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:
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).