The Five Points of Calvinism

by Brian E. Coombs Pastor of Messiah’s Church

The “Five Points of Calvinism” as they now are commonly called, do not actually refer to “five points” John Calvin once made, per se. He lived too early (1509-1564) for this post-17th century title. However, these “five points” did reflect his theology. But what was their context?

The early-17th century Dutch Remonstrants (i.e., protestors) advocated an “Arminian” system of thought named after its chief articulator, James Arminius, their seminary professor at the University of Leiden. In 1610, shortly after his death, Arminius” followers consolidated his views into succinct points, insisting that the doctrinal standards of the Church of Holland be altered to reflect this Arminian theology. After 154 sessions (from November 13, 1618 to May 6, 1619), the Synod of Dort deemed them incompatible with biblical teaching. In response, the Synod formulated “five points” of rebuttal. Since then, their rebuttal commonly has been used to express how Calvinists understand key elements of the gospel.

It should be remembered that Calvinism, as a theological system of thought, consists of many more points than these five. Essentially, the theological disparity between Arminianism and Calvinism revolves around the central issue of sovereignty in matters of salvation, i.e., is salvation solely of God (monergism, or, only divine operation), or is it partly of man (synergism, or, some human cooperation)? The Bible teaches, as Calvin and the historically Reformed Church agreed, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

The following inside piece is a comparison of the two schools of thought, followed by recommended reading.

The Five Points of Calvinism –  Historical Acronym: T-U-L-I-P The Five Points of Arminianism –  Acronym: T-H-O-R-N
1. Total DepravityBecause of Adam”s first sin, all mankind has become defiled by sin in every part of his being—thought, desire, and deed. He possesses a sinful nature and sins according to this nature. He is not merely unwilling, but furthermore unable, to choose good over evil. Thus, he is unable to secure salvation or incline himself toward it. (Genesis 6:5; Romans 8:7-8) 1. Totally Able to Choose, I Am(Incomplete Depravity) Although mankind was affected by Adam’s sin, man is not completely helpless. His will is still able to choose good over evil, despite a sinful nature. Man, in and of himself, can prepare himself for salvation and believe unto salvation.
2. Unconditional ElectionAll mankind being completely corrupt and unable to merit good before God, God Himself chose, from before the foundation of the world, those among mankind He would save from sin. This choice did not rest on anything in, about, or because of man, but only upon the good pleasure and will of God. (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9:11-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13) 2. He Chose Me Because I Believed(Conditional Election) God’s choice of sinners from before the foundation of the world was conditioned upon their response to the offer of salvation. God ordained to salvation those whom He foresaw would believe in Christ for salvation.
3. Limited AtonementBy the cross, Jesus Christ truly secured salvation, but only for whom God chose. The atonement is designed to make salvation actual for them, not just possible for all. (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11,15) 3. Omni-Designed Atonement(Unlimited Atonement) By the cross, Jesus Christ died for all men, making salvation possible for them to be saved. Salvation is secured only when the sinner chooses to receive the gospel.
4. Irresistible GraceThe Holy Spirit, through the preaching of God”s Word, successfully applies this salvation to chosen sinners by an internal call and rebirth. Having made the dead sinner alive, the sinner is enabled to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. (John 6:37,44-45; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Acts 18:27) 4. Resistible GraceThis salvation of Christ is offered to sinners by a call of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of God’s Word. A sinner may (and often does) resist the Spirit’s call, in addition the preacher’s, and by this unbelief, refuses to be born again.
5. Perseverance of the SaintsAll who are chosen by God, saved by Christ, and reborn of the Spirit will continue in faith. They will endeavor to obey God for the rest of their lives. Being kept by God, none will be lost. (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:35-39; 1 Peter 1:3-9, 13-16) 5. Not Sure I’ll Stay Saved(Severance of the Saints) It is possible for those who believe in Christ for salvation to forfeit or lose their salvation, and so fall away from a state of grace and salvation.

The following materials are strongly recommended for further reading:

  • The Reformed Doctrine of Predestinationby Loraine Boettner
  • The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documentedby David Steele and Curtis Thomas
  • The Five Points of Calvinismby Edwin Palmer
  • The Five Points of Calvinism (booklet) by W.J. Seaton
  • Sovereign Graceby Brian M. Schwertley
  • A Display of Arminianism (in Vol.10) of John Owen’s Complete Works

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