I wrote this very brief paper on Calvinism and its apologetic branch, Presuppositionalism, a few months ago for Mary Sharp's "Confident Christianity" discussion group on Facebook a few months ago. It is edited by my friend Ben Maas, a Presuppositional Calvinist with whom I'm debating the account for the Laws of Logic that I cross-posted on my blog for Sye (who did not wish to discuss the particular style of that account; Sye, if you're still around, I've updated with a willingness to discuss it in a more conversational tone!).
Calvinism and Presuppositionalism: A Primer
By Darrin Rasberry (Agnostic)
Edited by Ben Maas (Calvinist)
(Five-Point) Calvinism is the Protestant Christian belief that holds to the TULIP theology, which many reading this may recall from the old days of high school lit and history. The following passage is intended as a reminder of these doctrines.
TOTAL DEPRAVITY means the complete inability for man to do a truly good act, including (according to the Reformed tradition and Catholic tradition of St. Augustine) the inability for man to autonomously choose to follow God. Additionally, the concept applies to any act of man that is apparently good; any act a man may do which is altruistic in nature will always have a selfish, wicked component.
Actual good acts committed by a wicked man are either due to an act of specific divine grace, in the action of God bringing individuals to Christ, described further in the “limited atonement” section, or in the action of common grace, in which God withholds man from doing the most wicked acts he truly desires so as to see His plan for divine election come to complete fruition.
Biblical support often cited for total depravity includes Paul's apostolic interpretation of the Psalmists lament in Romans 3:10-11: “There are none who do good, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.”
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION, another Calvinist doctrine related to Augustinian tradition, arises from Romans 9:10-13: “And not only that, but also when Rebekah was pregnant by Isaac our forefather (for though [Jacob and Esau] had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to election might stand, not from works but from the One who calls) she was told “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Thus, Calvinism states that God's Divine election logically preceeds any deeds on the part of the individuals. It therefore does away with the common notion in modern American Christianity that the elect of which the Bible speaks are exactly those which God foreknew would choose Him, whether specific to the individual as in Arminianism/Molinism or in a general “body election” sense as in Open Theism.
In the Calvinist theology, a split occurs on whether God's plan for Adam's fall (and the subsequent Original Sin) is itself logically precedent to this election process. Infralapsarians hold that God first decrees the Fall, stating that the elect, described in the Bible as “saved,” have to, after all, be saved from something; the rest of the nonelect are left to their own means for salvation, so that even though God knows none will choose Him without His help, He has not positively foreordained their damnation (or “reprobation”). Supralapsarianism, however, holds that divine election and reprobation are both completely in God's hands, with the Fall and the Atonement logically proceeding this plan and enabling both salvation and damnation.
LIMITED ATONEMENT follows from this process of election in that it proclaims that Christ's sacrifice was only for the sins of the elect, and not for all of mankind. If Christ died for the sins of all, Calvinists maintain, then Christ must have died for the sin of unbelief, thereby making a universal salvation the only solution to holding an unlimited atonement. Furthermore, if Christ died for the sins of all, then since the Bible proclaims that some will be damned, the wasting of Christ's blood would occur for unsaved individuals.
This doctrine is also not held by a majority of churches outside of the Reformed (Calvinist) faith, as many hold to the free offer of Christ and the gospel to all mankind as proclaimed by the non-Calvinist interpretation of John 3:16. Limited Atonement is often stated to be the most controversial of the Calvinist TULIP doctrines when considered on an individual basis.
Biblical support for Limited Atonement comes from John 17:9: “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours.”
IRRESISTIBLE GRACE is the notion that none of God's elect will reject His call for them. The doctrine teaches that the Holy Spirit will first work salvation in a true believer before he or she outwardly expresses faith in Christ, an action seen as a direct consequence of this divine grace.
A reply to the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace, which teaches that God intervened on the behalf of all mankind and gave them the ability to choose to accept Him if they so wished, irresistible grace instead focuses on the positive divine power of God and His infallible working in a man or woman He foreknew for Himself. This also runs contrary to currently popular Christian beliefs, which normally proclaim one has the power to take or leave the call of God on one's own.
Biblical support includes John 6:65: “No one can come to Me unless it is granted unto him by the Father.”
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS, the final petal in TULIP, teaches that men cannot fall away from Christianity once they are called by God. The common term is “once saved, always saved,” and can be taken to mean that “there are no true apostates.” If a Christian falls away from the faith, Calvinists state, then he or she was never called by Christ to begin with.
Biblical support for this doctrine is based on verses such as Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”
From the TULIP doctrines, I will present a summary of what Calvinists generally view is the case for a believer (“elect”) and a nonbeliever (“reprobate”):
An ELECT will receive the Holy Spirit out of the grace of God. The elect, unable to believe on his own through his sinful nature, is thus caused by God to awaken to His enlightenment. He will then outwardly proclaim the gospel and start his new, regenerated life as a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) and receive the kingdom of Heaven after the Last Judgment. This is in contrast to the more popularlized Christian view, where the elect are typically described as those who choose Christ freely and honestly, and in cases such as the Church of Christ, maintain this belief until their deaths.
