Tag: 5 points

Five Point Calvinism?? An Answer and an Apologetic (Guest Post)

Five Point Calvinism?? An Answer and an Apologetic (Guest Post)

That which is referred to as Calvinism, generally, and “5-point Calvinism,” specifically, is much misunderstood and maligned even moreso by those who mean well but lack a proper understanding of what we believe. To help us with that we are, once again, blessed to have received instruction from that dear friend and eminent theologian, James Quiggle. What folllows is his instrucion…

Every now and then I am asked if I am a “5-point Calvinist,” or a “4-point Calvinist,” or “Just what kind of Calvinist are you?!?”

Those questions reflect a misapprehension about Calvinism, even among Calvinists. The misapprehension is that Calvinism is a neither more nor less than a system of soteriology (doctrine of salvation). That, of course, is not true.

Calvinism was a revival of Augustinianism (Augustine of Hippo, d. AD 430). You are affirming the Calvinistic system of doctrine if you believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, saved by grace through faith, the sovereignty of God, the three offices of the Christ (prophet, priest, king), the deity of Jesus Christ, and the deity, personality, and ministries of the Holy Spirit (conviction, salvation, teacher, administrator of the NT church, etc.). Calvin is, in fact, the person who defined for the NT church the person and work of the Holy Spirit as we understand that doctrine today.

But I digress.

Unfortunately, the entire Calvinistic system of theology has become defined by an acronym, the TULIP (explained below), developed from the Cannons of the Synod of Dort to express a Calvinistic view of soteriology. The Synod of Dort was a year-long examination of the soteriology of Jacobus Arminius. Both Arminius (1560–1609) and Calvin (1509–1564) were dead by the time of the Synod (1618–1619), so the theological conflict was debated by the followers of both systems of theology using the Bible and their respective writings. The decision of the Synod was published in a document known as the Canons of the Synod of Dort (available at many web sites). The Arminian view of soteriology was declared false, the biblical arguments of Calvinism were declared the true understanding of biblical soteriology.

But the TULIP does not accurately reflect Calvinistic soteriology as defined by the Canons of the Synod of Dort. Let us first examine the TULIP, albeit briefly. These may not be the definitions you have heard or read.

T — Total Depravity. This means every aspect of human nature—physical, moral, spiritual—is negatively affected by the sin attribute in human nature, with the result an unsaved human being is always in rebellion against God. The effect of the sin attribute on the spiritual aspect of human nature is to make the soul’s faculty of spiritual perception grossly dulled, to the extent the sinner is unable to comprehend spiritual matters, but instead rejects them, and as a result is unable to initiate saving faith.

U — Unconditional Election. This means God chose (election, Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2), for reasons not stated and therefore unknown, to give some human beings his gift of grace-faith-salvation (Ephesians 2:8), in order to redeem them from their sinful state of existence. And it means God chose to take no action, positive or negative, toward human beings he had not elected. God’s choices were not based on any intrinsic or foreseen merit in those whom he chose to elect to salvation, for when the decree of election was given, God saw all human beings as sinners, all completely undeserving of redemption.

L — I will explain this below.

I — Irresistible Grace. This means the grace God gives to an individual sinner through his gift of grace-faith-salvation (Ephesians 2:8) will enliven the sinner’s faculty of spiritual perception, so that the sinner who has received God’s gift will comprehend the spiritual issues of sin, the Savior, and salvation, with the result the sinner willingly chooses to exercise saving faith in God’s testimony as to the way/means of salvation. God’s gift of grace and faith always results in salvation.

P — Perseverance of the Saved. This means the saved person will continue in the faith by faith all the way through life and death, when (after death) he/she will receive the grace of indefectibility. Perseverance is often mischaracterized by another acronym, OSAS, Once Saved Always Saved, resulting in silly hypothetical questions from skeptics. Perseverance is not OSAS. Perseverance is both the continuance of faith and the continued practice of the faith. God gives the grace of perseverance to the believer, and the believer uses the grace of perseverance to mold his/her life of faith to continue in the faith by means of faith all the way through life and death.

