Introduction The Case for Roses Within a Monlinist Framework

Whoever makes a whole judgment and does not lay the counter-Scriptures on the same scale next to it, to him a half-truth is more damaging than a whole lie.

—Balthasar Hubmaier,
Anabaptist theologian and martyr

What shall a Christian do who is convinced of certain central tenets of Calvinism but not its corollaries? Specifically, what if I am convinced that God elects individuals to salvation but I am also compelled by the evidence of Scripture to reject the notion that Christ died only for the elect? What if I am also convinced that the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace—that God gives saving grace only to the elect while withholding it from others—has little or no biblical foundation? Like someone who comes to embrace premillennialism but remains unimpressed with the standard Dispensational eschatology generally associated with it, I see salvation as a sovereign work of grace but suspect that the usual Calvinist understanding of sovereignty (that God is the cause of all things) is not sustained by the biblical witness as a whole.

Most Christians are familiar with the five points of Calvinism generally denoted by the TULIP acronym:

T Total depravity

U Unconditional election

L Limited atonement

I Irresistible grace

P Perseverance of the saints

I agree with three of the points of TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints. The biblical evidence seems clear enough. But the Bible also presents a genuine desire on the part of God for the salvation of all humanity and declares a real offer of the gospel to everyone who hears it. In addition, the biblical case for limited atonement and irresistible grace is shockingly weak. This means that "L" and "I" must go. Limited atonement and irresistible grace cannot be found in the Scriptures unless one first puts them there.

Everything Is Coming Up Roses

ROSES Compared to TULIP
T Total depravity Radical depravity
U Unconditional election Sovereign election
L Limited atonement Singular redemption
I Irresistible grace Overcoming grace
P Perseverance of the saints Eternal Life
R Radical depravity Total depravity
O Overcoming grace Irresistible grace
S Sovereign election Unconditional election
E Eternal life Perseverance of the saints
S Singular redemption Limited atonement

In addition to arguing that only three of the five points of TULIP can be defended scripturally, I also argue that the T, U, and P need to undergo some retooling. So the next obvious step is to recast the TULIP acronym itself. Timothy George has presented the ROSES acronym as a replacement for TULIP, and I intend to build upon it. I do not claim that Dr. George and I prune roses exactly the same way (he favors reformed theology). However, we both agree that the use of the TULIP acronym tends to obscure as much as it illuminates.

There is reason to believe that the framers of the Canons of Dort would not like the TULIP formulation. The five points of Dort were an ad hoc response to the five complaints presented by the followers of Arminius (called the Remonstrants) in Holland during the early seventeenth century. TULIP was not intended to be a summary of the Calvinist doctrine on salvation, and it certainly does not encapsulate Reformed theology, which is much broader and more nuanced than the TULIP formulation. Some of the terms that make up the TULIP acronym are not even in the Canons of Dort. For example, one will search in vain to find the term total depravity in the typical English translation of the Canons. When one reads the Canons, it becomes immediately apparent that the terms that make up the acronym in many ways misrepresent the positions taken by the Synod—this is particularly true of the term limited atonement. In some places the misrepresentation is so severe as to be a caricature.

Even those who describe themselves as "five point" Calvinists express regret about one or several of the terms. A modern proponent of Calvinism will often subscribe to the points only after clarifying (or in some instances completely redefining) what a particular point means. In light of these facts, I suggest that the acronym has outlived its usefulness. If a set of terms must constantly be redefined, or if they tend to mislead and misinform as much as they inform and clarify, then surely those terms need to be replaced. Dr. George has done this with his proposed alternative acronym. Instead of TULIP, he offers ROSES, and I believe his approach warrants further attention.

So what are the tenets of ROSES? Without defending them at this point, let me explain them briefly as follows:

Radical depravity: The old term, total depravity, gives the impression that fallen humanity always is as bad as it possibly can be. The new term, radical depravity, more correctly emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and renders us incapable of saving ourselves or even of wanting to be saved.

Overcoming grace: The old term, irresistible grace, seems to imply that God saves a person against his will. The new term, overcoming grace, highlights that it is God's persistent beckoning that overcomes our wicked obstinacy.

Sovereign election: Often the term unconditional election is presented in such a way as to give the impression that those who die without receiving Christ did so because God never desired their salvation in the first place. The replacement label, sovereign election, affirms that God desires the salvation of all, yet accentuates that our salvation is not based on us choosing God but on God choosing us.

Eternal life: The old term, perseverance of the saints, leads to the notion that a believer's assurance is based on his ability to persevere rather than on the fact he is declared righteous in Christ. The purpose of the new term, eternal life, is to stress that believers enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith which will remain.

Singular redemption: A particularly unfortunate concept, limited atonement, teaches that Christ died only for the elect and gives the impression that there is something lacking in the atonement. As we will see, many Calvinists prefer terms such as definite atonement or particular redemption. We will use the label singular redemption to emphasize that Christ died sufficiently for every person, although efficiently only for those who believe.