Tulips of the floral variety have reminded me of Calvinism and the famous five points that form the acronym tulip. As much as we face this Calvinistic bent throughout the American religious landscape, it might do us well to recall what those five points were and are:
- Total depravity of man -- The nature of man is so corrupted as render us incapable of loving God with the whole heart, mind, or strength; capable only of loving and serving self, and always reject the rule of God and the path of love for neighbor.
- The unconditional election means that from the beginning God freely chose those whom He would bring to Himself -- not as a reflection of their virtue, merit, or faith but as an unconditional act of His free will and because of His mercy alone.
- The doctrine of limited atonement assets that Jesus' substitutionary atonement had limited scope to apply only to the elect, since it would be unjust and contrary to God's sovereignty for Jesus' death to apply for the benefit of those who will not be saved; therefore His sacrifice was applicable only to those who will be saved.
- Irresistible grace means that God's actions are effectual, that is, He overcomes the resistance of those who will be saved so that they may obey the call of the Gospel and be brought to faith. The working of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted and therefore the working of the Holy Spirit is limited to those whom God has already elected unto salvation.
- Perseverance of the saints is the belief that those who are set apart by God's election and granted the Holy Spirit will be saved and that God's sovereign will cannot be frustrated or compromised. Those whom God has called into communion with Himself will continue in grace to their salvation and not fall away. If they appear to be saved but fall away, they either never had faith to begin with and were not the elect or they return to faith but unseen/unknown to those on earth. This is not the same as a free grace which allows the elect to do whatever they will or become apostate and still be saved.
Lutherans and Roman Catholics both have diminished the arbitrary predestination of Calvin and insist that the remedy for this excess is the means of grace, the Sacraments, which give assurance through the unequivocal word of the Gospel as it comes in sacramental form. Though for Lutherans this took the form of a profound nineteenth century debate.
Nevertheless, this continues to reach out into current religious identity and practice. We don't much like a God who is filled with mystery -- at first it is interesting but we tend to like answers and reason in our theological definitions. While Calvin certainly removed much of the mystery, what we were left with is the eternal question of why some and not others. Vexing as this has been, the question of salvation has also led to an evangelistic zeal that continues unabated among Protestants.
|Human will||Total Depravity without free will||Total Depravity is that man's free will is bent to sinfulness||Depravity does not preclude free will|
|Election||Unconditional election to salvation only||Unconditional election to salvation and damnation||Conditional election in view of foreseen faith or unbelief|
|Justification||Justification of all people completed at Christ's death.||Justification is limited to those elected to salvation, completed at Christ's death.||Justification possible for all, but only completed when one chooses faith.|
|Conversion||Through the means of grace, resistible||Without means, irresistible||Involves free will and is resistible|
|Preservation and apostasy||Falling away is possible, but God gives assurance of preservation.||Perseverance of the saints, once saved, always saved||Preservation upon the condition of persevering faith with the possibility of a total and final apostasy.|
Our Symbols, though, speak of our total corruption - which is slightly different in nuance than depravity. Also they speak of certainty rather than of the more subjective assurance (though they oppose certainty to carnal security). Still, exactly as you post, Father, the mystery and the inexplicable are there.
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