Opinions on faith and life

Totally

2010-09-16

In the realm of pointless debates in Christendumb, one of the most enduring is Calvinism, known by the acronym TULIP. For those new to this, it stands for:

It should be noted that the ULIP points depend upon the T; they are necessary only if T is true. So if T is false, there is no point in discussing the remaining issues, with the possible exception of P, another endless debate of its own among the un-TULIPed.

I started this post with the intention of simply summarizing the large amount of verbiage in my Hunt/White Series here, but I think such a summary may be unnecessary if we thoroughly debunk T. The summary could still be made, but let’s take a look at this point and then decide.

From the TULIP link above:

Sin has affected all parts of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin.

The doctrine of Total Depravity is derived from scriptures that reveal human character: Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and sick (Jer. 17:9). Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20). He does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12). He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). He is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15). And, is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist asks the question, “In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” The answer is, “He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.”

Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will (John 1:12-13); God grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29); faith is the work of God (John 6:28-29); God appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48); and God predestines (Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 8:29; 9:9-23).

The first paragraph is an assertion; it is simply stated and presumed to be true. But note the hedging: “We are not as sinful as we could be.” Why say this? Because they want to have their cake and eat it too; they want to be able to say how utterly and completely dead people are spiritually, while still allowing them to be just alive enough to “choose” between the merely evil and the absolutely despicable. This is the fallacy of “special pleading”, where exceptions to a rule are only allowed in a very narrow and arbitrary range of cases. So the totality they are trying to establish is undermined from the start, as there can be no exceptions to that which is total; there is no such thing as “mostly total”.

The second paragraph begins with proof-texting. Mark 7:21-23 is not about totality at all, but about identifying the source of “uncleanness”. Check the context and see if any valid excuse can be made for taking this as teaching the doctrine of T. Likewise for Jer. 17:9, a poetic lament over the sins of Israel. Otherwise we have to take literally the statement that those who trust in the Lord “will be like a tree”. And what of vs. 10 which says the Lord will “reward everyone according to their conduct”? How can we be rewarded on any basis but the eternal decree of God, instead of what we earned? TULIP says this is synergism.

So also for Rom. 6:20. If we take it at face value there, we must also take it at face value in the very next verse: we are slaves of God. If slaves of sin cannot choose good, then slaves of God cannot choose evil. Yet what TULIP follower would claim to be unable to choose evil? Who among them claims to be without sin after regeneration? Clearly “slaves” in that context are not defined as literally helpless in all respects, as shown in the point made already about the dead being not so dead as the T would like us to believe. Rom. 3:10-12 is another poetic passage filled with typical Hebrew hyperbole, and if taken literally and universally, it contradicts Acts 17:27 and Heb. 11:6.

And again for 1 Cor. 2:14, where Paul is talking about deep spiritual things for the mature, not the gospel that is so simple a child can grasp it. Or would the TULIPer insist that Paul was joking when he said in 1 Cor. 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”, since this is beyond the ability of the lost to comprehend? As for Eph. 2 (ref. Dead Wrong), again the context works against the T interpretation. If the lost can only sin “by nature” then what does Rom. 2:14 mean? And the “new person” is about reconciling Jew and Gentile, not God forcing individuals to be regenerated. But the T must (has total inability to resist!) find itself under every possible rock and force election onto every remotely-related verse.

The third paragraph, presuming the T as fact, shows that the remaining points necessarily follow it and depend upon it. It colors their interpretation of everything else, and results in a convoluted and complex theological system to try and make sense of passages which clearly stand against it. T proponents will object and claim their system is somehow simple, but this claim flies in the face of the evidence. Simplicity is “Jesus Christ and him crucified”; complexity is redefining verses such as John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 to mean the opposite of what they say, and inventing things like infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism, and sublapsarianism to deal with the myriad of scriptures that contradict the TULIP. When we speak of the complexity of the TULIP system, we’re talking not about its assertions but its attempts at defending them.

I could cite many passages that exhort lost people to choose, and have never heard a TULIP explanation of why God didn’t seem to know that He had reprobated Cain (Gen. 4:7), a refutation of the claim that the gospel is preached to all since we don’t know who is elect and who isn’t. But I think we do better to focus on the internal inconsistencies of the TULIP, especially the T. And for something allegedly so simple, clear, and indisputable, T is strangely lacking in explicit scriptural backing. The second paragraph I quoted uses the word “derived” with good reason: T is not an explicit or plain teaching in scripture, but must be extracted by interpretation.

Now some would object that, for example, the Trinity is also derived. But aren’t we talking about the “simple” gospel here, and not secondary theology? Certainly something as central as the essence of salvation should be stated explicitly, but where is it? Where does the NT say the lost are literally spiritually “as dead as Lazarus” as many TULIP proponents insist? Where does Paul say “We preach the gospel to everyone because only God knows His elect”? What are we to do with explicit statements about the lost choosing, striving, repenting, or seeking God? Where is the fine print that says “all without distinction, not all without exception”, and why don’t any English translations make such a pivotal truth obvious?

Some may try and “reverse engineer” proofs for T by saying “Well, since the other points are true the T must be true”, but that’s another fallacy: begging the question. Since all depend on T, then T must stand alone. I hereby challenge anyone to back up T from scripture alone and without trying to use the other points as premises. Is T really and truly “total”? Is such a foundational teaching explicit? And if John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 can be explained away, then so can every other verse the T proponent may use in their defense; the same rules must apply to both sides.

