The Five Points of Calvinism were a response to the Five Points of Arminianism taught by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a Dutch professor and theologian. Arminius opposed the Calvinistic doctrines. Shortly after he passed away, his followers – known as Arminians – formulated the five main points of Arminianism:
1. Free will or human ability
Though man fell into sin, he has the ability to exercise faith in God.
2. Conditional election
God elects those whom He foresees desire to be saved and will respond to the gospel.
3. Universal redemption or General atonement
Christ’s atonement is for all; however it is applicable to all who believe.
4. Resistible grace
Man can resist God’s call to grace and salvation, thus frustrating God’s purpose to save him.
5. Falling from grace
It is possible for a believer to lose his salvation. This final point is “the logical and natural outcome of the system. If man must take the initiative in his salvation, he must retain responsibility for the final outcome” (The Five Points of Calvinism by W J Seaton).
“Arminianism … maintains that God predestined, but not in an absolute sense. Rather, He looked into the future to see who would pick him and then He chose them. Jesus died for all peoples’ sins who have ever lived and ever will live, not just the Christians. Each person is the one who decides if he wants to be saved or not. And finally, it is possible to lose your salvation (some Arminians believe you cannot lose your salvation)” (https://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm).
Due to the rapid rise of Arminianism, a national council – the Synod of Dort – was called by the Dutch Reformed Church of Netherlands (1618-1619) to examine Arminius’ teachings in the light of Holy Scriptures. After seven months and 154 sessions, the Synod delegates concluded with a rejection of Arminius’ views. To reaffirm the reformed theology propagated by John Calvin and to counter the errors of Arminianism, the Synod of Dort drafted their own five-point summary of Calvinistic doctrines under the acronym, “TULIP”: 1. Total depravity 2. Unconditional election 3. Limited atonement 4. Irresistible grace. 5. Perseverance or Preservation of the saints.
It is interesting to note that Calvin’s theology begins with a fundamental doctrine in the matter of salvation – Total Depravity – which is an accurate assessment of man’s lost estate. W J Seaton rightly observed: “If we have deficient and light views about sin, then we are liable to have defective views regarding the means necessary for the salvation of the sinner.”
Seaton’s reasoning on the natural sequence of the five Calvinistic cardinal points is very clear: “Man is totally unable to save himself on account of the Fall in the Garden of Eden being a total fall. If unable to save himself, then God must save. If God must save, then God must be free to save whom He will. If God has decreed to save whom He will, then it is for those that Christ made atonement on the cross. If Christ died for them, then the Holy Spirit will effectually call them into that salvation. If salvation then from the beginning has been of God, the end will also be of God and the saints will persevere to eternal joy.”
Let us proceed now to examine the Five Points of Calvinism in more detail:
1. Total depravity
When our first parents fell in the Garden of Eden, they fell in their “totality”. The corrupt nature polluted their whole being – their will, understanding and affections. In short, their depravity was decisive and total. Since then, every man born into this world is born with a sinful nature or “original sin” – the evil quality which characterises man’s natural will and disposition. This truth is reflected in the lament of King David and the prophet Jeremiah in Psalm 51: 5 and Jeremiah 17: 9 respectively: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me”; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”.
In his fallen state, man will not turn to God, nor is he able to do anything to merit his salvation: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3: 10-12; cf Eph. 2: 1-3).
By reason of the Fall, man is at enmity with God, and is a child of wrath (Eph 2: 15 and 2: 3). Left to himself, man will perish in his sins: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5: 12; cf. Rom. 6: 23).
“The Calvinist asks the question, ‘In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?’ The answer is, ‘He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.’ Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will (Jn 1: 12-13); God grants that we believe (Philp. 1: 29); faith is the work of God (Jn 6: 28-29); God appoints people to believe (Acts 13: 48); and God predestines (Eph 1: 1-11; Rom. 8: 29; 9: 9-23)” (https://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm). (… to be continued)