Withering the TULIP

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I’m starting to believe that ‘Calvinism’ is something you have to ‘convince’ yourself to believe. Why? I used to believe in reformed teaching, without calling myself reformed, but it turned out that I kept saying, “I don’t understand this, because its too lofty for my thoughts, so just believe what Calvin and Augustine say the bible teaches me.” If these doctrines are so lofty, then what makes Calvin and Augustine so sure that’s what the bible teaches? Christians have carried too much baggage from previous generations, and I think reformed teaching is one of them. Its time to really ask ourselves what does the bible really teach on the doctrines of election, predestination and foreknowledge. Is your understanding totally based on your study of the word of God, or from reading Spurgeon, Calvin and such…

Calvinistic teaching is marked by the famous acronym : TULIP

T – Total Depravity – man does not, and is unable and cannot seek God on his own

U – Unconditional Election – God has chosen some, out of all mankind, to be saved,  but not because of any inherent good or worth in them.

L – Limited Atonement – Christ’s death on the cross was propitiatory to God, but only to cover the sins of those He has chosen

I – Irresistible Grace – Those who God has chose, will definitely and eventually be saved.

P – Perseverance of the Saints – God will continue to do a good work in a believer’s life. A believer will get better and better till the day of death, or Christ’s return.

These doctrines have huge roots in what many believe explain the doctrines of election, predestination, foreknowledge. I’ve been reading the related passages I used to be so convinced of in my reformed mind, and suddenly i feel like i’m finally being reformed.

While i don’t totally disagree with the above, neither to i believe in them totally.

For the record, I’ve not turned Armenist either.

The Lord willing, I’ll post some thoughts on the TULIP in future.

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30 thoughts on “Withering the TULIP

  1. I’m sort of going the other direction – from Armenianian to Calvinism. Or maybe I’m just stopping in between. I enjoy hearing both arguments. There seems to be a tension there that I just can’t crack.

    The verses – in context – seem to line up behind Calvinism. I do acknowledge that when I’m thinking more like an Armenian it tends to be from the human perspective, but when I think more Calvinistically it is more from God’s perspective.

  2. adrian

    I must say that i object to every petal of TULIP as defined by those in the reformed school of thought (their definition). And yes, we ought not to say whether we are of Paul, Apollos, Peter, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Armenius… etc but let us stand on the word of God. Honestly, this position that doesn’t win you many friends in today’s times.

  3. The verses – in context – seem to line up behind Calvinism. I do acknowledge that when I’m thinking more like an Armenian it tends to be from the human perspective, but when I think more Calvinistically it is more from God’s perspective.

    This about sums up my experience. I think we like to live under the illusion that somehow we had a part in our regeneration.

    I don’t think you can say we are saved by grace if we somehow had something to do with our salvation.

  4. I don’t think you can say we are saved by grace if we somehow had something to do with our salvation.

    Recently, I noticed a poor man who looked rather hungry. I went up to him, and offered to give him 2 ringgit (that’s malaysian currency) 🙂 He reached out his hand and accepted it and with a big smile, said thank you.

    Did he have ‘something to do’ with earning the two ringgit by reaching out and receiving the money from my hand?

  5. The analogy is nice and so is the story Guna but men naturally have no problem accepting money, this is not the case with the things of God, as Paul makes clear in Romans 3.

    We must be enabled by God to respond, which is why we are saved through grace. He chooses us we don’t (we can’t) choose Him.

  6. Yes, i thought the analogy was nice too. 😉

    Again, we’re back to Romans 3, i find it interesting that romans 3 is a popular calvinist reference to enforce the ‘total inability’ of man, when that was not the apostle’s emphasis at all.

    In the chapter, Paul addresses the Jews who thought they had extra privileges regarding justification. That’s why he quotes those old testament (the law) verses (3:10-18) which apply directly to the Jews (who were given the law) the law itself doesn’t give them greater privileges. As far as the damage of sin on mankind is concerned, there is no one excluded, no even the Jews:

    by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight

    But that’s not his point, he goes on to explain that righteousness apart from law, Jesus Christ,

    “has come unto(towards) all and upon(rests) upon all who believe” (v22).

    All who are justified, are justified by faith in Jesus.

    That’s Paul’s point in Romans 3, not the inability of man to choose God.
    I’ve battled this chapter many, many times. This chapter does not exclude the ability of man to respond to God by faith, rather it emphasizes its necessity.