It’s T time, ladies and gents!

10 Comments

lu ba bi

Paula,

This is a perceptive & balanced analysis of the TULIP. I wonder if any calvinist can deal objectivelly & responsibly with both the biblical and logical evidences presented here and in her discussions of the White & Hunt’s debate somewhere posted in this blog.

The calvinists’ case is purely a philosophically-speculative view made to sound & look biblical but indeed it is NOT so at all.

If either of the T or the I or the L is refuted [it is easily refuted from the Bible], then the whole TULIP structure would collapsed. I see that the calvinists have to cling blindly [without serious & objective biblical research] to the TULIP to remain calvinists. That is the ONLY way. Faith in biblically-baseless man-made system. The prooftexting methoc is so pathetic and even shameful when done by the calvinists’ scholars.

I hope writings such as this would drive the calvinists to the Bible and NOT to the TULIP.

Paula Fether

Tanx Lu. :-) I share your hope that Calvinists will indeed let the scriptures speak first and then use it to judge the TULIP. Not holding my breath, but hoping. ;-)

lu ba bi

Paula,

Thanks for pointing out James White’s sneaky tactics against Hunt.

I need to read White on Justification. He tried to deal with biblical texts seriously in it. I don’t have it yet. I browsed it once and remember how he points out the nature of the subjunctive mood of passages such as Jn3:16 and then he turned around to deny the grammatical rule to affirm irresistible grace.

Paula Fether

No prob, Lu. I’m finding it difficult to make myself read more of White’s material these days. So many popular authors do the same things, instead of acting on principle regardless of where it may lead.

Greg Anderson

Holy Toledo Batwoman! Lapsarianism has all them fancy prefixes and such? Sounds like Ptolemy’s epicycles used to explain away the fact that the visible planets DO NOT move in perfect circles about the earth. And yes you’re right, Calvinism is Hellenistic speculation super imposed on scripture.

I’ve often wondered what it is that makes people want to believe what others tell them to believe about the Bible, in this case Calvinist preachers and theologians both small and great who command large followings.

So far, I’ve come up with the feelings of community amongst close friends and like minded souls who sit under the proponents of the Calvinist belief system, and this does account for a great deal of the draw, but not all.

In addition, I think also that many people are willing to abdicate and knuckle under because they believe that these guys are their betters in terms of erudition, and: "Who am I to contend with the great (insert name here) ?" It also absolves them of personal accountability. It confers license to say that "this is the way I was taught by someone who knows far more than I do about God and the Bible", and worse yet, it does away with the hard work of research and critical thinking required to arrive at an informed decision.

Keep up the good fight Paula, your blog is to present-day Calvinism what the 16th century Venetian booksellers were to the Catholic Church; one step ahead of the Inquisition, and freeing many minds in the process.

Lydia

"I’ve often wondered what it is that makes people want to believe what others tell them to believe about the Bible, in this case Calvinist preachers and theologians both small and great who command large followings."

Greg, I looked long and hard at Calvinism because I was heartsick at what saw out there with easy believism and cheap grace. Sins are mistakes and bad choices crowd and of course the pastor as CEO.

I was attracted to the Sovereignty of God in Calvinism. But I soon found similar problems within the Calvinist community (In books, blogs, churches, etc) that I found within the seeker community: A total fixation of authority and chain of command. The same old sins. In Calvinism, they are packaged differently, of course. And if you have been following both communities as I have, they both start looking the same. It took Calvinists a while but they are also building a brand and their marketing is paying off with money.

Then I studied Augustine and of course Calvinism and found HUGE problems, I will not go into here. Not only the theology but the historical backdrop which explains a lot of it if one thinks about it logically and reads lots of history.

Had I not had a very ’theologically’ educated and sound mother, I would probably have fallen for it. But she ingrained certain things into me and one of them was not to follow humans but only Jesus Christ as I would stand alone upon judgement day. Not with my pastor or husband beside me answering for me. In other words, I am responsible for what I believe and practice.

Paula Fether

I think both of you have nailed the salient points: it’s easy, and it’s prestigious. It’s a club for elites and the big words weed out the peons.

Greg, I just hope I can stay ahead of that inquisition! ;-)

Lydia

"I think both of you have nailed the salient points: it’s easy, and it’s prestigious. It’s a club for elites and the big words weed out the peons."

I will admit there was an intellectual bent that attracted me after being around the pedantic shallow seeker mega pastors I was involved with.

Greg Anderson

"...But she ingrained certain things into me and one of them was not to follow humans but only Jesus Christ as I would stand alone upon judgement day. Not with my pastor or husband beside me answering for me. In other words, I am responsible for what I believe and practice..."

Well put Lydia, and it chimes well with the dialogue spoken by the leper King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem to Balian of Ibelin in Ridley Scott’s film ~ Kingdom of Heaven (2005) ~ :

“…The Saracens say that this disease (leprosy) is God’s vengeance against the vanity of our Kingdom. As wretched as I am, these Arabs believe that the chastisement that awaits me in hell is far more severe and lasting. If that’s true, I call it unfair! Come, sit. When I was sixteen, I won a great victory. I felt in that moment I would live to be an hundred. Now I know I shall not see thirty. You see, none of us choose our end really. A King may rule men, a father may claim a son. But remember, that even when those who move you be Kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say, but I was told by others to do thus, or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that…”

Paula Fether

Luke 5:32— I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

I wonder why Jesus would refer to the elect as "sinners", but the non-elect as "righteous"...