Fesko on the famous TULIP acronym

"For whom, and in what sense, did Christ die? Christ most certainly died for the elect -- this is undisputed among a host of Reformed and non-Reformed theologians. But in what sense, if any, did Christ die for all? 70

Presently this question is typically filtered through the grid of 'five-point Calvinism' and the famous TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. According to this modern acronym, Christ died only for the elect, and all other positions fall under the category of 'four-point Calvinism.' As pedagogically useful as the acronym might be, it is historically problematic for at least three reasons. First, no early modern Reformed theologian ever uses the acronym, for it originated well after the seventeenth century. Second, no early modern Reformed theologian uses the term limited atonement. One factor contributing to the absence of the term in early modern Reformed theology is atonement is an English word, and the lion's share of theology was written in Latin. The common term of the period was satisfactio, hence the English term satisfaction. This is why the term atonement does not appear in the Standards, but satisfaction appears nine times. 71

Third, few early modern Reformed theologians saw themselves as the disciples of Calvin or as Calvinists. The term Calvinist was originally created as a term of derision in an effort by the opponents of the Reformed churches to isolate and brand them as sectarian. 72 Hence, if read through the alien grid of the TULIP, early modern views are distorted, and fine nuances that were once carefully argued are lost with the ham-fisted separation between five-point and four-point Calvinism, as if Calvin were the standard and taught a strict doctrine of limited atonement, and all other views fall under the category of universal atonement. Consequently, it is necessary, first, to briefly set out the various views on the extent of the satisfaction of Christ and then, second, to determine to what extent the Standards accommodate these views, if at all" (J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, pp. 188-189).

70 For an overview of the various forms of hypothetical universalism, see Richard A. Muller, "Revising the Predestination Paradigm: An Alternative to Supralapsarian, Infralapsarian, and Hypothetical Universalism" (Mid-American Fall Lecture Series, Dyer, Indiana, Fall 2008).

71 WCF 11.1, 3; 15.3; LC qq. 70, 71, 194.

72 Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: Studies on the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 75.