An Irenic Rebuttal of the TULIP Soteriological Schema
Why I’m No Longer a Calvinist
by Nate Nakao
I initially set out to write an essay simply on my soteriology. However, as I began forming my thoughts I discovered that it wasn’t quite so easy to do without a basis for my arguments. It could be due to any number of things, but I think I can fairly clearly attribute it to the fact that I spent several of my theologically formative years deeply entrenched within the soteriological belief system of high Calvinism (also known as TULIP), so my soteriological beliefs currently seem to categorize most neatly as a set of responses to the TULIP schema.
As I formed my beliefs I found myself using the points within said schema as a way for me to wrap my mind around exactly what I believe about humanity’s salvation. Thus, I’ve outlined this essay using the five points of high Calvinism’s soteriological schema.
I’ve often heard it said that if I find something I disagree with, I’ll have plenty to write about. This statement is quite true (as you’ll see in this essay), but given that I have many strong friendships with Calvinists, I have to—and strongly desire to—find the most irenic way possible to state my disagreements.
So, with what do I disagree? My contention lies with the application of the TULIP schema to evangelical soteriology. I firmly believe it doesn’t fit. However, I don’t believe that my evangelical Calvinist brothers and sisters are insincere in their adherence to TULIP; I just think that they’re likely misinformed. I also believe that they haven’t quite taken their soteriology down to its logical conclusions or else they are unwilling to acknowledge the logical fallacies inherent in their system.
As a former evangelical Calvinist, I’m quite familiar with the mentality of the “young, restless, Reformed” movement that surged to popularity during the first decade of the 21st century. I even labeled myself one for a few years, adhering rather tightly to their theology (even to all five points of the TULIP schema).
Recently, however, I’ve become wholly unconvinced of this particular system of understanding our salvation. I realize that much about our salvation is in fact a mystery kept shrouded from humanity by God, so there may never be a strong system that answers all questions regarding soteriology. However, I believe that the TULIP schema leaves the believer in a theologically tenuous—even untenable—position.
Before I dive into my disagreements, I’d like to address the following question: where did this rise in Calvinism among evangelicals come from? Christian journalist Collin Hansen published a book in 2008 entitled Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. In it he describes the primary influences of these new Calvinists and how the movement came to fruition.
According to Hansen, this movement is a reaction to what many young evangelicals see as a decline in solid, biblically founded theology. They appear to be reacting to a kind of “feel-good theology” of many evangelical churches of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Having grown up deep within the Christian subculture, I’ve certainly witnessed the decline to which they’re referring (and, as I mentioned above, I took part in this reaction).
In his book Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology, seminary professor Roger Olson observed that “so many of the brightest and best become vaguely aware that something is missing in their spiritual upbringing, and when they hear the message of Calvinism, they latch onto it as their lifeboat from watery, culturally accommodated spirituality.”
I would agree that the climate of Christian spirituality has fallen into a weak version more concerned with finding spiritual meaning in the latest YouTube video that garners a billion hits than with discovering the depths of God’s wisdom and mercy.
Olson continues: “Who can blame them? However, Calvinism isn’t the only alternative; most of them know little to nothing about either its weaknesses or historically rich, biblically faithful, and more reasonable alternative theologies.”
And so we see that this new Calvinist movement is a reaction to the oftentimes weak theology found in movements like the 1970s Jesus People movement, the popular charismatic movement, and the Third Wave movement. Additionally, many of their contemporaries found in the churches that follow an attractional model of church methodology fall short of the standard of rich, biblically sound theology that these young Christians (myself included) began to crave. And so they (we) turned to Calvinism thanks, in large part, to the boisterous voices of men like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, as well as their theological forebears: men like R. C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Lorainne Boettner, and Jonathan Edwards.
(To further explore the development of this movement, I would suggest reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed and Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism.)
Now that we’ve taken a quick look at the roots of this new movement, I’d like to consider its soteriology. I’ve mentioned the TULIP schema several times already. This schema is the definitive statement for Calvinism’s soteriology. TULIP is an acronym for the five tenets of their soteriological beliefs: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. It has little or nothing to do with the flower. At least, I don’t think it does.
