The Symphony of Grace
How the Doctrines of Grace Inspire Deeper
Personal and Corporate Relationships with Christ

Draft by Tim Voorhees, 2/2/2016

Summary: Teachings about God's grace have deep meaning and broad application. Like great works of music, the doctrines of grace can be articulated by referring to written elements that form a universal language. This article suggests how, (I) Understanding the elements of music and theology deepens our appreciation of both.; (II) Knowing the elements in the doctrines of grace increases awareness of how God relates to man; (III) Clarifying the elements of the covenant helps each individual more fully reflect the dimensions of God's character; (IV) Committing to honor the dimensions of divine character on an individual basis fosters character qualities needed in covenant community. (V) Committing to build a covenant community church fosters deep commitment to the doctrines of grace while encouraging covenants of grace with broad application. This article also explains how the doctrines of grace and covenant of grace are understood through the means of grace. Ultimately, all teachings about grace should help us want to experience more deeply and broadly the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

  1. Understanding the elements of music and theology deepens our appreciation of both
  2. God's grace is like a beautiful symphony. Communication of the inherent beauty in a symphony has improved across the centuries as musicians have learned to help listeners enjoy the sound more fully. Likewise, as theological dialog has matured over the centuries, man has found more effective ways to communicate and experience the doctrines of grace.

    Symphonies create beautiful sound because the individual members of the orchestra have learned to play their parts with great skill while coordinating with others to play masterful harmonies. The harmonies exist only because members of the orchestra play their instruments according to commonly accepted norms. These norms can be written in a universal language involving musical elements that define notes, chords, key, pitch, instrumentation, rhythm, tempo, etc.

    The musical norms have evolved over the centuries. Even before monasteries developed primitive musical scales in the 9th century, people sang and played melodies and harmonies. Starting in the 13th century, rhythms and scales developed continually until Beethoven, Schubert and other composers were able to coordinate the instruments of symphonic orchestras in the 19th century. Thanks to the careful notations of the composers, people still enjoy their symphonies globally.

    The evolution of music theory parallels the evolving language used to describe theological concepts, such as the doctrines of grace. Before music theory or theological confessions, it was possible to experience beautiful music or divine grace. Nonetheless, as the elements of language are defined more precisely and universally, larger groups of people unite with deeper levels of understanding. For example, the catechisms of Aquinas in the 13th century evolved into confessions in the 16th and 17th century that still form a common language among Protestants around the world.

    Divine grace, like the music of symphony, can be articulated with great precision in written documents based on accepted elements. Trained theologians, like skilled composers, can define beauty on black and white papers that help readers fully understand transcendent movements. Much like a book of scales can inspire music that stimulates profound sentiments, a theological confession can articulate God's love and truth in ways that stimulate the highest thoughts and deepest emotions.

    Confessions articulate divine love and truth using the doctrines of grace. It is possible to know grace without a formal understanding of the doctrines, much like a person can sing a melody without knowing music theory. Nonetheless, when people band together to play symphonies or form God-honoring institutions, the common language helps everyone base thoughts and actions on time-tested elements while guarding against discordant deviations.

  3. Knowing the elements in the doctrines of grace increases awareness of how God relates to man
  4. The doctrines of grace, like a music scale, have traditionally been articulated on five lines. Five phrases form the acronym, "TULIP." This TULIP acrostic was developed in response to Jacob Arminius, who questioned basic tenants of the classic catechisms. Arminius and his followers published five main attacks on the orthodox teachings of Augustine, Calvin, and other church fathers. In response, the church convened the Council of Dort in 1618. The church leaders promulgated five responses that have subsequently been summarized with the TULIP acronym, which is summarized on the table below.

    While TULIP provides a good defense to Arminian thinking, many evangelical theologians have refined and modified the acronym. For example, Roger Nicole has added a 6th element labeled "Grace" and changed the first word of each phrase to spell the acronym "GOSPELi."
    Indeed, all good summaries of the theology behind TULIP place a solid emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel. Books and articles on TULIP also emphasize the central role of God's law in defining the gospel and the doctrines of graceii. It is presumed that knowledge of God leads to an appreciation of the Biblical Gospel that is made clearer through articulation of the doctrines of graceiii.

