With Christmas only four days away, I fear that many so-called “Calvinists” inadvertently limit the joy, comfort, and grandeur of the celebration by inadvertently limiting the scope of the Incarnation itself. Christmas is not just for the elect. The event to be celebrated brings with it a message of redemption to any and all who will hear and believe. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). The very nature of the Incarnation itself assures us of the universal right to forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who would hear and believe the Gospel of our Lord’s birth, death, and resurrection. And this should be of great comfort, not only to the believer’s own fearful heart, but to all of God’s image bearing creatures: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
This message is encapsulated in (probably) the most famous and oft quoted passage, John 3:16: “ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In it, we see the motivation for the great Christmas event (God’s love), the event itself (God gave), and the universal nature of the message it proclaims (whoever).
Can both Johns announce indiscriminately to all sinners, “God loves you and sent His Son to die for you”? Or, Calvin’s Calvinism vs. Gill’s Calvinism, as demonstrated by their respective commentaries on a few key texts.
Let’s take look. Would love to hear your thoughts.
The doctrines summarized by the acronym “TULIP” have become to many the hallmark doctrines of the Reformed faith, even called the “Five Points of Calvinism” by some. In reality, this acronym is rarely heard in Reformed churches or found in Reformed literature. To the Reformed, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints are not the core of Christianity, nor even the core soteriology of Christianity, but rather five doctrinal clarifications produced by the Synod of Dordt in response to a group of Dutch ministers questioning important suppositions of the Heidelberg Catechism. While they are indeed very important truths, they do not eclipse the total system of doctrine as received in the Reformed Confessions.
But, as pervasive as this caricature of the Reformed Faith is, even more troubling is that these doctrines themselves are often presented as but poor caricatures of the actual Canons produced at Dordt—even by many who claim to profess them. I have thought it helpful here to write a few quick reminders of what TULIP is not, historically speaking.
We’ve all had these questions (and we all continue to hear them):
“How can man be free if God foreordained all that comes to pass?”
“How can God be sovereign yet man still responsible for his own sin?”
“How can [something, something] predestined [something, something] sovereign [something, something] freewill?” While these are indeed quite complicated questions to answer in full (we can leave that to John Frame), I hope here to at least give a rough outline of how to answer that might be a handy addition to your Calvinist toolkit.