Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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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!

Posted 2010-09-16 under Calvinism, salvation, debate