Free will, Tulips and Dog Walks

Dear Fellow Tulip Tiptoers,

For those of you who have not been able to join us on Wednesday nights for our TULIP study of Calvinism, allow me to catch you up on what you’ve missed. (*Note: All are welcome to join for the final two weeks, April 3 and 10, 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Parlor following our 7:00 Lenten Communion service in the Chapel). Historically, John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French attorney who became fascinated with the writings of the early Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546). Calvin published many articles and a multi-volume commentary on the whole Bible, except for the book of Revelation, which he said he just didn’t understand. His major work was Institutes of the Christian Religion, which underwent several drafts and translations after its first publication in 1536, when Calvin was 27 years old. (It’s difficult to feel like I’ve accomplished very much in my life when I realize that by the time John Calvin was my age, he had been dead five years.)

Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between God and humanity was one of absolute dependence. God’s sovereignty reigns over every element of temporal and eternal life, leaving no room for human initiation or capacity to merit salvation by the Divine. This was in direct opposition to the Roman Catholic Church of his day that taught that the Church had the power to channel grace into the souls of individual believers by their participation in the sacramental system. Calvin, like other reformers, believed this was in error and a tool of corrupt manipulation. People lived in fear of the Church and were convinced that generous contributions in the form of indulgences could improve the advantage of their souls and the souls of their loved ones. 

Before Calvin died, the Roman Catholic Church created the Council of Trent (1545-1563), a series of meetings in which the bishops and pope reaffirmed a series of Catholic doctrines over and against the doctrines of the reformers. Calvin published a series of responses, giving Reformed Churches quick and well-reasoned rebuttals.

After Calvin’s death, Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian and preacher who had been a student of Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza, began teaching that God’s grace was available to all and that it was human choice, faith and will that applied God’s grace, thus accessing Divine salvation. Arminius also taught that Christians could lose their salvation by choosing sinfulness later in life, invalidating their earlier commitment to God’s grace. Arminius created five theological points to summarize and teach his doctrines. 

Second generation Calvinists believed these teachings undercut God’s sovereignty, pointing out that Arminius believed there was unused grace insufficient to overwhelm human stubbornness. Their response were the five points of Calvinism, summarized in the acronym TULIP (for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints).

This lengthy summary brings me to today’s musing. I fear our dog Aggi is an Arminian. She repeatedly scratches at the back door begging to come in. We open the door, sometimes offering totally unconditional treats to compel her entry but to limited success. She then runs off the deck. When she does enter, moments later she will be irresistibly scratching at the door begging to go out. Not sure we can persevere. This whole free will thing is driving us nuts! 

On today’s walk we’re going to sniff some tulips. I hope it helps.

Doggedly teaching Calvinism, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor