Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Please Don't Eat the TULIPs

Please Don't Eat the Tulips

It's spring, and the flowers are blooming, but there is one whose blossom never fades, even in the snows of Geneva: the TULIP of Five-Point Calvinism.

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perserverance

Five-point Calvinism used to belong to Presbyterians and some Baptists, but today, it seems that everything outside of Catholicism (and evangelicals along with some mainstream denominations) is coming up TULIPs. The face of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards appears on tee shirts of young Protestants like Che's on coffeehouse Reds. Behind the praise band and uplifted hands of your local nondenominational church may lurk Calvin's idea of a Sovereign God whose will is behind everything from the flea biting your dog to 911.

Also, who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell.

The theological issue is legitimate. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can a mere creature defeat His sovereign will? Even St. Augustine wound up in this brier patch when he tangled with the Pelagians. 

The Catholic answer (the Bear has misplaced his CCC; most conversations with Red Death start with "I can't find my...") is, to the best of Bear's recollection, that God grants grace and we cooperate or not. If you wind up in Hell it is because you have decided to reject God.

On the contrary, according to TULIP, (1) there is not one atom in a person capable of either moving toward God or resisting His grace; (2) the game is rigged from the start; (3) Jesus did not die for everyone, but only those destined for salvation; (4) if you're predestined, you cannot escape God no matter what; and (5) no one can ever lose his or her salvation.

If you Watch Porn, God Will Make Your Wife Miscarry

Following that logic, God, according to Calvinist superstars like John Piper, determines everything, including every sinful act. And God punishes accordingly. Not just 911, but, well, hang on for this one:

A man asked if his wife miscarried as punishment because he watched pornography. Pastor Piper did not give an unequivocal "yes." It was more like, "You're probably onto something there, Sunshine." Why God caused the miscarriage if He also caused the guy to watch porn was not addressed. You can't have a rational discussion under the pretzel logic of Calvinism.

The Bear admits that fewer issues have been thornier and more controverted than exactly how we are saved. Pope Francis reintroduced "Pelagianism" to the vocabulary of Catholics. But, the Bear figures you didn't come for a monograph on soteriology, including the relationship between the sovereign will of God and the will of man. 

The leaders of the Reformation parted first from the Church's teaching, then from each other.

Bear Conducts Research in the Field

The Bear's curiosity led him to discover the "young, restless, and reformed" movement. It is a sort of backlash from the more vapid expressions of evangelicalism. Aside from a few outspoken Calvinists like Piper, you are not likely to hear it preached. "God loves you and wants you to prosper" goes down a lot better than, "most of you sitting out there are going to Hell and there's not a damned thing you can do about it, so why are you even here?"

The Bear asked one young minister recently about the discrepancy between what he preached and what his nondenominational church actually believed. He quoted 19th Century English preacher Charles Spurgeon that there can be no misunderstanding between friends. In other words, he, like Spurgeon, did not preach the doctrine he believed and excused it by hand-waving.

That seems a bit disingenuous to the Bear.

Protestant Wars

The Bear read Spurgeon's own "Defense of Calvinism." Its deficiencies are typical: highly selective proof-texting to justify an emotional experience of great comfort. Both Spurgeon and the young preacher with whom the Bear spoke described a sudden comfort in knowing the saved could never, ever lose their salvation. (Spurgeon said a salvation you could lose is not worth having.) Come to think of it, whenever the Bear has talked to a Calvinist, he gets this same testimony centered on "comfort."

No one has ever been presumptuous enough to tell the Bear he was certain of his predestination, but that is the tenor of the witness. One assumes if they believed the contrary - that they were among the damned and there was nothing they could do about it - they would not be so comforted.

The Bear also read Roger Olson's "Against Calvinism." Olson does a thorough and even-handed job of demolishing TULIP - especially the idea that God must be behind sin.

The controversy is instructive in this way, though. Evangelicalism was found wanting and there was a reaction. One heresy is the revenge of some other heresy, Bear supposes. No matter what Catholics think of Pope Francis, they should understand that Protestantism is not just fractured, but unhealthy.

Don't sell your soul for all-you-can-eat doughnuts and a variety of fresh coffee.

The Tower of Siloam

The Bear is surprised how Calvinists can miss how Jesus Himself addresses worldly calamities. In Luke 13 1-5, Jesus was questioned whether the people who lost their lives in the collapse of the Tower of Siloam were being punished for their sins.

Jesus, typically, uses the question to illustrate a broader point. Everybody dies. Make sure you're ready, because you never know the hour. If Jesus had wanted to launch into a discourse about how God punishes people for their sins with bridge collapses or the like, He would have.


  1. Hello Bear!

    You put your finger on it. Cognitive dissonance is how they manage to associate TULIP with the ‘Good News’. As you mention, according to the Reformers, the 'damned' are damned from eternity by the Almighty and Our Lord's Sacrifice was never intended to benefit them except to exacerbate their damnation.

    The early Protestant Bible translators , like Tyndale, insisted on writing such monstrous comments in their margin notes and then to-this-day howl because Catholics used them for kindling. This proves Catholics hate the Bible, don't yunno!

    You might ask these same people if they would welcome and trust Bibles delivered to them by the Watchtower press?

    1. The Bear does not endorse burning anyone. Such open flames can easily get out of hand, especially in high winds, and lead to forest fires, which only YOU can prevent. And heresy.

    2. P.S. the Douay-Rheims was published before the KJV. In fact, the KJV translators even used the D-R during their work.

    3. And the D-R uses the earlier Tyndale translation as a source. The later Challoner Revision of the D-R would correct using the KJV, just as later KJV editions correct using the later D-R.

