Calvinism vs Arminianism & Reformed Theology

Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology that attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the matter of salvation. Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564. Arminianism is named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.

John Calvin, the famous theologian and pastor of Geneva, died in 1564. Along with Martin Luther in Germany, he was the most influential force of the Protestant Reformation. His commentaries and Institutes of the Christian Religion are still exerting tremendous influence on the Christian church worldwide.

The churches which have inherited the teachings of Calvin are usually called Reformed as opposed to the Lutheran or Anglican/Episcopalian branches of the Reformation. While not all Baptist churches hold to a Reformed theology, there is a significant Baptist tradition which flowed out of that stream and still cherishes the central doctrines inherited from the Reformed branch of the Reformation.

The controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism arose in Holland in the early 1600s. The founder of the Arminian party was Jacob Arminius (1560–1609). He studied in Geneva under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, and became a professor of theology at the University of Leyden in 1603.

Gradually Arminius came to reject certain Calvinist teachings. The controversy spread all over Holland, where the Reformed Church was the overwhelming majority. The Arminians drew up their creed in Five Articles, and laid them before the state authorities of Holland in 1610 under the name Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers.

The official Calvinistic response came from the Synod of Dort which was held November 13, 1618, to May 9, 1619, to consider the Five Articles. There were eighty-four members and eighteen secular commissioners. The Synod wrote what has come to be known as the Canons of Dort. These are still part of the church confession of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. They state the Five Points of Calvinism in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants.

So the so-called Five Points were not chosen by the Calvinists as a summary of their teaching. They emerged as a response to the Arminians who chose these five points to disagree with.

It is more important to give a positive biblical position on the five points than to know the exact form of the original controversy. These five points are still at the heart of biblical theology. They are not unimportant. Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions.

Somewhere along the way (nobody knows for sure when or how), the five points came to be summarized in English under the acronym TULIP.

T – Total depravity

U – Unconditional election

L – Limited atonement

I – Irresistible grace

P – Perseverance of the saint

It starts with man in need of salvation (Total depravity) and then gives, in the order of their occurrence, the steps God takes to save his people. He elects (Unconditional election), then he sends Jesus to atone for the sins of the elect (Limited atonement), then he irresistibly draws his people to faith (Irresistible grace), and finally works to cause them to persevere to the end (Perseverance of the saints).

People grasp these points more easily if we go in the order in which we ourselves often experience them when we become Christians.

1We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.

2Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.

3Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.

4Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.

5And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.


A. Arminian Position: Man is spiritually sick. Fallen man was seriously affected by the fall but he still has the ability to choose spiritual good. He determines his eternal destiny by either accepting or rejecting God’s mercies.

B. Reformed Position: Man is spiritually dead. Because of the fall, man has become spiritually dead, blind and deaf to the things of God and is therefore unable of himself to choose spiritual good and determine his own destiny. Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not — indeed he cannot — choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ — it takes  regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation— it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior.

C. Scriptural Support for the Reformed Position
As a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race is affected; all humanity is dead in trespasses and sins. Man is unable to save himself (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9;
Romans 3:10-18(HCSB)10 as it is written:There is no one righteous, not even one.11 There is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks God.12 All have turned away;all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good,not even one.13 Their throat is an open grave;they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips.14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;16 ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,17 and the path of peace they have not known.18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

1. The fall has resulted in spiritual death to all men.

Genesis 2:16-17(HCSB)16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

Romans 5:12(HCSB) Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.

Ephesians 2:1-3(HCSB)And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.

Colossians 2:13(HCSB)13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses

Mark 7:21-23(HCSB)21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Jeremiah 17:3(HCSB)The heart is more deceitful than anything else,

and incurable—who can understand it?


A. Arminian Position: God’s election is based on man’s foreseen faith. Before the foundation of the world, God chose certain individuals for salvation based on His foreseeing that they would, of their own free will, choose Christ.

B. Reformed Position: God’s election is unconditional. God’s choice of certain individuals for salvation was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, but was based solely in His good and sovereign will. Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, in eternity past God elected certain people to salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond, nor does he want to.
Romans 8:29-30(HCSB)29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified;

Ephesians 1:4-6(HCSB)For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight.[a] In love[b] He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.
 God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before fore the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation. God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace that was given through his Son Jesus before the world began. By this act, God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus.

