Grasping the rope of grace

The fourth and fifth points of TULIP.

This column will conclude my brief foray into an examination of the Five Points of Calvinism as articulated in the Canons of Dordt, one of the Three Forms of Unity of Reformed churches, including the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA).

The fourth point of the Calvinist TULIP is Irresistible Grace. The irresistibleness of grace follows from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. If God predestines every person’s salvation, then if God chooses to be gracious in saving a person, that person will be unable to resist because God has predetermined that s/he will respond positively.

Arminianism, which the Canons are meant to refute, holds that, through the preparatory (prevenient) grace given to all by the Holy Spirit, humans can cooperate with God and respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation. Through prevenient grace, God removed the effects of Adam’s sin and provided humans with a degree of “free will” that makes individuals able to both accept and resist God’s grace.

Perseverance of the saints

The fifth point of the Calvinist TULIP is the Perseverance of the saints. This doctrine is related to the “once saved, always saved” debate and the question of eternal security. The Calvinist position is that the elect will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from him. Again, this makes sense within the framework of predestination since it is impossible that the sovereign eternal decree of God won’t be fully realized. Believers are secure because God will finish the work that God began.

Arminians insist that, because of limited free will granted to humans by God, a person can fall away and lose his or her salvation. Salvation is still wholly attributable to God. A helpful illustration may be that of a swimmer drowning at sea. A sailor from a passing ship throws the swimmer a rope but, to be saved, the swimmer must grab the rope. The swimmer has nothing to do with the proffered rope and can refuse it. By grabbing the rope s/he is choosing to take advantage of the gracious action of the rope thrower.

Reconsidering TULIP

From my perspective as a human living in time, the Arminian position makes eminently more sense than the Calvinist one. Arminianisn makes it logically possible to affirm God’s sovereignty along with a limited human freedom to respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation. I can’t help but see that holding tightly to the Five Points of Calvinism leads inexorably to fatalism and even nihilism. It makes human behavior totally contingent on God’s action and removes any possibility of human agency and responsibility.

Since God has created a cosmos with an inherent time dimension, we must recognize this as the framework in which we move and have our being. What it’s like to be a timeless being like God is not possible for us to grasp so we should hold all doctrines related to God and time very lightly or, better yet, not at all.


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