Some of you may not be familiar with the T U L I P anagram which is commonly supposed to be a mnemonic device summarizing the main doctrines of Calvinism. These five doctrines are often called the five fundaments of Calvinism, but we must put behind us the tale that wags the dogma. The “T” stands for total depravity, the “U” for unconditional election, the “L” for limited atonement, the “I” for irresistible grace, and the “P” for preservation of the saints.
The following narrative offers an alternative explanation and is therefore an edifying tale. You will be an improved person for knowing it and, doubtless, be grateful to me for offering this account.
There are many great romances in the Western world: Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet and Ophelia; Othello and Desdemona; Tristan and Isolte; Frankie and Johnnie. However, the greatest of them all is Charles and Margaret. Therefore, I give you Charles recounting the story of his brilliant courtship in his own voice: “By the time I finished high school it had become obvious to me, for reasons which common decency and social delicacy forbid me to discuss, that I really ought to get married. I had known since I was 13 years old that I wanted to be a minister, and I chose a college where I figured a minister’s wife—mine—might reasonably be expected to be found. In my late teens it had come to me in a blazing insight that I had neither the physiology, intelligence, nor character to raise a family alone.
When I got to college, I smiled a lot with the side of my mouth and tried to look mysterious, but none of the young women seemed disposed to let me know how much I was fascinating them. You may find it difficult to believe, but—in those days—I was regarded as a devil with the ladies and obviously more drastic measures were called for if I was going to find the wife that God predestined me to have.
Ever the scholar, it seemed appropriate to do research on the matter. Thus, I first collected the names of all the women on the dean’s list. It seemed evident that God would want me to marry a woman who was smart enough to be challenged to see what she could make of me. This procedure produced twenty candidates who might be intelligent enough to be considered for my hand. Secondly, I carefully studied the pictures in the college yearbook. I had no special inclination to spend my life with someone I didn’t enjoy looking at, and I knew the Lord felt the same way. That procedure narrowed the candidates to ten. Thirdly, I asked the Dean of Women for the church preference list. I figured my wife would have to be a Calvinist, since everyone knows that a woman who is brilliant and beautiful and not a Calvinist is in an unstable condition. That left me with four names. The first was eight feet tall, a fact which was not revealed in the yearbook. I crossed her name off—not because I resented looking up to women—but I was not about to climb a stepladder in order to—er—gaze into her eyes. The second turned out to be engaged so I, being an honorable man, crossed her name off my list of prospects, too. I called the third one but she said she couldn’t go out with me because she had to wash her hair that night. I called her every day for three months and would you believe that woman washed her hair each night for all three months? I finally quit calling her because I did not want to marry anybody whose head was that dirty. Besides, from all that washing she is probably completely bald now and one of those in any family is surely sufficient.
That process left Margaret as the lucky one. I must admit that I was not especially happy with that result. I did not mind marrying an intelligent woman, but I had reservations about one who was obviously so much smarter than I was. Moreover, I discovered that she was planning to go back to Africa as a missionary doctor. Not only did she have brains, beauty, and theological integrity—what was worse she had plans which did not include me. I complained to the Lord that He wasn’t making it easy for me, but He just grinned. I could tell that God had predestined her for me so I set about to accomplish the will of God.
The first problem was to get her to notice me. I was sure I had solved that difficulty when I observed that she would carefully cross the street to avoid walking past me. Still I didn’t see how I was going to give her the opportunity to marry me unless I could talk to her first. So I paid good money to a fellow to move from her table in the dining room so that I could sit directly across from her. I expected to charm her with sprightly table conversations, but this did not work because she would neither look at me nor speak to me. Thus I decided I would keep quiet and stare fixedly at her all through breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This went on for six months. Finally, one day she broke down and spoke to me. I will never forget her first words. She said, “It is rude to stare,” and I could tell from the way she said it that she was terribly smitten with me. Then I went to the library in her absence and located her carrel. I removed the name and books from the carrel next to hers and put mine in their place. When I leaned over to see what she was reading, I knew I was in trouble. She had taped a little motto on the shelf which read: ‘For a woman to get ahead in this world she has to be twice as good as a man. Fortunately that’s easy!’
Still, I understood why Margaret was fighting this great attraction; my reputation as a heart-breaker was well established. Therefore, she felt obligated to date this other guy who was really a monster, and I knew I must save her from David. He was totally unsuitable for her, but she thought that she liked him, and I did not know what to do until I read in my Bible that ‘all is fair in love and war.’ I knew then that I had my marching orders so I went to David and explained that he was wasting his time because Margaret was really crazy about me. I knew that was, what we call in ethics, proleptically true. That is, she would be crazy about me if I could get near her. And, of course, David never asked her for another date because it did not occur to him that a pre-ministerial student would be able to change a present contrary to fact condition into a future truth.
Anyway, after 30 years of marriage and five children, I thought it was safe to explain to Margaret what had happened to David and the other guys. She had always wondered, but I must say, she took it in good part—she hit me over the head with her purse—illustrating the biblical prophesy that the victor gets crowned.
“I have told you this edifying story because it illustrates the incredible power of predestination in action. You learned the TULIP anagram in theology, right? Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement. . .
Actually it means “Totally Unscrupulous Lover in Pursuit.”