Looking now to the 5-point/4-point issue. The “L” in the TULIP represents “Limited Atonement.” This is where the TULIP strays from the Canons of Dort. Limited atonement refers to Christ’s act of propitiation on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. It will be helpful to define Christ’s atonement-propitiation.

Propitiation. The satisfaction Christ made to God for sin by dying on the cross as the sin-bearer, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, for the crime of sin committed by human beings, suffering in their place and on their behalf. Christ’s propitiation fully satisfied God’s holiness and justice for the crime of sin. Christ’s propitiation was of infinite merit, because his Person is of infinite worth. Christ accomplished the propitiation of God for sin by enduring spiritual and physical death on the cross. Christ endured spiritual death when he was separated from fellowship with God (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), and physical death when he separated his soul from his body (“[B]owing his head, he gave up his spirit.”)

But in the TULIP acronym, Christ’s propitiation, the “L,” has different meaning: Christ’s death on the cross to redeem the elect. This is often stated in the question, “For whom, did Christ die?” The TULIP answer is, only for the elect. But that is a significant departure from the Canons of Dort on which the TULIP is based.

The divines of the Synod of Dort were of two camps on the issue of Christ’s propitiation. Some believed in limited efficacy (only the elect are redeemed) and some believed in unlimited sufficiency (all the sins of the whole word are paid for). The Synod resolved this issue, as they did with all the issues, biblically. Both sides recognized the Scripture teaches both views. The Synod therefore taught both the universal sufficiency of the propitiation (atonement) and the limited effectiveness of the propitiation to save only the elect.

The Synod stated, Second Head of Doctrine, Article III, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” Thus, the gospel is offered “to all persons promiscuously [indiscriminately] and without distinction” (Article V). That many die unsaved is not due to “any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.” Thus, an Unlimited Atonement/Propitiation.

The Synod then stated, Second Head of Doctrine, Article VIII, “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.” Thus, a Limited Redemption, sometimes known as Particular Redemption.

The “L” in the TULIP should have been “Limited Redemption,” not “Limited Atonement. Why did those who created the TULIP (not the divines of Dort) distort the teachings of the Synod? Because of a peculiar habit of the Puritans, perpetuated by Reformed Theology.

The Puritans had a bad habit of replacing the cause with the effect. The difference between election and predestination gives an example. The Puritans, and Reformed theology, always name election as predestination. But these are different decrees of God with different effects. Definitions.

Election. The choice of a sovereign God (Ephesians 1:4), 1) to give the gift of grace-faith-salvation to effect the salvation of some sinners (Ephesians 2:8), and 2) to take no action, positive or negative, to either effect or deny salvation to other sinners (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17). The decree of election includes all means necessary to effectuate salvation in those elected.

Predestination. God’s decree to conform the believer to be like Christ according to certain aspects of Christ’s spiritual character and physical form (Romans 8:29–30; 1 John 3:2), and to place the believer in the legal position of God’s son and heir (Ephesians 1:5, 11), so that the believer has an inheritance from God and is God’s heritage.

More simply, election is a decree concerning sinners, predestination is a decree concerning the saved. Election is the cause, predestination the effect. Election-salvation is the cause of the effect predestination: to be like Christ. But the Reformed theology goes straight to the effect and names election as predestination.

So too Christ’s propitiation and the sinner’s redemption. Christ’s propitiation completely satisfied God’s justice for the crime of human sin. Then, God’s justice having been satisfied, the infinite merit of the propitiation is applied by God according to his decree of election via his gift of grace-faith-salvation. Propitiation is the cause, redemption the effect. But the Reformed theology goes straight to the effect and names Christ’s propitiation/atonement as redemption. Thus the confusion caused by the TULIP, and Reformed soteriology.