    The TULIP acronym refers to theological concepts that have been described as the "Solas of the Reformation." The Latin word sola means "alone" or "only" in English. "Sola Gratia" and "Sola Fide" are found in the 16th century writings of the Reformers. 20th century writers referred organized sets of 5 or 6 solas. For example, in 1958, Geoffrey Elton summarized the work of John Calvin while referencing "Sola Scriptura" and "Soli Deo Gloria." A commentary on Karl Barth's theological system referred to "Christus solus." In 1965, the Catholic Church published "The Church and the World" with references to "church alone." The church alone or "Sola Ecclessia" has been referred to as the 6th solaiv.

    Theologians have preached about the TULIP elements and doctrines of grace while emphasizing God's covenant. For example, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

    Arminianism is thus guilty of confusing doctrines and of acting as an obstruction to a clear and lucid grasp of the Scripture because it misstates or ignores the eternal purpose of God, it dislocates the meaning of the whole plan of redemption. Indeed confusion is inevitable apart from this foundational truth [of election]. Without it there is a lack of unity of thought, and generally speaking they have no idea whatever of a system of divinity. It is almost impossible to make a man a theologian unless you begin with this [doctrine of election]. You may if you please put a young believer to college for years, but unless you show him this ground-plan of the everlasting covenant, he will make little progress, because his studies do not cohere, he does not see how one truth fits with another, and how all truths must harmonize together...v

    Understanding the doctrines of grace leads to appreciation of how these doctrines fully parallel teachings in the covenant of grace. Now it is more common to see the doctrines of grace articulated with six lines corresponding to elements of the covenant. The five traditional elements of the TULIP correspond roughly to the six doctrines of grace shown in the first column on the following table. The TULIP order has been rearranged on the table to correspond to both the Solas in the first column and the R-THEOS structure in the 3rd column. The R-THEOS acronym indicates how God relates to man through a covenant.

    SOLAS TULIP (or ITLPU) R THEOS
    Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) Irresistible Grace Revelation/Resources - Nature reveals the glory of God and fosters faith in a Creator. See Romans 1:17, 2:15, etc. God reveals His divine attributes and resources, through nature and Scripture, with Irresistible Grace.
    God's Glory Alone (Soli Deo Gloria) Total Depravity Transcendence of God Purposes - The chief purpose of man is to glorify God. Before salvation, man is totally defiled and unable to know or glorify the Creator. God’s transcendent purposes, revealed in Scripture, are the opposite of man's Totally Depraved purposes.
    Christ Alone (Christus Solus) Limited Atonement Hierarchy/Hearing - The believer submits and hears God’s call. Not all people will acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior because of Limited Atonement.
    Faith Alone (Sola Fide) Perseverance Ethics - God points believers to Christ and His Word in scripture. Scripture reveals ethical principles in God's law and inspires Perseverance of the Saints through the Gospel message.
    Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) Unconditional Election Outcomes - The Holy Spirit leads man to experience blessings or curses, depending on faithfulness to self-maledictory oaths. The greatest blessing is Unconditional Election that leads to supernatural transformation.
    Ecclesia Alone (Sola Ecclesia)   Succession – After salvation, each saint perseveres in holding to the doctrines of grace and building a succession of stronger covenant community churches.

     

  5. Clarifying the elements of the covenant helps each individual more fully reflect the dimensions of God's character
  6. The six lines above parallel the expressions of God's covenantal character in Scripture. God first reveals Himself along with His transcendent purposes and attributes. These dimensions of God's character are communicated through priests, prophets and others who are qualified for hierarchical leadership roles in God's covenantal institutions. Within these institutions, ethics are preached and practiced. Within God's primary covenantal institutions (the church, family, and government), believers make oaths that form the basis for blessings or curses (e.g., outcomes). Ultimately, each saint will persevere in honoring dimensions of God's character while building a succession of churches that meet needs around the globe and across the centuries.

    In Jeremiah 32:40-44, God reveals an everlasting covenant. His transcendent purpose is to do well to them always. He inspires them to heed Him (hierarchy), so that they will [follow His ethics] never turn away from Him. God then rejoices in doing good and planting them in the land with all His heart and soul (blessed outcomes). A plan of succession is evident as these blessings are inherited by individuals in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the western foothills.

