What Were the Main Teachings of John Calvin?

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John Calvin’s teachings centered around the complete sovereignty of God’s will, which controlled everything in the universe all the time, and the scriptures, which were self-authenticating. He emphasized the hopeless total depravity of humans inherited via original sin from Adam. Regardless of any good or evil outcomes stemming from people’s actions, the result was always God’s will. To Calvin, salvation from hell was unobtainable by choice or faith, instituting predestination.

According to Calvin’s teachings, God had a plan for the world and all of its inhabitants that was completely controlled by his will. Everything that had ever happened, was happening or would happen was the result of God’s divine providence. A major point of contention, however, was his assertion that humans played no role in their own salvation. Neither good works nor faith would give a person access to God’s grace. He acknowledged that “some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation” in his text “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

Calvin was Martin Luther’s successor and the leader of the second wave of the Protestant Reformation, but he adopted a much colder, more detached and intellectual view of the faith than Luther, who advocated populism and acted with passion. Calvin’s teachings were radical and controversial to many, but after becoming head of state in Geneva, his teachings drew crowds of Protestants. Calvin sent reformist pastors to other nations to plant Protestant seeds. His efforts resulted in the creation of the Reformed Church, the Puritans and the Presbyterians.