Next time you see a construction site, or a pile of rubble and mangled rebar—those small cylinders of reinforcing steel—think of Calvinism. Rebar and the reformed doctrines of soteriology have a lot of common. When you notice rebar, you know there is a problem: The project is broken, or it isn’t finished. The same is true of the doctrines of grace. Calvinism isn’t a cul-de-sac; TULIP is designed to take us somewhere, namely, the image of Christ the Lord. Calvinism, like all doctrine, helps straighten our spines, correcting our posture so we can walk in piety. We are Calvinists best when we aren’t aiming to be mere Calvinists. We are true, humble, piety-pursuing Calvinists when our knowledge of the truth leads to godliness (Titus 1:1).
Doctrine—whether from Dort, the seminary campus, or the small group study—is dialed toward forming piety in a disciple’s walk with the risen Christ. Theology trains us for godliness, giving us reps and routines for thinking, feeling, and doing for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Synod of Dort made their response to The Remonstrance of the Arminians because they knew more was a stake than protecting the views of a theological tribe. Dort was drafted to help disciples love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love their neighbor as themselves. Is this what our Calvinism does for us today? Does the soundness of our theology lead to soundness of life? If our experience with Calvinism doesn’t cultivate Christlikeness, we need to lift the lid and see where the wires have been crossed, disconnected, or fried. TULIP is designed to take us somewhere, namely, the image of Christ the Lord. Click To Tweet
Calvinists have a reputation problem. Typically, we’ve been known for arguments, theological trolling, and hijacking conversations toward TULIP. Why aren’t we known for godliness? We are passionate about the rightness of doctrine, and that’s commendable in the sight of God. However, Paul reminds us that we shouldn’t only be concerned about the right doctrine but also with teaching that promotes piety. “If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words” (1 Tim. 6:3–4). It’s possible to have a healthy interest in doctrinal discussions and debates over words—it’s possible when the promotion of godliness rather than rightness is the target.
When we teach the doctrines of grace, we must aim for the head and the heart. Mind-only discussions of the doctrines from Dort will fall short of promoting a piety that is well-pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. Heart-applications and affections-aimed teachings of TULIP will shame us into humble and holy disciples of Jesus Christ. Kevin Vanhoozer paints a portrait of theologically nourished piety when he says, “The true end of theology, its final purpose, is not an orthodox compendium of doctrine but an orthodox community of disciples who embody the mind of Jesus Christ everywhere, to everyone, at all times.” Let’s connect the dots from Calvinism to acting out our shared in-Christ-ness.
The Practical Piety of TULIP
A piety-producing understanding of the doctrine of sin will do more than educate disciples on the sinfulness of humanity—it reminds us of our sin, our own failures, and our total dependency on our death-defying Messiah (John 15:5). We can’t do anything without the risen Christ. We can’t be like Christ without Christ. Our piety will wane without the wonder-working power of a carpenter’s son who refused to stay dead.
Far too often, the teaching of Total Depravity becomes a set of binoculars we use to identify and label the sins of people around us. Thank you, God, that I’m not like this sinner or that sinner. Rather, the doctrine of Total Depravity, like all Scripture, is a mirror where we see ourselves, see our spiritual bedhead, our shortcomings, our indwelling sin, and we respond in faith, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
Unconditional Election outlines the schematics of grace, and it leaves us in recoil over God’s love. Since God has loved us unconditionally, let’s not make others earn our love. Grouchy church members and the people in your church whom you don’t “click with”, they are the intended recipients of us obeying Christ’s call to “Love one another as I loved you.”
Definite Atonement defines the shape of humility we should exhibit in our lives—it’s cruciform. Particular acts of humility should bloom here. If you know how to articulate the extent of the atonement but we can’t imagine cleaning the church’s office or serving in the children’s ministry because it would waste your degree, you don’t know the piety-producing extent of the atonement (Phil. 2:1–11).
Irresistible Grace should release us into an irresistible resolve to make disciples and make much of Jesus. Dort doesn’t detract from mission—it’s rebar for revival. The Son will draw sinners in, the Spirit has swaddling cloths on hand, and the Father’s house has many rooms. So, preach, proclaim, and gospelize all who will listen. True Calvinism fosters piety because the points point us to the most important five-letter word in Calvinism—Jesus. Click To Tweet
Perseverance of the Saints, maybe out of all of Dort’s directives, points us right at the pursuit of piety. Disciples of Christ will make it to the end because they are triple-locked in the grip of the triune God. Also, true disciples will persevere as a saint, a holy one, turning from sin and toward Christ, like a pilgrim in progress. As Article 12 from Dort articulates:
This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God; so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
From the Canons of Dort, all the way back to Paul’s ink drying in a Roman cell, doctrine is designed for godliness. Remember, Calvinism is a reformation rebar, helping disciples build up into maturity, a stature and silhouette that doesn’t resemble Calvin’s beard but one that is nothing less than the fullness of Christ, the point of TULIP. Jesus is the only non-depraved human, and yet, he became our sin so we could gain his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). We are chosen in him, redeemed by him, drawn to him, and kept for him. True Calvinism fosters piety because the points point us to the most important five-letter word in Calvinism—Jesus.
 Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 127–128.