When we contemplate what Scripture says about the severity of man’s fallen condition, the glory of God’s eternal purpose to redeem a people, the perfection of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the sweetness of the power of God to bring sinners to Himself, and the assurance of God’s commitment to bring His people to glory by enabling them to persevere to the end, how can we not stand up and shout for joy.
Yesterday, my twitter feed was flooded with comments about a video floating around online in which Mark Driscoll said, “I don’t hold to the five points of Calvinism. I think it’s garbage…because it’s not biblical.” This statement came in the midst of a sociological rant in which the former pastor of Mars Hill Seattle was pontificating on how different groups view God in relationship to their own experience with their earthly fathers. It was interesting to then see that statement juxtaposed against former statements by Driscoll, in another video, in which he completely contradicted what he now says about Calvin and Calvinism. Without wishing to spend any amount of time unpacking the wide array of problems with what Driscoll is currently saying, I do wish to note a few important historical thoughts about the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism.”
As anyone reading this post probably already knows, the “five points” did not originate with Calvin–neither did he ever speak explicitly of a five point doctrinal system of salvation. John Calvin certainly did not formulate or utilize the acronym T.U.L.I.P. That being said, one will most certainly find the five points (or “doctrines of grace”) pervasively woven into the writings of the great Genevan Reformer. His theology of salvation was thoroughly God-centered, Christ-exalting, man-humbling, grace-oriented, and biblically-saturated. However, the “five points” were explicitly formulated at the Synod of Dort–a Dutch international Synod held at Dordrecht in 1618-1619 in order to address concerns about the rise of Arminianism. This year marks the 400th Anniversary of the Synod and the formulation of the Canons of Dort (i.e. the theological formulation of the “five points”). In commemoration, Robert Godfrey has written a helpful, short introduction to the background of the Synod of Dort, over at Tabletalk Magazine; and, Kevin DeYoung has published a somewhat more developed volume titled Grace Defined and Defended. The latter is valuable in so much as DeYoung orders and summarily explains the various theological Articles (or Canons) produced by the members of the Synod of Dort. Finally, I encourage anyone reading this post to take the time to read through Joel Beeke’s short historical introduction to the background of the Synod of Dort, together with the Articles themselves.
As has already been noted, the acronym T.U.L.I.P. (by which most of us seek to explain the “doctrines of grace”) was not formulated by Calvin. Neither was it formulated by the members of the Synod of Dort. Rather, it is most likely the case that some Dutch Sunday School teacher in the early 20th Century came up with it while wearing Klompen in the Springtime when the tulips come out, in order to help the little Dutchy children remember the doctrine. There is no reference to it prior to the early decades of the 20th Century. Nevertheless, it has proved to be a most helpful nemonic device!
What I wish to do in this post is give a very basis look at the statements in the five Articles of Dort (while utilizing the acronym T.U.L.I.P.), in order to show their biblical foundations and theological precision:
Total Depravity – Scripture teaches us that man is born “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph. 2:1-4), that every part of man is thoroughly corrupted by our sin nature and our sinful desires. Man, in this condition, is unable to do anything that is spiritually pleasing to God. The Apostle Paul summarizes this when he says, in Romans 3:10-11, “There is none who does good, no not one.” As the Articles (Canons) of Dort state, “All men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving 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, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.”
Unconditional Election – God has, from all eternity, freely chosen a people to redeem out of the fallen human race. Those God has chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3, 11), are no better than other men or women. God did not look down the corridor of time and see something in us that commended us to Him for election. Whomever God has chosen, He has chosen by His own will and for His own glory.