Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Discussion of Calvinist Doctrine

While I generally consider myself to be a Calvinist when it comes to theology, I would not say that I agree whole-heartedly with all its views. But to further our understanding I'd love to hear several arguments for/against these basic tenants:

Summaries of Calvinist theology

The five solas
The five solas are a summary of Calvinism, indeed of the Reformation, in the sense that they delineate the difference between the evangelical doctrine of salvation from the Roman Catholic doctrine. The substance of Calvinism with respect to the solas is total dependence on God, who is sovereign and created and sustains the universe. Every good thing, according to Calvinism, is there because of God's unmerited grace, and salvation especially is entirely dependent on grace. Calvinism has been called "worm theology" because it insists that all credit for everything must go directly to God and that humans are but miserable sinners (or "worms"). By contrast, in Catholic theology, man plays a significant role in his own salvation (and that of others) by acting appropriately (cooperating) in response to God's grace.

Life is religion
The theological system and practical theories of church, family, and political life, all ambiguously called "Calvinism", are the outgrowth of a fundamental religious consciousness centered upon "the sovereignty of God". The doctrine of God is, in principle, given a pre-eminent place in every category of theology, including the Calvinist understanding of how a person ought to live. Calvinism presupposes that the goodness and power of God have a free, unlimited range of activity, and it works out as a conviction that God is at work in all realms of existence, including the spiritual, physical, intellectual realms, whether secular or sacred, public or private, on earth or in heaven.
According to this viewpoint, the entire course of events is the outworking of the plan of God, who is the creator, preserver, and governor of all things. This attitude of absolute dependence on God is not identified with temporary acts of piety (for example, prayer); rather, it is a sustained and all-encompassing pattern of life that, in principle, applies to digging ditches as well as taking communion. For the Calvinist Christian, all of life is the Christian religion.

The five points
Calvinist theology is often identified in the popular mind as the so-called "five points of Calvinism," which are a summation of the judgments (or canons) rendered by the Synod of Dort and which were published in the "quinquarticular controversy" as a point-by-point response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance. They therefore function only as a summary of the diffences between Calvinism and Arminianism and do not serve as a complete summation of Calvin's writings or of the theology of the Reformed churches in general. The central assertion of these canons is that God is able to save every person upon whom he has mercy and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of men.
The five points of Calvinism, which can be remembered by the English acronym TULIP, with supporting passages from the Bible, are:

Total Depravity
People in their natural, unregenerate state do not have the ability to turn to God. Rather it is the grace and will of God through the Holy Spirit that causes men who are dead in sin to be reborn through the Word. This concept is summarized by the aphorism "Regeneration precedes faith," since in the Calvinist view, apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit for the individual, there would never be any faith.
Romans 3:10-11 "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God."
John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."
1 Corinthians 2:14 "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them."

Unconditional Election
Election means "choice". God's choice from eternity, of whom He will bring to Himself, is not based on foreseen virtue, merit or faith in the persons He chooses but rather, is unconditionally grounded in His own mercy.
Romans 9:16 "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."
Ephesians 1:4 "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."
John 1:13 "born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
Exodus 33:19 "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

Limited Atonement
Also called "particular redemption" or "definite atonement," meaning that Christ's death actually takes away the penalty of sins committed by those upon whom God has chosen to have mercy (as opposed to Christ's death making redemption merely a possibility that we can perform). It is "limited" then, to taking away the sins of the elect, not of humanity.
John 10:14-15 "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."
John 10:27-28 "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."
Acts 20:28 "shepherd the church of God that He obtained with the blood of His own Son."
Ephesians 5:25 "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Irresistible grace
The saving grace of God is not resistible. Those who obtain salvation do so because of the relentlessness of God's mercy. Men yield to grace, not finally because God found their consciences more tender or their faith more tenacious than other men. Rather, willingness and ability to do God's will are evidence of God's faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin.
John 15:16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you."
Ephesians 1:11 "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will."
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit."
Romans 9:11 "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call."
Colossians 2:13 "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him."

Perseverance of the saints
Also called the "Preservation of the Saints". Those whom God has called into communion with Himself through Christ, will continue in faith and will increase in faith and other gifts, until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with, or else will return. Thus Calvinists subscribe to the "once saved, always saved" concept popular among many Christian denominations.
John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
1 John 2:19 "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."
Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
Calvinism is often further reduced in the popular mind to one or another of the five points of TULIP. The doctrine of unconditional election is sometimes made to stand for all Reformed doctrine, sometimes even by its adherents, as the chief article of Reformed Christianity. However, according to the doctrinal statements of these churches, it is not a balanced view to single out this doctrine to stand on its own as representative of all that is taught. The doctrine of unconditional election, and its corollary in the doctrine of predestination are never properly taught, according to Calvinists, except as an assurance to those who seek forgiveness and salvation through Christ, that their faith is not in vain, because God is able to bring to completion all whom He intends to save. Nevertheless, non-Calvinists object that these doctrines discourage the world from seeking salvation.
An additional point of disagreement with Arminianism implicit in the five points is the doctrine of Jesus' substitutionary atonement as a punishment for the sins of the elect, which was developed by St. Augustine and especially St. Anselm. Calvinists argue that if Christ takes the punishment in the place of a particular sinner, that person must be saved since it would be unjust for him then to be condemned for the same sins. The definitive and binding nature of this "satisfaction model" has led Arminians to subscribe instead to the governmental theory of the atonement in which no particular sins or sinners are in view.


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