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Few of our Reformed confessional documents are as valuable and yet as neglected as the Canons of Dort. Today most who know about them think of them as the so-called and quite misleading “Five Points of Calvinism” or TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Strangely, for many, especially those in the self-described Young, Restless, and Reformed movement, the “Five Points” have become the be all and end all of “Reformed theology.” The truth is that there is much more to Reformed theology than the five points. Indeed, it is anachronistic and reductionist to call them the “Five Points of Calvinism.” It is anachronistic because Calvin had been dead for 54 years when the Synod of Dort convened in the Netherlands. It is reductionist because the Canons were never intended to be anything like a complete statement of the Reformed faith. They were the product of ecclesiastical deliberation on the attempt by some within the Reformed church in the Netherlands fundamentally to revise our doctrine of salvation. The Canons do not speak to many other topics in Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Further, what the churches were defending was the Word of God as confessed by the churches, not the formulations of a single pastor, however significant and influential, in Geneva. “Calvinism” was a nickname given to Reformed theology by its Lutheran critics. The Reformed churches and theologians described themselves as Reformed. The widespread use of “Calvinist” is a modern phenomenon.
Indeed, as Richard Muller has noted for years, even the acrostic TULIP is misleading. It does not accurately reflect the order of the doctrines addressed in the Canons, which would be: ULTIP. In The “Five Points” are not five distinct points because of the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine form one point,...
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