The Trouble with TULIPS

When the young neo-Evangelicals, Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, & co. established Christianity Today in 1956 they did so to offer an alternative to the more liberal Christian Century magazine. In its early years there was a strong confessionally Reformed presence in the magazine as writers such as Gordon Clark, (Henry’s mentor), Corneilius Van Til, and G. C. Berkouwer appeared regularly. Further, though not confessionally or ecclesiastically Reformed, Henry was influenced by Reformed theology. In the fifty-three years since the relationship between broader evangelicalism and confessional Reformed Christianity has changed markedly.

For one thing, the influence among evangelicals of Old Princeton and Old Westminster has diminished considerably. Apart from J. I. Packer whose confessional Reformed credentials were stained by the Evangelicals and Catholics Together episode, and an occasional appearance by Westminster Seminary California’s Mike Horton (who ghosted as John Calvin for the 2009 Calvinpalooza in CT), confessional Reformed folk rarely appear in Christianity Today. The reality is that, considered proportionately, the odd appearance of the confessional Reformed types in CT is probably  more proportional to their actual place within the broader evangelical world. The evangelical proletariat has achieved historical consciousness and they now know they have no need of their  bourgeois oppressors. For more on the changes in relations between confessional Reformed Christians and the broader evangelical movement see Recovering the Reformed Confession.

At the same time confessional Reformed voices have been largely exiled from the flagship evangelical publication it is interesting to note Todd Billings’ recent essay in the pages of The Christian Century, “Calvin’s Comeback? The Irresistible Reformer.” Todd teaches at Western Theological Seminary (RCA) and is the author of the award-winning Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union With Christ (Oxford, 2007) which, along with Mike Horton’s Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ and Cornel Venema’s Accepted and Renewed in Christ (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007) offers a compelling alternative to the Gaffin-Garcia reading of Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ.

The CC essay is Todd’s response to the March piece in TIME discussing the so-called “New Calvinist” phenomenon. He notes that the TIME article captures

…a central theme of the new movement: a theology in which divine predestination and divine sovereignty are at the center. The New Calvinists’ emphasis on a God-centered gospel provides an alternative to the many forms of American religion that are preoccupied with the self. Instead, the New Calvinists delight in affirming God’s ultimate power in salvation and in God’s providential work.

He observes that for “the non-Reformed, TULIP provides a wonderfully convenient box into which Reformed theology can be placed—and criticized.” He raises the question whether the TULIP provides an “adequate or even accurate distillation of Reformed theology.” He reminds us that the TULIP is a modern summary of the Canons of the Synod of Dort, which were “never intended as a summary of Reformed theology.” Further, he argues, the TULIP acronym does not “not provide an accurate summary of Dort itself. While acronyms work well as memory aids, in this case the acronym is misleading on key points within the canons themselves.” He notes that the phrase “total depravity” tends to communicate misanthropy rather than the Reformed doctrine of sin. He charges that the expressions “limited atonement’ and “irresistible grace” are also liable to serious misunderstanding.

The greatest problem of the acronym TULIP is that it “perpetuates a basic misunderstanding about the Reformed tradition: that predestination is the center of Reformed theology from which all else flows.” Here Todd is echoing the criticism by Richard Muller and others against the “Central Dogma” theory of the history of doctrine, i.e., that the Lutheran “Central Dogma” was justification and the Reformed “Central Dogma” was predestination and that two distinct, parallel systems were deduced from these dogmas. This historiography has been thoroughly debunked but it continues to undergird the way many evangelicals and mainliners (and too many sideliners!) think about Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

In contrast to the caricature created by the TULIP Billings makes an argument that will be familiar to readers of RRC, namely, that there is much more to being Reformed, that to be Reformed is to be committed to a sacramental theology, to a “catholic” vision that connects the Reformed tradition to the whole church, and he argues less persuasively  that it entails a “kingdom vision.” He says a, “Reformed view of the church avoids seeing it as a colony separated from society, or as the particular aspect of society that relates to ‘being religious.'” The truth of this claim depends on what one means by “church.” If by it one means “the visible, institutional, organized church” then his language is somewhat problematic. If,however, by “church” he means, “professing” Christians, then most would probably agree with him. The question of a sacred/secular distinction has been much controverted in this space. Todd’s identification of a Reformed “kingdom vision” with the “cultural mandate” is open to discussion and even debate. After the fall are they identical? See Calvin, Institutes 2.2.13, 20 where he clearly made a distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” and associated the latter with the kingdom of God while not disparaging the goodness of the former.

