Calvinists/Presbys - Explain TULIP


#1

I don’t know how many Calvinists there are on this forum, since it is a Catholic forum after all, but I thought I’d ask…

I have a Calvinist friend and I’m trying to understand his theology… I’m not an expert on predestination, since it is not really all that prominent in Catholicism, although I was quite fascinated by it a couple of years back and I had read about it, though I’ve forgotten much of what I’ve learnt.

I’m going to explain my understanding or misunderstanding of TULIP and my reservations, and I hope that you can correct me. I personally don’t intend to argue the Catholic point of view because I don’t know it well enough, though people with all views on predestination are welcome to contribute or argue their points. I’m only giving details of my objections so that you can better see how I’m understanding these things. Scripture is good - I like Scripture, so do use it if you think it’ll help.

Now, here’s TULIP in my understanding:

Total Depravity
Man is sinful because of the fall. He needs God’s grace to please God.

This seems pretty much true - man through his free will has chosen sin and deserves eternal punishment. Faith is a gift of grace. I have doubts about the “Total” part. On one site it has also been described as man’s “freedom” so totally “enslaved” by sin that he can only “choose” what is evil. I have reservations about that. What about “free will”?

Unconditional Election
God has chosen those whom he will save based solely on His will.

Seems to make sense. Some people seem to be holy all their lives and reject God before death, whereas others repent moments before death. Therefore God’s foreknowledge of one’s deeds has nothing to do with election. God is, however, just, because all the people whom he does not elect deserve damnation as a result of their rejecting Him through their own free will, and God, being the Creator of all that is has the liberty to show mercy to whom He pleases.

I’m not all too sure on what the Catholic position is, tbh, though I think this might be where the Catholic objection to double predestination might come in. That the reprobate are actively predestined, implying that God plays an active role in their evil, and denies them their free will.

Limited Atonement
Christ died for the elect only.

My understanding is that God desires the salvation of all men, though not all will be saved. Christ’s sacrifice was infinite - he was the Son of God. It cannot be limited. A drop of His blood is sufficient to save all the humans who have ever existed times a million. But only the elect will be saved.

Irresistible Grace
You cannot resist God’s grace. It enables your salvation because it is God’s will.

Too seems to infringe on “free will,” though I remember reading that God’s grace can change our predispositions in such a way that we infallibly accept it with our free will. This is how we can pray for others’ salvation. Though I also might have read that God may predestine with foresight of our prayers, though still not based on any sort of individual merit. i.e. Salvation is indeed a free and undeserved gift. This theological soup’s getting too thick for me.

Perseverance of the Saints
Once the elect have received grace, they must persevere to the end and can be assured of their salvation.

That’s true - the elect will by definition be saved. But how can you be assured? How do you know you are among the elect? What about “fear and trembling”? Can’t God give grace to those who are not among the elect and then withdraw it? He could also give grace to the elect, withdraw it and permit them to reject Him, but then give them the grace of final perseverance, no? I sin all the time, sometimes mortally. I may indeed not be among the elect, but I fail to see how I am different from a Calvinist who believes he is assured of his salvation. I could lose my faith, although I do not see that happening, but many people never do. So could the Calvinist. Many still come back to God later. I could also live a holy, faith-filled life all my life and sin towards the end and be unrepentant until death (this would mean refusing to confess for me). If God withdraws His grace, there is no reason why I should not be punished for the grievous sin I committed through my own free will. Is God incapable of doing so?


#2

In my experience Calvinism for the everyday Calvinist Christian takes on a different view and tone then what you have supplied.

My take is as follows:

The first proposition, “total depravity,” usually means that man is basically evil. This was brought home to me when I heard a Calvinist say so. I then took a non-scientific poll with all of my Baptist and Evangelical acquaintances and asked if man were basically good or basically evil. Everyone of them said that as a result of the fall man was basically evil. I can supply tons of scripture that refute this view. Man has been severely damaged by the fall of Adam and Eve but man is not basically evil.

The propositions of unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints, while meaning different things, are all contingent, to some degree, upon the assumption that man is totally depraved. If the notion that man is not basically evil is removed from the formula the elements of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints can be given a slight nuance to make them congruent with scripture. The term limited atonement is, however, in direct contradiction to scripture (see John 4:42, 1 John 2:2, and 1 Tim 4:10) and is therefore an error.

The notion of total depravity needs correction. Since man is basically good but has a fallen nature, it would be more accurate to use the term “total inability.” This means that while man is basically good, his fallen nature prevents him without grace from being lifted out of sin, to display genuine supernatural virtues, and to please God. The proposition that man is basically evil when carried to its logical conclusion, teaches that even after a man is justified by God’s grace he remains polluted.

