Sunday, May 29, 2011

An evaluation of Rob Bell, “Love Wins” and Universalism

Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” has hit bookstores amidst great hysteria and ample antagonistic commotion; in the past Rob Bell has been labelled a heretic  by respectable theologians including Albert Mohler, Michael Horton and Mark Driscoll[i], but embracing universalism – the doctrine that all people without exception will be saved - seems the final straw. Chapter four of “Love Wins” is where his universalism is most prominent.

A quick history lesson:

Rob Bell is the pastor at Mars Hill church (unaffiliated with that of Driscoll) and part of the emergent church movement. Some of Rob Bell’s previous ‘teachings’ include: (bracketed content my own)

-          That Genesis is Poetic (the Hebrew & the testimony of the rest of Scripture treat Genesis as literal and historical - Ex. 20:8-11, Jn. 1:1-3, Rom. 5:12-21, Col. 1:16-17)
-          That God the Father is partially female (Every OT and NT name for God is masculine – Elohim, Elyon, Adonai, El-Shaddai, Jehovah, Theos, Kurios, Pater etc.)
-          Denying the neccessity of the Virgin birth "the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus" (Is. 7:14, Mt. 1:23-25, Lk. 1:27-34)
-          Denying the complete sinfulness of mankind "I can't find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners." (Try Gen. 6:5, Jer. 17:9, Mk. 7:21-23, Jn. 8:34, Rom. 3:10-18, 7:18, Eph. 2:1-3).
-          His Church website states "You won’t find isolated text references or a list of specific propositions in it, because ultimately neither of those things best reflects what we believe about God." (Scripture is the means to know God: Dt. 29:29, Acts 17:11, 1 Cor. 4:6). That quote does actually summarise his beliefs though.
-          Denying the inspiration of Scripture “the Bible is a product of human work, not divine fiat” (2 Sam. 23:2, Jn. 17:17, Acts 1:16, Rom. 3:2, 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pt. 1:20-21)
-          Denying the sufficiency of Scripture "When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true” (Dt. 29:29, Ps. 19:7-9, Mt. 4:4, 1 Cor. 4:6, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pt. 1:3, Rev. 22:18-19)
Even before the universalism fiasco, Rob Bell was undoubtedly a heretic who honestly should have been exposed long ago to prevent him propelling such heresies worldwide.

On the Attributes of God

So where does universalism originate? Rob Bell and other liberal theologians take 1 John 4:8 “God is love” and use it as a filter for all the other attributes of God, making his wrath, forbearance, holiness etc. all subservient to His attribute of love. Rob Bell is absolutely correct that God is love, but God is not only love; for example Hebrews 12:29 says that “God is a consuming fire” (God is wrath) and Deuteronomy 2:4 says of God “just and upright is He”. The attribute of love is not to filter the other attributes, but each attribute of God is a perfection that constitutes the whole character of God; no attribute is subservient to any other.

When Rob Bell practically argues “God is love, therefore he wouldn’t send anyone to hell”, I could just as easily argue “God is wrath, therefore He won’t send anyone to heaven”. His presupposition about God doesn’t hold. Being the holy and just creator, God is the absolute standard of right and wrong. In other words, sin may be defined as that which lacks conformity to the character of God. Therefore if God is holy, His acts of love must also be holy acts; likewise God’s wrath is a holy wrath against all that lacks conformity to His character.

All men are sinners (Rom. 3:9-11, 23) while Gods nature is one without any darkness (1 Jn. 1:5); and because God is a just God, He cannot let sin go unpunished (Ex. 23:7, Numb. 14:18). Therefore God’s disposition to sinful mankind who lack conformity to His prefect character cannot be love - but must instead be wrath (Eph. 2:3). Because God is holy His wrath rather than His love must abide on the sinner (Jn. 3:36). You cannot separate the sinner from the sin; it is from a sinful nature that man sins – both the sins and the sinner are under the wrath of God (Ezek. 25:14, Nah. 1:2, Ps. 5:5, 11:5, Jn. 3:36, Eph. 2::1-5, 5:6, Col. 3:6). This includes the elect prior to conversion.

