There is something healthy about returning to one’s roots. When it comes to evangelical Christianity, its roots are found in the soil of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.

What is Reformed Christian Theology?

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    What is Reformed Christian Theology?

    The Reformed faith is biblical Christianity in its truest and most consistent form. Broadly speaking, Reformed theology includes any system of belief that traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. Of course, the Reformers themselves traced their doctrine to Scripture, as indicated by their credo of “sola scriptura,” so Reformed theology is not a “new” belief system but one that seeks to continue apostolic doctrine. The Latin word sola means "alone" or "only" in English. The five solae articulated five fundamental beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, pillars which the Reformers believed to be essentials of the Christian life and practice.

    The “five solas” is a term used to designate five great foundational rallying cries of the Protestant reformers. They are as follows: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

    These “five solas” were developed in response to specific perversions of the truth that were taught by the corrupt Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church taught that the foundation for faith and practice was a combination of the scriptures, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the magisterium and the pope; but the Reformers said, “No, our foundation is sola scriptura”. The Catholic Church taught that we are saved through a combination of God's grace, the merits that we accumulate through penance and good works, and the superfluity of merits that the saints before us accumulated; the reformers responded, “sola gratia”. The Catholic Church taught that we are justified by faith and the works that we produce, which the righteousness that God infuses in us through faith brings about. The reformers responded, “No, we are justified by faith alone, which lays hold of the alien righteousness of Christ that God freely credits to the account of those who believe”. The Catholic Church taught that we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and that we approach God through Christ, the saints, and Mary, who all pray and intercede for us. The Reformers responded, “No, we are saved by the merits of Christ Alone, and we come to God through Christ Alone”. The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner's salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.”

    Today, the Catholic Church teaches the same essential perversions of truth; and much of Protestantism has seen a regress to many of the same corruptions, in many circles and denominations. It is a pressing need for Christians everywhere to reaffirm and champion anew the “five solas” which underlay and gave impetus to the Protestant Reformation.

    Authority of Scripture. Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, sufficient in all matters of faith and practice.

    Sovereignty of God. Reformed theology teaches that God rules with absolute control over all creation. He has foreordained all events and is therefore never frustrated by circumstances. This does not limit the will of the creature, nor does it make God the author of sin.

    Salvation by grace. Reformed theology teaches that God in His grace and mercy has chosen to redeem a people to Himself, delivering them from sin and death. The Reformed doctrine of salvation is commonly represented by the acrostic TULIP (also known as the five points of Calvinism). Calvinism is a rare theology: It can be simply explained using a five-letter acronym. This set of religious principles is the work of John Calvin (1509-1564), a French church reformer who had a permanent influence on several branches of Protestantism. Like Martin Luther before him, John Calvin broke from the Roman Catholic Church and based his theology on the Bible alone, not the Bible and tradition. After Calvin's death, his followers spread those beliefs throughout Europe and the American colonies. The five points of Calvinism can be remembered using the acronym TULIP:

    T - "Total depravity," also called "total inability," asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be). This doctrine is derived from Augustine's explanation of Original Sin. While the phrases "totally depraved" and "utterly perverse" were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like "total depravity" cannot be found in the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.

    U - "Unconditional election" asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God.

    L - "Limited atonement," also called "particular redemption" or "definite atonement", asserts that Jesus's substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus's death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all. Some Calvinists have quipped, "The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect," while other Calvinists find such wording confusing rather than helpful. All Calvinists would affirm that the blood of Christ was sufficient to pay for every single human being IF it were God's intention to save every single human being. But Calvinists are also quick to point out that Jesus did not spill a drop of blood in vain (Galatians 2:21), and therefore, we can only be sure that His blood sufficed for those for whom it was intended, however many (Matthew 26:28) or few (Matthew 7:14) that may be. Some Calvinists also teach that the atonement accomplished certain benefits for all mankind, albeit, not their eternal salvation. The doctrine is driven by the Calvinistic concept of the sovereignty of God in salvation and their understanding of the nature of the atonement. At the Synod of Dort, both sides agreed that the atonement of Christ's death was sufficient to pay for all sin and that it was only efficacious for some (it only actually saved some). The controversy centered on whether this limited efficacy was based on God's election (the view of the Synod and of later Reformed theologians) or on the choice of each person and God's foreknowledge of that choice (the view of Arminius).