The first point in the Calvinist soteriology is total depravity. According to Olson, the concept of total depravity is widely misunderstood. “It does not mean that human beings are as evil as they can possibly be…. Rather, typically, it means that every part of every
human person (except Jesus Christ, of course) is infected and so affected by sin that he or she is utterly helpless to please God before being regenerated (born again) by the Spirit of God.”
I would agree with total depravity insofar as it means what I quoted Olson as stating in the above paragraph. However, many Calvinists often take it a step further. Using Ephesians 2 as the basis for their assertions, they explain that humans are literally spiritually dead. I don’t really see that as being consistent with most analogies given in Scripture. When Paul describes us as being “dead in our trespasses,” I don’t think he’s equating spiritual death to physical death in the way Calvinist Abraham Kuyper did when he stated that a sinner “has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse.” James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken wrote in their book The Doctrines of Grace, “Like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God – unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life.”
I don’t think that’s what Paul is getting at. Rather than saying that spiritual death is analogous to physical death, it seems as though Paul is making a distinction between communion with God (life) and separation from God (death). Furthermore, in the sentence prior to his mention of spiritual “deadness,” Paul states clearly that “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (emphasis mine). Hardly an apt description for a corpse.
Rather, I believe that death in general and spiritual death in particular mean “separation or departure.” Physical death is separation/departure from the body, and spiritual death is separation/departure from God. Isaiah 59:2 says that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Norman Geisler, in his book Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, writes, “In brief, [spiritual death] does not mean a total destruction of all ability to hear and respond to God but a complete separation of the whole person from God.”
While the lost are certainly described as “dead” in Ephesians 2, Paul doesn’t stop at that description. He calls them “separated from Christ,” “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” “strangers to the covenants of promise,” (v. 12) “far off,” (v. 13) and “strangers and aliens” (v. 19). Additionally, he claims that when we were “dead in our trespasses,” we “walked,” “followed,” (v. 2) and even “lived” (v. 3). Again, these aren’t common descriptions for a corpse.
Our depravity is total in that our sin totally separates us from God so that apart from the atoning death of His Son, we are completely unable to be restored to communion with God. It does not mean that we are spiritual corpses.
According to Calvinism, God chooses whomever He will to be saved, not based upon anything that the individual does or is, but simply because He is God and reserves that
right. It follows suit from their interpretation of total depravity. Since there is no way a human being can respond to God, God must elect the human being to salvation.
The Bible clearly teaches that those whom God elected are predestined to receive eternal life. However, the question still stands: is God’s election of individuals unconditional (viz. based upon nothing but God’s choice) or is it conditional (viz. based upon faith in Christ)?
Calvinists often cite Romans 9 as support for their view that God’s election of individuals to salvation is based solely on God’s sovereign will, but I would submit that Romans 9 is part of a larger discourse on the condition of Israel and the Gentile nations with respect to God’s covenants, particularly those within the Gentile nations who believe in Jesus. (I won’t go into greater detail than this regarding Romans 9 because I suspect it might lead into a discussion about my eschatology, which is an area of theology that I have chosen to leave unformed for at least this stage of my life.)
A common caricature of the non-Calvinist argument against unconditional election goes something like this: “How is it fair that God chooses some to salvation and others to damnation?” to which the Calvinist responds thus: “God would be perfectly fair sending everyone to eternal damnation; however, in His divine mercy, He chose to save some.” My appeal has little to do with fairness and more to do with love. My question would be this: “How does it not impugn God’s character (particularly if He describes Himself as ‘love’) to say that He chooses some to salvation and others to damnation?”
I’ve heard quite often (and even said myself on many occasions) that God’s love is wholly different from our love. While there is certainly truth to that statement, it’s used all too often by Calvinists. In Against Calvinism, Olson avers that “if God’s love is absolutely different from the highest and best notions of love as we derive them from Scripture itself (especially from Jesus Christ), then the term is simply meaningless when attached to God. One might as well say ‘God is creech-creech’— a meaningless assertion.” Even Paul Helm, a leading Calvinist, asserts that God’s goodness and love can’t be completely qualitatively different from our own understanding of goodness and love if these concepts of goodness and love are to carry any meaning whatsoever.
