Although there’s more to Calvinism than the five points of Calvinism, and there are more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, Calvinism is often limited to the five points and these are often called the doctrines of grace. So let’s just take that as is, and highlight three ways in which the five points have been presented.
The most familiar way to present and remember the five points is using the acrostic TULIP. Here is each doctrine briefly stated and contrasted with Arminianism.
1. Total (Radical) Depravity: Though we are not as corrupted as we possibly could be, yet we are sufficiently corrupted in every part of our being and so enslaved to sin that we are unable to love God, believe in God, repent of our sins, or do any good work that is pleasing to God. Calvin used the phrase “totally depraved” but the Canons of Dort do not use this language, focusing instead on total inability.
Arminianism say that we remain able to take the initiative to believe in Christ without special divine assistance.
2. Unconditional (Sovereign) Election: In eternity past, before time and the world began, without any reference to the future condition of any person – their future good or evil or faith – God the Father, in great mercy chose to save innumerable number of people from sin, death, and hell.
Arminianism says that God foresaw those who would believe of their own free will and so chose them to salvation.
3. Limited (Definite) Atonement: In time, God the Son entered this world lived a life and died a death in place of the people God elected to save, suffering the full penalty for sin and fully satisfying the law in their place. If God had so chosen, the death of Christ could have atoned for the sins of the whole human race, but he chose to limit it to a multitude of people.
Arminianism says that Christ’s atonement was for everyone and only becomes effective for anyone by their free-will produced faith.
4. Irresistible Grace: Everyone God the Father has chosen and everyone God the Son has died for will be effectually and savingly called by the Holy Spirit, resulting in regeneration and faith in Jesus Christ.
Arminianism says that the new birth is in response to our faith.
5. Perseverance of the Saints: Everyone that the Father has elected, the Son has died for, and the Spirit has regenerated will persevere in the faith to the end and will not and cannot fall away.
Arminianism says that those who are born again can still end up in hell.
Some have regarded this TULIP presentation as being too negatively stated, a defensive set of truths responding to the Arminian Remonstrants of the early 17th century. Attempts have therefore been made to formulate the doctrines of grace more positively. A recent example of that would be PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace where Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones present the five points using the acrostic PROOF.
1. Planned Grace (Limited Atonement): God’s eternal plan to save His people through the substitutionary death of Christ.
2. Resurrecting Grace (Total Depravity): Although we are dead in our sins, God’s resurrecting power enters our lives and enables us to believe the Gospel.
3. Outrageous Grace (Unconditional Election): God chooses to save his people without any consideration of their merit, works or future faith.
4. Overcoming Grace (Irresistible Grace): God overcomes sinners’ resistance by making them willing to believe and repent.
5. Forever Grace (Perseverance of the Saints): God will preserve His elect enabling them to persevere in Christ to the end of their lives.
The Joy Project
The most recent re-presentation of the doctrines of grace is The Joy Project by Tony Reinke. Leaning on previous work by John Piper, Reinke basically presents the sovereignty of God in salvation as a plan to secure joy for sinners and defines the five points in reference to that joy:
1. The world’s joy tragedy (Total depravity): Not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy.
2. The joy project designed (Unconditional election): How God planned, before we existed, to complete our joy in Christ.
3. The joy project purchased (Limited atonement): The assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of Jesus.
4. The joy project breaks and enters (Irresistible grace): The sovereign commitment of God to make sure we hold on to superior delights instead of the false pleasures that will ultimately destroy us.
5. The joy project unwraps and unfolds (Perseverance of the saints): The almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.
Dr. Kenneth Stewart and Dr. Richard Muller have shown convincingly that the best Reformed theologians have continually worked to re-present the doctrines of grace in fresh and compelling ways. Without losing the core of these truths, they were flexible and fresh in their descriptions and presentations of them. We shouldn’t feel limited or restricted to some early 20th century uninspired acronym.
What other ways have you heard the doctrines of grace presented?