    I - "Irresistible grace," also called "efficacious grace", asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, "graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ." This is not to deny the fact that the Spirit’s outward call (through the proclamation of the Gospel) can be, and often is, rejected by sinners; rather, it’s that inward call which cannot be rejected. In fact, every saved person can testify how, at some point in their life, they “felt overwhelmingly compelled” to believe in Christ, as if they “had no choice but to follow Him.” This is what is meant by the effectual calling of God.

    P - "Perseverance of the saints" (or perseverance of God with the saints) (the word "saints" is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).

    The necessity of evangelism. Reformed theology teaches that Christians are in the world to make a difference, spiritually through evangelism and socially through holy living and humanitarianism.

    Other distinctives of Reformed theology generally include the observance of two sacraments (baptism and communion), a cessationist view of the spiritual gifts (the gifts are no longer extended to the church), and a non-dispensational view of Scripture. Held in high esteem by Reformed churches are the writings of John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and Martin Luther. The Westminster Confession embodies the theology of the Reformed tradition. Modern churches in the Reformed tradition include Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and some Baptist.


    The Hyper-Calvinist emphasizes the sovereignty of God to such an extent that man's human responsibility is denied. In actuality, Hyper-Calvinism is a rejection of historic Calvinist thought. Hyper-Calvinism denies that the gospel call applies to all; and/or denies that faith is the duty of every sinner; and/or denies the gospel offer to the non-elect; and/or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal; and/or denies that there is such a thing as "common grace"; and/or denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect. Calvinists do not agree with the Hyper-Calvinists.

    Total depravity (also called total inability or total corruption) is a biblical doctrine closely linked with the doctrine of original sin as formalized by Augustine and advocated in many Protestant confessions of faith and catechisms, especially in Calvinism. The doctrine understands the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the the Fall of man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.

    "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

    Summary of the doctrine

    The doctrine of total inability teaches that people are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, as he requires, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Even religion and philanthropy are destructive to the extent that these originate from a human imagination, passions, and will.

    Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as bad as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation; and there is no mere refinement of natural capacities that can correct this condition. Although total depravity is easily confused with philosophical cynicism, the doctrine teaches optimism concerning God's love for what he has made and God's ability to accomplish the ultimate good that he intends for his creation. In particular, in the process of salvation, it is argued that God overcomes man's inability with his divine grace and enables men and women to choose to follow him, though the precise means of this overcoming varies between the theological systems.

    Biblical evidence for the doctrine

    A number of passages are put forth to support the doctrine, including (quotations are from the ESV except where noted):
    • Genesis 6:5: "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
    • Jeremiah 13:23 (NIV): "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."
    • John 6:44a: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."
    • Romans 3:10-11: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God."
    • Romans 8:7-9: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."
    • Ephesians 2:3b: "[We] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."
    • 1 Corinthians 2:14: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."


    Total inability

    In John 6 Jesus said that, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him... This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." Apart from Christ, man is foolish, dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), and following the spirit of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). His wisdom is demonic and earthly (James 3:15). He cannot hear the word of Christ and God (John 8:43, 47). He is not able to subject his flesh to the law of God (Romans 8:7-8). Just as people cannot change the color of their skin, those who are accustomed to doing evil cannot do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Every intention of the thoughts of man's heart are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21). Surely we were brought forth in iniquity, and in sin were we conceived (Psalms 51:5)!

    Contrary to the doctrine of universal prevenient grace, all of these passages show that, apart from being in Christ, our total depravity is actual and not hypothetical.

    Extent and degree

    Tim Challies writes, "We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be."^[1]^

    Deserving of eternal punishment

    See Matthew 25:46, Jude 1:7, and 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.

    "The reality of hell is God's clear indictment of the infiniteness of our guilt. If our corruption were not deserving of an eternal punishment God would be unjust to threaten us with a punishment so severe as eternal torment." – John Piper

    Common objections
    Faith precedes regeneration

    Some object to the Calvinist understanding (that regeneration precedes faith) and contend that faith comes before conversion. Their position maintains that the Holy Spirit "regenerates" those who have believed; in other words, "I must put my faith in Christ, and then conversion will take place." However, the Bible says that one must first be called/drawn, and then he is able to trust in Jesus. In 1 Cor. 2:14, Paul says that the natural (unregenerate) man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. Saving faith is actually the first act of the (regenerate) new creature in Christ. We choose Christ because he first chose us.

