- Calvinism is the theological current derived from the works and writings of John Calvin (1509-64). Key documents are Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), the 16th- and 17th-century Reformed confessions of faith (such as the Helvetic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, and the Westminister Confession of Faith), and the words of theologians and church leaders of the world's Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist churches. Calvin believed he was articulating a Christian perspective in line with the Bible and the early church fathers, while stripping away the many accretions of the intervening centuries that characterized the Roman Catholic Church.Several basic affirmations are key to understanding Calvinism. The Bible is the written Word of God and hence the final authority for Christian life and thought. it is the self-revelation of God in nature and history. God is intimately connected to his world as creator and sustainer. He has also decreed a plan for the world and his creatures.in stark contrast, humans are neither God nor divine entities; they are God's creation. God created humans in his own (spiritual) image and pronounced them good. As God rules over creation, so humans must serve God and rule over the world as God's representatives. Humans, desiring to be independent, broke faith with God, and went their own way. Thus, sin entered the world, and humans are now in slavery to sin. The sin of the first human to fall from grace is now passed to all; all have sinned and can do nothing on their own to reestablish a relationship with God.The sovereign God foresaw the fall of humanity and made provision for many to return to a positive relationship to him. He sent Christ into the world to make atonement for sin and release God's grace into the world. God has elected some humans, apart from any consideration of human logic effort, or desire, for this renewed relationship and freely gives them his grace so that they might repent of their sin, be regenerated, and have faith in Jesus Christ. Calvin assumed a society in which everyone was baptized into the church as infants and grew up in a community dominated by the church and by secular authorities who were professing Christians. At the same time, it was obvious that many did not live a life of Christian values and virtue.Calvinism faced a defining challenge in the person of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a Reformed theologian residing in Holland. A student of Calvin's colleague Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Arminius came to believe that Reformed thought had stressed God's sovereignty to such an extent that Christ's saving work was overshadowed. The key biblical passage for Arminius was Romans 8: 28-30, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. For whom He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." The question became, in what logical order did God foreknow and predestine to justification.Arminius's position, termed infralapsarianism (literally, after the fall), suggested that when God established the process of redemption, he did so with fallen humanity in mind, and he chose those who by his foreknowledge he knew would turn in faith to him. The Calvinist position, termed supralapsarianism (literally, before the fall), suggested that God in his sovereignty, without reference to the merits or lack of merits of any person, had chosen and predestined them to grace and salvation.In reaction to Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants, Calvinist leaders in the Netherlands (one of the leading centers of Reformed thought), called the Synod of Dort. The synod issued a set of statements accepting the supralap-sarian position and condemning Arminianism.The Calvinist position has been summarized as holding to five doctrines: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. (In English, the first letters of these five points spell out the word tulip, a convenient tool for remembering them.) Calvinists thus believe that human beings are totally depraved and hence unable of themselves to turn to and believe the Gospel. From humanity, God has, of his own will, chosen to elect some. To that end, he sent his son, Jesus, to die and atone for the sins, not of all, but of the elect. God has shared his grace with the elect, and grace once shared is irresistible. Those who are given grace will remain in a state of grace for all eternity.The churches that arose out of the Reformed Protestant movement separated themselves out on the basis of this Calvinist/Arminiam divide. Calvinists believed they were protecting the Reformation's core belief in salvation by grace rather than by works of merit, which they understood the Roman Catholic system to uphold. Arminians believed they were proclaiming the grace of God given to the whole world. What began as an argument about free grace turned in the 19th century into an argument about free will. Were human beings free to turn and have faith in Christ? Overall, among Protestants, free will appears to have carried the day.Among Calvinists, other arguments flowed from the logic of the position adopted at Dort. For example, if God elected some to salvation, then God in his sovereignty and foreknowledge must have also elected some to damnation. This position, termed double-edged predestination,was adopted by the most conservative wing of the Calvinists, but is only rarely found among believers at the present time.The Calvinist tradition has also been identified with a tradition of church polity or government, which gave its name to Presbyterianism (rule by elders); with a particular view of the sacraments (which in the 16th century constituted its chief disagreement with Lutheranism); and with a style of worship emphasizing simplicity and order.See also Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.Further reading:■ John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by J. T. McNeill, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960)■ Donald McKim, ed., Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1992)■ John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1954)■ Henry H. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, rev. ed. by Peter A. Marshall (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.