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The TULIP of Calvinism
In Light of History and the Baptist Faith and Message

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The TULIP of Calvinism
In Light of History and the Baptist Faith and Message


Dr. Malcolm B. Yarnell III is Director of the Center for Theological Research and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.


Recently, Dr. Danny Akin reissued his classic article on Calvinism at a sister blogsite. We welcome that re-contribution to the ongoing conversation. In that same spirit, a sister piece from the same April 2006 publication is reissued here, with minor revision, for your consideration.


The following is a summary of the “TULIP” of classic Calvinism, set against the backdrop of its origins and compared to the Baptist Faith and Message, with the full recognition that Scripture is the final authority on all beliefs and doctrinal systems.

TULIP’s Origins and Emphasis

After the death of John Calvin, Theodore Beza and other Calvinist theologians reformed their doctrine around predestination in the matter of salvation and developed their various “doctrines of grace.” Their major emphasis on divine sovereignty led to theological assertions that caused division in the Reformed theological community. Jacob Arminius, a Dutch student of Beza, countered some Calvinist teaching. In 1610, the “Arminians” crafted five articles that affirmed the election of believers but disagreed with the Calvinists’ interpretation of election. In 1618, the Calvinists of the Dutch Reformed Church convened the Synod of Dort in order to condemn the Arminians and their five points. Dort’s “five heads” of doctrine were later rearranged under the acronym TULIP.

Total Depravity

Calvinists at Dort viewed man not simply as sinful, but argued that every aspect of man’s being is affected by sin, including his will. Some of Calvin’s later followers went so far as to say that God actually decreed humans to become sinners. On the basis of Scripture (Romans 3:23), Southern Baptists have consistently affirmed that all humans are sinners by nature and by choice, but have generally rejected extreme views of post-Dort Calvinists that man is incapable of moral action and that God is ultimately responsible for human sin. The Baptist Faith and Message states, “By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race …. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”[1]

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Semi-Pelagianism? A Plea for Clarity and Charity


By Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Oxford Study Program, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


Recently, the charge of semi-Pelagianism was leveled against the signatories of the statement on the traditional Southern Baptist view of salvation. Please allow me to respond with a clear denial of the charge and an appeal for anybody entering this conversation to, first, clearly substantiate any inferences and claims, primarily appealing to Scripture, and, second, rise above inflammatory rhetoric.

First, regarding “semi-Pelagianism.” What is it? It is a postbiblical issue. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd edn), the semi-Pelagianism of the 4th and 5th centuries “maintained that the first steps toward the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that Grace supervened only later.” It is worth taking a minute to reread that definition. (Did you read it again? Okay, let’s continue.) Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the second Council of Orange in 529. While such a council does not carry ecclesial or theological authority whatsoever for Baptists, I believe most Baptists, including the Statement’s signatories, would agree with that council’s condemnation, which is later called “semi-Pelagianism.” Moreover, it is very instructive that the same council also condemned the doctrine that God predestined men for evil. I would agree with the council’s condemnations on both of these counts and invite all Baptist theologians to join me in agreement. (By the way, all Baptists are theologians.)

Note here that we doubt the comments of Herman Bavinck, who has been cited as an authority on semi-Pelagianism by a group known as “The Gospel Coalition,” are particularly helpful in this free church conversation. Bavinck scorned Anabaptists, Pietists, Methodists, and, yes, Baptists for being too pious and for, inter alia, taking such biblical passages as the Sermon on the Mount literally. Bavinck, moreover, said Baptists erred in shifting the focus “from baptism itself to the believer’s acceptance.” (Guilty! See chapter two of my The Formation of Christian Doctrine for more interaction with Bavinck.) Finally, Bavinck argued that the Baptist idea that original sin does not entail original guilt is part of semi-Pelagianism. The Baptist Faith & Message itself in article three then would likely be classified a “semi-Pelagian” document under such a partisan definition. Our confession states clearly that Adam’s “posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” If our common Southern Baptist confession is “semi-Pelagian,” then we are all “semi-Pelagian,” whether we are Calvinist or something else, at least according to Bavinck, the Dutch Reformed self-professing opponent of Baptists.

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Why Am I a Biblicist?


By Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Oxford Study Program, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


The editors of SBC Today recently queried me about whether I would still care to defend my periodic self-description of being a “Biblicist” in the light of criticisms made by evangelical theologian Scot McKnight, who so far has addressed two short essays to the subject under the title, “The Problem with Biblicism” (Part 1 and Part 2). McKnight bases his critique on the work of the sociologist Christian Smith, a former evangelical who converted to Roman Catholicism.

Before responding to McKnight, it may be helpful to summarily define the term, “Biblicism,” and its cognate, “Biblicist.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, these terms first appeared in the early 19th century and were utilized by evangelicals in a positive manner. The OED cites the evangelical Anglican, George Stanley Faber, who in 1837 approvingly opposed the “Biblicists” to the speculative schoolmen, and Thomas Carlyle’s contemporary, John Sterling, who in 1843 described 17th-century “Biblicism” as simultaneously “rampant and vivacious.” Negative uses of these respected terms arose during the next few decades, alongside John Henry Newman’s influential critique of evangelicalism, which resulted in his groundbreaking conversion from the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church. The OED itself defines “Biblicism” simply as “Adherence to the text of Scripture,” and a “Biblicist” as “A professed adherent of the letter of the Bible.”

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