A Critique of TULIP Usage in Reformed Theology

TULIP an acrostic that has made much bickering for the Reformed tradition and has contributed significantly to the confusion about Calvin and Calvinism. It is quite unusual and a-historical to associate a particular document written in the Netherlands in 1618-19 with the whole of Calvinism and then to reduce its meaning to TULIP. As Richard Muller, a leading Reformed Scholar, says, "More seriously, there is no historical association between the acrostic TULIP and the Canons of Dort. As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of "five points of Calvinism" are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before the nineteenth century."


Calvin himself never thought of this type, but neither did later so-called Calvinists. Calvin's theology was in fluid consistency with the canon's of dort when drawn out by Beza and the few other Supralapsarian holders.

With great outspoken honesty, Calvin wrote:

We call predestination God's eternal decree, which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others (Institutes 3.21.5; Calvin 1960:926).


Supralapsarianism was one of Calvin's more controversial teachings and one that was handed down to Beza but only held by 5% of reformed theologians during that time. In the final edition of his Institutes, Calvin devoted some eighty pages to defending this doctrine. This position slowly but surely was leaked through in Academia during the Reformation, though still, not all held to it as most confessions are Infralapsarian.


This critique of TULIP is not a critique of Reformed Theology as a whole but will be from a Historical and Ancient Theology perspective. More specifically, it will focus on the doctrinal formula TULIP, because TULIP provides a clear and concise summary of Augustinianism and Beza-ism. The acronym is a popular way of bearing the five major points of the Canons of Dort: T = total depravity, U = unconditional election; L = limited atonement, I = irresistible grace, and P = perseverance of the saints.


Ironically, Calvin never uttered a phrase that easily translates as "total depravity." He positively never spoke of "limited atonement" in any way that we would today. Neither usage appears in the Canons of Dort, nor is either one of these terms representative of the grammar of Reformed or Calvinistic orthodoxy in the seventeenth century. TULIP is undoubtedly a western conception that has been adapted to Geneva. Neither Calvin nor the later Reformed thinkers went in this area and, to the reputation of the Lutherans, they abhorred this kind of language in the Formula of Concord. The truth of Totaly Depravity, when understood correctly, is that man cannot save himself from one's sin. The idea of "dead men" and "no man is at all good, dead, wretched and wholly wicked" is a concept further drawn out as history goes forward. An idea that is not biblical.

Synod of Dort

The Canons of Dort represent the Dutch Reformed Church's declaration of predestination in the face of the Remonstrant movement (popularly known as Arminianism even though Arminius didn't share the same theology with them) which attempted in the early 1600s to disposition the severity of predestination by supporting human free will in salvation. Although the Canons of Dort form the official confession of the Dutch Reformed Church, its affirmation of predestination parallels that found in other significant confessions, e.g., the Westminster Confession, the Second Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism.


My goal here is to come from the perspective of historical roots in the early Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers, whereas Calvinism relies on being a reaction to medieval Roman Catholicism. Aside from a brief meeting in the early seventeenth century, there has been very little interaction between these two perspectives because what is known as Calvinism is almost solely from Augustine theology.

THE HISTORICAL CRITIQUE OF TULIP

I've written other working articles that provide insight as to why the reformed tradition is much bigger than just Calvinism. I believe I give good evidence as to why Arminius was confessionally reformed; the remonstrants were not drawing solely from Arminius and many more historical observations that should provide you with insight into what you believe.


One of these articles was even showcasing how Calvin may or may not have been what you know today as Calvinist. This gives credence to the historical idea that Beza overdrew his theology. This question, too, arises out of a group of modern distractions, rooted in the application of a highly vague and anachronistic language to a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century issue. As previously stated, neither Calvin, nor Beza, nor the Canons of Dort, nor any of the orthodox Reformed thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mention limited atonement — and insofar as they did not say it, they hardly could have taught the doctrine as atonement is an English word and not found in Latin. (Cite: Richard Muller).


