Author’s Note: It is common for most statements of faith to enumerate a simple outline of beliefs. While this is nice and short and ever so tidy, it leaves the reader to tease apart the words and make sense of what the author is really saying. This statement of faith is different. While I’m not a Calvinist, I will use the basic yet well-known tenets of both extreme and moderate Calvinism to show you what I believe and why.

 F.E.R.N but not T.U.L.I.P.

Not Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

There is much talk about and confusion from the acronym TULIP these days. This acronym seems to have been fully birthed from Calvinism. There are extreme and moderate doctrinal versions. The acronym itself stands for Total depravity or Total inability, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. TULIP seems to be derived by someone who has totally overthought the term. I will do my best to share what my understanding of the term is and what I believe scripture actually says.

Total Depravity or Total Inability. The term original sin is often thrown about and it has different meanings to different groups of believers. Some groups believe, through various scriptures such as Hebrews 7:4-10, that because we were in Adam’s loins, we are each guilty of Adam’s sin. I think Adam’s first sin is just the first bookmark to mankind’s legacy of sin. I do not think that each of us is individually responsible for that first sin which the original sin that I’m referring to here.

In my book A Mere Christian I use the term black mark to represent sin. There are two kinds of black marks. There are the black marks of sin that beset us daily and that require daily washing in the water of God’s Word. Then there is the big black mark.

The big black mark is the result of Adam’s first sin by which we all will see death. Genesis clearly states that God explained the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That consequence was death. In Adam we all die but notice that he did not die immediately. Why is that?

Clearly something more than just physical death happened to Adam and Eve as a result of sin. They died spiritually. Spiritual and physical death are passed to all their children. As Adam is separated from God so are all we who are Adam’s seed.

This harkens back to the term begat. C. S. Lewis is very clear about this term. Man begats man which means that we carry in us his nature. Jesus Christ is described as the only begotten Son of God. The term begat really implies much more that Adam knowing Eve physically to bear children. Her children are the seed of Adam, i.e., the seed of man.

Jesus Christ in his physical presence is described however as the seed of woman. Nowhere does a woman have a seed except for Mary, Jesus’ mother. As the seed of woman, God begats Jesus, one who’s nature is like God and not like man. Because he is the Son of God he has no beginning and no end.

The Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are uniquely contrasted to the gods of other religions. They are eternally coexistent and equal in all ways. How can that be?

The Trinity is described the way it is because it is the only way that we could begin to comprehend it. The persons of God are not in competition nor are they subservient one over another. They exist in perichoresis, a state where each person gives and receives love from each of the other persons. God’s love is the only true love as it is clearly described in 1 Corinthians 13.

What was man left with after his disobedience? His nature became sinful and that sinful nature is passed on to and through every child. It is this sinful nature that God must change as he states in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, and it is only through Jesus Christ that perishable and mortality becomes imperishable and immortal. This is a great mystery, but just because we don’t know how that will happen does not in any way lessen its certainty.

All men die physically. While separation from God is spiritual death it does not imply that man’s spirit will cease to exist. Our physical state follows our spiritual state. Those who choose not to follow Christ will remain separated spiritually and physically. Their choice is a barrier which God will not violate. As C. S. Lewis states in The Chronicles of Narnia, “All get what they want. They do not always like it.”

Unconditional Election or the Chosen of God. The extreme Calvinist view of the term election is described only from the viewpoint of mankind and not from God’s. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that, “By the decree of God {…} some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.”

The term election has come to mean to some that God before creating each person has made the choice to accept or reject God for them. Predestination or predetermination means that God chooses one’s fate before that person is ever created.. This clearly means then that God is love to some, and not to others, or good to some, and evil to others.

Prescience, the state of all-knowing, is not the same as predetermination. Just because God knows after the moment we are each created whether we will accept him or not is not the same as predetermined salvation or damnation.

How can God be love and hate, good and evil? Clearly this is not what scripture teaches or what plain logic implies. God is love all the time! God is good all the time? This is without question in scripture as you can see.

James 1 KJV
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1 ESV
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (or turning in some manuscripts). 

Turning now to God’s viewpoint, does election really mean what we think it does? God is not just eternal in the sense that he has no beginning or end. He is timeless. When he sees you today you must remember that he sees you as though all your days past, present, and future are before him now. All days are now for him as C. S. Lewis states.

Why then wouldn’t he describe those who choose to accept him in their past, present, or future as his elect?

The error here is to think that God views history as something recorded on a stream of magnetic tape which he fast forwards or reverses to view our lives. That simply cannot be the case because God is not traveling through and within time as we do. He is outside of time. He timelessly views all the events in all of man’s time as though he looks at a compound picture made of translucent, individual images hung in a single frame.

His timeless prescience leads to the question “How did God create us to be autonomous so that he does not determine our fate?” When man creates something such as a robot, the robot must follow predetermined programming. Man is no such robotic creation of God.

To me this is one of the most fascinating things about God. Can he choose not to know something about that which he creates or does? The answer is yes, of course he can.

Let me give you two clear, unambiguous instances in scripture where God does just that. The first instance is when the triune God chooses to forget all our sin and sin nature. It is clear that he is not simply setting them aside. He makes himself forget them altogether.

