Five Point TULIP Calvinism Explained

The TULIP acronym explains the beliefs of Calvinism

Five Point Tulip Calvinism
Portrait of John Calvin. French School / Getty Images

Calvinism is a rare theology: It can be explained simply using a five-letter acronym: TULIP. This set of religious principles is the work of John Calvin (1509-1564), a French church reformer who had a permanent influence on several branches of Protestantism.

The TULIP memory tool was solidified at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), a gathering of Reformed theologians who met in the Netherlands to counter and condemn the teachings of Arminianism.

Like Martin Luther before him, John Calvin broke from the Roman Catholic Church and based his theology on the Bible alone, not the Bible and tradition. After Calvin's death, his followers spread those beliefs throughout Europe and the American colonies.

TULIP Calvinism Explained

The five points of Calvinism can be remembered using the acronym TULIP:

T - Stands for Total Depravity

The belief in total depravity takes the view that sinfulness pervades all areas of life and human existence. Through the Fall of Man, humanity is stained by sin in every aspect: heart, emotions, will, mind, and body. This means people cannot independently choose God. They cannot save themselves. God must intervene to save people.

Calvinism insists that God must do all the work, from choosing those who will be saved to sanctifying them throughout their lives until they die and go to heaven. Calvinists cite numerous Scripture verses supporting humanity's fallen and sinful nature, such as Mark 7:21-23, Romans 6:20, and 1 Corinthians 2:14.

U - Stands for Unconditional Election

This Calvinist view says God chooses who will be saved. Because people are dead in their sins, they are unable to initiate a response to God. In eternity past God elected certain people to be saved. The saved people are called the Elect. God picks them based not on their personal character or merit, but out of his kindness and sovereign will. It also means that election for salvation is not based on God's foreknowledge of who would come to faith in the future.

Since some are chosen for salvation, others are not. Those not chosen are the damned, destined for an eternity in hell.

L - Stands for Limited Atonement

Limited atonement is the view that Jesus Christ died only for the sins of the Elect, according to John Calvin. Support for this belief comes from verses that say Jesus died for "many," such as Matthew 20:28 and Hebrews 9:28. This point is one of the more controversial beliefs of Calvinism.

Those who teach "Four Point Calvinism" believe Christ died not for just the Elect but for the entire world. They cite these verses, among others: John 3:16, Acts 2:21,1 Timothy 2:3-4, and 1 John 2:2.

I - Stands for Irresistible Grace

Irresistible grace is the belief that God brings his Elect to salvation through an internal call, which they are powerless to resist. The Holy Spirit supplies grace to them until they repent and are born again.

Calvinists back this doctrine with such verses as Romans 9:16, Philippians 2:12-13, and John 6:28-29.

P - Stands for Perseverance of the Saints

Calvinism teaches that the Elect cannot lose their salvation. Because salvation is the work of God the Father; Jesus Christ, the Savior; and the Holy Spirit, it cannot be thwarted. None whom God has called will be lost, they are eternally secure.

Technically, however, it is God who perseveres, not the saints themselves. Calvin's doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is in contrast to the theology of Lutheranism and the Roman Catholic Church, which hold that people can lose their salvation.

Calvinists support eternal security with verses such as John 10:27-28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and Philippians 1:6.

The TULIP acronym arranges the five points of Calvinism logically and progressively, with each point contingent on the other. If humans are totally depraved, then they are unable to make an initial response to God. God must call people to salvation through unconditional election. God must also provide the way of salvation by the death of Jesus Christ. He makes salvation secure by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. He keeps his saved ones secure so they will inherit the eternal life he has promised them.

Sources

  • The Moody Handbook of Theology (p. 479).
  • Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 117).
  • The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 40; pp. 322–323). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.