    I guess I’m to simple for calvinism. haha…

    Well, this is probably why this issue has never been settled. No worries, we can still enjoy good christian fellowship (or bloggership?) hehe.

  7. Bloggership indeed.

    This chapter does not exclude the ability of man to respond to God by faith, rather it emphasizes its necessity.

    Yes Guna we most definitely respond by faith but only after God illuminates our darkened souls (see Lydia’s conversion in Acts 16 for an example, “The Lord opened her heart…”)

  8. Laz,
    Good point.

    But I notice from the verse that she was already a ‘worshipper’ of God, before the Lord opened her heart. According to the ‘total inability’ doctrine, before the turning point of the Lord opening her heart, there would be no way of her being a worshipper, could she?

    I always thought the ‘opening of the heart’ has the emphasis of God giving the ability to understand what is being preached, not the ability to turn to God. The same verb is used in Luke 24:45,

    Luk 24:45 Then he opened their understanding to understand the scriptures,
    Luk 24:46 and said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved the Christ to suffer, and to rise from among the dead the third day;

    and in the above context, the hearts that were ‘opened’ was the disciples, who were, of course, believers already.

  9. Good and well Guna but I tend to look at Lydia’s case in light of John 6:44 as well as our favorite passage Romans 3:11.

    A worshiper she was but was she saved? Had God granted her that saving faith yet? No of course not and this covers the road to Emmaus situation.

    The Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on the disciples at this time. We’re still in the Old Testament on the road to Emmaus.

    They had not yet been sealed by the Holy Spirit, I have to guess that this counts for something.

  10. Amen to the verses quoted. I’ll be the last person to claim that I found hope in Jesus apart from the Father’s drawing. But I have a few question maybe you can clarify:

    Would the Holy Spirit label an unsaved person a worshipper, any other examples?

    How sure are we that Lydia was not a believer already? We are only told that she was at the place where prayer was being made, was a worshipper of God, and that the Lord opened her heart to understand Paul’s preaching (something we all still need, even though saved), and that after that she requested to be baptised (i’m assuming water baptism here).

    Does the lack of the sealing of the Holy Spirit means lack of saving faith? If that’s the case, none of the disciples were saved until pentecost. Yet the Lord Jesus called them ‘clean’ before His death.

    3. When someone comes to Jesus, He’s drawn of God. Does it guarantee a response? (i think this touches the ‘I’ in the TULIP).

  11. Cornelius comes to mind, a God-fearing Gentile if there ever was one, yet, yet my dear Guna, he still wasn’t saved. He still had to hear and I would argue in the process be enabled by God to respond to the faith he was granted.

    Eph 1:13-14 seems to indicate that sealing with the Spirit and saving faith go hand in hand.

    As for the 11, check out John 20:22. Not sure if the 2 blokes on the road to Emmaus were privy to this.

    as for #3 I’d look up the word for “draw” you might be surprised as to what it really means.

  12. Eph 1:13-14 seems to indicate that sealing with the Spirit and saving faith go hand in hand.

    Post-Pentecost, i agree. The examples given earlier were pre-Pentecost, where they had trusted the Lord, but the holy spirit had not ‘indwellt’ them.

    Again, I need more convincing evidence to say that Cornelius was not saved at the point of the angel’s appearance. He, and maybe lydia, may have been saved looking forward for the Messiah, like the other old testament saints (abraham, david, etc…) and didn’t know that messiah has already come and needed to be taught in more correctly (this is where the Holy Spirit opens the heart and gives understanding), and upon their understanding of Jesus as Saviour, they were then baptized into the church by the Holy Spirit. Apollos, and the ‘disciples of John’ (acts 19, i think) is another example of this.

    I think we’ve gone slightly off the point.
    The part i don’t agree with the ‘total inability’ doctrine, is its conclusion, that the ability to respond to the gospel has to be given by God. I agree that man, because of sin, naturally does not seek God, that’s why God sent His Son, to seek and to save those who are lost!

    I agree that no one can realise their sinfulness, the righteousness of Christ, and the judgement to come, (john16) apart from the Holy Spirit working in their heart.

