Paul's Passing Thoughts

Is T.U.L.I.P True?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 16, 2012

“Here is the dirty little secret concerning this first point: many who partake in the TULIP debate do not realize that Calvin wasn’t only referring to the total depravity of unregenerate man, but also the total depravity of the saints.”

Funny how the acrostic TULIP has become a measuring rod of identification for most Christians today; are you a 1,2,3,4, or 5 point Calvinist? It’s almost like calling bandages “Band-Aids” which is a brand, not the actual product. But the brand is so pervasive that it becomes the definition of the product. And these days, if you are a really pure Christian, you are a 5-point Calvinist—anything less is like being partially pregnant.

So, what position is this post going to take? What Bible verses am I going to cite to make a case for a two, four, or five-point Calvinism? Well, I am going to make a case for a zero-point Calvinism. So, let me begin by answering the title’s question; is TULIP true? No. “But Paul, you don’t really mean to say that all of it is untrue, you mean to say some of it is untrue; like, one or two of the points, right? You’re just kidding us. At the end of this post, we are going to find out that you are at worst a four-pointer. Right?” No. “Zero” means z-e-r-o.

Let’s first begin by looking at where this TULIP acrostic came from. The five points of Calvinism really came from the five points of the followers of James Arminius. In 1610, one year after his death, his followers issued a formal protest to the Church of Holland regarding five points of faith that were major tenets guiding the official religion of Holland. “Church of Holland” is not like “First Baptist Church of Mayberry RFD.” The church and state were one and the same, with the church having more authority than the state. This excerpt from Wikipedia explains:

The third wave of the Reformation, Calvinism, arrived in the Netherlands in the 1560s, converting both parts of the elite and the common population, mostly in Flanders. The Spanish government, under Philip II started harsh persecution campaigns, supported by the Spanish inquisition. In reaction to this persecution, Calvinists rebelled. First there was the Beeldenstorm in 1566, which involved the destruction of religious depictions in Churches. Also in 1566 William the Silent, a convert to Calvinism, started the Eighty Years’ War to liberate the Calvinist Dutch from the Catholic Spaniards. The countries of Holland and Zeeland were conquered by Calvinists in 1572. A considerable number of people were Calvinist in Holland and Zeeland at that time already, while the other states remained almost entirely Catholic. The estates of Holland, led by Paulus Buys decided to support William the Silent, the Prince of Orange. All churches in the Calvinist territories became Calvinist and most of the population in these territories converted to or were forced to convert to Calvinism (Online source:

Therefore, enter the Calvin Institutes, which was on par with Scriptural authority regarding the faith and order of Holland. In 1618, a national Synod was called to meet in Dort to consider the protest, supposedly, in the light of “Scripture.” But to the State of Holland, Scripture  = ed Calvinism. This was a big, big, deal. The synod had 84 members, 18 secular commissioners, and 27 delegates from four different countries. It lasted seven months with sessions being held almost daily. Not only did the Synod of Dort rule against the protest, but issued five tenets that were contra to the five outlined in the Arminian protest. And not surprisingly, became known as the five points of Calvinism.

So, what was the Calvinistic intent behind these five points? These points are reflective of Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture, but what are those reflections? They bear his name, no? Holland during the Synod of Dort was a Calvinistic theocracy, no? Let’s first look at “T,” standing for Total Depravity. Here is the dirty little secret concerning this first point: many who partake in the TULIP debate do not realize that Calvin wasn’t only referring to the total depravity of unregenerate man, but also the total depravity of the saints. If the Calvin Institutes weigh in here, this is irrefutable. In 3.14.9, Calvin writes:

Although we see that the stains by which the works of the righteous are blemished, are by no means unapparent, still, granting that they are the minutest possible, will they give no offence to the eye of God, before which even the stars are not clean? We thus see, that even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation.