    Libertarian freedom and universal prevenient grace

    Some affirm that man would be bound by a sinful nature, a kind of depravity in which he is in bondage to and cannot escape. However, they say, to keep with libertarian freedom, God gives man universal prevenient grace in which he is able to escape just enough from his sinful nature and have the ability to choose.

    Command implies moral ability

    "Why would we be commanded to follow Jesus if we were not able to do so?" some have asked. The Bible is clear, however, that the law brings wrath and was added "that sin might increase" (Romans 5:20; Romans 7:13-14). Precisely because man cannot obey the law, it was commanded. This was to show our utter dependence on God's grace.

    The Scriptures do teach that man is responsible, but they also teach that he is unable to turn from sin and trust in Christ if left to himself. The idea that responsibility implies ability is not a scriptural idea. The biblical commands to repent and believe (just like the commands to obey) do not imply ability. The command is based on man’s responsibility (i.e. his duty or obligation) and what he ought to do; and ought does not imply can. Human ability is not prerequisite to responsibility nor implied by the commands of Scripture.

    Necessarily implies utter depravity

    Others have objected that if we agree with Total Depravity then we are saying that any unregenerate person is incapable of making good choices.



      In Christian theology, election refers to God's choosing of individuals or peoples to be the objects of his grace or to otherwise fulfill his purposes. Most often God's election is associated with his choice of individuals unto salvation. The Calvinist view of election (also known as unconditional election) teaches that in eternity God chose some individuals from the mass of fallen humanity unto salvation without regard to any merit or foreseen faith in them, but solely based on His sovereign intentions.

      Election and predestination are very similar concepts to the point that the terms can sometimes be used interchangeably. However, there is a difference in the emphasis of the two terms. Election primarily has in view God's sovereign selection, whereas predestination accents the purpose or goal of His election. Scripture clearly teaches both election and predestination; however, there are a variety of views as to who, when, why, and how God does so.

      Conditional election

      Jacobus Arminius disagreed with the Calvinist understanding of election, as reflected in the Belgic Confession. Upon his death, Arminius' followers drew up Five articles of Remonstrance, a document opposing some of the prevailing Calvinist views in the Dutch church.

      Article I. That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John iii. 36: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him," and according to other passages of Scripture also. Article IV. That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, elm neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost, -Acts vii., and elsewhere in many places.

      Thus in this view, God's choice of individuals for salvation is not unconditional. It is conditioned upon God's foreknowledge of (enduring) faith in individuals which is made possible because of God's prevenient grace. That is, God's prevenient grace enables mankind to make the choice to believe, obey and persevere in faith, but they can resist this grace and choose to be lost. Those that God foresees will believe, obey and endure to the end (as enabled by His grace), are the ones whom He chooses from the beginning for salvation. The choice to be chosen is ultimately based on the individual, not on God, whom they insist wants all to be saved.

      Arminians use primarily Rom 8:29 ("those whom He foreknew, He also predestined") and 1 Pet 1:1-2 ("chosen according to the foreknowledge of God") to argue that foreknowledge of faith is the basis of election. They also argue from deductive logic based on God's character, and the necessity of free will for man to be morally responsible.

      Corporate election

      An alternative understanding of Election found in Arminianism ^[1]^ is that Christ is primarily God's elect, and that through Christ's redemptive work God has purposed to form a people to be His body (who become part of the Elect/ Christ). This election is freely offered to all. Anyone who wants to be identified with Christ, becomes part of the elect, and is assured of salvation. But at the same time they can lose that salvation if they cease to be identified with Christ.

      An analogy used is that, Christ is the captain of a ship called "elect" (which is the Church), this ship is on a secure journey towards salvation. It is the individual's choice whether he wants to be on this ship or not. If the individual does, he is part of the elect and his salvation is secure, but if he chooses to bail out, then he's no longer part of the elect and he's lost.