    Assuming that it is God who convicts (which i agree), and it is God who gives the ability (according to the ‘total inability’ doctrine) to respond to the gospel, are we saying that God may convict a heart, but not give the ability to respond? I speak from a very real and practical point of view. I’ve met MANY who are indeed convicted of their sin, and realise that only Jesus can save, but they don’t respond positively. They refuse Him. Since its the Holy Spirit’s ministry to convict, I attribute their contrition to the Holy Spirit’s work. But when they refuse, according to the TULIP, God has not given them the ability to respond positively.

    I’ll won’t be replying to comments on this thread for the time being as I have something of greater priority in the Lord’s work to attend to. Malaysian elections are coming and I’m preparing to do some outreach, in the will of the Lord.

    Would appreciate your prayers, brother.

    I will be reading comments though.

    God bless.

  13. Passerby

    Your concept of grace, in the end, is semi-pelagian. That is what it is. What you cannot understand through practice becomes your rationale for not believing what has been carefully articulated by the Reformers, who by the way bloodied themselves in history just to preserve these things. In the end, your understanding won’t give you much unity of what God says regarding regeneration, salvation, quickening, etc.

    Btw, Arminius was semi-pelagian, which is what you are espousing.

    I’ll won’t be replying to your reply on my comments for the time being as I have something of greater priority in the Lord’s work to attend to myself.

    I will be reading your replies though.

    God bless.

  14. Passerby,

    What you cannot understand through practice becomes your rationale for not believing what has been carefully articulated by the Reformers

    I have to agree with you, because what I see in practice fits in with what the word of God teaches, not the reformers. I also agree that experience is not the basis of forming doctrine.

    There are doctrines that articulate the spiritual things, which cannot be seen, and these cannot be examined by experience.

    There are also doctrines that explain things that CAN be seen,in this case, the manner of which people respond to God, we can therefore test the accuracy of the doctrine based on what we see happening, and if it fits with the rest of scripture.

    So that’s what I have done with the example above. I’ve tried to interpret my experience based on what reformers teach, and have come out with a picture of God which doesn’t fit with what the rest of scripture teaches. (a God who can convict but not give the ability to respond?) I have a problem with that. You don’t?

    who by the way bloodied themselves in history just to preserve these things

    so have the muslims, hindus, and roman catholics for what they believe to be true.

  15. antiochagent

    Imagine a father telling his 3 year old son that he must ace the SAT’s exams when he obviously doesn’t have the capability to, and then he punishes the boy for failing. What would you say about the man?

    In Calvinism, God commands men to repent and respond to the gospel when they really have no ability to respond, and then ‘justly’ condemns them to eternal hell for not doing so. What does that make our Lord God to be? I must admit that my God-given conscience also has a problem with that.

    Also, the fact that a teaching or tradition has been ‘preserved’ and stood the test of time is no proof that it is true. Almost every major world religion is a couple of centuries old. Atheism has been around for as long as I could remember. Let’s not be guilty of wrongly applying the reasoning of Gamaliel ‘But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it’ in Act 5:39. It was useful and helpful to dispel the commotion, but it’s poor theology and reasoning. What determines that which is true is if the Word of God says so. God has wonderfully preserved His Word, and that is the sure foundation we can stand on. It’s common occurrence for many to point back to past centuries of survival as proof of the rightness of their belief system.

    Brother Guna, may the Lord bless you in your outreach.

  16. Antioch,

    What does that make our Lord God to be? I must admit that my God-given conscience also has a problem with that.

    Check out Romans 9:15-23 and perhaps you can tell me what else Paul meant when he was inspired to write it.

  17. Dear friends,
    “What does that make our Lord God to be?” is a valid question, and one i would submit to all of us to ponder on. Please pardon me if i offended anyone by it, but it’s a sincere question a believer and unbeliever should ask. Is it consistent with the character of God? The sovereign Lord that our bible plainly declares forthrightly, is a just and loving God.

    Alright, Romans 9 is familiar ground and do allow me elaborate a little on what i believe the apostle Paul meant there. I used to employ the exact same rebuttal you cited, until i realized that the meaning of the passage was clearly about something quite different. It is about His absolute sovereignty, that’s without question. But it has nothing to do with electing unto salvation or perdition of souls.

    God’s purpose of election in Romans 9 is with regards to service. In this case about God’s dealings with nations and peoples. For the context of v15-23 you must read from the beginning of the chapter and then we reach v.12-13 “It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”. Paul is quoting from the OT.

    For the context of v.12, we come to Gen 25:23 “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” It is with regards to nations and not anything about being saved or destined for perdition.

