To sin is to use a gift that God provided for the purpose of pointing to his glory in a way that the Creator never intended. That’s how God’s good gift of relaxation degenerates into vacations that end in frustration because they fall short of our self-centered expectations. That’s how God’s gifts of food and drink are perverted into pathways to gluttony and addiction; it’s how the gift of sex becomes twisted into lust and pornography and homosexuality, it’s how the natural world is distorted into an economic resource to be exploited without regard for human communities or the beauty of God’s creation, and on and on it goes. Each of these acts pursues the same false promise that our primeval parents swallowed in the shadow of the tree of knowledge: “You shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). We all want to be God.Continue reading.
How free are your choices? Do human beings possess free will? Does God determine your choices or do you? Part of the answer depends on how you define “freedom” and “free will”! With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the notions of human freedom and free will.
Does God Save People Against Their Wills?
There’s a difficult dilemma when it comes to the freedom of the human will that may have crossed your mind if you’ve ever read passages like these in the writings of the apostle Paul:
Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Continue reading.
Broken dreams are woven deeply into the fabric of human existence—so deeply that it’s easy for us to assume God’s plans fail, just like ours. In fact, that’s precisely what some theologians have claimed over the past few decades. According to one best-selling book from a certain Jewish rabbi, God wishes he could make everything right in the world, but he simply doesn’t possess the power to make it happen. “Even God,” the author claims, “has a hard time keeping chaos in check.”Continue reading.
Thirteen years ago, my wife and I sat at a table in a cramped office that reeked of scorched coffee and mildewed carpet. By that point in our lives, we had journeyed for nearly two years on a long and difficult road toward adoption. While social workers shuffled around us, we pored over page after page in a file that never seemed to end.Continue reading.
Chore charts. Report cards. Standardized tests. Athletic banquets. Kids are inundated with messages about their performance. Because performance—work and reward—is one of the basic structures of our lives, kids often grow up thinking, “I am what I am because of what I do . . . or because of what I’ve failed to do.” How different this message sounds from the biblical message of redemption by grace!
PROOF Pirates introduces kids to God’s amazing grace through a fun-to-read pirate story about a boy named Jesse whose parents send him on a scavenger hunt. Continue reading.
There’s nothing we can do to change our sinful nature.
From time to time, we may have calmed our consciences by pulling the plug on a sinful habit or two. Perhaps we flushed a few pills down the toilet, vowed not to gossip so much about our coworkers, or made a New Year’s resolution to stop straying from our spouse or losing our temper with our children. But, when it came to quitting sin once and for all, we simply couldn’t do it. Sin was as much a part of us as a heart that pumps blood, lungs that breathe air, and skin that produces hair. Even if we succeeded in cutting off one evil habit, a forest of other iniquities soon sprouted in its place. “Inherited sin in a man is like his beard,” Martin Luther once commented. “Though shaved off today so the man is very smooth … it grows back by tomorrow morning.”
The theological term for this pervasive presence of sin in every human life is “total depravity”—a unfortunate phrase that sounds at first as if people are completely evil, which isn’t true at all. “Depravity”—from the Latin word for “crooked”—simply means that God’s design for humanity has been twisted in the wrong direction; “total” reminds us that this twistedness touches everything we are and everything we choose. Every human deed done outside of Christ carries within it a seed of death. Michael Horton puts it this way:
The stain of sin [has corrupted] us physically, emotionally, psychologically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. That doesn’t mean … we are all brute savages who always carry out every possible evil; it does mean that there is no island of purity from which we might mount a campaign to save ourselves.
“As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature,” Baptist pastor C.H. Spurgeon once pointed out. “It is … so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” Left to ourselves, the death that we inherited from Adam mortifies all that we are, and sin infects all that we do. We cannot cleanse ourselves from this stain, and—as long as we remain dead in our sins—we will never desire the remedy that God has provided.
Paul hammered the final nail into humanity’s coffin with these words: “We were by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3)—or, more literally, we “were by nature children of wrath” (ESV). Sin wasn’t merely something we did; sin was by nature who we were. Thus, damnation became our deserved destination before we had even disembarked from our mother’s womb.
