The Truth About Calvinism

A couple of weeks ago I began a series with my High School students on Calvinism. On a Sunday night we all gathered together at the Black’s home and I got to introduce the High School students to TULIP. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TULIP it is an acrostic that highlights 5 crucial doctrines that relate to salvation. The 5 points of Calvinism are as follows:

T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints

No less than the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said that “Calvinism is the Gospel, and nothing else” (The New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 1, page 50). Yet these doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to cause no end of debate amongst Christians. I found more questions on that Sunday night over these doctrines than I have ever received on dating, courtship, or any of the other typical things that student ministries tend to deal with. The reason for all these questions seems to be that Calvinism is thoroughly biblical and practically bleeds from the pages of Scripture, inspiring young people to want to understand their Bibles.

After our introduction to Calvinism a few students wanted to continue the discussion, especially revolving around the doctrine of Unconditional Election. This always seems to be the sticking point for young people, because it seems so unfair to them that God would sovereignly choose those who will be saved. As we talked, we looked at a number of different verses especially focusing on Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. After looking at the verses, one student said something to the effect of “I understand that this is clearly taught in the Bible, but it’s just so hard to believe that this is the case.” As I subsequently pointed out to this student, her statement really gets to what I believe is the heart of Calvinism. Calvinism is about the sovereignty of God, it’s about election and total depravity and all of the other points, but it’s about more than that.

The heart of Calvinism, or the way that we see it most practically lived out, is the humility that it creates in the hearts of believers. It seems to me that the most practical outworking of the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” is humility. Calvinism seems to have a way of tearing into our hearts and ripping out the last remnants of pride that we have in our theology of salvation. It teaches us that salvation has absolutely nothing to do with us, it is all about God and His sovereign choice to save sinners who are so depraved that they would never choose Him. I have said before that the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to be a watershed issue for people in their spiritual growth. Those who come to terms with these doctrines seem to have entire worlds of spiritual growth opened up to them that they previously did not know existed. I believe that the reason for this is that Calvinism humbles us, it breaks our pride and it reminds us of who is really in charge.

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September 24 2007 06:12 pm | Doctrines of Grace

7 Responses to “The Truth About Calvinism”

  1. twitch on 24 Sep 2007 at 7:33 pm #

    this is not fair. you HAVE to open this up to discussion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    arrrrgggghhhhh =)

    (my Arminianism, or Pride, yearns to comment. but i promised not to do so, unless you permit)

  2. Anonymous on 24 Sep 2007 at 11:02 pm #

    Oh, i love it! Thanks Drew, i’ve never really thought about it like that before but OF COURSE we would never chose God!! He has to chose us and what a privilige it is to know Him then…what a wonder it is that He chose me…what worship wells in my heart when i stop to ponder all this….amazing grace….
    Caryl

  3. Drew on 25 Sep 2007 at 3:38 am #

    Hey Twitch, this is the first time that someone has asked me to open up the comments thread, so sure that would be fine. In the interest of both of our study schedules, let’s just try and follow a few ground rules.

    1) I’m sure that we could both write practical dissertations about this, so instead let’s keep it to 1 paragraph, or 2 at the absolute most, per comment.
    2) The substance of this post is about humility, so let’s try and stay on topic (humility and Calvinism).
    3) If #2 seems a little unreasonable, know that over the next 5 months or so I’ll be writing at least one blog post on each of the points, so we can discuss them as we go.

  4. Anonymous on 25 Sep 2007 at 3:39 am #

    I have been talking to a parent lately about this very topic. Specifically, she wants to know how “hardcore” Calvinism co-exists alongside teachings that she grew up with as a southern Baptist. I will pass along the link to her, and if she has further questions, I will direct them to you.
    Bern

  5. Anonymous on 26 Sep 2007 at 12:47 pm #

    It was 48 years ago this month that I first heard the Doctrines of Grace articulated in a doctrinally sound Bible College. The great truths of Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement were a battle ground then as well as in your youth meeting in 2007! It is a timeless battle. Keep up your Biblical Soverignty emphasis–you are right on–JJR

  6. twitch on 26 Sep 2007 at 4:15 pm #

    apparently i am in the vast minority here among those who believe that when Jesus said in John, “For God so loved the world…” that what he really meant was, “For God so loved some.”

    being at a Reformed seminary, i will learn under some of the most well-known Calvinist and Barthian scholars in the world… i wonder if i will survive!

    here’s my question: since you claim that Calvinism is “so clearly taught” in the Bible, what do you make of those who disagree with it? and if it is so clearly taught, why is there such disagreement in the Church over it?

    also, can you respond to I Timothy 2:4 which seems to settle the issue by saying that “God wants all {pantas) to be saved,” (but doesn’t stop there) and to “come into knowledge of the truth.” to me, this suggests that God wants us to do something, but leaves the actual act up to us to decide.

    thank you

  7. Drew on 27 Sep 2007 at 5:10 pm #

    I’m not quite sure if this is on the topic of humility and Calvinism, but I’ll try to address your questions here.

    1) John 3:16 does mean that God loves the world, but that love does not mean that God has saved the entire world, unless you believe in universal redemption. In which case you would have to answer to texts like Matthew 7:14 which explicitly says that few find the way to eternal life.

    2) I believe that Arminians can be brothers in Christ, growing in Christ, but that they are missing out on a large portion of Scripture that deals with the Doctrines of Grace. In talking to Arminians, I usually don’t even have to talk about Calvinism, simply looking at the mountain of Scripture that supports Calvinism is enough w/o even mentioning a system.
    Again, the issue keeps coming back to the Bible and whether we will believe it for itself or allow our own presuppositions to dictate its meaning.
    I would also say that to claim that we have added anything, including our choice, to salvation is pride and that seems to be the heart of arminianism. It is a thoroughly man centered approach to soteriology.

    3) Regarding 1 Timoty 2:4, you’re running up against the same problem as John 3:16, unless you believe in universal redemption you must believe that Christ’s atonement is limited in some way, shape or form. This is the difference between God’s will of desire and God’s will of decree. God desires for all men to be saved, but he has only decreed that some will be saved. This passage is a perfect example of this distinction as the word “desire” (thelei) in the NT is typically indicative of God’s will of desire, not decree.