    Each individual believer understands the elements of the covenant because God communicates His laws to them. In Jeremiah 31:31, God says, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Jeremiah is prophesying about the believer under the new covenant, which cannot be broken. Under the old covenant, laws were broken and animal sacrifices failed to provide full atonement for sins. Under the new covenant, laws are written on the hearts of believers so that the conditions of the covenant are fulfilled by God's sovereign grace.

    Even after Christ reveals the new covenant as part of God's transcendent plan of redemption, "[t]he mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (Romans 8:7). Fortunately, despite man's unwillingness to submit to God's hierarchical authority, Jesus reaffirms ethical precepts from the Sanai Covenant and other Hebrew covenants (Hebrews 8:6). By understanding how Jesus reaffirms the ancient covenants of Scripture, the believer can more fully realize God's many promised blessings (see, e.g., Romans 9:4). Individuals who form a covenantal relationship with Christ can enjoy the promised outcomes and count themselves as "heirs (or successor beneficiaries) according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29).

    The above elements can guide all prayers and sermons. These six elements are evident in great prayers of the Bible, such as Nehemiah's prayer in Nehemiah 1 and the Lord's prayer in Luke 11. When pastors preach God's (1) revelation and (2) transcendent purpose with clarity, listeners (3) hear God and confess that they need Christ to uphold God's (4) ethical standards on our behalf. Actively repenting and turning to Christ allows individuals to enjoy blessed (5) outcomes and prepare for eternity in God's presence, which is the ultimate personal (6) succession plan. Prayers and sermons that emphasize these elements of the covenant (or of the Gospel) can help every believer enjoy the greatest personal maturity. In this way, teaching about the doctrines of grace can have, "value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:8).vi

    This section emphasizes how prayer, sermons about God's Word, and church involvement help the believer know and draw close to God. These means of grace foster deeper personal relationships with God while also inspiring involvement in a church with believers who covenant together to foster character qualities needed to experience Biblical grace in the covenant community, as explained in the next section.

  7. Committing to honor the dimensions of divine character on an individual basis fosters character qualities needed in covenant community.
  8. The previous section indicates how the believer can form a covenantal relationship with God and experience His promised blessings on a personal level. Much like a person can sing a melody without knowing music theory; God can call a person to know Him without the person knowing theology of the elements of the doctrines of grace. Consider the faith of little children (Matthew 18:2-4) or the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43).

    One of the thieves on the cross recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and then asked for mercy and pardon. He offered a simple prayer, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." This prayer indicates that the thief, seeing the crucified Jesus, understood the connection between the cross and the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel in the kingdom revealed by Christ. Similarly, with a proper understanding of Christ's death and resurrection, all believers can see how hundreds of promises made to the covenant community throughout the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Kingdom ushered in by Christ.

    While there are many promises made to individuals throughout Scripture, some of the greatest promises, such as those in Romans 9, are made to covenant communities. Such communities include God's primary institutions (the church, the family, and the government) as well as secondary institutions the uphold elements of the covenant when doing God's work. Seeing how God's work is done through these communities inspires the believer to develop a mature way of communicating faith and forming bonds with other believers. Much like members of an orchestra all agree to follow fundamental elements of music when being led by a trained conductor, members of a covenant community can harmonize their efforts most effectively if honoring well-defined elements of the doctrines of grace.

    Because individual believers will often lack knowledge about doctrinal elements, the trained conductor has a vitally important role in firmly holding to the doctrines of grace. The conductor can help each orchestra member develop personal skills, much like a pastor oversees discipleship and cultivation of character qualities in each church member. Biblical pastors, through preaching and eldership, have opportunities to foster unity by inspiring the people they lead to base actions and decisions on elements of God's character. The people under the care of the church elders can and should trust that the elders properly administer baptism and communion sacraments to maintain faithfulness to teachings about divine grace.

    Teaching elders have powerful leadership roles when influencing the family and government. Faithfulness to God's character often begins with sermons in the church and guidance from qualified small group leaders who join with the lead pastor in holding firmly to the doctrines of grace. When the church inspires the family and government to uphold dimensions of God's character, then leaders in the three main Biblical covenant institutions can form strong foundations for Godly behavior. When preachers emphasize unified worship and prayer in the Upper Room, this focus on the Lord inspires communities to respect time-tested models for church-based family, educational, economic, and judicial institutions in the boardrooms, courtrooms, classrooms, and family rooms.