As Muller so rightly points out, the question debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, concerned the meaning of those biblical passages in which Christ is said to have paid a ransom for all or God is said to will the salvation of all or of the whole world, given a large number of biblical passages that indicate a limitation of salvation to some, namely, to the elect or believers. This is an old question, belonging to the patristic and medieval church as well as to the early modern Reformed and, since the time of Peter Lombard, had been discussed in terms of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ's satisfaction in relation to the universality of the preaching of redemption and has never been a question of whether or not Christ has died for every sin of every person. To make the point another way, if "atonement" is taken to mean the value or sufficiency of Christ's death, no one taught limited atonement — and if atonement is taken to mean the actual salvation accomplished in particular persons, then no one taught unlimited atonement (Cite: Muller)


Again we are to understand, the question implied in variations of formulation among sixteenth-century Reformed writers and explicitly argued in a series of seventeenth-century debates following the Synod of Dort, namely, whether the value of Christ's death was hypothetically universal in efficacy. More simply put, was the value of Christ's death such that, it would be sufficient for all sin if God had so intended — or was the value of Christ's death such that if all would believe all would be saved. On this particular question, Calvin is, arguably, silent. He did not often mention the traditional sufficiency-efficiency formula; and he did not address the issue, posed by Amyraut, of a hypothetical or conditional decree of salvation for all who would believe, before the absolute order to save the elect.


So as we will see the use of the acrostic TULIP has resulted in a narrow, if not erroneous, reading of the Canons of Dort that has led to confused understandings of the Reformed tradition and Calvin's theology. (Cite Muller).


We will work our way through TULIP in attempt to showcase the issues that arise within it from a Historical Theology perspective.

t – total depravity

Total depravity describes the effect of the Fall of Adam and Eve on humanity. It is an attempt to explain what is otherwise known as "original sin" and the after-effects of original sin. Where some theologians believed that man retained some capacity to please God, the Supralapsarian's think that man was incapable of pleasing God due to the advanced effect of the fall on the entirety of human nature. The Scots Confession took the farthest position that the fall eradicated the divine image from human nature: "By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin." (The Book of Confession 3.03; italics added) The Swiss Reformer, Heinrich Bullinger, taught that the image of God in Adam was "extinguished" by the Fall (Pelikan 1984:227).

The Canons of Dort asserted the universality and the totality of the fall; that is, all of humanity was affected by the fall and every aspect of human existence was corrupted by the fall which is not inherently incorrect when correctly understood. It does not mean that man cannot do good acts, but rather that man is unable to save himself.


Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of keeping good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to Reformation (Third and Fourth Head: Article 3).


The Canons of Dort (Third and Fourth Head: Paragraph 4) went so far as to reject the possibility the unregenerate can hunger and thirst after righteousness on their own initiative which we may gander upon later in light of Scripture. It insists this spiritual hunger is indicative of spiritual regeneration, and only those who have been predestined for salvation will show spiritual hunger.


In taking this stance, the Canons of Dort reflected Beza and the other Supra-Reformers' understanding of the fall faithfully. Calvin never mentions such a belief as in the fall affected human nature to the point that man was even incapable of faith which is necessary for salvation. The closes we see is when he wrote:

Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed–as by a deluge–from head to foot so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him are to be imputed to sin (Institutes 2.1.9, Calvin 1960:253).


Martin Luther held to a similar underlying understanding of original sin. At the Heidelberg Disputations, Luther asserted:

'Free will' after the fall is nothing but a word, and so long as it does what is within it, it is committing deadly sin (in Kittelson 1986:111; emphasis added). However, we know that Luther held to a form of free will that allowed the hunger of a non-believer to seek out God, which is well established by the folks over at 1517.


Most of the Reformed understanding of the fall derives from Augustine's interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Augustine assumed that Adam and Eve were seasoned adults when they sinned. This theory led to a more extreme understanding of the fall. However, Augustine's understanding represented only one reading of Genesis and was not reflective of the patristic accord. Another interpretation of Genesis can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons, widely regarded as the leading Church Father of the second century. Irenaeus believed Adam and Eve were not created as fully mature beings, but as infants or children who would grow into perfection (Against the Heretics 4.38.1-2; ANF Vol. 1 p. 521). Other Early Christian Father's believed the same thing or in the same thought. They either held to them being children who grew up under the care of God or their minds were so innocent they were like children. Theophilus of Antioch described Adam and Eve as "infants" at the time they sinned. Clement of Alexandria called Adam a "boy" before his fall and said that it was by sin that Adam became a man.



