48. What is Calvinism?

Strictly speaking, “Calvinism” refers to the theological teachings of the great sixteenth-century Geneva reformer, John Calvin. In his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is one of the most important works produced in the past five hundred years, he outlines the principles of the Christian faith in great detail. One of the outstanding emphases of this work is his concern to demonstrate and argue for the absolute sovereignty of God, and his predetermination of all that takes place on the earth, particularly as it relates to the salvation of man; and this emphasis is usually what is primarily intended when one speaks of “Calvinism,” or “Calvinistic theology”.

However, when the term “Calvinism” is popularly used, it often refers, not to Calvin's teaching in general, but specifically to the Canons of Dort, which was a document produced in a synod held in 1618-1619, which upheld Calvin's teaching on soteriology against the opposition of the Remonstrance, led by Jacobus Arminius. This historic council responded to the five points of the Remonstrance with what have come to be called the five points of Calvinism, and which are commonly remembered by the acrostic “TULIP”. The points are as follows: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. The Canons of Dort is a very influential document today, as it is one of the “Three Forms of Unity,” which are the primary confessional standards of many modern Reformed churches and denominations. The five points of Calvinism are sometimes called “the Doctrines of Grace”. They will be discussed in more detail in the questions below.

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