Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's wrong with the TULIP?

In honour of my latest addition to my blog list I have decided to post on TULIP, the acronym most often associated with Calvinism. I came across this blog after discussing with my teacher, colleague, and friend Dr. Myk Habets about a book project he is working on, on the subject of defining an "Evangelical Calvinism." This is in opposition to "Federal Calvinism" which they see as a legitimate extension of Calvinism, but not the only legitimate one, and not necessarily the best. I was raised an Arminian, which people often forget is a type of Calvinism, but it was the branch of the family that TULIP was designed to refute (a century after Calvin). I no longer call myself by any label, other than the hopelessly vague "Evangelical." Part of what the nascent "Evangelical Calvinist" movement is trying to do is to reframe the tenets of "Federal Calvinism" away from the un-Calvin obsession with covenant and towards a more Calvinesque obsession with Christ. An initial attempt to reframe the TULIP is made here.

What is the TULIP?
  • Total Depravity (of fallen humanity)
  • Unconditional Election (of God's people)
  • Limited Atonement (for humanity by Christ)
  • Irresistible Grace (of God)
  • Perseverance (of God's people, i.e. they cannot lose their salvation)
What is wrong with TULIP?

Total depravity can either be taken to mean that humanity is totally depraved or that every part of humanity is touched by sin. A biblical view of humanity, IMHO, should never forget that humanity was first made in the image of God (Imago Dei) and that the fall never took that away. Just as every area of human life is touched by sin and has potential for evil, every area has an equal (or greater) potential for good. So while total depravity in a limited sense is possible good doctrine, it certainly should not be the first point you make about either humanity (anthropology) or God's salvation (soteriology).

That the God of the Bible is an electing God, who chooses people according to his own often secret agenda is proven by innumerable proof-texts and the overall narrative of scripture. But it needs to be said that this same scriptural narrative often portrays even the people whom God has chosen falling out of God's favour. Unconditional Election merely affrims that God's electional is not based on any criteria that a human has any hope of fulfilling by choice, God's choice therefore doesn't come with strings attached!

IMHO, Limited Atonement is the most hateful of doctrines in the TULIP sequence. This is the idea that Christ did not die for everyone but only those that would be saved, it argues that there are rafts of humanity out there who simply cannot be saved because Christ's atonement does not cover them. The motive behind this doctrine is to avoid suggesting that God could be thwarted in his desire to save. If God wants to save everyone but can only save some, that would suggest God is weak or incompetent. Thus Limited Atonement suggests that God must only have intended to save some. However, to my mind this doctrine does far more harm by limiting the availability of God's grace and love, and is not the solution to the problem of those who do not respond to the Gospel.

The Irresistible Grace of God is a doctrine that argues that if God desire to save someone they cannot get out of that salvation. In one sense I have no problem with this as it is manifestly true. On the other hand I do not think this necessarily means therefore that God simply hasn't willed to save those who are not saved. I think we need to affirm that God's grace can be and often is resisted, but that the human capacity to resist that grace is in fact evidence of that grace. God's gift of autonomy and free volition to humanity.

The Perseverance of the saints, God's elect people, is an interesting one. People obviously do fall away from time to time, is it "once saved, always saved" or simply that those who fall away show they were never saved in the first place? Personally I feel the NT emphasis on perseverance as something to be done rather than something to be assumed speaks against this. Likewise the OT emphasis on Covenant Nomism.

Now that was a big post and I am aware with some more time I should probably give you some Bible verses and stuff, but hopefully you can see what I am getting at and where I am getting it from? In case you are still wondering where I stand, I do like Calvin, from what little I have read, but I don't like TULIP, as far as I understand it correctly. Let me know what you think :-)

P.S See also this post on Myths and Urban Legends about Calvin and for a more polemical piece Evangelical Calvinism is an Oxymoron

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

can human rights dehumanize us?

Currently reading a very impressive article "Rhetoric, Postemodernism, and Theological education," by A.K.M Adam writing in To Teach, to Delight, and to Move, 2004, the following quotes are from page 69:

"Modern ethical reasoning speaks "human rights" as its native language, asserting the fundamental interchangeability of any human person - though these are usually defined in markedly particular terms (citizens of the United States have "free speech" as a human right, but not adequate health care, whereas citizens of China have "adequate health care" as a human right, but not free speech)."

This to me is a very important insight, the language of human rights is very relative depending on your cultural location. Hence so much misunderstanding between the West and radical Islam, to the westerner the sexual display of women in public is their human right, but to a conservative Muslim, or orthodox Jew, it is her human right to be covered up and protected from the lust of men, and it is mens right to be protected from her lust inducing potential! Yet most rights campaigners assume that their concept of human rights is universal and that no other possibilities exist. This is most tellingly manifest in the talk we have now in NZ regarding sexual rights. That prostitutes have a right to sell their bodies on the streets and homosexuals have a right to adopt children or marry is the obvious manifest universal truth to the liberal majority, and yet is it really being a reactionary conservative to suggest that these are not truly human rights at all, but rather arbitrary ones?

"To the extent that such a person a hypothetical person is universal, of course, [they are] no one in particular - but the God of Christian theology knows everyone particularly, so that the extent that theologians permit a modern insistence on universality to dominate their doctrines, they collaborate with the modern proclivity toward homogenisation."

This one could really screw with your mind, how do you do theology if you have to accept that God deals with everyone on a case by case basis?! What does this really mean? Is this a demand for situation ethics? Are there not universal axioms that can be applied to the human race? The idea that no person can be interchanged with another really makes the issue of 'rights' a very thorny one, because people 'rights' are always going to impinge on the rights of others. Especially in a world where people don't recognise the subjectivity of those rights.

In this way the idea of 'rights' dehumanizes and puts all the attention on the person as victim demanding to be treated fairly. By contrast we gain our humanity by living up to our responsibilities to each other, often giving to and serving those who in our world might have no rights to our resources and concern. It means nothing to assert that a street urchin in an Indian metroplolis has a right to food. It means a great deal to assert that maybe I have a responsibility to feed her. As a victim whose rights are being ignored, she is dehumanized; just one more statistic. As someone to whom I am inescapably connected she is a human who belongs to me, and to whom I belong. If I meet her rights I place myself above her as her saviour. If I fulfill my responsibilities, she allows me to be who I should be, and we are both beneath the saviour who called me to serve and who blesses her through me.

Just thinking out loud, :-), let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Essays on the Spirit

Well I have finally got round to putting up some of my essays on googledocs. It is not so much that I think everyone needs to hear what I have to say, but that I have put heaps of work into them all and if they can be of use to anyone else, so much the better. This year our church has as its teaching theme Zechariah 4:6 "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." And so I thought I would highlight in this post essays that I had written where the Spirit of God was a significant theme. The essays are presented on the right hand side-bar of this blog. Spirit related ones are:


The first two are probably the most accessible. (BTW Pneumatology = theology of the Holy Spirit.) The second two were written for one of the taught courses I took for the Masters program I am on. The Spirit and the Cross is a piece of work I especially enjoyed doing and if I have time next year I will try to bring it up to publication standard.

I should add that all these essays have moments of embarrassment for me. I would love to go through them all and improve them. But who has time for that? They may not say things as well as I might want to, but they do say them and I think some of the things they say are worth saying. Just remember these are the writings of a student, not an expert. I reserve the right to be wrong! (and to change my mind) So feel free to laugh at me fumbling my way through the complexities of a new discipline :-) The other thing is that it may take some effort to read for a non-specialist reader, but either have a dictionary handy or open an Internet dictionary and enjoy learning some new words as you go!

If you find any of the links don't work, please let me know. Let me know what you think :-)