T is for TULIP

TULIP is an acrostic that describes the five distinct elements of the doctrine of salvation as held by John Calvin.  People who believe these points originated in the Bible and not in the mind of Calvin are often called Calvinists.  Which is very confusing, but nonetheless I am one.

T – Total depravity:  Augustine (writing over a millenium before Calvin) believed in this one.  It means that the Fall of man was so severe that, without an initial act of grace put forward by God, he is utterly unable to choose to come back to God.  A good illustration of this point can be found in Romans 3:9-12

‘What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews andGreeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“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.”’

U – Unconditional Election: Another Augustinian point.  This states that God chose who would ultimately be saved on no conditions of which they met apart from His own secret plan.  The opposite would be for, as an example, God to elect (to choose) people based on their own foreknown action to receive Him.  A good example of unconditional election would be in John 15:16:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

L – Limited Atonement:  Probably the most controversial of the five points.  If God is to choose to save people so dead in their sin by no merit of their own, does that mean Christ only died for the limited number of the elect?  Even with the very common rejections that God is willing that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) or that He wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), I do believe there are some outs and some can be covered in an A-Z post.

My main reason is that because there are plenty of verses in support of limited atonement in that Jesus prays specifically not for the world but for those given to Him (John 17:9), that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and that Christ loved the church and gave himself up, not for the world, but for her specifically (Eph. 5:25), then all the other verses must be understood in harmony with them.

Because the Bible does teach the predestining of individuals (Romans 9:15-16), it would parallel for God to justify with the power of the atonement  those same set of individuals (Romans 8:28-30).  The alternative would be to say that God only predestined some individuals, but Christ’s sacrifice somehow affected (and yet failed to redeem) the rest of the world.  But God never fails.  Is anything too hard for Him (Gen 18:14, Jer 32:27)?

Along with this train of thought, we should work to understand the above passages about God’s universal atonement in light of his limited atonement.  And there are many, many ways to accomplish this.  One would be that the phrase “the world” does not necessarily mean to every person, but to every nation.  In fact, the rival position to have the phrase actually mean every person could very easily be used to argue for the purposes of universalism (where no one at all falls under God’s judgment and the whole universe enters into glory) and no good Bible scholar would actually hold to that position (Matt 7:12-21).  So it cannot always mean every person.

Furthermore, if we go back to the verse about wanting all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and admit that not all men will actually be saved, then we would be forced to admit that God does have different revealed understandings of His will.  People who do not believe in predestination (such as the Arminian who dominates American churches) often accuse the Calvinist of being shifty and confusing, however they must admit that God has a complex set of wills.  He must.  Then there’s the expected rebuttal that God ultimately does not want people to come to Him outside of an act of free will because that would not be loving.  Understand that definition of love (which must be out of free will), while being a comfortably modern idea, is not found in Scripture.

And yet it’s even more complex.  Even the Arminian would admit that the way God is portrayed in some sections of Scripture (as being limited almost as a man such as needing to investigate things Ex: 16:4) as being, on the face, contradictory to the wider view of God.  So understanding God, what He has done, and the nature of reality are never so easily defined as for the Arminian to say “Stop being confusing!  God is not a God of confusion.”  Let us not suppose that God can be so easily boxed in as to suppose He always operates within our preconceptions of Him (Romans 11:34), but the Calvinist’s response is simply the most adequate answer to what has been laid before us in the Bible.  This doctrine also helps to be understood in the light of the existential sphere, but that is worth more than a whole post on its own.  Further, and more easily digestible, (not to mention more qualified and educated) answers could also be found in the support of John Piper.

I – Irresistible Grace:  Sometimes the acrostic is reworked to begin with this one because it’s so encouraging.  God’s drawing grace is so perfect that it can not be resisted.  One very clear usage is in John 6:44-45.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

And also in the golden chain of redemption.  All who are called will, eventually, come.  Romans 8:28-30:

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

P – Perseverance of the Saints:  This was the first point of Calvinist doctrine I found myself utterly unable to address in my darkened mindset of free willyianism.  Scripture is inundated with the perseverance of the saints.  God’s people will persevere to the end.  Here’s a great one in John 10:27-29:

“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.”

Or a different angle found in 1 John 2:19:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Good night!


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