(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.
Go dance with your wife.