      Thus in biblical passages mentioning/alluding to God's election, the elect refers to an undefined group of elect people in Christ, not specifically chosen individuals. For example,

      "You did not choose Me but I chose you (plural)..." (John 15:16a NASB) - The Church did not choose Christ but Christ the Church
      "What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;" (Rom 11:7 NASB) - believing Jews obtained it, the rest were hardened
      For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Thess 5:9 NASB)- God did not destine the Church for wrath but for salvation

      Calvinist argument

      Regarding this view, John Piper (a Calvinist theologian) says,

      First notice what the point of God's choosing is in 1 Corinthians 1:27-30. 27 God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. What this text says very clearly is that God chose particular kinds of people to be in the church. He did not just choose the church and leave its composition to man. He chose foolish individuals and called them into Christ. He chose some weak individuals and called them into Christ. He chose some low and despised individuals and called them into Christ. So that no one might boast in anyone but the Lord.And then to make this crystal clear he said in verse 30 (literally): "From him [God] you are in Christ Jesus." Or as the NASB says, "By his doing you are in Christ Jesus." Or the NIV: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus." In other words, it is just as though Paul knew that someone would come along some day and say that God does not choose who is in Christ, but only chooses Christ and any who put themselves in Christ. So he says, in verses 27-29, that God chose the individuals who would make up the church in Christ. And he says in verse 30 that it is by God's doing that they are put in Christ.

      Michael Browne, author of The Biblical Doctrine of Substitution: And a Defence of Divine Sovereignty: including an excursus on Election; Corporate or Individual? If individuals are not involved in God's election but only the Church viewed as a corporate whole, we are at a loss to know how it is possible for God to elect the Church without in any way being responsible for the election of any individual saint who forms a part of it. Christ, on the other hand, states that as the Good Shepherd He calleth His own sheep by name and leadth them out; and as the Door, pictures His own sheep entering one by one ('if any man') through faith in Him unto salvation (John 10:3,7,9).

      Paul, in Romans 9, sets out to prove that God’s salvation-righteousness was never conditioned upon birth or family privilege, neither upon personal merit or good works (the corporate election argument of the Jew, with his faith in the law). No, salvation has been always on the basis of divine individual election. It is God alone Who, on the ground of His sovereign grace and mercy, unconditionally chooses whom He will for salvation and blessing. Thus, He had opened the flood-gates of salvation now to Gentiles. Paul then gives sound scriptural examples that God had always acted in this way, even from within the privileged elect nation of Israel. He cites three incontrovertible examples of individual and unconditional election: Isaac and not Ishmael (Romans 9:6-9); Jacob and not Esau (Romans 9:10-13); and Moses, not Pharaoh (Romans 9:14-18). In Romans 9 we are on the ground of individual election to salvation.

      John Calvin

      For John Calvin (1509-1564), the doctrine of "eternal election" refers to both the predestination of the elect and the reprobate ^[4]^.

      By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death...

      The ultimate cause of both election and reprobation is the secret council of God, and not any cause in the individuals (whether good or bad).

      They [those who object to "eternal election"] add also, that it is not without cause the vessels of wrath are said to be fitted for destruction, and that God is said to have prepared the vessels of mercy, because in this way the praise of salvation is claimed for God, whereas the blame of perdition is thrown upon those who of their own accord bring it upon themselves. But were I to concede that by the different forms of expression Paul softens the harshness of the former clause, it by no means follows, that he transfers the preparation for destruction to any other cause than the secret counsel of God. This, indeed, is asserted in the preceding context, where God is said to have raised up Pharaoh, and to harden whom he will. Hence it follows, that the hidden counsel of God is the cause of hardening.

      The elect are saved based on God's free mercy, while the reprobate are excluded from it by God's righteous and "incomprehensible" judgement.

      ...We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment...

      All elect individuals, including those from the O.T. belong to One seed (Jesus Christ), and are ultimately connected to God the Father (not Abraham).

      These [elect individuals] are considered as belonging to that one seed of which Paul makes mention, (Rom 9: 8; Gal 3: 16, &c). For although adoption was deposited in the hand of Abraham, yet as many of his posterity were cut off as rotten members, in order that election may stand and be effectual, it is necessary to ascend to the head in whom the heavenly Father has connected his elect with each other, and bound them to himself by an indissoluble tie.

