To begin, I don’t have a problem with most Calvinists. Calvinists are Christians, so we’re part of the same religion, the same family of faith, the same holy catholic church.1 Some of my best friends are Calvinists, and (believe it or not) the church with which I regularly worship is characteristically Calvinist. As people go, I have no love lost for calvinists.

The doctrines of Calvinism, however… oh boy, where do I begin? Quite honestly, it seems to me that my Calvinist friends are loving and generous in spite of their Calvinist beliefs, not because of them.

In any case, I suppose I’ll just do this according to the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. In case you’re unfamiliar with this little mnemonic gem, the Calvinist doctrine centers around the following five points:

  • Total Depravity: Every person in the world is by default evil, so much so that we are incapable of choosing to follow God. We are totally depraved.
  • Unconditional Election: God has unilaterally chosen a portion of humanity to be saved, and this decision is not based on anything inherent in each person (such as their goodness). Their election to salvation is entirely unconditional.
  • Limited Atonement: Christ’s atoning work extends to, and is only effective for, those whom God has elected. It is limited in that it does not extend to all humanity.
  • Irresistible Grace: The grace of God will draw the elect to Him without fail. If God has elected someone for salvation, there is nothing that will stop them from eventually accepting and receiving it.
  • Perseverance of the Saints: A person who is truly saved and one of God’s elect will never lose their salvation.

There is a logical progression to each of these points. They naturally build on one another in sequential order. For instance, if humanity is so depraved (Total Depravity) that we could never choose God, then God will have to do the choosing Himself (Unconditional Election). Because of this internal consistency, I think it’s fair to say that the five points of Calvinism tend to stand or fall together.

But because I think each point is worth considering on its own as well, each week I’m going to do a separate blog post for each of the five points. And just for funsies, next week let’s start at the end (Perseverance of the Saints) and work our way back.

One final note: I believe that if you are going to critically engage a belief system, it is important to engage it at its best. Therefore, I am going to try my hardest to give Calvinism a fair hearing even as I attempt to dismantle it. However, it is worth taking into consideration that some of the nicest forms of Calvinism that I have encountered are nice precisely because they employ euphemisms and avoidance tactics when it comes to the ugly implications of Calvinist doctrine. For these cases, engaging them at their best still means pointing out their logical conclusions.

Even so, I may be overlooking something as we go through this series, so I invite you (the reader) to challenge me on this. If there is a better way to understand Calvinist doctrines that remains true to the teachings of John Calvin and doesn’t simply gloss over the genuinely ugly parts, I sincerely want to know about it. And hopefully, if nothing else, we’ll get some good conversation out of this.

Thanks! This is gonna be fun.

1: I do not mean the Roman Catholic church, but in the original sense of the word "catholic" as the encompassing, global church.

Ready for another article?

Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at almostheresy@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

4 Comments

  1. Theophilus, March 15, 2017 at 2:53 pm:

    You might explain why in the next post, but why are you going through TULIP in reverse order in order to critique Calvinism when you’ve admitted that each doctrine builds upon the first in logical order?

    Some possibilities: (1) You agree most with the end of TULIP and want to start on a positive note. (2) Each part of TULIP mutually imply one another, so it doesn’t matter which order you critique it in. (i.e., each is necessary AND sufficient for the other)

    I wouldn’t call myself a Calvinist, by the way. I’m simply agnostic about TULIP currently and willing to be convinced. I’m just curious about your methodology.

    • Rocky Munoz, March 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm:

      Hi there, Theophilus! That is a great question. I’ll go ahead and answer it here. The reason that I chose to critique each part of the T.U.L.I.P. acronym in reverse order is because I figured if I did the T before anything else, it immediately undermines the entire thing and the rest of the series would seem vapid and unnecessary. However, I think each point is worth addressing on its own and so deserved its own post. In other words, I think each element of the Calvinist doctrine is problematic in some way, so rather than try to knock the entire thing out in one fell swoop, I figured I would take it apart brick by brick, starting at the top (or end).

  2. Cody, April 9, 2017 at 1:08 pm:

    I’m a little late to the party here but I think I might join in the conversation…maybe throw out a couple questions. I have always had a surface level understanding of Calvinism but never really gave it a fair shake (because the Calvinists I knew when I first became familiar with TULIP were, frankly, jerks).
    Recently I have been trying to understand more fully Reformed theology. What is motivating it is meeting a couple of (non-jerk) Calvinists and being able to actually have friendly conversation as well as conversations with others who consider themselves Reformed but do not hold all 5 points (like you, that didn’t seem to make sense to me).
    Either way, I figured understanding is probably refined by conversation with people who hold firmly to both sides. So, while I am sure we won’t always agree and it might take me some time to catch up but I would appreciate the feedback.

    • Rocky Munoz, April 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm:

      Hey there, Cody! I’m glad this series can be a resource for you. Let me know if you (or your Calvinist friends) have any specific questions. I may do a “responding to questions” post as a followup to the series.


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