RECONSTRUCTING CALVINISM:       by Rev. Jeff Hagan, (Th.D.), M.A., M.C.C.




Is TULIP outdated?

Many people are familiar with the “five points of Calvinism,” which are outlined in the acronym TULIP. How about taking the same ideas but relating them in more modern terminology? Part of the problem with the phrasing in TULIP is that many of the words used in that acronym are hard for people to understand correctly today. Those who hold to a Calvinist approach to Scripture end up spending a lot of time explaining away incorrect understandings of those terms. The terms do seem a bit archaic. So in this article an updated version is presented, which is also expanded just a bit in order to include necessary elements in all modern Calvinist thinking. An acronym even developed as a result of those thoughts which is particularly appropriate: CALVIN.

C-Comprehensive Brokenness

A-Absolute Sovereignty

L-Lifegiving Union

V-Verified Atonement

I-Irresistible Grace

N-Never-Ending Adoption


Comprehensive Brokenness

This is the “total depravity” of the T in TULIP. Many people think it means “as wicked as possible.” That is actually not what Calvinism teaches. The correct teaching is that the sin is comprehensive in our lives – there is no part of us that is untouched by sin, no part of us can be trusted to be good enough to solve our problems on our own. The word brokenness seems to cover a wider scope than the word sin; sometimes the word fallenness is also used in Scripture. Brokenness means that our problem is not only our evil choice, which can be called sins, but also the effects of evil on us by forces outside of our choice: imperfect thinking (our intellect cannot be used to save ourselves), inherited behaviors (our parents, all the way back to Adam and Eve, have implanted in us certain patterns of behavior that we cannot avoid), desires of our physical nature that are out of control (lusts), etc.

The main point of this term is that there is absolutely nothing in us, not free choice, not rationality, not even a glimmer of light, that can save us. The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, no even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11).

In our natural state we are helpless to change ourselves in order to be good; we are naturally enemies of God:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds

because of your evil behavior (Colossians 1:21, NIV).


Absolute Sovereignty

This next point presents the gist of the U in TULIP: “unconditional election.” In this point Calvinists insist that the Bible clearly tells us God’s actions are absolutely not dependent on anything we do or choose. In Romans 9:15 Paul tells us that God said:

I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on

whom I have compassion (NIV).

Then in the following verse (v.16) Paul continues:

It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s

mercy (NIV).

God initiates our salvation, or, the undoing of our brokenness. This point flows naturally if you accept the “C” – that we are unable to save ourselves, because our brokenness is comprehensive. God does not look to us to see if we are able to provide some reason for Him to save us, because apart from His doings, there is nothing good in us that is remotely adequate. He is the Sovereign, the King, who gives out what He wants, when He wants, to whom He wants.


Lifegiving Union

This point is not specifically in TULIP, but it is taught by all Calvinist theologians: our initial state is spiritually dead, and we are given new life (regeneration) and this new life is brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit to unite us to Christ.

This process has two stages. The first is invisible and is initiated by God Himself, and can be termed “effectual calling” (you may have heard this term before). The Westminster Larger Catechism states:

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?

A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace,

whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably,

joined to Christ as their had and husband; which is done in their

effectual calling.

Almost all believers would agree that those who come to Christ are united to Him with new life, this is also knows as being “born again.” But some would say that this new life comes after we produce faith on our own; in other words, God rewards us for our faith, or responds to our faith with the gift of union with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Calvinists insist that our faith itself is created by God through the work of the Spirit; apart from His work, the last thing we would ever want to do is to have faith in God, and so the Holy Spirit must change our hearts beforehand in order to make us want to follow Him.

…the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor

can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You,

however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the

Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,

he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead

because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness (Romans

8:7-10, NIV).


For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from

yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV).

Our faith is more of an outward result of the work of God to give us new life in Christ. There are several pictures of this in the Bible, here are just a couple – we are “blind,” not having “eyes” to see until He “opens our eyes;” we have hearts of “stone,” until He gives us “living hearts.”

Therefore, it can be said that our covenantal union with Christ is not complete until that faith from Him appears; we are “united to Christ by faith” (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 30). The importance of faith is not that it is a great work that impresses God. Its importance is that it is the first (and only necessary) evidence of a new (regenerated) heart which God has created in us, by which we are definitely and truly connected to Christ in a spiritual union, so that all that is ours (our sin) is his, and all that belongs to Him (his eternal life and perfect righteousness) is ours. Now, that it is love.


Verified Atonement

This was the “limited atonement” of TULIP. The word verified was chosen, in part, to fill the “V” in the CALVIN acronym. And, I think verified better expresses more of the meaning Calvinists intend.

All believers agree that the “essence” of the work of God to save us was done on the Cross by Christ when He died – this work is known as the atonement, which carries the meaning of paying the penalty for our sins. Some believers present the view that Christ’s death only “hypothetically” paid for our sins – that is, His work on the Cross remains ineffective until we respond to it in faith. Again, the emphasis in that view is that God responds to, or rewards, our faith, by applying it to the atonement itself in this case. Calvinists insist that salvation is from God from start to finish. As such, Christ’s death is definitely, actually effective for all those who in fact will be saved, and not just hypothetically or potentially. Romans 5:8 and 10a says:

God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,

Christ died for us…when we God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him

through the death of his Son…(NIV)

It does not say we were “potentially” reconciled. It says that while we were still enemies (i.e. had no faith and even hated God) he died for us and his death actually, really reconciled us to God. It was atonement in truth, not just in potentiality.

Like the “A” and the “L,” this point flows from the “C.” If you believe that there is nothing in us that is good enough to save us, to which God could react, then all of salvation is from God. God sends His Holy Spirit (the “L,” Lifegiver) and has the Son die for us (the “V,” Verified Atonement) all prior to our doing or believing anything, out of His free and unrestrained mercy (the “A,” Absolute Sovereignty).


Irresistible Grace

This is the same phrase used in the TULIP acronym. It fit the CALVIN acronym also and is clearer than than the other terms used in TULIP. It simply means that what God does, we cannot undo, or resist. He changes our hearts to receive His grace and we respond. This should be extremely comforting as it means we cannot sin too great, or too often, that we can stop the work God is doing and “fall out of grace.”

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry

it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

Again, if we see all of salvation coming from God from start to finish, it makes perfect sense that He has the ability to see it through.


Never-ending Adoption

This is the “perseverance of the saints,” the “P” of TULIP. In a lot of ways it conveys the same idea as the “I,” that our relationship to God is never in doubt. However, the “I” focuses on our work, that we are unable to stop God’s work. The “N” (or “P”) focuses more on God’s work, specifically that He will never change His mind and stop doing that work (which would drop us from His list of children). This permanent relationship is often called adoption in the Bible, which portrays a definite, permanent relationship. God does not “unadopt” us one day if we screw up, and then re-adopt us if we get better, then “unadopt” us again, then re-adopt us, and so on and so on, etc.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but

you received the Spirit of sonship [adoption]. And by him we cry, ‘Abba,

Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s

children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and

co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we

may also share in his glory (Romans 8:15-17, NIV).

This adoption looks ahead to a future inheritance, which Scripture calls glorification. We will go to heaven, and there we will be transformed to be like Christ.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the like-

ness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And

those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified;

those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response

to this? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all –

how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things

(Romans 8:29-31)?


 Copyright 2013 Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.


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