Grant Ralston has provided the following overview of the book he co-wrote with his grandfather, Ed Ralston.
Tackling TULIP is a book designed to confront the errors of Calvinism and to explain why this theological system is both wrong and dangerous to the body of Christ.
The book is divided into three sections that deal with three kinds of errors in Calvinism: biblical errors, theological errors, and practical errors.
The biblical errors of Calvinism are basically, that the main passages they use to support their doctrines don’t mean what they think they mean.
The theological errors of Calvinism aren’t so much specific passages that are misinterpreted by the Calvinists (although that certainly happens, as they are wrong doctrinal positions.
The practical errors of Calvinism are pretty self-explanatory.
Calvinism hinders a person from walking in obedience to God’s word.
Before we deal more extensively with these three sections, it’s important to explain what Calvinism actually is.
To explain Calvinism, it might be necessary to explain the title of the book: Tackling TULIP. Unless you have spent time studying various theologies, you might think that the book is about gardening or botany.
TULIP is an acronym used by Calvinists to summarize five key doctrines that they believe:
- Total depravity,
- Unconditional election,
- Limited atonement,
- Irresistible grace,
- and the Perseverance of the saints.
Thus, when we say that we are tackling TULIP, we are just saying that we are addressing the issue of Calvinism.
What do these terms mean?
Well, it would be beyond the scope of this short article to give an exhaustive discussion of each point, but I will try to summarize what Calvinists mean by each term.
To Calvinists, total depravity refers to mankind’s inability to seek after God. According to them, unsaved men and women do not have the capacity to receive God’s grace because they are spiritually dead, like a corpse.
Unconditional election means that God chose a certain group of individuals to be saved before the foundation of the world and, along with that choice, decided that those he did not choose would suffer eternal punishment. The number in both groups (elect and non-elect) is fixed and cannot be altered.
Limited atonement is the belief that Christ did not die for the sins of everyone; he died only for the sins of the elect, or those that he chose unconditionally in entirety past. Another way of saying this is that everybody for whom Christ died will ultimately be saved. There will be no person that Christ died for who perishes in hell.
Irresistible grace means that once God decides to save an individual, it is impossible for him to resist God’s saving grace. Naturally, every human being rejects God because he is totally depraved, but if God changes the disposition of a human heart, he will necessarily come to Christ.
The perseverance of the saints refers to the fact that, according to Calvinism, those whom God has truly saved will inevitably persevere in faith until the end. Anyone who falls away from the faith before they die was never saved in the first place. They give evidence they were false converts by their departure from the church.
That’s TULIP. That’s, in part, what it means to be a Calvinist.
Now, you might ask: “Where are these doctrines in the Bible?” I would quickly reply that they aren’t. They are imposed on the text of Scripture.
Furthermore, I would argue that nobody becomes a Calvinist and accepts these five doctrines through his own reading of the Bible. He became a Calvinist only when he was taught Calvinism.
In other words, he had to be introduced to these doctrines. If he would have read only the Bible, he would have never encountered this theology.
I happen to think that this is a powerful reason why Calvinism is false.
Just think about it.
If you have to be taught a certain theology before you can see it in the Bible, doesn’t that indicate either that God is a really bad communicator since you couldn’t get this “truth” on your own, or that the theology is in fact unbiblical?
In my opinion, the latter is the case with Calvinism. It is false, evidenced by the fact that Christians have to be taught it in order to believe it.
Let’s quickly look at the three main sections of Tackling TULIP. As noted above, the first section deals with the biblical problems of Calvinism.
From our vantage point, Calvinists primarily rely upon three passages in the Bible to support their doctrines: Ephesians 1, John 6, and Romans 9.
While they definitely appeal to other verses, these passages are appealed to most frequently, and we devote significant attention in our book to demonstrating that the Calvinistic interpretation is misguided. For this short article, one example should suffice.
John 6:37 is often used by Calvinists. In this verse, Jesus states,
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me…”
Calvinists interpret this verse to mean that everybody the Father elected in eternity past will necessarily come to Christ. In other words, the Calvinist sees a divine, eternal decree in this passage.
