Are You Reformed?

(Part 1)

By Richard Lucas–

Perhaps the question has been posed to you at one time or another.  The appropriate answer it seems depends almost as much on the questioner as the one replying.  For those in the emerging “Young, Restless, and Reformed” category, they might not realize that not everyone else understands the self-describing moniker of “Reformed” in quite the same way.

I have two goals for these blog posts: 1) to sketch out something of the landscape of those who consider themselves “Reformed”; and 2) to provide some historical perspective to the development of the T.U.L.I.P. acronym  in an effort to perhaps curb some misplaced enthusiasm.

Map of the Reformed Landscape

Here I’m merely surveying from my limited experience those who I’ve run into in the modern American Evangelical landscape.  I also will focus on those groups most likely to interest readers of this blog, which is “self-consciously Evangelical, Reformational, and Baptistic.”  My sympathies will become apparent as I don’t withhold my own biases along the way.

The survey really falls into more of a spectrum than separate categories, because there is quite a bit of overlap between various groups.  Nevertheless I think some differentiation will still prove to be helpful, because these groups are often using the word “Reformed” in different senses (i.e. historically, soteriologically, biblical-theologically, etc.).

1) Theonomists

They believe they are the only ones who are consistently reformed.  To them being reformed is applying their bi-covenantal theology in every area of life, including ethics, in a thoroughly consistent manner.  So, not just the OT moral law, but also the civil law is binding today (this is simplistic, but sufficient).  Their claim is that they are the only ones who are truly reformed because they alone hold to the historic Protestant view of the Old Testament law as taught by many of the magisterial reformers.  They are a small minority in Evangelicalism, nevertheless they continue to be a thorn in the side of the next group.

2) Confessionally Reformed

This group is perhaps the most vocal critics of others co-opting the term “Reformed.”  They claim an objective, ecclesiastical, and confessional definition to being Truly Reformed (TR).  Agreement with the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort), or better yet…add three more and get Six Forms of Unity (throw in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as well as the Larger and Shorter Catechism) all from the 16th and 17th Century.

That can get cumbersome, so at times this group simply refers to subscription to the Westminster Standards as its litmus test…but then again, do they mean “loose” or “strict” subscription?  This very question can seem to an outsider like they are more concerned with faithfulness to a document produced in 1644 than they are to the Bible.  One loudly hears protests that the WCF is merely a subordinate standard to the Bible, but I fear this distinction is often lost in practice.

While I often use the term ‘Evangelical’ to refer broadly to those who find unity around the evangel and confess orthodox Christian doctrine in a Protestant heritage, they would not want to bear that label.  This group considers themselves “Reformed Christians,” from which they distinguish themselves from being Evangelicals.

3) Reformed Baptists

This group finds its common identity also around a confessional document from the 17th Century, namely the 1689 Second London [Baptist] Confession of Faith (a baptized version of the WCF).  In this way, there is much shared ethos between Reformed Baptists and the Confessionally Reformed Presbyterians referenced above.  The aforementioned group would not consider those holding a credobaptist position to be Truly Reformed, yet they seem to tolerate them sufficiently as evidenced by the fact that The Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies is integrated with Westminster Seminary California.

They historically ground their Reformed lineage by defending an “English Separatist” view of Baptist Origins (with which I agree) over the “Anabaptist Kinship” view (popular in many SBC circles) or “Landmarkist” view.  Applying the adjective “Reformed” to Baptists is more of a 20th Century development, as their early British Baptist forefathers preferred the terms “Particular” (for particular atonement) or simply “Calvinistic” rather than “Reformed.”

Strictly speaking then, for someone to be a “Reformed Baptist” (with a capital “R”) they would also hold to certain distinctives found in the 1689 Confession.  Besides the obvious adherence to Covenant Theology, they also are practicing Sabbatarians, and would uphold the so-called Third Use of the Law, namely that the moral law of the Old Covenant is regulative for New Covenant believers.

There is now a significant group who has defected from strict 1689 Reformed Baptist circles because they hold to more of a New Covenant Theology view of the law, and hence would not adhere to the distinctives previously mentioned.  However, they are still Calvinistic in their soteriology, so I’ve heard them referred to at times as “Sovereign Grace Baptists” as opposed to “Reformed Baptists,” though I doubt this label is widely embraced.

4) Covenant Theology

When some ask if a particular person or institution is “Reformed” what they really want to know is if they hold to Covenant Theology.  I usually hear the term “Reformed” equated with Covenant (or Federal) Theology by Dispensationalists.