If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, and if this particular grace is purchased by Christ on the cross, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God’s election. He chose those to whom he would show such irresistible grace, and for whom he would purchase it. God has an elect people whom He has chosen to grant salvation.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5(HCSB)4 knowing your election, brothers loved by God. 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit,

Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.

A. Arminian Position: Christ’s death was designed to make salvation possible for all people. Christ’s death made salvation possible for everyone, but it did not actually secure or guarantee the salvation of anyone. Fallen man determines whether or not Christ’s work will be effective by his faith.
B. Reformed Position: Christ’s death was designed to actually secure the salvation of all of God’s chosen people. Christ’s death secured and actually accomplished the salvation of all of God’s chosen people. God has determined that all for whom Christ sacrificed Himself will be saved. Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected and for whom Christ died will be saved (Matthew 1:21(HCSB)21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”;
John 17:9(HCSB)I pray for them. I am not praying for the world but for those You have given Me, because they are Yours.;
Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation. The atonement of Christ is sufficient for all humans and effective for those who trust him. It is not limited in its worth or sufficiency to save all who believe. But the full, saving effectiveness of the atonement that Jesus accomplished is limited to those for whom that saving effect was prepared. The availability of the total sufficiency of the atonement is for all people. Whosoever will — whoever believes — will be covered by the blood of Christ. And there is a divine design in the death of Christ to accomplish the promises of the new covenant for the chosen bride of Christ. Thus Christ died for all people, but not for all in the same way.


A. Arminian Position: The Holy Spirit cannot regenerate fallen man until he believes. The Holy Spirit does all He can to bring every fallen man to salvation, but until fallen man responds in faith, of his own free will, the Spirit cannot give life. Faith preceded and makes possible the New Birth. Faith gives Life.

B. Reformed Position: The Holy Spirit regenerates every one of God’s chosen people, enabling them to believe. The Holy Spirit graciously regenerates every one of God’s chosen people, creating within them a new heart and enabling them to freely and willingly believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. The New Birth precedes and makes possible Saving Faith. Life gives Faith.Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds John 6:37(HCSB)37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, and unable to submit to God because of our rebellious nature, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.

Someone may say, “Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing.” But that is not what the Bible teaches. Except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be “unable to submit to God.” “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God”
Romans 8:7–8(HCSB)7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God, it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature. If a person remains too hard-hearted and proud to submit to God, it is because that person has not been given such a willing spirit. But to see this most persuasively, we should look at the Scriptures.

Unless the Father Draws

In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This drawing is the sovereign work of grace without which none of us will be saved from our rebellion against God.
John 6:65(HCSB)65 He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”

How God works to change our will without coercion against our will is further explained in 2 Corinthians 4:4–6(HCSB)4 In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves because of Jesus. 6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Fallen man, left in his dead state, is totally unable to repent, to believe the gospel, or to come to Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:14(HCSB)14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.

John 6:44(HCSB)44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.


A. Arminian Position: All who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation.Sinners can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, by falling into a state of serious sin, etc.

B. Reformed Position: All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in Faith by the Power of Almighty God and therefore continue to persevere in faith.The precise ones God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure
John 10:27-29(HCSB)27 My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.;
Romans 8:29-30(HCSB)For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.
All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end. We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and will not surrender finally to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me 2 Timothy 4:7(HCSB)7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
1 Corinthians 15:10(HCSB)10 But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me.

The people of God will persevere to the end and not be lost. The foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified Romans 8:30(HCSB)30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. No one is lost from this group. To belong to this people is to be eternally secure.

According to Calvinism:Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy  Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.REAFFIRMED by the Synod of DortThis system of theology was reaffirmed by the Synod of Dort in 1619 as the doctrine of salvation contained in the Holy Scriptures. The system was at that time formulated into “five points” (in answer to the five points submitted by the Arminians) and has ever since been known as “the five points of Calvinism.”

Now the Five points trying to refute Calvinism by the Arminians

Free Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

Conditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Universal Redemption or General Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted

The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) precedes and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

Falling From Grace

Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith. etc. All Arminian, have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ — that once a sinner is regenerated. he can never be lost.

According to Arminianism:Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man(who must respond)—man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.REJECTED by the Synod of DortThis was the system of thought contained in the “Remonstrance” (though the “five points” were not originally arranged in this order). It was submitted by the Arminians to the Church of Holland in 1610 for adoption but was rejected by the Synod of Dort in 1619 on the ground that it was unscriptural.


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