Issues in Calvinism

“To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20)

The Five Points of Calvinism (i.e., TULIP) are a logically consistent soteriological system. Beginning from the first point, Total Depravity[1], the subsequent points of Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints seem to necessarily follow. It is this elegant and logical consistency that can be very intellectually satisfying, accounting for Calvinism’s power of attraction for many thinking believers. Logical consistency alone, however, is not the standard of truth. Rather, “[God’s] word is truth” (John 17:17), and it is against the absolute standard of “the law and the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20) that every claim must be measured.

The deviancy of Calvinism from the plumb line of Scripture begins with its understanding of Total Depravity. Scripture asserts that the unregenerate man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Calvinists understand this assertion to mean that “the sinner is so spiritually bankrupt that he can do nothing pertaining to his salvation[2]; he cannot even respond to God by exercising the personal faith required for salvation (Acts 16:30-31) without first being sovereignly regenerated by God[3]. From Paul’s use of the word “dead” in Ephesians 2:1, Calvinists construct the metaphor of the unregenerate man as a corpse (R. C. Sproul) or a cadaver (John F. MacArthur); since a literal corpse would not be able to respond to God in any way, the unregenerate man cannot either. Many Calvinists prefer the term Total Inability over Total Depravity to better express this concept, but based on their own analogy of corpse/cadaver the most accurate expression would be utter inability.

Metaphors (by definition) are partial, incomplete representations of reality; they inevitably break down when pressed too far. The Calvinist’s metaphorical construct of a physical corpse for the unregenerate man goes too far. For example, a physical corpse, in addition to being unable to believe, is also unable to sin, and yet the unregenerate man has no impediment to such an activity whatsoever. Scripture clearly presents a picture in which all men are commanded by God to believe in order to be saved (e.g., Isaiah 45:22; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:30-31), along with the implication that it is possible for unregenerate men to do so (e.g., John 3:16; 6:40; 7:37; 20:31; Revelation 22:17). The Calvinistic construct of the unregenerate man’s abilities/inabilities clearly lies beyond the true picture one sees in Scripture. Thus, although the subsequent four points may logically follow from the first, they suffer from an unbiblical understanding of Total Depravity that proves fatal for the system as a whole.

For additional analyses of Calvinistic teaching compared to Scripture, see:

Is Faith the Gift of God?

Who and How Does the Father Draw?

Kept by the Power of God


[1] “The view one takes concerning salvation will be determined, to a large extent, by the view one takes concerning sin and its effects on human nature. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first article dealt with in the Calvinistic system is the biblical doctrine of total inability or total depravity.” David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ, 1963) 24.

[2] Steele and Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, 25.

[3] An axiom of Calvinism is that regeneration precedes faith.

About The Paleofundamentalist

The Paleofundamentalist holds graduate degrees in engineering, Bible and theology, with formal training in classical Latin and Koine Greek. He teaches the Bible and Biblical subjects weekly at his local church. View all posts by The Paleofundamentalist

9 responses to “Issues in Calvinism

  • vonleonhardt2

    If you strip depravity from the sola fide, you end up with the cheapest grace there is. Don’t do any other works, just this one single work…that is just mentally assent to something someone tells you. Your running afoul of Ephesians 1 that no one may boast..

    and I love to ask free-willers > what of the retarded and aborted? If there is no TULIP there is no hope for those groups because they lack the human capacity for choice you seek to make so important. Or does God bend his own rules? Thus, a human who is aborted if there is any kind of original sin is condemned by said sin with no hope of the grace of Jesus fixing it > by virtue of the fact they can’t assent to a few lines of speech. You can only be saved by assenting right? So the reverse is true, only by your assent can you be saved. Thus cripples, and abortions, and the like just remind us evil wins… and Jesus’ cross can’t do nothing there and never could. Yeah sounds REAL Gospel.

