Why I Am Convinced the So-Called Five Points of Calvinism are True (Part 2)

The Doctrines of Grace. Here I will very quickly lay out the so-called five points. I won’t have time to address every Scripture passage (after all, this is an email, not a book), but I hope to sketch out what Calvinists believe and why. I should say here that many of the questions and concerns are warranted, and if I didn’t think Reformed theology’s understanding of Scripture could handle them, I’d abandon it. As you’re probably already familiar with, the doctrines of grace are summarized in what’s called the 5 points of Calvinism. Again, these points are:

T- Total Depravity

U- Unconditional Election

L- Limited Atonement

I- Irresistible Grace

P- Perseverance of the Saints

This summary is both good and bad. It’s good because it’s helpful for people to remember and is kind of logically ordered. It can be bad as well because in the attempt of the English translators of Calvin and others, they made it into an acronym, and in doing that sloganized some doctrines in order to make it fit.

The question to be raised is whether fallen human beings have ability to love and trust in Christ. Our need for atonement is the result of our sin. Because of the Fall we are “totally depraved.” That’s not to say that humanity no longer bears the image of God (we do), or that all sinners are as bad as they possibly could be (we aren’t). It is to say that sin has effected every aspect of our humanity (our thoughts, emotions, intellect, desires, and will, cf. Rom. 3). We are spiritually dead, not merely wounded (Eph. 2:1), and left to ourselves we are hostile to God and literally unable to obey God’s will (Rom. 8:7-8).

This makes the “U” in TULIP absolutely necessary. If anyone is going to be saved God cannot leave it up to the person to “choose” Him because, since his will is turned away from the living God, the spiritually dead and hostile sinner will always choose against God-even to their own eternal harm! If anyone is going to be saved from literally going over the eternal deep end God must step in and save completely. It can’t be “conditioned” by anything in us because, since the Fall, there’s nothing within us that merits salvation. If God were to base salvation on what we deserve or have earned we’d all be lost.

Romans 9 says this strongly when Paul writes that we are chosen for salvation “apart from anything good or bad in order that God’s purpose of election might stand.” Of course, this is an incredibly tough pill to swallow; if God has chosen to have mercy on some, then he has withheld mercy from others. This is true, and Paul tackles it head on when he asks and answers the question:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Rom. 9:19-23 ESV)

God owes no one mercy; after all, if grace is something earned or owed it wouldn’t be grace at all (Rom. 11:6). So that’s the bitter end of the doctrine. But there’s a sweetness to it as well and it’s this: I’ve come to realize that though I deserve nothing but God’s displeasure and wrath, nevertheless he has decided to have mercy upon my lost soul.

Amazing grace/

how sweet the sound/

that saved a wretch like me/

I once was lost/

but now am found/

was blind, but now I see!


Posted on August 27, 2010, in Reformed Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What say you then about Mark Driscoll’s elaboration on the “L”? (and if you responded to this already I apologize b/c I am reading them in order and haven’t scrolled up)

    His so-called, Unlimited-Limited atonement? Christ blood is sufficient enough for all (Unlimited) – but God only (s)elects few to receive it’s power/forgiveness/mercy/etc (Limited).

    In hearing it, it makes sense to me but I was not really very familiar with so-called TULIP to begin with either.

    Just curious to get your thoughts on that.

  2. I’m not exactly sure of Driscoll’s position on the atonement. I’ve heard the phrase unlimited-limited atonement, that’s bit that as far as my knowledge goes. I think Driscoll follows theologian Bruce Ware in his view (which Ware calls a “multiple-intentions” view of the atonement). Ware is a great teacher, though I would differ with him on this issue. As for how you’ve defined it, I think you might wanted to double check that. I say that because as you’ve defined Driscoll’s view, no traditional 5 point Calvinist would oppose. Every evangelical theological position on the atonement (Arminian, Calvinist, “Unlimited-limited atonement,” etc) believes that the death of Christ is powerful and sufficient enough to save all fallen beings (men and angels) but efficient to save (ie actually saves) only the elect. The real and pressing question is the design of the atonement. Whom did God intend to redeem when he sent his Son as a propitiation for sin? I would argue that the Son intends to substitute for the same group that the Father predestined to receive his saving grace (the elect).

    Generally, passages like 1Jn 2:2 and 1 Pet. 2:1 that cause “4 pointers” problems. I can see how that happens, but I also think that there are good, responsible interpretations of those passages from a traditional Reformed perspective.

    I don’t believe in limited atonement (or efficacious grace) not simply because I find it logically demanded by the doctrine of election (which I do), but primarily because I believe that it’s taught in a number of verses and longer passages in Scripture.

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