Changing the 5 Points of Calvinism

Despite the popular misconception, John Calvin never wrote the five points of Calvinism, also know as TULIP. These however were five points that were drawn up some time after his death in an effort to summarize the key doctrines for which Calvin and the Reformed faith stood. While anyone who is well read in Calvin will attest, these five points are probably a very narrow view of Calvin’s theology, none-the-less, they can be helpful in thinking through some of the key points of the Reformed faith.

The other day I began reading a book by Roger Nicole entitled, Our Sovereign Saviour. In chapter 4, Nicole seeks to reword the five points in an effort to, in his words, “prevent misunderstandings.” I found his rewordings and thoughts interesting and thought I’d share them briefly here (please note the paragraphs quoted after each section are but a small part of Nicole’s argument, but I thought they best captured his intention):

Total Depravity Radical and Pervasive Evil

May I suggest that what the Calvinist wishes to say when he speaks of total depravity is that evil is at the very heart and root of man. It is at the very foundation, at the deepest level of human life. This evil does not corrupt merely one or two or certain particular avenues of the life of man but is pervasive in that it spreads into all aspects of the life of man. It darkens his mind, corrupts his feelings, warps his will, moves his affections in wrong directions, blinds his conscience, burdens his subconscious, afflicts his body. There is hardly any way in which man is called upon to express himself in which, in some way, the damaging character of evil does not manifest itself. Evil is like a root cancer that extends in all directions within the organism to cause its dastardly effects

Unconditional Election Divine Initative

What we need to recognize here is that the sovereign initiative in salvation is with God. It is not with man. It is not by virtue of something that God has foreseen in a man, some pre-existing condition which is the source or root of the elective purpose of God, that God saves him. God in his own sovereign wisdom chooses, for reasons that are sufficient unto himself, those who shall be saved. We may, therefore, much better speak of ‘sovereign election and preterition’.

Limited Atonement Particular Redemption

We ought rather to talk about ‘definite atonement’. We ought to say that there was a definite purpose of Christ in offering himself. The substitution was not a blanket substitution. It was a substitution that was oriented specifically to the purpose for which he came into this world, namely, to save and redeem those whom the Father has given him. Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps it is less precise than ‘definite atonement’, is ‘particular redemption’. For, the redemption of Christ is planned for particular people and accomplished what it purposed. The only alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

Irresistible Grace Effectual Grace

We ought not to give the impression that somehow God forces himself upon his creatures so that the gospel is crammed down their throats, as it were. In the case of adults (those who have reached the age of accountability) it is always in keeping with the willingness of the individual that the response to grace comes forth. This is surely apparent in the case of the Apostle Paul, for whom God had perhaps made what might be called the maximum effort to bring him in. He resisted, but God overcame his resistance. The result is that Paul was brought willingly and happily into the fold of the grace of God.
What we mean here is not ‘irresistible’—it gives the impression that man continues to resist—but ‘effectual’. That is, the grace of God actually accomplishes what he intends it to accomplish.

The Perseverance of the Saints Perseverance of God with the Redeemed

The advantage of this formulation is that there is, indeed, a human activity in this process. The saints are active. They are not just passive. In a true sense they are called upon to persevere. But there is a devastating weakness in this formulation in that it suggests that the key to this perseverance is the activity of the saints. It suggests that they persevere because they are strong, that they are finally saved because they show that kind of stability and consistency which prevents them from turning back into their original wickedness. This is never the case. The key to perseverance is the preservation by God of his saints, that is, the stability of his purpose and the fixity of his design. What is to be in view here is not so much the perseverance of those who are saved, but the perseverance of God with the sinners whom he has gloriously transformed and whom he assists to the end. We ought to talk about ‘God’s perseverance with his saints’. That is the thing that we need to emphasize.

Taken from, Roger Nicole, Our Sovereign Saviour (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 47-54.

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