We must strongly insist on these two things: that no believer ever performed one work which tested by the strict judgment of  God, could escape condemnation; and, moreover, that were granted to be possible (though it is not), yet the act being vitiated and polluted by the sins of which it is certain that the author of it is guilty, it is deprived of its merit. This is the cardinal point of the present discussion (3.14.11).

The next dirty little secret is that “T” is the premise for the remaining four points. One must remember that the five points of Calvinism apply to both justification and sanctification. The vast majority of those who engage the debate in our day miss that. Calvin believed that sanctification was justification in action; or in other words, justification was not a finished work, but perpetual:

Therefore, we must have this blessedness [the perpetual forgiveness of sins for justification; he quotes Ps 32:1 to make that point] not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives. Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the church (2Cor 5:18,19). Hence believers have not even the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described (Calvin Institutes 3.14.11).

This is why Calvin believed that the gospel should not only be preached to the unregenerate, but continually preached to the  saved as well:

What Paul says of himself is applicable to all pastors; “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel” (1Cor 9:16). In short, what the apostles did to the whole world, every pastor should do to the flock over which he is appointed (Calvin Institutes 4.3.6).

This brings us to the “U” in TULIP, “Unconditional  election.” And, unconditional/unmerited in sanctification as well. Like the “T,” the “U” must be rejected because of its premise which is: people are not regenerated prior to their confession of faith. Obviously, if man cannot do anything commendable to God after “conversion,” he certainly cannot do anything AT “conversion” that wouldn’t fall short of God’s condemnation. Hence, the “U” is actually a rejection of the new birth and regeneration. Man is completely out of the loop in both justification and sanctification (if nothing else, by necessity because anything we do in sanctification would affect justification—the two being the same). Therefore, Calvin’s election, whether unmerited or not, doesn’t include regeneration because that would  lead a person to make a choice that would fall under God’s condemnation. Remember, the premise of the five points is total depravity in salvation and sanctification both; ie, nothing changes in man that imparts an ability to participate in either.

I am not that far in the Institutes as yet, but I assume that Calvin borrowed Augustine’s idea (that he got from Plato) that the new birth is not really a personal transformation, but a transport from the flesh realm into the spirit realm where manifestations of Christ’s active obedience are manifested, and not anything we do. In regard to a rough estimate, Calvin quotes Augustine on every 2.5 pages of the Institutes which are over a 1000 pages. Not only have New/Old Calvinists shared with me directly that Christians do not change, every now and then they actually write it in no uncertain terms:

1) Our flesh cannot get better.  In Romans 7:18 Paul wrote, “For I know that NOTHING good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…”  Your flesh cannot be improved.  Flesh is flesh, and spirit is spirit.

2) Our new nature, on the other hand cannot get better, because it has already been made new and perfect through regeneration.  We have been given a “new heart” (new nature, or new spirit), and not a defective one, which would be absurd.  This new spirit has been made “one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17), such that when we “walk according to the Spirit” (i.e., the Holy Spirit), we also walk according to our own new spirit.

3) Those who deal with Sanctification by zeroing in on so-called “Progressive” Sanctification as the main point of Sanctification, are at best in Kindergarten (Online source:

The author of the cited post then goes on to say that we “appropriate” what has already been done for us, but on the other hand, if we don’t change, what he is really talking about is a manifestation of Christ’s obedience, and not ours. This concept of Christ obeying for us can be seen in some of the aforementioned citations from Calvin.

That brings us to the “L,” limited atonement. The danger here is to debate this question and thereby give some credibility to the whole system which is based on total depravity of man in both justification and sanctification. But even a cursory approach to this tenet reveals some unfortunate fallout. If Christ only died for certain people, the offer of salvation to all men is not a legitimate offer. Not only that, there is a problem with calling on men to make a choice that could only be condemned by God. Like it or not, that is per Calvin himself. Calvin’s gospel preached to the masses would seem to be an invitation to offend God. But the only reason that it is offensive is that a salvation is being “neglected” (Hebrews 2:3). How do you “neglect” something that’s not a legitimate offer?  In addition, Calvin seems to say that evangelism is the primary duty of the pastor/evangelist, and any kind of emphasis on the totally depraved evangelizing the totally depraved is absent from Calvin’s writings—which one would expect. Calvin states the following in chapter three of the Institutes:

