What Is Calvinism vs. Arminianism?


Calvinism is a name derided much more often than understood. Typically, debates are framed by the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism.”  This 5-point framework is both helpful and misleading.  If one were to ask John Calvin about 5-point Calvinism, he wouldn’t know what to say.  He never devised such a theological pentagon.  For Calvin, there was 1 point of concern: the gospel.

So, in the face of what he saw as grave errors of theology (both practical and doctrinal), Calvin researched the Scriptures to clarify what the Bible teaches about salvation.  The result of his research was the publication of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in which he fleshed out in detail what the Bible teaches about God and man.  For Calvin, this was an exploration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He wrote at a time when men were being executed for teaching error; so, he tried to get the gospel right.

After Calvin died, one of his students attempted to correct what he thought were errors in Calvin’s theology.  The student was Arminius, and he disagreed with some of what his teacher had taught him.  Arminius never worked out all the details of his disagreements with Calvin, but his followers did.  They issued a report to the Synod of Dort in which they presented 5 areas of theological disagreement with Calvin’s theology.  These 5 areas are those we know by the acrostic, TULIP.  The acrostic, like the 5 points, can be both helpful and misleading.  The 5-point acrostic is helpful as a memory device, but it is misleading as a theological statement.

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