TULIP, Calvinism, and The Great Controversy Theme

John Calvin
Herbert Douglass, in the book Fork in the Road has written a helpful summary of why Calvinism and Adventism cannot be unified on the idea of what the Gospel means. You may not know it, but Calvinists are the “big wigs” in the evangelical world. From popular scholars like R. C. Sproul to pastors like D. James Kennedy and John McAurthur. Certainly there are some who do not agree with all of the positions of the Calvinistic cause, but many of the popular authors and preachers in the Evangelical world are Calvinists.

The Five Points

By Calvinists, I mean those who hold to the five points of Calvinism, or at least most of the points. This is often referred to as TULIP, In short these are:

  • Total Depravity – When humanity sinned it was placed in a position where they can do nothing but sin. It is sometimes called “total inability.”
  • Unconditional Election – God unconditionally elected some to be saved.
  • Limited Atonement – God only died and provided the atonement for salvation to those who were elected to be saved.
  • Irresistible Grace – The grace that saves cannot be resisted by the human being it is given to.
  • Perseverance of the Saints – Once you are saved, there is nothing that can remove you from that saved condition.

Where the System Begins

They begin their system with the idea of God’s sovereignty. God is ultimately in charge and can do anything God wants to do. No one else has freedom. God alone has freedom. Due to total depravity, we cannot chose anything but sin. Thus God must choose those who will be saved and thereby will be choosing those who will be lost. Humanity can not judge God, the saved should be happy that they are among the ones that God has chosen to save.

Adventism’s Starting Point

Adventism begins with the concept of God giving humanity Freedom. We say that God has given the gift of freedom to all of humanity. We get to choose whether we will follow Satan or God’s government. This gift of freedom has been given to the entire universe of beings, according to this idea.

Interestingly God uses this world to demonstrate where Satan’s principles will lead. Thus God chooses to demonstrate the rightness of God’s cause in this system.

Finally, God has chosen all of us in his son to eternal life, and those who do not reject God’s rule of love will be saved at last.

In the end, we have one scheme beginning with God’s sovereignty that makes human freedom impossible. On the other end we have humanities freedom as being something given to humanity by a sovereign God. God wants us to choose the righteous government. But the Calvanistic system makes such a choice impossible unless the one has already been predestined to salvation.

Finally, in the Adventist system, God allows Satan’s choice to play out before the entire universe. Freedom of choice is an important component of Adventism while it is impossible under Calvinism.

Can’t Synthesize the Two

While there are certain similarities between the two groups, and both can recognize that one can be saved while agreeing with the other position. But like my Calvinist friend told me after a long conversation, “You may be saved…but you are wrong on this issue.” So we see that we can’t synthesize the two views. And why would we want to? Either the Calvinist view is right, or the Adventism view is right, or perhaps logically another option is correct, but all of them are not right. Because of this, it is time for Adventists to stop getting our “understanding of the love of God” from folks who do not accept at all the freedom of humanity which is at the foundation of the Great Controversy that we preach. It is time to decide if we are Adventists or not. If not, then Calvinism might be an acceptable alternative, go ahead and look into it, but if you are going to be Adventist, then it is time to stop running behind the evangelical teachers who have different presuppositions than we have. If we are going to be Adventists, be Adventists.

They Don’t Mix

No Adventism and Calvinism don’t mix. It is time to stop acting as if it does. It is time to stop acting like the contradictions that we are currently spouting are actually “paradoxes.” It is time to stop telling our people that our evangelical friends have Jesus and we have the law, so go to them to get Jesus and come to us to get the law! No! If we ain’t preaching Jesus, then we need to start preaching him in the context of the message that God has given to us. Be not deceived our Calvinist brothers and sisters do have a place for the law, and it is an important place, but it is just not the same place we have for the law and for Jesus in our understanding.

So what is the answer? Maybe it is time to start reading Steps to Christ again instead of Experiencing God. What’s the answer? Using The Great Controversy Theme as a hermeneutical key to interpret everything. Otherwise we will continue to drift wondering why we even exist as a people.

Salvation and Our Works

Descriptions of the Christian life often take one of two turns. The Christian life is either one of hard drudgery as we seek to either gain or retain salvation. In this model some being or entity is meticulously keeping track of our actions to immediately send us to hell if we die after committing a sin that we have not or could not erase through a prayer of repentance. The great desire of Christians who hold this model is to hope and pray that they will have the fortitude and strength to become, by God’s grace, worthy of eternal life.