    For the context of v.13, we read Malachi 1. It was also clearly in relation to the nations of Edom & Israel. God chose Jacob above Esau. Nowhere does it tell us that God’s hatred for Esau meant he was elected to be sent to hell, but rather it means that God’s favour was upon Jacob, profane Esau despised his birthright. When the scripture uses the word ‘hate’ here, i believe it’s in the same vein as in Luke 14:26 when contrasting loving and hating.

    We can’t get to Pharoah just yet as it may take a little longer. But perhaps seeing that the possibility of misunderstanding verses 12-13 (which also forms the context) ought to have us to reconsider the interpretation of the subsequent verses of v14 and onwards. I humbly submit this for our mutual consideration.

  18. Imho, we are all born arminians (by nature) and TULIP is something hard to swallow bcos it took away every ground for boasting and forces to kneel and recognise that salvation belongs to the Lord 🙂

    The teachings of arminius/calvin/luther, great men though they are, are not canonical scripture… but the art/science of understanding scripture is greatly impoverished if we ignore them totally. Btw people who believe in Arminius’ teachings are “Arminians” while ppl who live in Armenia are Armenians…

  19. Is it only the calvinists that don’t boast in their salvation?

    I’m not a calvinist, but I can’t think of anything to boast in myself as far as salvation is concerned and would readily agree that salvation is indeed entirely the work of the Lord.

    The common premise that calvinism is difficult to accept because it goes against our nature is actually a weak, albeit convenient one.

    I was not born an arminian, i was born again as a Christian, acknowleging the salvation was the work of the Lord, which was then offered to whosoever who believes.

  20. antiochagent

    Dear Hedonese, rejection of Calvinism is not tantamount to being Arminian. Being labeled an arminian from birth is new, even for me. But taken in jest, i believe i know what you were getting at.

    Now, Salvation is entirely a work of God and the gift sincerely offered to all who would believe. We can chose to accept or reject a gift. It’s the same as right now. You can choose to either obey/disobey or trust/doubt God on a daily basis. It’s a genuine choice. Calvinists say that God gives the man the faith to believe, efficaciously changes his will so that he can believe.
    Now if that is so, why is it that we find at times that believers (you and I) do not exhibited perfect faith in God? Therefore, one question about TULIP that troubles me is “What is the quality of faith needed that can save a man?”. If a perfect faith is needed, does the Calvinist dare claim he has it. If an imperfect faith is all that’s needed, what does it make of this (apparent) gift from God?

  21. yes, there is such a thing as genuine vs fake faith, but the distinction is fake faith, is no faith at all.

    I think what antioch meant was along the lines of complete faith vs insufficient faith in God in our daily lives. Antioch correct me if i’m wrong! 🙂

  22. I just thought of Felix, who was convicted of his sin, but turned away from being converted. Acts 24:24-25.
    According to the TULIP we have conclude that God convicted, but didn’t enable (give him the faith) Felix to be saved. Or did Felix stand on the brink of salvation, and denied it, not willing to repent and forsake his adulterous life.

  23. antiochagent

    Thanks for working with me on this guys. Yes Guna, you caught my train of thought. Also, interesting thoughts on Felix who was on the brink but wasn’t given faith to make that step of faith.

    Ok. Here’s how it goes. I’m just trying to reason with some Calvinistic concepts here. By my earlier statements of ‘imperfect’ i actually meant a maybe-not-so-complete faith. I definitely am not contrasting saving faith to fake (false) faith which doesn’t save.

    So, let me rephrase my question again. Hypothetically….
    If the faith that Calvinists currently possess was is claimed to be given by God, what is the quality of that faith, perfect or less-than-perfect? So if you and I exhibit lack of faith (even … occasional unbelief and doubt) at any point of time in our lives, who’s takes responsibility for it? The giver or the recipient?

    Apologies, there are a lot of “?’s” in there. But it’s really just the same question as my earlier post. I hope this clears up what i meant.

  24. So if you and I exhibit lack of faith (even … occasional unbelief and doubt) at any point of time in our lives, who’s takes responsibility for it?

    … a good question, and a good reminder, that we can’t blame God when we stumble.

  25. Imho, we are all born arminians (by nature) and TULIP is something hard to swallow bcos it took away every ground for boasting and forces to kneel and recognise that salvation belongs to the Lord

    I was just thinking through this comment, and something struck me.