In discarding wrath as an attribute of God, Rob Bell believes in a god who is indifferent to sin as this god does not require justice. Protestants believe propitiation that Christ satisfies the righteous wrath of God who positively hates sin (Rom. 5:9-10, 2 Cor. 5:19, Heb.2:17, 1 Jn. 4:10), whereas if God is not a God of wrath, the atonement actually achieved nothing – the situation would be the same if Christ died as if He didn’t. Michael Horton affirms likewise “if there is no wrath or judgment, then whatever Christ achieved for us on the cross cannot be understood in terms of a vicarious substitute. There is no objective propitiation and, since everyone is already God’s friend (regardless of whether God is theirs), no objective reconciliation”[ii].

Furthermore, with God not being wrathful, therefore indifferent to sin, Bell has also dispensed of God’s attributes of patience, mercy, grace and forbearance. The question Rob Bell asked is “Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?” Instead, the question he should ask is "how can a holy God manifest his attribute of love to save anyone?"

God is not a filter where everything is subject to His love, or a pie chart where love is a greater attribute, rather He is a God of equally infinite perfections – self-sufficient, immutable, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, wise, good, loving, wrathful, merciful, longsuffering, graceful, holy, righteous, just and faithful. Rob Bell’s ‘loving’ presupposition is absurd.

The Doctrine of Hell

The WCF (Presbyterian) states “The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”

The Belgic Confession (Dutch Reformed) states “this judgement is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly… the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked…who shall be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences, and shall become immortal, but only to be tormented in the eternal fire”. The 39 Articles (Anglican) states “for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ…the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation”. Against Bell’s assertion that “heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other”, the reformation confessions, like Scripture, affirm hell will be a literal, eternal and populated place.

Hell manifests God’s attribute of justice; God demands absolute perfection, and when His perfect laws are transgressed He requires justice – eternity in hell is the appropriate punishment for sin against an eternal God. (Mt. 7:23, 25:41, Lk. 12:5, Is. 66:23-24). Hell is a place of continual suffering as eternal punishment under the justice and wrath of God against sinners for their unbelief and sins (Mt. 25:41-46, Rev. 14:10-11). Jesus described hell as a physical and literal place with weeping and gnashing of teeth where the fire will never be quenched (Mt. 13:42, 49-50), with everlasting pain and torment in outer darkness forever (Mt. 8:12, Jude 1:13). Sinners will continue in conscious existence and torment despite desiring annihilation from their misery. (Ps. 50:22, Is. 33:14, Rev. 9:6, 20:10).

It is necessary for hell to be eternal because their sins were against an eternal God by sinners eternally unable to pay their ransom; regardless, those in hell will continue hating and despising God for eternity anyway (Rev. 16:9-11). Hell will be ruled by the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) – not Satan (Rev. 14:10-11). All in hell will be tormented in the presence of the Lamb and His holy angels (Mt. 25:41), under the wrath of the living God – an all-consuming fire. (Rev. 14:10-11, 20:10; Heb. 10:26-31, 12:29). Upon final judgement the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire as punishment for their sins and unbelief as eternal condemnation (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29, 2 Th. 1:9) in a sentence that is irreversible for rejecting Jesus Christ: there is no second chance (Pr. 1:24-31, Heb. 10:26-27, Jn. 14:6). The majority of people will go to hell for despising God, as no one comes to the Father but through Jesus Christ. (Rom. 3:23, Ps. 10:4, Mt. 7:21-23, Lk. 13:23-24, Jn. 14:6).

Rob Bell two other arguments:

Firstly, Bell asks how God could punish men eternally for sins committed during their short and finite time on earth. The answer is that sinners will not cease sinning upon entering hell, but will continue to sin for eternity (Pr. 1:24-31, Rev. 16:9-11). They are also condemned on account of the sin of unbelief (Jn. 3:18, 36, Jude 4), and a sinner in hell could not atone for even one sin anyway, as people are not without blemish or Divine (Heb. 2:17, 4:15)!

Secondly, Rob Bell argues “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvellous God fail in the end?” This argument can be reconstructed as a syllogism.

