The Problem with T.U.L.I.P.

In good Baptist tradition, I share that historical hostility to creeds, confessions and catechisms (“No creed but the Bible”); even as I find modern Evangelical churches slowly tiptoeing the catwalk toward authoritative statements of faith. It is not incomprehensible why creeds and confessions are erected. Legal protection from secularist state intrusions requires paper trails that demonstrate an established tenet of belief and practice. In this age of cafeteria Christianity; (the eclectic selection of those precepts and principles which are sweet to the palate of the ‘believer’); and in the rampage of heresies, it is natural reaction. Christian history attests to periodic rages where creeds, confessions and catechisms proliferate.

Nor can it be denied that creeds and confessions do have a didactic (teaching) utility. They can provide a general shorthand and framework of the Christian faith; informing the believer of those truths (or errors) that may not be readily apparent in studying the haphazard and disorderly narrative, expositions and admonitions of Scriptures.  (Not that we should be complaining about the disorder. Our God is not a philosopher’s god; that can be systemized and contained within the dominion of our minds.) A statement of faith, principles and vision; if they hold true to the honest and actual aspirations and practice of that ecclesia; become an easy means for outsiders to discern the doctrine of that church in this Internet age. And in establishing in discrete, concrete, objective terms how a church body interprets the Bible with regard to doctrines and practices, the church is upholding a principle of justice; scrutability. For, it would be highly unjust to excommunicate an individual on a post facto basis; using made-up-as-you-go hermeneutics.

I would not be so alarmed and ambivalent to the use of creed and confession were the benefits conferred vastly outweighing the perils and propensities that invariably follow in the wake of their usage. For, as I overwhelmingly observe when on web sites and forums that are associated with Lutheran, Reformed and even some Evangelical agencies, there is the propensity of the participants to revere their Tradition; their Protestant/Evangelical formal and informal Magisterium with its Confessions and Articles of Faith; and to subject, subordinate and subjugate Scriptures under the hermeneutics of their Tradition.

It is argued, with some merit, that we don’t reject the use of preacher’s exposition because of the possibility that some will exalt the expounding of his word above the Word. Nor do we argue that exposition is an indication of the inadequacy and insufficiency of the authority of the Bible. For, “if it be argued that a creed reduces the authority of the Bible by implying its inadequacy, then it can be argued with equal force that for a minister to give an exposition of the words of Christ, for instance, likewise carries with it the implication that His words are inadequate as they stand.”1 By that token, this book should not be written. Yet Scriptures commands that the Church should teach.

The issue of creeds deserves an airing on its own.

T.U.L.I.P. is one such creed; perhaps more of a sub-creed. Neither it nor the Canons of Dort (1618-19) were intended to be a comprehensive explanation of the Reformed doctrine. However, as is human nature, creeds invariably become the standard, in the minds of most adherents. And thereby, they become ‘false doctrine’; not so much because any tenet is in error. But in truncating (lopping off) the fullness of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, inadvertent or not, it distorts its understanding with real detrimental consequences.

One of those effects is the HyperCalvinist propensity to perceive preaching to the non-Elect as almost sinful. It is not that normative Calvinism subscribes to this notion. They will cite the Great Commission and other New Testament commands that impress upon disciples to witness. However, the inner logic of truncated Five Point Calvinism and the inherent temptations that Calvinist doctrine can generate, lends to such conclusions. “After all, if God is sovereign in salvation why evangelize?”2 Those who God elects will come whether I or anyone preaches to them or not.

Within You Without You

It is not that Christians should derive their theology from the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)). And the meaning of the phrase, within that George Harrison song, differs significantly from the meaning I give it. However, it constitutes for me, a necessary sixth tenet of the T.U.L.I.P. faith; a necessary prescription to the tendencies that existing T.U.L.I.P. promotes.

The Sovereignty of God works within a person and apart (without) from that person. Under Calvinism, if God’s secret Will desires that I receive a long sought after job in a highly specialized field requiring credentials; that Will shall impress upon me that I attain those credentials for which the employer could not otherwise hire me (without its own self-interests imperiled). Similarly, having kept my end of the bargain, God’s Will would move the employer’s heart to hire me. In an evangelizing that leads to an immediate conversion, it requires the necessity of a prepared witness and a prepared heart to receive that witness. (I use these terms for didactic purposes. I find myriad problems in this simplified manner of explanation.) If one of the other is missing, the person in question will not convert.

The Scriptures gives substance to this thesis.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”3

Either Christ is engaging in polemical hyperbole or He is inferring that Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had ‘prepared hearts’, which would have received the Message had the message been given, even through such miraculous signs. As for me, I consider it unsafe to conclude the former explanation of His rant. And it would be consistent with another passage, amidst chapters well associated with the Sovereignty of God (Romans 9-11).

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”4

Before continuing on about a predestined rejection of the Gospel because of the hardened heart of the recipients, because “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day”5; Paul points out the other half of the formula. In His Sovereign secret Will, to which no man is privy (sorry Pat Robertson), He sends the witnesses.

This presents the following legitimate query: If the witness refuses to go, would those who are Elected be saved by other means? Had Jonah not finally relented from going on vacation to sunny southern Spain (Tarshish), would the Ninevites have repented? Though possible, because the secret Will of God can arrange for Jonah’s rejection and an alternate witness be sent; I would suggest that the eternal fate of the Ninevites ultimately was sealed in Jonah’s reluctant feet and mouth. If God was not successful in real time, it would never have happened. Jonah set out to the ends of the earth. And God matched the extremity of Jonah’s ambition with an ambitious project of His own, including the incredulous story about a big fish swallowing up a man who had resigned to die rather than preach. (“Then they cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.’”6). And having resigned to die, God yet saved Jonah from death in order for the secret Will of God to be accomplished.

You hem me in—behind and before;
    you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.7

In itself, the argument from Jonah is not incontrovertible. However, it correlates consistently with all the other Scriptural comments on the Sovereignty of God. And by including this ‘W’ tenet to the Calvinist acronym, and thereby destroying the ease of remembrance, it would have corrected a perennial detrimental proclivity, brought about by the T.U.L.I.P. truncation of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God.

From “Sundry Thoughts About the Doctrines of Grace (a.k.a. Calvinism)” from unpublished project “Meanderings of Christian Mind”.

Footnotes:

  1. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., In Defense of Creedalism, http://the-highway.com/creedal.html
  2. Greg Stier, “5 Reasons Why Christians Struggle to Evangelize”, Christian Post, August 28, 2012, http://www.christianpost.com/news/5-reasons-why-christians-struggle-to-evangelize-80702/#VzW4d4kJlfceYUtw.99. Greg is not promoting this view but highlighting it existence and the unresolved paradox between Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility
  3. Matthew 11:20-24. Also, Luke 10:13-15
  4. Romans 10:14-15
  5. Romans 11:8
  6. Jonah 1:14
  7. Psalm 139:5-10
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