So what can we do to escape this deathly circumstance?
We are by nature damned and dead, and there is nothing that any of us can do to improve this dismal starting-point. Until we receive new life, we will never glimpse the glory of God’s kingdom (John 3:3). And yet, as long as we remain spiritually dead, we are “sin-oholics” without the slightest desire to be set free from our addiction to iniquity. That’s the dark dilemma of every human life apart from Jesus Christ (Romans 3:9-18; Ephesians 2:12)—and that’s why the next sentence in Paul’s letter is so amazing!
“But God,” Paul declared, “made us alive with Christ.”
The Christians in Ephesus had been damned and dead—but God made them alive. He put their death to death in the death of Jesus and raised them to life through the power of his resurrection! What none of them could do or would do, God did, for the purpose of revealing “the incomparable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7).
Where Did McAfee Find His Points in the First Place?
Others have explored the origins of TULIP as far back as Cleland McAfee’s 1905 lecture. I find it highly unlikely, however, that this mnemonic device erupted from a single individual’s didactic imagination. It’s possible, of course, that Cleland McAfee developed the TULIP completely on his own—but, even if he did, it’s worth asking where he derived these five particular phrases that differ so sharply from the terminology in the canons of Dort.
“Irresistible grace,” “perseverance of the saints,” and on rare occasions “total depravity” are present in the writings of seventeenth-century Puritans. “Universal sovereignty” carries a variety of meanings in works published in the seventeenth century and earlier. “Unconditional predestination” and “unconditional election” appear in Reformed literature as early as the eighteenth century. And yet, as far as I can tell, the five phrases never appear together until the nineteenth century, and “limited atonement” remains altogether absent.
In the early nineteenth century, the phrases that would someday spell “TULIP” began to appear together—but the list didn’t arise from proponents of Reformed soteriology. The five terms emerged among the American heirs of the Church of England, the Episcopalians and the Methodists. Here’s how one Episcopalian summarized the soteriology of the synod of Dort in 1832, in an article arguing that the doctrinal standards of the Episcopal Church were distinct from Dort:
According to the Calvinistic belief, the atonement of Christ is partial, and limited exclusively to the elect. … Upon this foundation of a limited atonement is built the theory of sovereign and unconditional election and reprobation. … The points of doctrine peculiar to the Calvinistic system of theology are the total depravity of man, unconditional election and reprobation, irresistible grace and instantaneous conversion, and the certain perseverance of the saints.
In 1873, a similar listing appeared in a feature that argued many of the same points in The American Church Review. Later that same year, the Methodist Quarterly Review reprinted that article.
How the TULIP Grew from the Nineteenth Century to You
In articles and books written near the end of the nineteenth century, theologian and church historian Philip Schaff picked up these same five phrases to summarize the synod of Dort—but Schaff always retained the original order presented in the canons of Dort. Here’s how Schaff presented the points:
The five points of Dutch Calvinism of Holland which were tried at the synod of Dort in the year 1619 … are as follows:
1. Unconditional Predestination.
2. Limited atonement.
3 and 4. Total depravity, and irresistible grace.
5. Perseverance of the saints.
Cleland McAfee could have encountered this fivefold summary in a variety of books and periodicals—but there’s another place where he may have heard these five phrases as well. When McAfee was training for pastoral ministry at Union Theological Seminary, his professor of sacred literature and church history at Union was none other than Philip Schaff.
And so, who first reworked these five phrases into a floral arrangement?
Clearly, all of the phrases predate Cleland McAfee’s 1905 lecture in Newark. It is possible that McAfee was the one who rearranged these widely-known phrases to form the name of a flower. Given the emergence of these five phrases at least two generations before McAfee arrived in Brooklyn, it’s also conceivable that McAfee picked up the TULIP acrostic from some earlier source, perhaps even an unpublished oral meme. I could easily imagine the TULIP having emerged as a memory aid in preparation for a seminary examination, especially since Philip Schaff likely used the five phrases in lectures.