Growing up takes time—there is no other way. This fact of reality is what Irenaeus is getting at when he describes why Adam and Eve were child-like: "But things which are made by [God], in as much as they have received a beginning of their existence at a later time, must fall short of the one who made them. Things which have come into existence recently cannot be said to be unoriginated. To the extent that they are not unoriginated they fall short of being perfect, for, in as much as they have come into being more recently, they are infants, and, in as much as they are infants, they are unaccustomed to and unpracticed in perfect discipline. A mother can offer adult food to an infant, but the infant cannot yet digest food suitable for someone older. Similarly, God, for his part, could have granted perfection to humankind from the beginning, but humankind, being in its infancy, would not have been able to sustain it." (Against Heresies IV.38.1)


Given that, when Genesis 1:26 says that God created Adam "in His image" and "to be according to His likeness," the early Church Fathers taught that was saying that even though we are mere creatures, not only do we bear the stamp of God's image, but God's intention all along was for us to become like Him. That state of "becoming" necessitates time and history, so that God's imperfect, incomplete creatures can progress and grow into His likeness. Simply put, being creatures, our "potentiality" is that we can (if we enter into an obedient and trusting relationship with God) become like His son. That was, and still is, God's purpose for humanity all along.


This foundational theory leads to a radically different theological paradigm. John Hick, in his comparison of Irenaeus' theodicy against that of Augustine, notes:

Instead of the fall of Adam being presented, as in the Augustinian tradition, as an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God's plan, Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an inevitable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt. And instead of the Augustinian view of life's trials as a divine punishment for Adam's sin, Irenaeus sees our world of mingled good and evil as a divinely appointed environment for man's development towards perfection that represents the fulfillment of God's good purpose for him (1968:220-221).


Many Calvinists may find the Early Church Father's understanding of the fall eccentric. This is because Supralapsarianism has become so dependent on Augustine that it has become provincial and isolated in its theology. One of the critical aspects of the doctrine of total depravity is the belief that the fall deprived humanity of any capacity for free will rendering them incapable of desiring to do good or to believe in God. A study of the early Church shows a broad theological accord existed that affirmed belief in free will. J.N.D. Kelly, in his Early Christian Doctrine, notes that the second-century Apologists unanimously believed in human free will (1960:166). Justin Martyr wrote:

For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith (First Apology 10; ANF Vol. I, p. 165).


Irenaeus of Lyons repeated humanity's capacity for faith:

Now all such expression demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith (Against the Heretics 4.37.2; ANF Vol. I p. 520).


Another important signatory to free will is Cyril of Jerusalem, Patriarch of Jerusalem in the fourth century. In his famous catechetical lectures, Cyril repeatedly affirmed human free-will (Lectures 2.1-2 and 4.18, 21; NPNF Second Series Vol. VII, pp. 8-9, 23-24). Likewise, Gregory of Nyssa, in his catechetical lectures, taught:

For He who holds sovereignty over the universe permitted something to be subject to our own control, over which each of us alone is master. Now, this is the will: a thing that cannot be enslaved, being the power of self-determination (Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, MPG 47, 77A; in Gabriel 2000:27).

Another patristic witness against total depravity can be found in John of Damascus, an eighth-century Church Father celebrated for his Exposition of the Catholic Faith, the closest thing to systematic theology in the early Church. John of Damascus explained that God made the man a rational being endowed with free-will and as a result of the Fall man's free-will was corrupted (NPNF Series 2 Vol. IX p. 58-60). Saint John of the Ladder, a sixth-century Desert Father, in his spiritual classic, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, wrote:

Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged from God, and others, though feeble creatures, are His opponents (1991:3).


Thus, Beza's belief in total depravity was based upon a limited theological perspective. Again, this is a different view held between varying Reformed theologians. As most of the Reformers held to a view that was consistent with "unable to save himself" rather than the view of Beza which was "destined not to be saved, can do no good, cannot seek God in any way." His failure to draw upon the patristic accord and his almost sole dependence on Augustine manufactured in a soteriology peculiar to Western Protestantism. However distinguished a theologian Augustine may have been, he was just one between many others and seemingly outweighed many others based upon historical pickings.

