June 4, 2020

Can You Give a TULIP to the Hurting?

phl192white-tulip-posters.jpgI love the word “juxtaposition.” If you don’t know it, it means the placing of two things side by side. Often, the connotation refers to two things that are not usually put in proximity to one another.

Because of the way I live my life, I seem to have many experiences of unusual juxtapositioning. I am, by nature, an eclectic person who often finds myself partaking of several different worlds. This has its advantages, but it also creates certain dilemmas.

For example, this Thursday was the day our school formally opened the new school year. The first thing we do together is have a worship service for all our 150 staff members, and in that meeting we remind ourselves of our calling and mission to the students who will come to us in the next few days.

In our mission to students, we consciously take many students who have suffered from losses and abuse, dysfunctional and incompetent parents (and other adults) as well as students who have made poor choices. All need an opportunity to begin again, and as Christ’s ambassadors and God’s Kingdom people, we offer mercy and compassion to these students.

Throughout that worship service, we heard admonitions to love our students. To love them through patience and kind acts. To be understanding and respectful. To not fail to give time, birthday cakes and occasional (appropriate) hugs.

We were especially reminded that most of our students are not Christians when they come to us, and that it is particularly important for us to show the character of Jesus Christ in our acts and words.

While our worship was directed toward God, the application of that worship was directed toward the lost young people who will be on our campus starting this Lord’s Day. It was good preparation for the many, many hours of time I will spend with students in the weeks to come.

My wife and I left that meeting and started on a trek to Lexington to deliver our son to college for his sophomore year. Along the way, I was listening to a sermon by a Southern Baptist Calvinist where the “T” of the TULIP- total depravity- was unfolded in great detail.

The lost, said the preacher, are rebels. Enemies. Traitors. They hate God. They would gladly dethrone God, send him to hell and enthrone themselves. God’s wrath is hot toward them. There is no measuring the wrath of God toward the lost. It is infinite.

The failure of modern day Christianity is clear at this point, said the preacher. Evangelicals have elevated lost persons to a position where their dilemma as condemned, guilty, wrath deserving rebels is replaced by all the reasons God likes them. They are seekers, not sinners. They hear good things about themselves from the pulpit, not the truth of their sinful condition. Instead of Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” they hear messages about God’s purposes and life principles.

The tone of this preacher ought to be noted as well. The tone is appropriate to the message: intensity and alarm. The message is not a hug, but a stern and earnest admonition. It was a hard message, delivered with energy and volume. It was a command for guilty sinners to flee from the certain wrath to come upon them for their many sins.

It is, as you may have noted, quite a juxtaposition between these two episodes of admonition and encouragement in the Christian experience. The both came from the Christian worldview and they both dealt with the lost, but at that point there were many differences; so many that it was hard to imagine they were presenting the same God and talking about the same subjects.

I believe them both, for the most part. I believe that the kindness of God in sending Jesus as our mediation and all-sufficient sin-bearer is the root of the kindness we show to other person’s in Jesus’ name. I believe that the mission of our school is focused on the presentation of the Gospel and is secondarily a message of how we treat students. I believe that compassion glorifies God, but that without the Gospel clearly communicated, I have not shown true Christian compassion.

Is there a relationship between what a person believes about “Total Depravity” and how they treat their lost neighbors, particularly those lost neighbors with needs in the physical and relational realm?

Can you believe in the desperate situation of lost persons as guilty, wrath-deserving rebels and still hug them, feed them, educate them and love them?

Can you stand upon the reformation diagnosis of the human condition and develop a strong response of compassion, respect and generosity toward those who are not Christians?

Can you believe “T” and love the lost in ways other than just preaching TULIP at them?

I have the impression that this is a struggle for many reformed Christians. I know it is for many that I know. Not because they are fanatics for predestination or cold-hearted intellectuals, but simply because their theological framework doesn’t provide a strong foundation for missions, compassion and generosity. (I surely thank God for those reformed churches and Christians who practice Christian compassion to the poor and the hurting as a crucial aspect of their obedience to and witness of Jesus.)