Whatever the original source of the five phrases may have been, the TULIP acrostic provided the framework for Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. This text, first published in 1932, remained popular for decades in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist congregations. From the publication of Boettner’s book to the present, TULIP has developed into the predominant summary of the Reformed doctrines of grace, particularly in the United States.
Cleland Boyd McAfee may have rearranged the five points to spell the word TULIP, but he wasn’t the one who chose the wording of the five phrases. These phrases predate McAfee by several decades, and they weren’t developed for the purpose of promoting Reformed soteriology. They seem to have emerged as part of an Episcopalian effort to distance their denomination from the doctrines summarized in the canons of Dort—which might explain, at least in part, how less-than-ideal terminologies such as “limited atonement” wormed their way into this summary in the first place.
This post was originally featured on proofofgrace.com. Click here to see the original post.
“Bishop Brownell’s Second Charge,” Banner of the Church 1 (1832): 197.
“The Seventeenth Article,” The American Church Review 25 (1873): 17-18.
“The Five Points of Dort and the Five Points of Westminster,” The Church Eclectic 18 (1890) 140.
“Brooklyn Likely to Lose Great Church Leader,” The New York Observer 91 (1912): 548.
“The Five Points of Calvinism Historically Considered,” The Outlook 104 (1913): 394-395.
Did you miss Part 1 of “Who Invented the TULIP?” Click here to read it.
Tiptoeing through (the History of) the TULIP
The earliest name clearly connected to the TULIP seems to be Cleland Boyd McAfee. Born in Missouri in 1866, McAfee became a prominent leader in the Presbyterian Church. He moved to Union Theological Seminary in 1884 to prepare for pastoral ministry. After earning his divinity degree at Union followed by a doctorate from Westminster College in Missouri, McAfee served as a professor and pastor at Park College, north of Kansas City. In 1901, Cleland McAfee left Missouri to become pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chicago.
Two years after McAfee arrived in Chicago, his brother and sister-in-law lost both their daughters to diphtheria within twenty-four hours of each other. McAfee responded to this loss by composing the now-familiar hymn “There is a Place of Quiet Rest (Near to the Heart of God).” According to one report, Cleland McAfee directed a small choir that sang these words in the front yard of his brother’s quarantined home.
“There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.”
“There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.”
“There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.”
“Oh Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us who wait before thee,
Near to the heart of God.”
The next year, Cleland McAfee was called to Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. It was during his pastorate in Brooklyn that he delivered a lecture to the Presbyterian Union of Newark. In this lecture, he employed the mnemonic device “TULIP” to summarize the five points of Calvinism. No manuscript of this lecture seems to have survived, so it’s not known whether McAfee meant to promote the TULIP or merely to provide a simple tool for recalling the canons of Dort. His version of TULIP—at least as it was reported eight years later—differed slightly from the one we know today, but the essential elements remain:
- Total depravity
- Universal sovereignty
- Limited atonement
- Irresistible grace
- Perseverance of the saints
By the time this memory device appeared in a Presbyterian newspaper in 1913, Cleland McAfee had already left Lafayette Avenue to become professor of didactic and polemic theology at McCormick Theological Seminary. He remained at McCormick until 1930 when he became director of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Given the 1932 response of this board to the rising tide of theological liberalism in the denomination, it may be that Cleland McAfee’s theological leanings were more moderate than conservative.
Part 3 of “Who Invented the TULIP?” will be posted later this week.
Can’t wait ’til then? Click here for the original post.
Chances are, if you’ve ever heard of the “five points of Calvinism,” you heard them first in the form of a flower—a tulip, to be exact. If your earliest awareness of these points was anything like mine, it began with the fallenness of humanity and ended with the security of the believer, with the most difficult doctrine planted stubbornly in the center, like this:
- Total depravity
- Unconditional election
- Limited atonement
- Irresistible grace
- Perseverance of the saints
In some ways, picking a tulip to summarize the decisions at Dort makes perfect sense. In the decades leading up to this gathering of pastors in Holland, the regions around Dort were known for these flowers (as well as for windmills, wooden shoes, and water canals—all of which would have made even worse acrostics than TULIP). And yet, despite popular assumptions to the contrary, neither John Calvin nor the seventeenth-century synod of Dort developed any mnemonic device to summarize a Reformed perspective on God’s grace. Even if they had developed some sort of acronym, the delegates at Dort most likely wouldn’t have used the English word “tulip.” The Dutch word for the bulbous flower in question is, after all, tulp not “tulip”!
