Calvinism is the theological system associated with the Reformer John Calvin that emphasizes the rule of God over all things as reflected in its understanding of Scripture, God, humanity, salvation, and the church. In popular vernacular, Calvinism often refers to the Five Points of Calvinistic doctrine regarding salvation, which make up the acrostic TULIP. In its broader sense, Calvinism is associated with Reformed theology. Calvinism (also called the Reformed tradition, Reformed Christianity, Reformed Protestantism or the Reformed faith) is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice of John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.
Calvinists broke with the Roman Catholic Church but differed with Lutherans on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, theories of worship, and the use of God’s law for believers, among other things. Calvinism can be a misleading term because the religious tradition it denotes is and has always been diverse, with a wide range of influences rather than a single founder. The movement was first called Calvinism by Lutherans who opposed it, and many within the tradition would prefer to use the word Reformed. Since the Arminian controversy, the Reformed tradition — as a branch of Protestantism distinguished from Lutheranism — divided into separate groups, Arminians and Calvinists.
Reformed churches may exercise several forms of ecclesiastical polity, but most are presbyterian or congregationalist with some being episcopalian.
While the Reformed theological tradition addresses all of the traditional topics of Christian theology, the word Calvinism is sometimes used to refer to particular Calvinist views on soteriology and predestination, which are summarized in part by the Five Points of Calvinism. Some have also argued that Calvinism as a whole stresses the sovereignty or rule of God in all things including salvation.
Early influential Reformed theologians include John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Theodore Beza, and John Knox. In the twentieth century Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, B. B. Warfield, Karl Barth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark were influential, while contemporary Reformed theologians include J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, Timothy J. Keller, John Piper, and Michael Horton.
The biggest Reformed association is the World Communion of Reformed Churches with more than 80 million members in 211 member denominations around the world. There are more conservative Reformed federations like the World Reformed Fellowship and the International Conference of Reformed Churches, as well as
Five points of Calvinism
Most objections to and attacks on Calvinism focus on the “five points of Calvinism,” also called the doctrines of grace, and remembered by the mnemonic “TULIP.” The five points are popularly said to summarize the Canons of Dort; however, there is no historical relationship between them, and some scholars argue that their language distorts the meaning of the Canons, Calvin’s theology, and the theology of 17th-century Calvinistic orthodoxy, particularly in the language of total depravity and limited atonement. The five points were popularized in the 1963 booklet The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, Documented by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas. The origins of the five points and the acronym are uncertain, but the acronym was used by Cleland Boyd McAfee as early as circa 1905. An early printed appearance of the T-U-L-I-P acronym is in Loraine Boettner’s 1932 book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The acronym was very cautiously if ever used by Calvinist apologists and theologians before the booklet by Steele and Thomas. More recently, theologians have sought to reformulate the TULIP acronym to more accurately reflect the Canons of Dort.
The central assertion of these points is that God saves every person upon whom he has mercy, and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or inability of humans.
• “Total depravity,” also called “total inability,” asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be). This doctrine is derived from Augustine’s explanation of Original Sin. While the phrases “totally depraved” and “utterly perverse” were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like “total depravity” cannot be found in the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.
• “Unconditional election” asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God.
• “Limited atonement,” also called “particular redemption” or “definite atonement”, asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all. Some Calvinists have summarized this as “The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.” All Calvinists would affirm that the blood of Christ was sufficient to pay for every single human being IF it were God’s intention to save every single human being. But Calvinists are also quick to point out that Jesus did not spill a drop of blood in vain (Galatians 2:21), and therefore, we can only be sure that His blood sufficed for those for whom it was intended, however many (Matthew 26:28) or few (Matthew 7:14) that may be. Some Calvinists also teach that the atonement accomplished certain benefits for all mankind, albeit, not their eternal salvation. The doctrine is driven by the Calvinistic concept of the sovereignty of God in salvation and their understanding of the nature of the atonement. At the Synod of Dort, both sides agreed that the atonement of Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all sin and that it was only efficacious for some (it only actually saved some). The controversy centered on whether this limited efficacy was based on God’s election (the view of the Synod and of later Reformed theologians) or on the choice of each person and God’s foreknowledge of that choice (the view of Arminius).
• “Irresistible grace,” also called “efficacious grace”, asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, “graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ.” This is not to deny the fact that the Spirit’s outward call (through the proclamation of the Gospel) can be, and often is, rejected by sinners; rather, it’s that inward call which cannot be rejected.
• “Perseverance of the saints” (or perseverance of God with the saints) (the word “saints” is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).
There are two mains camps of theology within Christianity in America today: Arminianism and Calvinism. Calvinism is a system of biblical interpretation taught by John Calvin. Calvin lived in France in the 1500’s at the time of Martin Luther who sparked the Reformation.
The system of Calvinism adheres to a very high view of scripture and seeks to derive its theological formulations based solely on God’s word. It focuses on God’s sovereignty, stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, to do whatever He desires with His creation. It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual where he is then able and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation.
Arminianism, on the other hand, maintains that God predestined, but not in an absolute sense. Rather, He looked into the future to see who would pick him and then He chose them. Jesus died for all peoples’ sins who have ever lived and ever will live, not just the Christians. Each person is the one who decides if he wants to be saved or not. And finally, it is possible to lose your salvation (some arminians believe you cannot lose your salvation).
Basically, Calvinism is known by an acronym: T.U.L.I.P.
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
OTHER PRINCIPLES OF CALVINISM
The principle of Calvin’s system can be expressed by the term Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This principle of the Reformation demonstrates the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore the final authority in belief and practice. A common mistake is made when Sola Scriptura is understood as the Bible “alone.” Calvin and the Reformers, believed strongly in church tradition, e.g. Calvin consistently and often cites the early church fathers. However, Scripture had the final authority and tradition was given a subordinate role. The authority of Scripture was not through rational argumentation or proofs, but through the witness of the Holy Spirit. 
Calvinism affirms and confesses the historic doctrine of the Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is perfect in all his attributes, and is self-sufficient. Therefore, God is not subject to time or other beings, nor is he reducible to matter or spatial categories available to human reasoning or examination. God is also mysterious, or hidden, except as he chooses to reveal himself to men, which He has done in the Scriptures.
Salvation (Five Points of Calvinism)
The Calvinist doctrine of salvation is summarized in what is commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism, or the Doctrines of Grace, known by the acronym TULIP. These five points are a summary of the Canons of Dort which in turn was the judgment of the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) against related Arminian teaching. These five points are not intended to be a comprehensive summary of Calvinism or Reformed doctrine, but an exposition of the sovereignty of God in salvation — arranged to address the particular points in dispute raised by the Arminians of that day.
Note: The summary wording below is adapted from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics
Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people’s natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).
• See main page: Total depravity
• Contrast with Universal prevenient grace
Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15, 21). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).
Calvinism is a theological system of Christian interpretation initiated by John Calvin. It emphasizes predestination and salvation. The five points of Calvinism were developed in response to the Arminian position (See Arminianism). Calvinism teaches: 1) Total depravity: that man is touched by sin in all parts of his being: body, soul, mind, and emotions, 2) Unconditional Election: that God’s favor to Man is completely by God’s free choice and has nothing to do with Man. It is completely undeserved by Man and is not based on anything God sees in man (Eph. 1:1-11), 3) Limited atonement: that Christ did not bear the sins of every individual who ever lived but instead only bore the sins of those who were elected into salvation (John 10:11, 15), 4) Irresistible grace: that God’s call to someone for salvation cannot be resisted, 5) Perseverance of the saints: that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation (John 10:27-28).
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