The TULIP’s Petals and Sepals, part 1

by Ronnie Rogers

Before you make the TULIP your flower of choice, consider it in full bloom.

TULIP is used acronymically to succinctly point out the major emphases of Calvinism. I well understand that the use of the TULIP does not fully illustrate the depth and breadth of Calvinism. I do understand that some believe the acronym has outlived its usefulness. However, it still enjoys ubiquitous usage among Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. I find this to be particularly true among those seeking to explain Calvinism to people who may demonstrate some interest in understanding Calvinism, or as a simple tool to convince young people of its biblical and systematic cogency. I am not considering this acronym in order to either portray Calvinism simplistically or inaccurately. Rather, I use it in the manner described by Roger Nicole when he said, “the five points provide a classic framework which is quite well adapted for the expression of certain distinguishing emphases of Calvinism.”

Now admittedly, I do want to call attention to some of the frequently elided essentials of the TULIP in order to augment our understanding. To wit, I wish to not only consider the petals but the sepals (leaves) as well, so-to-speak. I consider these lesser known beliefs, premises, and entailments to be biblically unsustainable and therefore crippling to the more palatably related beliefs demonstrated by the TULIP.

First, I will give the normal understanding communicated by Calvinists, which will be in italics. Second, I will include some of these infrequently presented and therefore less known beliefs and entailments associated with each particular petal.

1. Total Depravity: The whole of man’s being is corrupted by sin and therefore incapable of doing any eternal spiritual good.

Calvinism’s understanding of total depravity includes a compatibilist view of human nature, unconditional election, and limited and selective regeneration. This means that the only interpretive option that Calvinism permits for God to be able to redeem such a compatibly defined totally depraved person is that God must give him a new nature, which He is pleased to do only for the limited unconditionally elect; thereby, guarantying their subsequent free exercise of faith.

Viewing man from a compatibilist perspective means that, while fallen man freely chooses to sin, he cannot freely choose to believe in the gospel unless God gives him a new nature which assures that he will freely choose to exercise faith in Christ; however, in either state, man cannot choose to do otherwise than he did in fact choose because while freely choosing, he has no salvific choice.

Further, defining man compatibly necessitates that while God is not the efficient cause of man’s depravity, He did in fact desire it. This is evidenced by His choice to create man with a compatibilist free will, which guaranteed by design that Adam would freely choose (be the efficient cause) to sin, and equally assured that he could not have done otherwise than what he did in fact do. To wit, if God would have desired that man not sin, he would have given him a different nature. Moreover, the use of the word “desire” as a deterministic desire in Calvinism is essentially dissimilar to other perspectives that believe God always desired man to choose holiness, a desire which permitted man to choose unholiness and comprehended that he would so choose.

Therefore, if a person believes the Scripture teaches the following, he cannot be a Calvinist:

    • God’s only desire for Adam was for him to be holy because God is holy and always desires holiness;
    • God created Adam with true otherwise choice so that he could have chosen to sin or chosen not to sin, and whatever he did in fact choose he could have chosen otherwise;
    • that fallen man is totally depraved and God is able to be sovereign over beings with otherwise choice and to grace enable fallen man to have a free choice to either believe the gospel or not believe the gospel without resorting to a compatibilist (deterministic) view of free will;
    • whatever choice someone makes with regard to the gospel, he could have chosen otherwise.

This view is held in various biblical approaches but not Calvinism.

Ronnie is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., and is the author of  “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist.”