We should certainly agree with Todd when he says the “New Calvinists pick the TULIP from the Reformed field, overlooking the other flowers. There is much besides the TULIP in this spacious field that has grown from the seed of God’s word.”

This is not to say that mainline has any clearer handle on what “Reformed” means than do the so-called “New Calvinists” or others who misappropriate the adjective “Reformed.” The mainline confusion over the definition of Reformed appears as part of a discussion of Jewish-Christian relations in a 2005 piece in The CC:

Bill Borrer…recalls a committee member charging that Avodat is not sufficiently Reformed—that is, aligned with traditional Presbyterian theology stemming from Calvin’s Reformation. When Borrer asked each committee member to define “Reformed,” however, he found there was no consensus. If denominational leaders cannot agree on what it means to be Reformed or Presbyterian, Borrer observed, how can they be sure Avodat is not?

Apparently the Reformed confession is no more influential in the mainline than it is among the so-called “New Calvinists.” In contrast, however, to both the mainline and the so-called “New Calvinists,” Todd’s essay is on the right track.

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  1. Very well said! Much of what is being said here are exactly the kind of things that angers me when my fellow Lutherans stereotype Reformed theology by lumping it in with other mainline protestant denominations using the derogatory “evangelical/Reformed” expression in their articles and commentaries. Even when I try to correct them they resist my input, preferring the comfort of their tired old caricatures of Calvin.

    To be fair about it, I used to think similarly until I picked up a copy of Riddlebarger’s book about eschatology. One thing led to another and I began reading blogs like this one (and his) after having been directed here by and soon learned the truth.

  2. I agree over all however confessionally reformed pesons have so much more in common with the TULIPERs such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, James White, CJ Mahaney, John MacArthur, etc… than we do with those who are non-evangelical mainline liberal. A part of the problem is that noone agrees on what an evangelical is. I do get concerned when you talk about a ”commitment to a sacramental theology” however. All persons need a conversion experience. The puritans, the princeton divines, Calvin, etc.. taught this. If you do not hold to a conversionist theology of some sort then you are left with pre-supposed regeneration n’est pas?

    • Joseph,

      Are you concerned with the WCF talking about the “due use of ordinary means”?

      Where do the Reformed confessions speak about “a conversion experience”?

      Why isn’t such an perfect example of the QIRE?

      I’m not against having a conversion experience — God the Spirit is free to do as he wills!– but I’m opposed to making it a standard of theology, piety, and practice. It’s not the norm in Reformed theology to speak thus. It’s a foreign import from pietism and revivalism.

      Have you read RRC?

      The choice isn’t between revivalist evangelicals who sympathize with aspect of Reformed theology and liberals. The choice is between being confessional or non-confessional. Of the latter there are liberals and conservatives. Confessional Reformed interests will intersect with both segments at places. See D G Hart, The Lose Soul of American Protestantism for more on this. That is a MUST read. It’s the Christianity and Liberalism of our age.

      • I have read the book of course! Twice as a matter of fact. Maybe I have read the confessions through my evangelical mind, but here is how I understand I.VII wich says:«7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: (2 Pet. 3:16) yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (Ps. 119:105, 130)»

        -That through the ordinary means of preaching the Gospel from the word of God that the text is sufficiently clear that all those who hear the external call are accountable to responding to faith. The passage in context refers to the scripture and our responsibility torward God the reprobate has no excuse to not be converted outside of his or her self.

        May I ask if you do beleive in presuppositional regeneration of any sort? I am well aware of Daryl Hart’s stuff. Yet I would say Iain Murray’s Revival and revivalism is a much better book. One can still be a conversionist and believe in revival without ignoring the ordinary means.