Premise 1: God will accomplish all his purpose (Is. 46:9-11)
Premise 2: God by decree wants to save everyone (2 Peter 3:9)
Conclusion: Therefore, all men will be saved.

Here Rob Bell is absolutely correct; if premises one and two were both true then all people would be saved. If premise one is false, then God would not be most glorified (Eph. 1:8-11), but God decrees even “chance events” such as a sparrow landing (Mt. 10:29), so as Is. 46:9-11 states, God “declaring the end from the beginning…will accomplish all His purpose” and “I have purposed, and I will do it”.

The problem is premise two. The following verse refers to God's precept, not God's decree, otherwise you must say that God wants Christians to sin and delights in their disobedience.
The correct Biblical syllogism is:
Premise 1: God will accomplish all His purpose (Is. 46:9-11)
Premise 2: Not everyone will be saved (Mt. 25:46)
Conclusion: Therefore, God did not decree to save everyone (Rom. 9:22)

In conclusion, it is evident that universalism is utterly unbiblical and Rob Bell is a heretic. To quote R.C. Sproul “Hell is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. The Bible describes hell as a place of outer darkness, a lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God, a prison, a place of torment where the worm doesn’t turn or die”.

Matthew 25:46 states “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." If there is not literal people literally spending eternity in a literal hell, then there is not literal people literally spending eternity in a literal heaven either. As Revelation 20:15 states “If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. Rob Bell preaches a gospel, void of any sense of the holiness of God.

If you do read ‘Love Wins’, be sure to read Michael Horton’s critique and watch how Rob Bell continually appeals to subjective feelings, misinterprets the Greek and fails to deal with opposing arguments. Rob Bell teaches a false gospel; for another example he said “What about people who have never said the prayer[iii] and don’t claim to be Christians, but live a more Christlike life than some Christians?” Rob, these people existed – they are called Pharisees, they did nothing from faith – therefore whatever they did outwardly was sin sin in the eyes of the Lord (Rom. 8:7-8, Hebrews 11:6). Salvation is not attained by keeping the law, but through Christ alone. (Is. 53:11, 1 Pt. 3:18, Rom. 5:9-10, Col. 1:19-20, Gal. 1:4, Eph. 1:7, Matt. 26:28).

John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”.

(C), J. Williams, 2010.

[i] While I recognise Driscoll as a believer, I disagree with him on many doctrines. Including him shows a cross-denominational consensus.
[ii] Michael S. Horton, Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton, Part 6, 2011
[iii] I do not endorse the sinners prayer or recognise it as biblical

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sinclair Ferguson on Covenant Theology

Scottish Presbyterian Minister, Sinclair Ferguson was asked to introduce covenant theology is just a few words. The following is a transcript of what he said:
“The great thing about reformed theology and covenant theology is that it understands that whenever God engages with the world He does so as the covenant making and covenant keeping God and that throughout the whole of Scripture He has one single plan that He has planned from all eternity and that He works out in time and He does that by entering into covenant arrangements (covenant commitments) with His people. Right from the very beginning our Westminster Confession emphasises that the relationship between God and man right at the beginning was a covenant relationship in which God made promises and called on men and woman to respond to those promises in trust and obedience; right from the beginning trust and obedience because there is no other way to be happy, period. When men fall God enters into a new covenant with them, He preserves the world by a covenant made with Noah. He focuses on the purposes He has to redeem His people, not only a people from one nation, but a people from all nations in the promise He gives to Abraham (Genesis 12): in you all the nations will be blessed and your seed. That seed principle is then pursued through the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures until it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Whether you are a believer living in the days of the Old Testament or in the Days of the Mosaic Covenant you are looking forward to the coming of the Saviour. When you live as we do in the light of Christ coming you are looking back to the promise of the coming of the Saviour. That promise has been fulfilled. For example, if you were an Old Testament believer living in Jerusalem, up to the temple, watch the sacrifices, you know that God has made a promise to bring Salvation to you and to your family by faith and eventually to the nations through the fulfilment of His promise. As you watch your priest making the sacrifice and the blood being offered, you understand this cannot be the sacrifice God has promised finally to take away sins because you have got to be back the next day and there is going to be another sacrifice. All the way through the Old Testament, the pictures of the gospel focusing on the once and for all sacrifice of Christ are set before your eyes. God has surrounded you with the promise of salvation but you recognise that hasn't been finally fulfilled until the figure appears who in the second half of Isaiah is promised as the covenant of God to the nations begins to appear, the suffering servant, the Lamb of God, sacrifice for sinners. From the very beginning to the very end there is one God, one basic structure of salvation that God ministers to His people progressively through the series of covenants until Jesus is able to say in the upper room "This is the new covenant in my blood, drink from it all of you”. It is one simple but a multi-faceted story of salvation from beginning to end”
To briefly draw out the key points that Ferguson makes:
1.       God always engages with people as the covenant making and covenant keeping God.
2.       God has one single plan of Salvation that was planned from all eternity through covenants with His people.
3.       God focuses on His purpose to redeem all His people who are scattered throughout all nations, in the promise He gives to Abraham, to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Covenant of Grace).
4.       Believers in the New Testament and Old Testament have the same faith in the same Saviour, Jesus Christ.
5.       OC believers looked forward to the coming of Christ alone, while NC believers look back upon His coming alone for Salvation; the sacrifice which has been fulfilled once for all sins in Jesus Christ.
6.       Throughout history, beginning to end, God ministers one structure of salvation to His people: “My Covenant” which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
7.       The administrations of the covenant are not identical, (i.e. sacraments).
In a future post I will give a more detailed overview of the specifics of the covenants.
(C) J. Williams, 2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Mode of Baptism