An important aspect of historical theology is the patristic accord. Arranging theology based upon the accord of the Church Fathers and the seven Ecumenical Councils reflects the understanding among the early Christians that they shared a common corporate faith. This approach is best summed up by Vincent of Lerins: "Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all." (A Commonitory 2.6; NPNF Second Series, Volume XI, p. 132). See also, Irenaeus of Lyons' boast to the Gnostics: "…the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered through the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it (Against the Heretics 1.10.2, ANF Volume I, p. 331).


Not many know that the Church confronted Calvinism in the 1600s; it already had a rich theological legacy to draw upon which lead to the Decree XIV of Dositheus' Confession rejecting the Beza-Calvin belief in total depravity, affirming the fall and humanity's sinful nature, but stops short of total depravity as described by some of the Reformers. Again, it is essential to note that there was a large portion of Reformers who held to theology that states man can still operate in the good but nonetheless requires a savior. Not unable to come to the savior, but able to by the drawing of the Father through the preaching of His word.


The original fathers were to believe man in falling by the [original] transgression to have become comparable and like unto the beasts, that is, to have been utterly undone, and to have fallen from his perfection and impassibility, yet not to have lost the nature and power which he had received from the supremely good God. For otherwise he would not be rational, and consequently not man; but to have the same nature, in which he was created and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating (Leith 1963:496; emphasis added).



Biblical support for the Early Church perspective understanding of fallen human nature can be found in Paul's speech to the Athenians. He commends the Athenians for their piety, noting they even had an altar dedicated to an unknown deity. Although their fallen nature prevented them from making full contact with the one true God, they nonetheless retained a longing for communion with God. Paul takes note of the spiritual longing that underlay the Athenians' religiosity using it as a launching point for the proclamation of the Gospel:

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27; emphasis added).


What Paul says here darts in the face of the Canons of Dort's assertion that the unregenerate were incapable of spiritual hunger. Peter took a similar approach in his speech to Cornelius the Gentile centurion notes:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:34-5).

Peter and Paul's belief in God's love for the nations is not a new idea. The Gentiles' capacity to respond to God's grace is a recurring motif in the Old Testament. Alongside Israel's divine election was the theme of Yahweh as Lord of the nations in the Old Testament (see Verkuyl 1981:37 ff.) This is the cause of Romans 9-11 where Israel is questioning their election and God's promises for them because they see Gentiles coming to the same faith as they have.


It is important to keep in mind that the doctrine of election — the elect status of the Jewish people — is key to understanding Jesus' messianic mission and much of Paul's letters. Contrary to the expectations of many of the Jews of the time, Jesus' messianic calling involved his bringing the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. This was an unprecedented doctrine — that the Gentiles could become saved through faith in the Messiah apart from becoming Jewish. This accelerated a theological crisis over the doctrine of election that underlies Paul's reasoning in Romans and Galatians. In Romans 9-11, Paul had to explain and uphold God's calling of Israel in the face of the fact that Israel had rejected the promised Messiah. To read the Supralapsarian understanding of double predestination into Romans 9 constitutes a colossal misreading of what Paul was attempting to do. Furthermore, it overlooks the great reversal of election that took place in the former Pharisee Paul's thinking: the non-elect — the Gentiles — receive the grace of God and the elect — the nation of Israel — are rejected (Romans 10:19-21).

u – unconditional election

Whereas the first article of TULIP describes our fallen state incorrectly, even for Reformers today, because it narrows the view further than that of the majority of Infra-Reformers who held that man can still seek God but is unable to do so unless drawn by the Father through the Gospel (Romans 10). The second article describes God, the author of our salvation. The emphasis here is on the transcending sovereignty of God whose work of redemption is totally autonomous of human will.