We now understand what offices in the government of the church were temporary, and what offices were instituted to be of perpetual duration. But if we class evangelists with the apostles, we shall have two like offices in a manner corresponding to each other. For the same resemblance which our teachers have to the ancient prophets pastors have to the apostles. The prophetical office was more excellent in respect of the special gift of revelation which accompanied it, but the office of teachers was almost of the same nature, and had altogether the same end (section 4.3.5).

From these and similar passages which everywhere occur, we may infer that the two principle parts of the office of pastors are to preach the Gospel [remember, to both saints and sinners] and to administer the sacraments. But the method of teaching consists not merely in public addresses, it extends also to private admonitions (4.3.6).

Calvinists can harp till the cows come home that their doctrine is evangelistic friendly, but it just isn’t true. And even if it was, such a work would not be pleasing to God anyway because it is performed by the totally depraved who can do no meritorious work before God, but only that which brings condemnation. Again, like it or not, that is per the man Calvin himself.

The “L” is false because like the “U,” it circumvents regeneration, and valid participation of the saints in evangelism. And this is because of the “T.” Integration of elements containing accurate facts in TULIP does not give it the vitality that qualifies as God’s truth.  God’s truth always accomplishes sanctification, and preaching the finished work of justification to the saints does not sanctify. We are not sanctified by justification. One might well remember that the Hebrew writer warned against doctrines that require a continual application of the onetime sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:12-14).

So, again, “T” qualifies “U,” “L,” “I,” and “P.” U and L pertain to initial salvation, but also have negative consequences in regard to sanctification (remember, “T” applies to both sanctification and justification), and therefore must be rejected. “T,” makes a biblical approach to the new birth and regeneration impossible, and therefore is a false gospel. Christ said, “YOU MUST be born again.”I and P primarily deal with sanctification, and we will now look at those.

Again, “I” (irresistible grace) is thought to be pertaining only to salvation in the whole TULIP debate. Not. If grace is needed in sanctification as much as it is in salvation, and according to Calvin it most certainly is, then the totally depraved cannot resist whatever the Lord wills to do in his/her life. The totally depraved saints have no more free will in their sanctification than they did in their salvation. In fact, exercising their own will in sanctification is an attempt to finish justification by their own works. Calvin saw sanctification as having the same standard as justification because sanctification supposedly finishes justification. Therefore, the law has to be kept perfectly by somebody in order to maintain justification until judgment day.  In Calvin’s theology, sanctification must be held to a justification standard. That is why Calvin taught the futility of Christians keeping the law. Law-keeping in sanctification is the same as law-keeping for justification. Hence, Calvin stated the following:

Even if it were possible for us [“us” meaning believers] to perform works absolutely pure, yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all remembrance of former righteousness, as the prophet says (Ezek 18:24). With this James agrees, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all” (Jas 2:10) [this was James’ standard for keeping the law for justification, not sanctification]. And since this mortal life is never entirely free from the taint of sin, whatever righteousness we could acquire would ever and anon be corrupted, overwhelmed, and destroyed, by subsequent sins, so that it could not stand the scrutiny of God, or be imputed to us [Christians] for righteousness [notice that Calvin saw imputation as progressive]. In short, whenever we treat of the righteousness of works, we must look not to the legal work but the command. Therefore, when righteousness is sought by the law [we have already obtained righteousness, we now seek to please the Lord], it is in vain to produce one or two single works; we must show an uninterrupted obedience [by offering God the works of Christ by faith only, not our own]. God does not (as many foolishly imagine) impute that forgiveness of sins, once and for all, as righteousness [righteousness in not imputed once]; so having obtains the pardon of our past life we may afterward seek righteousness in the law [this is a denial of imputation for the future in order to set us free from being judged by the law]. This were only to mock and delude us by the entertainment of false hopes. For since perfection is altogether unattainable by us, so long as we are clothed with flesh, and the law denounces death and judgment against all who have not yielded a perfect righteousness, there will always be ground to accuse and convict us unless the mercy of  God interpose, and ever anon absolve us by the constant remission of sins [God’s declaration is not valid unless we live perfect lives]. Wherefore the statement which we set out is always true, if we are estimated by our own worthiness, in everything that we think or devise, with all our studies and endeavors we deserve death and destruction (Calvin Institutes 3.14.10).