What if instead God’s election of individuals to salvation were based on their trust in Christ as Lord and Savior? Wouldn’t it fit more within God’s character—and with Scriptural assertions about God’s will and desire (see 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9)— to say that if we “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ… [we] will be saved”? The Calvinist still residing in me would object to this sentiment, saying that I am making salvation contingent on a human work or human ability to trust in Jesus. I disagree, and I’ll explain in a later section.
This is a difficult point, even for many Calvinists. I don’t think that most Calvinists who hold to this point have any strong Scriptural backing for it; rather, it is a logical conclusion that Calvinists must come to given their adherence to unconditional election
and irresistible grace. Now, I’m not saying that logical conclusions are necessarily wrong, in fact, this particular conclusion (viz. limited atonement) is necessary in order for Calvinists to avoid the heresy of universalism (i. e. universal salvation, not universal atonement, a belief that is clearly not a heresy). Why is limited atonement necessary? Without this point, Calvinists would have to conclude that everyone will come to salvation—and as we see in Scripture, that is simply not true (see Matthew 7:13-14 and 22:14)—if they adhere closely to unconditional election. Why would they have to come to this conclusion? Two verses I mentioned above, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, state, respectively: “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Because of this, the heresy of universalism has shown up in the theology of some strict adherents to high Calvinism, namely Karl Barth (who very likely was a universalist). Why would I make such a strong assertion? How could a strict adherent to high Calvinism make the leap to universalism? Without adherence to limited atonement, one can logically infer that everyone can—and will—be saved based on unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the two verses mentioned above: 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Without believing limited atonement, the believer is left with no logical conclusion than that everyone will be saved. (Any conclusion that does not yield an end in which all people are saved and that takes unconditional election and irresistible grace seriously along with the two previously referenced verses is logically incoherent, regardless of any assertions one might make to the contrary. A so-called “four-point Calvinist” cannot logically have his cake and eat it too.)
The two aforementioned verses (1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9) is where the Calvinist and Arminian “battle of the wills” takes place. According to Paul Helm in his book The Providence of God, God has two wills: “what happens” (what He decrees and renders certain) and “what ought to happen” (what He commands that often goes against what He decrees). Many Calvinists call these wills His decretive and preceptive wills.
Arminians believe that God has a different set of wills: His antecedent will and His consequent will. “Perhaps we should make a distinction between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will. Before and apart from humanity’s fall into sin no such distinction was necessary. Since sin entered the world, everything that happens is according to God’s consequent will in that He allows it” (Roger Olson, Questions to All Your Answers: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith). In other words, God’s antecedent will is that which He had said was good. God’s consequent will is that which He allows to take place given the choice humanity made to act apart from God’s antecedent will.
Calvinists say that God’s preceptive will is that no one should perish or be separated from God for eternity, but that His decretive will is that some will perish, and some will be saved (this also falls within unconditional election).
In order to avoid hot water by saying that everyone will be saved because God’s preceptive will is that everyone should come to repentance, Christ’s atonement must be limited to only the elect. In other words, Christ died for the sins of the elect, not for everyone’s sins. If He did, (according to the TULIP system) everyone would be saved.
The problem with limited atonement is that Scripture refutes it over and over again. 1 John 2:2 states plainly, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
1 John 4:14 says, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering and death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
John 1:29 says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (all emphases mine)
Need I continue?
It seems to me that Scripture teaches universal atonement, that is, Christ’s atoning death is sufficient to cover the sins of the world. If that’s the case, why does Scripture speak of the many who will not come to repentance? Simply put, Christ’s death makes the gift of salvation available to all, but only those who receive this gift by accepting and trusting in Christ will receive eternal life.
Christ’s atonement was universal, even though salvation is not.
According to Calvinists, God’s grace, when it moves in an individual’s life, is irresistible. Because God is the one who arbitrarily chooses who will come to salvation and who will not, and because humans are effectual corpses spiritually, the only way for someone to come to know Christ is if God’s grace moves in his life. And God’s grace is not resistible. Why? Can a corpse reject life? Was Frankenstein’s creation able to reject the life that Dr. Frankenstein imbued him with? Thus, when God presents His love to us, is it possible to say “no”?
