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Wednesday
Sep042013

Theological Term of the Week 

five points of Calvinism
Five points summarizing the major doctrines affirmed in the Canons of Dordt (1618) to counter the errors of Arminianism; also called the doctrines of grace, or TULIP (an acronym formed from common names for the five points—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints).

  • From Reformed Confessions Harmonized edited by Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson:
  • The Synod of Dordt was held to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a theological professor at Leiden University, differed from the Reformed faith on a number of important points. After Arminius’s death, forty-three of his ministerial followers presented their heretical views to the States General of the Netherlands on five of these points in the Remonstrance of 1610. In this document and even more explicitly in later writings, the Arminians, who came to be called “Remonstrants,” taught (1) election based on foreseen faith; (2) the universality of Christ’s atonement; (3) the free will and partial depravity of man; (4) the resistibility of grace; and (5) the possibility of a lapse from grace. They asked for the revision of the Reformed church’s doctrinal standards and for government protection of Arminian views. The Arminian-Calvinism conflict became so severe that it led the Netherlands to the brink of civil war. Finally in 1617 the States General voted four to three to call a national Synod to address the problem of Arminianism.

    The synod held 154 formal sessions over a period of seven months (November 1618 to May 1619). Thirteen Arminian theologians, led by Simon Episcopius, tried to delay the work of the synod and divide the delegates. Their efforts proved unsuccessful. Under the leadership of Johannes Bogerman, the Arminians were dismissed. The synod then developed the Canons which thoroughly rejected the Remonstrance of 1610 and scripturally set forth the Reformed doctrine on these debated points. These points, known as the five points of Calvinism are: unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints. Though these points do not embrace the full scope of Calvinism and are better regarded as Calvinism’s five answers to the five errors of Arminianism, they certainly lie at the heart of the Reformed faith, particularly of Reformed soteriology, for they flow out of the principle of absolute divine sovereignty in saving sinners. They may be summarized as follows: (1) Unconditional election and faith are sovereign gifts of God. (2) While the death of Christ is abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world, its saving efficacy is limited to the elect. (3, 4) All people are so totally depraved and corrupted by sin that they cannot exercise free will toward, nor effect any part of, their salvation. In sovereign grace God irresistibly calls and regenerates the elect to newness of life. (5) God graciously preserves the redeemed so that they persevere until the end, even though they may be troubled by many infirmities as they seek to make their calling and election sure. 

  • From The Five Points of Calvinism by W. J. Seaton
  • We must take our starting point in Holland in the year 1610. James Arminius, a Dutch professor) had just died and his teaching had been formulated into five main points of doctrine by his followers — known as Arminians. Up to this point, the churches of Holland, in common with the other major Protestant churches of Europe, had subscribed to the Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions of Faith, which were both set squarely on Reformation teachings. The Arminians wanted to change this position, however, and they presented their five points in the form of a Remonstrance — or protest — to the Dutch Parliament. The Five Points of Arminianism were, broadly speaking, as follows:

    1. Free will, or human ability. This taught that man, although affected by the Fall, was not totally incapable of choosing spiritual good, and was able to exercise faith in God in order to receive the gospel and thus bring himself into possession of salvation.

    2. Conditional election. This taught that God laid His hands upon those individuals who, He knew - or foresaw - would respond to the gospel. God elected those that He saw would want to be saved of their own free will and in their natural fallen state — which was, of course, according to the first point of Arminianism, not completely fallen anyway.

    3. Universal redemption, or general atonement. This taught that Christ died to save all men; but only in a potential fashion. Christ’s death enabled God to pardon sinners, but only on condition that they believed.

    4. The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration limited by the human will. This taught that the Holy Spirit, as He began to work to bring a person to Christ, could be effectually resisted and His purposes frustrated. He could not impart life unless the sinner was willing to have this life imparted.

    5. Falling from grace. This taught that a saved man could fall finally from salvation. It is, of course, the logical and natural outcome of the system. If man must take the initiative in his salvation, he must retain responsibility for the final outcome.

    The Five Points of Arminianism were presented to the State and a National Synod of the church was called to meet in Dort in 1618 to examine the teaching of Arminius in the light of the Scriptures. The Synod of Dort sat for 154 sessions over a period of seven months, but at the end could find no ground on which to reconcile the Arminian viewpoint with that expounded in the Word of God. Reaffirming the position so unmistakably put forth at the Reformation, and formulated by the French theologian John Calvin, the Synod of Dort formulated its Five Points of Calvinism to counter the Arminian system. These are sometimes set forth in the form of an acrostic on the word “TULIP”, as follows:

    T Total Depravity (i.e. Total Inability)
    U Unconditional Election
    L Limited Atonement (i.e. Particular Redemption)
    I Irresistible Calling
    P Perseverance of the Saints

    As can be readily seen, these set themselves in complete opposition to the Five Points of Arminianism. Man is totally unable to save himself on account of the Fall in the Garden of Eden being a total fall. If unable to save himself, then God must save. If God must save, then God must be free to save whom He will. if God has decreed to save whom He will, then it is for those that Christ made atonement on the Cross. If Christ died for them, then the Holy Spirit will effectually call them into that salvation. If salvation then from the beginning has been of God, the end will also be of God and the saints will persevere to eternal joy.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: TULIP
  2. GotQuestions.org: What are the doctrines of grace?
  3. R C. Sproul: TULIP and Reformed Theology: An Introduction
  4. David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas: A Brief Survey of the Origin and Contents of the”Five Point of Calvinism
  5. Monergism.com: Doctrines of Grace: Categorized Scripture List
  6. W. J. Seaton: The Five Points of Calvinism
  7. Tenth Presbyterian Church: The 5 Points of Calvinism and The 5 Points of Arminianism Contrasted

Related terms:

Filed under Reformed Theology

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