Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace: Introduction

As promised, it is Wednesday, and I am now going to introduce us to the doctrines of grace, widely known as "Calvinism." Shane Morgan has the companion post to this one on his blog. What are the "doctrines of grace," you ask? Briefly, this term refers to a set of five doctrines developed by the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) in response to the theological objections of a group known as the Remonstrants, also better known as the Arminians. This stance was set forth in the document Arminian Articles of Remonstrance in 1610, hence the name "Remonstrants." It is interesting to note that Jacobus Arminius himself (similarly to Calvin) did not develop these points, but rather these points were developed by his followers in summary of his thought. These points were:
  1. Free Will with Partial Depravity. This doctrine holds that "freedom of will" is man's natural state and was not lost in the Fall. However, sin has corrupted it enough that the will cannot do good unless it chooses to agree with God's grace through faith.
  2. Conditional Election. This view teaches that God decrees to save those whom He foreknows will believe in Jesus as Savior. Those who He foresees will not believe are not chosen for salvation.
  3. Universal Atonement. In this doctrine which I daresay the majority of Christendom believes today, Arminians hold that Jesus died for all people. However, only those who believe in Christ receive the benefit of His death. Note the connection here with points 1 and 2.
  4. Resistible Grace. This means exactly what one would think, that the grace of God unto salvation can be resisted. Yes, God's grace is necessary for one to be saved, but that grace can be resisted.
  5. Uncertain Perseverance or "Defectible Grace." This is what is commonly known as "it is possible to lose your salvation." Yes, we humans have been given the ability by God in the power of the Holy Spirit to persevere until the end, but due to sin it is possible to fall from saving grace.
All five of these doctrines lean heavily on each other. Also, all five rest heavily on the notion of human free will or ability. I will not now attempt to examine these points in the same manner as I am examining the Calvinist system. That will remain for a later series (likely after graduation). Compare these points with the "5 Points of Calvinism," developed in the aforementioned Synod of Dort as an answer to the Remonstrance. These points have been referred to as "TULIP" simply because the first letters of each point form an acrostic. Similarly to Arminianism, John Calvin did not develop this system but they are the work of his later followers in their summary of Calvin's thought in response to the attacks of the Remonstrants.
  1. Total Depravity. This introductory point holds that nothing an unregenerate person does is ever completely good. This means that every person is so totally corrupted and influenced by sin that there is nothing about us that is not touched by sin. This excludes any notion of free will or ability to choose the good. Our motives are never entirely pure, and to one extent or another all of our actions are corrupted by evil desires. As such we have no inclination to seek God and therefore cannot seek him or even respond to the Gospel when it is presented to us. This is what Scripture calls "the bondage of sin."
  2. Unconditional Election. This doctrine teaches that God chooses people for salvation solely by His own good pleasure, not because of any condition foreseen in the individual. One could rightly say that this is "Arbitrary Election." This is not to impugn the doctrine but to underscore that there is nothing that influences God to choose some and damn others but His own purposes and plans. Faith in Christ is not the cause of election but rather the result. As so, those chosen (elected) by God are called the elect. This doctrine is what most people think of when they hear the word predestination.
  3. Limited Atonement. This doctrine is likely the most controversial of the five points. Limited atonement posits that the death of Christ saves the elect (the chosen), and the elect only. As such, Christ's death atoned for the sins of the elect, but not for the sins of those who never come to faith. There are two main views within Calvinism of this doctrine, both of which will be addressed in the post on this point.
  4. Irresistible Grace. This refers to the irresistible call of God to the believer to come to faith in Christ. Grace is given to the elected sinner to believe in Christ, and once given the call of the Gospel through the preaching of the Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that grace cannot permanently or effectively be resisted. The sinner is thus inevitably drawn to faith in Christ as Savior.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints. This is widely known (probably crudely) as "once saved, always saved." This is true, in that the doctrine declares that God will preserve His elect so that they will never finally fall away from saving grace. It has nothing to do with human effort but everything to do with God's providential strengthening of the elect to endure to the end, no matter how far they fall from so great a salvation.
This system relies heavily on two points. First, there is a total commitment to the impotence of man. Second, there is a total commitment to the absolute sovereignty of God. One must realize that man is completely unable to do anything apart from the divine enablement or approval of God, who reigns over all the created order. If God had not done it or made it possible (permitted it), then we have no ability to do it apart from His good pleasure. Without this view of man and of God, Calvinism crumbles. Since I cannot really give biblical support for each (following my post outline in the Prologue), I'll just skip ahead to My Take. For starters, both positions make sense. That's in a logical sense, however. All 5 points of both positions are logically consistent with each other and are coherent. Whether either position is biblical, well, that's another matter entirely. Since this series focuses on Calvinism, let me tell you my initial take on the 5 points. From a "first impressions" view, Calvinism makes perfect sense, biblically and "common sense"-ically. Is that even a word? But I, as do many others, balk only at the point of limited atonement, and for a long time I balked somewhat at irresistible grace. Calvinism appears to take a very high and very biblical view of God's role in salvation. I'm reminded heavily of the verse that states flatly that "no one can be saved without God's help." That means that it is impossible to be saved unless God does it for us. I can agree that sin has affected every part of me so that even when I do good things I don't entirely desire God's glory but my own. I can agree that God chose me before the foundation of the world simply because He wanted to. I can agree that God made sure I would accept Jesus no matter what, because He had a plan for me that would not be denied. I can agree He will also make sure I will endure until that plan is fulfilled and He calls me home. All of these four points that I agree with here are very biblical concepts, and I am convinced to a compelling degree that they are correct. I obviously am not convinced yet on limited atonement, but I'll save that for the post on the subject. Now, to continue to the next portion, or Part 2, of this discussion, I direct you to Shane Morgan and his introductory post to the doctrines of grace. As I announced, we will be co-blogging this series. Shane, however, is going to do it with a twist. I'm just simply going to be outlining each doctrine and what it means, whereas Shane will approach it from an entirely different angle. Go read his blog to see what he's doing! Please feel free to comment and offer corrections, clarifications, or questions of the information above. I desire your help! Join us next time as I move to the first point of the doctrines of grace: Total Depravity!

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