The difficulties with this floral device, however, run far beyond dubious historical origins and botanical etymologies. A wide range of Reformed theologians over the past few decades have recognized that some terminologies behind the TULIP could create more confusion than clarity when it comes to understanding God’s singlehanded work in salvation.
* Total depravity, for example, sounds more like a cable-television series that Christian ought to avoid than a biblical description of human nature. What’s worse, it almost gives the impression that people are as evil as they can be, which no Reformed theologian has ever claimed.
* Although an accurate description of the result of God’s inward call, “irresistible grace” could imply that God’s grace can never be withstood, which isn’t true at all (see, for example, Acts 7:51).
* And what about the worst offender among the five petals of the TULIP, “limited atonement”? There’s not a single mention of such a phrase anywhere in any decision from Dort! What the pastors at Dort declared was that the death of Jesus was “more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world” and that this sacrifice was effective in the lives of those whom God chose to save.
I’m far from the first person to point out these troubles with the TULIP. Timothy George switches flowers completely and replaces TULIP with ROSES in his book Amazing Grace. In Chosen By God, R.C. Sproul begins with TULIP but ends up with RUDEP. One Reformed political philosopher has jestingly suggested the alternative acrostic “WUPSI”: (1) wholly defiled, (2) unconditional choice, (3) personal salvation, (4) supernatural transformation, and (5) in faith persevering. This mnemonic device could be, Greg Forster proposes, “pronounced ‘whoopsie’—as in, ‘Whoopsie, we just realized that TULIP is giving everyone heinously false ideas of what Calvinism is all about.’ Perhaps it’s not as memorable as TULIP, but it has other virtues to make up for that.”
Still, before plucking the TULIP and pitching it in the theological yard-waste bin, it might be wise to consider when and how the TULIP was planted in the first place. Young proponents of Reformed theology sometimes seem to think that the TULIP emerged fully formed sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. At the very least, they assume the TULIP takes up the same terminologies as the synod of Dort—but neither of these assumptions is correct. In fact, as far as I can tell, the earliest reference to the TULIP appeared nearly three centuries after the synod of Dort! The TULIP was published first in a Presbyterian newspaper, printed a few months before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered the war to end all wars.
Parts 2 & 3 of “Who Invented the TULIP?” will be posted later this week.
Can’t wait to read them? Click here for the original post.
PROOF and the doctrines of grace are the theme for this year’s Vacation Bible School at Sojourn Community Church—and it’s all wrapped up in a high-seas pirate adventure! Look carefully in the video, and you’ll see PROOF coauthor Timothy Paul Jones falling to the deck with the rest of the Sojourn VBS pirate crew. Be watching for the forthcoming publication of PROOF Pirates children’s curriculum to use in your church.
For more information about SojournKids VBS, click here.
For part one of this series on naming the “New Calvinism,” click here.
A Trinity of “Neo’s”: Neo-Calvinist, Neo-Puritan, Neo-Reformed
The relatively recent introduction of “neo-Calvinist” to describe the latest resurgence of interest in Reformation theology has muddied the semantic waters even more—but not because “neo-Calvinist” or “new Calvinist” carries too many different meanings (not yet, anyway). It’s because, at least since the early twentieth century, “neo-Calvinist” has described the views of Dutch Reformed theologians who emphasized the lordship of Christ over all creation and the capacity of grace to restore nature. It was neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper who famously declared, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not declare, ‘Mine!'”
To identify the current Reformation-oriented crowd as “neo-Calvinist” is to confuse a venerable movement that focuses on God’s sovereignty over creation with a current movement that focuses on God’s sovereignty in salvation. The result is a blurred definition that does disservice to persons in each group, especially since some of us do theology in ways that derive in different ways from both movements.