This issue goes in many directions. We need to unpack it, do a better job relating the two, and a much better job of practicing both.

What’s the relationship between the TULIP and pastoral care? Is pastoral care the same as preaching TULIP?

What does a person who believes the lost are the focus of the wrath of God say to the lost about the kindness and compassion of God? How can you have one- a focus on the wrath of God- and the other still be intelligible?

These are answerable questions, but they deserve some thought, especially as so many reformation minded younger Christians begin to feel alienated by those who believe their concerns for social/human issues are evidence of apostasy from the gospel.

In Christianity, truths are sometimes oddly juxtapositioned. Jesus reconciles these things in himself, but we still have questions because there is so much Jesus didn’t do, such as start a school and reduce his message to TULIP.

We need some Holy Spirit inspired guidance to get this right. I don’t want to give up the Gospel- and TULIP isn’t the Gospel, in my opinion- and I want to encourage reformation Christians to fill in the deficit of missional thinking that was the most glaring omission of the reformers.

Comments

  1. Amen, I’m a full 5-pointer, but Jesus wept with the women over Lazarus, he didn’t preach a sermon on sin.

  2. Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport seems like an appropriate book to mention for any reformed-type folks who want to explore some of those questions.

  3. So Many Stones says

    Wonderful examples of “total depravity” are available for a preachers arsenal–usually serial killers and Nazis will do the trick–and then all the preacher needs to do is lump all of mankind into that group to say we (pre-salvation, of course) are all equally as evil as the worst sinner (except that Paul did the opposite, admitting that he was the worst sinner of all). Do a few theological gymnastics to explain away the so-called good done in the world by folks who aren’t on our team, and you’re ready to move on to unmerited favor.

    Beware doing anything else, or the bullies will call you a semi-pelagian or a universalist or one of their other playground labels. Lucky them… their reason has been restored. Lucky me… they’re there to correct me.

    Arguing over words at least offers us something to keep our minds off of our duty to love our neighbors and love our enemies–where love is defined generously.

  4. Gene Thomas says

    I have given up on Calvinism, Arminianism, monogism, synergism and whateverism. I’ve stopped trying to figure out if I should be dispensational, or not. For awhile now I’ve have been concentrating on seeking “First His kingdom and His righteousness. . .” That is a difficult enough task for me. But I think I can do it as well as I am able without all that theological baggage that I for so long thought important.

  5. I think total depravity is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean everyone is utterly wicked (we are all created in the image of God and bear his workmanship, for instance). It just means that everything is tainted by sin.

    It also means that I am as totally depraved as my neighbour, rendering me unable to pass judgement.

    Being reformed also means that we are to be in the work of bringing redemption to all creation. I think that includes giving the hurting whatever they might be needing… flowers or otherwise.

  6. Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

    The preacher was unpacking the words here about us, especially “enemies” and “ungodly.”

  7. I’m not sold on TULIP but I do believe in total depravity. The lost are rebels, enemies, traitors, who hate God and dethrone Him every day by making their universes all about them rather than Him. In the End, God will toss them in the burning lake, where they will be quite glad to go simply because God won’t be in it.

    But most of them don’t know that’s what they are.

    When I encounter the lost, very few of them are anti-God atheists (and most of them are that way because of bad Christians, but that’s another rant). Most of them are simply apathetic. They don’t know about God, and don’t care ’cause dealing with spiritual realities would interfere with their lives. They believe, and society teaches, that “good” people will achieve a good afterlife, and they can’t believe that God would condemn “good” people like them… even though every thought they have is completely self-centered rather than God-centered.

    When you’re ministering to the sick, you don’t punch them in the affected area. To explain to them that they’re evil flies in the face of everything they believe about themselves. Unless the Holy Spirit has been prompting them to understand this about themselves already, calling them evil will make them think we’re nuts and go away. (Even then, they really won’t want to talk to us.)