So, even in sanctification, the saint is completely out of the loop, and all of his good works are elected by God and displayed as Christ’s manifested active obedience.  “I” is not just for salvation, it is for sanctification as well:

There can be no doubt that Paul, when he treats of the Justification of man, confines himself to the one point—how man may ascertain that God is propitious to him? Here he does not remind us of a quality infused into us; on the contrary, making no mention of works, he tells us that righteousness must be sought without us; otherwise that certainty of faith, which he everywhere so strongly urges, could never stand; still less could there be ground for the contrast between the righteousness of faith and works which he draws in the tenth chapter to the Romans….

Let the children of God consider that Regeneration is necessary to them, but that, nevertheless, their full righteousness consists in Christ—let them understand that they have been ordained and created unto holiness of life and the study of good works, but that, nevertheless, they must recline on the merits of Christ with their whole soul—let them enjoy the righteousness of life which has been bestowed upon them, still, however, distrusting it so as not to bring before the tribunal of God any other trust than trust in the obedience of Christ (From Kenneth A. Strand, ed., Reform Essentials of Luther and Calvin: A Source Collection (Ann Arbor: Braun-Brumfield, 1971), pp.219-222).

Therefore, according to Calvin, all of our righteousness in sanctification must be a righteousness that is completely outside of us. In the same way that God elects some for salvation and passes over others in salvation, He also predetermines our good works in sanctification, and in both cases, this grace cannot be spurned by us.

Finally, we come to “P,” the perseverance of the saints. Though many evangelicals might assent to this fact, one must reject it and reword it as “once saved, always saved” because now the discussion becomes a statement that one is a “one-point Calvinist.” Because this fact comes from a body of information that does not sanctify, it must be rejected as a whole in regard to God’s truth. Rummaging through garbage dumps to collect isolated facts that can be compiled into a body of sanctifying truth is not the duty of a Christian according to wisdom.

And it would seem we are in a day like that during the Synod of Dort when a man was the standard of truth and not the Scriptures. After all, Charles Spurgeon, a Reformed hero, is often quoted in our day as having said:

It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.


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24 Responses

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  1. Joey said, on April 19, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    ….Oh! One more question: When talking about Total Depravity, all Christians should agree that the believer is not totally depraved in the sense that he cannot do anything good or pleasing to God. That he can live in such a way as to please God is very clear from Scripture. But by “Total Depravity”, isn’t it meant that every part of our being is still affected or influenced by sin? In THAT sense, could it not be said that the believer is totally depraved? Is our will still effected by sin? Is our mind or intellect? Are our emotions and bodies? If so, it would seem that each part of our being is still to some degree under sins influence…

    I’m not attacking you here, or even disagreeing with you necesarrily. Just trying to make sense out this. I’d like you hear what you’ve got to say about it.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on April 19, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      No, and of all people whom I will call on to help here, it will be Terry Rayburn’s wife!!! All of our flesh is depraved, the nature that was put to death when we were saved and therefore cannot enslave us, but there is a redeemed part of us, our one and true nature, that is holy. Hence, Jude called us “holy ones.”


  2. Anonymous said, on April 20, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Terry’s WIFE!! That’s the unpardonable sin in some circles 😉


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on April 20, 2012 at 1:39 PM

      If only Terry had her theology—and you can quote me on that. If the Lord would allow it, I would sit under her preaching any day of the week.


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