What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the popular term for a particular body of teaching about salvation. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. The five major points of Calvinism flow out of this emphasis on God’s absolute rule over all things. Calvinism is often taught using the acronym TULIP:
Total depravity of man
Unconditional election to salvation
Limited atonement by Jesus
Irresistible grace of God
Perseverance of the saints

Total depravity is the doctrine that all have been entirely corrupted by sin. Though none are as bad as they could be, none are good in the eyes of God. None are all able to bring about their own salvation. This finds support in verses like Romans 3:10, “There is none good, no, not one” and Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Unconditional election teaches that God predetermined who would be saved. Because God is sovereign over salvation He chose, based upon His grace alone, to save certain individuals. His election is of the specific individuals He would bring to salvation. This finds support in verses like Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

The phrase limited atonement is not liked by many Calvinists. Some prefer to idenitfy this doctrine as particular redemption, or definite atonement. Limited atonement teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross, while sufficient to purchase salvation for all humanity, was designed and intended to purchase the salvation of the election. Jesus’ death on the cross secured the salvation of those God graciously elected to save. That is why one Calvinist author calls this doctrine, “Mission accomplished.” This finds support in verses like John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Irresistible grace teaches that those God elected to save will inevitably be saved. This does not mean God will save people whether or not they want to be saved or that He will save apart from the preaching of the gospel. Those God chose to save and Jesus died to save will be inexorably drawn to God. They will not, in the end, refuse His call to salvation. They cannot refuse to believe because God works in their hearts in such a way that they will desire salvation. This finds support in verses like John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

Perseverance of the saints teaches that those whom God has elected, atoned and saved will persevere in faith until the end. Salvation, once received, can never be lost because God will continue the work of their salvation. Just as the elect could not resist the grace of God that brings to salvation, they cannot turn away from the salvation that God has given them. This finds support in verses like Philippians 1:6, ” Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”