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Calvinism is the belief that God chooses which people to save, rather than offering everyone the free will to decide whether or not to accept him. It is best known by the acronym TULIP:

  1. Total Depravity (a.k.a. Original Sin)
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

The U, L, and I depend upon T being true. Since people are born depraved, then God must choose or elect certain ones for salvation without regard for any merit in them. Jesus only died for those elect, and they cannot resist the will of God to choose them. We can know who was chosen only when they persevere in faith to the end of their lives. This belief system originated with the Roman Catholic Bishop Augustine. Here is a summary from one source:

Calvin is continually praising Augustine’s work with numerous references and quotations. Augustine was greatly influenced by the Gnostics, an early Christian sect, whose doctrine was heretical. Gnostics believed that mankind was wholly evil and some sects even renounced marriage and procreation. They also believed in two gods, one evil and one good. Their teachings are believed to have influenced Saint Augustine in the development of his theology of the total depravity of mankind and his concept of God. For nine years Saint Augustine adhered to Manichaeism, a Persian dualistic philosophy proclaimed by Mani (216-276? AD) in southern Babylonia (Iraq) that taught a doctrine of total depravity and the claim that they were the elect. Augustine then turned to skepticism and was attracted to the philosophy of Neoplatonism. He blended these beliefs with his later Gnostic and Christian teachings. Augustine’s prolific writings were more strongly biased by his previously obtained theology than on his detailed study of the Christian Scriptures. He used Christian Scripture out of context when words or phrases could be adapted to match his theology. Augustine’s teachings were in turn passed on to John Calvin through his extensive study of Augustine’s writings. It is very easy to follow the trail of John Calvin’s theology from the pagan religion of Mani in Babylonia to Saint Augustine and into his own writings in France and Geneva that distort the Word of God. Calvin’s false doctrine came directly from Augustine.

Since the whole system depends upon Total Depravity (Original Sin), it is covered separately under that title. We will examine the other points here.

Unconditional Election

Various prooftexts are offered to support the claim that God must select people for salvation. The more common ones are listed below with rebuttals:

Limited Atonement

According to Calvinism, Jesus only died for the elect, not the whole world; John 3:16 means all people without distinction, not all people without exception. But 1 John 2:2 states that Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Likewise, there is nothing in John 3:16 to put restrictions or qualifications on whoever. In fact, 1 Tim. 2:4 states that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. How many times must whoever, any, and all be redefined in order to argue that it doesn’t mean what it says in those passages? Look also at Rom. 5:12-15, and try to define all and many consistently. If righteousness only came to certain people, then sin and death only came to certain people; Calvinism cannot have it both ways.

Consider also the implication of saying that Jesus did not die for the whole world; it cheapens his blood and sacrifice because the quantity was irrelevant. One drop of blood, one minute of suffering, would have sufficed, because the Sacrifice was perfect and sinless. It’s impossible that any of this could be wasted, as Calvinism alleges would be true if Jesus died for the whole world but the whole world did not get saved.

Speaking of limitations, Calvinism argues that if God wants everyone to be saved, but everyone is not saved, then his sovereignty is violated and his will defied. This is a gross distortion of sovereignty; God does not have a delicate or fragile ego that cannot stand the slightest disagreement. Rather, God has the sovereignty to allow us free will. What God wants is for us to return his love, and love isn’t genuine if it isn’t free. The love of a will only changed by force would be a sham.

Irresistible Grace

This claim means that if God wants to save you, you have nothing to say about it; his saving grace is an irresistable force. There isn’t much to add here except that it’s completely inferred from the T, U, and L, not from scripture. Grace is favor from the greater to the lesser, and like any gift it cannot be forced upon the recipient. Calvinism sees the act of faith to accept it as a work, but Rom. 4:4-5 states that Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. A person stuck in a well does not save themselves if they take hold of a rope lowered to them by someone above. It’s their choice whether to accept the offer, but no one credits them with saving themselves. Instead, the rescued person is grateful.

Perseverance of the Saints

While this point doesn’t necessarily depend on the others and isn’t unique to Calvinism, it still isn’t a scriptural teaching. Assurance of salvation is clearly taught in passages such as 2 Cor. 5:5, Eph. 1:13-15, and 1 John 5:13. The objection then is that this leads to a license to sin, but Rom. 6:1-4 explains that we have died to sin and cannot live in it any longer. How can we accept salvation by grace without humility and gratitude? How can we then live in defiance of what God has told us pleases him? How can we not understand that we’ve been adopted by God and are no longer our own (1 Cor. 7:23), meaning we cannot choose to take ourselves away from God? And lest the Calvinist claim that we have abandoned free will here, let them remember that our freedom is to make this choice of adoption. Just as toothpaste squeezed out of the tube can’t be put back inside it, our acceptance of the gift of eternal life cannot be undone. At the end of this study is a long list of all the changes that happen to us the moment we’re saved, and all of those things would have to be undone in order for salvation to be lost.


Everything Calvinism believes hinges upon us all being born spiritually dead, and upon a distorted definition of the sovereignty of God. Because of that foundation, a very complex theological system is required in order to explain away clear passages about the love of God, the free will of people, and the fact that salvation is a gift received by the free exercise of faith. Most of its proof-texts depend upon extensive and inconsistent definitions and reading into the text whatever its theology requires; that is, it is circular and fallacious. Taken to its logical conclusion, Calvinism maligns the character of God to the point where he more resembles the raw sovereignty of Satan— a fact which is not lost on critics of the faith.

But what’s the point of arguing about the lack of free will? Isn’t that self-defeating for Calvinism, since the will of God cannot be resisted or changed? What difference does it make whether anyone believes in Calvinism, if God will do as he has predetermined regardless? The fact that Calvinists argue, and with such ferocity, is proof that they really do believe in free will. Otherwise they would have to admit that God is forcing them— and their opponents— to act out what is essentially a puppet show. Calvinism obfuscates the simple gospel of salvation by faith and needlessly divides believers.

Responsibility and free will cannot be separated. If one is held responsible for sin, one must have had the capacity not to sin. And since Calvinism holds people responsible for sin, then it must also grant them the ability not to sin. It is fallacious to argue that God gave us a sin nature yet isn’t responsible for what we do with it, which we cannot help but do. If we had no free will, then God could not hold us responsible for what we do or shift the blame for what he himself created us to do. So to say we have no free will is to blame God for sin and evil. Only if we’re free to choose between good and evil can we be capable of loving God or responsible for sinning against him.

Finally, consider Luke 5:32 which says, I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Why would Jesus refer to the elect as sinners, but the non-elect as righteous? Or is Jesus mocking the reprobate (the unchosen) by calling them to do that which God made impossible? See also 11 Questions on Calvinism, and this debate.

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