It is often assumed that the so-called ‘five points of Calvinism’ provide an adequate summary of reformed (that is to say, Calvinistic) doctrine. It is not really so. They were formulated (in 1618, at the Synod of Dort) as a response to a five-point Remonstrance put out by certain Belgian theologians a little earlier in the same century.
The theology of the Remonstrance, which came to be known as Arminianism, was based on the belief that faith is a free and responsible human act which is exercised independently of God, and that since the Bible commands all to believe, all must be able to believe. The five points of the Remonstrance were:-
- Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor
- is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.
- God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by his foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.
- Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.
- It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost.
The counter-affirmations of Dort run as follows:-
- Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him.
- God’s election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith, and brought to glory.
- The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect.
- The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object.
- Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory.
Hence the convenient (though in my view slightly unfortunate) TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Preservation of the saints.
See J.I. Packer, Among God’s Giants, p166f