TULIP Is So 20th Century: PROOF Is New Framework for Canons of Dort
There has been a resurgence of Calvinism of late. So much so that Time magazine declared “New Calvinism” among the top ten ideas changing the world in 2009.
The TULIP has never been more popular!
Yet some believe the floral mnemonic device representing Calvinism's five major points distracts from the Synod of Dort's original intent. So argues Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their new book PROOF.
As they explain, the so-called “Arminian Remonstrance” repudiated certain teachings of early Reformers. In response a number of Reformed pastors gathered for a synod in the Dutch village of Dort “to respond to this challenge to the message of grace.” (130) Their response comprised five key points, and later in 1905 a Presbyterian pastor summarized these points in the acronym TULIP. (132)
Montgomery and Jones insist TULIP “created far more confusion than clarity when it comes to God’s work of salvation.” (132) Yet they believe the Synod of Dort itself has staying power.
It is with this conviction that they refashioned TULIP for the 21st century. PROOF provides an alternative to this 20th century model by emphasizing the positive aspects of God’s irresistible grace using the original language of Dort.
Here is how it provides a faithful, historical and scriptural framework for God’s irresistible grace:
(P)LANNED Grace vs. Limited Atonement
For many, a major sticking point of Calvinism is the teaching of limited atonement. Yet Dort doesn’t even mention it. As Montgomery and Jones clarify, Dort declares Jesus’ death was more than sufficient for the world, but effective for the elect. As Dort declared:
It was the entirely free PLAN and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect. (2:8)
Here Montgomery and Jones emphasize God’s plan of grace, pointing to John 10:11-18—“the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”—and Paul’s arguments in Ephesians 1:11 for planned, predestined salvation. (134)
(R)ESURRECTING Grace vs. Total Depravity
The authors insist total depravity “sounds more like a cable-television series…than a biblical description of human nature.” (133) It gives the impression people are entirely evil, yet the Reformers didn't claim this to be the case. Instead, Montgomery and Jones emphasize Dort’s declaration that no one is able to turn to God on their own power:
All people are conceived in sin and born children of wrath… Regeneration…is a marvelous, mysterious, and inexpressible work, not less than or inferior in power to that of creation or of the RESURRECTION of the dead. (3/4:12)
The authors emphasize God’s resurrecting grace of human nature with support from Psalms 51:5 and Ephesians 2:1-5. (134)
(O)UTRAGEOUS Grace vs. Unconditional Election
“God’s choice to save you,” Montgomery and Jones argue, “had nothing to do with anything that you have done or will do.” (70) This belief is the “U” of TULIP—unconditional election. The authors choose to emphasize the positive declaration of Dort that says God’s grace is both un-deserved and outrageous:
Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and UN-DESERVED GRACE. (1:15)
This outrageous grace is “God’s choice and God’s work,” which coincides with Paul’s emphasis in Romans 9 on God’s mercy and predestined will as grace's singular explanation. (134)
(O)VERCOMING Grace vs. Irresistible Grace
The only vaccine capable of overcoming the disease of sin is the grace of God. Typically this grace has been called “irresistible grace.” While true, Montgomery and Jones believe this term is “a bit confusing since people can and do resist many expressions of God’s grace!” (90) They point to Dort for clarity:
Where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh had dominated their ears, now eager and sincere obedience from the Spirit begins to OVERCOME.
The authors cite John 6:44, 65 and Titus 3:5 here to show how humanity is transformed in response to God’s work of grace.
(F)OREVER Grace vs. Perseverance of the Saints
Finally, this grace is forever. God's grace is a preserving and persevering grace. Regardless how the final letter in TULIP sounds, “Perseverance is not you contributing your part to your salvation so that you and God are partnering together to keep you saved.” (113) The saints don’t persevere; God’s grace does. As Dort declares:
God PERSEVERES, CONTINUES, AND FINISHES this work… To this God alone—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—be honor and glory FOREVER. (5:14-15)
John 10:27-29 and Philippians 1:6 testify to this forever grace. (135)
At times it seems some people are more interested in fighting for the doctrines behind the flower than the grace it supposedly points to. The authors agree: “Calvinism for the sake of Calvinism is not worth fighting for—but grace is always worth fighting for.” (137)
As a non-Calvinist myself, I believe these authors may have found just the mnemonic device in PROOF to point people to the only thing that matters: the intoxicating joy and irresistible grace of God.
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and makes the vintage faith relevant at www.jeremybouma.com.
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