I would say, “Absolutely!” God’s grace can certainly be rejected! As I’ve already established, spiritual death does not mean “like a corpse”; rather, it means “separated/ departed.” Since I also assert that election is not “unconditional” but instead is
conditional on our acceptance of God’s gift of grace, then we should certainly be able to reject it.
Calvinists turn to John 6:44 as support for their claim: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” referring to the word “draws” as proof of irresistible grace. But this passage doesn’t necessarily affirm their point. It affirms the negative side of their point, that no one can come to Christ unless he is drawn to Him by the Father, but it doesn’t say that no one can resist the Father’s drawing him to Christ.
Additionally, Calvinists define “draws” in this context as “compels,” “but without the connotation of external force against the person’s will. In other words, God bends the elect person’s will so that he or she wants to come to Jesus with repentance and
faith” (Roger Olson, Against Calvinism). However, quite a few Greek lexicons translate this particular word not only as “compels,” but also as “woos” or “attracts.”
Calvinist R. C. Sproul stated in Chosen by God that the Greek word translated “draws” in John 6:44 always and only means “compels,” excluding the possibility that it could mean “attracts.” However, Christ, in John 12:32, states, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The Greek word for “draw” here is the same Greek word used in John 6:44. Unless we want to concede universal salvation, it must be possible that the Greek word for “draw” in these verses cannot always and only mean “compel.”
Calvinists ask, “If God’s grace can be resisted, wouldn’t that give man the ability to come to God, thus making salvation a work in which someone could boast, claiming that he or she earned salvation, something clearly refuted in Ephesians 2:8-9?”
Let’s imagine that there’s a college student who does not have enough money to pay for room and board. A benevolent professor hears of this student’s plight and offers him $1,000 to cover his expenses. If the student receives it, he has to accept the check, go to the bank, and deposit the funds into his account. But does that constitute earning the money? Of course not! Could the student go around campus boasting that he had earned $1,000? If he did, he wouldn’t be taken very seriously.
We can take this example even further. If this professor made the same offer to a number of students in the same plight, and some students refused the offer while others accepted it, could the students who accepted the offer boast that they earned the money? Only if they’re willing to lose their credibility.
Saying that God’s salvific grace can be resisted doesn’t mean that we are turning it into a work in which we can boast. There’s still no way we can say that we earned our salvation simply because we believe that the gift must be accepted. This doesn’t make man’s choice the “determining factor” in salvation, though many Calvinists would accuse non-Calvinists of doing so.
In any case, none of it is a human work. I have chosen to believe that God’s grace is precedent (Arminians refer to this as prevenient grace). It is only by God’s grace that we
have been given any choice at all to begin with. God’s grace precedes any action we take here on earth. Our ability to accept this offer of salvation in Jesus is given to us by God’s grace alone. Our ability to reject the offer of salvation in Jesus is also given to us by God’s grace alone.
God, in His grace, has given mankind the ability to freely accept or reject Him.
Steve Lemke, in the book Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, in reference to Christ’s sadness over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37-39, states that if Calvinism is correct, “Jesus’ lament would have been over God’s hardness of heart.” If Jerusalem’s rebellion was foreordained by God, and if they were unable to turn to Him without God first regenerating them, and if God’s grace to them were completely irresistible, what was Jesus weeping about?
His sadness seems pointless given the conditions that Calvinism would posit. Lemke continues,
“If Jesus believed in irresistible grace, with both the outward and inward calls, His apparent lament over Jerusalem would have been just a disingenuous act, a cynical show because He knew that God had not and would not give these lost persons the necessary conditions for their salvation.”
I believe this to be one of the most important aspects of Christianity. Why? Because it’s what ultimately sets our faith apart from other religions. Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. And in order for a relationship to be a relationship, there has to be some modicum of mutuality. That said, humans don’t have anything in themselves that should cause God to turn His favor towards us, but He does so anyway. However, in order for a relationship to make sense as such, the party receiving the invitation into the relationship must have the ability to say “no.”
At the time that I was initially writing this, I was dating someone. We were in a relationship, not simply because I declared that we were in a relationship, but also because she chose to accept my pursuit of her. Scripture often likens the relationship between Christ and the collective of believers—the Church—to a relationship between a man and his bride.