    The diagram at the right indicates how God, at the center of the universe, calls people to know His Law and Gospel. Through worship and prayer, believers can learn more about the whole counsel of God and develop a desire to know all of His attributes. The myriad divine characteristics are reflected in the doctrines of grace, which parallel the elements of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is explained in the classic confessions and catechisms. People who organize Scripture according to these time-tested covenantal documents can develop a common language and form effective covenant communities, starting with the church. The church works with the family and government to undergird effective community relationships in the Upper Room (Spiritual), Courtroom (Judicial), Classroom (Educational), Family Room (Familial), and Board Room (Commercial).

     

    The above graphic illustrates a theology that uses God's law to convict the heart while sharing the love and hope of the Gospel to inspire heartfelt reflection. Such reflection on Scripture should lead to a desire to strengthen Christ-centered relationships within the covenant community, thereby broadening the faith to reach all men. God's law, when combined with God's love, can define elements of the doctrines of grace, the covenant of grace, and covenant church communities. All of these concepts can be described using the six elements of the covenant. For example, a mature church can define God's special (1) revelation in a creed or confession focused on God's (2) transcendent purposes revealed in Scripture. The church raises up and trains elders to hold firmly to the doctrines of grace, while giving (3) hierarchical authority to the most qualified leaders. Church elders can preach God's (4) ethical law with a power that convicts, leads to confession, and prepares church communities to enjoy God's blessed (5) outcomes. Such churches provide excellent models that people will want to replicate around the world as part of God's (6) succession plan. Such churches can work with the family and government, God's other two covenantal institutions, to help reflect throughout society a mature understanding of the above six dimensions of God's gracious truth.vii

  9. Committing to build a covenant community church fosters deep commitment to the doctrines of grace while encouraging covenants of grace with broad application.
  10. Everyone should have enough knowledge of God's and God's law to understand the core of the diagram to the right. While Romans 8:7 reminds us that, "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so," teachings about the covenant assure us that God's law is written on the heart of all men. See, e.g., Romans 1:18, 2:15. Through proper preaching about God and the role of the law in His Gospel, people can be brought to a higher level of understanding that can address all types of issues.

    Through general revelation, God calls men to know Him and His law. Through the special revelation of Scripture, God reveals the Gospel and doctrines of grace. Careful preaching about God's revelation reveals God in a way that leads men to know Him and want to know more about Him. This naturally leads to higher levels of understanding about the doctrines of grace, the covenant of grace, covenant communities, the covenant community church, and leadership of the church.

    God raises up increasingly mature men and women as progressively understand more about doctrines, covenants, and the role of the church. The most mature men are the qualified elders who meet for communion, prayer, accountability. Such meetings are comparable to the gathering of Jesus and His apostles in the "upper room." In the following diagrams, the upper room symbolizes the most holy gathering of the most mature church leaders. Mature church leaders have a vitally important role in overseeing the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine. As doctrines about God, the gospel, grace and the covenant are preached and taught properly, more men are raised up as qualified elders who can meet in the upper room. These elders can have the experience, wisdom, and qualifications to help the church interact with the family and government while directly or indirectly influencing what happens in the classroom, courtroom, board room, and family room.

       

    The 3 covenantal institutions and 5 rooms shown on the above diagrams have common underpinnings that are depicted in two different ways. The diagram on the left shows five inner circles that can all be depicted with six dimensions. God communicates His character, the Gospel, the doctrines of grace, and the covenant of grace to individual using the six solas of the reformation and the six elements of the covenant shown in the table on the third page of this appendix and shown on the diagram at the right. The diagram on the right suggests how the six elements undergird the structure of the 3 covenantal institutions and 5 rooms where God's work is often done.

    The diagram on the right indicates how God's work in this world begins with his revelation (1). The revelation inspires men and women to understand his purpose and mission (2). Mature believers submit to God's law and his righteousness through a hierarchical process (3). This righteousness is made known through Biblical ethics (4). Following or disregarding the ethics leads to curses or blessed outcome (5). Faithfulness leads to abundant blessings that can be used to create more churches as God's plan of succession (6). This succession plan also involves families, governments and rooms build around these institutions. (For more information about how these institutions work together while reaffirming the six elements above, see Appendix Two of this book or the free book available from www.Legacies.info.)

