A Second TULIP

(It should be noted at the outset that this article does not necessarily represent exactly the Fellowship Baptist Statement of Faith, a movement of which I am both a member and an employee. However, I might add, it certainly is not in conflict with it.)

Calvinism is a system of theological beliefs about the way salvation happens; specifically, it is the belief that God predestines some to salvation and others to judgment. God, not man, has the ultimate say in who “gets saved.” I am a card-carrying Calvinist. A “Five-Point” Calvinist. No, actually I am a seven point Calvinist. I like my Calvinism the same way I like my coffee – bold, black, and even a little bitter. I love it all. Even the parts that are hard to swallow. John Calvin was a great man who deserves to be read widely.

But with all that said, the last thing I am interested in is the Calvinist club. I hate the Calvinist club. Jesus alone is the sole basis of Christian unity. We always need to remember that. In fact, some of the dearest people in my family – and the most admired by me – are strong Christians but are certainly not card-carrying Calvinists.

To the point…

The classic summary of Calvinistic thought regarding salvation (“soteriology”) is called the TULIP. The mnemonic stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Check it out: TULIP. Those are the “five points.”

Today I want to propose that all Calvinists adopt a second TULIP to go along with the first. A bouquet…because sadly there is far too much arrogance, club-mentality, and coldness among Calvinists. The stereotypes are often true.

1. Total Humility

The doctrine of Total Depravity  teaches that sin affects every part of us. It’s NOT that we are utterly and completely sinful – it’s that sin has gotten into every part of us, tainting and polluting every aspect of our nature. That means we have nothing to offer God – we are totally resting on his mercy alone to justify and save us. And if we really believe this it should produce total humility. If we are all severely affected by sin, even at the very core of our will such that we won’t choose God, then salvation is totally a gift and that means there is no room for arrogance or bragging. Take the logic one step further: if we are justified totally by grace, then the theological system of Calvinism is even a grace then that we are ill-deserving of. So we musty treat even our calvinistic soteriology as a gift and stop clobbering others.

2. Unconditional Gospel Proclamation

The belief in Unconditional Election is that before the foundation of the earth God chose believers to be saved, not on the basis of anything in us but solely on the basis of his immense love (Ephesians 1:4). This doctrine should motivate us to herald the gospel and the reason is because God has already gone before us to determine who will respond to our message. This was the belief that motivated the father of modern mission, William Carey. Indeed, God told Paul to go to Corinth for “I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:10). Some people really mess this one up and think that unconditional election teaches that God plays favorites and chooses the best of the people – actually that’s the consistent conclusion of Arminianism (God looks down the tunnel of time and chooses those who were ______ enough to chose him of their own free will). No. Unconditional election teaches that God chose us on no other basis than his sheer grace and his great love and that is a cause to share the gospel freely with all because we can rest assured that God will sort out how people respond to our message. Real Calvinism is not fatalism – it preaches and offers grace to all unreservedly.

3. Limited Snarkiness 

The doctrine of Limited Atonement, which is poorly named, teaches that when Jesus died his death was intended particularly for those who will become Christians – so the atonement that Jesus affected at Calvary was a real accomplishment, in and of itself, and not something we get to apply to ourselves by our own choosing. Instead of “limited atonement” it should be called “decisive atonement” or “intentional atonement” or perhaps an older term, “particular atonement.” Even a few Sundays ago I was struck by a verse in Luke which says that the cross was an “accomplishment” (Luke 9:31). Particular atonement contains the idea that Jesus intentionally laid down his life, not for everyone indiscriminately, but for his bride – his sheep – his elect. As it has often been said, Arminianism limits the extent of the atonement (since not all are saved) and Calvinism limits the intent of the atonement. Another way of saying all this is that salvation is Trinitarian – the Father elects, Jesus atones, and the Spirit applies. Limited atonement is the very centre of Calvinistic thinking. God chose you. Jesus intended to die for you. When we come to terms with just how much we are loved, the glorious wonder of that truth should remove the kind of snarky, critical, bitter, holier-than-thou attitude of so much of the Calvinist club. Jesus loved you that much – so spread that kind of love to others. If God has loved you that much, why do you get such a bang out of being an internet troll?

4. Irresistible Humor

The fourth point of the TULIP is Irresistible Grace. The doctrine teaches that God’s grace is eventually going to affect every part of you – whether you want it to or not! God’s grace is greater and more powerful than your sin and it will go to work everywhere. This is a wonderful doctrine and I believe that for a Calvinist to really appropriate it means growing in joy, happiness, and humor. If God’s grace gets everywhere and into everything that it also better get into your sense of humor! So learn some jokes. Have a laugh. Be creative. Dance with your wife. God has predestined you to have some fun

5. Perseverance in the Fear of God 

The final point of the TULIP is well known – the Perseverance of the Saints. It’s the doctrine that God will ultimately save all of those who were truly converted to begin with. You can’t lose your salvation. Those whom God predestines, he also calls, justifies, and glorifies – there is a straight line from your predestination before the earth was made to your glorification when you are on the new earth (Rom 8:28). But the sad fact is for many this amazing doctrine becomes an excuse to sit back with a relaxed posture of “once saved, always saved.” No! Those who truly love the Lord also fear the Lord. As Scripture says,
it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). And “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The problem with much of Calvinism is that it intellectualizes away a real, vibrant fear of God by abstracting God to the world of ideas. We need to reject this. And the place to start involves some trembling.