    It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not God’s wrath that scares us into it. We need to be kind to the lost in order to offer them Christ. Yeah, they’re rebels and sinners, but as Paul points out in Romans, so were we. What brought us to Christ? Wrathful preachers, or someone who loved us into the Kingdom?

  8. Nicholas Anton says

    What is the difference between the saved and the lost? Outwardly, frequently not much. Both groups contain the moral and the immoral. Both groups contain the righteous and the unrighteous. Both contain the pleasant and the unpleasant. Both have their castles and their straw huts. One could go on and on. And yet, the difference is quite substantial. The difference is Jesus Christ.
    Though the structure may not match the foundation, the believer has by faith built/is building on the solid eternal foundation “Jesus Christ”, while the unbeliever has built/is building on the shifting sands of time. The difference is not so much the materials we use, but the foundation we are building on. Note what Jesus stated;
    Luk 13:1-5;
    There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”.
    Repentance is not so much doing penance or being sorry for…, as it is changing allegiance/affiliation. Joshua challenged the Israelites with “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…”, and not “…how ye will serve”.
    The German people of Nazi Germany were no better nor any worse than the British or Americans. They were simply on the wrong side. That is the plight on the unbelieving.

  9. Joshua Manning says

    One passage that has helped me through this issue is 2 Timothy 2:24-26. It is Paul telling Timothy to be kind to his opponents and correct them with gentleness, and that God might grant them repentance. Timothy was to love these enemies, not theologically prove their depravity. When we love our enemies, it can at times prove their depravity better than direct theologizing.

    There are a few other verse that give a framework for compassion, missions, “social ministries”, and it has been a struggle over the last few years to melt two worldviews together in my head.

    I think the reason why Scripture says God’s kindness leads us to repentance, is that it is written from a Christian perspective. It doesn’t look like kindness to a nonbeliever (leave all and follow Christ) until we surrender to Christ. Discipleship looks like self-annihilation to many lost people. Until we realize death to self is life in Jesus and is better than life in sin, the kindness of God looks an awful lot like the wrath of God.

  10. Patrick Kyle says

    Michael,

    You mention ” so many Reformation minded young Christians.” in the context of TULIP and being Reformed. The Reformed wing of the Reformation is only a part of the Reformation tradition, and not even the first part. There are other strong and vibrant theologies that came out of that era (eg. Lutheran and Anabaptist) that offer solid alternatives to Calvinism and in my opinion offer real biblical options to those who find themselves increasingly at odds with the harshness of a lot of the Calvinism that seems so prevalent.
    In Lutheranism, the distinction of Law and Gospel is a magnificent tool in the pastoral application of doctrine. We can speak about the total depravity of man without “breaking every bruised reed and snuffing out every smoldering wick” and still not soft pedal the fact that we are all sinners.

  11. Gene Baker says

    I will preface the following question by saying that I am a Christian universalist.

    Would you (meaning anyone and everyone who reads this) be offended if God were to save everyone? If so, why?

  12. Gene,

    Thanks for the question

    Salvation of sinners is something in which we always rejoice, and we thank and praise God for the good work that he has done. Were it the case that God was going to save everyone, then we would rejoice and by no means be offended.

    The case however is that God has not said that he is going to save everyone. If God is not going to send people to Hell, then why the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-25)? Why all the parables that end in ‘cast them out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth’.

    What about Matthew 5:31-46 where Christ separates the Goats and the Sheep? “46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Revelations 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    It would seem very strange to me for Christ to describe a place of eternal punishment, and sinners entering into that place, when he knows that nobody actually will.

    We absolutely do not rejoice in this fact that people will go to hell (God wants all people to be saved 1 Tim 2:4), but we share the salvation that we have gained through the grace of Christ.

    It’s not so much a question of whether or not we would be offended–it’s a question of what Christ has told us and what we believe.

