By: Alexander Ciurana
Dear Pastor Ciurana,
I am currently a student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Houston campus. For an assignment of Systematic Theology, I am doing a survey of the view of different pastors on “Five Points of Calvinism – TULIP.”
May you give me a favor and list your view on this – which points of TULIP you agree/disagree with? What is your theological/biblical argument, especially on those points you disagree or partly agree with?
T – Total depravity
U – Unconditional election
L – Limited atonement
I – Irresistible grace
P – Perseverance of the saints
Please feel free to ask if you have any question about this.
Thank you for your help!
I think that TULIP is a time-enduring and cogent theology, but find it to bear the marks of a Hellenistic view of God as “omni” in every attribute. God is all-knowing and all-powerful; therefore there is no reason for the atonement of Christ to be wasted on the non-elect. God will effectively call, justify, and sanctify all He wills; He is the grand puppet master.
Perhaps, the Greeks/Romans have outclassed the Hebrews. Perhaps an omni God does accurately depict Him as He is. But I find such a view to better suit pantheism or panentheism better than the God of the Bible. If God is “all” and “ultimate” and “infinite” then why not be generous and extend that infinity to encompass ontologically all of reality: rocks, plants, people, bacteria, etc?
The God of the Bible (OT especially) seems almost human. God writes the Ten Commandments with His finger; Moses sees His backside; He repents of making man; and the lives of the Hebrew escapees are successfully negotiated by Moses. Is this an omni God? If it is, then it is a God who plays dumb.
Enough of my rambling… I agree that TULIP provides explanatory scope to a difficult theological area, although it rubs many the wrong way. I agree that TULIP protects the idea of God’s absolute sovereignty. I agree that TULIP makes justification a matter of grace and God’s choosing. I do not agree that TULIP was believed by the apostles or patriarchs of old. If I get rid of “sola scriptura,” I can be a Five Point Calvinist. But once a person asks some very basic hermeneutical questions: what kind of book is the Bible? What sort of folks authored the books? What is the philosophical underpinning of both the OT and NT? The answer becomes determinative: it is a Hebraic book with Hebraic authors, permeated by a Hebraic worldview.
So, I tend to vacillate between my developed, Western Christianized theology which finds TULIP to be cohesive, cogent, and explanatory–and a desire to allow the Bible in its ancient context to provide borders to my theology. Unfortunately, TULIP and a Hebraic understanding of the Bible do not jive… on nearly every point. To adequately explain how this is so would take me a page for each. So forgive me for not doing so. I will provide, however, a handy comparison.
Total depravity vs. “The evil impulse” (yetzer ha’rah)
Romans 7:21 as “yetzer ha’rah” and James 4:17 as “yetzer ha’tov” (the good impulse). Good and evil both tug at man, but the individual has the ability through Christ (the logos or “decree” or “Torah incarnate” to have victory over evil. For a Semitic understanding of Paul, there are a great many books on the subject. One of my favorite is Reinventing Paul by John G. Gager, Oxford Press, 2000. For a chapter by chapter commentary from a similar view see Romans by Joseph Shulam, Lederer Books, 1997.
Unconditional election vs. embracing the Torah (not that Judaism does not have an idea of election, but that election is more corporate than individual)
Romans 11:25-26 as God’s soteriological plan expressed through huge groups of people (corporate election). Both groups have a covenant with God and both will be saved. Also salvation is corporately found from in the church, so that departing from the visible institution is a disqualification or non-qualification of salvation, see 1 John 2:18-20.
Limited atonement vs. The clear NT teaching that God desires all men to be saved and the OT eschatology (viz. Isaiah) that all nations will ultimately know God.
2 Peter 3:9 — It is difficult to maintain the classical Calvinistic view that “all men” here refers to all “elect” men. John 3:16 presents a similar problem. Also, Romans 5:12-19 presents an interesting foundation for universalism, see Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism by Neil Punt, Eerdmans, 1980.
Irresistible grace vs. A God that seeks out the willing partnership of man to bring about His glory
Perseverance of the saints vs. the free-willed devotion to Torah (which is God’s gracious gift, see Psalm 119) keeps one on the path of righteousness.
There are so many NT passages against apostasy that only a wholesale dismissal of these warnings as condemning a “said faith” as opposed to genuine faith is the typical modus operandi of 5 point Calvinists. Yet, this undermines the very nature of a warning; that is, to keep those in potential danger from actualizing the peril. Cp. Matt. 5:13; Luke 8:11-15; John 15; Rom. 6:15-23; Rom. 11:22; Heb. 6:4-12; Heb. 10; 2 Peter 2:20-21; Rev. 22:18-19 and on it could go, seemingly ad infinitum