That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God's eternal decree (Canons of Dort First Head: Article 6)

Calvin likewise affirms the unconditional concept election through his rejection of the idea that our election is based on God's foreknowing our response. He writes:

We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred to door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation (Institutes 3.21.7, Calvin 1960:931; see also Institutes 3.22.1, Calvin 1960:932).

In another place, Calvin uses a medical analogy to describe double predestination:

Therefore, though all of us are by nature suffering from the same disease, only those whom it pleases the Lord to touch with his healing hand will get well. The others, whom he, in his righteous judgment, passes over, waste away in their own rottenness until they are consumed. There is no other reason why some persevere to the end, while others fall at the beginning of the course (Institutes 2.5.3; Calvin 1960:320).


This is what lead Beza to draw further conclusions where Calvin was most likely silent. Beza, with a few others, held to Supralapsarian theology which was double predestination without any foreknowledge but simply decrees. This was NOT the Reformed perspective of Beza's time, and it was not the Early Church Father's understanding.


Although the doctrine of total depravity is listed first, it is not the logical starting point of TULIP. The actual origin point is in the second article, unconditional election. God's transcendent sovereignty is the true starting point of TULIP soteriology. The doctrine of unconditional election is at odds with the Church Fathers (and majority of Reformers) who taught that predestination is based upon God's foreknowledge.


John of Damascus wrote:

We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness, nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge. But on the other hand, God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience (NPNF Series 2 Vol. IX p. 42).


Another Church Father, Gregory of Palamas, asserted the same principle:

Therefore, God does not decide what men's will shall be. It is not that He foreordains and thus foreknows, but that He foreknows and thus foreordains, and not by His will but by His knowledge of what we shall freely will or choose. Regarding the free choices of men, when we say God foreordains, it is only to signify that His foreknowledge is infallible. To our finite minds, it is incomprehensible how God has foreknowledge of our choices and actions without willing or causing them. We make our choices in freedom which God does not violate. They are in His foreknowledge, but 'His foreknowledge differs from the divine will and indeed from the divine essence.' (Gregory of Palamas' Natural, Theological, Moral and Practical Chapters, MPG 150, 1192A; Gabriel 2000:27).


The Synod of Jerusalem condemned the writings of Lucaris, which could have been forged to conform to the views of the rising Calvinist. I would like to note that it was a point by point refutation of Calvinism as written by Lucaris. It focused on the unconditional election doctrine, which was seen as a heresy. Though, the Synod professed various doctrines that I would readily disagree with, in my current theology, which is ever-growing.


This leaves protestants in a weird position moving forward. It seems the more we study the Early Church Fathers the father protestant theology moves from it. Addressing such issues is bizarre for many, for even myself, who has been raised in such a western culture knowing the doctrines of general protestant theology (which varies in itself).


l – limited atonement

One of the more dubious statements in the Canons of Dort is the doctrine of limited atonement — that Christ died only for the elect, not for the whole world. This is the previously mentioned doctrine that cannot be found by Calvin but actually is highly misunderstood by many calvinist. Here is a more in-depth article citing Calvin's views on Limited Atonement which do not align with The Canon's of Dort: http://appliedtruth.org/theology/2018/7/16/calvinism-and-the-mistaken-history-of-limited-atonement

The canon taught that it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father (Second Head: Article 8; emphasis added).


Whereas the Canons of Dort is explicit in its affirmation of limited atonement, surprisingly a careful reading of Calvin's Institutes does not yield any explicit mention of limited atonement (See above article).

While many attempt to refute it through Scripture, that arises a new issue of understanding translation and linguistics, for the sake of time we can look upon this passage:

I John 2:2:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (emphasis added).

This passage is especially relevant for two reasons: (a) it explicitly refers to Christ's atoning death on the Cross, and (b) it teaches that Christ died not just for the elect (us) but also for the non-elect (the whole world). Calvin cited I John 2:2 three times, but what is surprising is that nowhere in his Institutes did Calvin deal with the latter part of the verse. (The Biblical Reference index in the back of the Institutes (McNeill, ed.) shows that I John 2:2 is cited three times: 2.17.2, 3.4.26, and 3.20.20.)


