Beliefs & Doctrine of Calvinism

John Calvin lived from 1509 to 1564.
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Calvinism is named after John Calvin, a 16th century Protestant reformer, best known for reforming the church in Geneva, Switzerland. His "Institutes of the Christian Religion," a systematic theology, formed the foundation for Reformed Christianity. Calvinism shares some of the same beliefs as other branches of the Reformation: that the Bible is the only basis for faith and life and that salvation is by grace through faith. It's uniqueness lies in its views on predestination.

1 Total Depravity

Calvinism holds to the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. It believes that because of Adam and Eve's disobedience, all of their descendants are marred by sin. People not only have a propensity for acts of sin, they are by nature unable to choose to follow God. Because of their total depravity, all human beings would be eternally damned were it not for divine intervention.

2 Unconditional Election

Calvinism teaches that from the ranks of depraved humanity, God has chosen some human beings for eternal salvation in heaven. These chosen few are called "the elect." The elect are chosen not because of any merit on their part but because God wanted to choose them. This choice is called "predestination" because the choice is made before an elect person is born, before Adam and Eve sinned and even before the earth was created.

3 Limited Atonement

Calvinism teaches that atonement for sins is provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, depraved human beings deserve to die and be damned. Jesus died instead of depraved humanity, so some people could be saved and go to heaven. Limited atonement means that Jesus died only for the elect, not for the damned.

4 Irresistible Grace

Calvinism believes that when God calls individuals to salvation, when he calls them to be part of the elect, they can not refuse even if they want to. The grace that is necessary to believe the Christian message is, according to the Calvinist tradition, a gift from God. Though it may look as though an individual is choosing to be a Christian, the ability to make that choice comes from God.

5 Perseverance of Saints

Calvinism believes that once people have been saved by God, those people cannot lose their salvation through any act of their own. This belief is based on a belief in the complete sovereignty of God. If God has chosen something or someone, no mere mortal has the power to thwart that choice. Someone who is elect cannot thwart that election. If a person sins and is damned, it is not because he chose sin but because he was never elect to begin with.

  • 1 History of the Christian Church, Volume 7; Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff
  • 2 The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone
  • 3 The Reformation of Church and Dogma; Jaroslav Pelikan
  • 4 ashington State University: Calvinism in New England Puritan Culture
  • 5 Historical Dictionary of the Reformed Churches; Robert Benedetto and Donald K. McKim

Susan Peterson is the author of five books, including "Western Herbs for Martial Artists and Contact Athletes" and "Clare: A Novel." She holds a Ph.D. in text theory from the University of Texas at Arlington and is an avid cook and gardener.