    The covenantal institutions rooms shown above, if faithful to the six elements summarized above, can establish the solid foundation and equip qualified leaders to address all types of social ills. As illustrated at www.BiblicalReason.com/Problems, there are nearly 40 major Spiritual, Judicial, Educational, Familial, and Commercial problems that can be addressed in the Upper Room, Court Room, Classroom, Family Room, and Board Room. Details are illustrated on the following diagram and at www.BiblicalReason.com/Solutions.

    When considering the many giant American (and global) problems illustrated above and described at www.BiblicalReason.com/Problems, one can easily be overwhelmed. Fortunately, as Abraham Kuyper reminds us, ""There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, "Mine!" Through the doctrines of grace and the above model, we see how God, at the center of the diagram, communicates his doctrine and covenant in a way that forms a foundation for addressing all types of problems.

    As noted in Ephesians 2:5-10, it is by grace that we have been saved and raised up with Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Through these good works, we express God's kindness. As we show kindness by applying Biblical solutions to the problems allowed by God, we lead others to repentance and knowledge of God's glory, honor and peace. (Romans 2:4, 10)

    Conclusion

    Firmly holding to the doctrines of grace has value in the present life because it fosters clarity of thought, a deeper understanding about God's character, and a basis for more clear communication about orthodox teachings. This orthodoxy couples with orthopraxy in a way that can address the major social ills of the day.

    In this world we will have troubles, but, "Take heart! [Christ] has overcome the world." (John 16:33). Christ's message of victory begins with His teachings about His grace. Each inviduals can experience this grace like a beautiful melody in his heart. As individual believers learn to communicate the melodies to others using widely accepted theological elements, mature believes can covenant together in mature institutions where Christ reigns supreme.

    When symphonic orchestras unite in respecting time-tested musical elements, they create awesome harmonies. High quality music quickly spreads around the globe on the radio and internet without any diminution in quality. This is even truer when a local church, superintended by qualified preachers and teachers, holds firmly to the doctrines of grace in order to maintain orthodoxy and address community problems with orthopraxy. By building mature local churches, we create models that can be replicated around the world and across the generations. Then the symphonies can play, "a hymn of praise to our God" because "many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him." (Psalm 40:3)


ENDNOTES

  1. See pages 54-56 of Our Sovereign Savior: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole.

  2. Apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:19-25 and elsewhere, affirms the purposes of God's law and reminds us that the law is not opposed to God's gracious promises. The catechisms underscore the ongoing pedagogical and normative purposes of the law as a means of leading us to repent and more fully appreciate Christ's grace. See, for example, http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=165.

  3. Books explaining the elements of the Biblical gospel:
    • Boice, James Montgomery and Philip Graham Ryken, R. C. Sproul. The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009
    • Dever, Mark and C. J. Mahaney. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (9Marks), Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008
    • DeYoung, Kevin L. and Jerry Bridges. The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010
    • Ferguson, Sinclair. In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007
    • Horton, Michael. Gospel Commission, The: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011
    • Horton, Michael. The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009
    • Keller, Timothy, D. A. Carson, et al. The Gospel as Center (The Gospel Coalition), Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013
    • Marshall, Walter. The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Seattle: WA: Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 1692

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solae

  5. Piper, John. Five Points. Christian Focus Publications (November 10, 2013). Kindle Location 1145 of 1233

  6. Books about growing in personal maturity:
    • Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member?, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008
    • Boa, Ken. Conformed to His Image, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009
    • Gibson, Scott and Warren Wiersbe. Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012
    • Lothrop, Samuel Kirkland. The Mature Christian Ripe for the Harvest, Boston: J. Wilson and Son, 1861
    • Whitney, Donald S., Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life with Bonus Content (Pilgrimage Growth Guide), Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012
    • Whitney, Donald S. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001

  7. Books defining and encouraging church maturity:
    • Whitney, Donald S. and James Montgomery Boice, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1996
    • Dever, Mark and Joshua Harris. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004
    • Miller, Brad. Church Health and Growth Primer

To see a more thorough discussion of the elements of the Biblical covenant, please visit www.covenant.net/6elements