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This here is an answer to settheworld-onfire-forhim on Tumblr, and is here on my Dreamwidth for future reference. It is a super basic explanation of Calvinism, a theological belief system within Protestant Christianity. For those of my followers who don't already know, yes, I'm a very committed Christian and Calvinist. (If anybody out there sees this and has a problem, please feel free to take it up with me.)

This post is mostly meant for those who are already part of God's family in Christ, as this is can be a topic of debate between some Christians, so please excuse a little bit of family business coming out into the open. It is not the kind of theology I would throw at someone who doesn't know a lot about Christianity. Like I said, not all of us agree about this, and there are more important things to cover first.

Calvinism is famous for its main five points set up by John Calvin so long ago, often referred to as TULIP. Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Preservation of the saints.

Total depravity means that all of humanity is sinful, fallen short of the glory of God, and every single human who has and will ever live is utterly incapable of saving themselves and making themselves have right standing before God. All of humanity is doomed to hell; that is, the eternal conscious separation of oneself from God's presence in a place that is described in the book of Revelation as a burning lake of sulfur and a place of suffering. Without the working of the Holy Spirit, no one is even possible of choosing to follow Christ by themselves, because we are so sinful to our very core. Unless God, in His perfect graciousness, had chosen to pursue us, none of us would ever have decided to seek Him out. This sets up all the other points.

Unconditional election means that our faith and salvation is not dependent on our own works, merit, or effort, but that it is completely in the fact that God has chosen us to be a part of his family and we can be completely assured that we have the Holy Spirit and have our names written in the Book of Life forever. Although it is always good to consider ourselves and not get lazy with our faith, if we truly are following Christ, our place in His family is set. He has chosen us, and we can do nothing by ourselves to save ourselves. For by grace we have been saved, through faith!

Limited atonement considers the atonement of Jesus dying on the cross not as limited in its awesome value and power to save any who would believe, but in the fact that Jesus' sacrifice is only for those of us who accept Him into our hearts and make Him our Savior and Lord above all others. People who do not accept or love Jesus as Lord will not be saved. This point must remain firm, otherwise the cross loses all power, because if people who do not accept God's forgiveness will be saved regardless if they love Jesus or not, then why did He have to die for us in the first place? If everyone were to turn to God and ask His forgiveness and make Him their Lord, Jesus' atonement (also known as the propitiation for our sin, paying the cost in our place) would be sufficient to cover everyone. But not everyone has, thus the power of the atonement is not for everyone. I believe this point is logically, and more importantly, biblically sound.

I'm going to skip ahead to preservation of the saints, as the point of contention most have with Calvinism is with "irresistible grace". So the preservation of the saints means that whoever is truly a Christian will always be a Christian. One must consistently, regularly, and often judge themselves and actively invest their time, energy, thoughts, strength, and love into their relationship with Christ, and pursue the things that God pursues. Otherwise, one may be the rocky soil in Jesus' parable where one immediately accepts the gospel, but whether through difficult trials or wrong attitudes of the heart or simple loss of interest, turn away from Christ. One who endures, and ends the race well, as Paul said, is the true Christian, but only God may judge the heart. So while we may not know who is part of the eternal invisible Church until the very end, God does, and He knows who will love and serve Him to the end.

Now. Irresistible grace. This is likely the point that some will disagree with, for its implications, so I'll spend a little more time on it. Irresistible grace means that whoever God decides to pursue, eventually he will win them. You will hear many testimonies in your life about men and women who ruefully say, "yeah, I hated God once... but He changed my mind! And now I understand how much He loves me and - " etc. Whomever God pursues, He will win them over. When God intends someone to be saved, they will. Not by force, but by supernatural persuasion and the spiritual opening of eyes, so that whomever He pursues will see God for who He is, that He is the Creator and Author and Bridegroom, the Saviour and Prince of Peace, the Rock of Ages, and one who loves each of us deeply.

Now, the discerning reader may have realized something at this point: since not everybody you meet on the street is a Christian (and oh, wouldn't that be a world! that we all whole-heartedly seek to expand the eternal kingdom and family of God.) then that means that God has purposefully decided not to pursue more than two thirds - at the very least - of all humanity.

There are two ways one can approach this and still remain a Calvinist with a truthful view of God as all-loving, totally omnipotent, and omniscient. You can either believe that, for whatever reason we do not understand in this life and will be revealed in the next, God has chosen very specifically not to save some but instead to subject them to his almighty, holy, and righteous wrath as sons of disobedience, as we all were at the time before God chose to save us. Perhaps for the purpose of displaying his righteous anger, to prove how serious sin is and how perfect is His holiness, that there are consequences for defying His utterly flawless laws. Some people you speak to may believe this; do not judge them for this, as they may still be the most loving and gracious and sincere people you meet, who only seek to do good to others around them and serve God and others faithfully.

Another way is to consider Romans 8:29-30: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." Some scholars of the Word believes that this means God, in his infinite wisdom and knowledge of all things, being unbound by time and space, knows who would accept Him and who would reject Him and thus chooses (or predestines) all true Christians, the elect, the eternal and invisible church. This might mean you believe that His grace isn't irresistible (and hey, you can be a four-point Calvinist), or else that God can have His way at any time, but He knows who would be convinced as opposed to those who He would have to force - and God being the perfect gentleman, never forces himself even if it means letting those who he loves choose death for themselves.

What you believe about irresistible grace matters! This can turn people away from Christ, people who might otherwise believe! This can be a root of bitterness between you and God, you and other believers. This may cause some to believe untrue things about God, and that is very dangerous.

I encourage you to consider deeply all this. Read the Bible, study it. Ask wise and solid mentors and leaders in your life. And above all, pray! Pray long and hard and talk to God about it until your heart is settled!

I personally do not think the question of how much free will I was exercising when I chose to follow Christ is an important one, but it may be central for you! For me, I truly believe that I would never have chosen to follow God unless He decided to intervene in my life, and that cuts deep to my heart and provokes in me a deeper heart of worship and awe (because why He would choose one like me! Think Amazing Grace, and that sense of wonder that God chose in spite of all my sin! WOW!).

What answers you come to will shape how you think of God, and what you believe about yourself, and how it motivates you and it will change what you pursue for the rest of your life. If you think God doesn't really love all of humanity, then why would you spend your life actively engaging in his Great Commission to spread His Word to all the people of the world? So you see why you must believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving, because what you believe about God will change everything.
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medomai

August 2012

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