Calvinism and Arminianism have come to represent two major themes over the years as it relates to the salvation of mankind with Calvinism placing an emphasis on God’s sovereignty and Arminianism placing an emphasis on human free will. Thus we have the popular disagreements that surface all across Christendom regarding free will vs the Sovereignty of God.
It became a major issue during the 15 and 1600’s after Martin Luther started the Great Reformation which birthed the Protestant church. John Calvin was a prominent protestant theologian of that era who wrote his thesis entitled “The Intitutes of the Christian religion.” Within Calvin's theology we find many teachings that later developed into what we know today as Calvinism.
Jacobus Arminius was a critic of John Calvin’s theology and after some time his disciples developed 5 counter points to John Calvin’s teachings on salvation and human free will. This was all brought to a formal organization of theology in 1610 in a document called the Remonstrance. About 9 years later at the Synod of Dort followers of John Calvin rejected the 5 points of Arminianism and developed their own five points which are widely used today in an acrostic spelled “TULIP.”
The T in tulip stands for total depravity. This means that humans are sinful in every component of their nature including mind, will, and emotions. So much so that they are unable to even respond positively to the gospel without the regeneration of their hearts by the Holy Spirit beforehand. Arminianism would argue that the flip side of this means that God leaves most human beings in a condition in which they are unable to be saved and this goes against His loving nature. They argue that human beings are depraved but everyone has a dose of Grace that gives them the ability to receive the Gospel freely if they choose.
The U in tulip stands for unconditional election. This means that those who are chosen by God are not chosen on the basis of their free decision to receive the Gospel but rather with no conditions at all in mind. That is God chooses them on the basis of his own private reasons and not any action that they chose to do. Arminianism would argue that this makes God's choosing arbitrary, rather than His Word teaching that he chooses to save all who humble themselves and receive the Gospel.
The L in tulip stands for limited atonement. This is often an element of Calvinism that is even rejected by some Calvinists. It essentially teaches that because God already chose beforehand whom He would save then it follows that the atonement of Christ was only specifically for those who would be redeemed and not for the whole world. Arminianism responds to this by arguing that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died for the whole world.
The I in tulip stands for irresistible Grace. This is deeply connected with total depravity in that it teaches that because of our depravity God must irresistibly draw the people He has chosen, otherwise the calvinist argues, no one who is totally depraved would ever choose to receive the Gospel. The arminian responds to this by arguing but it goes against God's loving nature to essentially Force somebody to be saved and although human beings are depraved God still by his grace gives them an opportunity to choose salvation.
The P in tulip stands for perseverance of the Saints. This teaches that since God chose those who would be saved irresistibly then it makes no sense that they would not persevere in their righteousness until the very end. As a result no one who is truly saved can lose their salvation. Arminianism responds do this by arguing that God is so loving that if someone wants to walk away from their salvation He would let them.
It's important to understand that many theologians who do not identify with Calvinism or arminianism believe in what is called eternal security. This teaches that True Believers cannot lose their salvation however it's not related to the election of God but rather evidence found within the scriptures. Jesus said in John 10 verses 28 through 30- "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” This goes to show that Christians can believe that you can't lose your salvation without actually being a calvinist as a whole.
It's important to understand that Free Will and God's sovereignty may appear to be contradictory however if we understand the Transcendent nature of God it's reasonable to assume that these two things can be reconciled even if they are difficult to comprehend with our human mind. It is possible within the Transcendence of God for humans to be 100% free to choose to receive the Gospel and for God to be 100% Sovereign at the same time.
Written by: Kyle Bailey, D.Min.