The Five Points of Calvinism Book Tag

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Back in 2017 (or, you might say, in “eternity past”), Bookstooge put up a request for a “serious” book tag. At that time, I did not even know that Bookstooge existed (hard as that is to imagine). But in the providence of God, I stumbled upon that forlorn request recently, and this is the result.

The Five Points of Calvinism

These five points are not all of Christian theology, or even all of Reformed theology. There is a lot more to it, and it’s all good stuff. These five topics are simply things that Jacob Arminius and his followers disputed in the early 1600s, after the Reformation was well under way and John Calvin had been writing for some time. All of this caused a huge kerfuffle in the Dutch Reformed churches, and eventually, in 1619, the Synod of Dort adopted the Canons of Dort which answered the Arminians’ objections point by point. So, though these five points are not the whole of Reformed theology, they do represent some of the doctrines that people are most likely to have issues with, as demonstrated by Arminius, his followers, and in fact most people down to this day.

Due to their Dutch character, the five points, if put in terms that are somewhat misleading, can be shoehorned into the acrostic TULIP:

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

Because this is a tag, I’m not going to parse or defend these points deeply. I’ll just explain each one in a short paragraph, then apply it to a book tag purpose. Since these things deal with the nature of man and God, they turn out to be fruitful for reminding us of our literary experiences.

T – Total Depravity

Arminius taught that people are free in their will to choose God or reject him. The doctrine of total depravity (or “sin nature”) holds instead that people, if left to themselves, are spiritually dead and will never voluntarily seek God. (Dead people cannot choose things.)

Name a book or a series that you appreciate for its jaundiced or realistic portrayal of human nature.

U – Unconditional Election

Election means that God chooses to draw some people to Himself, making alive their hearts so that they are then able to seek, hear, and trust in Him. Arminians taught that God elects people for salvation in this way on the basis of some quality in them, such as humility, faith, “responding to the light they have,” etc. The doctrine of unconditional election holds that God does not choose people because they are better than other people. He chooses them just because He wants to.

Name a book where someone chooses someone else unconditionally.

L – Limited Atonement

The most confusing of the five points as far as I am concerned, Limited Atonement means that Christ’s death was actually just for “his people” – those God chose to elect – not for everyone generally. If it were for everyone generally, and some people rejected salvation, that would mean that God’s work in salvation was ineffective in some cases, which would throw the determining factor back onto the individual.

This point is confusing for two reasons: 1) Since we don’t know who is going to be saved, we are commanded to proclaim the good news to everyone as if they were all elect. 2) We know that the number of those who believe will be a very great number, enough that Christ can be said to have saved “the whole world.” So, “limited” does not mean a small number of people.

This is one of those fine distinctions that is kind of hard to squeeze down into a two-word phrase, which then fits into a flower acrostic.

Name a book that has a complex, confusing, or seemingly unworkable philosophy behind its worldbuilding.

I – Irresistible Grace

When God chooses someone, He works on their heart, giving them a new heart with a will that is now able to choose Him. This also frees their mind to be able to hear and understand His word (since, as we know, our intellect is embarrassingly tied up with our will). When this happens, they freely choose Him, now that their will has been freed from the sin that bound it. It is never the case that God gives someone a new heart, and they then reject Him. His grace is irresistible.

What book did you find irresistible?

P – Perseverance of the Saints

This doctrine means that once someone has been regenerated, heard God’s word, and begun to believe, they will not ultimately, or permanently, fall away. You cannot “lose your salvation.” This is a very comforting doctrine, for without it, we tend to panic every time we fall into sin (or have some previously unnoticed sin revealed to us that, unfortunately, has been with us all along).

Name one of your favorite redemption arcs in a book or movie.

Go and Read Some More!

I tag Bookstooge (hope this is serious enough for you, Booksty!), and Colin cause I know he digs Reformed theology. Anyone else can do it if they want to.

What More Could You Ask in a Reconstructed Face?

He’s a Dutch Neanderthal. Seriously.

As you know, I am both.

Take a minute and go look at his face.

Now come back.

