There’s More to Calvinism than the Five Points of Calvinism

The five points of Calvinism did not originate with John Calvin, and they were not the sum total of his teaching

Although the Synod affirmed five points of doctrine as opposed to the five points of remonstrance, it never intended that anyone would limit Reformed theology or Calvinism to these five points. That would be like taking one court case and regarding it as definitive of the entire American justice system.

 

Fascinating Fact #1: The five points of Calvinism did not originate with John Calvin, and do not provide a comprehensive summarize of His teaching.

Although it can be argued that John Calvin believed all of the five points of Calvinism, they were first formulated more than 50 years after his death in 1564.

In the early 1600’s, some Dutch protestants, including Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), began to question election, predestination, and so on. Arminius died in 1609, but in 1610 his supporters presented a remonstrance to the states of Holland and Friesland, with five objections to Reformed theology.

In 1619, the Synod of Dort not only rejected these five points of Arminianism, but also re-asserted classic reformed theology by issuing 93 canonical rules (the Canons of Dort). The Synod also confirmed the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.

Although the Synod affirmed five points of doctrine as opposed to the five points of remonstrance, it never intended that anyone would limit Reformed theology or Calvinism to these five points. That would be like taking one court case and regarding it as definitive of the entire American justice system. As J I Packer said in his Introductory Essay to Owen’s Death of Death:

It would not be correct simply to equate Calvinism with the five points….the five points present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form.

There is much more to Reformed Theology, and to Calvinism, than these five points.

Fascinating Fact #2:  TULIP was not used as an acronym for Calvinism until the middle of the 20th century.

TULIP’s history is much more recent, first appearing in Loraine Boettner’s 1932 book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The acronym was further popularized by the 1963 book(let), The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended and Documented by David Steele and Curtis Thomas. 

As Dr Kenneth Stewart demonstrates in The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect, we can certainly find numerous references to “The Five Points of Calvinism” in post-Dort Church history, but theologians expressed them much more freely and flexibly than we now do in the rather uniform TULIP fields of the 20th and 21st centuries.

For example, in 1895, R L Dabney entitled a small volume The Five Points of Calvinism but said that “the title was of little accuracy or worth…I use it because custom has made it familiar.” In fact, even Boettner cautioned against a “too close identification of the Five Points and the Calvinist system.”

Thus, the five points of Calvinism did not originate with John Calvin, they were not the sum total of his teaching – there’s much more to Calvinism than the “Five Points of Calvinism” – and TULIP is a relatively recent flower.

As Richard Muller wrote in Was Calvin a Calvinist?:

Calvin and his fellow Reformers held to doctrines that stand in clear continuity with the Canons of Dort, but neither Calvin nor his fellow Reformers, nor the authors of the Canons, would have reduced their confessional position to TULIP.

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.

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