This is counter to scripture and denies the power of God’s grace. When God declares something it happens. When God said “let there be light” there was light, and when God said, “Let us create them in our image and likeness,” man was brought into existence. And so it is with everything that God declares. In Isaiah 55:11 the Lord tells us, “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” So when God declares us “justified by his grace through Jesus Christ”, then we are indeed justified. When he says we are a “new creation,” we are indeed a new creation. When he calls us “his children” his word has gone out in power and that is why the apostle John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” 1 John 3:1. By God calling us children, we become his children.

Over and over, in both the Old and New Testaments, we see the power of God acting upon man and the world. God maintains everything in existence by his divine power. What God wills is accomplished. When we are justified by grace we are a “new creation” and we do not remain polluted. To suggest anything less is a serious error on the nature and power of God’s grace. This does not mean that man loses his free will when justified. A man can choose freely and certainly fall back into sin. In spite of failures, however, God is always ready to forgive those that ask for His mercy and forgiveness.

God’s grace is not irresistible. While this is made clear in many parts of scripture, it is stated unequivocally by Stephen in Acts 7:51 where he addresses the Jewish council saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” God’s grace is always sufficient, but it does not force us. Sufficient grace is given to every man to be saved, but not all men will accept Christ. Intrinsically efficacious grace is given to those that God calls and predestines for salvation. Efficacious grace does not force a man to do God’s will, but in its nature and abundance “enables” man to desire to do God’s will in such a way that he will accomplish what God wills for him. That is why the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Cor 3:5-6, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.” Then in Eph 3:20, Paul says, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

cont. on next post


#3

cont. from prior post

We need to deeply ponder the meaning of grace and the power of the Lord within us. The New Testament is filled with passages that give us an insight into the workings of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. When grace is understood properly it is clear that it is not an inert gift. If we do not willfully disobey or spurn the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, then the grace of God becomes the great enabler in our lives. With God’s grace at work in us, we can resist sin, and do God’s will. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit we bear fruit. This includes good works prompted and connected with God’s grace. That is why the apostle, Paul, tells us in Eph 2:10, “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

There is an excellent book by Jimmy Akin called The Salvation Controversy. I highly recommend this book…it will answer all your questions and give you an excellent insight into Calvinist theology.


#4

Pax,

Excellent and enlightening post. Thanks

It’s interesting that there are three ways of looking at man. The Calvinist view that man is basically evil because of the fall. The Catholic view that man is basically good but seriously damaged by the fall. And many secular views that man is basically good and altruistic though can become corrupted due to circumstances.

Thanks for the book recommendation, too. I have taken note.


#5

I don’t know how many Calvinists there are on this forum, since it is a Catholic forum after all, but I thought I’d ask…

I was raised very hardcore Calvinist, so, though I am no longer Christian, I can give you the understanding I was taught (now bear in mind that while Presbyterians are rooted in Calvin, what I got was, I realize, a fairly extreme form of it, filtered through my father’s perception and interpretation–not necessarily mainstream Presbyterian teaching).

Total Depravity

Humans are absolutely and utterly incapable of doing anything at all that is good on their own. Humans will always choose evil if given the option, without God’s assistance.

Unconditional Election

Since we are entirely incapable of doing anything at all good or worthy, there is then absolutely no way in which we can do anything that will lead toward salvation or even God being willing to deign to notice us at all. In fact, we by our very existence are so inherently repugnant to God that without the intervention of Christ He cannot bear to notice us.

**Limited Atonement–
Christ died for the elect only. **

Yep, and you better hope you are part of that group or you are just flat out of luck.There’s also no reliable way to tell whether you are really part of the elect or not until you are dead, so you had better act as if you were in hopes that it’s true.

**Irresistible Grace—You cannot resist God’s grace. It enables your salvation because it is God’s will. **

Basically, if God wants to save you, you are saved. Period. Nothing you can do to stop that, but, again, you can’t be sure of this until you are dead.

Perseverance of the Saints—Once the elect have received grace, they must persevere to the end and can be assured of their salvation.

Well, in our household, it was always an open question of whether one had actually truly received grace (except for my father, who had no questions about it, just questioned the rest of us if we didn’t live up to his standard) because maybe you just thought you had grace, but didn’t really, or you would be a better person. Backsliding simply proves you didn’t really have it to begin with.


#6

As I understand too, for those Calvinistic Christians who believe in the rapture…once the Body of Christ is full…once the last person to be saved is saved and his body now complete…it will be raptured away and the end of days will begin.

