This is part III of a series about the concept of salvation in Christianity. In this series, I will attempt to describe some of the historical views (part I), common views today (part II) and in this post give an overview of Calvinism. I pray that this series will be edifying and a cause for discussion regarding this very important area of theology.
In the last part, I mentioned some of the movements in history that further influenced the philosophies and theologies after the time of the Reformation. In the early church the Creeds/doctrines (tradition), along with rigid guidance of revelation (the Bible), had guarded against heresies. However, tradition was never meant to replace revelation which had led to the need for the Reformation. A large part of reform was rejecting a majority portion of Rome’s tradition, certainly not all, but as Luther and Calvin stressed the need for Scripture alone, traditions were often set aside.
In the subsequent generations, in the times of Reason and Enlightenment, people started to turn away completely from traditions of the past and also the revelation in that ancient text called The Bible. An atheistic materialist named Holbach had stated, “Theology was suffocating, for it prevented humanity from gaining superior knowledge available through experience and reason.” So the new philosophies stressed an overwhelming emphasis on human ability, and less on ancient history. Hope was place in human reasoning and science, rather than God and His truth. Those that at least held to a Deistic view denied the traditions established by the early church and later reaffirmed by the reformers. They denied doctrines such as Original Sin, God’s sovereignty and the Bible’s inerrant inspiration. Jesus became nothing more than a moral teacher setting an example of self-sacrifice on the Cross.
In a post I did a few weeks back I tried to explain reasons why I believe we are where we are today in American culture. Certainly this humanistic view had a tremendous affect on the theology of Christianity, or what was left of it. Even the revivals in the Great awakenings could not undo what had been done in the minds of it’s followers. The focus of the 2nd Great awakening was that of crisis conversions. Charles Finney forever changed the methods of evangelism which has become the essence of modern American Christianity. The focus being that of individualism and a stance of anti-tradition held by their Protestant forefathers. This view seen in many modern churches today.
So with that in mind, let us consider an orthodox Christianity that is counter to these humanistic philosophies. I believe that in order to truly grasp the core tenets of what is Calvinism and it’s position in soteriology one needs to have an orthodox understanding in both Anthropology and Theology. That is to say an understanding in both a doctrine of man and a doctrine of God, established in the early church. It needs to be understood that mankind has fallen in Adam, and is a spiritually dead sinner unable to do anything that would be pleasing to God. Even more importantly, one needs to understand the character of God, One who is Holy, that abhors sin, and is Sovereign over everything and He alone has provided the means in which He will save a people. (Reasons why the heresies that led to the Creeds established about the deity and natures of Christ are important.) In the backdrop of these revealed truths of God and man, backed by the traditions (doctrines/Creeds), we aim to reason an understanding of salvation established by the early church in Augustine and reaffirmed with the reformers. This understanding commonly referred to as the five points of Calvinism.
There are plenty who will affirm at least two, three, or even four of the five points of Calvinism, however I would say that this does not make them Reformed or Calvinist. All five points collectively make a single doctrine (of grace), and if one is to remain consistent, they must agree which each point or scrap the whole doctrine. What it boils down to is either one is a Monergist, God alone is responsible in initiating salvation (and alone able to secure it), or a Synergist, God requires the cooperation of man in order to save him (and keep him saved).
The points that are often disagreed upon within the acrostic TULIP, are the U – Unconditional Election (Predestination), the L – Limited Atonement (Particular Atonement), and the I – Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling). The inconsistency comes when one affirms that man is Totally Depraved (T) or unable to do anything pleasing to God as an unbeliever, and yet able come to Christ by faith in believing. However, with Calvinism we affirm that the U, L, and I are absolutely necessary in salvation because of his inability. Man cannot believe, nor have faith, unless there is a fundamental change in his condition. That condition is to say man is utterly and totally spiritually dead in Adam. To say man is sick, not dead, you wander into Semi-Pelagianism and to say that he is good, by nature, is Pelagianism.
If we reason by experience, from our limited point of view, it would seem that we did it ourselves. In other words, I would say at the age of 30 I sought after God and I chose to believe in Him, and He made me new. However, I believe that this reasoning of my experience cannot be supported by revelation (Bible) or apostolic tradition. Regeneration must precede faith. No one seeks after God, until they intimately know Him (John 10:14). I didn’t believe until I was made new by the power of the Holy Spirit, having been determined by God in eternity. (1 John 5:1, Romans 8:30)
Granted, there are many verses that seem to suggest otherwise, if not understood in the context of man’s ability prior to/after regeneration. There are many who are convinced that man IS capable of coming to faith by his own free will, without God’s work in him. This kind of thinking has been influenced by the philosophical reasoning of humanistic traditions. Because of this the Arminian would say that Christ’s death made salvation possible for all, and sees man as fully capable of following God’s commandments in having faith and belief in Him, or rejecting Him all together.
Again, I firmly believe that ones soteriology rests completely on their understanding of God and man. If you do not believe that man is enslaved to sin, a child of Satan, rebellious toward a Holy God, and totally unable to save himself then your view of mankind differs from the Reformed. Additionally, if you believe man’s will is superior to God’s and God has no rights to do what He wills with His creation, your view of God differs from the Reformed.
In the 4th and final post I will further expound upon the five points, for those who are unfamiliar, since I have only made reference to the acrostic thus far.