At any rate, I love Calvinism. To quote Doug Wilson, “I get up in the morning and thing, yay Calvinism!” The more I read Scripture the more I see it all over the place. I also believe Calvinism is the moderating position. Arminianism (“free-will” thinking) teaches that if man chooses, then God must not be choosing; on the other hand hyper-calvinism (“fatalism”) teaches that if God chooses, then man must not be choosing. Both make the mistake in thinking that the choice of one must necessarily displace the choice of the other. But properly understood, Calvinism embraces a greater, more mysterious understanding of the interaction between our will and God’s will – God chooses some for salvation and His this choice is greater than ours and it even encompasses man’s response as he also, in turn, chooses God. So, God is the great author of the human story. Who destroyed the one ring to rule them all? Frodo? Or Tolkien? Both of course.

Well….and Gollum.

Go dance with your wife.

What I Took Away from Bonhoeffer’s Book, Life Together

Life Together is a book that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote when he taught at an underground seminary when the Nazi’s were in power in Germany – not long before he was killed by the Third Reich. The book is the classic on what Christian community really is and so I want to do my best to present what I think are the three key points in the book.

  1. It’s all about Jesus – The Church as a Divine Reality

The key idea in Bonhoeffer’s book is that the church is created by the Word of God and it owes its ongoing existence to the Word of God. Another way of saying this is that Christian community only exists because of Jesus, and through Jesus. He creates our existence as a people and he binds us together. The Word of God is the fuel that runs the engine of the church. Indeed, it is the Word of God that really holds us all together and this, for Bonhoeffer is a very practical sort of thing – we need other people, from diverse backgrounds, and with diverse personalities, to speak the Word of God to us; and we, in turn, need to speak the Word of God to our brothers and sisters. So not only is Christian community created by the Word, it actually functions through the Word as we give and receive it. Bonhoeffer reminds us that participation in this sort of fellowship of the word is truly a wonderful privilege, that we are not entitled to. We need to be thankful for Christian fellowship. Of course, Bonhoeffer does not deny that Christian relationships are often challenging since they involve sin and friction, but he reminds us that Christian brotherhood truly is a great gift from God – it is “extraordinary, roses and lilies.”

  1. Don’t Overthink Things – The Church is Nothing More and Nothing Less than Christian Brotherhood

Another key idea in Bonhoeffer’s book is that we need to stop trying to make the church into something it isn’t. It isn’t a social club. It isn’t a government charity. It isn’t a business networking tool. It isn’t some cultural project we get to play with – no – the church is nothing more and nothing less than simple, Christian brotherhood. We need to embrace the simplicity of the church. It is a family. It is a group of inter-connected relationships. And we need to preserve this simplicity, for, as Bonhoeffer says, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community becomes a destroyer of the latter…” I love this point. We live in times where many church leaders want to jazz up and hype up the nature of the church. I like the realism of Bonhoeffer – the church is all about Jesus and Jesus’ people. There is a beauty and a simplicity in all of that which we don’t need to try to spin to serve some other agenda.

  1. It’s all about Love – We Fellowship Under the Cross

I can’t stress this enough. Bonhoeffer’s central point in all of this is that we relate to one another in and through Jesus. That means that we forgive each other the same way Jesus forgave us. It also means that we confess our sins to each other just like we need to confess them to Jesus. We have the privilege of hearing confession and giving confession to one another. But Bonhoeffer is very careful on this point. He warns of the dangers of only confessing to the same person over and over. The key in all of this is that we need to confess sin naturally, and that receiving and giving confession needs to be a two-way street – the people we confess to should also confess to us. But behind all of this is the reality of the cross. One of the great quotations from this work is as follows: “Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will not longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.” In all of this you see the utter importance of humility. On that same line of thought, a key little psychological insight here is that only the humble can actually give good, gracious rebuke and correction to others. The proud are too afraid to say anything because they project their own hypothetical, offended feelings they experience when corrected and then chose never to say anything that would help a brother in sin – in essence your own pride consigns your brother to his sinful ways, but your humility will set him free. This is Bonhoeffer at his best. We need the humility to give correction, to receive correction, to give confession, and to hear confession – and to offer forgiveness and assurance of divine pardon. We are to be a gospel-fueled community and not a bunch of judgmental curmudgeons. When we get these gospel truths firmly in our grip then they free us to love without judgment and to serve sacrificially without feeling that we must do it to prove ourselves or earn some sort of divine favor.

Life Together is great. I heartily recommend it. There is no fluff in this book. It’s straightforward, tough, realistic and yet full of cross-enabling grace.