If I were to tell you that I had coerced this woman into a relationship with me, would you consider our relationship legitimate? What if I had manipulated circumstances to the extent of rendering it certain that she would end up in a relationship with me? What if I had planted into her mind the desire to be in a relationship with me (e. g. the Christopher Nolan film Inception)? Would any of these circumstances allow you to believe that our relationship is legitimate?
No matter how the scene plays out, unless I had allowed her the ability to say “no,” there is absolutely no way that our relationship could have been seen as a true relationship in any sense of the word.
The same can be said for God in His relationship with us. Here’s how Vincent Brümmer, a Dutch philosopher-theologian, puts it in Speaking of a Personal God,
“For the realization of a personal relationship the initiative of both partners in the relationship is necessary. Given that both partners in such a relationship are persons, both have by definition the freedom of will, by which it must be factually possible for both of them to say ‘no’ to the other and so to prevent the relationship from coming into existence. It is only by means of the ‘yes’ of one partner that the other receives the freedom of ability to realize the relationship. In this respect personal relationships are symmetrical and differ from purely causal relationships which are asymmetrical, because only one partner (the cause) can be the initiator. The other partner in a purely causal relationship is an object of causal manipulation and therefore lacks the freedom of will to be able to say ‘no’ with respect to what happens to him or her.”
Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints
On a personal level, I have very few quarrels with this particular doctrine. The idea of “once saved, always saved” is a very nice sentiment, but its scriptural basis isn’t easy to find. Again, it is almost entirely dependent upon a particular view of God’s sovereignty (which I will go into shortly).
Scripture does provide us with assurance of our security in Christ, but I’m hard-pressed to find anything that really gives a clear indication of the veracity of this doctrine. Yes, there are passages such as John 6:37 and 10:28 that indicate that we cannot lose our salvation (which I believe to be true), but these passages emphasize Christ’s identity as the true Son of God and aren’t necessarily discussing our standing with him.
Essentially, Calvinists believe that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. In other words, God preserves them from the moment they are reborn (which could take place prior to the moment of belief, as many Calvinists believe—whether explicitly or otherwise—that regeneration precedes acceptance of Christ) to the time they die.
I don’t necessarily disbelieve this doctrine, but I find more evidence in the Bible that we can have assurance of salvation based on the fruit of our lives. For instance, passages that discuss our position with/in Christ such as Romans 11:19-22, 2 Corinthians 13:5, and 1 John 3:9 and 14 seem to point towards the fact that our lives will tell the story of our salvation. In other words, I believe we can have assurance of our salvation.
At the core of this debate is the question of God’s sovereignty. Everything that I have said here would appear to limit God’s sovereignty in the eyes of a Calvinist. Why? According to Calvinists, God’s sovereignty is His ability to exercise complete control over every single minute aspect of the universe and over every detail of history—past, present, and future. In his book Chosen by God, R. C. Sproul states, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled…. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning.”
But is that really what sovereignty means? I would submit that it does not. Couldn’t it be said that God’s sovereignty, much like the sovereignty of an earthly king in his earthly kingdom, simply means that He is in charge? I don’t believe that this view lessens His sovereignty in any way because I also believe that if God wanted to exert absolute control over every minute detail in the universe He certainly could. But I also believe that, for the sake of being a God characterized by love, He places that type of power on hold. He is perfectly capable of being that type of Ruler; He simply chooses to not be. Why? So that His creation, humanity, could be free to love Him without His interference. Because, according to 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” I wish it didn’t require stating, but I think it does: love is not truly love, according to our highest and best notions of love, if the object loved is manipulated, coerced, or forced into the “loving relationship.”
A. W. Tozer puts it this way in The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God:
“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so” (emphasis mine).
Calvinists often claim that these assertions are robbing God of His glory. I won’t comment on the irony of that statement given their particular belief about His sovereignty, but I’ll instead respond thus: from what does God derive His glory? Is it from His power, especially His assertion of that power as seen in the Calvinists’ claims that God’s sovereignty is defined by absolute power exerted over every minute detail? Setting aside the fact that this paints God as a tyrant rather than a wise, all-powerful, all- loving King, is it really necessary for God to exert that much control over the universe in order for Him to receive glory?