A REPROBATE, on the other hand, will die in his sins, completely unable to choose God on his own and yet still standing guilty before Him out of their knowledgeable rejection of Him (Romans 1:18-19). Being without excuse, the reprobate will be condemned to eternal punishment for his sins and his ultimate rejection of God. The is contrasted by the popular view, which describes the damned as those who have willfully rejected the call of the Spirit all their lives even though they were able to choose Him freely, a choice that Calvinists maintain is impossible once God's will in the Spirit is implemented on a person (see irresistible grace).
C. OTHER VIEWS.
HYPER-CALVINISM, a term often misused as a denouncement of full five-point Calvinists, is historically used to describe Calvinists who do not believe in proclaiming the Gospel. They believe that preaching the Gospel is not mandatory because God will eventually bring His elect to the Gospel Himself, and that evangelizing would allow the Christian to boast about saving individuals. Fred Phelps, of “God Hates Fags” fame, is close to a hyper-Calvinist, choosing to show the sins of the world instead of preaching Christ because “there's a Bible available anywhere for people to look it all up.”
POSTMILLENNIALISM is the commonly Calvinist belief that a Christian kingdom will be on Earth for a thousand years (literal or figurative) before Christ returns and judges humanity. Some Calvinists also hold that this millennium has already begun, with Christ spiritually reigning over the Earth for the indefinite time needed for all Elect to hear the Gospel (AMILLENNIALISM). The two are contrasted in that postmillennialists believe that the "thousand-year Christian rule" is first needed for Christ's return, where as amillennialists typically believe this is already figuratively in progress and has been such since the Resurrection and destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. Both, however, hold that the Gospel must first be preached to all of God's foreordained Elect as a necessary condition for the return.
This form of interpreting Revelation stands in complete contrast to premillennialism (specifically dispensationalism), the popularized notion of a dramatic rapture of Christians to Heaven, a horrific tribulation, and then a literal, bodily return of Christ to rule the world with His church for the thousand years predicted in Revelation ; post- and a-millennialists do not believe in a bodily rule of Christ, but a spiritual one. The dispensational premillennial notion is what is held by the “Left Behind” series, enormously popular in many Charismatic circles today.
EQUAL ULTIMACY is the belief that God actively works in all things directly, providing no room for any possible autonomy (even in the Compatibilist sense) on the part of man. Every action done on Earth is directly caused and worked by God, including evil. This view is held only by a vast minority of Calvinists. Another definition of equal ultimacy is that the process of election and reprobation are of equivalent Divine weight, but this definition will not be used in my paper.
PRESUPPOSITIONALISM is the apologetic method adopted by many Calvinists. The central claim is that one's presuppositions, or "worldview," will determine how one interprets facts. It holds that accepting the Bible as one's worldview is the only way to make sense out of life consistently; all other philosophies hold within their beliefs the very seeds which cause them to fail. Presups thus seek not to demonstrate the truth of their own beliefs, but to point out where the beliefs of their opponent fail and where their opponent's critiques are faulty (Van Til, Gordon Clark, John Frame); other methods of presuppositionalism seek to point out the opponent's sinfulness and wickedness in the eyes of God (moral presuppositionalism, used by speakers Ray Comfort and Paul Washer). Presuppositionalism in general (apart from TAG in specific) does not aim for demonstrating God's existence, since they typically hold men are saved by the grace of God apart from any workings of their own; therefore, this method suits the general Calvinist philosophy and is generally not found outside this Christian philosophy.
TAG: The transcendental argument, or TAG, is a form of presuppositional apologetics which demonstrates that the non-Christian borrows ideas such as the notion of causation (or induction) and logic from the Bible (as well as morality, described earlier), since they claim that it is used by their opponent yet cannot be demonstrated and relied upon by any means outside of taking the Bible as one's worldview. By this method, one attempts to demonstrate God's existence by the impossibility of the contrary: without the Christian God, the TAG arguer claims, the proposition in question would be impossible to even consider. Dr. Greg Bahnsen is perhaps the most famous presenter of the TAG.
The apologetic method, in accordance with Paul's statement in Romans 3 that none seek God on their own, stands in contrast with evidential and classical apologetics, which seek to demonstrate to the unbeliever the soundness of the Christian faith through neutral examination of the evidences for God and the claims of the Bible. For this reason, many Presuppositionalists are fervently opposed to classical and evidential apologetics, claiming that it grants too much to the unbeliever and starts outside the authority of Scripture. Nonetheless, many apologists from other camps, such as William Lane Craig, occasionally use a form of TAG, most commonly the Moral Argument for God's Existence (see Craig, Reasonable Faith).
Many Calvinists, most famously R.C. Sproul, Sr., and Alvin Plantinga, reject the Presuppositional Apologetic approach as a general methodology.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: See the Bahnsen/Stein debate (W, Bahnsen 1985) beginning here, the Bahnsen/Tabash debate (W, Bahnsen 1993) here, and the Bahnsen/Smith debate (W, Smith 1991) starting here.
Transcripts of the Bahnsen/Tabash and Bahnsen/Stein debates may be found with a simple Google search if you prefer to read 'em.