“Neo-Puritan,” perhaps the most misguided of all the recent monikers, would multiply the muddiness even more. Reformed theology was never the primary factor in setting the limits of Puritanism. “Puritan” has historically included not only Christians who profess Reformed soteriology but also at least a few Arminians and—depending on who you ask—perhaps even Quakers. No perspicuity is produced by affixing “neo-” to such a variegated phenomenon and then attempting to apply the new term to a recent movement that doesn’t clearly derive from the original phenomenon. “Neo-Puritan” fails as a useful terminology both semantically and historically.
In the end, some variation of “Reformed” seems likely to remain the least caconymous descriptor. A good case could be made for delimiting the term “Reformed” to Presbyterian and Reformed denominations that derive directly from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed churches. At the same time, the word “Reformed” began to be affixed to movements beyond these churches throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, if not earlier. Scot McKnight has referred to the recent resurgence in Reformed soteriology as “neo-Reformed.” Personally, I would prefer simply to have “Reformed” affixed to a larger tradition—Baptist, in my case—and I respectfully disagree with McKnight’s caricature of the movement he labels “neo-Reformed.” (I don’t know a single leader among the so-called “neo-Reformed” who is, in McKnight’s words, working to “kick the non-Reformed off the village green” merely because they’re non-Reformed. There may be a few Arminians and Anabaptists lying with boot-bruised backsides along the perimeter of a proverbial evangelical green and some of these attempted ejections may have been unjust—but it wasn’t their non-Reformed theology that landed them there.) At the same time, it does seem that, if some term more specific than “Reformed” must be applied, McKnight might be on a workable track. A handful of twentieth-century theologians did employ “neo-Reformed” to denote Karl Barth’s theological method, but that nomenclature was short-lived and probably ill-directed in the first place.
To read the rest of this article, click here.
The mention of Calvinism may provoke revulsion or comfort—but it rarely produces apathy.
“Calvinism,” journalist H.L. Mencken opined in 1937, “occupies a place in my cabinet of private horrors but little removed from that of cannibalism.” Mencken included these words in his obituary for J. Gresham Machen, a Presbyterian theologian who whispered on his deathbed, “Isn’t the Reformed faith grand?” The same doctrines that elicited exultations from the lips of one man incited comparisons to sautéing your next-door neighbor in another. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the most recent surge of interest in Reformed theology has ignited joy in some hearts and panic in others.
Over the past several years, an overabundance of possible names for this movement has also sparked no small measure of confusion. “Young, restless, Reformed” was the nomenclature that Collin Hansen selected for an article and book about his journey with “the new Calvinists”—a group that’s also been dubbed “neo-Reformed,” “neo-Calvinist,” and even “neo-Puritan.”
Regardless of where you stand or where you land on the issue of Reformed theology, this multiplicity of labels is probably not helpful. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of these labels and consider, at the very least, which ones might be the least problematic.
The Manifold Meanings of “Calvinist”
I should probably confess from the outset that I’m a Reformed Baptist who has never willingly embraced the epithet “Calvinist.” I served nearly two decades on pastoral staffs in three different churches, and—as far as I can recall—I used the word “Calvinism” a grand total of three times in my teaching: twice when leading church history classes, and once in a sermon to describe how George Whitefield was able to work with the Wesley brothers for the sake of the gospel. A variety of Reformed and non-Reformed perspectives mingled together in all of these congregations, and church members consistently cooperated with charity on this issue. And still, I avoided the word “Calvinism” whenever possible. One reason for this deliberate omission was because I was never quite certain that what I meant by “Calvinism” was what my congregants understood when they heard the word—and this semantic confusion isn’t limited to laypeople! R.A. Muller, a preeminent scholar of the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, lists no fewer than three possible functions for the word “Calvinism”:
(1) Calvinism is what John Calvin himself taught—in which case Calvin himself could very well have been the only Calvinist;
(2) Calvinism is what John Calvin’s followers taught—which could be problematic since none of these followers deliberately or intentionally followed Calvin’s teachings;
(3) Calvinism is a synonym for the Reformed tradition—which raises the question of whether the Reformed tradition stands in continuity with Calvin as well as whether both terms are helpful if it’s not possible to draw any clear and meaningful distinction between them.
