T-U-L-I-P (Minus Grace)

Without a pastoral dimension the offense of the gospel too easily is understood as the offensiveness of the church. The unchurched have no perception of a loving God who accepts persons while they are yet sinners.

A brutal example of this was provided by the recent [1979] Hollywood film Hard Core, written and directed by a young man raised in an evangelical church. It is an agonizing experience for anyone from that community and the wider evangelical world to watch that film. The focus of the story is a lay member of the ‘Christian Reformation Church.’ His daughter has run away from home and joined the unchurched in the world of pornographic film. The hero goes to find her and recruits for the search a teen-age prostitute.

In a scene I think every gospel communicator should see, the hero, Jake, sits with the prostitute in an airport lobby waiting for the plane to take them to a California city and to the conclusion of their search. Jake is reading a newspaper. The girl asks about his church background. As nearly as I can remember the dialogue, it begins with a question from the girl:

‘What church do you go to?’

‘Well, we’re a Calvinistic church.’

‘Calvinistic? I don’t understand.’

‘Well, we believe in the Canons of Dordt.’ There is a look of confusion on her face. He continues, ‘You know, the five points of Calvinism: T-U-L-I-P.’

‘Tulip?’ she asks.

‘Yes, that’s an acronym,’ he continues, still reading. ‘T stand for total depravity.’

‘Total depravity?’

‘Yes, all men are totally unable to do good….’

At this point the plane is announced, Jake puts down his paper, and they head for the door.

The most frightening part of that scene is not what Jake said with his verbal symbols. Sovereign grace is sovereign grace, no matter how you spell it. It was what he really conveyed to that teen-age prostitute, to a girl whose whole life was sex and brutality. He was talking about grace without talking about grace. The Lord’s sheer mercy had become an empty sign with faded letters.

–Harvie Conn, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (pp. 22-23,  emphases mine.)

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