        • I’m not a “conversionist” but I certainly believe in the biblical and Reformed doctrine of regeneration, in the Dort sense of “awakening from death to life” and in the older sense of “sanctification.” The notion of “conscious moment of awakening” however is not deeply rooted in our confessions.

          I was not always a Christian and I remember coming to faith gradually but I cannot point to a moment of conversion. Does this mean that I am unregenerate? No, not according to my consistory. They admit me to the Lord’s Table and accept my profession of faith.

          On presumptive regeneration see the Declaration of the Synod of Utrecht, 1905:

          I agree with this declaration.

          On this see

          I don’t think that we should be careless about our covenant children. We should pray with and for them, catechize them, and call them to faith and repentance. We should, however, not treat them as some Baptists treat their children, as little pagans. They are Christian children, covenant children, members of the covenant of grace. We want and pray for them to receive all the benefits of the covenant of grace, sola gratia, sola fide, solo Christo.

          I think the Reformed approach to covenant children is not well described either by the conversionist paradigm nor is it well described by the “presumptive” paradigm.

          • Well I would be hesitant to use THE CONCLUSIONS OF UTRECHT (1905) as a binding document on reformed churches. I do believe that one must make the disctinction between the reformed confessions and the traditions of reformed churches. My personal view is I hope consistant with my Church’s confessions (Westminster Confession, Heidleberg Catechism and the Canons of Dortretch): That we ought to view Covenant children as apart of the visible church though not full members with all the privledges, they have a higher level of responsibility than others to respond with justifying faith, they can be called Chrsitians based upon their parents faith and their baptism but they are presumed unregenerate until they give a credible profession of faith (not refering to the ceremony in reformed churches but they actually gives evidences of regeneration and they profess saving faith in Christ) and it is the special responsibility of the Church to make sure all our covenant children are loved and hear the gospel all the time so that if the Lord chooses to work in their hearts the ordinary means are there.

  3. A problem I have with the whole TULIP definition and the pitting of predestination as a central dogma is the total absence of any mention of Christ from such a system. No wonder it appears cold and almost Islamic to some. True Reformed theology is a confessional and Christ saturated system of doctrine. Great piece Scott.

  4. My Calvinist leanings began in the early 2000’s as a student at Moody Bible Institute where many professors (not all) would argue against the validity of the various TULIP. From there I was exposed to some of the New Calvinists like Piper, Carson, and later guys like Driscoll. I am genuinely thankful for their ministries and the recovery of a sensible soteriology that was so lacking in my prior evangelical upbringing. But since their espousal of Calvinism started and stopped with the “five points” much of the piety in their preaching and churches was still decidedly evangelical. The problem is that, whether by natural constitution or my seeming excellence in sinning, I found that the vision of the fervent Christian life they held out was altogether unattainable. Reading a guy like Edwards only reinforced this as I saw an exemplary Christian life that I could never have.
    As my wife and I have moved to the Presbyterian church in the last year or so, I have been coming to a clearer understanding of the Reformed faith and this has been nothing short of revolutionary. The regular administration of word and sacrament in the context of our simple church service has nourished my own soul and has undergirded true growth in my life. I am no longer living under the burden of having to be a devotional whiz to be a good Christian. At the table I am a beneficiary of divine grace and there I am called to see that Christ feeds his people to his glory. This is vastly different than living under the terror of having to prove my loyalty to Jesus by living a life with Edward’s fervor and resolve. As I hear the gospel week in and week out I am reminded of what God has accomplished on my behalf in spite of my weakness to bring me from bondage to sin into a lifelong pilgrimage where I can rest assured that he will bring me safely Home.

    Calvinism as a soteriology alone is simply not enough. It has to be viewed in its broader covenantal, ecclesiological, and sacramental commitments otherwise it becomes a part of an Evangelical morass that might get some things better but still has no way to nourish its people on their Heavenly journey.

      • x2.

        Once one experiences the “real thing” as far as being confessionally Reformed, alternatives are unbearable.

        But since their espousal of Calvinism started and stopped with the “five points” much of the piety in their preaching and churches was still decidedly evangelical. The problem is that, whether by natural constitution or my seeming excellence in sinning, I found that the vision of the fervent Christian life they held out was altogether unattainable. Reading a guy like Edwards only reinforced this as I saw an exemplary Christian life that I could never have.