These ongoing definitional disparities shouldn’t surprise us, given the origins and history of the term “Calvinist.” In Calvin’s own lifetime, the willing acceptance of such a title would have been seen as ridiculous at best, offensive at worst. John Calvin was far from the sole, or even the primary, architect of Reformed theology. The epithet first emerged near the end of John Calvin’s career in Geneva—but not among Calvin’s supporters, and certainly not as a compliment. Lutheran theologians took up the term in the mid-sixteenth century for the purpose of disparaging Calvin’s perspective on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
It wasn’t until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that “Calvinism” expanded to describe Reformed theology as a whole and eventually to denote five specific points about salvation—points that were first articulated as a settled set in 1619 at the synod of Dort, more than a half-century after Calvin died! Abraham Kuyper labeled this usage of “Calvinist” and “Calvinism” the “confessional use” that described an “outspoken subscriber to the doctrine of foreordination.” In time, “Calvinism” came to be applied not only to Presbyterians and other historically Reformed churches but also to Baptists who embraced the five points from Dort.
I tend to think that, if the term “Calvinism” is used at all, it ought to be reserved for theological perspectives that stand in clear continuity with Calvin’s own teachings. (Why call something “Calvinist,” after all, if it can’t be clearly traced to any claim or confession that derives from Calvin?) I would further suggest that “Calvinism” should center on Calvin’s views of church order and ordinances, since Calvin’s ecclesiology and sacramentology were far more distinct in the eyes of his contemporaries than his soteriology. What this means practically is that, if someone asks me whether I’m a Calvinist, my answer is, “That depends on what topic we’re talking about”—and it also makes me wonder if, perhaps, the term “Calvinism” has come to mean so many things that, ultimately, it ends up meaning nothing at all.
To read the remainder of this article, click here.
By Garrick Bailey
The New Testament provides extensive witness to the oneness between Christ and Christians. According to Paul, this oneness, through the Holy Spirit, is the foundation for the unity of the church (Eph 4:1-6). Historically, this concept of oneness found predominantly in the writings of the apostles John and Paul has been called the doctrine of union with Christ. The concept prevailed in the Reformation era, but has garnered little attention in theological works until recent decades. The majority of current scholarship on union with Christ focuses on retrieving the theology of the reformers in the locus of soteriology. This is a worthy cause as John Calvin writes:
First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore, to share in what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us . . . for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him.
John Murray believes, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ. . . . It is not simply a step in the application of redemption . . . it underlies every step of [it].”
This doctrine, however, has much to say in other areas of theology and life. Few modern works devote extended space or thought to the additional implications of our union with Christ. In her work, Found in Him, Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, explores the mystery of the incarnation and the believer’s union with Christ in order to call the reader out from the despair of a seemingly lonely and isolated existence and into the wonderful reality of our oneness with Christ. In Part One of the book, Fitzpatrick introduces the incarnation as proof positive that God has actively moved in love toward us in our natural born state of loneliness. In this act, Christ united himself to estranged humanity. This union serves as the basis for the believer’s union with Christ upon regeneration; which is to say it makes our fellowship with God possible once again. As John Newton wrote, humans are, in fact, lost; in the incarnation, however, God the Son “became man, becoming one with us so that we would not have to live in deep solitude any longer—and his action opens the door not only to deep communion with him but also with one another.” As Robert Letham writes, “now our humanity in Jesus Christ is in full and personal union with God, and so in union with Christ we are brought into union with God.”
For the rest of this review, click here.
By Wyatt Graham
R. K. McGregor wrote No Place for Sovereignty in 1996, launching a detailed critique of Freewill Theism. In place of Freewill Theism, Wright proposes a reformed model of God’s sovereignty over human freedom. Following the long tradition of Reformed Theology, Wright holds to a theology of God’s sovereignty derived from Scripture and articulated by theologians throughout church history, including those at the Synod of Dort (1618–19). It was at Dort where five points were formulated in response to the remonstration of the Arminians, who held to Freewill Theism. Hence, Wright’s book in a very real way revisits this seventeenth century debate.
