biblical view, predestination (election) IS of course a Bible teaching; but it is very different from the above. In some Biblical texts God is seen as predestining certain individuals and even groups to SERVICE in His plan of redemption, e.g. Israel as a nation (Rom. 9:1-29; Eph. 1:1-14), the apostles (John 15:16), and Jesus himself (Acts 2:23). However, it is true that some individuals are predestined to go to heaven (not to become believers) based on God’s foreknowledge of who will use their free will to meet his stated conditions. (Calvinism gets it backwards, saying God foreknows because he predestines, instead of vice versa.) Thus predestination (to heaven) is conditional, not unconditional. The key texts are Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2.
FOUR. LIMITED ATONEMENT. Calvinism says Jesus died ONLY for the elect. The cross of Jesus Christ was never meant to apply to those whom God had already determined would be lost in hell forever.
In Biblical teaching, because Jesus was infinite in his divine nature, and because he suffered the penalty for sin especially in his divine nature, the atoning power of his death was by nature UNLIMITED (i.e., infinite). It is thus, by God’s intention, sufficient to save all human beings. I.e., the atonement is unlimited in purpose and efficacy (power). Only the application of the atonement is limited, and that limitation results from the fact that some who hear the gospel make the free-will choice to refuse to believe and accept it. Key texts are John 3:16; 2 Peter 2:1ff., 12-22; 1 John 2:2.
FIVE. IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. As Calvinists see it, at a time of God’s sovereign choice, the hearts (souls, spirits) of those who have been unconditionally predestined to believe are supernaturally and irresistibly changed by a direct act of the Holy Spirit. This change is called regeneration, and includes the unilateral gift of faith. The two main ideas here are (1) that faith is a gift, and (2) that regeneration precedes faith. Two things make this a necessity: first, total depravity makes any human response (i.e., faith) impossible, and second, omnicausal divine sovereignty rules out any uncaused human response.
The Biblical view says that faith is a gift only in the sense that God gives the opportunity to believe through the preaching of the gospel. See Acts 5:31 and 11:18. God does draw sinners (John 6:44) but he draws them through the gospel (John 6:45; Rom. 10:17). This gospel drawing is powerful (John 20:31; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12), universal—not selective as in Calvinism (John 12:32), and resistible—not irresistible as in Calvinism (Matt. 23:37; Acts 7:51). A key verse is Colossians 2:12, which shows that faith must precede regeneration.
SIX. PERSEVERANCE (PRESERVATION) OF THE SAINTS, or “once saved, always saved.” Calvinism teaches that the unconditionally chosen and irresistibly changed person will never thereafter be lost. This is simply the logical implication of the U and the I of T-U-L-I-P. Just as there was no free will involved in becoming saved, so there is no free will in staying saved.
In the Biblical view, true Christians (who by nature have free will) can lose their salvation if they stop trusting in Jesus for their salvation. Key texts are Luke 15:11-32; Rom. 11:17-23; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Gal. 5:4; Col. 1:22-23; Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2. Faith can die in three ways: sudden (spiritual) suicide; slow (spiritual) starvation; and
strangulation by sin. A Christian who becomes lost again in one of these ways CAN repent and return and be saved again. See Romans 11:20-24; see especially the correct interpretation of Heb. 6:4-6.
CONCLUSION: Do not over-react to Calvinism. Reject universal, omnicausal sovereignty, but not true divine sovereignty. Reject total and/or inherited depravity, but not acquired, partial depravity. Reject unconditional predestination, but not predestination as such. Reject irresistible, selective grace, but not grace as such. Reject regeneration before faith, but not Holy Spirit regeneration in baptism. Reject “once saved, always saved,” but not true assurance of salvation.