      The evidences of election (today) are calling and justification, while the marks of reprobation are either a lack of knowledge of Jesus Christ or a lack of sanctification.

      In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.

      Westminster Confession of Faith

      I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[Eph 1:11, Rom 9:15, 18; 11:33; Heb 6:17] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[Jas 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. [Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; Matt 17:12; John 19:11, Prov 16:33] V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory,[Eph 1:4,9,11; Rom 8:30; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Thess 5:9] out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto;[Rom 9:11, 13, 16; Eph 1:4, 9] and all to the praise of His glorious grace. [Eph 1:6, 12] (italics added) VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto.[1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:4, 5; 2:10; 2 Thess 2:13] Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ,[1 Thess 5:9, Tit 2:14] are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified,[Rom 8:30; Eph 1:5; 2 Thess 2:13] and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation.[1 Pet 1:5] Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.[John 6:64-65; 8:47; 10:26; 17:9; Rom 8:28; 1 John 2:19] Thus, God's election is unchangable, it permanently ordains what will happen, but at the same time in a way that does not hinder the individuals' free will or choice, rather it establishes it (election ensures that the choice/possibility is real). It is not based on anything in the individual; neither good motives or good actions, since both are evil continually (in this way it is unconditional). And that there are means God has ordained, by which the elect must be saved. They must be called, justified, sanctified, persevere in faith, etc. to be saved, and they all will be saved and no one else.

      See Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter III "Of God's Eternal Decree".


      ↑ Arminians are not so much insistent on conditional election as much as they are opposed to unconditional election.
      ↑ Taken from "God has chosen us in Him before the Foundation of the Earth", sermon by Piper
      ↑ The Biblical Doctrine of Substitution: And a Defence of Divine Sovereignty: including an excursus on Election; Corporate or Individual? ISBN 1-901193-70-5, Moray Books (1997).
      ↑ Book 3, Chapter 23 of the Institutes, titled "Refutation of the calumnies by which this doctrine [eternal election] is always unjustly assailed" (brackets inserted)- which he defends both election and reprobation. For Calvin, there is no separate doctrine of reprobation, as it falls under the doctrine of "eternal election."


        Definite atonement

        The doctrine of definite atonement (or more commonly, limited atonement) addresses the purpose of the atoning death of Christ. It maintains that God's design and intent in sending Christ to die on the cross was to pay for the sins and secure the redemption of those whom God has predetermined to save, namely the elect. Therefore, the primary benefits of his death (especially as an atonement) were designed for and accrue only to believers.

        As R. L. Dabney has said, "Christ's sacrifice has purchased and provided for the effectual calling of the elect, with all the graces which insure their faith, repentance, justification, perseverance, and glorification."^ [1]^

        Limited atonement is also one of the "five points of Calvinism" denoted by the "L" in the acrostic TULIP. This doctrine stands in contradistinction to the theory of universal atonement which maintains that whatever Christ accomplished on the cross, he accomplished for all alike—both those who are finally saved and those who are eternally condemned. Limited atonement is a characteristic of Calvinism, just as universal atonement is a characteristic of Arminianism.

        Terms used

        The most common term for this doctrine is "Limited atonement." Most Calvinists actually prefer the term "definite atonement." Other terms found in the literature virtually synonymous with the concept are: "particular atonement", "particular redemption", and in a strict sense, "penal substitutionary atonement."

        John Owen's triple choice

        The Puritan theologian, John Owen, considering the design of the atonement, suggested the following:God imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent the pains of hell for, either: All the sins of all men. All the sins of some men, or Some sins of all men. In which case it may be said: If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. But if the first be true, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, "Because of their unbelief." I ask, "Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it is, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!" – John Owen

        Common misunderstandings

        This doctrine often finds many objections, mostly from those who think that Limited Atonement does damage to evangelism. We have already seen that Christ will not lose any that the father has given to him (John 6:37). Citing a common argument by Puritan John Owen, some Calvinists insist that Christ's death was not a death of potential atonement for all people. They argue that Limited Atonement requires this. According to this argument, believing that Jesus' death was a potential, symbolic atonement for anyone who might possibly, in the future, accept him trivializes Christ's act of atonement. Christ died to atone for specific sins of specific sinners. If Christ's death is merely potential, then it did not accomplish salvation.

