Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weeding the TULIP

Speaking of Calvinism, I’ve never been completely comfortable with the theological acronym, TULIP. For those of you new to this topic, here’s what it means:

T – Total Depravity of human beings

U – Unconditional election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible grace

P – Perseverance of the saints

Since my Arminian-Wesleyan bones often override my Calvinist cartilage, TULIP never quite works for me. I’m fine if it works for you, but I’m just saying . . .

I think it’s the U and the L that bother me. I don’t line up with the idea that God, from the beginning of time, pre-selected (elected) that some would be his eternal children and everyone else would burn for eternity in hell (problematic doctrine of hell—a topic for another day). The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin has helped me with this. In his book The Open Secret, he describes the biblical view of election as the people of God being selected, not to the exclusion of the world, but for the sake of the world:

“ . . . a few are chosen to be the bearers of the purpose; they are chosen, not for themselves, but the sake of all.” (34)

It’s more of the idea that followers of Jesus are called to be the light of the world, to participate in God’s ongoing mission of reconciliation. I find more biblical support for Newbigin’s view than I do for the thinking that has created the U.

Second, I don’t much like the L. This Jesus who died entered death willingly in obedience to God the Father—the same God who “so loved the world” (John 3:16), and who “in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). I see the Atonement as something that has no God-imposed limits. It’s for everyone, including those who want nothing to do with God.

So, in good, reckless, free will-style, I’ve come up with my own acronym: UUP.

U – Universal love of the Father (in other words, God’s love is for the whole creation)

U – Unlimited Atonement (God’s work in and through Jesus is for the whole world)

P – Particular response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (in other words, not everyone will embrace what God has done on their behalf. People can say “no” to God on both sides of death if they so choose)

Since I’m not a professional theologian (meaning, I don’t actually get paid for messing about theologically), I get to do this sort of thing. You do too, although you probably aren’t foolish enough to put it out on a blog so that you make some people mad at you. But there is a bit of a problem with my theological construction: The acronym doesn’t clearly spell anything.

On the one hand, we could pronounce it like an extended UP (U-U-Up and away!), pointing to the heavens above us.

Or, we could pronounce the double-U as long vowels, making it sound like oop. Some of you might think that’s appropriate.


Stephen Rethmeier said...

I think if you work at it a little longer, you could come up with SUUP, or UUPITY. It didn't take me that long... I find it interesting as I have embraced this idea of atonement over the past year, I found myself being drawn more to following Jesus than not. In other words, rather than facilitating a slide in my behavior and conduct (the general result I would have expected from others before), I find myself more interested in aligning myself with the direction and values of Jesus (as I understand them). That's not a bad thing, right?

Mike McNichols said...

Or, maybe we could work it up to WASSUUP.

You know, I think that aligning with Jesus (not just as our example, but as the living presence of Christ) is always the right way ahead. I'm in.