    Or maybe, God has mercy on who he has mercy, and as Christ died for sins those aborted babies show their election by caring the sins of the world in their short lives in a triumph of grace over evil. And maybe there is a hope and a victory in those cross like situations the world despises

    Yeah… what would I know

    • The Paleofundamentalist

      Dear brother, I believe the testimony of Scripture is that the grace of God by which He offers salvation to rebellious creatures is absolutely free. For a sinner to believe is not, as you suggest, “one single work”, since the Apostle Paul clearly sets saving faith apart from the Biblical definition of “work” (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8-9). Nor is saving faith merely mental assent to the existence and nature of God, for even the demons have that (James 2:19). I shudder when the grace of God, as revealed in His Word, is described as “cheap”. Nevertheless, when I am slandered for my understanding that the grace of God is absolutely free, I take solace in the fact that even the Apostle Paul was so slandered by the critics of his day (Romans 3:8). If one’s own concept of God’s grace does not expose itself to this kind of challenge, I suggest it isn’t Biblical grace.

  • Qoheleth

    I read the book by Steele and Thomas many years ago. Their “proof” actually led me to leave the Calvinist camp!
    Great job, thank you for your contributions to the debate and for the cause of Biblicism over man-made theories and constructs.

  • Cece

    I’m sorry but your point doesn’t stand up to scripture. God is sovereign and our hearts are evil and cannot come to the light of Jesus unless God translates out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of his dear Son. God gives us a new heart so we can believe. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

  • Alfred

    The death is not physical death, it is use just as a description. Every time Paul refers to death he is referring to spiritual death. We are born spiritually dead. We must be given a new birth, through the Holy
    Spirit. You are making a silly argument, I think you know this already. You free-will, anti-sovereign Arminians need to come up with some better arguments. Have you noticed that a calvinist refers to scripture and scripture alone , an Arminian refers to opinion?

    • The Paleofundamentalist

      Dear brother, your reply does a disservice in two respects. First, you assume that in analyzing a tenet of Calvinism against the standard of Scripture (and finding it wanting), I am therefore an Arminian—which I would vigorously deny. The tendency of many Calvinists to categorize everyone as either Calvinist or Arminian is a false dichotomy. Second, your implication that I have argued from opinion rather than Scripture is unfair. In my article of 3 short paragraphs, I have referred to 13 verses of Scripture, and the additional articles cited at the end of the post include much more.

  • drk

    Most of the time I like seeing an anti-Calvinist post. This, of course, is such a time. Calvinism never made sense. If it is true, obviously I am not elected to believe it.

  • Diana Lesperance

    Charles Finney opposed the Calvinist confusion on salvation and it led to the Second Great Awakening and the great 19th century missions movement. Finney helped a great many people find peace with God, and yet lately he has been receiving criticism from the radio host Brannon Howse, who has gone so far as to associate Mormonism with Finney’s ministry.

    Jesus said you would know them by their fruit. What was the great “fruit” of John Calvin? Why do so many Christians revere him when he was a murderer(Michael Servetus), a tyrant (in Geneva), and the author of so much confusion? As Finney would say in Lecture 12 of his “Lectures on Revival of Religion”:

    “Sinners have been commanded to repent, and told that they could not repent, in the same sermon. A great deal of ingenuity has been exercised in endeavoring to reconcile a sinner’s “inability” with his obligation to obey God. Election, predestination, free-agency, inability, and duty, have all been thrown together in one promiscuous jumble. And with regard to many sermons, it has been too true, as has been objected, that ministers have preached, “You can and you can’t, You shall and you sha’n’t, You will and you won’t, And you’ll be damned if you don’t.”

    What makes Calvin so attractive to Christians? I know he contributed to the growth of science (emphasizing “the heavens declare the glory of God”), but what else can be attributed to his fruit? What was so great about his “Institutes?”

    • The Paleofundamentalist

      Diana, I would urge extreme caution regarding Charles Finney. Many who have only second hand knowledge of Finney tend to portray him as an orthodox Arminian; I believe that is an injustice to James Arminius. Finney was a Pelagian; he essentially denied the necessary role of supernatural grace in God’s drawing and sanctifying of sinners. Arminius would never have suggested that sinners can believe apart from God’s supernatural work of drawing; he merely believed the Bible teaches that God draws all men (not exclusively the elect).

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