Church columnist: TULIP — A lovely flower, but a lousy doctrine, part 2

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 12, 2016

In last week’s column, I introduced and overviewed the doctrine of John Calvin — Calvinism — as summarized in the acrostic TULIP.

What instigated this discussion of Calvinism was its obvious influence on the majority of the questions we had received for the “Know Your Bible” TV program. As a side note here, you can send me any questions you would like to have discussed on the “Know Your Bible” TV program. We would love to address any questions you might have about the Bible or how the Bible addresses the situations of your life.

It was obvious to me, reading through the questions for the last recording, that Calvinism is a pervasive doctrine held, to some degree, by the majority of protestant denominations. Keep in mind also, as I pointed out last week, that much of Calvin’s conclusions were based on the Catholic doctrines he was trying to reason through.

If you’re starting with a false premise, then your conclusion is going to be false. So Calvin, although a very brilliant man, was working from an erroneous starting position — total depravity — therefore, the conclusions he reached from that starting point were also false. Again, TULIP stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.

In last week’s article, I shared one of the questions we received that was asked from the viewpoint of once saved, always saved, or the P in TULIP — perseverance of the saints. I also shared a statement made by one of the viewers that expressed doubt or confusion over the prevalent idea of total depravity. We’ll go on in this continuation to show that total depravity, Calvin’s beginning point, is not a representation of biblical truth.

Some will attempt to defend this erroneous doctrine from passages like Psalm 51:5. David makes the statement, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”

Is Davis saying he was born in sin? Yes, he is. But is he teaching the idea of total depravity? No, he is not.

This is a perfect example of what happens when people go to the Bible with a preconceived idea and are looking for passages to “support” that idea instead of actually studying what the Bible says. David, in this lyrical poem — i.e. a song — is using a popular literary device called hyperbole.

The context of Psalm 51 is David’s sorrow over the sin of his adultery with Bathsheba. When he says he was born in sin he is not being literal. He is using absurd exaggeration — i.e. hyperbole — to emphasize his guilt. He is saying that his sin was so bad that it is as though he was born in sin. He is expressing his extreme guilt in his own personal responsibility for the choice he made to commit adultery with Bathsheba.

When Calvinists use Psalm 51:5 as a pretext for their preconceived notion of total depravity, they are completely ignoring and missing the whole point of Psalm 51. They would have David saying, “OK, I committed adultery with Bathsheba, but it’s not my fault because I was born that way.”

Sounds like what a lot of people say today when they get into trouble.

“Yes, I did it, but it’s not my fault, it’s the fault of society/politics/economics/’the system’/etc., etc.” The idea of deferred accountability, which is what total depravity actually teaches, is the exact opposite of true biblical teaching.

The same goes for other “sugar sticks” for Calvinists. Romans 5:12, for example, says that sin entered “the world” through one man, “and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”

Calvinists say this teaches that we inherit Adam’s sin because we all die because of Adam’s sin. But the passage doesn’t say that sin entered me through one man. It says that sin entered the world through one man. Of course, when we compare the texts concerning Adam’s sin and what happened when Adam sinned it because clear that what entered the world was the knowledge of sin — knowledge of choosing to disobey God. And, since that knowledge entered the world, there has only been one Man to successfully life a sinless life — Jesus of Nazareth!

Death, the consequences of sin, is what spread to all men. Not Adam’s actual sin.

The number of passages that show the idea of total depravity to be contradictory to biblical teaching are too numerous to list here. But one of the most explicit and emphatic is Ezekiel 18:20.

“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

Now, if Catholicism and Calvinism says that the son does bear the guilt of the father and the Bible says that the son does not bear the guilt of the father, which one are you going to accept?

Another way I know that the doctrine of total depravity is contrary to biblical teaching is the word translated “be converted” in Acts 3:19. That Greek word is defined as “to return to a point or area where one has been before” (Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon).

Peter preached to them to “repent and be converted” that their sins might be “blotted out.” When compared with Acts 2:38, it is when a person changes their mind of continuing in rebellion against God and is baptized into Christ “for the remission of sins,” or to have their sins “blotted out,” that they “return to” their former relationship with God.

In Acts 3:19 someone might say that this is a Jewish audience so the “return to” to where they were before would refer to them returning to God as His people in Christ instead of seeking to continue in Judaism. However, Paul uses this same word in Acts 26:20 when he says his ministry to the Gentiles was “to open their eyes in order to turn them from darkness to light…”

It is the word “turn” that is the same word translated “be converted” in Acts 3:19. This time it is used in reference to the Gentiles. If total depravity is true then there never would have been a time when those Gentiles, to whom Paul preached, would have been in a condition a purity before God.

You cannot “return to a point or area” where you have never been. This word could not have been used in reference to the Gentiles unless there was a time in their lives when they were pure before God.

If total depravity were true, then these Gentiles would have been stained by sin from their birth. However, if total depravity is a man-made lie and not true Bible doctrine then Paul could certainly use this word in reference to the Gentiles he was preaching to because he was calling them “to return to” the same purity they had as innocent children.

So, when Paul was seeking to return them to a prior state of purity by the preaching of the gospel, that would be the same thing as calling them to be “born again.”

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or