        I could not agree more.

    • Dr. Clark, long time listener, first time caller (as it were), I’d like to say I very much appreciate your blog, and the uncompromising stance you take (even when I disagree).


      Fellow Moody alum, what do you know! I have to say I resonate with your comment a great deal. My wife and I are currently attending a “Bible Church” but have both been feeling a disconnect for awhile now. Your post encourages me. I am finding myself more and more at odds with the theology (and thus practice) of the broad evangelical setting I am in, and though I love many of the people and leadership of our church, the fact is I often leave more discouraged than not. That is not to say that my feelings dictate what is or isn’t correct, but that the examples of “prayer warriors” and exhortations to two hour early morning devotions simply seem untenable to me. Maybe I lack discipline, in fact I am certain I do, but moral lessons unfortunately are not enough to change me or my heart.

      I am forced to ask as well, what happens when I have not felt that I have “gotten much” out of my daily bible reading? Am I doing it wrong? Have I upset God? What about when my wife doesn’t feel like church is feeding her? Is she always supposed to? Is that not our expectation? My sacramentalism is as yet low, but I have to tell you I have been wrestling with the Confessional positions lately. Frankly I see the appeal (and truth?) to the claims that my experience and efforts are not the point, ultimately; what God has done for me is.

      TULIP is incredibly dear to my heart, but I am beginning to understand why the rest of Reformed theology is important as well. It acknowledges God’s sovereignty, but I’m not entirely sure it requires submission to it…and maybe that’s why it’s not enough.


  5. Jed,

    I hear ya! Thank you for this post which so capsulizes my own situation having been raised in Wheaton. What are we to do when we realize we are the ones that are the beggars, the have-nots, the losers? We turn to what Christ has done on our behalf. Lovely.

  6. Jed,
    Just wanted to say thank you and the Lord for what you wrote. This was very encouraging to me as Reformed preacher (all of three months).

    Pray that not only other evangelical folk might see this, but that also Reformed and Presbyterian folk might see it!

  7. I think Billings is right on the TULIP. But it is also the reality that the TULIP didn’t come out of a vacuum. IMO, the framework behind the TULIP is what the problem is; it’s the “Federal” that’s the problem, ultimately a system of logico/causal relations that methodologically places ‘elect man’ at the center of salvation instead of Christ as THE elect man (archetypical man). And this is where the TULIP is illustrative of a much more fundamental problem within “Covenant” theology. If we ground salvation in a set of decrees, and not in God’s life in Christ — which Covenant theology does — then there is a problem.

    Sorry to rain, but I do live in the Pac NW ;-).

  8. Scott,

    While I would be hesitant to you the term “Conversionist” to explain my theological convictions, I do understand the point that Joseph is seeking to make. The Jews, throughout their entire history, has a “due use of the ordinary means of grace,” and yet, “with most of them God was not well pleased.” Why? “Because of their unbelief,” and consequently, “because of their disobedience.” Why did they lack faith? Because they were unregenerate. God continually told them to “get a circumcised heart,” which amounts to the same as “You must be converted,” or to use Jesus’ words, “You must be born again.” He was talking to the church, albeit, an apostatizing church–nevertheless, it was still the visible church. As far as the WCF is concerned, if you read any of the writings of any of the men–except perhaps Lightfoot–you will find what you call QIRE. I do fear that you are isolating the Confession from its historic context a bit. Authorial intent can only be established by considering the available materials that the authors have written. Doing so, would lend a hand to both a “Conversion Theology” and an “Ordinary Means” theology. Both are needed. The Bible seems to teach both, though fleshing it out is not always easy to do so.

    • Nick,

      No, what I’m trying to do is to keep from dragging the WCF into the 18th-century revivialist-conversionist model! That’s the decontextualizing about which we should be concerned. The very point of RRC was to show that the 18th-century “revivals” created a way of speaking about coming to faith that didn’t exist or at least weren’t prominent in the 17th century mainstream.