The credobaptist argues that the word baptizo is always translated immersion. I strongly disagree with that notion, as evidenced throughout the Bible.
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 "For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea".
Were the Jews immersed by a cloud? Certainly not: The Jews passed through the sea on dry ground. (Exodus 14:22).
Hebrews 9:10 "but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation".
This passage refers to Old Testament ceremonial cleansings, which were never by immersion, but always by sprinkling. The baptisms mentioned in this chapter (verses 13, 19, 21) are all via sprinkling.
Mark 7:4 "and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches".
If baptizo always means immerse, then the Jews were immersed after each coming from the market place, which is impossible as most lacked such facilities in their homes. If the word always means immersion that would mean that the Jews immersed their couches too: that would be foolish.
Luke 11:38 "The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner".
Did Jesus immerse himself before eating dinner?
Leviticus 14:6 "He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water".
It is scientifically impossible for a bird cannot to be completely immersed in its own blood. This word is baptizo in the Septuagint.
Additionally, it would be impossible for many baptisms in the New Testament to be by performed by the method of immersion. For example, a eunuch was baptized by a desert road.
Almost always, the immersion only camp resort to Acts 8:38-39 to prove their position. They show that Philip AND the eunuch BOTH came up out of the water: Did Philip immerse himself simultaneously with the eunuch? The plain interpretation is that they stepped into the river together and stepped out together.
The Westminster Confession states, “dipping of the person into water is not necessary, but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person”. On this, G.I. Williamson comments “The word baptizo does not mean immersion… the term does not have that precise meaning”. He concludes that water baptism is legitimately performed by “immersion, sprinkling or pouring”.
(C) J. Williams