Cute, right? Plus, he’s thought to have lived in “Doggerland, the now-submerged region between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.” If that’s not cool I don’t know what is. I recently saw a theory somewhere that Doggerland was the inspiration for Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, that his cycle of stories is supposed to be a history of very ancient times before those lands were swallowed up by the sea.

Now, we could quibble about how much this facial reconstruction owes to imagination. We’d need to know how big was the “piece of skull” used in it. Was it just a fragment, or was it a good bit of the skull? But as for me, I’m not going to look a gift Neanderthal in the mouth. (So to speak.) Also, I know someone who looks a bit like this. A little more chin, a little less nose, but still a human face.

Link Plus Rant, Coming Up!

The Link

Is anyone on earth not an immigrant?

(Someone sent me this link because the article’s reference to migrations reminded them of my book The Long Guest. I’m flattered.)

The Rant

If you think about this question for two seconds, the obvious answer is “no.” If people dispersed from wherever they arose (or were created), then we are all “immigrants” in the sense that our ancestors have moved from place to place. A lot.

Two thoughts about this.

  1. I have never thought of the term “immigrant” as derogatory. The title of this article seems to imply that it is usually used derogatorily, and that the article is going to subvert that. And I have heard others speak as though “immigrant” is a slur. For the record, I have never thought of it as a slur and that is not how I use the word. In fourth grade, a school I attended did a whole unit on “immigrants.” It was a historical unit about the 19th- and 20th-century waves of immigration to America, first from Ireland and Italy, and then from Eastern Europe. I did a report about my Dutch ancestors emigrating to the United States. They are the ones I first think of when I hear the word “immigrant.” It’s a term of pride, encouraging us to think about our distinctive national origins, our families’ stories of assimilation, and how great it is that we can live in the United States and be Americans, while still retaining some of the distinctive traditions from our ancestors of two, three, or four generations back. I am also happy to think that the United States has often been a place for refugees to flee to. The prime example of this is people fleeing Europe during the 30s and 40s, but there are many more recent examples. Of course we cannot take in an infinite number of people, instantly and without limitations, just as no family, no matter how hospitable, can simultaneously host an unlimited number of house guests. But this does not mean I am “anti-immigration.” It is, in general, a positive thing. To new immigrants, my response would be along the lines of “welcome” and “I know assimilation is hard, but eventually I hope you like it here as much as I do.”
  2. As the article points out, the history of humanity is a history of exploration and people movements. This means that it has also been a history of people assimilating, intermarrying, displacing, and engaging in conquest of other peoples. (I put that on a scale from least to most disruptive.) Obviously, the details of how this worked out in each case depended upon a lot of things, like the numbers involved, the natural resources possessed by one side or the other, cultural matches and clashes, technology, and other kinds of power. (See Thomas Sowell’s excellent Discrimination and Disparities for more on this.) But the point is, everybody’s ancestors were driven out of somewhere, and everybody’s ancestors at some point conquered or colonized somebody. Therefore, it makes no sense to go to people whose ancestors were recently (say, within the last few centuries) colonizers, and to tell them that they are living on stolen land. Nearly everyone is living on stolen land. Also, where are the former conquerors going to go when they vacate this land? Back to the place their ancestors came from? I think it’s a tad crowded now and they wouldn’t be welcome there either. Also, what about the many, many (probably the majority) of people in whose veins flows the blood of both conqueror and conquered, native and newcomer? It just doesn’t make sense.

Thank you. This has been a public service announcement.

Dutch Curly Hair

I am Dutch-American. What I got out of it was good bone structure, “Kraklen” cookies (so good!), a fondness for black licorice, a few mild swear words such as swatakat (translation: “black cat”), curly hair (more on that later), and the phrase, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.”

That last one is tongue-in-cheek, of course. After all, we are Dutch American. But if you look at history, it does neatly encapsulate the national attitude.

One Cheer for the Dutch

The Dutch had their national moment, as it were, during the seventeenth century (1600s). They provided a refuge of religious freedom for the Pilgrims, mostly because at that time the Dutch didn’t care about separatism nearly as much as King James did.