When the Canons of Dort are faithfully expressed, then one’s soteriology must acknowledge unlimited atonement/propitiation and limited redemption. But because Reformed theology distorts the atonement/propitiation to be redemption, they reject unlimited atonement, calling it universal salvation.

Unlimited Atonement (propitiation), is not universal salvation, because the direct purpose of the atonement was not redemption but judicial satisfaction toward God for the crime of sin.

For an atonement (propitiation) to be redemptive it must be applied by faith to the sinner’s demerit (his or her sin). That is clear from every Old Testament sacrifice for sin. On the first Passover in Egypt, the merit of the lamb’s blood was sufficient for every household, but must be applied to each household to be effective for that particular household, Exodus 12:13. The blood of the sin offering, collected at the moment the animal was killed, was sufficient to atone for sin, but must be applied, Leviticus 5:5–7, to be efficient for forgiveness. The blood on the day of atonement was sufficient for all, but must be applied to the Ark of the Covenant to be efficient to forgive sins.

The direct purpose of Christ’s atonement-propitiation was toward God. The merit of Christ’s propitiation of God for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2, is sufficient for all, so that the call of the gospel and the duty to believe may be legitimately offered to all and required of all.

The effect or result of the propitiation is the application of its merit toward sinners. That merit is specifically applied via God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation (the salvation principle, “saved by grace through faith”) as determined by God’s decree of election, in order to effect the redemption (salvation) of those whom God has chosen to salvation. Without application there is no redemption.

The unlimited merit of Christ’s propitiation could be applied save any non-elect person: “whoever believes,” as the Scripture states. God takes no action, pro or con, toward the non-elect, but leaves them in their sinful state. The non-elect are unable to initiate saving faith because unable without God’s gift to overcome the rebellion and disobedience engendered by the sin attribute in human nature. If they could believe, God would act savingly toward them, but they always choose to disbelieve, because that is the nature of the sinner.

Unlimited Atonement (Propitiation), Synod of Dort, Canon 2, Article 3, does not teach universal salvation: the merit of the propitiation must be individually applied through faith. Canon 2, Article 8, Limited Redemption, does not teach Christ died only for a particular group, but that the merit of his propitiation is applied only to the elect.

Thus: Unlimited Atonement/Propitiation, Limited (Particular) Redemption.

Returning now to the original question, “What is a 5-point Calvinist?” To be a five point Calvinist one must affirm all five points of the T, U, L, I, P. A four point Calvinist is someone who does not agree with Limited Atonement/Propitiation. A 4-pointer affirms T, U, I, P.

But, and it is a BIG objection, the 5-pointer, as discussed above, rejects the statement of the Canons of Dort concerning the unlimited sufficiency of the atonement, focusing only on the redemptive effect of the propitiation, not the limitless merit of the propitiation. This is, in part, due to Reformed theology’s definition of the purpose of God in the world: to redeem sinners. If God’s purpose in the world is redemption, then one must devise a theology that accounts for so many sinners not being redeemed. The Reformed theology solution is to limit the sufficiency of Christ’s propitiation to the redemption of the elect alone.

The 5-point Calvinist is a distortion of Scripture, and the 4-point Calvinist is a straw-man designed to support the untenable 5-point position. The dual perspective of Christ’s propitiation as “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” is the true Calvinist soteriology. This is the perspective of the Scripture. The dual perspective accounts for the universal call to believe, Romans 10:13, “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” and “Revelation 22:17, “Whoever desires let him take of the water of life freely.” The dual perspective accounts for the limited redemption effected by God’s choice. Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ before the creation of the universe,” and 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God from the beginning chose you for salvation,” and 1 Peter 1:2, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

The “L” in the TULIP is too entrenched by centuries of false teaching to be changed. But if I could change it, that “L” would represent “Limited Redemption,” in agreement with the Canons of the Synod of Dort.