Of course the three previous groups would all hold to Covenant Theology, but here I have in mind something more general.  Being Reformed in this understanding is equated not so much with particular doctrines of soteriology, but with the hermeneutics undergirding a theological system.  In this way, many a Dispensationalist, who embraces TULIP (or most of it anyway), would still not say they are “Reformed” because they reject the Covenant of Works/Grace schema of biblical-theological interpretation.


In my limited experience, this I believe has become the general litmus test to whether someone can justly use the term “Reformed” in the modern American Evangelical landscape (much to the chagrin of the Confessionally Reformed).  T.U.L.I.P. of course is an acronym to summarize the 5 Heads of Doctrine which came from the Synod of Dordrecht (also from the early 17th Century).  My guess is that many young enthusiasts who would fall into this camp nowadays have probably never even read the Canons of Dort, yet they can rattle off Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints with an air of apostolic authority!

A slightly more inclusive way of referring to this teaching is simply as the Doctrines of Grace.  It’s almost wielded as a Calvinist code word by some, because what unsuspecting Arminian can say he doesn’t like doctrines of grace?

While all the prior groups would also firmly embrace the 5 Points of Calvinism, those in this group might have vastly different ecclesiologies or even varying theological systems.  Yet the unifying factor is that they are all soteriologically reformed.  In this way, everyone from charismatics to emerging types to Southern Baptists could be “Reformed” because soteriologically they advocate the 5 Points of Calvinism.  Some might want to require the 5 Cries of the Reformation (5 solas) too, but usually TULIP is sufficient.

6) Monergistic or Predestinarian

This group is a sort of ‘least common denominator’ approach to being Reformed.  For instance, I have had theology professors who are dispensational (of at least some variety) and self consciously reject Limited Atonement (hence being 4 Point Calvinists), nevertheless consider themselves “Reformed.”  I think what those in this group have in mind would also be a soteriological definition of Reformed theology, but without the specificity of TULIP.  They embrace the monergistic emphasis of teaching on salvation that comes out of the Reformation.

Sophisticated versions of this group will sometimes make some historical arguments to justify their use of the reformed label by arguing that Calvin himself did not hold to Limited Atonement or that there was a variety of views on the extent of the atonement among the delegates to the Synod of Dort.

In more popular church circles, I’ve heard anyone who advocates predestination to be labeled Reformed.   Of course Calvin himself didn’t see himself as an innovator on predestination, though he is often associated with this doctrine.  Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas (who Paul Helm has dubbed “the A team”) all taught predestination, yet it would be anachronistic to refer to any of them as “Reformed.”

[It should be noted that the broadest possible definition of “being Reformed” would include anyone who claims to be Reformed and can demonstrate some historical connection with the Swiss and French wing of the Protestant Reformation.  But under this big tent, not just the many liberal groups associated with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches would be considered Reformed, but even Arminianism itself.  I’ve kept the groups above limited to those who are theologically conservative and Calvinistic (soteriologically speaking).]

(Part 2)

A Brief, Selective History of the Five Points of Calvinism, with respect to TULIP.

As I previously mentioned, in my limited experience the T.U.L.I.P. acronym has taken on a role of huge significance in identifying those who self-describe themselves as Reformed.  While it is something of an historical novelty, these New Calvinists have in mind not necessarily a confessional or ecclesiological definition of being Reformed, but merely a soteriological understanding.  To them, being a Calvinist is to embrace the 5 points of Calvinism, which they readily know by the TULIP acronym.

Historical awareness often has the effect of refining our theological idiosyncrasies, which is surely the case for Calvinists who are still in what I’ve heard affectionately referred to as the “cage stage” (that is the initial period of Calvinistic adherence in which this new zealous proponent is so obnoxious to everyone around him that he has to be locked up in a cage for about 5 years!).

One of the ways that a better knowledge of historical development curbs some of our misplaced enthusiasm is by debunking some misconceptions we had assumed.  I offer three correctives below to some common misconceptions I’ve run into among many in the New Calvinist movement.

1) Calvin Never Debated Arminius and He Did Not Author the Five Points of Calvinism.

This first misconception is not propagated in print as far as I know, but I have run into it more than once in more popular circles.  Unless Jacob Arminius was an extremely advanced pre-schooler, then he most likely did not directly enter into theological debate with John Calvin personally.  Calvin died in 1564, before Arminius had even had his fourth birthday.  Not only that, but neither Calvin, nor Arminius knew of the Five Points of Calvinism in any formal sense of the term.  Arminius died in 1609, and it was not until several months after his death that his followers drafted The Five Articles of Remonstrance in 1610, which marked the beginning of the Quinquarticular Controversy (i.e. “having to do with five points”) in the Dutch Reformed Church.

