Belief in brief: Calvinists believe God has decided whom to save

Friday, September 21, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The question of where a person will spend eternity is at the heart of Christianity. The idea that God has, from the beginning of time, predestined some people to salvation and others to damnation is central to the prominent and controversial teachings of 16th century Protestant theologian John Calvin.

While most influential in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, Calvinism continues to shape a variety of denominations.


Calvinists often summarize their beliefs into five points using the acronym TULIP. Not everyone who considers themselves Calvinist believes in all five points, and many variations of Calvinism exist.

T stands for total depravity, the idea that humans are completely corrupted by sin and will always exercise their freedom to resist God.

U is for unconditional election — God has always known who will be saved and has chosen them regardless of condition or merit.

L represents limited atonement, which means Jesus Christ died to save only the predestined and not all people.

I is for the irresistible grace of God, which leads people to salvation and to live better lives.

P stands for the perseverance of the saints — once salvation is received, it cannot be forfeited.


Notable Christians associated with Calvinism include John Piper, popular author and pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Recently, writers have observed a resurgence in the popularity of Reformed theology, which includes Calvinism, among Generation X and Y churchgoers.


The most commonly known response to Calvinism is in the teachings of Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, whose ideas first came to prominence in the early 17th century. Arminius believed in conditional election and thought Calvin did not give proper weight to man’s free will in the process of salvation. Historically, Methodists and several Baptist denominations have embraced some form of Arminianism.


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