B. B. Warfield defines Calvinism as theism and evangelicalism come to their own. That is to say, quite simply, that God saves sinners. He does not merely provide the possibility or opportunity for them to be saved. He does not “do His part” and leave man to do his part to accomplish salvation. No, God actually saves sinners, and that salvation is all of Him.
Cornelius Van Til says that Calvinism’s only system is to be open to the Scriptures. He adds, “The doctrines of Calvinism are not deduced in a priori fashion from one major principle such as the sovereignty of God.” This has been one of the most frequent arguments against Calvinism. The charge is that it fastens on to one Scripture principle, God’s sovereignty, and proceeds to develop a logical system based on that principle, with little or no regard to Scripture. As Van Til indicates, such a charge is groundless.
By taking the exact opposite of the long list of doctrines taught by Arminianism,* we arrive at a fair statement of the Calvinistic position. We may here note the following in particular:
1. The Five Points. What has just been said will make it clear that Calvinism is more than “five points.” The five points were actually answers to five points made by Arminians. Five-point Calvinism is frequently referred to as TULIP theology, using the T-U-L-I-P as an acrostic: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement (though Calvinists believe that Arminians, not they, limit the atonement; they prefer such terms as particular redemption or definite atonement); Irresistible Grace; Perseverance of the saints.
2. Calvinists believe in “the unrestricted, universal offer of the gospel” (Van Til).
3. They believe in human responsibility, emphasizing that the true meaning of this term must be taken from Scripture and not from human philosophy.
4. They believe that man has a “free will,” which means Scripturally that man acts according to the determination of the inclination of his own will. Thus he is a free agent. But the inclination of the human will since the fall is inveterately opposed to God (Rom. 8:7). All man’s acts of will proceed freely from this self-determination to sin. Calvinists hold that fallen man cannot originate a new inclination of will. Only God can do that when He regenerates a sinner.
5. Thus, as the Word of God teaches, salvation must be all of grace, originating with God in His eternal purpose and executed by Him without the merits or efforts of our fallen nature.
6. Paul’s great statement in Rom. 11:36 sums up the entire outlook of the Calvinist: “of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
7. Needless to say, Calvinism did not originate with Calvin but has been given his name because of his magnificent work in restating the theology of Scripture.
Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 75). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
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