Wright argues that Freewill Theism is tantamount to humanism. In one vivid example, he likens Freewill Theism to a computer virus that slowly invades and destroys a system (228–9). He develops his argument over eleven chapters. The first third of the book explains the historical background to the freewill debate. The middle third exposits the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the saints. The final third deals with key questions between Calvinists and Arminians.
Like Wright before them, Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones have revisited the debate between freewill theists and proponents of God’s absolute sovereignty. Yet unlike Wright who argues against an opponent (Arminians), Montgomery and Jones argue a positive case for the doctrines of grace. In Chapter two of PROOF, Montgomery and Jones make the biblical argument for God’s electing grace of his chosen people. They conclude that Jesus died for his bride, approximating Wright’s doctrine of Limited Atonement.
For the rest of this review, click here.
Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogger for The Gospel Coalition, recently had a conversation with PROOF authors Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones about grace, Calvinism, and the purpose of PROOF.
You open the book by talking about how we live in a delusion from which we need to wake up. What are some of the delusions we have about God and grace?
TIMOTHY: Martin Luther once commented that humanity after the fall is no longer able to imagine any way to be made right with God other than works. Our tendency by nature is to slip into the delusion that our standing before God somehow depends on what we do. Or, with a sincere desire to exalt God’s free grace, we overcorrect and slip into another delusion, that what we do doesn’t matter at all.
In the first instance, we diminish the finished work of Christ by living as if God started our salvation by grace but then we have to finish it. In the second instance, we miss the truth that grace doesn’t simply save us, it also changes us. And so, we constantly need to be awakened to the wonder and the beauty of authentic grace–God’s wonderful acceptance of us not because we have earned it or deserved it but because he gives it to us freely in Christ.
The answer isn’t found in trying to balance legalism and license. It’s rather in recognizing that, everything God gives to us, he gives in Christ and that this placement of us in Christ and Christ in us changes everything. United with Christ, we are both captive and crowned, slaves of Christ yet free, already positioned as righteous in Christ yet empowered by his Spirit to pursue righteousness. This is a beautiful paradox to which we need to be constantly reawakened.
What do you see as the five phases of grace?
DANIEL: The five facets of grace described in PROOF are a biblical and theological re-framing and re-envisioning of TULIP. TULIP is a nifty mnemonic device but hasn’t proven to be the most helpful tool, in our estimation, in magnifying the glorious gospel of God’s grace:
- Planned Grace re-envisions limited atonement and we begin here because the story of grace begins with a perfect plan in eternity past. Before time began, God mapped out the plan of salvation from first to last. It’s a loving plan made by the Father for a particular people. It’s a victorious plan achieved by the Son for a definite people. It’s an effective and guaranteed plan sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. God planned to adopt a particular people as his own children; Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for these people’s sins and as a substitute who satisfied God’s righteous requirements in their place. When God makes a plan, he can always pay the price and he never lacks the power to make it happen.
- Resurrecting Grace re-envisions total depravity. Everyone is born spiritually dead—we’re the walking dead. And spiritual zombies don’t choose life for the same reason prison escapees don’t show up voluntarily at police stations. Left to ourselves, we will never choose God’s way. God enables people to respond freely to his grace by giving them spiritual life through the power of Christ’s resurrection.
- Outrageous Grace re-envisions unconditional election. God saves us not because we’ve earned it or deserve it, but because He freely chooses us at Christ’s expense. God chooses people to be saved on the basis of his own sovereign will. He doesn’t base his choice to give us grace on anything that we did or might do. God’s outrageous grace leaves us with nothing to prove because, in Christ, everything that needs to be proven has already been provided.
- Overcoming Grace re-envisions irresistible grace. God works in the lives of his chosen people to transform their rebellion into surrender so that they freely repent and recognize Christ as the risen King. God changes his chosen people one by one so that they abandon rebellion, long for holiness, and freely surrender to Jesus. His plan all along was to call a diverse people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and then empower them as a community of overcomers.
- Forever Grace re-envisions perseverance of the saints. God seals his people with his Holy Spirit so that they are preserved and persevere in faith until the final restoration of God’s kingdom on the earth. As long as we are in Christ, the Father cannot reject his covenant with us without rejecting his beloved Son.