The other model has us without any worry whatsoever for Christ has done it all. We will live better automatically by the slow progress of Christian life. One need not do anything but simply passively “rest” in Jesus. As we do less and less Christ will do more and more. Again the direction of this model of Christianity is the eternal life of the individual Christian. Here, because Christ has given us salvation, we need not work for it. And thus, presumably, believing in that will allow us to be changed people. Here the great desire is to remove from people the fear of loss of salvation and allow them to live in the certainty.

It seems as though we bounce back and forth between the two poles. We move from emphasizing Christian responsibility to assurance of salvation. When one side is emphasized, we seem to feel as though we are missing something, and we probably are, and then we go back to the other side. Bouncing back and forth between works and lack of works.

Is there a way out? I think that both models have within them the core driving force of “personal individual salvation.” We are meticulously trying to keep track of our sins due to that fear of losing salvation. Or we are constantly trying to affirm our personal individual salvation to get above that fear in model two.

Is this our only choice? Must We Choose Between Passivity and Legalism? Those who hold to model one are right, the Christian life does require effort. It does not come naturally to those of us who are born in sin. However, they are wrong in tying our salvation to that growth. Those who hold to model two are right in separating growth from our salvation. They are right in noting that growth comes from salvation and not the other way around. However, they are wrong in making growth a simple matter.

Both models err in making the ultimate purpose salvation of individuals. They ignore or limit the Great Controversy and the ultimate vindication of God’s plan as a part of the Christian life. Yes hard work is needed, but it is not to gain salvation. Salvation provides the tools to battle with Self on the great battleground. Salvation has been given to us as Christians and it is important to live in that belief.

However, if one is saved, one will work. One will even “labor to enter the rest.” There will be a struggle with self. There will be a struggle with sin. But this is not to gain salvation. This is to make sure that we do not, by our actions, make God look bad. It is to demonstrate our love for God.

It is not simply “love God and do as you please.” Your sinful nature will continue to clamor for the wrong things. We will have to deal with the old man and fight the old man until glorification removes that sinful nature from us. But we don’t do it to gain salvation. That is not our great desire. We don’t even do it to retain salvation. We do it for God and we do it for the world.

In the end, we need a change in look. We must get past the idea that the whole universe revolves around our salvation. God has given that to us. Now it is about showing an demonstrating our love for the one who has done so much for us. Even if it means working hard and doing what our flesh does not wish to do.

Package of Beliefs or Mindset

Is Adventism primarily a package of beliefs or a mindset? It would seem that the dominate view is that it is simply a package of beliefs. These beliefs are either important or not so important or kind of important depending on who you ask. This package includes the sanctuary, state of the dead, and Sabbath. Some lament the objective fact that many are no longer preaching sermons on these doctrines. However, when you dig a little deeper and ask them what kind of sermon they are referring to, it seems as though they mean sermons that didactically defend or teach these doctrines.

While it is true that there is a time to hear these doctrines defined and defended, I question whether the 11:00 service Sabbath morning is that best time. No wonder people got turned off on these doctrines. They may have simply heard them taught over and over again until they assumed that all know them. I mean do we really need a sermon every week (or every other week) that simply delineates why a doctrine is true?

The key thing that is missing in this analysis however is that Adventism is more than a package of beliefs, it is a mindset. The Sabbath flows from that mindset. The Sanctuary doctrine was once an organizing principle that helped to describe the mindset. Our great problem is not that we don’t hear any sermons calculating 1844 anymore. Our great problem is that there is no underlying “Adventist” mindset through which we preach any of our sermons. In short, if T.D. Jakes preaches a sermon on the Goodness of God, that does not mean Adventists should not preach a sermon on the same subject. Adventists must preach sermons on the same subject. My contention, however, is that when an Adventist preaches that sermon it will include aspects, views, insights, and even definitions of “goodness” that come from our interaction with Sabbath, Sanctuary, Bible Wholeness, and yes the Third Angel’s Message.

We don’t need a regurgitation of a package of beliefs that no one sees having any relevance to daily living. We need a deeper understanding of who we are that will affect any sermon we preach. Even, yes, on those occasions when we preach from the package of beliefs.