In North America, they set up a trading post at New Amsterdam (Manhattan Island), but made the mistake of fixing upon a feudal-style system where only Dutch West India Company members could own land, and their serfs were forbidden by law from leaving. This did not encourage growth, and the place struggled until the English conquered it, re-named it New York, and allowed English things like local control of government, free immigration and trade, and land ownership for everyone. After that it really took off, and … well, you see it today.

Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company was distinguishing itself in Indonesia, where in order to ensure its own access to spices, it would eventually become a harsh colonial power and rule for centuries, until its grip was weakened by Japan (on-site) and Hitler (back home).

While in Indonesia, the Dutch did manage to get a monkey named after them. The Indonesians called the proboscis monkey kera Belanda, i.e. “Dutch monkey,” because of its big nose and reddish skin.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Good bone structure!

I don’t think the Dutch sent their nicest people to Indonesia. Or to Manhattan. But, during this same period, Holland did have some amazing citizens. For example, they had Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn

Photo by Aaron Burden on Pexels.com

“Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leyden, Holland [the same city where the Pilgrims took refuge] in 1606. He was one of nine children and the son of a miller [and so they probably had a windmill!]. His family was Calvinist by faith … Rembrandt married Saskia, a Dutch woman whom he dearly loved. For a short period they enjoyed a life of happiness and prosperity and many were acclaiming him to be the greatest artist of the century. But Rembrandt never displayed an exalted opinion of himself… During the early years of success, he obtained a studio in the ghetto where he spent much of his time painting the impoverished people of Amsterdam. The ghetto was where he found his characters for biblical paintings, such as Abraham, Isaac, and many of the old prophets. Meanwhile, Saskia enjoyed the luxury that came with her husband’s success. Unfortunately, all this was short lived.

“They would have two daughters who died during infancy. Then, there was good news as they gave birth to a healthy son whom they named Titus. Shortly thereafter, Saskia fell ill and died. Rembrandt was greatly grieved by these family losses, and never remarried. It wasn’t long after these tragedies that he had to declare bankruptcy, losing everything he owned, including his great art collection. All that was spared him were his paints and brushes. Then, one year before his own death, the only remaining member of his family, Titus, died at the age of 27.

“Truly Rembrandt was a man of sorrows. But none of his emotions or energy went for naught, as he continued to paint with all the fervor of his youth. During his deep moments of suffering, he would always revert back to doing paintings of Jesus Christ. These biblical stories were done more for his own satisfaction [than for sale], as there were over seventy biblical paintings in his possession just a few years before his death.” (God & the History of Art, pp. 65 – 68)

Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits

Rembrandt did approximately 100 self-portraits, which brings me to what this Dutch-American blogger has in common with him besides the national origin and, of course, the crazy talent. If you want to see a few of them (and they are delightful), follow this link to the Human Pages site.

Of course there are so many things to love about these portraits, especially the Impressionist-looking one where an aged Rembrandt is smiling at the camera. (That must have been fun to paint.) But one thing that struck me about them was the curly hair. Look at that curly hair! In the very young self-portrait, it shades his face in a hood of frizz. Perhaps he had just washed it.

I have hair of about the same texture. When treated well (i.e. not washed for while), it settles into loose curls. When treated poorly, it frizzes. I got this curly hair from my Dutch American grandfather. Never got to see it on his head, because he went bald before I was born, so I didn’t know what was coming. But the hair lives on in me and in several other members of my family. It wasn’t until I saw these self-portraits of Rembrandt that I realized these are genuine, trademark Dutch curls.

Every nationality has things to be ashamed of and things to be proud of. I am proud of Rembrandt (though I can’t take any credit for him), and I am happy to share, if nothing else, his hair.

Sources

DeMar, Gary, et. al. Building a City on a Hill. American Vision, Inc., 1997, rev. ed. 2005. Chapter 25: “New Netherland Becomes New York,” p. 289 ff.

Stebbing, Barry. God & the History of Art I, 2nd ed. How Great Thou ART publications, 2001.