This reframing puts God and his grace at the center. Good theology requires both defense and offense. In our estimation, TULIP is mostly defense, and the mission of grace is far bigger and more beautiful than that.
For the rest of this interview, click here.
The winners of today’s contest were Mark Kuykendall and Bill Haynes! Both of them will be receiving free, signed copies of PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. There will be one last giveaway tomorrow, on the day the book is released, so keep on posting!
You mean, once you’re saved, you can never lose your salvation?
And so, if someone says they’ve trusted Jesus and then spends their life in love with sin, they’re still Christians, right?
Maybe you’ve heard that line of reasoning at some point in your life.
So have we–but such thinking isn’t even close to what the New Testament teaches about God’s grace. Scripture affirms the perseverance of God’s people in God’s grace but the assurance of God’s faithfulness never provides a license to sin. That’s because the holiness that God gives us in Jesus is not only a once-and-for-all position but also a day-by-day pursuit.
The Position of Holiness
The call to trust Jesus isn’t merely a call to escape hell in the future. It’s a call to holiness here and now. God sets us apart as his own children and positions us in Jesus so that he sees us always and only in his Son. But God also works within us so that we love and long for holiness.
The Pursuit of Holiness
If there is no pursuit of holiness in someone’s life, there is no reason to believe that God has authentically saved that person. And what about when a Christian falls into sin?
Continue reading here.
The winners of today’s contest were Tim Hawkins and Kenneth Bruce! Both of them will be receiving free, signed copies of PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace.
A couple of years ago, violinist Joshua Bell showed up at a metro station in Washington, D.C., took out his violin and started to play. The casually dressed violinist played as hundreds of people walked by, unfazed by the music. What the passersby didn’t realize is that Bell is an internationally acclaimed violinist who fills concert halls around the world. Put him in a subway station, though, and people are slow to recognize what they hear.
Reading PROOF: Finding Freedom Through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones is a similar experience.
At first glance, the reader may assume the purpose of the book is to explore God’s grace from multiple angles. That much is true, as “The purpose of PROOF is to be an alarm clock that awakens you from the delusion that your destiny depends on you and frees you to discover the intoxicating joy of God’s wild and free grace,” they write.
What takes longer to realize, though, is that the authors are attempting much more. The book’s title, PROOF, is an acronym — planned grace, resurrecting grace, outrageous grace, overcoming grace and forever grace — “that summarizes five key facets of God’s amazing grace.”
But the authors also propose their acronym to replace another well-known, five-point, acronym commonly identified with a certain Genevan reformer.
While the authors “agree wholeheartedly” with the teachings of Dort, they “find the title ‘Calvinist’ distasteful and …would prefer to lose the TULIP completely.” Thus, part of the purpose of PROOF is to point readers away from a focus on Calvinism as a system and “toward the gospel of God’s grace.”
To that end, Montgomery and Jones dedicate a chapter to each point of their acronym, driving home the truth that “God saves us single-handedly,” from the “planned grace” of eternity past to the “forever grace” that preserves to the end. Understanding this should cause readers “to stagger at the sheer strength of God’s love.”
Each chapter begins with an illustration. For example, the chapter “Resurrecting Grace” begins with an explanation of the recent fascination with zombies, which provides an apt analogy for unregenerate humanity. Both zombies and those dead in sin “have neither the capacity nor the desire to trade their death for life.” Montgomery and Jones then walk through the beginning of Ephesians 2, tracing the drama of conversion as God makes dead sinners alive in Christ —granting resurrecting grace.
The chapter ends with Scripture verses, song lyrics and a summary of the chapter’s contents as material for meditation. The chapter also features excursuses on topics like the city of Ephesus and the doctrine of human nature. These bonuses are typical of each chapter.
PROOF is anecdotal and accessible to most readers, with a number of theological asides throughout the book, appendices that address different theological issues and pages of endnotes to appeal to the more theologically minded reader. Most evangelical Christians likely feel well-versed with the notion of God’s grace, but there is always a need to re-assess where notions of legalism have taken root. PROOF will help provide such an assessment, and with a wide enough readership, could do much more.