The term “Doctrines of Grace” is a title Calvinists often use to identify their distinctive doctrines under the acronym for TULIP, such as signifying their belief in Elective Grace, Atoning Grace, Irresistible Grace and Persevering Grace. While non-Calvinists also cherish God’s grace, the concern of many non-Calvinists is that it is a deceptive title for Calvinists to use since they reject that God’s saving grace was intended for everyone.
What do Calvinists believe?
George Whitefield: “And so it is, but not his saving mercy. God is loving to every man: he sends his rain upon the evil and upon the good.”101
John Calvin: “Two people may hear the same teaching together; yet one is willing to learn, and the other persists in his obstinacy. They do not differ in nature, but God illumines one and not the other.”102
The idea that God’s saving grace was never meant for everyone suggests that Calvinism is not as gracious as its title suggests. This has led to the charge that it should instead say, “The Doctrines of Limited Grace.”
Dave Hunt: “All is to the glory of God’s limited grace, Christ’s limited atonement, and God’s limited love, attributing to God lower standards of each than He expects of us.”103
If the “Doctrines of Grace” actually represents Limited Grace, then it becomes an Orwellian term. George Orwell identified a danger in losing the battle over language. Language is key to communication and communication is key to clear thinking, and so one way to distort someone’s thinking is through the use of manipulative language. For instance, calling Islam a religion of “peace” conceals and distorts the darker reality of what it really is. It is peace through violent submission. Similarly, in the Holocaust, certain code words were used to conceal the darker reality of murder. Examples include “Evacuations”, “Special Treatments” and “The Final Solution.” Its purpose was to disconnect people from a darker reality. This is what the flowery term of Calvinism’s “Doctrines of Grace” serves to accomplish. It redefines an absence of love as an act of love, thus providing an emotional detachment from the darker underlying reality of a theology whose God births babies into existence for the purpose of receiving glory from their eternal suffering.
In Calvinism, there is a “grace” associated with each doctrine of “TULIP” except for the “T.” The “T” is associated with the Total Depravity of mankind, in which Calvinism teaches that God decreed whatsoever comes to pass, including the Fall of man and having rendered it certain, so that mankind would be born Totally Depraved—helpless and hopeless—thus facilitating salvation being limited to only Calvinism’s elect. Yet, when the Bible speaks of the universal condemnation of mankind, it actually is associated with a grace because God is said to intend mercy to all. Romans 11:32: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” That indeed sounds like a grace, since it reveals that God antecedently wills for all to be shown mercy, though consequently if people refuse it then they will experience God’s judgment instead.
- “Grace” is all over the Bible. However, confounding it with Calvinism’s self-titled “Doctrines of Grace” doesn’t automatically mean that Calvinism is, therefore, all over the Bible.
- Just because Calvinists use the term “Doctrines of Grace” doesn’t automatically mean that they are defending grace.
The Calvinist label has an insulting implication, implying that non-Calvinists somehow don’t believe in grace. Former Calvinist and notable Hebrew scholar, Dr. Michael Brown observes,
“I’m fully aware that ‘the doctrines of grace’ is a terminus technicus (albeit a popular one) for Calvinism, and I know that some of you use it here without the slightest condescension on your part, but as a non-Calvinist, I find the term offensive. I revel in God’s grace as much as any Calvinist I have ever met or ever read, and every Arminian I have ever met who sang Amazing Grace did so with amazement and astonishment. I fervently hold to the doctrines of grace! To help balance the discussion, then, I propose here that Arminians consistently say that we hold to the DOCTRINE OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD. This will do two things: 1) It will convey to our Calvinistic friends that, in our eyes, they diminish God’s goodness by their doctrine (just as they believe we diminish God’s grace); and 2) It will make them realize how their use of terms like ‘the doctrines of grace’ (as opposed to the Reformed Faith) and ‘orthodoxy’ make Arminians immediately protest, ‘But I too hold to the doctrines of grace and I too am orthodox!’ I know that we sometimes describe our beliefs in this way, but let’s do it consistently to level the playing field with the hope that, over time, Calvinists would no longer describe their belief as ‘the doctrines of grace’ without saying, ‘And, of course, we know that Arminians also hold to the doctrines of grace.’ Should they say to us, ‘But you don’t!,’ then we could say, ‘Neither do you hold to the doctrine of the goodness of God,’ thus driving home to the point. (I could make similar points about those, like my friend Dr. White, who like to frame things in terms of monergism vs. synergism.) Shall we do it? For me, I am NOT saying that a Calvinist doesn’t hold to the goodness of God but rather that their emphasis diminishes the presentation of His goodness.”104
101 Whitefield’s Letter To Wesley On Election, Dec. 24, 1740, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/5514/0491/7249/wltw.pdf.
102 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), 229, emphasis mine.
103 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 215.
104 Michael Brown, Line of Fire Blog, March 25, 2010, Finding Common Ground. Web site: http://www.lineoffireradio.com/2010/03/25/march-25-2010