Reformed theology, also referred to as reformed Protestantism is an offshoot of the protestant reformation of the 16th century. It is largely based on the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli, John Clavin, and Martin Bucer. Reformation Protestantism emphasizes the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, salvation by grace, and the authority of scripture. Calvinism also emerged during the Reformation movement and as the name suggests, it was founded on the teachings of John Calvin. Calvinism started as a branch of the Reformed and it spread quickly through Europe and played a huge role in the formation of Protestantism.
The difference between Reformed and Calvinist theology is their theological perspectives on God’s sovereignty, predestination, limited election, and total depravity. Calvinism takes a narrower look as opposed to reformed technology which takes a broader interpretation.
Comparing Reformed Theology and Calvinism
As we have established, Calvinism stemmed from reformed theology and as such, the two have many common grounds. That said, there are also some distinct differences between the two. Here are the main differentiating factors:
- View on Predestination
Reformed theology takes a broader look at the doctrine of predestination. They believe that predestination is larger than salvation and that God has actual control over all the events on the globe. Calvinism on the other hand focuses on salvation. The predestination doctrine of Calvinism only emphasizes that God predestines those who will be saved.
- View on Limited atonement
Calvinists believe in limited atonement which teaches that the atoning sacrifice of the cross was only meant for a select group of individuals. On the flip side, Reformed theology takes a broader look at the atonement and suggests that the atonement is sufficient for all but only efficient for those who respond in faith. To put it simply, reformed theology believes in a universal offer of salvation, unlike Calvinism which believes in a limited scope of salvation.
Reformed theology generally embraces a universal offer of salvation, while Calvinism emphasizes a more limited scope.
- View on Irresistible Grace
Both Calvinism and Reformed theology believe in Irresistible grace but they differ in how they interpret it. Calvinists believe that the efficacious and irresistible grace of God is extended to the chosen ones. The implication is that the elect cannot resist the saving power of God’s grace. Even though reformed theology recognizes the efficacy of the Grace of God, it teaches a more synergistic view by suggesting that an individual can respond to the grace out of their own volition.
- View on Unconditional Election
Both Calvinism and Reformed theology believe in the doctrine of unconditional election. However, Calvinists emphasize the sovereignty of God in salvation and they believe that election is only based on the will and purpose of God. This means that human merit or response has no impact on salvation. While redeemed theology also agrees with the concept of unconditional election, it also teaches that the human response plays a vital role in the salvation process.
Reformed Theological Beliefs
The theological framework of reformed theology is based on the following core beliefs and principles:
- The Sovereignty of God
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is the core of the reformed theology. The doctrine teaches that God has absolute control over everything. Reformed theology believes that God exercises authority over all creation and influences all aspects of life. These include providence, divine governance, and salvation. The concept of God’s sovereignty emphasizes that God’s plan cannot be affected by the free will of humans or their actions/inactions.
- Total Depravity
Total depravity is another tenet of reformed theology. It teaches that all aspects of human nature were affected as a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve. Total depravity teaches that all humans naturally have a sinful nature, are spiritually dead, and are therefore incapable of choosing God or accepting his plan for salvation. Mankind can therefore be only saved by the grace of God.
- Unconditional Election
The concept of unconditional election teaches that God is sovereign and uses his sovereignty to elect certain people to be saved. The election is not based on merit or worthiness but on God’s sovereignty. This doctrine emphasizes that man is not saved because of their faith or their good deeds but because God chose them. In other others, only the elect (those chosen by God) can be saved and thereby receive eternal life.
Calvinism theological beliefs
Calvinism is based on the doctrines of grace or what is referred to as the five points of Calvinism. These are:
Calvinists believe in eh doctrine of predestination which teaches that God elected the people who would be saved even before the creation of the world. As such, the salvation of mankind is not based on human effort (either by faith or by good deeds) but solely based on God’s grace. This grace, according to Calvinists, cannot be influenced by man’s actions or inactions.
- Limited Atonement
Limited atonement is also referred to as particular redemption. This doctrine states that atoning sacrifice of God’s son on the cross was only for the elect. While other denominations believe in universal atonement, Calvinists believe that the death of Jesus was efficacious only for the elect. This doctrine stems from the teaching of Calvin that the sacrifice of Christ was not dependent on human belief or acceptance.
- Irresistible Grace
Irresistible grace is also known as irresistible call or efficacious grace. This doctrine teaches that once God elects someone (to be saved), they cannot resist the call. The irresistible grace works divinely in the hearts of the elect to help them respond by faith to the call and repent. The doctrine of irresistible grace is contrary to the principle of human autonomy because of the view that God’s saving grace can not be rejected.
- Perseverance of the Saints
Perseverance of the saints is also referred to as eternal security or the preservation of saints. This doctrine teaches that those who have been saved will remain saved to the very end. It is based on the doctrine of predestination and God’s sovereignty because it teaches that God cannot lose those he has elected and preordained to be saved.
- Unconditional Election
Calvinists believe in unconditional election. This means that the decision by God to elect certain individuals has nothing to do with their faith or goodness. On the contrary, the election is only informed by God’s sovereign will and purpose. This doctrine emphasizes that salvation is God’s work that is based on grace and cannot be earned through any human intervention.
To sum it up, Refoemed and Calvinism are cut from the same cloth. More specifically, Calvinism is an offshoot of reformed doctrine. The difference is that reformed theology takes a broader look at their core beliefs whereas Calvinism narrows it down. For instance, reformed theology teaches predestination in the border sense of the word meaning that those who are saved got saved due to God’s sovereign will. On the other hand, Calvinism narrows it down by emphasizing that predestination begins long before the creation of the world and that unless God elects an individual, he cannot be saved.