What is Calvinism?
It is not always easy for me to explain the major differences between my beliefs and what is commonly accepted as Christianity. For the sake of brevity, I usually tell them that I believe in the doctrines known as Calvinism or specifically, "the doctrines of grace." The next question comes immediately, "What is Calvinism?" How can I answer that? Well, I shall endeavor to briefly do this here.
First, Calvinism is not many things. It is not a system of doctrines based purely upon the one man, John Calvin, who lived during the Protestant Reformation. Calvinists do not exalt Calvin above others. Calvinism got its name likely because John Calvin was one of the most prolific writers and expositors of Scripture and was considered one of the great leaders of the Reformation, among others like Martin Luther. Calvinism does not hinder evangelism. Some of the greatest evangelists we know of today are or were Calvinists. I can attest, personally, that since I have come to see these doctrines my love for the lost has increased ten-fold. Calvinism is not a cult. While most would not say this, some Christians do. The allegation is completely baseless, especially since there have been various times and places in history where the core beliefs of Calvinism existed as the majority, not the minority view. Along with this thread, Calvinism is not new. It was not an invention of John Calvin or any of those who followed in his footsteps. The core components of Calvinism were held by many great men throughout church history, and we believe, the apostles themselves.
What is Calvinism, then? Calvinism, simply put, is a systematized set of beliefs that have come about through careful study by men who have sought to take into account the whole of Scripture on matters of doctrine. That may seem smug, since every Christian believes what they believe is taught in Scripture, but this is meant simply to say that those who have labored to exposit the Scriptures and come to see the harmony of this teaching with Scripture have done so while embracing a very high view of the Scriptures. It was not enough to assume things based on what one would consider common knowledge. It was essential to let the Scriptures really speak. Does this mean Calvinists internet the Bible literally? No. It means that Calvinists seek, and have sought, to discover what the Bible is meant to say -what the writers intended to convey. If they meant something to be taken literally, then we should take it literally. If they meant something to be taken symbolically, then it should be taken symbolically.
Calvinism teaches that men are saved purely by the grace of God by the Person and work of Jesus Christ -His life, death, and resurrection; both his righteousness, and his sacrifice for our sins. Men are justified, according to Calvinism, through faith in Christ wholly on account of Christ. The reason for our acceptance is never, in any part at all, in our faith. This should be common to all evangelical and protestant beliefs today, since it is the basic message of the Gospel itself. However, unlike much of evangelical and protestant Christianity today, Calvinism stresses the Biblical teaching that God is the one who is totally free in salvation.
Calvinism recognizes and fully embraces one of the basic tenets of theism -that God is sovereign. Could God be God without being sovereign over what He created? Calvinists say, "no", and use Scripture as their proof. This is a difficult doctrine, and many fight against some of the things Calvinists say the Bible says. I believe there are two reasons for this. First of all, all men resist God's truth and to hear that the matter of things, including salvation, does not rest within our own hands (but purely in God's) is an offensive thing. It stings our human pride. I recall the first time I came face to face with the reality of God's sovereignty being the first and final cause of salvation, I immediately became angry and began to rebel against this teaching. It is human nature to do so, and it is only by God's grace that the heart is willing to accept it. Ironically, rather than disproving Calvinism, this fact only underscores the truth of the doctrines held. The second reason is that, usually in conjunction with the first, people do not take the time to consider what is being said and examine the Scriptures honestly. They would rather rail against Calvinism even in a misrepresented form. Many today who condemn the doctrines of Calvinism do so without understanding what they are -and it is evident from hearing their objections, which are usually not Scriptural in nature, but philosophical.
Calvinism is realistic and Biblical about man's problem. It is not just that man sins, it is that he is a sinner and does not love the things he should love. Yes, man chooses what he wills, but what he wills is tainted with sin. He is free to do what he likes, but, because of our inborn corruption, he is not free to like what he ought to like. Therefore, free will plays no part in us being converted, repenting, or believing in Christ. As Jesus said, "No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:44)
Calvinism, in accepting the Biblical teaching on these former subjects, sees that the Son, Jesus Christ, who was sent to save will not fail to do so. No man stays the Lord's hand. Those whom God has sent the Son to save shall, inevitably and infallibly, be saved. God chose who shall be saved without any regard for anything in them, including forseen faith, and gave them to His Son. His son came, shed His blood for them, redeeming them, and the Holy spirit then comes to grant these ones faith and repentance and seals upon them this salvation which is wholly of the Lord. Jesus shall not lose a single one of all that the Father has given to them but shall "raise them up on the last day" (see John 6:37-40). Indeed, no one is able to pluck them out of His hand, and they shall all hear His voice and come to Him (John 10). In short, Calvinism believes we have a mighty and powerful God who does not fail in what He purposes.
Calvinism accepts things that may seem, at first, to be at odds, for the simple fact that they are both so clearly taught in Scripture. An example of this is man's inability versus man's responsibility. Many will assume that if man is responsible to do something that he must be able, but this is not the case according to the Bible. Men are responsible to obey God perfectly, to love Him, to turn to Him, to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, yet it is clear that men do not have this ability in their natural state. The responsibility does not negate the inability. As the great "prince of preachers", Charles Spurgeon (who was a Calvinist), wrote, "How are these two to be reconciled? We reply that they do not want any reconciliation; they are two truths of Holy Scripture, and we leave them to reconcile themselves, they are friends, and friends do not need any reconciliation. "
Lastly, Calvinism is not perfect and it is not exhaustive. Calvinists hold to these doctrines because they see them pouring out of Scripture, yet they fully acknolwedge that it was purely by God's grace that they have come to see them at all and that there are still things that seem, at this present time, unanswerable and unsure. Given this, there is even much variation of belief on various topics amongst Calvinists. Therefore, Calvinism commands humility. While some who profess Calvinism can get caught up in arrogance, which is common to all men (not just Calvinists), the doctrines themselves prove the necessity of God's free, unadulterated mercy in saving us and even granting us any Scriptural wisdom at all. A man who is gripped by the truths of Calvinism is forced to admit that anything he has is his purely as a gift to one who not only has not earned His favor in any way at all, but conversely has earned nothing but disfavor and contempt from God.