The Five Articles of the Remonstrance were merely the 5 areas of disagreement or protest against the teaching of the Reformed church (of which they were all members), not necessarily a summary of the overall teaching of Arminians.  The formal response came a few years later (1619) as The Decision of the Synod of Dordt on the Five Heads of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands, or more popularly referred to simply as The Canons of Dort.

The distance of time and language might cause us to pause in reading the previous sentence, but just remember that Dordrecht is a city in the Netherlands, heads are simply the main points, a synod is a church council, and canons are not heavy guns mounted on pirate ships, but the ecclesiastical rules or judgments enacted by a church council.

Those who only know of the Five Points of Calvinism via TULIP might be interested to know that the ordering of the Canons corresponded to the ordering in The Five Articles of the Remonstrance, which would be ULTIP if we used the same letters from the popular acronym.  Another note of interest is that though we properly speak of five points, because the Canons had this corresponding structure to refute the five Arminian articles, in form there are only four points in the Canons of Dort.  Main Points 3 and 4 were combined into one, referenced as the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine.  This gives a whole new meaning to being a Four Point Calvinist!

Even though Calvin never debated Arminius, nor did he author the five points which are associated with his name, I still think that Calvinism and Arminianism are legitimate theological terms.  They are helpful in describing the respective theological viewpoints which flowed from the teaching of these men.  Arminius never knew Calvin personally, but he did study in Geneva under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza.

2) The TULIP Acronym is Only a Little More Than a 100 Years Old.

While tulips are often associated with the Netherlands, the TULIP acronym doesn’t work in Dutch, and the Canons of Dort were originally written in Latin.  So, TULIP only works in English as a summary device to remember the Five Points of Calvinism, but until recently most didn’t know the origin for this acronym.  Kenneth Stewart in his book, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition provides the formerly elusive details.

Although we can rightly say the Five Points of Calvinism have their origin in the early 17th Century (the Synod of Dort met from 1618-19), the TULIP acronym has its origin in the early 20th Century.  It most likely originates about 1905 in Newark, NJ in a public lecture before the Presbyterian Union of Newark by a Dr. McAfee.  This was probably Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944), who at the time was pastoring in Brooklyn, but was later on the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1913.  It was in this year that William Vail wrote a newspaper article in The Outlook reflecting on this lecture from eight years prior.

Vail’s 1913 article is the earliest known reference we have to the TULIP acronym.  At the time the acrostic was apparently completely novel, such that Vail asked other Presbyterian leaders how they would summarize and order the Five Points of Calvinism, specifically with reference to the proposal by McAfee.

I’ve heard it said that the TULIP ordering of the Five Points of Calvinism not only helps with remembering them, but that it also is the most logical arrangement.  It was already mentioned that the ordering of the Canons of Dort is not the same as TULIP, a fact that Vail seems to note when he said in this original article that this arrangement “restricts the order of the five points, and perhaps throws them out of their proper order and logical sequence.”  Also of notable interest is that Vail’s recounting of McAfee’s acrostic had “Universal Sovereignty” for the “U” (not “Unconditional Election”).

The first use of the TULIP acrostic in a published book was in Loraine Boettner’s 1932, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination But even at this time, he is concerned that people might too closely identify the Five Points with the Calvinistic system.  They are essential elements in his estimation, but fall short of describing the overall approach to theology which starts with the guiding principle of divine sovereignty.

The book that probably has done the most to seal the TULIP acronym as the most well-known exposition of Calvinism came in 1963 (the 1st edition) by David Steel and Curtis Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented (which incidentally was dedicated to Loraine Boettner).  This book, perhaps more than any other, popularized the use of TULIP for the Five Points in America.  Anecdotally, this was actually the first book I read on the Five Points of Calvinism in college, though I had been taught TULIP orally prior to this time.

Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints were certainly not the original summarization of the Five Points of Calvinism, but for many today they are the only ones they know.

While TULIP is of relatively recent origin, I doubt it will disappear anytime soon, especially among the “Young, Restless, and Reformed.”  No less an influential Calvinist leader as John Piper makes ready use of the TULIP acronym.  Although when he half-jokingly (half-seriously) calls himself a “seven-point Calvinist” (the other two being double predestination and best-of-all-possible worlds), that might require a new acrostic.

3) TULIP is Not the Only Acronym Proposed to Represent the 5 Points of Calvinism.

The central benefit of the TULIP acronym in my opinion is the facility it provides in remembering the five points.  However, alternative proposals have been offered as memory aids.  Usually the motivation to revise TULIP stems from a desire to clarify the doctrines they are supposed to teach, since it is debatable whether these descriptions accurately convey the five heads of doctrine from the Canons of Dort.

