Calvinism & Arminianism Summarized

In yesterday’s post about Tom Ascol’s “4 types of Southern Baptists”, I said that the vast majority of people in my church were what he called “cooperative non-Calvinists”. While this is true, it may not be the whole truth. It would probably be more accurate to say that most people in our church either don’t know or don’t care about the doctrines of grace — often referred to as the “five points of Calvinism”. I thought it might be helpful, then, to share a succinct history and definition of them.

The first thing to be pointed out is that John Calvin himself did not come up with the “five points”, and he certainly did not invent the “TULIP” acronym (popularized in the 20th century). The five points of Calvinism actually arose out of a theological dispute among Dutch Christians more than 50 years after Calvin’s death. Theologian James Arminius and his followers had articulated five main points of doctrinal dispute with the teachings of Calvin and other reformers, which led to an international church council (a “synod”) held in the city of Dordrecht to decide the dispute. The result was a document called “The Decision of the Synod of Dordt on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands“, more commonly known as “The Canons of Dordt”.

The Synod determined that the Arminian teachings were false, and a summarized version of their responses to the “five points of Arminianism” was eventually set to the TULIP acronym for ease of memory. So really, the “five points of Calvinism” weren’t Calvin’s at all! They were rather (in the opinion of the delegates convened in Dordrecht in 1618, anyway) the teachings of Scripture, taught not only by John Calvin, but by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and many other theologians throughout church history.

Baptist pastors David Steele and Curtis Thomas concisely contrasted the five points of Arminianism and Calvinism in their 1963 book Romans: An Interpretive Outline:

THE “FIVE POINTS” OF ARMINIANISM

1. Free-Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

2. Conditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Universal Redemption or General Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

4. The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted

The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) proceeds and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

5. Falling from Grace

Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc.

All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ – that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost.

According to Arminianism:

Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

THE “FIVE POINTS” OF CALVINISM

1. Total Inability or Total Depravity

Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ – it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a port of God’s gift of salvation – it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

2. Unconditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.

4. The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace

In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

5. Perseverance of the Saints

All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

According to Calvinism:

Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! For further study, here are some sources to check out:

2 comments on “Calvinism & Arminianism Summarized

  1. […] Yesterday I posted summaries of the “five points” of both Arminianism and Calvinism. Today I want to demonstrate how these differences, while substantial and important, are not essential. In other words, Calvinists and Arminians are on the same team! We can work and worship together, because we agree that: […]

  2. […] Southern Baptist Convention right now about whether the SBC should officially affirm or deny the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Thankfully, most Southern Baptist leaders on all sides agree that Calvinists, Arminians, and […]

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