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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rejecting TULIP

The acronym, TULIP, has been used to supply the "shape" of Reformed Theology, of "the doctrines of grace", of what is popularly (even if it is not so popular) called "Calvinism". Just to refresh memories, here is what TULIP stands for:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Calling
Perseverance of the Saints
So, there is is, the "five points of Calvinism". Or ... is it? I would like to reject these five points.

First, no one is quite sure of where they came from. I mean, the ideas behind them came first from Scripture and then were "codified", so to speak, at the Synod of Dort (1618-19) when followers of Jacob Arminius brought complaints to the church at the time. The "five points" were the five things about which they complained (before they were referred to as "five points"). But "TULIP" didn't show up until Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee (1905) (no relation to the antivirus software company). It didn't become popular until the 1930's. As such, I'd like to take exception to it. I do not accept the doctrines of TULIP. And here's why.

Total Depravity

Total Depravity has a sense -- a feel -- to it. It sounds like ... oh, I don't know ... total depravity. It sounds like "as evil as it can be". It sounds like humans are incapable of anything other than complete and total "awful". Now, we know this isn't true. How? No, not observation. Scripture. It was, after all, no less than Jesus who said, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matt 7:11) Humans have the capacity, even being evil, to "give good gifts". Humans certainly have the capacity to do "nice" things, to do humanly good things. Atheists can give to charity. Unbelievers can feed the hungry. Unrepentant mothers can love their children. It can happen. So Total Depravity in the sense of "as bad as you can possibly be" is false.

Of course, we'll also have to keep in mind that the Scriptures do have other things to say about the nature of humans. The Bible says of Man "that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) Worse, "the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) Jesus said that the sins we commit "come from within" (Mark 7:20-23). Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6) and Paul said, "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:5-8) In Ephesians we read, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:1-3) So, these (and many other passages) tell us that we are in bad shape, sinful at the core, dead in sin. Paul summarizes with statements like "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-18) So while we are not as bad as we can possibly be, it appears from Scripture that humans are spiritually dead from birth, incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14), and incapable of doing anything that God would classify as "good" from His perspective.

Unconditional Election

This, of course, is nonsense. Everyone knows that to be chosen by God for salvation there are conditions. If not, everyone is chosen by God for salvation, and this is obviously false. So there must be conditions that determine whether or not someone is elect. Therefore, I reject this doctrine.

Of course, at this point we run into the question of what conditions there are to be elect. There are some things we can eliminate. We are not, for instance, chosen by God on the basis of our works or our choices (John 1:12-13; Rom 9:16). It is not on the basis of our superiority, either in wisdom or power or birth or other worldly standards (1 Cor 1:26-29). So, while we do not get saved without meeting the conditions of faith and repentance, it appears that God's choice of whom He will save is not conditioned on the ones whom He will save. What we do know is that there is one certain condition: "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls" (Rom 9:11). So God is not capricious, just picking and choosing without purpose or thought. He chooses on the basis of His purposes. And that is not "unconditional". It is conditioned on Him who calls.

Limited Atonement

This one is a little more difficult. I certainly believe that the Atonement that Christ accomplished on the cross was not unlimited. I mean, if anyone goes to Hell (Matt 7:13-14), then the Atonement does not cover all sin for all people for all time. If, on the other hand, the Atonement is unlimited, then all people are saved ... end of story. Still, how far did it go? How valuable was that blood? I would argue that the blood of Christ was sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind. I would argue, further, that the blood of Christ was sufficient to cover all the sins of those who will be saved. It's not "most"; it's all. In that sense, then, it is not limited.

The argument, though, isn't about limits, as it turns out. The argument is about intent. Who did Christ intend to save when He died on the cross? Now, we can bicker about it back and forth, throwing verses and opinions around like hand grenades. I'd prefer to see what Jesus said. Who did Jesus say He died for? (Did you know He answered that question?) In John 10, Jesus gives the metaphor of a sheep and shepherd arrangement, where Jesus is "the good shepherd" and He has sheep (John 10:7-18). In that discourse, Jesus says this: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." (John 10:11) For whom did Jesus lay down His life? His sheep.

