THE ESSENCE OF CALVINISM
Augustine of Hippo heavily influenced Protestant thinking. While most Calvinists and Lutherans see their teaching as coming directly from the Apostle Paul, much of it comes directly from Augustine's teachings.
This section looks at Calvinism, the most influential of all Reformation theologies. I don't deal with Lutheranism simply because, in the form given to it by Melanchthon, it varies mostly in its thinking about the Lord's Supper, the liturgy and a very few doctrinal matters.
I. The Theology of John Calvin
A. The Fundamental Principle
As I mentioned in the lecture on Calvin, Calvinism's fundamental principle derives from its focus on the sovereignty and holiness of God. Calvinism harmonizes its whole approach by building on these presuppositions. It makes it possible for Calvinism to maintain complementary opposites: mystery and rationality, transcendence and immanence. God works behind every phenomena to effect his will.
Calvinism's Fundamental Principle marks this system off from every other theological approach. The underlying principle for Catholicism is the traditionalism of ecclesiastical systems. Lutheranism seeks the peace of justification. Lutherans ask, "What in man wins salvation? Not works but faith!" Calvinists ask, "Who saves, the creature or God?"
Calvin did not emphasize Predestination. His writings on this subject grew weighty only because he faced opposition on it. Luther, Wyclif and Augustine emphasized the subject more than Calvin and Melanchthon gave it its first formal expression.
The "Fundamental Principle" gives the Calvinist a total world-view. For the Calvinist, then, Jesus did not die just to save men, he died to redeem God's world. Everything in the world belongs to God and should be brought under his sovereignty.
B. The Five Points of Calvinism
Calvin did not expound these five doctrinal points usually credited to him. They resulted from the Synod of Dordt's answer to the Arminian Remonstrants during its meeting prior to 1619.
1. Total Hereditary Depravity. Most Calvinists do not interpret this as meaning that a person is as depraved as possible. It is taken to mean that a man is depraved "in all his parts." Thus, man can do nothing deserving of salvation.
2. Unconditional Election. Since all men are depraved and no one can respond, God alone (as sovereign) determines who is saved by choosing some to glorify his grace and condemning some to his glory. (See Romans 8:28-29) This "election" is not based on some work on man's part. This includes faith which is not man's work but God's gift. In Tulip Spencer says, "...our calling or 'election' is not conditioned on something man does for God (such as exercising positive volition."
3. Limited Atonement. The value of Christ's atoning death is limited to those predestined to salvation. The word "world" in John 3:16 is interpreted to mean "those of every tribe or nation." It does not refer to every man. Thus, Christ died only for the "elect."
4. Irresistible Grace. This refers to the concept that God, of his own free will, gives life to whom he chooses. Man, once enlightened, is drawn irresistibly to God since he is not longer maneuvered by Satan.
5. Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints. This is best known as "once saved, always saved." Once God has called, regenerated and empowered his elect they can never go back into the world. Only those possessing a "false faith" can do so. Since no condition in man determines his being chose, it stands to reason there is nothing he can do to get unsaved.
C. Responses to these Points. The following are my responses to this doctrine. You will note there are some similarities, but the differences are major.
1. The Bible does not teach total inability although it does teach depravity. Sin does corrupt the whole nature of man. He is a fallen being. This is not to say he is totally depraved. According to Scripture, the sinner cannot live so as to please God and he is unable to do any good work which justifies. (See Romans 8:7-8) Thus, the sinner cannot work off the penalty for sin or change his state.
However, it is also true that the sinner is unable to do these things as long as his mind is set on the flesh. (See Romans 8:5-7) It is true that man needs aid. Still the sinner is told to believe, to repent. Evidently faith and repentance stand outside the realm of man's inability. It is also true that the believer is unable to practice perfect works. (See 1 Peter 2:5)
2. The Bible teaches God draws men to himself through the Word. An important passage here is John 6:44-45. We see that God draws through teaching. Scripture points out the Gospel must penetrate and that God works through the Word. (See Romans 10:17) Faith and repentance are possible through a gift of grace--Christ's death upon the cross.
3. The Bible does not teach limited atonement. Rather, the atonement is universal in its sufficiency and intention. (See Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2) In fact, there are passages showing Christ died for the lost (see 2 Peter 2:1; Romans 14:15).
4. The Bible says that God's drawing may be resisted. Perhaps this is most clearly seen at Acts 26:27-28.
5. The Bible teaches assurance, not preservation of the saints. The book of Hebrews deals with the dangers of falling away. Assurance is ours, however, because of our acceptance with God because of Jesus.