Q236 : TULIP and Calvinism

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Q236 : TULIP and Calvinism

Can you clarify if a statement of faith confessing T.U.L.I.P. is really just Calvinisma?

I do not believe in the five points and left a church, with a new pastor voted in almost unanimously. What am I not seeing, by not agreeing to worship here, nor teach Sunday school under this leadership?

Please help me understand.

A236 : by Tony Garland

A church which explicitly endorses the acronym T.U.L.I.P., short-hand for

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistable Grace
  • Perseverence of the Saints
would indeed appear to be "Calvinistic" in its understanding of the Scriptures.

However, there are always some risks associated with applying various theological monikers (e.g., TULIP, Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism) to describe one's perspective on what Scripture teaches. As helpful and convenient as such terms may be, there is always the risk of oversimplifying or glossing over subtleties in how such theological terms are understood by many. For example, when pressed to simplify my own view of what Scripture teaches concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility, I have referred to myself as a “4-point Calvinist." That is to say, I hold much in common with the overall Calvinist point of view: that God (rather than man) is ultimately sovereign over who winds up saved: that Scripture unambiguously teaches that God predestines and elects individuals to salvation. The major point which I do not share with TULIP is the "L" of "Limited Atonementa." But, having described my views as being close to that of a 4-point Calvinist, there would also likely be differences in how some 5-point Calvinists understand the details of the 4 points we have in common (T, U, I, and P) and what I might teach.1 This is one of several reasons why it is always best to sit down with the leadership (elders) and ask them concerning their doctrinal views directly.

It is also worth keeping in mind that differences over Calvinistic and Arminian interpretations of the Scripture does not mean some of us will arrive in heaven while others will not. Both camps—even in their more extreme manifestations—are within the pale of orthodoxy. Therefore, differences over our views of how to reconciled God's sovereignty with human responsibility in relation to salvation should not be an issue that divides us when it comes to fellowship or worship. 2

Regardless of your own views on what you see Scripture to teach, I would not evaluate a fellowship and your place within it solely on the leadership's view on the balance between Gods' sovereignty and man's responsibility, both of which are taught by Scripture.

Having said that, those who are gifted and called as teachers will need to assess whether their own views, where they differ from that of the elders in their fellowship, will be a good fit in that particular fellowship. Where a teacher's views differ from those of the elders on what they view to be an important doctrine, the teacher will need to check with the elders concerning what they are comfortable having taught in a class under their authority. Even if they are adamant that the Sunday school material should mirror their own endorsement of all five letters in T.U.L.I.P., yet you remain unconvinced of its merits, you could still choose to remain in the fellowship, but refrain from teaching Sunday school.

Whether Calvinist or Arminian in our personal understanding of Scripture, it behooves us to remember we'll have eternity during which to fellowship, enjoy, and continue to learn from those who may see things differently.


1.For more on TULIP, see the series of articles by Paul Henebury dealing with “Dispensationalism and TULIP” : Tb, Uc, Ld, Ie, Pf.
2.That being said: it has been my personal experience, that those with Arminian leanings are the ones who tend to react more negatively to others with a Calvinistic leaning—almost viewing Calvinism as some sort of heresy. This is often because Arminians believe that the Calvinists are making God into some sort of ogre for not electing all to salvation. But they often fail to see that the Arminian view suffers the same problem in that God, knowing from eternity those who would never respond in faith, still chose to create them: thus ensuring them of an eternity in hell. The tension of resolving God's goodness with the destiny of the unsaved remains with either understanding.

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