I came across this via TulipGirl and had to laugh.
For the uninitiated, the TULIP in TulipGirl has nothing to do with flowers but everything to do with the five points of Calvinism:
Total Depravity. Sin has affected all parts of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful.
Unconditional Election. God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual.
Limited Atonement. Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all.
Irresistible Grace. When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted.
Perseverance of the Saints. You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure. They are eternally secure in Christ.
Obviously this comic is referring to the fourth point. I think its important for Christians to understand Calvinism, what makes it distinctive within the Christian movement, even if they don’t tiptoe through the tulips that often.
10 thoughts on “Calvinist Romance”
Calvinism is one of the things that helped keep me away from Christianity for so long. What a nightmare!
Yes, well, I draw much of my inspiration from elsewhere obviously. Yet, despite my own reservations with Calvinism the tradition is not without its strengths I think. For instance, I don’t think Calvinists could be accused of shying away from the difficult parts of the Bible. Nor do I think they can easily be accused of sloppy thinking. So I think it is best to give credit where it is due and critique the tradition as constructively as possible. Constructive critic necessitates active listening. Much as we may disagree with them from time to time I think we have to listen to them.
Do you agree with any of the statements quoted above? Are there bits you cannot affirm?
It’s not that I absolutely reject the above so much as I can appreciate alternative perspectives as equally true, depending on how we approach the theological task. I can understand the above from a block time perspective, I can’t so much from a time flow perspective. It’s the same with the Reformed emphasis on penal substitution. I can understand it as one metaphor with a certain amount of merit, but the other metaphors we find in the bible make a lot of sence for me too, even moreso. What I struggle with is, not the Reformed position itself, but Reformed tendancies to elevate these positions above all others. I understand theology as being contextual reflections on the text. This theology makes a certain sense when God’s sovereignty is your contextual starting point. When its not it does not work so well. So to sum up, I think the above statements are relatively useful for highlighting certain themes of scripture, but it the process they can obscure others.
It gave me a good churckle, though I managed to survive for 20 years as a Christian without having heard of TULIP.
Thanks Matt…some helpful explanation there.
My experience has been that the various so called distinctives of reformed thought, certainly among the contemporary guys, only get emphasis because others (unlike yourself) deny them. I reckon if there was no-one out there saying penal substitution was unbiblical, it wouldn’t actually get a lot of air time.
Hmmm, a bit doubtful myself. In all my years moving amongst Sydney Anglicans I have rarely heard a gospel presentation that did not rest squarely on penal substitution. I strongly suspect it would get a lot of air time in Reformed circles even without the contemproary debate.
As for the debate, I hesitate to call penal substitution unbiblical precisely because its advocates are so self consciously biblical. Can we seriously say the sovereinty of God, sin and priestly sacrifice are not biblical themes? I think not. My criticisms are more subtle and have much more to do with context. I think penal substitution has validity within certain reference frames. The error comes in presuming those reference frames are objective and universal.
For example, N T Wright has criticised Luther (and subsequently Calvin) for interpreting the apostle Paul too individualistically, particularly with regard to justification by faith. I think he is correct, I think Luther was way more fixated on personal guilt-innocence than Paul, I think there are political / covenant nuances that Luther missed completely. But does that make Luther’s interpretation “unbiblical”? No, that is too broad a brush stroke. It just makes his reformation too narrow, that’s all. No reason to draw for heresy words. His theology is incomplete, but then, all theologies are incomplete, including mine.
Again, I think a lot of this comes down to theological starting points. Mine is the resurrection of Jesus, not the sovereignty of God. So when I come to a topic like the “sovereignty of God”, I begin with the “lordship of Christ” and wonder “What does it mean to call Jesus messiah when he was executed as an enemy of the state?” It’s only later that I move onto broader notions of God’s sovereignty, all of which I interpret through this lens. Given that starting point, Reformed theology strikes me as way too abstrated and back the front, and more, way too politically secular. But I can still see the logic of it.
I have a problem with 5point Calvinism (or to be more precise the way it is interpreted – in Scotland we seem to have Bezaism or hyperCalvinism).
Total depravity – yes, I am sinful, but I am also made in the image of God. That image is marred, but still present…
Limited Atonement – OK, this is going to sound really weird, but surely Jesus’ death is not only about saving people, it is about reconciling the whole of creation to God. After all, all creation got corrupted by the fall, so all creation needs to be redeemed through the death of Jesus. To say that Jesus’ death only works for people who believe it ignores the rest of creation
Irresistable grace – now this I do have a problem with, in that it demolishes free will. I don’t see that God choosing to limit his power makes him less sovereign (was Jesus stripped and hanging on a cross any less Lord of all? Surely if you genuinely have the power, you have the power to chose NOT to use it)
Perseverence of the saints – who else read the above and understood it to mean that once you’re ‘saved’ then you’re fine? I thought that was what it meant for ages, but then discovered that perseverance of the saints means that you keep on (persevere) in the faith ie in living it out. This is in contrast to the ‘once saved always saved’ view
So I’m a 1andabit point Calvinist 😉
actually, theologically I’m anabaptist as I discovered when I read this book
Oh, and if any of you want a Calvinist theological novel, try “A Journey in Grace” by Richard Belcher ISBN 0-85234-309-4
It’s quite a good summary, but shame I wanted to strangle the hero for being so annoying….
I’ll go and get the firewood……
Pastasmissus, yes I would agree with you on many of these points, particularly your comments on limited atonement. I have a ‘yes but..” response to most of these Calvinist distinctives. In the case of limited atonement I agree YES, although Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all, BUT it has a wider impact than just individuals.
Also, on the perseverance of the saints, that is the one that was foremost in my mind when I differentiated between between block time and time flow perspectives. From a block time perspective past and future are simultaneous. If you are saved, you are saved, period. Yet once you bring subjectivism into the picture it all unravels. It is too easy to slip to once baptised always saved, or once prayed the prayer always saved, and then it becomes potentially monsterous. From God’s perspective once saved always saved, from ours … no. We can only be sure in retrospect, having persevered to the end.
As a Calvinist, we can chuckle at our selves-well some of us can.