Calvinistic theology is usually explained by focusing on the five Calvinistic doctrinal pillars, which are: (1) Total Depravity, (2) Unconditional Election, (3) Limited Atonement, (4) Irresistible Grace and (5) Perseverance of the Saints. They are easily remembered by using the acronym TULIP. All five points are more or less related to each other, so that one has a hard time accepting or rejecting one point without doing the same with the other four.
This particular study is, I hope, a respectful and scriptural examination of the five points of Calvinism. More specifically, it is a response to a booklet titled, TULIP: What We Believe about the Five Points of Calvinism by John Piper. I have chosen to use Piper’s booklet so that it cannot be said that I have misrepresented true Calvinism. John Piper is a respected, knowledgeable, moderate Calvinist. He has not misrepresented mainstream Calvinism in his booklet on the subject, and in what follows, neither have I.
My purpose in writing is to examine Calvinism in the light of Scripture and logic, and to help seekers of biblical truth arrive at biblical truth. As I see it, Calvinism is flawed on at least three levels: (1) by the focus on certain “supportive” scriptures and the ignoring of scores of scriptures that clearly contradict Calvinistic interpretation of the “supportive” ones (2) by unnatural and forced interpretations of certain scriptures that contradict Calvinism, and (3) by faulty logic. When we take the whole balance of Scripture, accept the most natural interpretation of what is written, and maintain a consistent logic, we realize that the five points of Calvinism do not harmonize with the whole of what the Bible teaches about God and how He saves people.
I am certainly not the first to question Calvinism. Whenever its various doctrines have surfaced in church history, they have raised objections. For example, writing around A.D. 225, well-known church father Origen wrote against a contemporary sect known as the Gnostics, saying, “Certain ones of those who hold different opinions misuse these passages. They essentially destroy free will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation and by introducing others as being saved in such a way that they cannot be lost.” Origen essentially contradicts the first and fifth pillars of modern Calvinism.
I hope that my comments are not taken as an attack against Calvinists, but rather as a sincere and thoughtful examination of the doctrines of Calvinism, because I love and respect any Calvinist whose Lord is Jesus. I have enjoyed other writings by John Piper as well as other Calvinists, and I often serve in ministry along side of Calvinist Christians who are devoted servants of Christ. I have, however, written rather passionately on some points, because I am passionate for God’s glory. If you spot anything that seems disrespectful to Calvinists, please let me know so that I can correct it.
Near the end of his booklet, Piper quotes legendary Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, who said that he began as an Arminian (Arminians essentially disagree with all five points of Calvinism), like everyone else. That is a telling remark because it is so true. No one begins as a Calvinist. No one reading the Bible on their own arrives at Calvinism. People only become Calvinists as they are taught Calvinism by skillful teachers. Piper’s own testimony is no different. He admits “many years of struggle” (p. 1, prgh. 4) before he was able to accept Calvinism. Perhaps even more difficult than the struggle to accept Calvinism is the struggle to reject it after one has struggled so hard to accept it. But it can, and has, been done.
John Piper writes in his booklet, “We are open to changing any of our ideas which can be shown to contradict the truth of Scripture.” I’m glad for his humble attitude. May I say that I am also open to scrutiny of my comments by anyone who presents an argument that harmonizes with the entire Bible, as I too, like so many Calvinists, am sincerely desirous of understanding God’s truth. Although I have given this paper to a number of Calvinists, and although it has been posted on our website for more than a decade, I’m still waiting for the first refutation. Calvinists have occasionally sent me short lists of proof texts (all of which I cover in my examination of Piper’s booklet on Calvinism) or titles of books about Calvinism that they suggest I read. But what I’m waiting for is a point-by-point refutation of the numerous points I’ve made. Sending me one or two proof texts or a suggested book title is hardly a comprehensive refutation.
How difficult it is to truly be open to truth that challenges our long-held beliefs! May God help us all, by His grace, to comprehend His great plan of salvation.