“Reforming” the TULIP?

This one Calvinized me once and for all!

One thing that has always puzzled me since I began reading and listening to Reformed theologians and writers deal with the TULIP, is that they almost unanimously seem to lament the fact that there is a “Five Points of Calvinism” in the first place. They complain that it raises more questions and seems to cause more confusion and more problems than it solves, but they just keep on referring to it and using it anyway. But when they use it they often rename the points in the acronym.

For those who may not know, the letters in TULIP are the first letters to a list of doctrines which reveal how God in his sovereignty saves sinners by his grace. These doctrines are:

T-Total Depravity

U-Unconditional Election

L-Limited Atonement

I-Irresistable Grace

P-Perseverance of the Saints

These doctrines are a summary of the five part document from the seventeenth century called the Canons of Dort, which were published upon the completion of the Synod of Dort, a council consisting of many Reformed churches throughout Europe at the time which had to convene in order to respond to the theological challenges within the Dutch Reformed Church by a formerly Reformed minister by the name of Jacob Arminius. He had originally published a five-point list of his own which denied certain teachings of Scripture which too clearly evidence the sovereignty of God in showing mercy to, and hardening, whomever he wills (Romans 9:18).

Arminius’ modified doctrines tended to limit God’s sovereignty in favor of the unlimited freedom of man’s will. Mimicking the TULIP acronym, I’ve noticed that some modern writers similarly outline the five points of Arminius with another flower acronym, DAISY. The titles consist of Diminished Depravity, Abrogated Election, Impersonal Atonement, Sedentary Grace, Yielding Eternal Uncertainty.

For some reason, the complaints Reformed writers make usually leave me wondering if they’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Perhaps too many Reformed writers distrust homiletical mnemonic devices more than I thought? There’s no telling. However, when Seth McBee updated his Facebook status, registering his complaints against J. I. Packer’s views on Limited Atonement in his famous introduction to John Owen’s masterpiece, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, for his supposed arrogance in condemning the Arminian general atonement view in no uncertain terms, I was intrigued. What? Someone claiming to be Reformed, yet disagreeing with Packer’s view of the atonement? That’s when we began the discussion over at his blog to which I directed you a couple of days ago (see the previous post).

So, anyway, I printed out the online copy of Packer’s intro, to read up on his “objectionable” views on Limited Atonement. It wasn’t far into the essay that he began to list the deficiencies in the TULIP, just like all the lower lights in Reformed theology. For the first time, I finally got it. Or at least I finally found a claimed deficiency in the TULIP that actually made sense and didn’t leave me wondering. Here’s what he wrote:

There is a fifth way in which the five-point formula is deficient. Its very form (a series of denials of Arminian assertions) lends color to the impression that Calvinism is a modification of Arminianism; that Arminianism has a certain primacy in order of nature, and developed Calvinism is an offshoot from it. Even when one shows this to be false as a matter of history, the suspicion remains in many minds that it is a true account of the relation of the two views themselves. For it is widely supposed that Arminianism (which, as we now see, corresponds pretty closely to the new gospel of our own day) is the result of reading the Scriptures in a ‘natural’, unbiased, unsophisticated way, and that Calvinism is an unnatural growth, the product less of the texts themselves than of unhallowed logic working on the texts, wresting their plain sense and upsetting their balance by forcing them into a systematic framework which they do not themselves provide.

An epiphany! The TULIP can tend to encourage people to assume that the answer to “which came first?” is Arminianism, when in reality, the reverse is the case. The five points of Calvinism are mostly stated in a negative form because they are denying claims the Arminians made when they were trying to modify Calvinism, the doctrine that arises the more legitimately from the text of Scripture.

Okay, now I’ll play ball. Like I said, one of the funny things about all the Calvinist critics of the five points is that they like to try to rewrite the points. Again, I was always left dissatisfied. For example, R. C. Sproul likes to retitle Total Depravity as “Radical Corruption” (as if that clears anything up). Some others recast Limited Atonement as “Definite Atonement.” Again, another loser in my book. Recalling these misadventures in homiletics, I decided I’d enter the realm of “Reforming” the TULIP with my own list of titles that, in my estimation, do not state things in the form of denials of someone else’s view, but positively presents the doctrines of grace. Here’s what I came up with. I hope you find them enlightening:

The Spiritual Death of the Sinner(formerly, Total Depravity)

The Electing Grace of the Father(formerly, Unconditional Election)

The Redeeming Grace of the Son(formerly, Limited Atonement)

The Saving Grace of the Spirit(formerly, Irresistable Grace)

Persevering Grace for the Saint(formerly, Perseverance of the Saints).