One of the most promising suggestions came from Timothy George, in his book Amazing Grace: ROSES

R=Radical Depravity

O=Overcoming Grace

S=Sovereign Election

E=Eternal Life

S=Singular Redemption

George meant it as a restatement, not a rejection of the Five Points of Calvinism.  Unfortunately it is no longer serviceable to Calvinists because it has been co-opted by Kenneth Keathley in his book, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.  In Keathley’s conception he uses the same terms as George for the ROSES acrostic, but uses them to develop a form of “cal-minianism” that he gives the historic label of Molinism (stemming from Luis de Molina, who was a proponent of “middle knowledge” alongside libertarian free will).  Keathley explicitly rejects the “U” and “I” from TULIP and significantly retools the remaining 3 points.  The result is really a modified Arminianism, which is present in much of the SBC.

Keeping with the botanical theme, Arminians have their own representative flower.  While the daisy might seem most appropriate (“he loves me, he loves me not…”), John Gerstner has crafted Arminian teaching around: LILAC

L=Limited Depravity

I=I Choose Christ

L=Limitless Atonement

A=Arrestible Grace

C=Carnal Security

Now it’s no secret that Gerstner was no friend of Arminianism, and many academic Arminians in particular think that Calvinists have a misperception of what they really believe.  So, two Arminian theologians from the Society of Evangelical Arminians think that Calvinists need to get the right: FACTS

F=Freed by Grace to Believe

A=Atonement for All

C=Conditional Election

T=Total Depravity

S=Security in Christ

Getting back to the acronyms for Calvinism, salvation related words are always popular.  Here are two I found browsing the web: FAITH and GRACE

F=Fallen Humanity

A=Adopted by God

I=Intentional Atonement

T=Transformed by the Holy Spirit

H=Held by God

G=God’s Sovereign Choice

R=Radical Depravity

A=Accomplished Redemption

C=Called Effectually

E=Endurance of the Saints

Although Calvinists would like to claim the monopoly on grace, Frank Page, in his book Trouble with the TULIP: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism, lays out what he calls “The Five Points of Scriptural Soteriology”:

G=Given through Christ

R=Rejected through Rebellion

A=Accepted through Faith

C=Christ Died for All

E=Everlasting Life/Security of the Believer

Although Page, along with many Southern Baptist leaders, is leaning heavily in the Arminian direction, he doesn’t want to bear that title.  A better representation of a “GRACE-based” approach from a Calvinist would be this suggestion from Roger Nicole:

G=Grace is:
O=Obligatory (that is, indispensable)
S=Sovereign (in choice)
P=Particular (in redemption)
E=Effectual (in operation)
L=Lasting (that is, secure)

I happen to really like Nicole’s creativity, but if you wanted to be a stickler on only having five letters to correspond to the five points, then you might prefer this arrangement which recently formed a preaching series on The Doctrines of Grace from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY: PROOF

P=Planned Grace

R=Resurrecting Grace

O=Outrageous Grace

O=Overcoming Grace

F=Forever Grace

The multiplying of examples merely underscores the variety of ways others have sought to succinctly represent Calvinism.  Despite all of these alternative proposals, I doubt that the TULIP will be dislodged from its privileged position as THE acronym to represent the Five Points of Calvinism anytime soon.  I understand the appeal by Calvinists to have a more positive presentation of their views, but a new acronym probably isn’t going to be sufficient to ward off the critics. A friend has suggested we also add in “salvaging” or “reclaiming” love to represent total depravity and therefore have an adjective to correspond to all five points.

Organizing Calvinism around another theme might be a more promising venture.  For instance, Greg Forster, in his book The Joy of Calvinism, seeks to explicate a positive view of Calvinism in reference to God’s love.  The subtitle of his book says it all, Knowing God’s Personal, Unconditional, Irresistible, Unbreakable Love.  Now if someone could just come up with a word to describe total depravity in reference to God’s love, then we would have the complete package!

With respect to the joy that believing in the Doctrines of Grace can and should bring, no one has done more to bring this theme to the fore in our day than John Piper.  In his book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, he argues that we need to rediscover the biblical notion of “grace as the free gift of sovereign joy in God that frees us from the bondage of sin.”  He goes on to describe how each of the elements of TULIP can be explained in reference to this central idea:

We need to make plain that total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy; and unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed; and that limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant; and irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and that the perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever (73).

Acrostics such as the ones mentioned above can be helpful mnemonic devices, but I think our time as Calvinists will be better spent making not only a biblical case for these Doctrines of Grace that we hold dear, but also a compelling presentation of how they more fully and accurately present God’s love toward undeserving sinners, and how the result of rightly understanding that love will be the deepest experience of our joy in the gospel.

If the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” can paint this Calvinistic picture, then may your tribe increase!

Original Post found Here:

Part 1

Part 2

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