TULIP Part 1

What are the Doctrines of Grace?


Have you ever wondered why some people believe in Jesus as the "only way" and others do not? Have you ever wondered why the bible not only makes sense to you, but fills your heart with joy and delight as you read its words, and for others the bible is a hodge-podge of Judeo-Christian myth surrounding a Jewish rabbi who may or may not have lived nearly 2,000 years ago? Is the distinction between Christian and non-Christian purely intellectual – i.e., provide enough information, make a persuasive enough argument, etc. – or is there something more going on under the surface as to why unbelievers remain in their unbelief? These are some of the questions we will explore as we look at the topic of the Doctrines of Grace (a.k.a. the Five Points of Calvinism)

We will delve more deeply into the actual Doctrines of Grace in subsequent articles. For now let's just define terms. The Doctrines of Grace is just a fancy way of naming a set of teachings that formed during the Protestant Reformation. These teachings basically affirm that man, in his natural state, is unable to come to God in faith and repentance unless and until God first does a supernatural work in him to enable him to respond in faith and repentance. The biblical basis for such a claim can be found (among other places) in John's gospel: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). This verse is so clear in its teaching of man's inability to come to salvation unless God first draws him, yet the Doctrines of Grace have caused no small amount of controversy throughout the history of the church.

This debate needs to be set in its historical context. The battles that have raged over this topic are not new, and it helps us to understand this. The origin of this debate can be traced to the 16th and 17th centuries between a Dutch theologian named Jacob Arminius and the followers of the great reformer John Calvin. Arminius called into question some of the teachings of Calvin, which became the orthodox teachings of the Dutch Reformed church. After the death of Arminius, his followers (called the Remonstrants) presented their complaint (called The Five Articles of the Remonstrance) against these teachings to the Dutch Reformed church. At the national Synod of Dordrecht (held in 1618-19), the Dutch Reformed church rejected the teachings of the Remonstrance and re-affirmed the teachings of Calvinism. Their formal response (codified in the Canons of Dort) has often been called the Five Points of Calvinism (although Calvin never explicitly articulated the five points).

The Five Points of Calvinism (a.k.a. the Doctrines of Grace) are:
1. Total Depravity – Man is utterly dead in sin. In this state he cannot and will not submit to God or his word
2. Unconditional Election – In order for man to be saved, God must first elect him to salvation. This election is not conditioned on anything man has done
3. Limited Atonement – In order for God's justice against man's sin to be satisfied, atonement must be offered. This atonement is limited to those whom God unconditionally elected
4. Irresistible Grace – Those whom God unconditionally elected and atoned for are irresistibly drawn to him by grace through the working of the Holy Spirit
5. Perseverance of the Saints – Those whom God has irresistibly drawn by grace will persevere (be preserved) to the end
These doctrines have been affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) known by the acronym TULIP (taken from the first letter of each of the five points). As noted earlier, we will look more closely at each of these points in future articles, but perhaps it can be seen that there is a logical connection between each of the Five Points of Calvinism articulated above. Each point logically leads to the next and each point depends on the previous. As such, the Doctrines of Grace stand or fall as a whole.

As we will see at the conclusion of this series, the Doctrines of Grace uphold God's absolute freedom to save those whom he has purposed to save for his glory!

Soli Deo Gloria!


Next: Total Depravity

Image Credit: Thomas Totz, Germany; "5 tulips"; Creative Commons

The Series:
Introduction: What are the Doctrines of Grace and what is their historic importance?
Total Depravity: Are we all as evil as we can be? What about the good that people do?
Unconditional Election Part 1  |  Part 2: Does God choose those who are going to be saved ahead of time?
Limited Atonement Part 1  |  Part 2: Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or only for the elect?
Irresistible Grace Part 1  |  Part 2: How does God draw people to himself? Can we resist?
Perseverance of the Saints: What does it mean to persevere in faith? What about apostasy?

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Republished 5-20-2013