      ONCE MORE, I am in favor of REGENERATION. That’s not QIRE but regeneration, in the post-Dort sense is also not what “conversion” came to mean in the sense of a crisis experience. The mainstream British and European writers were all in favor of people coming to know their need of a Savior, of them coming to truth faith, of them growing in that faith and union with Christ.

      Seeking to lock down to a single moment, to a conversion crisis, that’s QIRE and it’s it’s a form of rationalism to know exactly when the Spirit did his work so that WE can be sure rather than trusting in the promises of God in Christ.

      Must we know WHEN the Spirit worked or just THAT he worked? Clearly we want to affirm the latter, don’t we?

      • The “secularization” of the visible church (in England & America) was a real problem, made worse by the lack of separation of church & state, i.e., citizen = church member.

        The American Puritan conversion experience, or rather confession thereof, was a way to circumvent this secularization process. (See halfway covenant.)

        I think both sacramentalism and FVism, fearful of subjectivism, fail to see the opposite danger of secularization, which was perhaps more real for the Puritans, but which is still with us. After all, Christ in the gospels seems less concerned about “subjectivists” than with “objectivists” — whom he denounced quite often.

      • But you’re not saying it’s wrong to “know” when He worked? Did the thief on the cross, know? Did the Apostle Paul, know?

        Why this is rationalist, is not clear to me. We “know” that the Holy Spirit is working all the time; but to identify moments of distinction (i.e. subjective) upon that continuum of work is not rationalist (necessarily), but “biblical”. We are called to believe, “today is the day of salvation,” right. Doesn’t this presuppose a moment of decision (maybe sometimes this is a snapshot and sometimes a period of time).

        It just seems like you’re trying to hedge, Scott; and in the process mitigating the clear teaching of scripture.

        • Bobby,

          Your comments are a good example of the sort of rationalism of which I’m speaking. You know a priori what must have happened in the cases you cite regardless of what the text actually says.

          1. To try to identify the precise time at which the Holy Spirit brought someone to faith is nothing but speculation. We know far less about how and when the Holy Spirit operates than some of us like to think. Such thinking reveals a low view of the immensity and transcendence of God.

          2. In fact we don’t know exactly when the thief was regenerated. What we know with certainty is Christ’s promise.

          2. The Apostle Paul may be the model for pietist conversionist paradigm but it’s not a very good paradigm or necessarily the only one. When was Timothy regenerated? Why isn’t he the paradigm for us? How many of us have seen the risen Christ? The quest for the Apostolic experience of the risen Christ or to be taken up to the Third Heaven is exactly what I mean by QIRE.

          3. I’m not hedging anything. I’m trying to be faithful to Holy Scripture as confessed by the Reformed churches.

          • Scott,

            No, what I see you doing is interpreting through the “Reformed lense,” which makes sense for your tribe. But a straightforward read of scripture does not forbid a ‘conversion’ experience — your paradigm does.

            My own theology places primacy (more than Federal) on the objective choice of the eternal logos to be elect man for all. In this sense all humanity is oriented to Christ. He also stands at the center of the subjective choice, as He by the Spirit says ‘yes’ to the Father for us (the elect) as our mediator. The fact that I might have a ‘Samuel’ moment, that I might hear His voice and respond ‘out of His yes’ doesn’t rationalize my choice; but only presupposes that He made ‘my choice’ first. The ground, for me is “His choice;” the ground for you is “your election.” Whose paradigm is grounded in rationalism, then? Not mine . . . 😉

            • Yes, you’re “just reading the Bible.” Ah yes, how can anyone argue with that.

              The Reformed churches are the ONLY ones with a lens. How wonderful it would be to be able to approach the Bible from outside all context including a “federal” or “Reformed” lens. After all, Paul never makes Christ and Adam the federal heads of humanity! Too bad, he should have thought of that.

            • Scott,

              I’m not saying I don’t have a lense, of course it does allow me to read the Bible for all its worth ;-); what I’m realing saying is what you already know, I think your lense needs to be cleaned off a bit, that’s all.

              And I don’t deny the “two Adams motif,” how could I? It’s how the Federal framework frames that that I find problematic. The second Adam is actually greater than the first (Rom 5 says so) — for many obvious reasons — which calls for an “elevation-line theology.” The Federal frame follows the Thomist “restoration-line theology” at this point. But I’m digressing a bit, I guess.

