What is Calvinism?


“What is Calvinism?”



Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology or Doctrines of Grace, and sometimes incorrectly labeled as the doctrines propagated only by pastor and theologian John Calvin, is a type of theological system that emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man. I will try not to make a case of defending, proving, or promoting Calvinism but merely explaining what it is.


(Contrary to popular opinion, not satan)

Calvin was not the originator of calvinism, but the doctrine took on that label because Calvin was a profound theologian and his written works were read and cherished throughout all of the Christian world. The reformation era, which was ripe with new protestants rediscovering the bible and rewriting the theological textbooks, fostered many other reformers who formulated a theological system distinct from the Catholic church. Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Huldrych Zwingli and even Martin Luther (who is usually considered the father of the Lutherans ) led large movements within the reformation that shared very similar theological views to John Calvin. Calvinism also traces its roots back to some of the Church fathers like Augustine, and as do all Christians, directly to the teachings of Apostle Paul.

In essence any theological system will try to be a very good summary of what the Bible teaches on specific issues, categorized in a way that is easy to understand. Systems of understanding the Bible rely on Scripture as the main source of truth, their only difference ends up being how Scripture is interpreted.



Reformed Theology is in full agreement with all core biblical doctrines such as the Trinity or Deity of Christ, in fact many of the things that are considered fundamentals of the Christian faith were best articulated by proponents of Calvinism than by anyone in history. The main issue where Calvinism differs from others is regarding Soteriology (the study of how salvation works). Calvinists long ago created an easy way to memorize some of the distinct teachings of their system, in an effort to distinguish their particular teachings about Christianity, which they thought were under attack by a new teaching called Arminianism.  Reformed Theology can be remembered by the following mnemonic:  T.U.L.I.P.


Total Depravity

The doctrine of Total Depravity teaches that all men, by nature and choice, have fallen into sin, thereby dying a spiritual death, and are now unable to seek holiness or righteousness of their own volition. Because they are now spiritually dead, they don’t desire to seek out holiness or righteousness, to seek God and repentance, unless God first draws them to Himself. This doctrine emphasizes that before a man can truly seek, recognize, and live with God, he or she needs to be born again (John 3:5) by undergoing a process of transformation from spiritual death into spiritual life. This does not mean every man is as sinful as possible, for we know some people tend to display more outward sin (i.e. Hitler) than others, yet total depravity is the understanding that every part of man is polluted by sin. Often unbelievers do good works such as philanthropy and etc, yet this would not “disprove” depravity, as this doctrine doesn’t only deal with external works but internal motivation, and as such teaches that human motivation is always tainted by sin. For example, someone feeding starving children may do it partly for good, but also partly out of a prideful desire to prove himself more generous than others.

Some commonly used scriptures: Gen 6:5, Job 25:4-6, Psa 51:5, Eccl 7:20:, Jer 13:23, 17:9; Isa 64:7; John 6:44, John 8:33-34, Mat 13:15, Rom 3:10–11, Rom 8:7–9, Eph 2:3b, 1 Cor 2:14


Unconditional Election

The doctrine of Unconditional election states that every believer who endures and has true saving faith was chosen by God, for no reason other than to give God pleasure and accomplish his plan. Anyone who is Biblically literate does indeed believe in predestination, as the Bible does indeed teach such a concept (Romans 8:29,) and most people often interpret that to be God looking down the corridors of time to see who would choose him and saying “I pick you” in response.  Calvinists specifically argue that it was God first who chose to elect Himself a Bride, and the reason for this has nothing to do with the merit (or goodness) of the people chosen. (Ephesians 1:4-5; 2:9-10). The idea of election is also found in the Old Testament when God chose Israel as the only nation he would entreat and love, however, before the Holy Spirit came into believers, the election of the Hebrews was collective (only the kings/prophets received the Holy Spirit) and only a foreshadow of what was to come individually (every believer is “sealed” with the Spirit) with the New testament and after the death and resurrection of Christ (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The doctrine of election does not mean that someone who is not elect can never be saved, even if he/she tries; instead it teaches that anyone who had the desire to follow Jesus does so only because God already took the initiative in that person life and at the end of time everyone who received Jesus and is saved did only because he/she was elect.

