In recent years the idea of “Calvinism” has acquired a new level of energy and interest. In 2009 Time Magazine called Calvinism one of the top ten ideas changing the world right now. The question, “What is Calvinism?” is being asked with increasingly greater frequency. So what is Calvinism?
In a broad sense Calvinism is the theological system articulated, among others by John Calvin, the sixteenth century reformer of Geneva. In this sense Calvinism is a broad theology embracing, for example, the mind, the heart, the church, the family, vocation and government.
In a more narrow sense, Calvinism is the Reformed or Calvinist understands salvation, sometimes referred to as sotereological Calvinism. Here we have in mind the Five Points of Calvinism articulated in the Canons of Dort and sometimes given the acrostic form TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. It is this Calvinism that we consider in this lecture.
We’ll begin to try to understand the five points with a historical introduction. After all, no thought is born in a vacuum. If you want to understand the thought you have to understand the context. Also, history offers profound lessons. It’s been said that history is moral philosophy teaching by example.
I. The Background of the Five Points
A. 16th c. melding of Dutch social, religious and political life.
B. Formation of the Dutch Reformed Church
C. Challenges to a Calvinistic consensus
1. Natural appeal of Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism
2. Influence of Erasmus
3. Influence of James Arminius
4. The Remonstrance
5. Ongoing work of the Remonstrants
D. Demand for a Synod
II. The Birth of the Five Points
B. Commencement of the work
C. Decision of the Synod
D. Reflection on the Synod
III. Concluding Reflections
A. Doctrine Matters
B. Maintain distinction between church and state
C. Be transparent even in disagreement
D. Maintain high standards for ministers and theological schools
E. Deal with opponents graciously.
F. Convictions cannot be forced on others
G. Theology must not be shaped by Philosophy
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