Tulip under attack!

There is quite some debate about Calvin and Calvinism going on in some Christian circles. Some of this debate has been taking place on the public forum of Facebook. It is distressing to me that a fair bit of the discussion has been quite intemperate with some putting others down in unpleasant ways.

So I thought it might be useful to explain that neat outline of the basic teachings of John Calvin known by the acronym TULIP. I want to show that Calvin actually stuck closely to the Word of God, gave glory to God in all that he did, and provided a clear picture of the way to God through Jesus Christ, as it is told in the Bible.

I do not want to try to present Calvin as a perfect man. It is obvious to anyone who has studied his life that he had his flaws. But he was a faithful man of God who served his Lord to the very best of his ability.

But this is not about Calvin anyway. This is about Jesus and what he has done for the human race. What he has done for you if you trust in him.

Now, TULIP. What is it? It’s an acronym outlining what is known as the five points of Calvinism. I’ll list them below, and then go on to explain them.

  • Total depravity
  • Unconditional election
  • Limited atonement
  • Irresistible grace.
  • Perseverance of the saints.

Total depravity. That sounds pretty bad! Does that mean that we can do nothing good at all? Totally sinful?

I think we need to distinguish between total depravity and absolute depravity. Total depravity means that everything we think or do is polluted by sin. No part of life for us here on earth is without sin. But it is not pure sin. It is polluted by sin.

Imagine a glass of water. Pure clean water with no pollutant in it at all. Water you would be very happy to drink. Now squeeze a drop of pus into it and stir thoroughly. Every part of that water is polluted by pus! No part is exempt. Total pollution.

But it is still water polluted by pus. It is not pure pus. You have glass of water polluted by pus, not a glass of pus.

A glass of pus is a good picture of absolute depravity. There is not good left. Total, pure evil. Satan is absolutely depraved. People on this earth are not.

So, totally depraved means everything we do is polluted by sin but it is not pure sin, pure evil.

Absolutely depraved is pure evil. Satan is absolutely depraved.

Unconditional election This means that God chose you because he loves you, not because you were/ are a nice person. In fact in Ephesians chapter 1 it says that he chose you from before the foundation of the world. Which was well before you had any chance of showing how nice or otherwise you are. Read Romans chapter 9 to see how it works.

He did not choose you because you smell nice, or not, are successful, or not, because you are rich, or poor. He did not choose you because you read the right Bible translation, or go to the right church. There is only one reason he chose you. One reason only.

Because he wanted to. That’s all.

Before you had done anything good or bad. Before the world began. He chose you. That is unconditional election.

Of course, once you realise this he expects that you will serve him with your whole heart all your life long, to the best of your ability. That is your response to Him, to his grace to you. And even that he has prepared in advance for you to do. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. Verses 8 and 9 speak of us being saved by grace. Not our work, God’s work, given to us as a gift. Verse 10 speaks of us doing the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. That is our life of response to God’s grace.

Unconditional election. Saved by God’s grace, to serve.

Now it’s time for a brief excursus to discuss one of the mysteries of life, one of the mysteries of the Bible. Please click here. Then we will come back to finish of the last three points.