As many of you know by now, I am no longer a classical Calvinist. But alas, as almost as many of you probably wonder, what I believe on such matters is no longer obvious, either. So for anyone who never read all of my posts on Evangelical Calvinism (located here if you are interested), or for anyone who read them and simply went away confused, I thought I would offer this post as a simple overview of my stance on the five points of Calvinism, aka TULIP. Hopefully, this will be of some clarity. So without further ado, here are my stances on the five points:
Total Depravity: On the point that the human fall has made us all completely incapable on our own of seeking God, to bring Him any faith or good works, I still completely agree. We are altogether lost and dead in our sins from the beginning, and cannot possibly make any free will choice for God. Whatever the state of our human will, we are so corrupt that we only choose against God.
Unconditional Election: On the doctrine that God has, in eternity past, freely and unconditionally chosen a certain mass of humanity for salvation and, either by that choice or as its own choice, a certain mass for damnation, I do not agree at all. The Scriptures are clear in their insistence that God has loved the entire world, and God elects those He loves. I would instead argue that God has chosen all people for Himself, and within all people chose Israel as a special people through whom He would bless all people, and within Israel chose Jesus as the Mediator by whom He would redeem all people, the Jew first and also the Gentile.
Limited Atonement: On the doctrine that Jesus’ death was only intended to apply to the sins of the elect, I also vehemently disagree. A quick glance at the New Testament proves that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was offered on behalf of the entire human race. To say otherwise would be to deny that Jesus’ human nature was real enough to make Him one of us, or that through Jesus’ nature as the divine Word we all exist and were created.
Irresistible Grace: On the belief that the Holy Spirit’s inner call to salvation is offered only to the elect, and to them cannot fail to bring them to faith, I cannot agree. There is a definite current in the New Testament of people being condemned because they resist the Spirit’s work toward salvation. Moreover, if this were the case, then ultimately the reason people do not believe is because God refused to give them the infallible cure to unbelief, yet the Scriptures do not seem to attribute unbelief to God, except in the case of hardening the heart after someone initially displays stubborn unbelief.
Perseverance of the Saints: On the final point that all genuine believers are given by God the gift of enduring to the end and keeping the faith, I more or less agree. The New Testament seems to see two kinds of “believers,” those who have a temporary and shallow faith and eventually fall away, and those who have an unassailable faith wrought by the unfailing work of the Holy Spirit in the irreversible new birth. Despite all struggles, backslides, and lapses, God seems willing and able to keep His saints until the Day of Christ Jesus.
With all this said, I’m sure there are still unanswered questions. So what I’d like to do now is construct my own TULIP, one which represents from a positive perspective what I actually do believe. So here is my TULIP, for the quasi-Evangelical Calvinist.
Total Inability: In substance the same as total depravity, it simply means that we are too sinful from birth onward, because of our race’s fall, to possibly approach God with any faith or good works on our own. If we are to believe and repent, we will have to be transformed from this very sinful state.
See: Isa. 44:18, Jer. 9:6, 13:23, John 6:44, 65, Rom. 3:9-19, 8:7-8, 11:32, 1 Cor. 2:14
Universal Atonement: The most important difference from classical TULIP, I strongly affirm that Jesus’ work was on behalf of absolutely all people. He lived, died, and rose as the representative of all and the substitute for each. Atonement has no limits except for Christ Himself: it is found in His person and life alone. Moreover, Jesus’ work was objectively efficacious for all, actually accomplishing justification, sanctification, forgiveness, and redemption for each and every person. All that remains is for the Holy Spirit to actually impart this subjectively into the life of lost individuals.
See: Isa. 53:6, Lk. 23:34, John 1:29, 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, Heb. 2:9, 1 Jn. 2:2
Layered Election: Contra classical Calvinism, I believe that God has chosen the entire human race for Himself, to be His own people and He be their God. This election is the guarantee that God will give Himself for all people. It entered history with the election of Israel as the people though whom God would reveal Himself and bless all nations. Finally, Jesus Himself came from Israel as the Chosen One of God, and by His faithful obedience in His life, death, and resurrection He accomplished the end goal of election, free salvation, for all. By His work He brought redemption to all people, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. While this layered election at the universal level is designed for salvation, the historical instance of this election is not who God chooses to save but who God chooses as His instruments, servants, and ambassadors to share salvation with all the rest of the world.
See: Gen. 12:3, 18:18, 30:27-30, 39:5, Deut. 4:37, Ps. 72:17, 76:68, Matt. 12:18, Lk. 9:35, John 3:16, Acts 3:25-26, 9:15, Gal. 3:16, Eph. 1:4, 1 Tim. 2:4, Heb. 1:8-9, 1 Pt. 2:3-4, 2 Pt. 3:9
Impossible Grace: I do agree with the classical Calvinists that God’s grace altogether precedes our response, and indeed that God must be working in us through the Holy Spirit for us to be able to believe. When people come to Christ, they do so because of the sovereign and unpredictable work of the Holy Spirit. However, I do not think of this grace as some impersonal force the Spirit pours on us to create faith like some chemical reaction. Instead, we believe because the Spirit imparts to us the very life of Jesus, who is Himself God’s grace. So when we do believe, it is us, yet not us, but Christ believing in us. The faith we exercise in our lives we hold by the faith Jesus Himself held on to throughout His human life. But this is not an exclusive and irresistible call. It is given to very many, if not even all! While it is overwhelming and should be irresistible, by some mysterious and seemingly impossible evil of sin people do indeed refuse this new life of Christ from the Spirit. It doesn’t make sense, but many people do close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and sing loudly to resist the sweet call of Jesus. In this way they smash themselves against the speeding train of God’s love and find themselves condemned.
See: Ezek. 36:26, Matt. 11:27, 16:17, 23:37, John 3:3, 8, 6:44-46, 12:32, Acts 7:51, Gal. 2:20 KJV/NET, Eph. 2:4-10, Phil. 1:29
Preservation by the Spirit: Finally, I am in fairly substantial agreement with the old P in TULIP. The New Testament seems to indicate that there are ultimately two kinds of people who believe in Jesus: there are those with what I call the “faith of the flesh,” which people can muster on their own without the Spirit and usually for wrong motives, and which is always temporary or too shallow to produce any fruit. There are also those with the “faith of the Spirit,” a true and living faith created in Jesus’ life and given to us when the Spirit calls us to new birth, which does produce good fruit and will endure to the end. God remains faithful to these true believers by protecting them from apostasy through His Holy Spirit using Jesus’ perfect faith.
See: Job 17:9, Ps. 37:28, Jer. 32:38-40, Matt. 10:22, 24:24, Lk. 8:4-15, John 4:14, 6:37-39, 10:28-30, Gal. 6:9, Phil. 2:12-13, Heb. 3:14, 10:39, 1 Pt. 1:3-5, 1 Jn. 2:19, Jd. 1:20-21