        On the other hand, many Calvinists take 1 Timothy 2:5-6 at face value when it says Christ died for all, not just all the elect. Examples of Calvinists who say this include D. A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and J. I. Packer. How can these two claims be reconciled? First, they say that Christ's death is not merely potential. Instead, it is actual for those who are elect because the elect are the only people whose sins are actually atoned for. On the other hand, it could have covered the sins of those who are not elect, had they been elect. In that sense, it potentially covers all. Furthermore, we do not know who is elect, and therefore when the gospel is preached to all, as it is commanded, anyone who does in fact repent and believe will be saved. In that sense, the gospel can be shared with all, telling people that if they respond in faith they will indeed be saved. This statement is true of everyone, whether elect or reprobate (those who are not the elect). So in this sense Christ died potentially for all, because anyone who does respond will be saved. Since the Bible speaks this way, with such hypothetical language, Calvinists who hold to a doctrine of Limited Atonement while also considering there to be a potential reality for all consider themselves to be more faithful to the Bible's own ways of speaking.

        Either way, Christ died to make the church holy. This is his death's actual effect, whether there is a potential effect or not. He did not actually atone for all, whether he potentially did or not, because not all are saved. Only universalists truly deny Limited Atonement, so those who use potentiality language still believe Limited Atonement. It's just that some do not realize it. That is the reason some Calvinists believe the potential atonement view is consistent with Limited Atonement, though this is not by any means agreed upon by all Calvinists. On either view, the objection that it undermines evangelism does not stand up, because this doctrine elevates evangelism. Christ died for sinners, and he will not lose any of those for whom his death actually atones! So the evangelist can take comfort in the fact that Christ will save those elected to salvation.

        "Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect"

        Among those who generally accept the doctrine of a definite or limited atonement, it is often heard by way of explanation that "the atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect." In fact this terminology may be found in some of the most respected Reformed theologians such John Calvin, John Owen, Charles Hodge, and others. While no Calvinist would deny the intrinsic sufficiency of Christ's death for the redemption of all men had God so designed and intended it, the casual use of such phraseology can be misleading.

        William Cunningham (1805-1861) gives insight into potential misunderstanding of the Reformed position, which serves as a call for care in using the "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" terminology.A distinction was generally employed by the schoolmen, which has often been adverted to in this discussion, and which it may be proper to explain. They were accustomed to say, that Christ died sufficiently for all men, and efficaciously for the elect—sufficientur pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis. Some orthodox divines, who wrote before the extent of the atonement had been made the subject of full, formal, and elaborate discussion, and Calvin himself among the rest, admitted the truth of this scholastic position. But after controversy had thrown its full light upon the subject, orthodox divines generally refused to adopt this mode of stating the point, because it seemed to ascribe to Christ a purpose or intention of dying in the room of all, and of benefiting all by the proper effects of His death, as an atonement or propitiation; not that they doubted or denied the intrinsic sufficiency of His death for the redemption of all, but because the statement—whether originally so intended or not—was so expressed as to suggest the idea that Christ, in dying, desired and intended that all should partake in the proper and peculiar effects of the shedding of His blood. Calvinists do not object to say that the death of Christ—viewed objectively, apart from His purpose or design—was sufficient for all, and efficacious for the elect, because this statement in the first clause merely asserts its infinite intrinsic sufficiency, which they admit; whereas the original scholastic form of the statement, namely, that He died sufficiently for all, seems to indicate that when He died, He intended that all should derive some saving and permanent benefit from His death.


          Irresistible grace

          Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism which teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect), whereby in God's timing, he overcomes their resistance to the call of the gospel and irresistibly brings them to a saving faith in Christ.

          The doctrine

          Those who obtain the new birth do so, not because they wanted to obtain it, but because of the sovereign discriminating grace of God. That is, men are overcome by grace, not finally because their consciences were more tender or their faith more tenacious than that of other men. Rather, the willingness and ability to do God's will are evidence of God's own faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin, and since man is so corrupt that he will not decide and cannot be wooed to follow after God, sovereign efficacious grace is required to convert him. This is done by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit whereby a fallen man who has heard the gospel is made willing and necessarily turns to Christ in God-given faith.