              I just completely disagree with you on your rationalist point (and we haven’t even got into the Federal intellectualist anthropology); but it looks like I’m not the only one disagreeing — even with those within your tribe.

              I really just wanted to say, hi 🙂 . . . I haven’t been feeling well lately, but I wanted you to know I’m still around ;-).


  9. Hi Dr. Clark I was wondering when you refer to Dr. Muller’s criticisms of the central dogma theory if the reference for that critique is in Dr. Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1, pages 42 – 44? Did Dr. Muller publish an one volume work by the same name in 1987, then later expand it to the three volumes that we know today? I was wondering because I’ll be going to a theological seminary library tomorrow and if I’m understanding their online catalog correctly they have only an one volume work published in 1987 by Dr. Muller under the same name.

    • Nathan,

      I’ve been reading Richard’s journal articles since 1993. The first book in which the critique appears in Christ and the Decree. It’s in vol 1 of the PRRD as well. Yes, PRRD is in two editions. The first edn was in paper and the 2nd edn is greatly expanded into 4 vol hardbound with possibly more to come.

  10. Dear Scott,

    I understand what you are opposing, and I wholeheartedly agree that seeking “conversion experiences” in a methodical system is improper and dangerous. But the Puritans were absolutely seeking conversion experiences, in the sense that they did not believe everyone in good standing in the visible church were actually rocking their way to heaven under the due use of the ordinary means. They understood that there were false professors and hypocrites. Then again, you have different categories of Puritans, as you know as well. Cotton Mather, and the NE Puritans of the 17th Century were certainly seeking “conversion experiences” in the lives of their covenant children. In fact, the debate over this issue really reaches back to the Dutch church–with the debate over internal or external holiness in the covenant children. Jonathan N. Gerstner’s The Thousand Generation Covenant helpfully explains the division, of which I am sure you are familiar. This is really at the root of the NE revivalist movement and Jonathan Edwards. It is built on the Puritan’s Experiential Calvinism. Would you agree that the substance of Edwards’ preaching was already present in the writings of the Puritans who were present at Westminster?

    • Nick,

      I think we agree more than your initial post suggested. I think you’re misunderstanding me and assuming some things unnecessarily.

      1. Let us be careful of speaking generically of “the puritans.” Historically this is an imprecise way of speaking about a very diverse group of movements which, broadly considered, included orthodox and heterodox soteriologies and multiple ecclesiologies and a variety of pieties. I understand that some of the British Reformed writers consciously spoke of themselves as “Puritans” but for the reasons I just gave some historians have cautioned us about using the term without a great deal of qualification.

      I think it’s not a particularly helpful term in our context because it tends to create the impression that there was a unique theology, piety, and practice that has an almost magical quality about it. That’s not historical. It’s more helpful to speak of European and British Reformed theology. There was a “precisionist” (Nadere Reformatie) movement in the NL at the same time as the assembly in England and they were seeking essentially the same thing.

      2. Yes, of course the Reformed understood and were concerned about the existence of what they called “hypocrites and reprobates” (see my book on Olevian on this; see also the essay, link to which I posted recently on the HB, on the “double mode of communion” where I discuss this very thing) in the visible covenant community.

      I take it that you haven’t read RRC. I think you’re doing exactly what I’m trying to avoid, anachronistically reading Edwards back into the 17th century. No, I don’t agree at all (for the reasons I give in a lengthy discussion in RRC) that we can easily identify Edwardsean theology, piety, and practice with that of the divines and certainly not with that of the confession.

      Concern for the regeneration of hypocrites in the visible church is not the same thing as a clearly definable “conversion experience.” This is a law we ought not to lay upon our covenant children. We want them to be converted, but we should assume that they are necessarily unregenerate. The truth is that we don’t know with unqualified certainty that ANYONE is regenerate. We exercise charity toward those who make profession of faith and we call our covenant children and everyone to recognize the greatness of their sin and misery and to trust Christ the Savior.