Irresistible Grace

This one is so patently obvious as to almost be painful. First, grace cannot be resisted. Anyone can favor anyone and there is no "No you can't" about it. But generally the idea is the calling of God. Does the Bible teach that the calling of God is irresistible? Don't be ridiculous! Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matt 23:37) There's the call. There's the resistance. End of story. Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt 22:14) Clearly not all who are called respond. No doubt.

There does remain a question on this, however. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out." (John 6:37) Now, how can that be true? In Acts we read, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) That's odd. There is a correlation, a one-to-one "as many", where "as many" believed as were appointed and not one more and not one less. There is, then, some sense in which there is an absolute certainty that, in the final analysis, those whom the Father gives to the Son cannot not come and those who are appointed to believe cannot not believe. That doesn't preclude a long period of resistance. It just appears that Scripture holds that in the end there is a certain outcome.

Perseverance of the Saints

This one carries so much baggage that it becomes almost impossible to agree with. There is this version -- "the Perseverance of the Saints" -- but that's hardly used anymore. More popular is the "Eternal Security" version or the catchy "Once Saved, Always Saved" story. This almost necessarily leads to the antinomian position -- "We don't have to do anything at all." Some of these are militantly antinomian -- "If you suggest we do, you're making a salvation by works." I think we can all agree that we need to reject "salvation by works". On the other hand, Scripture is clear that we have to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), "endure" (2 Tim 2:12), "continue in the faith" (Col 1:23). So the implications of "once saved, always saved" become tenuous at best. The argument "We don't have to do anything at all" is in direct contradiction to "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10)

All that having been said, every reference to "work", "endure", "continue", or the like that looks at us as the object includes instructions and warnings, but every one that looks at God as the object includes absolute certainty. We know, for instance, that "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) These are absolutes. "No one." No, not even you ... unless you qualify as "no one". We read, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6) Who started it? Who will finish it? What is the question? He starts and finishes it and there is no question. Even in that Philippians 2 passage where we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling we are told "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) We work, but He supplies the will and the power to do it. Jude assured us that He "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy." (Jude 1:24) Either He is indeed the starter and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2) or He is not. It isn't up to us; it's up to Him.

There are lots of misconceptions, false starts, and rabbit trails around this stuff. When I find people disagreeing with it, I find myself agreeing with their disagreement half the time because the whole "TULIP" thing is so misleading. Of course, on the other hand, I find the principles in Scripture and, as long as I don't stray very far from that, I have to agree with those principles. If only we could just jettison the whole misinformed, misguided, misunderstood TULIP thing.


Bob said...

I guess all acronyms break down at some point.

totally depraved, yet not quite,just dead in sin.
unconditional election, based upon the conditions of Gods purposes.
limited atonement, no real potential limits, just limited to those that believe.
irresistible Grace, that can only be resisted by those that are not called.
perseverance of the saints, provided that they do the works God called them to do.

do we need a new acronym?

i like BIBLE: basic instructions before leaving earth.
any suggestions?

Stan said...

Yeah, TULIP just doesn't seem to work, both from inaccuracy and overuse. And I like BIBLE ... well, at least "Bible" (as in not an acronym, but the actual thing), because that is the only correct version. When a memory tool like TULIP serves to distort rather than remind, I think perhaps it's time to question it.

Unfortunately, accuracy doesn't lend itself to memory here. Radical Depravity, Chosen by God, Particular Atonement, Effectual Calling, and God's Perseverance for the Saints doesn't really help, does it? RCPEG isn't a helpful memory tool. Maybe "Bible" is the best choice.

Bob said...

i just perused thru the cannons of Dort. and i can see how we might be tempted to condense the doctrine to a simple acronym. but as you pointed out, to do so may lead to more confusion.
there really is no short cut or readers digest, for the great truths of the scriptures. we will just have to settle for reading the whole text. why not make a comic book with pictures, then we can have super hero's. fighting the heretics with the doctrines of Justice.
never mind. bad thought...

Stan said...

Well, I suppose the comic book notion would sell better, but ...

David said...

I used to have a picture Bible, so that is a thing, or was.

I've also heard the "P" called "Preservation of the saints".

Unfortunately, the acronym had been so abused and confused that it's impossible to separate the confusion from the actual thing. Unless you have a full understanding of what is behind the memory device, the memory device is useless even potentially dangerous.