For many Supralapsarian theologians, "ALL" means a wide variety of things but almost never what the actual word means. This is the danger that is presented by using TULIP because this "doctrine" was never truly held by any of the Reformers, at least not in consensus. This hermeneutical method presents a certain imperviousness to TULIP theology; one either accepts their semantic perspective or one does not. The inductive method will not work here. This simply creates a massive obstacle until otherwise noted.


This is where historical theology can help us assess the competing truth claims. The benefit of historical theology is two-fold: (1) it enables us to understand the historical and social forces that shaped Calvinists' exegesis and (2) it enables us to determine the extent to which Calvin's theology reflected the mainstream of historical Christianity or to what extent Calvin's theology became deviant.

Historical theology shows there existed a widespread belief among the Church Fathers in God's universal love for humanity. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote,

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Caesar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who are now alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practised justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ and to hear his voice (Against the Heretics 4.22.2).

St. John of the Ladder wrote:

God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all–faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and laymen, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old–just as the effusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the seasons are for all alike; 'for there is no respect of persons with God.' (1991:4)


Here we do see deviation but again, not on Calvin's part, in fact, it may not even arise until hundreds of years later when TULIP is first thought of because I have to assume, based on the data available, that not even Beza intended for it to be so reductionist.

i – irresistible grace

The fourth article connects our faith in Christ to God's effectual calling. The Canons of Dort stresses that God "produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also" (Third and Fourth Head: Article 14; see also Article 10). Faith in Christ is not the result of our choosing or our initiative but is solely from God. This sounds completely stable on the surface but when reduced to what the logical end is - it darts through certain Scriptures and reduces God to a God who actually isn't able.

And as God Himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled, or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished (Canon of Dort First Head: Article 11).

Furthermore, the Canons of Dort reject the teaching that God's converting grace can be resisted. The Third and Fourth Head: Paragraph 8 condemns the following statement: "That God in the regeneration of man does not use such powers of His omnipotence as potently and infallibly bend man's will to faith and conversion…." To bended knee we God but not out of any regard for who God is? Just because of a manipulated and reductionist view of grace.


Nowhere in Calvin's institutes can we find the term used here let alone the underlying theology. Probably the closest we can find to an explicit endorsement of irresistible grace is Calvin's paraphrase of Augustine.

There Augustine first teaches: the human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but obtains freedom by grace; when the feeling of delight has been imparted through the same grace, the human will is formed to endure; it is strengthened with unconquerable fortitude; controlled by grace, it never will perish, but, if grace forsake it, it will straightway fall…. (Institutes 2.4.14; Calvin 1960:308).


We look now to Early Christian Thought and see if it rejects the doctrine of irresistible grace because this doctrine assumes the absence of human free will which was previously shown to appear in many theologies of the Early Christian Fathers. The early Church Fathers — as noted in the section on total depravity — affirmed the role of free will in our salvation. One of the earliest pieces of Christian literature, the second-century Letter to Diognetus, contains a clear affirmation of human free will and a rejection of salvation by compulsion. The author writes concerning the Incarnation:

He sent him as God; he sent him as man to men. He willed to save man by persuasion, not by compulsion, for compulsion is not God's way of working (Letter to Diognetus 7.4; Richardson 1970:219).


Ultimately, the underlying flaw of TULIP soteriology is the emphasis on God's autonomy to the denial of love. The TULIP insistence on God's self-determination weakens the ontological basis for the human person. Closer inspection of the doctrine of irresistible grace brings to light a certain internal contradiction in TULIP theology: God's free gift of grace is based on necessity. If salvation or regeneration is implanted, it is not free as free implies the ability to reject or submit. Love must flow from free choice, even when drawn and awoken by the Gospel. Let it be made clear that a man cannot save himself; man must hear the Gospel and submit to its offerer, which is Christ.

Where there is no free will, there is no genuine love, nor can there be genuine faith. This doctrine further proclaims that God cannot draw men, cannot use the Gospel's power has spoken about in Scripture to change a man's heart but rather inserts through divine decree, a "grace" that cannot be freely denied or accepted, it is implanted. The words accepted and denied become moot.


p – preservation of the elect

Also known as the Perseverance of the Saints, the fifth article in TULIP addresses the troubling issue of Christians backsliding or falling into sin. Their failure to display the marks of the election would seem to call into question the effectiveness of divine election. Again, we find the emphasis on God's autonomy:

Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backsliding; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed nor His promise fail; neither can the call according to His purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated (Canons of Dort Fifth Head: Article 14).