Psalm 103 KJV 

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 
17 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

Isaiah 43 KJV
25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.

Jeremiah 31 KJV
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Hebrews 8 KJV
12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

Hebrews 10 KJV
17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

The second instance goes even further than God and man. Jesus Christ, the Son of God chooses not to know when the God the Father will tell him to return. This statement is unparalleled in scripture. Not only is it extremely compelling evidence for the Trinity itself, it shows the power of the perichoretic love between separate entries of the all-powerful Triune God. Besides incomparable love within the Trinity, there is implicit trust.

Why would God the Father choose to know something and not share it with God the Son or God the Holy Spirit? It is a simple matter of eschewing even the appearance of evil. God the Son represents complete mercy while God the Father represents complete justice. Who could ever accuse Jesus Christ of not fairly offering them mercy because he colluded with God the Father, the judge of all the earth, in order to deny them eternal life?

Matthew 24 KJV
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Acts 1 KJV
7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. n

Limited Atonement. If you understand that God does not determine your salvation or damnation before you are created, then it stands to reason that you comprehend why there is no such thing as atonement only for a subset of persons.

Jesus Christ’s blood sacrifice is fully required and capable of erasing the sins of anyone who will confess and repent. Any notion of a mechanical sufficiency and efficiency and whatever is meant by those Calvinistic terms, is nonsense in any form because they lay waste to the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father where there is life. Everyone who “drinks his blood” and “partakes of his flesh” by acknowledging him as Lord and Savior will be saved because it makes the soul and body imperishable. All others who simply choose not to receive these will too be raised from the dead. Their unchanged and perverse soul will only invite the worm to an eternal feast.

There is nothing limited about atonement because no one will escape the consequences of its rejection.

Irresistible Grace. Extreme Calvinism believes strongly that God’s grace through unseen work of the Holy Spirit cannot, for those predestined to salvation, i.e., the elect, be rejected. On the other hand they also believe that no one can ever be completely sure of their salvation. This is no less than a doctrine of paranoia and confusion. Moderate Calvinists disagree and believe that no one is forced into salvation anymore than they are intentionally denied it by predestined election. I do not believe in predestination to election or damnation and the reader will understand why in the next section.

Perseverance of the Saints or Once Saved Always Saved. Just as God does not predestine us to choose or reject him, he will not prevent us, after having once accepted him, from walking away. The tenet here is the notion that once a person is saved they are always saved. While there is no doubt that no one can remove you from God’s hand, it is certain that you can remove yourself. The parable of the seed that falls on the four kinds of soil supports this conclusion.

John 10 KJV
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Hebrews 6 KJV
6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Luke 8 KJV
4   And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:
5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
9 And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?
10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
16 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.
17 For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.
18 Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.

Any notion that we are ever good enough to get into God’s good graces by what we do are who we are should of course be dispelled already. Salvation is freely given and never earned. That is why we say Jesus Christ redeemed us from a debt we could never pay. While God is good and only good, man is bad and only bad simply because of the inherited sin nature even before there is a tally of black marks that result from that sinful nature.

Extreme Calvinists believe that that no one can really be guaranteed of salvation unless they are still saved at the end of their life. Indeed no one can be absolutely sure that they are truly saved at all. Moderate Calvinists believe that once you accept Christ you can never be ‘unsaved.’

This all essentially boils down to a never-ending struggle between works and faith. The extreme Calvinist who is fearful of being really saved would seem to be drawn to saving confirmation by good works. Moderate Calvinists rely on faith expressed in words to save them. Both works without faith and faith without works are equally problematic.

However, let me be very clear that it is probably not an easy thing to walk away from one’s salvation. Apostasy is more than simply failing spiritually and committing sin. But it can and does happen. The very fact that we are told what would happen if we did abandon our salvation is clearly written in Hebrews.

Hebrews 6 KJV
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3 And this will we do, if God permit.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

The apostate finds himself irretrievable. Apostasy is no small matter, does not happen without determined intention, and is no ordinary sin that daily besets all believers. I point to Charles Templeton, a long-time friend of Billy Graham, as a possible example, however no believer has the insight to judge the fate of another soul. Perhaps Mr. Templeton was never really saved in the first place. Only God knows in his case, just as each of us can only know our case.

While I do the works of my faith, I am not cleansed or forgiven by those works. I am forgiven because I ask for mercy and believe he is faithful to forgive me when I do. The works that I do are part of working out my salvation because I am forgiven. More precisely it is working through my salvation as my life goes on.

Philippians 2 KJV
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

That working relationship between our works through our faith is clearly consistent with 1 Corinthians 15:15-57. We are corrupted and perishable until the moment the last trumpet sounds. When that last trumpet sounds, faith allows God to complete his work in us. Our works then are simply proof of his seal on and in us.

I love the scene in C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair when Aslan raises Prince Caspian from the dead. Caspian has longed to see the world where the children have come from, but he wonders if wanting that is wrong. Aslan tells Caspian that he can no longer ever want wrong things again.

When we are changed, we too will never want wrong things or even think bad thoughts. Death’s sting will be cheated. Lewis got it right when he said, “All get what they want.” This change in our sinful selves is what we want and what we are getting. All desire to sin will be gone forever.

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