      As much as there was antagonism, and still is, between Protestants and Catholics over which English Bible is the more authentic, the translations are dependent upon each other even up to the present day.

      The real issue is the footnotes and the presuppositions that go into translating certain passages. You cannot do translation work without certain philosophical/epistemological/metaphysical presuppositions the colour the work. Once you understand this, the Protestant idea of scripture being norma normans non normata becomes laughable.

  2. I need to get a copy of the D-R again. I had one and let it go somewhere in my travels. I wish most Catholics had the certainty of Protestants. Most Protestants I talk to are unabashedly sure they have the truth and Catholicism is a cult. How did they get so blasted sure and why aren't we.
    nice to have you back Bear, now, stay! Stay.

    1. This is largely because most Protestant ministers preach like they have the truth (if they don't, they don't keep people in the pews). Catholicism is also much more cultural in what it is -- Catholicism is a way of life that includes a lot of human cultural elements and popular piety. Protestantism is more strictly an intellectual pursuit with most cultural elements stripped away (iconoclasm). Add in the various Protestant concepts of justification where questions of "how do I know if I am saved" are answered largely based on criteria of certitude (do you BELIEVE X? Do you do X?) and you find there is more of a driving force that produces confidence and surety amongst well churched Protestants.

      Owl was once a Protestant and has some hard core Protestant friends.

  3. Great to see you back Great Bear.

    If you want to go down the rabbit hole, look up FEDERAL VISION and the Reformed authors that are writing pro / con on that. That is where the fun is.

    Reformed Presbyterianism has made massive strides in the last two decades (at least) in filling the void that is emotional Evangelism (which shares a lot of underpinnings but no intellectual depth). There are plenty of mainstream magazine articles on the phenomena. You can also see the theology percolating in the soup that is the Emergent Church movement.

    Owl could speak at length on this topic. With TULIP (which is later Calvinism), there is some stratification with 5 vs 4 point Calvinism, with Catholicism having the ability to find complete agreement some place in between those 5 and 4 points. However, there is a lot more to Reformed thought that just TULIP -- which if taken alone leads one to all sorts of cultic endeavors.

    Great Bear, as you are a former lawyer, Owl very much thinks that you would be interested in how Calvanism / Reformed understand the purpose of the Mosaic Law and law in general. It is rather intriguing.

    1. No thanks. This is as far down the rabbit hole as a Bear will fit.

    2. It does get a bit weird.

      Federal Vision is an attempt at a course correction in Reformed Theology to bring it back into uniformity with the teachings of 'Classical Christianity'. Consider a moment that federal can mean universal or catholic.

  4. Glad to see you up and about were missed.

    Christos anesti.....

  5. Five point Calvinism never made much sense to me, even as a poorly formed Catholic in high school. Its hypocrisy was quite glaring: you’re either damned or not and you can’t change either outcome. Oh, and be good anyway, just in case.

    It really makes me wonder how in the world the idea gained traction in the first place.

    1. TULIP is just a mnemonic device that developed much later to encapsulate a theology of justification.

      How did the Calvinistic theology of justification gain traction? It very close to schools of thought in Catholicism, more so than Lutheranism. It is something that people already basically believed.

      The only real thing that needs changing in TULIP for it to be comparable with the Deposit of Faith is the T. Instead of Total Depravity, Total Dependence -- man is totally dependent on God's grace both in terms of man being a creature and as a result of the Fall. The point of Total Depravity is to say that man is fallen and cannot merit anything nor do any good works. A Catholic would add to that "yes, outside of God's grace." This allows for a Catholic to recognize the good works that a fallen man, a man in the state of sin, and even the reprobate can and do do -- that God's grace is present and active even in those that are headed for Hell.

      The ULIP are all well founded in Aquinas and Augustine.

      Owl would argue that it is not hypocritical -- just very much a legalistic and materialistic view of Salvation. Catholics see Justification and Sanctification as the same thing, Calvinists as different things. An individual's justification is willed before all creation (Catholics can agree with this so long as it is God's passive not active will). An individual's life manifests this justification by exhibiting the marks/traits of being of the elect gained through the process of sanctification -- largely repentance, adherence to Reformed Belief, living a life of a Christian, and gaining the worldly benefits/graces of a Christian life (this corrupted is the Protestant Work Ethic and corrupted more the Prosperity Gospel).

      It is definitely not "be good anyways, just in case". It is "by their fruits, you will know them". The rigidity of Calvinism is in the delineating of known "fruits" and instructing/expecting the people in the pews to go out and obtain those "fruits" as signs of their election.

  6. Here's a good book about "Catholic" Calvinists--or Augustinians, as the case may be:

    God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism
    by Leszek Kolakowski

    Here's the blurb at Amazon:

    "God Owes Us Nothing reflects on the centuries-long debate in Christianity: how do we reconcile the existence of evil in the world with the goodness of an omnipotent God, and how does God's omnipotence relate to people's responsibility for their own salvation or damnation. Leszek Kolakowski approaches this paradox as both an exercise in theology and in revisionist Christian history based on philosophical analysis. Kolakowski's unorthodox interpretation of the history of modern Christianity provokes renewed discussion about the historical, intellectual, and cultural omnipotence of neo-Augustinianism."

    Note that bit about the "cultural omnipotence of neo-Augustinianism." Because that's what we're living through. Catholics claim they believe in Jesus, but it's a lie--they mostly just believe in Augustine.

    1. Augustine MAY have gone a tad overboard, but what do I know? I’m just a Bear.


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