The theology of John Calvin

The 500th birthday of John Calvin is being celebrated this week worldwide. Calvin was a leader in the Protestant Reformation and his beliefs helped form the basis for the split from the Catholic Church. His career as a theologian began in Paris, where he broke with Roman Catholicism and joined the Protestant movement. His writings and his position as an informal leader of Protestantism in Paris put him at odds with the religious establishment and he left for Switzerland. 1n 1536, Calvin published “The Institutes of Christian Religion”, which he revised throughout his lifetime. Leaving Geneva in 1538 under political pressure, Calvin pastored for three years in Strasbourg, France. He returned to Geneva in 1541 when political allies gained a foothold on the city council. He stayed based in Geneva until he died in 1564. Calvin had a series of core beliefs still pondered and debated by Christians. There are five central points of Calvinism taken as a summary from the Canons of Dort. The canons were a summary of the 1516-18 Synod of Dort, which met in the Netherlands. They were in contrast to the theories of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius. The five points have been referred to by the acronym TULIP, which refers to total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Total depravity states that humans are unable to love God on their own because of their preoccupation with self-interest initiated by the Fall of Man discussed in Genesis 3:1-7. Because of his sinful nature, man is unable to willingly seek God’s grace. Unconditional election indicates that God, through the church, chooses a variety of people for salvation. This is in contrast to Arminius’ theory of prevenient grace that states God is actively pursuing humankind in the hopes of people making an active choice to follow his will. The notion of prevenient grace is a key tenet to many North American Protestant denominations. Limited atonement states that Jesus’ crucifixion paid for the sins of the redeemed, which are chosen by God. Irresistible grace states that faith is given to man by God. It is not earned independently by man. The salvation granted by Christ’s death is given to man by an infusion of the Holy Spirit. Perseverance of the saints states that once a person achieves salvation, it can never be lost. Even if people turn away from the faith given to them by God, God will ultimately lead them to salvation because he has chosen them to be a part of his Kingdom.

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