Most Baptists hold to moderate Calvinistic beliefs. “Once Saved Always Saved” is based on “irresistable grace” and “perseverance of the saints.” Since it is God’s sovereign will and his will alone that determines who will be saved and who will be damned…if it is his will that a person be saved…there is nothing that person can do about it…they will be saved as God alone is sovereign and he alone determines it…God is the first and ultimate"decider".:slight_smile:


#7

[quote=jonk]I don’t know how many Calvinists there are on this forum, since it is a Catholic forum after all, but I thought I’d ask…

I have a Calvinist friend and I’m trying to understand his theology… I’m not an expert on predestination, since it is not really all that prominent in Catholicism, although I was quite fascinated by it a couple of years back and I had read about it, though I’ve forgotten much of what I’ve learnt.

I’m going to explain my understanding or misunderstanding of TULIP and my reservations, and I hope that you can correct me. I personally don’t intend to argue the Catholic point of view because I don’t know it well enough, though people with all views on predestination are welcome to contribute or argue their points. I’m only giving details of my objections so that you can better see how I’m understanding these things. Scripture is good - I like Scripture, so do use it if you think it’ll help.

Now, here’s TULIP in my understanding:
[/quote]

Read the Canons of Dort from the synod of the same name setting forth the basis for TULIP.


#8

The inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, & a good conscience, & other indications of this nature. One can be assured, but trying to anatomise assurance is like trying to analyse a joke - analysis leaves you with the bits and pieces, but the spirit of the thing has gone.

If we are always suspicious of our feelings, we will end up explaining away the joy & peace that come from faith in Christ as mere electrochemical alterations in us, of no more significance than the whirling of an atom; that way lies atheism. We are soul & body - both are being renewed & regenerated: so both are affected by the grace that comes from God. Besides, the intellects with which we try to anatomise God’s gifts themselves need healing. Assurance is to be given thanks for - not treated with suspicion & unbelief.

It is because the elect labour to make their calling & election sure that it is all the more surely established by God working through them. Election is no reason for idleness - all this is perfectly clear in St. Paul. Most of the objections to TULIP are objections to his letters & are answered in them. ##

How do you know you are among the elect? What about “fear and trembling”? Can’t God give grace to those who are not among the elect and then withdraw it?

The non-elect have “common grace” - but not the “special grace” which is the privilege of the elect alone.

He could also give grace to the elect, withdraw it and permit them to reject Him, but then give them the grace of final perseverance, no?

No - for “the gifts of God are without repentance”: He does not chop & change as we do, but is faithful, “not regarding our merits [there aren’t any], but pardoning our offences”. Once people are elected to salvation, they are elected faithfully, eternally, unchangeably, not that they may be free to do their own will (!!!), but that they may forget self, & be the servants of Jesus Christ. They are not set free from satan to be their own, but to be Christ’s. It is a calumny to suggest that election is meant to serve the ego of the elect - its whole tendency is to destroy selfishness. To use election as an excuse for unholy living is a great sin, & is an indication that the supposedly elect person is self-deceived; someone really converted, can hardly avoid showing it by how he lives. That issue was something the Puritans devoted great attention to, both in the UK & the USA.

IMO, some one really elect will care more for the excellence of Christ than for his own standing - there are far more important things than one’s own salvation. ##

I sin all the time, sometimes mortally. I may indeed not be among the elect, but I fail to see how I am different from a Calvinist who believes he is assured of his salvation. I could lose my faith, although I do not see that happening, but many people never do. So could the Calvinist. Many still come back to God later. I could also live a holy, faith-filled life all my life

Not without God’s grace

and sin towards the end and be unrepentant until death (this would mean refusing to confess for me). If God withdraws His grace, there is no reason why I should not be punished for the grievous sin I committed through my own free will. Is God incapable of doing so?

I don’t believe in a God Who is capable of helping one to live holily, & but not capable of ensuring one’s final perseverance. Such a God is no Father, but a liar. It’s one thing God to be mysterious - which He is; it’s something else entirely, for Him not to be faithful & true - & such a “god” as that, is neither.

If God were like that, He would not be the God revealed in the NT, but a trickster-god, of the kind who plays cruel jokes out of sheer capriciousness.
Our sins are not more powerful than God’s grace - beyond a certain point argument is useless, & one can only tell people to put their trust in Christ. That is why faith is so immensely necessary. Argument doesn’t save us, any more than cleverness can - Christ does. ##


#9

Your analysis is fundamentally correct. Most Calvinists do not believe in absolute free will. ‘Free will’ is a concept created by Pagan philosophy. It is not derived from Scripture. On the other hand, every person is not so desperately wicked as they could possibly be. Calvinism is not Skinnerian determinism. For you the key to understanding this doctrine may be to grasp that all humans are conceived in iniquity, and are thereby born at absolute enmity against God, absolutely determined to displace Him and enthrone themselves in His place within their own lives. By own nature we ‘freely will’ to hate God.