          Biblical evidence for the doctrine

          The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John contains three quotations from Jesus that summarize the view that no one can obey God unless God first regenerates the heart (all quotes from the ESV):
          • John 6:37, 39: "All that the Father gives me will come to me.... And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day."
          • John 6:44-45: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.... Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me."
          • John 6:65: "[N]o one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

          And the statement of Paul is said to confirm that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation: "Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:28, 30).

          The doctrine is inexorably bound up with the biblical view of man's inability to respond to God and the extent of God's common grace. As Charles Hodge says, "The Arminian and Roman Catholic doctrine is true, if the other parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that system be erroneous. If the doctrine concerning the natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of God in election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will" (3.14.4). Thus the passages discussing those doctrines are also relevant here.

          History of the doctrine

          The doctrine is one of the so-called " five points of Calvinism" that were defined at the Synod of Dort (1618) during the controversy with the Arminian party, which objected to the general predestinarian scheme of the Belgic Confession of Faith. The doctrine is most often discussed in comparisons with other salvific schemes and their respective doctrines about the grace of God and the state of mankind after the Fall.

          Objections to the doctrine

          Arminians, notably Wesleyans, reject the doctrine of irresistible grace just as they reject the doctrine of unconditional election. Instead, they believe that God gives Resistible prevenient grace overcoming the effects of the fall, thus leaving each individual at liberty to choose to follow God's call or not. In this view, (1) after God's prevenient grace is given, the will of man, which was formerly adverse to God and unable to obey, can now choose to obey; and (2) although God's grace is a powerful initial move in salvation, ultimately it can be resisted and rejected.


            Perseverance of the saints

            Perseverance of the saints is the Calvinist doctrine that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. It doesn't mean that a person who is truly saved will never lose faith or backslide at any time. But that they will ultimately persevere in faith (inspite of failures) such as not to lose their salvation.

            The doctrine of perseverance is rooted in God's unconditional election and predestination. That is, since God is the One who chose and predestined the elect to salvation, therefore the elect will be saved. They might turn away from faith and give appearance of losing their salvation, but if they really are elect they will repent and ultimately return to faith, because God is the One ensuring their salvation.

            This doctrine is also closely related to the doctrine of justification and adoption. Because God is the One who justifies the elect, no one can bring any condemnation on them. In the same way because those who truly believe in Christ are adopted as God's sons, they cannot be condemned to eternal punishment (although subject to God's loving discipline as a Father).

            See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17.



              Understood, but of course we all realize what you are defining as Reformed excludes the great majority of those generally regarded as Protestants, and while your opening point seems to embrace Luther and others, everything that follows excludes all but Calvin - you even seem to revert to the term "Calvinism."

              Lutherans would regard themselves as embracing Sola Gratia - Solus Christus - Sola Fide in justification (and the overarching Soli Deo Gloria), and certainly Sola Scriptura in epistemological norming - what you first indicate as hallmarks of Protestantism - and of course date to the 16th Century. But Lutherans are not Calvinists and do not accept TULIP.

              It does raise a number of questions for me.... for example, the forum for Reformed Theology, is Lutheran theology excluded there? Might there be a separate forum for the discussion of Lutheranism? And perhaps the non-TULIP forms of Anglicanism?

              I sense that no offense is implied and certainly none is taken, but Lutherans (you twice mentioned Luther in passing) are not Reformed in the sense you define and would not label or regard themselves as such: Protestant and Reformational of course, certainly monergists and proponents of the Five Solas - but certainly not Reformed, not Calvinists, not "TULIP." I've found that Lutherans and Calvinists tend to get alone well in the messy, synergistic milieu in which we find ourselves - but Lutherans are not Reformed and Reformed are not Lutherans - they simply are both Protestant, both Reformational, both monergists, both passionate proponents of the 5 Solas.

              My half cent.

              - Josiah


                Originally posted by Josiah View Post
                It does raise a number of questions for me.... for example, the forum for Reformed Theology, is Lutheran theology excluded there? Might there be a separate forum for the discussion of Lutheranism? And perhaps the non-TULIP forms of Anglicanism?
                Hello Josiah,

                The Reformed Theology section includes Lutheran theology. There is a separate sub-forum for only Lutherans in the General Faith category though. The general faith sub-forums are a way for people to talk within their own communities.

