A Primer Against TULIP
A Review of “Considering Calvinism: Faith or Fatalism”
by Gil VanOrder, Jr.
Author Gil VanOrder, Jr., in “Considering Calvinism: Faith or Fatalism,” presents a clear and logical case against Five Point Calvinism. While his book is accessible for any layperson, it is written in such a way that theologians and pastors will also benefit from the discussion, since his writing is especially transferrable for use in preaching and teaching, and also includes excellent (if leading) discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
VanOrder cannot possibly be accused of failing to draw his doctrines from Scripture itself, for Chapter One alone contains thirty-six Scripture references! He also makes ample use of parables (which I have titled in the list that follows) illustrating key doctrinal issues in Calvinism: The Selective Healer (page 13), The Compassionate Healer (page 14), The Drowning Man (page 21), The Lost Wanderer and the Rescue Party (page 68), The Rescuer of Shipwreck Island (page 69), The Man Atop the Mountain (page 74-75), The Assistant Chemist (page 76), The House Builder’s Offer (page 125), and The Drunkard’s Helpful Brother (page 157).
In addition to biblical exegesis and the ample use of illustrative metaphors, VanOrder also quotes theologians and Bible scholars, occasionally makes use of biblical word studies, and even traces the historical perspective of the early church fathers. In other words, while the book does not read like an article one might find in a theological journal, neither does it avoid tackling serious issues or gathering the relevant resources needed for a robust and substantial defense of his positions.
The book is organized into seven chapters, the first five of which address the Calvinist TULIP acronym in order. In my view, these chapters represent the strength of the book. Chapter Six describes VanOrder’s personal testimony and a bit of philosophy, including the two kinds of conscience and the three sources of motivation, not to mention VanOrder’s personal theological formulation of the LILY. Chapter Seven presents the gospel clearly and offers an evangelistic invitation.
While I agreed with nearly all of the author’s conclusions through Chapter Four, my highlighter remained tightly capped throughout Chapter Five’s discussion against eternal security, although his subsequent distinction between falling away due to lost faith rather than the committing of sins was nonetheless helpful. Although I remain committed to the perseverance of the saints, I must admit that VanOrder’s treatment in this chapter was equally thorough and biblically based as his previous four chapters. Unfortunately for him, in Chapter Five the author stopped reinforcing my own personal convictions, thus becoming strangely less persuasive.
Several of VanOrder’s concepts will help frame my discussion of Calvinism in the future. First, the notion that “One cannot read the Bible alone and understand what it means to be a Calvinist” (page 10) is profoundly significant. Certainly, the plain truth of the Bible should not require the purchase of Calvin’s Institutes or the latest book by Piper in order to be understood. The fact that our Calvinist friends must have the Bible PLUS something else is ground zero in making the case for syncretism. Second, the tracing of Calvinist thought from the Greek philosopher Aristotle in the fourth century BC to the Roman theologian Augustine in the fourth century AD to the Geneva Reformer himself in the sixteenth century AD is necessary to establish the root from which Calvinism’s tree has blossomed. As a Southern Baptist, when I wonder why Calvinist ideas seem so foreign to me, it helps to trace their origin among a pagan philosopher, a Catholic theologian and a Presbyterian reformer. Third, the “shocking lack of love” (page 110) on the part of both Luther and Calvin which is detailed in Chapter Three is reason enough seriously to question their theologies related to God’s love for us and our love for others.
Finally, VanOrder is extremely conversant with the common arguments of Calvinists, and uses those very arguments skillfully against them. For example, he writes, “Calvinist writers relentlessly claim that their theology is misunderstood. One can only assume such misunderstanding is due to their theology being too complex for the average Christian to understand. This fact alone makes it seem less likely to be God’s truth, since God has no desire to confuse His followers with a complicated theology of the simple message of the Gospel. Calvinists further suggest that it is the misunderstanding of their doctrine that causes Christians to reject the truth of Calvinism. I don’t believe that is true. Rather than a misunderstanding, it is the UNDERSTANDING of Calvinist doctrine that causes most to reject it.”
In conclusion, VanOrder’s book is a worthy contribution to the discussion of Calvinism, a resurgent topic in contemporary Christianity. If you seek an accessible, logical, biblical and historical treatment of this topic from a perspective clearly opposing TULIP, then this is certainly a book you must read.