Thursday, February 9, 2012

The 5 Points of Calvinism

This is the result of a question that a friend of mine asked me. The question was something along the lines of, what do you think of the 5 points of Calvinism. I decided to post my response as it may be of interest to other readers.

   I will be giving the 5 points in the form that is given by one of their most prominent contemporary defender (James White):

      1. Total Depravity - "As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation. As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to what is good. Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God." (A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of 1689 Rewritten in Modern English, Quoted in Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 64.) For my view on this doctrine see this blog post.

      2. Unconditional Election - "Unconditional election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that God is free in the matter of salvation. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of 'the good pleasure of His will' (Ephesians 1:5). There is nothing in the creature that merits, earns, or attracts his favor. It is unconditional in that it is based solely on His purpose and His pleasure and not in anything whatsoever in the creature....In biblical theology, it is God's free will, not man's, that determines the outcome of the work of salvation." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 91-2.)

                   Difficulty - The Bible talks about God's election and predestination of his saints, however, the Bible also presupposes that man is responsible for chosing to receive the gift of eternal life in the person of Jesus-Christ. It would appear that if God decides, (and note the wording as it is very important) ahead of time, who will be saved, AND, if God is omnipotent, AND if God's will cannot be thwarted, THEN, it seems that no human can do other than what God decides. Therefore, man has no free-will. However, the entire concept of Justice and responsibility depend upon free-will. Therefore, it seems that the Calvinist description of what election and predestination mean, either (1) make God unjust for condemning to hell creatures whom God had decided ahead of time would reject him, or (2) make salvation (and evangelism) trivial because those whom God has elected and predestined will be saved, regardless of whether or not we evangelize, and inspite of any choice the agent might have made. So, I reject the calvinistic explanation of election and predestination, but not the doctrines of election and predestination. Unconditional Election is based upon the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity.

      3. Limited Atonement - The Atonement for sins accomplished by Jesus on the cross was only for the elect. "God the Father decreed the salvation of an elect people, Christ died with the intention of redeeming those people through their union with Him and accomplished that task..." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 170.) 

    Difficulty - This doctrine is based upon the doctrine of Unconditional Election, as even James White notes, "Upon examination, the vast majority of those who call themselves 'four point Calvinists' are actually not Reformed at all, for their objections are to God's freedom in electing men to salvation and to the total inability of man in his sin. Particular redemption flows inexorably from the truths of God's divine freedom and man's enslavement to sin." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 178.) Therefore, if we reject points 1 and 2, then 3 is neither necessary, nor Biblical. In fact, it seems that the Bible claims that Jesus's sacrifice, and therefore the atonement, was available for all mankind, though only those who appropriate this sacrifice for themselves will be justified. So, I make an important distinction here that Calvinists refuse to make. That is, that God desired ALL men to be saved, and sent his son to die for the whole world, BUT, only those who freely, by faith, accept this gift will be saved by the grace of God.

      4. Irresistable Grace - "The doctrine of 'irresistible grace' is easily understood. It is simply the belief that when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing. It is really nothing more than saying that it is God who regenerates the sinners, and that freely." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 197.) Generally Calvinists claim that God regenerates the sinner so that the sinner can then freely put their faith in Christ. As White says, "The divine act of regeneration is the ground, the condition that results in the acts of doing good, loving God, and exercising ongoing faith, the only faith that truly saves." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 200.) 

                     Difficulty - Again, this doctrine is based upon the preceding 3 points. If man is so depraved that he cannot even desire to do God, and if God freely decides ahead of time who will be saved, and if the atonement achieved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross is only intended and efficacious for those whom God has chosen, then, God will only regenerate those whom he has chosen, so that they will be able to place their faith in Christ. Everybody else, all those who are predestined to hell, will never be regenerated, and therefore will never have the possibility to put their faith in Christ. (Calvinists often give the example of Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead as an example of regeneration. This is a false example.) If we reject the first 3 points then this point is neither necessary nor desirable. Calvinists do not seem to make enough distinctions about the grace of God, and, they also, in my opinion interpret scripture in the light of the first three points so as to back up their position (I don't think they do this purposely, I think that they are just convinced about the truth of Calvinism, and therefore interpret scripture in light of it.) I don't see any reason to interpret Eph. 2:8-9 as proving Irresistable Grace (as Calvinists do). Man is saved by the Grace of God, that is 100% sure, nobody denies that. However, he is saved through faith! Faith, by definition, is voluntary assent to the truth. One of the consequences of such a definition is that in order to place your faith in someone, you must do it willingly!!!!! Not by coercion. But if Calvinism is true, then those who are saved have no choice in the matter. Neither do those who go to hell!!!

      5. Perseverance of the Saints - This is essentially the doctrine that once saved, always saved. In other words, those that God has chosen, regenerated, and saved, will never, by the Grace of God, lose their salvation. This doctrine can also be twisted in many different ways, but, I agree in general with it.

Note: I have not exposed any positive doctrines to which I myself hold. Rather I have simply given the contemporary explanations of Calvinism's five points along with a number of difficulties that I see in them. Please don't think that I am on the side of Arminianism. They also have a number of problems. I don't have time right now to give my own views on these issues, though you may find some elements in my responses to the five points, that will point you towards what I think on the subject.