  13. Gene: I wouldn’t be offended if God saved everyone — I really want him to save my atheist dad — but I would be mighty surprised. After all those statements Jesus and the apostles made about fleeing the wrath to come, it would mean that they’re all huge liars who were trying to trick us into a self-controlled lifestyle when there’s so much fun sin out there, with apparently no consequences. Why would they do that? I dunno.

    It would also mean that a whole lot of people who want nothing to do with God are going to be forced to dwell forever in His presence. They’ll have to be forcibly reprogrammed to love everybody, ’cause keeping their old attitudes won’t make heaven very heavenly. So much for free will; but if you’ve spent your entire life rejecting God, it’ll feel like you’re being tormented in hell if you aren’t reprogrammed.

    As one of the non-brainwashed (or so I assume) I’d likely forgive Jesus for lying to me about hell, and for making me waste my life telling the lost about Him when it wasn’t necessary, and enjoy heaven. But I would always wonder what else He was lying about… so maybe He’d better brainwash me too, just in case my disquiet corrupts heaven along with all the unrepentant occupants.

  14. Gene,

    I’d love it if everyone was going to be saved, but even our own Lord says not. Matthew 7:21-27, “It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter into the kingdome of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father.” (verse 21, New Jerusalem Bible translation)

    A book that talks about it in a fascinating trialogue is Peter Kreeft’s “Between Heaven and Hell”. It is an imaginary conversation between CS Lewis, JF Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley. (They did all die the same day)

    Anna

  15. Patrick Kyle says

    Gene,
    I would hope too that all would be saved, yet at the end of the day what do you do with the text of Scripture? You have to be disingenuous with what the Scriptures teach to come up with Universalism,and resort to an outside line of reasoning that distorts or entirely ignores various passages of Scripture. I understand that many Christians hold loosely to the Bible or even reject parts of it; that is a matter of conscience. For those of us who hold to the authority and veracity of the entire Bible, eternal separation from God for those who reject Him is undeniable.

    That being said; I do firmly believe that Jesus is much more forgiving and gracious than we give Him credit for, and that what passes for saving faith in His eyes, may be practically (or entirely) invisible to us. Thus it is my hope to be joyously surprised in the New heavens and earth by the presence of loved ones and friends whom I, in my ignorance, had deemed lost.

  16. I’d guess it’s a balance similar to raising a child. Let’s say he hurts himself after deliberately disobeying you. You don’t want to show no compassion, but you can’t let it drop that he’s also to blame and shouldn’t rebel against that fact and become self indulgent and bitter.

    For me ther are 2 verses I find useful reminders of the duty for compassion: Lu 9:54-56, Mt 18:21-35.
    I think this is Fred Phelps’ major error: he seems to think “I have a duty to preach the truth, but after that point, who cares? Whether their hearts are hardened or softened, God is glorified either way.” But that attitude ignores those 2 scriptures.

    Heh, heh – 1 more thing. That sounds like a really great sermon the reformed guy preached. If there’s
    an mp3, I’d appreciate the link.

  17. The only ones that could make me believe in the big T are the ones that preach it. Some of the meanest people I have ever bin around.

    acts 10- cornelius ,a devout man and one WHO FEARED GOD with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always…

    your prayers and your4 alms have come up for a memorial before God. now send me Peter because he believes in the hebrew version of TULIP and he is about to get his eyes opend.

    Peter later understands that God is no respectore of persons but knows all that fear Him.

  18. To the woman caught in adultery – a woman he saved from being stoned according to OT law – he said “Go and sin no more”.

    Grace and mercy without minimising sin.

  19. Gene Baker says

    Nathan,

    Though I am a universalist, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that some people will be punished in the afterlife. I believe that punishment is for a limited amount of time and has a specific purpose. That purpose is to purify someone so in the end they can be saved. To punish someone without end and without some final purpose is abhorrent to me. I would like to add that I don’t think that parables are to be taken literally but are to be used for instructive purposes to make a point.