18 responses

  1. Hey there,

    If I may, I will appeal to you again, if you will, please scope out the historical documentation on my index page.

    The problem is, we have at least two forms of Calvinism, two Calvinisms.

    Classic and Moderate Forms of “Calvinism” Documented Thus Far

    Scroll down to and read the material from Richard Muller as well.

    Take care,

  2. very good job John of saying what my guts are digesting!

  3. David,

    I’ve been familiar with your website for quite some time. Sorry I didn’t have time to address all of you individually, but I dealt with what I could with the limited time I have.

    Till we meet again.

  4. Michael,

    Thanks. Can you describe what your guts are digesting, and how it is similar to my post?

    And I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to answer your questions during the potentially endless discussion over there. I’ll try to get back to them at another time, and give you my two cents worth.

  5. cows ruminate. I digest and digest and digest or ponder, ponder, ponder the Word to find the plain meaning. As I hope was clear in my not as abrupt forward way with Bnonn I am not certain unlimited expiation was explained plainly enough for me to accept his view.

    I lean towards “the redeeming Grace of the Son and Father because of verses as the one I cited, Matthew 11:27 and 28.

  6. I like it!

  7. John,
    WOW! You must be in a Church where they are “getting to you.” I don’t mind a bit of quibble regarding TULIP, but I can’t argue with TTTTP.

  8. Christian,

    That’s the point. It’s not an acronym. It’s an outline. No substance is changed here, only the style. When you realize that the extent and the implications of the third T in the outline are identical to the L in the historic acronym, in a way that does not allow for the idea that both Arminians and Calvinists are right about the extent of Christ’s atonement, you’ll argue.

  9. Brandon,

    Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  10. Michael,

    Excellent passage! Christ declaring his sovereignty to reveal his Father to whomever he will, followed up by a general outward call to come to him, in the spirit of “whosover will may come.” The implication being that whoever does come and is genuinely saved are the ones to whom the Son chose to reveal the Father. From those who never desire to respond to his gracious call to come, the Son has, in his righteous, just and good sovereignty, withheld the revelation of the Father.

    Tyre, Sidon, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum received that outward call and they rejected it, not because their depravity was only diminished (ala the DAISY above) and they freely decided not to cooperate with the grace offered by the Spirit (ala the DAISY’s Sedentary Grace), even though Christ preached the gospel in those towns, he had chosen to reveal the Father to little children. Or was it the Father that kept these things hidden from those “wise and understanding”?

    To that multiple choice question:

    A) the Son?
    B) the Father?
    C) Yes!

    the answer is C.

    That’s God-centered theology, if ever there was any.

  11. John,

    yes and my point might have been missed so let me unpack it as best I can so with your acumen you can tell me if I might be off a bit, ok?

    Verse 28 implies that “someone” had to have done “something” to “someone else” for that “someone else” to “come to Me”, that is, to Jesus.

    Verse 28 begins simply with a plea from Jesus Christ, does it not, “Come to Me”?

    Well Jesus just got done telling us in verse 27 that no one knows the Son but the Father. Likewise, He says that no one knows the Father except the Son and to whom He, [that is the Son according to His own Sovereign Will] wills to reveal Him.

    Verse 27 is a Truthful “Statement” being made by Jesus Christ, is it not? There doesn’t seem to be any mystery there.

    No one knows the Son except the Father and verse 28 implies the Father has had to have already revealed the Son to the one who truly comes to Him, then! Without that revelation from the Father, I would not know the Son so as to respond to the Shepherd’s voice and come to Him!

    Consider these verses for a moment and then I will make my point.

    Heb 9:13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
    Heb 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

    Heb 10:5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

    Jesus Christ, who, in light of Eternity, was in history, an Ordained and Called and Elected vanishing vapor too, like us! His Commission is like no one elses, although as we have come to realizes, there are many “false Christs” in the world in these days teaching false doctrines, i.e. doctrines of demons.

    He got to “occupy” that body that was prepared for Him to occupy, until He, by the leadership of the Holy Ghost, [see Hebrews 9:14 above] offered for those “someone elses”, a price, a ransom was paid that is and always in the future it will be acceptable to that “Someone”, [God], He {Jesus} taught as a Truthful Statement is Almighty God in verse 27. It is Our Heavenly Father, who would reveal Him to His Sheep, {Jesus} to those, He, according to His Own Will, will elect to reveal Him to. He reveals to the Sheep who the Shepherd is. Only the Sheep hear His voice and follow Him through this world.