    If ‘armenianism’, or any line of faith that does not conform to the TULIP, is biblically wrong, and that’s what we’re all ‘born again’ as, that were we really saved in the first place? Can we be saved by false doctrine?

  26. perhaps an analogy helps here, let’s say I am tired and need to rest… not far away there is a chair that looks strong enuff to support my weight, so i ‘trust’ in its ability and make a ‘choice’ to sit on it. Well, what is gonna keep me seated (instead of falling on my back) is the objective strength of the chair, not the quality of my faith heheehe…

    Say, if my less than complete, sometimes doubting faith wavers (and Calvin was known to have said tat there is no faith that is without some element of doubt!), does that make the chair collapse? Not a whee bit! The chair is objectively strong despite my subjective, qualitatively wavering faith in it… yes it does rob me of the full confidence that a robust faith provides, but it won’t make the chair fall down 🙂

    So we are saved by Christ thru faith in Him, we are not saved by the strength of our faith hehe…

    Actually an Armenian is someone who stays in armenia, while arminianism is the system of doctrine tat Guna is referring to. I believe those who are born again believes in the gospel – ie we are justified by grace alone thru faith alone in christ alone on the basis of scripture alone to the glory of God alone… Thank God that both arminians and Calvinists believe that! I dun think that any system of doctrine tat affirms tat deserve to be labelled as ‘false doctrine’ atleast tats how i see it la hahaa

  27. Hedonese,

    The analogy come close, but does not parallel what the TULIP teaches.
    Let bring the same analogy closer:
    I’m tired, and I have no idea a chair could give me rest (since i’m totally depraved and have no way of comprehending such power).
    The chair tells me it can relieve my burden, and the chair GIVES ME THE FAITH to trust in its strength.
    So the faith is provided by the chair, not myself. Now, after sitting on the chair, i start doubting whether this chair can really hold my weight, ie my faith falters – who’s fault is it?
    It can’t be mine, because the ability to trust is not my own, since it was the chair that gave it to me, so its got to be the chair’s fault.
    True, the chair won’t weaken because of my weakening faith, but that’s what antioch was bringing up – he wasn’t questioning God’s ability to save, rather does God give us ‘weak’ faith? I’m sure we both will answer no to that one.

    In fact, its possible that the analogy you gave may work against the point you’re trying to illustrate:
    It shows that the chair, while being able to give rest, and support me, offers its rest, but the rest only becomes ‘effectual’ to me when i believe in its ability and respond to its offer, and go and sit on it.
    The chair’s strength remains the same, whether I doubt or shift in my seat. The work of giving rest is entirely the work of the chair. The chair gets the glory!

    Of course, none of us should base the authenticity of a doctrine based on the quality of analogies that can be made to illustrate it. agree?

  28. antiochagent

    Guna pointed out how the analogy actually worked against the case trying to be supported by it. Hedonese, you have proven the point i was making when you said (quote) .. so i ‘trust’ in its ability and make a ‘choice’ to sit on it. (end quote). I agree. “I” had to trust and “I” had to make a valued choice to act upon my decision. That’s why I would say it is very difficult for anyone to hold that position without tripping over words and contradict one’s self.

    If God ‘makes’ a man willing, how different is it to mind/will alteration? It would be against his desire. If God changed me ‘contrary to my will, what does that make of Him? If God ‘made’ me love Him, it is not a real response but a manufactured one just as though I were a programmable automaton. This is a very serious charge against the God’s very character who is the just, righteous and loving God. No, God does not ‘make’ us love Him or ‘graciously’ change our will to believe. He has done His part, now it is for men to willingly respond our of their heart.

    Is the offer of salvation so horrible and detestable such that men has only one option but to reject it (total depravity??) unless God apparently graciously changes their will? No, it is good news indeed. You talk to some unbelievers and they would still agree that it does sound like good news, just that they’re not quite sure they want to agree to the conditions of it yet. So what does it mean when God says, “come let us reason together..”? The offer of the gospel is a reasonable one. God desires that men think carefully about it and then take the step to put their faith in Him and the solution. If they reject it, He will let men have their will be done. He will never impose His will on men.

    Does it square up with our God-given-conscience standards of love and justice? You cannot ‘make’ someone love you. Well perhaps you could … but that would not be a loving action. God IS love. Therefore, are not God’s standards of love even higher than ours?

    It is my sincere hope that we give good thought to what is actually being perpetuated by this branch of theology. Please understand my sincerity here.

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