    K.W. Leslie,

    I don’t believe Jesus or the apostles lied about anything. As I said in the previous paragraph I believe some people will be punished in the afterlife but to the end that they will be saved. Do you really think that in the afterlife when someone is face to face with the living God that they would not believe in Him and choose what’s best for them. I don’t think they will have to be brainwashed or reprogrammed.

    Anna,

    I have read several of Peter Kreeft’s books and didn’t care that much for his writing. His writing seems rather obscure and he tends to pontificate a lot. He takes 10 pages to say what could be said in a single paragraph.

    Patrick Kyle,

    You said:

    “You have to be disingenuous with what the Scriptures teach to come up with Universalism,and resort to an outside line of reasoning that distorts or entirely ignores various passages of Scripture. I understand that many Christians hold loosely to the Bible or even reject parts of it; that is a matter of conscience. For those of us who hold to the authority and veracity of the entire Bible, eternal separation from God for those who reject Him is undeniable.”

    I disagree. I don’t believe that you have to be disingenuous or use some weird type of reasoning to believe in universalism. My guess is that you haven’t read any good books about Christian universalism or studied what we believe.

    Probably the best book on Christian universalism that I have read is “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott. The best book on hell and the doctrine of eternal torment that I have read is “What Does The Bible Really Say About Hell: Wrestling With The Traditional View” by Randy Klassen. http://www.tentmaker.org is a wonderful Christian universalist site if anyone is interested in learning more about Christian universalism.

    Finally, I would like to address Internet Monk’s original question and message; Can You Give A Tulip to the Hurting? My answer is: Why would you? The us versus them mentality in that preacher’s message is so pervasive in the church today that it makes me wonder if anyone would be attracted or even persuaded to become a Christian. What rational person would after hearing that?

    It is so easy to demonize “them” and make “them” out to be the worst people in the world. Isn’t that how leaders in the past have convinced some people to commit great atrocities. “They” can’t be personalized, so it’s okay to say terrible things about “them” or demonize “them” or make “them” out to be inhuman savages that don’t deserve your mercy or compassion or forgiveness, much less God’s. No, “they” couldn’t be your brother or sister or father or mother. No, “they” reject God and hate God and deserve to be punished forever and ever and ever. “They” truly deserve whatever punishment they get.

    Imagine sitting in a church pew for the first time in months or maybe years and that’s what you hear followed by an alter call. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a Christian after hearing that about themselves? Why, it defies my understanding!

    I believe in Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit and in presenting the whole story of the Gospel, but I wish some preacher’s would really hear themselves and get a clue. I hope God extends His mercy to all those who can’t seem to find it in their “Christian” hearts to extend that same mercy to those who are hurting and in need.

  20. Baker, think for a second
    1) If eternal punishment is figurative from the parables, so is eternal life since they are always coupled together. You can’t have one one way without the other being the same way.
    2) Even people who believe in a literal hell believe the parables are figurative. Think of what the word figurative means. It means something is a figure or “type” of a real reality. Now what would be a real representation of a figurative hell, logic would say some kind of real hell. “weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the worm does not die and the fire does not quench.” If that is used as a figurative story to make a real point, what would the point be? Unless you throw logic out the window, it would seem reasonably that eternal torment would be the clear meaning since eternal reward is on the other side. But if you want to give up a literal, eternal heaven for a temporary figurative hell, go ahead. But be even handed. And just saying a parable is an analogy is not good enough, you have to think of what is it an analogy for?

  21. Gene Baker says

    jmanning

    1)It sounds like you think that parables are to be taken literally. I don’t. I don’t think Jesus did either.

    2)I never said the parables were an analogy and I never said I didn’t believe in a literal heaven or hell. It sounds like my ideas of hell are different than yours. I think it would be useful for you to study the history of the word hell and how it is used in the bible. A good starting point would be Randy Klassen’s book that I referenced in my earlier post.