    The only ones who would or could respond to that plea of Jesus to “come to Him” are those He taught in verse 27 are the ones God in Heaven reveals Him to.

    Jesus, after asking the disciples, “who do men say that I am” and after listening to an assortment of answers from them, directed His question again, to which Peter blurted out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

    What was Jesus’ reply? We know the reply! If not, cf., Matthew 16!

    Now, here is an area of mystery I am afraid I have no sound understanding on. Maybe you do and if you do and you care to open that up, I would oblige you.

    Look for a moment at Hebrews 6:3. What does that verse mean?

    I mean, I am able to get some understanding from Hebrews 9:14, that is, Jesus Christ, once He developed Himself by natural growth to “hear” the voice of the Holy Ghost, being taught by Joseph and Mary and matured in that growing up from childhood to the age of 30 years old, was led to the slaughter so that our conscience could and would be cleansed, daily I believe, “so that we could serve the “”Living God”” ” wow.

    God reveals Christ to us by the Sanctification Work of the Holy Ghost. I don’t believe we get beyond that “revelation” until Christ reveals to us the Father by the Sanctification Work of the Holy Ghost. As it says there at Hebrews 6:3: and this we will do, “if God permit”.

    Heb 6:3 And this will we do, if God permit.

    What if God only wants some of the Elect to live out their lives in this world knowing Christ and that He died for their sins so that by that “Faith” alone, they live out their lives then pass and enter into the “Eternal Life” of “knowing the Only True God” after that?

    Joh 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
    Joh 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

    I don’t know. Maybe there is some great thinker out there who has already written on this subject and particularly on what that verse means, Hebrews 6:3?

    Finally, as you know, there seems to be this swirl around this verse between Arminians and Calvinists:

    Deu 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

    Well it just seems to me that Jesus takes all the mystery away from what is meant there at Matthew 11:27. You undoubtedly have heard or read the saying about the NT is contained in the OT and the OT is explained in the NT?

    It just seems like some people are so fickle, myself included, that we get caught up in a nightmare instead of sound doctrine!

    The only one who was accepted as having done “all the words of this law” is Jesus.

    Paul wrote this about the law and the Gospel:

    Rom 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?
    Rom 7:2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
    Rom 7:3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
    Rom 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
    Rom 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
    Rom 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
    Rom 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
    Rom 7:8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
    Rom 7:9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
    Rom 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.
    Rom 7:11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
    Rom 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

    Jesus proved that the “commandment is holy and righteous and good”!

    Paul also wrote this about Jesus. Consider that it is the Holy Ghost who vindicated Christ!

    1Ti 3:14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that,
    1Ti 3:15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
    1Ti 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

    Yes indeed, Christ is a mystery to those “devoid” of the Spirit of Grace. To us though, who have Christ revealed, it no longer is a mystery!

    That’s what I gots to say about that!


  12. Michael,

    You asked what Hebrews 6:3 means? Well, from 5:11 through 6:2, the writer of Hebrews is lamenting his readers’ immaturity and urges them to go on to maturity. Verse 3 recognizes that such growth in the knowledge of God’s Word is something for which believers must rely on God to graciously grant understanding. Then he moves on to a decidedly hard saying about apostacy, urging his readers to exhibit, as I outlined above, Persevering Grace for the Saints (vs. 7-12).

    Certainly this relates to the sovereignty of God, as we were discussing from the Matthew 11 passage. Those who would go on to apostasize would be those from whom the Father had withheld the revelation of the Son. So I suppose in the case of 6:3, those who don’t go on to maturity, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of God were not “permitted” to.

    God is sovereign over those who come, those who mature, and those who persevere. What do we have that we did not receive from our sovereign Creator and Redeemer?

  13. Now I’ll tackle your attempt to understand the passage. You said, “What if God only wants some of the elect to live out their lives in this world knowing christ and that he died for their sins so that by that “faith” alone, they live out their lives then pass and enter into the “eternal life” of “knowing the only true God” after that?”

    In short, I’d say the answer is no. Later in your comment, you reference Deut. 29:29, from which we draw the distinction between God’s hidden and revealed will. His hidden being that which he decreed would actually happen, and his revealed will being that which he has revealed in his Word ought to happen.

    We don’t know God’s hidden will for any individual Christian, and likewise the writer of Hebrews didn’t know God’s hidden will for the Hebrews. But he did know the revealed will of God for the Hebrews, in fact, he was the agent of the revelation of God’s revealed will, since he’s the author of the apostolic, canonical letter.