It seems as though Calvin did speak on the topic, though the context is in question here: the elect cannot fall from salvation, even after their conversion, they will inevitably be saved (Institutes 3.24.6-7, Calvin 1960:971-3).


Calvin writes:

For perseverance itself is indeed also a gift of God, which he does not bestow on all indiscriminately, but imparts to whom he pleases. If one seeks the reason for the difference–why some steadfastly persevered, and others fail out of instability–none occurs to us other than that the Lord upholds the former, strengthening them by his own power, that they may not perish; while to the latter, that they may be examples of inconstancy, he does not impart the same power (Institutes 2.5.3; Calvin 1960:320).


Someone could make the argument that the "elect" will have their regeneration implanted regardless of life choices, route and journey; but the more nuanced approach is to say that the elect will inevitably choose to be saved because that desire has been implanted in them by God. In contrast to TULIP, the Early Church understanding of the perseverance of the saints is based upon a call and submission.

Irenaeus teaches the perseverance of the saints, but from the perspective of theosis:


…but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. …. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see His Lord (Against the Heretics 4.38.3; ANF Vol. I p. 522).


Further, Clement of Rome teaches conditional salvation: Take heed, beloved, lest His many kindnesses lead to the condemnation of us all. [For thus it must be] unless we walk worthy of Him, and with one mind do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight.


For He is a Searcher of the thoughts and desires [of the heart]: His breath (in the Greek, the same word as Spirit) is in us; and when He pleases, He will take it away. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians

Chap. XXI. — Let Us Obey God, and Not the Authors of Sedition.


I'm not one to argue this in a dogmatic format. The only contention I make is that the P in TULIP further reduces the robust and often fantastic theology of the Reformation. TULIP cannot answer for the great read that is the Institutes of Calvin. TULIP cannot justify the theology of the Reformation, which is varying and deep. TULIP fails as a theological threshold.


Something final to note is the website PuritanMind that has an entire post dedicated to random quotes from the Early Church Fathers to defend TULIP. This is once again a showcase of someone who has never read the church fathers, studied them in their languages, and taken them in their context. PuritanMind wrongfully uses out of context quotes with no scholarship vigor to support them. At all cost, avoid anyone who claims to show "support of TULIP" in the Early Church, it doesn't exist. The Canons of Dort are unique to their time and drawn theology almost solely from Augustine.

Citations and Notes:

ANF = Ante-Nicene Fathers.

MPG = Migne's Patrologia Graecae

NPNF = Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

Barth, Karl. 1922. The Theology of John Calvin. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translator. English translation, 1995. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Calvin, John. 1960. Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX. John T. McNeill, ed. Translated by Ford Lewis Battle. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Dort, Synod of. 1619. Canons of Dort. <http:www.ccel.org/creeds/canons-of-dort.html> Site visited August 11, 2012.

Gabriel, George S. 2000. Mary: The Untrodden Portal. Ridgewood, New Jersey: Zephyr Books.

Hick, John. 1968. Evil and the God of Love. Great Britain: Fontana Books.

Kelly, J.N.D. 1960. Early Christian Doctrines. Revised Edition. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Kezios, Spencer T., ed. 1993. The Divine Liturgy. Leonidas Contos, translator. Northridge, CA: Narthex Press.

Kittelson, James M. 1986. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House.

Leith, John H., ed. 1963. Creeds of the Churches. Atlanta: John Knox Press.

Nicole, Roger. 1985. "John Calvin's View of the Extent of the Atonement." Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall).

http://www.apuritansmind.com/arminianism/john-calvins-view-of-limited-atonement/ Site visited August 11, 2012.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 1984. Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700). The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Volume 4. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Richardson, Cyril C., ed. 1970. Early Christian Fathers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

United Presbyterian Church. 1970. The Book of Confessions. The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Part I. Second Edition. New York, NY: The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.