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Calvinism (also Reformed Theology) is a Protestant Christian theological system that arose in the sixteenth century as a continuation of the Protestant Reformation. It is named after the Sixteenth Century reformer and theologian, John Calvin, who, while in exile in Switzerland following Martin Luther's excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, was instrumental in developing Reformed Theology.
Reformed Theology is an expression of Luther's criticism that the Roman Catholic Church's sale of indulgences and encouragement of penance and good works as a means to salvation are theologically incorrect and lead to corruption. The essence of Reformed Theology and its most significant distinction from Catholic dogma is its soteriology: man is by his nature fallen and incapable of ending his rebellion against God, it is by faith alone that God intervenes and gives man the gift of salvation, that man may not refuse that gift, and that God preordained who would receive it.
Various contemporary churches adhere to the general principles of Reformed Theology, including the Presbyterian Church, Reformed Baptists, some Southern Baptists, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, various churches in the Continuing Anglican Church movement, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Calvinism has been very influential in the development of many Protestant churches, including churches of the English Separatist and Dissenter movements (Pilgrims and Puritans).
 General outline
 Theological origins
The significant differences among early Protestant movements and Roman Catholicism are their views on free will and original sin and their soteriologies (theologies of salvation). Martin Luther's protest against the Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences was a response to what he viewed as the heresy of Pelagianism, or the denial that man is by his nature tainted by original sin, and the corollary belief that man is tainted by his own personal sin and must take control and responsibility for gaining God's pardon by human works.
In Calvin's view, sometimes described by theologians as the Augustinian position, man's salvation is dependent solely on the gift of God's grace, which he is powerless to accept or refuse.
To the Pelagian, one must be "born again" before he can be saved. To the Calvinist, one is born again when he answers the "effectual calling" of God drawing him to Jesus Christ. The drawing is "effectual" in the sense that "[t]he Holy Spirit's drawing … accomplishes its purpose."
 Five Points of Calvinism
While written after Calvin's death as a response to five points of the Arminian Remonstrance, the minority position of a group of Protestant preachers and educators, The Five Points of Calvinism succinctly state Calvinism's position on soteriology. They are easily remembered with the mnemonic, TULIP:
- Total depravity. Every person is born tainted by original sin from the fall of man and without God's intervention is unable to serve God, but will serve only his own interests. One cannot voluntarily turn to God of his own will.
- Unconditional election. God chose a few select people to whom he will give the gift of salvation. The rest are reprobate and will automatically go to perdition. Supralapsarian Calvinists believe God decreed who would be among the elect before he decreed the fall of man; infralapsarians believe that God decreed who would be among the elect after he decreed the fall of man. In either case, neither the elect nor the reprobate have a say in the matter.
- Limited atonement. Jesus Christ's substitutionary atonement by crucifixion was only to save the elect, not everybody.
- Irresistible grace. Those few God chose to receive salvation will be unable to resist God's grace.
- Perseverance of the saints. Those few who are converted to Christ will remain saved. They cannot lose their salvation because they were predestined by God to be saved. Thus, there is no notion of true apostasy within Calvinism. This doctrine raises a number of problems, not the least of which is that it's impossible to identify someone who's been saved from someone who has not.
 The fringe of the fringe
There are also some believers in Calvinism who take these five points to their logical conclusion. They are often called "Hyper-Calvinists". Hyper-Calvinists will typically refrain from any evangelistic attempts at converting "sinners", believing that only God will do the converting. More "moderate" Calvinists do believe in personal evangelism, believing that they can be God's instrument in reaching those he has chosen to be saved.
Fred Phelps was known to subscribe to a particularly whacked variant of the Hyper-Calvinist belief system. He not only believed that filthy reprobates are predestined for hell, but also that God actively hates them and brings about their untimely deaths.
Another Calvinist that has risen to more recent prominence among this loon squad is Harold Camping, the mastermind behind the (horribly failed) May 21, 2011 Doomsday date phenomenon. His "predictions" instigated fringe Calvinists with little knowledge to go on a mad conversion spree, trying desperately to find God's "elect" before the Judgement Day that never came. The Christian churches in his surroundings generally reject him as a heretic for violation of the no-future-predictions-please rule, that relies on some sayings attributed to Jesus himself.
 See also
- Calvin and Hobbes
- Double predestination
- Unitarian Universalist Church: The complete and total opposite end of the spectrum.