As James White, a popular Calvinist, writes, “The giving of the Father inevitably results in the coming of the believer, not the other way around. The divine decree of the Father in giving people to Christ is the grounds of our coming to Christ.”
In other words, the Calvinist sees both unconditional election and irresistible grace in the first part of John 6:37.
But, does John 6:37 support Calvinism?
It should come as no surprise that my answer is no. Here are a few important considerations. First, there is a corporate aspect to Jesus’ statement. The phrase “all that” is, in Greek, a neuter singular, which, according to Greek scholars, implies a collective use. With that in mind, it is helpful to observe the conclusion of Ben Witherington III, who states that this “suggests the verse is referring to an elect group, not elect individuals.”
Second, we must emphasize the fact that an eternal decree is absolutely foreign to the passage and is instead read into the text by the Calvinist. The Father’s giving of certain people to Jesus is taking place in the present, not in eternity past.
David Allen notes, “The use of the present-tense verb [giveth] indicates contemporary action: the Father was in the very process of giving to the Son those who were believing on him.”
This last statement points us to the third and final consideration, namely, that the writer of the Gospel of John identifies who the Father is giving to Jesus. Later, Jesus prays,
“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me…” (John 17:6).
In other words, the people that the Father gave to Jesus were those who were in a right relationship with the Father. They were the Father’s people. They had learned from him.
(John 6:45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.).
They were thus given to Jesus and would come to him.
The second section of our book addresses what we feel are some serious theological problems with the Calvinist system. In this part of Tackling TULIP, we answer a few pertinent questions:
- Did Christ die for everyone?
- Is God a sovereign tyrant?
- Is free will for real?
- Does regeneration precede faith?
Again, while I cannot go into detail about each of these chapters, I do want to give you a snippet of one of them.
Consider the question about free will.
Calvinism is a system of theological determinism. Simply put, Calvinists believe that everything has been determined by God. No event in human history could have been any different.
In words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “whatsoever comes to pass” has been ordained by God and literally had to happen. As such, Calvinists do not believe in free will—at least, not in the way that common people use the expression.
Most, if not all, people believe that they have free will. By this, they think that they have the power to choose differently than they actually did choose.
Since analogies are often necessary for comprehension, let me give an easy example so that you can see what I’m talking about. With my right hand, I just picked up a pen and dropped it on my desk (true story!). Now, I feel as if I could have done something different at the moment that I grabbed the pen and dropped it. This is free will: the power of contrary choice.
However, if Calvinism is true, then I literally could not have done anything different. I had to reach over, grab my pen, and drop it on the desk. My sense of freedom (and your sense of freedom) is just an illusion.
Free will has greater ramifications than just my ability to pick up a pen or not, but we cannot afford to go down that trail in this article.
The third and final section of our book tackles a couple of practical issues with Calvinism, including whether Christians can forfeit their salvation and the tendency of Calvinists to deny the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit. Another practical problem is how Calvinism impacts a believer’s ability to have assurance about his salvation.
Here’s what I mean.
Calvinists insist that everyone who falls away from the faith was never truly saved in the first place.
However, those who do fall away thought that they were saved during the time of their profession of Christianity.
John Calvin writes that “the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.”
He thought that “there is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent.” This would be, in the words of Calvin, “an inferior operation of the Spirit.”
This creates a dilemma, as expressed in the words of Robert Shank:
“How can it be known whether one’s calling and justification are actual or only imagined? How can it be known whether one’s experience of God’s grace is divinely intended to be permanent, or only temporary?”
The answer to this question is that the only way for a Calvinist to know that he is actually saved is to persevere until the end. Until he dies, there is always the possibility that he will fall away from the faith and so prove that the grace God had given to him was only “evanescent.”
I could talk about this topic a lot longer, but I need to close my review of our book Tackling TULIP.
Unless you have been a recluse for the past several years, you probably know that Calvinism has been a frustration in many local churches around the world.
The proper response to this resurgence of Calvinism is to provide sound, biblical teaching, which, I hope, our book has accomplished.
I encourage you to purchase this book.
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