      Will this happen is a distinct, punctiliar, temporal event? Who knows? It might. It might not. I cannot tell you at what moment I actually came to faith. I believe now and I have believed for a long time. Ecclesiastically considered my profession of faith was highly irregular since it was made informally in an SBC, without any real enquiry by the elders (which they didn’t have). From that pov, one might say that I did not formally become a Christian until I was received into St John’s Reformed Church in 1981– several years after I first began to awaken to the greatness of my sin and misery and began to trust Christ.

      PLEASE do not assume the New England revivalist (I used that word advisedly, see RRC) paradigm as you read the 17th century. Rejecting that paradigm is NOT the equivalent of rejecting all aspects of experiential Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Once more, I discuss that very distinction in RRC in several places. The Heidelberg Catechism, John Owen, and William Perkins are all excellent examples of Reformed writers and documents that advocate and envision a vital piety but none of them taught the sort of neo-Platonic-inspired piety that came to pervade the teaching of Edwards.

      I hope you’ll take a look at RRC to see a different way of reading the tradition.

  11. Nick M, Bobby G,
    Dunno. I always thought TULIP was about the trinitarian gospel. Respectively, it speaks about all men in Adam, the work of the three Persons of the Trinity in salvation and the result in perseverance unto and preservation of salvation.

    Bobby G
    If Federalism is the problem, what is the viable alternative?
    IOW are you serious?

  12. Hi Bob S,

    Glad you asked, Evangelical Calvinism of course. Have you ever considered that there might be something within the ‘Reformed faith’ that developed alongside (and at one point was the dominant strain) Federal theology that might be more explictly “Evangelical” (Gospel faithful) than the artificial system that we know as ‘Reformed orthodoxy’ today? I bet you’ve never read outside of your circles, your presumption kind of gives that away; but yes, I’m dead serious, and I hope I’m not coming off as prententious (it’s hard to jump into these circles with a different perspective, and not at least have a little attitude, I’m sorry about that). I have a blog pretty much dedicated to reorientating Federalists to a more faithful version of the Reformed faith — when I say ‘faithful’, of course I mean more faithful to scripture’s witness.

    As far as the TULIP, it has its own historical situadeness, I don’t disagree with that; but if I were you, I wouldn’t want to defend it as THE sum of the ‘Reformed faith’ (even if I just thought that was Federal theology). Any good theology STARTS with a ‘Doctrine of God’, then we move on from there. But if you can get the Trinity out of the TULIP (all by itself), then go for it!


  13. Scott,

    I have read quite a bit of your book and don’t understand how you can draw such a neat and clean line of demarcation between the theology of the Brittish Reformed, the New England Puritans and Jonathan Edwards. JE certainly introduced more of his idealism and rationalism into his theology, but the substance of it was found in the Divines. I have read an enormous amount of Edwards’ work and know this is the case. He references the Divines everywhere. The last volume in the Yale series shows what works he had and relied on. I think that making Edwards the fountain head of New England Theology and Hopkinsianism is a huge mistake, driven by Charles Hodge.

    All in all, I do agree that the revivalism of the 18th Century was less than helpful in some areas. I just do not believe that you can reject the entire movement because of some things you disagree with. Where do you draw the line between Religious Experience and Illegitimate Religious Experience? This, I think, is harder to answer than you seem to intimate.

    • Hi Nick,

      That’s why I think it’s helpful to distinguish between the Old Side and the New. What made the new side new (including Edwards the congregationalist among the NS for the sake of this discussion because of his Presbyterian ministry in NY and his influence among New Siders), among other things, was its marginalization of the “due use of ordinary means” and its turn to new measures and its quest for a certain quality of religious experience. I tried to sketch a way of thinking about these questions in the book.

      I think the neglected Old Side tried to carry on the Westminster theology, piety, and practice and for their trouble Edwards and others called the unregnerate! Both sides want a vital piety but the Old Side (with the mainstream of 17th-century Reformed orthodoxy) wanted a vital piety that did not become “enthusiastic” (to borrow R. Knox’s category).

      Were the outbreaks of religious enthusiasm to have occurred in the 17th century they likely would have been ascribed to Anabaptist influence and suppressed fairly ruthlessly.

