Drinking Deeply

Thursday, November 02, 2006 at 11:17 PM

Repost: Problems with TULIP

Reposted from times ago. Worthwhile for this series.

Following up with yesterday about the "issues" with short statements, the acronym TULIP has many of the similar problems.

But first, a short history lesson (basically from the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible).

The five points of Calvinism, typically referred to by the acronym TULIP were not formulated by John Calvin. Rather, they were formulated by the Synod of Dordt in response to the 5 points of the Remonstrance brought forth by the followers of Jacob Arminius in which they set forth a belief that: Election was based upon foreseen faith, there was a universal atonement, people were partially depraved, grace was resistible, and there was a possibility of a lapse from grace. The Synod of Dordt, after some time of deliberation, formally declared those five points to be inconsistent with Scripture and set forth the five points we now know as TULIP as consistent with Scripture.

This post is not a defense of TULIP, but rather an examination of the terminology in another example of how hard it is to reduce biblical concepts to a few words.

The “T” stands for Total Depravity. Now, this can be easily misunderstood to mean “we are as evil and sinful as we can possibly be,” but that’s really not the case. All it teaches is that man is completely dead in sin and thus cannot turn to God on his own.

The “U” stands for Unconditional Election. This doesn’t mean that salvation does not have conditions! Salvation is conditioned on a lot of things like repentance, faith, showing fruit, and so on. There are a lot of things that the Bible states will keep us from the kingdom of Heaven. What unconditional election states is that those conditions will be completely fulfilled by God’s grace, and not by our doing. If God chooses to save, He does so with no regard towards what we will do. What we end up doing (coming to faith, showing fruit, so on) is as a result of what God has previously chosen. In that sense, our election is unconditional.

The “L” stands for Limited Atonement - Limited Atonement doesn't mean that Christ's death is limited in its power to save, but rather it's limited in its application. A much better term for this would be definite atonement, which would be that Christ knows who He died for and His death purchases their life, completely. He doesn’t die for a general non-specific group of people and then people chose to be part of that group through faith, but rather that he dies for specific people where their faith, repentance, and all of their good fruits are purchased through His death.

The “I” stands for Irresistible Grace – This one is kind of hard to explain as well. In some senses the Holy Spirit is said to be resisted in Scripture. But the point of irresistible grace is that it’s saying that God can choose to completely tear down all barriers between Him and us and thereby regenerate our souls. Addition to this, because of Total Depravity, we need God to woo us with an irresistible grace because anything short of that we would, by our sinful dead nature, reject.

Finally, the “P” stands for Preservation of Saints - This isn’t a “once you walk down the aisle you’re saved no matter what you do” but a “God will preserve His people. If he chooses you, He won’t lose you.” Some people like “perseverance of saints” and it has the same idea: Those that God chooses will persevere, not because of what they are able to do, but because of what God does in them.

Thus each of these 5 simple phrases required at least a paragraph for me to explain. Of course, this would be a lot easier if everyone agreed with me what the terms meant! *laughs* but that is often not the case (and oftentimes I don’t agree with what I myself state and need to go back to restate things!). This also goes back to the whole "be clear" point I brought up earlier. We all bring baggage to the table, and if I think "this" means "that" but you think "this" means "that" then we need to first figure out what "this" really means. (or at least, agree on how we use the terms.)

If TULIP has such issues, why do we still use it?

1) It is fairly comprehensive in distinguishing Calvinism from Arminianism. Though some argue that Calvin did not hold to all 5 points, from what I’ve read of him I’ve seen nothing to convince me of that. Additionally, it doesn’t really matter what Calvin believed so much as “is it in the Bible?” I believe it is, but that’s another post.

2) It provides for a decent starting point. There are times when people have been like “what? You believe that I am totally depraved? Why aren’t I out there on the streets murdering people then?” to which it’s easy (patiently) explain what I mean by the terms.

3) It’s better than “predestination.” If Calvinism has negative connotations, predestination has worse.

All in all, it’s a great way to remember the points, it’s a great way to emphasize the distinctiveness, but it’s necessary to remember that it’s a helping mechanism, and if it doesn’t help, don’t use it. I personally call myself Reformed more often than Calvinist, because that doesn’t really have all the negative connotations of Calvinism (and has many of the benefits of opening it up for questions that TULIP has).

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