TULIP Field of Combat

Oct 11 14:48 2019 Bruce McLaughlin Print This Article

400 years of combat, in and around the TULIP field, with no resolution in sight!

In the 5th century,Guest Posting Augustine laid the foundations of what we now call Calvinism.  Nothing resembling his contrivance existed for the first four centuries of the Christian church.  After Augustine’s death, his invention lay dormant for eleven centuries but was resurrected by Calvin and the Reformers in the 16th century.  Opponents quickly condemned this heresy by issuing the “Five Points of the Remonstrants” in 1610.  These can be paraphrased as:

  • True faith cannot proceed from the exercise of our natural faculties and powers, or from the force and operation of free will, since man, in consequence of his natural corruption, is incapable of thinking or doing any good thing.  It is therefore necessary to his conversion and salvation that he be regenerated and renewed by the operation of the Holy Spirit which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.
  • God, from all eternity, determined to: (1) bestow salvation on those who, as He foresaw, would persevere unto the end in their free will faith in Jesus Christ and (2) inflict everlasting punishment on those who would continue in their unbelief and resist His divine grace.
  • The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ covered the sins of all mankind in general and those of every individual in particular; however, none but those who believe in Him can be partakers of that divine benefit.
  • The Holy Spirit begins, advances and brings to perfection everything that can be called good in man; consequently, all good works are to be attributed to God alone.  Nevertheless, this grace does not force man to act against his inclination but may be resisted and rendered ineffectual.
  • Those once united to Christ by faith may, by turning away from God, lose the great gift of salvation.

The powerful political forces of the Reformation retained the first point but negated the next four.  The five points of the TULIP thus became:

  • Total depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the saints

The “U” indicates the elect of God were unconditionally selected for salvation before the world was formed and not because of any work in this life such as responding to God’s prevenient grace (the grace that comes before salvation) by confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience.  The “L” means Jesus died only for the elect; the sins of the non-elect (or reprobate) are not covered by the substitutionary atonement.  The “I” suggests the elect cannot resist the grace of God even if they choose to do so.  The “P” reinforces the inevitability and permanence of salvation for the elect.

In the ensuing 400 years since the 1618 Synod of Dort, the battle between Calvinism and Arminianism has been primarily confined to inconclusive skirmishes in the TULIP field of combat.  But polemics on the TULIP have become a pedantic distraction from the primary confrontation.  The main force of Calvinism long ago repositioned itself in such documents as the 1646 Westminister Confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession.  The latter document states, for example, “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass.”  This is just another way of saying: (a) the word “decree” is synonymous with the word “will” as applied to God and (b) the biconditional expression “A if and only if B” where A = (event happened) and B = (God willed event) can never be false.  This means A and B must both be true or both be false for every conceivable event. 

Both men and angels are incorporated into the Reformed message promulgated by the Westminister and Baptist Confessions.  By God’s decree, some men and angels were predestined to everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death.  These two mathematical sets were unchangeably designated before the world was formed; neither man nor angel can be moved from one set to the other.

Over the past 400 years, even the T of the TULIP has become a source of division between Calvinists and Arminians.  Both sides believe in the Total Depravity of the human soul but the two sides do not share the same definition of Total.  An analogy will serve to illustrate.  Imagine every person is swimming in a dark, bottomless, violent ocean surrounded by wind, rain and terrifying, towering waves – the perfect storm.  Jesus Christ is the captain of a magnificent, unsinkable ship.  He is supervising as the crew throws doughnut shaped flotation devices, with ropes attached, into the violent waters.  Calvinists believe that, occasionally, a flotation device will land exactly on a person’s head.  Such persons will be encircled and buoyed by this life preserver while being pulled aboard ship.  These are the elect of Calvinism.  Jesus obviously instructs that “ringers” be thrown to catch the elect without any effort whatsoever on their part.  Of course, the greater portion of mankind is so far from the nearest life preserver that rescue is impossible; they are the reprobate of Calvinism and surely deserve to drown. 

In contrast, the Arminian believes the ship’s captain never instructs the crew to throw a ringer for anyone at any time.  Instead, He dispatches His First Mate, a powerful swimmer, to dive into the water and push each person to within arm’s length of the nearest life preserver.  Then the First Mate says, “Confess your sins, repent and believe; take hold of this life preserver and you will be saved.”  The Arminian believes many will accept this gift of life made available by Prevenient Grace.  Many will reach out their hand, grasp the flotation device and be pulled aboard ship.  But the Calvinist insists that the First Mate has never been dispatched by the Captain to push anyone to a life preserver.  Even if He had been dispatched, not one person would have the ability to take hold by exercising their own free will.  All persons would be stopped by the Total Depravity of their miserable souls.  Furthermore, even if one person fortuitously floated near a life preserver and extended their hand by one centimeter to grasp hold, that act would constitute a human work and would mean, contrary to Scripture, that the person was saved by a work. 

The Calvinist teaches that you are so Totally Depraved that you cannot be saved unless Jesus instructs His crew to throw a ringer around you!  The Arminian believes you must, by an exercise of free will, extend your hand in response to the Prevenient Grace of God.

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