      What I’m challenging is the easy assumption that contemporary Reformed folk make of the line between the Divines and the Edwardsean theology, piety, and practice. Yes, Edwards read the older writers, particularly VanMastricht, but that reading doesn’t equal fidelity to the older theology, piety, and practice. The idealism, the neo-Platonism, rationalism, and the occasionalism made a much bigger difference between the orthodoxy of the 17th-century and the revivalism of the 18th century than you seem to think.

      The footnotes in RRC in the chapter on QIRE leave lots of breadcrumb trails to the relevant modern, academic secondary lit on this.

    • Nicholas Batzig wrote:
      I think that making Edwards the fountain head of New England Theology and Hopkinsianism is a huge mistake, driven by Charles Hodge.


      I don’t think that Charles Hodge can be blamed for this interpretation, as the tendency of the Old Princetonians was to try to claim Edwards for themselves. Mark Noll has a nice essay on how nearly everybody in the 19th century American Reformed context contended for the mantle of the esteemed “President Edwards.”

      One of the more perplexing historiographical questions in American theology is how you get from Jonathan Edwards to Nathaniel William Taylor. I dealt with this in my Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Paternoster, 2008; NB: this is a book that RSC apparently does not like), but the best and most complete examination of this issue is by my friend Doug Sweeney, whose Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford UP, 2003) is now the definitive study on this topic.

  14. Nick,

    The line, which I forgot to address, between QIRE and between the sort of healthy spiritual vitality envisioned by Owen in his volume on communion with God is the “due use of ordinary means.” The Edwardsean piety, ironically (given his family history), leads to setting aside the due use in favor of the immediate encounter with the risen Christ or even absorption into the deity. See the comments in RRC on the ontological aspects of Edwards’ theology.


    I don’t want necessarily to set aside the entire 18th century colonial experiment but neither do I think it should lionized, as it often is in our circles. I tried to put it into perspective and to call attention to the forgotten Old Siders.

    I don’t think it’s that hard to get from Edwards to the New Haven Divinity. As I recall, Noll argues that the New Haven writers had fair claim on Edwards and later Princetonians such as Warfield realized that. As I keep reminding folk it was Hodge who called Edwards a pantheist! Hodge was right about the connection. I don’t think it’s a huge mistake at all. I put it down to Hodge’s intellectual honesty. God bless ‘im for it.

    • RSC wrote:

      I don’t want necessarily to set aside the entire 18th century colonial experiment but neither do I think it should lionized, as it often is in our circles. I tried to put it into perspective and to call attention to the forgotten Old Siders.

      I don’t think it’s that hard to get from Edwards to the New Haven Divinity. As I recall, Noll argues that the New Haven writers had fair claim on Edwards and later Princetonians such as Warfield realized that. As I keep reminding folk it was Hodge who called Edwards a pantheist! Hodge was right about the connection. I don’t think it’s a huge mistake at all. I put it down to Hodge’s intellectual honesty. God bless ‘im for it.


      I quite agree with you that the 18th century Puritan trajectory has been the subject of too much hagiography in conservative Reformed circles, and that the Old Side was, on balance, much more ecclesial. I recall back in my seminary days reading through the documents in Heimert and Miller and and writing a paper for Clair Davis in which, much to my own surprise, I sided with the Old Side.

      I also agree that Hodge could be critical of JE at points, though the Old School tendency was to try to retrieve Edwards rather than simply conceding him to New Haven. Noll makes this point quite clearly in his essay on “Jonathan Edwards and Nineteenth-Century Theology.”

      I agree that the path from Northampton to New Haven is there. It is real, but it is circuitous, as Sweeney’s monograph makes clear.

      I’m so agreeable today.

  15. Bobby G,

    TTorrance, Fraser of Brae? Surely you jest? My turn to ask where have you been and I say that with all due respect.

    Who defends TULIP as the sum total of the Reformed Faith? Not the Reformed. It is only one of the 3Forms and an explication of the Heidelberg in part at that. It’s clearly a reformed summary of the gospel that the Remonstrants didn’t agree with. I don’t get what the problem is, but not to be snarky, I’m not a Phd. either.

    Thank you

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