    The great thing about being a universalist is that I don’t feel compelled to persuade anyone that what they believe is wrong and that they should think exactly like I do. I simply view us as fellow travellers on the same path. It would be boring if everyone thought, believed, and taught exactly the same thing. Talk about total depravity!

  22. Part of the problem is that many Christians think they believe in “total depravity”, but they don’t. They only believe in “total depravity” as it relates to those people, over there.

    If they truly believed in “total depravity”, and recognised that (like charity) total depravity begins at home ;-), then I don’t think they could preach on that topic in terms of hatred directed against “the lost”. They’d preach an anguished love for the lost, and a hatred of the depravity still found within their own hearts and in their own lives.

  23. Baker,

    You are assuming that Jesus is not using an analogy when He calls hell “gehenna” by using garbage dump imagery.

    Jesus teachings about the nature of hell are not consistent with pure garbage dump analogy. Garbage dumps aren’t where “souls” are thrown by God if you don’t fear Him. Even in garbage dumps the worms die, and the fire are quenched by rain. etc. etc.

    Literal=things mean what they say
    Figurative=things mean what they say (you just say them differently)

    Analogy, hyperbole, and other figurative methods of communicating are at the end of the day to be taken literally.

    Jesus says “don’t lust” = literal
    Jesus says “cut off your hand, gouge out your eye” = figurative, but, does that mean Jesus is saying nothing? No, He is saying “don’t lust” literally…in a figurative way. All communication ends at literalism, unless it is meaningless. Parables are full of imagery, but they must end at a literal truth or what are they containing? Nonsense?

    The literal figurative distinction is overplayed by liberal-leaning theologians. In the end its a smoke screen for not dealing with the implications of a text.

    John H,

    At the church I attend, total depravity is never just turned on other people. Most preachers I know who believe it turn it on themselves more than they do others. You will hear my own pastor saying, “How can you trust your heart? How can you trust yourself? How can you not look at your own depravity, and be compelled to run to Christ and trust Him since we are such shaky ground to stand on.” And as He’s preaching, asking himself these questions, and asking Christians these questions.

  24. Gene,

    May I ask how the figurative interpretation of such verses that allude to an eternal hell can yield a view that it is not objectively eternal? I think most would agree that the parables are figurative, but they are obviously trying to communicate a point. How does one extract the idea of finite punishment for the purposes of purification from language of eternal destinations?

  25. bookdragon says

    John H,

    Your post reminded me of one of my favorite Hasidic stories:

    Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once encountered a preacher who was forever berating his listeners for their sins. In the most graphic terms he would describe the nature of the evil in the heart of man and the terrible punishments in store for his sinful audience.

    “Tell me’,’ the Baal Shem Tov asked the preacher, “how do you know so much about evil, considering that you have never tasted sin yourself?”

    The preacher was puzzled. “How do you know that I haven’t sinned?”

    “But my dear friend, I am sure you would have discussed your own sins, if you had any, before recounting the sins of others.”

    (btw, as input to unversalism discussion, in Judaism Gehenna is rather more like the RCC purgatory. You can easily find 1st century and earlier references to it, and Jesus’ listeners would have understood his references to it in that context. But it was not uncommon to speak of those who would not ascend from Gehenna for grave sins. Most often this is hyperbole and noted as such in further commentaries, but other times it may be meant literally – as with people like Haman.)

  26. Great post! I’m a 5-pointer, but I see this in many of the people I know/read who are calvinists. It’s always struck me as weird, because to me, TD means that all of us are in the same boat, and it’s sinking. How anyone gets from Calvinism to arrogance over being saved is beyond me. “And such were some of you…” How do we get from that to “God pitied me when I hated Him, and turned me around utterly in spite of myself, so clearly I am better than you?”

    The T confronts me first with my own depravity, then calls for compassion to others. Thanks for tackling a difficult subject, and saying some things that needed to be said.