Scripture seems to paint a different picture. In the first chapter of the book of Hebrews, the One receiving all the glory and praise is the second Person of the Trinity: God the Son, made manifest in Jesus Christ. Why is this significant? I believe that it showcases God’s most glorious attribute.
In Philippians 2, Christ is described as having “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Why did God so highly exalt Christ? According to this passage it’s because He set aside His absolute power, His deity, and took on the form of human flesh, humbling Himself for the sake of love.
Calvinism would have you believe that God’s absolute power and control (His “sovereignty” as Calvinists define it) are his most glorious attributes and that He limits His other attributes in order to display this “sovereignty.” I believe that Scripture teaches us something entirely different. From what I see in the Bible, God sovereignly limits His other attributes (viz., His absolute power and control) in order to display that which is most glorious about Him: His love.
I believe that God derives His glory from love. It’s why He characterizes Himself by it. It’s why He commands His followers to love. It’s His most glorious trait, and I believe that anything that minimizes God’s love, or tries to paint it in such a way so as to be indistinguishable from hate, robs God of His due glory.
John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, wrote the following concerning the phrase found in 1 John 4:8, “God is love”: “God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.”
Don Thorsen, in his book Calvin Vs. Wesley, posits an Arminian acronym through which to articulate the tenets of Arminian soteriology. The challenge in this is that Arminianism tends to be difficult to describe as it is more a practice of faith than it is a systematic set of beliefs the way Calvinism is. That said, Arminian soteriology can be described fairly easily when set against Calvinist soteriology.
If Calvinism has TULIP, Arminianism has ACURA.
Calvinism emphasizes Total depravity, whereas Arminianism emphasizes that
All are sinful.
Calvinism emphasizes Unconditional election, whereas Arminianism emphasizes
Calvinism emphasizes Limited atonement, whereas Arminianism emphasizes
Calvinism emphasizes Irresistible grace, whereas Arminianism emphasizes
Calvinism emphasizes Perseverance of the saints, whereas Arminianism emphasizes
Assurance of salvation.
I didn’t write this to attack Calvinists. Many of my closest friends, colleagues, and partners in ministry are Calvinists, and I love them dearly. I wrote this in order to articulate my own soteriological beliefs in the hopes that many of my “young, restless, Reformed” friends (a group, if you remember from the beginning of this essay, is one that I readily joined) will see an alternative to this high Calvinism that I believe paints God as morally ambiguous at best and morally culpable (and monstrous) at worst.
I avoided diving deeply into the concept of God’s sovereignty because that discussion would take far too many pages than I have time to cover right now. But let me ask this: if God exerts such minute, deterministic control over every aspect of His creation (including the thoughts and intentions of Adam’s heart leading up to humanity’s first sin), how is this God not just as guilty as humanity is for the sin that ravages this world?
Please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not doubting or questioning God Himself. I’m questioning Calvinism’s rendition of God. I take very seriously John’s assertion that “God is love,” and I cannot see how the God of Calvinism comes even remotely close to fitting that description. I do believe that if we examine our interpretations of various truths found in Scripture, we might be surprised by just how biblically accurate our conclusions are while being miles removed from our previous conclusions. I know I was when I began to examine my own soteriology.
I also agree with my “young, restless, Reformed” brothers and sisters in their sadness over the weakness in the presented theology of evangelical Christianity these days. I’m just as bothered by so many pastors’ unwillingness to discuss the finer points of God’s wisdom and character and the richness that can be found by simply digging a little deeper into the Scriptures than they do.
However, Calvinism isn’t the only answer. There is a wealth of biblically sound, intellectually stimulating theological viewpoints that all have a rich history in traditional, orthodox Christianity as well as historical evangelicalism. Simply because much of the watery spirituality that characterized modern evangelicalism stemmed from a particular theological standpoint (viz., Arminianism), that doesn’t necessitate abandoning that standpoint altogether. If that were the case, I could state that Calvinism should be abandoned altogether simply because, without its most controversial point, it logically leads to universalism.
I implore any reader of this essay to examine his/her own theology in light of Scripture and maintain an open mind as he/she discovers ideas that may challenge any preconceived ideas about God and salvation.