Some commonly used scriptures: John 10:14-16, John 15:16, John 17:6,9, Acts 13:48, Rom. 9:11; Rom. 9:15, 21; Eph 1:4, 5; 2:10; Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 1:4-5; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:10; 1 Pet 1:2


Limited Atonement or Particular Atonement

The doctrine of limited/particular atonement is the most commonly mis-understood doctrine of Calvinism (even some Calvinists have bypassed it due to its possible misunderstanding). This deals with the effect and applicability of Christ’s death, specifically who did Jesus die for and how effective was his sacrifice for those he died for? The doctrine of LA, says that the death of Jesus was sufficient (strong enough to redeem) for all people, yet efficient (specifically applied to/paid) for the elect. This doctrine came about from the many passages that purposely say Jesus died for the “us” or the “church” (and thereby not for everyone who ultimately and finally dies rejecting Jesus). The doctrine does acknowledge there are few times where the Scriptures say Jesus came to save the world, and agrees that the sacrifice of Christ isn’t “too small or weak” to pay for everyone and had the potential of applying to anyone, but specifically and certainly was applied to his sheep (John 10:11;10:15). If every person had “all” their sins, including the sin of unbelief, paid for (atoned) at the cross, what makes one (who’s sins are atoned) go to hell and another (who’s sins are also atoned) go to heaven?  In essence, this doctrine says that thinking Jesus literally paid for the sins of everyone will lead us to value the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as not sufficient or powerful for anyone at all.  After all, if He died to specifically pay for every sin of every sinner (sheep, goat, and wolf) it is clearly ineffective, for a great many people will go to hell to pay for their sins.

Some commonly used scriptures: Isa 53:4–5, Mat 1:21; Mark 14:24, John 10:11, 27–29, John 15:13–14a, Acts 20:28, Rom 3:25, Eph 5:25


Irresistible Grace

The doctrine of irresistible grace confers that the Grace of God cannot be finally and ultimately resisted by the elect, and instead Gods loving mercy will always melt the stone hearts of His sheep, and they will willingly respond to God. Whereas the natural state of the spiritually uncircumcised man (one who isn’t born again) always resists the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51) those whom God has chosen to save will eventually stop resisting and be born again. This doctrine states that sinful man, without Gods grace, doesn’t want to and cannot cause himself to be born again, and in fact that it is God who causes us to be born again (John 1:12-13; 1Pet.1:3) and grants us a new heart with new desires to live for Him. Irresistible Grace says that without a doubt those that respond to Gods outward call to repent only do so because they were predestined by Gods Grace to respond in such a way (Acts 13:48). This teaching does not mean to say God forces someone to do something they do not want, instead that God opens their eyes to see His beauty and captures their imagination in such a way that they can do nothing but respond to him. The idea is that just like a young man can be infatuated by a beautiful girl, completely becoming devoted to her by simply gazing upon her, so sinners who are born again are thus infatuated with Christ, and cannot ultimately and finally resist him.

Some commonly used scriptures: John 1:12-13, John 3:3-8, John 6:37,39, John 6:44–45:John 6:65, Rom 8:28 – Rom 8:30, Rom 9:16, Phil 2:12-13.


Perseverance of the Saints

The doctrine of perseverance of the saints teaches that everyone who has real saving faith will endure or preserver in the faith and will be kept blameless until the day of the Lord. This is another vastly mis-understood belief that is often inappropriately called “once saved, always saved.” The teaching is unapologetic in claiming that all true believers will be kept faithful by the Holy Spirit, yet it denies the widespread idea that once someone says a prayer, he or she can sin to their hearts content and be saved in spite of that sin. Instead the doctrine of perseverance mandates we are saved from our sins/from sinning, not regardless of how much we continue to sin. In scripture there is a vast amount of warnings telling believers to remain steadfast and not fall away, yet there is an equal amount of promises telling believers they will surely remain saved. The reconciliation lies in a proper understanding of perseverance, which is that God has decreed an end (the final goal in the promises) and he uses the Scriptural warnings, among other things, as the means (or method) to lead people to that goal. Both the promises and the warning are true; the promises ensure the warnings will not come to pass, the warning ensure the promises come to pass. It’s as if a father tells His children “if you run in the street you will die” and “I will save you regardless what happens.” Both statements are true, and in the event that the warning does not serve to dissuade the child from walking towards the street, the father will pluck the child away from danger. This doctrine isn’t taught with the intent to allow people to live sinfully (for such a desire would only expose the wickedness of one’s heart) but its taught with the aim of allowing Christians to trust God more effectively (besides the fact that Scripture do teach this ).

Some commonly used scriptures: Jer 32:40, John 10:27-28, Rom 8:1, Rom 11:29, Rom 14:4, 1 Cor 10:13, 1 Cor 15:10, Eph 1:13-14, , Phil. 1:6, 1 Thes 5:23-24, 2 Tim 1:12, Jude 1:24, 1 Peter 1:3–5, 1 John 2:19, 1 John 5:4-5, Heb 9:12


More Reading

If you want to research a bit more on your own here are some more references:


Ligonier Ministries (click here for video series)

Desiring God on calvinism



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2 responses

  1. I can tell you spent a lot of time putting this together, this post will be very helpful in making it clear as to what exactly Calvinists believe. Thanks for your hard work!

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