The TULIP of Calvinism
In Light of History and the Baptist Faith and Message
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.
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.”
By David L. Allen, Professor of Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Allen is co-author of Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.
Article 3 addresses the Atonement of Christ. It consists of one proposition in affirmation and three in denial.
I expect there will be no disagreement on the affirmation regarding the penal substitution of Christ. The penal substitutionary atonement, though often attacked and vilified in modern theology, is the bedrock doctrine for explaining the work of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. Sin can only be atoned by the shed blood of Christ on the cross as our substitute. The word “penal” connotes legal imagery. Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the justice and wrath of God against our sin. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. Apart from his atonement, there is no salvation. Only the cross of Christ provides an available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.
The first proposition in the denial states: “We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith.” The operative word here is “free.” The Scripture teaches that the atonement is only applied to those who meet the condition of repentance and faith. When it comes to the question of free will, it needs to be understood that all Calvinists affirm some form of divine determinism along with free will. Most affirm “compatibilism,” by which is meant God changes the will of the individual by means of irresistible grace, such that having been regenerated, he genuinely and freely desires to trust Christ. It should be noted that according to compatibilism, the individual does not have the ability to choose any differently. Compatibilism is heavily dependent on Jonathan Edwards’s concept that we always act according to our greatest desire.
Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
I am thankful for you and find myself in agreement with most of your comments in your June 6 article entitled, “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.” The impact of your service to the Lord and leadership in theological and cultural conversations is immeasurable. Your words carry significant weight both inside and outside of our convention. It is precisely because of the influence which God has granted you that I offer a preliminary reply to your comments regarding the newly-released document, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Although I am grateful that you chose to engage in the public discussion of this important issue, I offer for your consideration my observation that certain comments in your post prompt a variety of concerns among fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed, or might sign, the statement in question. May I share with you three specific concerns? Full disclosure: I signed the statement.
The first area of concern regards your comment that some statements appear to affirm semi-Pelagianism. You write,
“Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.”
The charge of semi-Pelagian is a serious indictment. In fairness to you, your statement falls short of a charge. Your position seems to be that some portions “appear” to affirm the view. Even so, words fail me in describing the far-reaching implications if such a charge were actually sustained. If this charge were true, then the implications would be as follows: A heterodox doctrinal statement has been affirmed by sitting seminary presidents, former SBC presidents, and hundreds of other Southern Baptist pastors, professors, and denominational leaders. I don’t mean to claim that churches in our convention should learn to simply count votes to settle doctrinal differences. But surely those votes should be weighed.
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.
A Response to Dr. Al Mohler
Regarding “A Statement of the Traditional Baptist
Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”
I am appreciative of Dr. Mohler’s willingness to reply to our Statement, and I agree with much of it. He is a statesman whose influence on Southern Baptist life is inestimable, and he is owed a debt of gratitude for his tireless work for the cause of the kingdom. His involvement in this debate is crucial to a God-honoring conclusion. I am thrilled over Dr. Mohler’s affirmation of the necessity of this discussion and his agreement that “it’s time to talk.” The most ubiquitous criticism of the Statement over the last several days has been that it is unnecessarily divisive and that our concerns about Calvinism are contrived. We are thankful that Dr. Mohler acknowledges that it is good, right, and healthy to have a robust discussion of these important and very real issues. Along with him, we wholeheartedly affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message forms the sufficient boundary for our collective theological interests and should continue to be our principle guiding document.
Although most of what Dr. Mohler has stated is quite helpful, I am afraid that much of it will be ignored because of two very unfortunate charges he levels concerning the Statement. These charges, especially in light of the more vitriolic responses to the Statement in the blogosphere, are likely to fuel the rancor that will foreclose upon the very discussion Dr. Mohler feels is so important have. The two serious charges to which we strenuously object are (1) that the Statement appears to be heretical and (2) that the Southern Baptist leaders (former presidents, seminary presidents, state executives, seminary professors, evangelists, and pastors) who signed the statement were not sharp enough to recognize the heresy. To these charges, I offer the following reply: