Five Point Calvinism

The 5 Points of Calvinism Explained by TULIP Acronym

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. 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.

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 - Total Depravity

Humanity is stained by sin in every aspect: heart, emotions, will, mind and body. This means people cannot independently choose God. 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 - Unconditional Election

God chooses who will be saved. Those people are called the Elect. God picks them based not on their personal character or seeing into the future, but out of his kindness and sovereign will.

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

L - Limited Atonement

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.

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 - Irresistible Grace

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 - Perseverance of the Saints

The Elect cannot lose their salvation, Calvin said. Because salvation is the work of God the Father; Jesus Christ, the Savior; and the Holy Spirit, it cannot be thwarted.

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.

(Sources: Calvinist Corner and