    God’s revealed will for Christians today, as the Hebrews of the first century, is that they should grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, if I may borrow from Peter. God has provided the means by which we grow in the grace of knowledge of Christ in the Gospel-centered Word preached and the sacraments and prayer. These are God’s “means of grace.” He has commanded, and therefore “wants” all people everywhere, especially all professing believers, to avail themselves of those means of grace.

    If a Christian actually avails himself of the means of grace (Word, sacrament and prayer), then he is fulfilling God’s hidden will for him, for if he does it, then it is God who is working it according to his will (Eph. 1:11). At the same time, he is also obeying God’s revealed will for him. If a professing Christian does not “go on to maturity” by availing himself of the means of grace in accordance with God’s revealed will, he is still fulfilling God’s hidden will, for God ordained that this professing Christian would disobey the revealed will and be in danger of falling away unless God grants him repentance before he dies, bringing him back into line with God’s revealed will by partaking of the means of grace that he might grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Now, many Christians may providentially be stranded somewhere where he cannot take full advantage of the ministry of Word and Sacrament according to God’s Word, but may be stuck somewhere where he gets less than God has actually revealed ought to be done. In these cases, believers may see little growth throughout their lives knowing little more than what you described. This would also be the fulfillment of God’s hidden will for their life, because it’s what actually happened. But I wouldn’t say that God “wanted” it to happen that way, because “wanting” is anthropomorphic language that attributes human characteristics on God. He ordained that it should happen, even though he revealed that it ought to have happened another way.

    Does that help?

  14. Besides all of that, Heb. 6:3 is pretty much a parallel passage to James 4:15.

    “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'”

  15. John,
    I can see the T but not the L in John 3:16. ‘
    “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Hence, I am one with Paul when he declares, “I am an Ambassador for Christ, as though God were pleading through me, I implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (first person changes mine)

  16. Christian,

    God’s love for sinners is demonstrated in his sending of his Son to die for sinners. That goes for the elect and the reprobate. As John wrote in his first letter (2:2), Christ is primarily the propitiation for the sins of the elect, and in a secondary sense for the sins of the whole world in that Christ is the only propitiation available to them, whom they are accountable to God to receive by faith, although, in their spiritual death, they want nothing to do with Christ. Either way, Christ on the cross is the evidence of God’s love for all (a salvific love for the elect; a common love for the reprobate).

    Although in his hidden will (Deut. 29:29), God has justly passed over the reprobate, in his revealed will, God’s command to repent and believe in Christ for salvation extends even to them–thus, his revealed will is that they should be saved. That’s how Limited Atonement is contained in John 3:16: “For God loved the world in this way: he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The “whoever” who will believe will be the elect, while the reprobate will reject the preaching of the love of God in Christ.

    All the passages that have the word “us” in them, like 2 Cor. 5:21, are clear cases of Christ’s work being done on behalf of the elect specifically. Although it does not explicitly exclude the reprobate in the verse, neither does it include them. The bulk of the references in Scripture to what Christ came to do and for whom, are couched in such terms. He gave his life for the church (Eph. 5:25); the sheep (John 10:11); to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21); He prays for the elect disciples the Father gave him (John 17:9), and for those who would believe through their preaching (John 17:20), and “not for the world” (John 17:9); all for whom he died necessarily die in him and live in his resurrection (2 Cor. 5:15).

    Then there’s all the verses throughout the New Testament that say he did it “for us.” There are so many, I’m not going to take the time to list them all. You can trip over them when you open your Bible, because they are so frequent. While, the “world,” and “all” proof texts that deniers of Limited Atonement rely on are few by comparison. Evangelicals are supposed to confess that Scripture does not contradict itself, and therefore “seeming” discrepancies in a few verses are to be interpreted in light of the clear teaching of the many passages. That’s why the “all” and “world” passages must be interpreted in a sense that does not contradict the fact that Christ redeemed the elect on the cross.

    This fact does not deny the old adage “sufficient for the world; efficient for the elect.” The power of Christ’s atonement is unlimited–it effectually and actually redeems the elect, whereas, in the Arminian version, the power of Christ’s death on the cross is limited, because it actually saves no one, but only makes it potentially available to whoever is righteous enough to not resist God’s efforts to call him to believe, which means in the vast majority of cases, Christ’s blood was spilled in vain for those who reject him.

    Finally, it is certainly true that preachers are Christ’s ambassadors pleading with the world on Christ’s behalf to be reconciled to God. You don’t know who the elect are, so you are called to preach the gospel to every creature, that through you he may effectually call the elect. God not only ordains the ends, he also ordains the means: Christians.

  17. John,
    OK! You have convinced me — You are a Calvinist.

  18. Ha ha ha. Very funny.

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