Unconditional Election
God has chosen those whom he will save based solely on His will. . . .

Be very sure you understand the first word: God’s election is ‘unconditional’: He did not choose some based upon their own merits or intrinsic virtue, nor reject others as being somehow ‘worse’ than others. He chose for His own good reasons and purposes. Make certain also that you understand that the Creator is under no obligations whatsoever to His creation, He is free to save none of us, some of us, or all of us as He chooses. What He has revealed is that He chooses to save some, thereby revealing His mercy; while not saving others, thereby revealing His justice.

Limited Atonement
Christ died for the elect only.

My understanding is that God desires the salvation of all men, though not all will be saved. Christ’s sacrifice was infinite - he was the Son of God. It cannot be limited. A drop of His blood is sufficient to save all the humans who have ever existed times a million. But only the elect will be saved.

Christ’s atonement is unlimited in it’s efficacy but limited in it’s application: His atoning sacrifice could save every human being who has ever or will ever exist. However it will not save everyone: only the Elect.

Irresistible Grace
You cannot resist God’s grace. It enables your salvation because it is God’s will.

Too seems to infringe on “free will,” . . .

Human beings, by nature, ‘freely will’ to hate God, to reject Him, and to dethrone Him from their lives. Only by a direct act of God’s grace does that so-called ‘free will’ become changed. In truth humans don’t have ‘free will’: either we go into eternity hating God and preferring damnation; or He acts upon our will irresistibly and irrevocably so that we love Him and seek to love Him, serve Him, and trust Him.

Perseverance of the Saints
Once the elect have received grace, they must persevere to the end and can be assured of their salvation.

That’s true - the elect will by definition be saved. But how can you be assured? How do you know you are among the elect? What about “fear and trembling”? Can’t God give grace to those who are not among the elect and then withdraw it? He could also give grace to the elect, withdraw it and permit them to reject Him, but then give them the grace of final perseverance, no? I sin all the time, sometimes mortally. I may indeed not be among the elect, but I fail to see how I am different from a Calvinist who believes he is assured of his salvation. I could lose my faith, although I do not see that happening, but many people never do. So could the Calvinist. Many still come back to God later. I could also live a holy, faith-filled life all my life and sin towards the end and be unrepentant until death (this would mean refusing to confess for me). If God withdraws His grace, there is no reason why I should not be punished for the grievous sin I committed through my own free will. Is God incapable of doing so?

This last portion of the acronym is sometimes revised to speak of “Preservation of the Saints”: the Saints persevere because the grace of God which elect and saved them also ultimately preserves them.

Try these site on for size:

tulipedia.org/

reformed.org/

monergism.com/

bible.org/page.php?page_id=3168


#10

Most Calvinists do not believe in the pre-tribulational Rapture, which is rooted in a doctrine of pre-millennialism. The majority of Calvinists are found in historic Protestant churches which are a-millennial or post-millennial.

Most Baptists no longer adhere to a full-throated Calvinist theology, though the Southern Baptists usually qualify as ‘whiskey Calvinists’: they believe in the doctrine of Eternal Security or Preservation of the Saints, which you dismiss as “once-saved, always saved”; however they tend NOT to accept the other four points of Calvinism, hence are one-fifth Calvinists. (One-fifth you understand, as in one-fifth of whiskey–hence the appellation “whiskey Calvinists”).


#11

Thanks all for contributing and helping me understand Calvin’s theology. Flame, thanks for the links. I have also tried better to understand the various possible Catholic positions (whereas before I mostly had Catholic gut-feeling), since there isn’t any single defined theology of predestination, though there are several condemnations. As a Catholic, I can to some extent agree to T, and to a larger extent to U and I if I’m a Thomist, and I can probably fully accept or reject certain Calvinist understandings of L. The most striking difference to me, however, is the perseverance or preservation of saints. While I’d readily affirm that God’s elect will certainly be preserved from damnation as a result of God’s grace and His grace alone, I would not hold that they are necessarily preserved in a perpetual state of grace from the moment of initial justification and nor can they be assured of their salvation, but I asked for the Calvinist view and I got it, so thanks again.

Catholicism certainly attempts to affirm free will to a greater extent, even though the Thomistic position is not all too distant from Calvin’s in many respects (though Catholics will be quick to point out that Calvin’s is heretical), both of which I have learnt are based in part on St. Augustine’s beliefs. My own favourite attempt at reconciling salvation by grace alone and free will from a Catholic perspective is in the following articles: 1 2 3

God bless all who contributed.


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