                And you have definitely presented something new to me, as I have never known any Lutheran to actually reject the Five Points of Calvinism. By all means feel free to share any content etc with only Lutherans or the general forum membership. Just remember, Protestant is a term used pretty broadly today.

                God bless,


                  Hey guys, if I'm not mistaken, Lutheranism teaches depravity but not total depravity, therefore not subscribing to the claims of Calvinism right?


                    Originally posted by wfredeemed009 View Post
                    Hey guys, if I'm not mistaken, Lutheranism teaches depravity but not total depravity, therefore not subscribing to the claims of Calvinism right?
                    Curious and looking forward to the answer.

                    God bless,


                      In terms of justification (narrow), Total Depravity (the T of tulip) is the only point in TULIP that Lutherans fully agree with. This is simply a fruit of Lutherans being monergists and holding to Sola Gratia - Solus Christus - Sola Fide.

                      But my point is that Lutherans are not Reformed/Calvinists. Thus, my questions.


                        Originally posted by William View Post

                        Just remember, Protestant is a term used pretty broadly today.
                        I agree. It does not equal Reformed. Or Lutheran.

                        The Reformed Theology section includes Lutheran theology.
                        Fine, I understand you permit Lutheran theology to be discussed in the Reformed/Calvinist forum. But as you noted, Reformed Theology does not equal Lutheran theology - they are distinctive and different, as your extensive post made very clear.

                        I have never known any Lutheran to actually reject the Five Points of Calvinism.

                        Lutherans wouldn't be Lutherans if they accepted the distinctive, unique Five Points of CALVINISM (tulip) - they'd be Reformed/Calvinists, lol. Lutherans agree with one point of Tulip (Total Depravity), and part of a second (Predestination) - they disagree with all the rest (as well as a goodly number of other things - most you did not mention in your Reformed/Calvinist thread). We could dwell on that.... and I'd be more than glad to discuss all that in a friendly, respectful, .brotherly way (perhaps advancing mutual understanding) or we could focus that both groups are Reformational, monergistic, and lift high the five solas.

                        A blessed Epiphany....

                        - Josiah


                          The reason I said "depravity" instead of total depravity In my previous post is because if someone believes in total depravity (as defined in Calvinism), then they wouldn't be able to come to God on their own. Not being able to seek God in a deprived sinful state one would need to be elected suggesting "U" for unconditional election.


                            Originally posted by wfredeemed009 View Post
                            The reason I said "depravity" instead of total depravity In my previous post is because if someone believes in total depravity (as defined in Calvinism), then they wouldn't be able to come to God on their own. Not being able to seek God in a deprived sinful state one would need to be elected suggesting "U" for unconditional election.
                            Lutherans accept 1.5 points of the defining 5 "TULIP" points. The one that is fully agreed with is Total Depravity. The one that is half agreed with is the Unconditional Election - accepting that God elects those who are saved but rejecting that God desires to damn most people and proactively does that. The other 3 points are not accepted at all.

                            Yes, Lutherans are monergists (accepting that Jesus is the Savior and does all the Saving.... we can contribute nothing, nor need we) and of course powerfully proclaim Sola Gratia - Solus Christus - Sola Fide (and over all that, Soli Deo Gloria - the monergism emphasis).

                            Thus, Calvinists and Lutherans share MUCH (much of this with Catholics, too).... and yes, both are Reformational, both are solidly monergists, both are passionate proponents of the "Five Solas." But they do not share the 5 Defining Points of Calvinism (Lutherans would be Calvinists and not Lutherans if they did, lol). There are other differences, too (of course) - a different understanding of the communication of attributes in the Two Natures (and thus a disagreement on the Holy Eucharist), a bit of difference on Baptism, the supposed difference between normative and regulative rubrics in praxis to name a few.

                            BOTH are Reformational, monergistic, embracing the Five Solas.... BOTH share very much. BOTH are Protestant. I regard them as brothers - perhaps very close brothers - but not identical twins. Calvinists themselves stress this (as did the opening post here) especially when they define themselves not with the 5 Solas or monergism but with TULIP as the Opening Post chose to do.

                            I hope that contributes something...

                            Thank you!

                            Pax Christi

                            - Josiah


                              Thanks, good to learn from ya Josiah


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