I hereby recommend to the Reformed community a change in the acronym that currently stands to represent the Doctrines of Grace (also known as the Five Points of Calvinism). As it currently stands, this long-received acronym is T.U.L.I.P. As beautiful of a flower as this is, I believe an acronym should give some idea — a hint if you will — of the things it represents. A flower simply does not do justice in communicating these doctrinal truths.
I not only suggest a change in the acronym itself, but the addition of a point. In truth, this point has always been present, though it has been assumed rather than explicitly stated in the five points. This additional point is the first point in this suggested acronym: God’s glory. Finally, I believe a few of the new terms will serve as more accurate summations of the doctrinal meanings.
I look forward to input from fellow Reformed Christians on this suggested change. Let me make it explicitly clear here that I am not suggesting a change in doctrine. I am only suggesting a change in the acronym, along with the explicit inclusion of an additional point that has merely been assumed in the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. Neither is this post intended to serve as a biblical defense of Calvinism, though a few Scripture references are supplied. That has been done in numerous other places, and my intention here is to speak to those who already call themselves Calvinists.
So, what is the suggested acronym? G.O.S.P.E.L. What better way to make reference to the Doctrines of Grace? Calvinism, after all, is about the sovereign grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Doctrines of Grace are the biblical teachings regarding G.O.S.P.E.L. grace and glory. Allow me, therefore, to supply a brief explanation of this acronym.
God’s Glory: Foundational to the Doctrines of Grace is the biblical teaching that God’s redeeming work is to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:3-14 especially vv. 6, 12; Rom. 11:33-36). Reformed Theology begins with God, because that’s where the Bible begins and where the emphasis throughout remains. This is what gives strength to this new acronym — it begins with God!
Original Sin: This point replaces Total Depravity in T.U.L.I.P. The doctrine of original sin is greatly lost in our day, which is one good reason for making this change. What is more, the doctrine of original sin carries with it an implicit reference to Covenant Theology. Original sin assumes the existence of a covenant between God and man in the garden of Eden, prior to the Fall. (The rise of Dispensationalism, in my opinion, is one major reason for the negligence of this biblical doctrine in our day; but the recovery of Covenant Theology is advancing in our day, and this particular change in the acronym may help to further this advancement.) This gives understanding to the guilt of all mankind due to the sin of their covenant head — Adam (e.g. Rom. 5:12ff). Whereas total depravity, as biblical of a concept as it is, supplies more of a systematic approach to the concept of sin, original sin forces us to think more in a biblical-theological aspect. This is an important, and I believe a needed, shift in our thinking. Finally, I think it significant that the Canons of Dort, from which the Doctrines of Grace are secondarily derived (primarily from Scripture), states at the outset that “all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death….” (First Head of Doctrine, Article I). This statement is, of course, a statement of original sin.
Sovereign Election: This point replaces Unconditional Election in T.U.L.I.P. The point of unconditional election is that God’s choice of His redeemed people was not rooted in anything they have done, but simply in the sovereign and good purposes of God (otherwise it’s not grace). In other words, unconditional election is sovereign election. It is according to God’s sovereign will (Eph. 1:11; Deut. 7:6-8).
Particular Atonement: This point replaces Limited Atonement in T.U.L.I.P. We Calvinists are often forced to clarify the meaning of limited atonement, and our clarifications nearly always include the use of the word “particular”. That is to say, what we mean by limited atonement is that Christ’s sacrificial death was limited, not in its power, but in its scope. It was for a particular people — God’s chosen people (Tit. 2:14; Heb. 2:14-18). This change would provide much needed clarification and therefore make things a bit easier for us.
Effectual Grace: This point replaces irresistible grace in T.U.L.I.P. Like the previous point, I believe this point will also provide much needed clarification. The concept of irresistible grace is often misunderstood by non-Calvinists (not because clarifications haven’t been made available!). Many seem to think that all they have to do to refute this doctrine is point to a text of Scripture that demonstrates that men can and indeed do resist God’s grace. Such demonstrates their failure to fully grasp the meaning of this point. By changing this point to effectual grace we may help to minimize this misrepresentation from the other side. In short, God’s sovereign grace in salvation is effectual — it accomplishes God’s intended purpose to save His elect (Acts 13:48; 1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14). – Update (11/28/2015): I meant to name this point “effectual calling”. Either one works of course.
Lasting Grace: This point replaces Perseverance of the Saints in T.U.L.I.P. The change in this point will, I believe, make a clearer connection with what comes before, especially effectual grace. In other words, the grace of God that effectually called His people will continue to work in His people unto glory (Rom. 8:28ff; Phil. 1:6). This is to simply say that salvation is all of God’s grace, through and through.
Once again, I look forward to hearing from my fellow Reformed brethren on this matter. I believe this change in acronym will further help us to remember what it is we’re dealing with here — things that pertain to the Gospel. I also believe this new acronym will supply much needed clarification on certain doctrinal points. In either case, may God be glorified and may His people be edified.
Soli Deo Gloria!