Friday, May 20, 2011

‎A Refutation of a Pelagian

Recently I attempted to dialogue with a Pelagian, although he made it abundantly clear that his intention was to present me with a monologue to read instead. I was hesitant to interact with such a person, who I will call “Charles” for the sake of this post, as he is an open theist, sinless perfectionist and Pelagian: Pelagianism extends to denying both imputations.  The refutation will only be quick, as he operates upon a few premises: once his premises are disproven, his whole nonsense crumbles. These premises are 1. A case against original sin from the supposed innocence of babies. 2. That people would not be punished by God for crimes they did not commit.
1.       On a supposed innocence of babies:
Charles stated that babies cannot make decisions, so therefore cannot be sinful. To prove that babies are in fact sinful, I need only ask one question: “Are babies human?” If the reply is negative, reproduction is not according to kind; if the reply is positive, 1 John 1:8 condemns them. Otherwise, why did David’s baby die if innocent? He cannot be human if he is not sinful; after all “the wages of sin is death”.
If Charles wishes to maintain the notion that babies are human, because according to his presupposed beliefs babies cannot believe, they must all be in a permanent state of unbelief. If they are in unbelief, Charles must deny the notion that unbelief lacks conformity to the character of God (Hebrews 3:19) to maintain that unbelieving babies are perfect and not deserving of the wrath of God. A denial of the notion contradicts his own views of humanity, sin and salvation: he also self-refutes his central doctrine of free will the process, as all of a sudden specific humans (all babies), are rendered unable to choose God, but are slaves to their unbelieving nature. Then again, the consistent Pelagian must admit that unbelief demonstrates perfect conformity to the character of God.
Simplistically, the previous arguments can be formulated into two syllogisms:
Premise 1: All babies are humans (Psalm 139:13-16)
Premise2: All people without exception have sinned (1 John 1:8)
Conclusion: David bore a son, who died in infancy aged seven days (2 Samuel 13:18). Therefore, either the infant was not human or the infant was sinful. If David’s son was not human, Psalm 139 is false; therefore David’s son was sinful from a few days old.
Premise 1: Unbelief lacks conformity to the character of God
Premise 2: Babies, according to Charles and Pelagianism have no will.
Conclusion: All babies must remain in unbelief, thus they are sinful so under the condemnation of God, in bondage to their sinful nature.
But what does the Bible say about original sin? Original Sin has two components:
a) Original Guilt: The guilt of Adam is imputed to mankind (Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22); when Adam sinned as the representative of humanity, all of humanity sinned in him (Genesis 3, Hosea 6:7). Therefore, from conception (Psalm 51:5, 1 Corinthians 2:14) every person without exception is in a state of wilful violation of the law and liable to punishment. (Ephesians 2:1-5).
b) Original Pollution: All humans inherit moral pollution from Adam. From birth no person has original righteousness (Romans 3:9-11) but they have an inherent positive disposition towards sin (John 8:34, 15:4-5, Romans 7:18) whereby they always act in accordance with their nature that cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8, 15:23 Hebrews 11:6).
2.       The Nature of the Will
As under point one, I have refuted the presuppositions behind Charles’ thinking, the remainder of his arguments regarding man’s will can be adequately addressed quite quickly.
Charles correctly stated that man sins wilfully, however, he then straw manned the Calvinistic position into that people are coerced into sinning by God. This is not what Calvinism states; as evidenced by the following quote from John Calvin:

“Man has choice and it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.”
Nonetheless, Charles’ argumentation correctly showed that man has a will wherein he acts wilfully; however, his reasoning did not prove anything regarding the freedom or nature of man’s will. The previous syllogisms showed (in subjection to Scripture) that original sin is true, in light of Scripture we answer affirmatively that man’s will is indeed in bondage to his sinful nature, as ‘whoever commits a sin is a slave to sin’ (John 8:34, Romans 8:7-8). The consequence of believing that babies cannot will sinfully is that the Pelagian cannot account for their sinfulness (proven above) or must deny the humanity of a newborn; which in turn means that a Pelagian cannot account for the sinfulness of a baby without believing original sin. I guess he could also resort to coercion ;)
3.       Some more fallacious argumentation
Charles only other arguments likewise were fallacious . Additional to the straw-man regarding the nature of man’s will, Charles resorted to equivocating in his terminology. Specifically, he equivocated on the meaning of the word “sin” by quoting verses discussing actual sin in an unsuccessful attempt to refute original sin. On numerous occasions he quoted John Owen on actual sin or judgement to forge an apparent Calvinistic inconsistency: this fallacy is known as cherry picking. In Reformed Theology, even in traditional Arminianism, adherents are careful to distinguish between original sin and actual sin.
Charles also failed to distinguish between the Decreetive and Preceptive wills of God. Most simplistically this is refuted by comparing Ephesians 5:17 which states “therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of God is” with Deuteronomy 29:29 which states “the secret things belong to the Lord our God”. Obviously, God Hismself reveals a distinction in His will between His decree and precpt, otherwise God would be saying “The revealed will of God is secret”.
Lastly, Charles turned his attention to attempting to refute the fifth point of Calvinism. He used an unusual tactic by attempting to build a case from a text commonly used against his position. Charles built a case around one word: the word “from” in Revelation 13:8 and in 17:8.
4.       Perseverance of the Saints
The Greek word translated ‘from’ (ἀπὸ) is singular, likewise the act of writing the names is singular (γέγραπται), occurring at one time: “before the foundation of the world”. The verses continue by noting that anyone whose name was not written in the book of life before the foundation of the world was slain. The verse makes it clear that every sinner who will ever live fits into one of two categories: Written in the Book of life at one singular time before the foundation of the word, or designated to everlasting destruction. The phrasiology destroy Charles’ argument that “the book of life has been in the process of being written over a distance of time”. These verses clearly prove not only perseverance of the saints, but Divine Predestination also.
The question is not whether or not Charles is right or wrong; he is clearly wrong. The question is whether he is guilty of heresy or damnable heresy. To answer this question, we only need to evaluate one verse:

1 John 1:8 states “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us”. The phrases “we have” (echomen) and “have no sin” (planōmen) are both in the present tense. Therefore the verse is saying that if you claim that you currently are not still committing sin, the truth is not in you. This means that anyone who claims to be living sinlessly does not have the truth – they are unregenerate. Charles is not a Christian. And this is not the only damnable heresy of his; a denial of original sin logically leads to a denial of imputed righteousness (Charles goes here), whcih is to look outside of Christ for salvation (Acts 4:12).

(C) J. Williams, 2011.

5.       A Final Evaluation of Perfectionism

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Five Points of Calvinism

The Five Points of Calvinism were formulated by the Synod of Dort in 1618 in reaction to Arminianism. Though the teachings of John Calvin agree with all five points, John Calvin did not invent Calvinism; in fact he was dead when the term Calvinism was coined. These doctrines are those held by the majority of theologians prior to the rise of Catholicism.

Total Depravity: At the fall, man fell completely. Every aspect of man is corrupted by sin; his mind (Genesis 6:5), emotions (Jeremiah 17:9) and will (Ephesians 2:3), the non-Christian is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Man’s will is in bondage to his sinful nature which cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14), please God (Romans 8:7-8) or choose God (Romans 3:10-12).

Because no one can choose God, the only way someone can believe is if God draws them (John 6:44). People are born again by the will of God (John 1:12-13), as no one can come to God (John 6:65). God chose man; man did not choose God (John 15:16).

Unconditional Election: God chose whom he would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). This is called election. God’s choice is based solely on His sovereign will (Romans 9:15-16), not on any faith or virtuous quality (Romans 9:11) foreseen in man. Those God sovereignty elected (2 Thessalonians 2:13), He brings through the power of the Holy Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ (Titus 3:5).

Limited Atonement: Christ died for only the elect (John 10:11, 15) - those chosen before the foundation of the world. Christ’s blood is sufficient to save everyone, in that if he wanted to save anyone else he wouldn’t need to die again, but Jesus only died for the elect so his death is only effective for the elect (Acts 20:28, Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus death is a propitiation (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 4:10) which means ‘a sacrifice that turns God’s wrath into favour’. If Christ died for everyone, His wrath would be satisfied against everyone, so everyone would be saved, contradicting John 3:36.

Irresistible Grace: To the elect, God sends an internal call (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) to believe which cannot be resisted (John 6:37, Romans 9:19-21, Ephesians 2:4-5) because God is omnipotent (Acts 13:48, 1 Corinthians 1: 23-25). This call is by the Holy Spirit who regenerates the elect  bringing them to repentance whereby they come to God  (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 3:5, Romans 9:16).

Perseverance of the Saints: You cannot lose your salvation (Jeremiah 32:40, Hebrews 6:11). Because salvation is entirely the work of God (Ephesians 2:8-9), those saved are eternally secure in Christ (John 6:37, Revelation 3:5). By the power of God you will preserve in faith from being sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14) to the end (John 10: 27-28. 1 Corinthians 1: 8-9, Philippians 1:6).

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not you own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(c), J. Williams, 2008.