What is TULIP in Calvinism?

by Matt Slick

Tulip of Calvinism The TULIP of Calvinism is the acronym which represents the five primary points which represent Calvinism: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Hence, they are called the five points of Calvinism. The five points "emerged from the Synod of Dort (1618– 19)."1

"The system of Calvinism adheres to a very high view of scripture and seeks to derive its theological formulations based solely on God’s word. It focuses on God’s sovereignty, stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, to do whatever He desires with His creation. It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual where he is then able and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation."2

Following are the five points of Calvinism listed, explained, and supported with scripture.

  1. Total Depravity - Man is completely touched/affected by sin in all that he is (in nature he is completely fallen), but is not as bad as he could be (in action, i.e., not all murder, etc.). Furthermore, this total depravity means that the unregenerate will not, of their own free will, choose to receive Christ.
    1. It is the unbeliever who is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), loves darkness rather than light and does evil (John 3:19), does not seek for God nor does any good (Rom. 3:10-12), is ungodly (Rom. 5:6), dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1), by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), cannot accept or understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16-20).
  2. Unconditional Election - God elects a person based upon nothing in that person because there is nothing in him that would make him worthy of being chosen; rather, God's election is based on what is in God. God chose us because he decided to bestow his love and grace upon us, not because we are worthy, in and of ourselves, of being saved.
    1. Election is the sovereign act of God where, from before the foundation of the world, he chose those whom he would save (Eph. 1:4). This election to salvation is not conditioned upon any foreseen faith (Rom. 9:16) or good works of any individual (Rom. 9:11; 2 Tim. 1:9). The election is based completely on God's sovereign choice according to the kind intention of his will (Eph. 1:11). God chose the elect because he decided to bestow his love upon them (John 3:16; Eph. 2:4) based solely on his sovereign grace (Gal. 1:15) and for his glory (Isaiah 43:7).
  3. Limited Atonement - Christ bore the sin only of the elect, not everyone who ever lived.
    1. Christ's blood was sufficient for all, but not all sin was imputed to Christ. Christ's blood is sufficient to cover all people. But the sufficiency relates to his divine value which is different than our legal debt. Sin is a debt (Matt. 6:12 with Luke 11:4) since it is breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4). In limited atonement Calvinists are saying that there was a limit to whose sins were imputed to Christ in a legal sense. They are not denying the sufficiency of Christ's blood to cover all people. Instead, they look at the legal aspect of the sin debt. Peoples' sin debts were transferred to Jesus (1 Pet. 2:24) and were cancelled on the cross, not when we believe (Col. 2:14). Therefore, legally speaking, those cancelled sins cannot be held against the sinner because their quality of being a debt has been cancelled by being paid on the cross (John 19:30; Col. 2:14). If the debt is cancelled, it does not exist and cannot be held against the debtor/sinner. Therefore, Christ only legally bore the sins of the elect even though his blood was sufficient to cover all.  Also, consider 1 Sam. 3:14 which says, "Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."
  4. Irresistible Grace - The term unfortunately suggests a mechanical and coercive force upon an unwilling subject. This is not the case. Instead, it is the act of God making the person willing to receive him. It does not mean that a person cannot resist God's will.  It means that when God moves to the save/regenerate a person, the sinner cannot thwart God's movement and he will be regenerated
    1. God moves the heart of the person where he wishes it to go (Proverbs 21:1). The choice and mercy of God depends on God's desire, not man's ability (Romans 9:18).
  5. Perseverance of the Saints - That we are so secure in Christ, that we cannot fall away.
    1. Jesus will not lose any who had been given to him by the Father (John 6:38-39); he get eternal life to them so they will never perish (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and those who leave the faith whenever believers to begin with (1 John 2:19).

 

Tulip and CARM

What is CARM's position on Calvinism?
CARM's official position is that Calvinism is within orthodoxy. Writers for CARM include Calvinists and non-Calvinists.

Calvinism Arminianism comparison grid
Calvinism and Arminianism are two main theological perspectives that deal with salvation. In Calvinism, God is the ultimate and deciding factor in the salvation of individuals. In Arminianism, man's response to God's grace is the deciding factor.

What is predestination and election?
Predestination and election are both biblical teachings. The English "predestination" is translated from the Greek word proorizo which means 1) to predetermine, decide beforehand; 2) in the NT, of God decreeing from eternity; 3) to foreordain, appoint beforehand.1 Predestination, then, is the biblical teaching that God predestines certain events and people to accomplish what He so desires. The word proorizo occurs six times in the New Testament, each time demonstrating that God is the one who is foreordaining and bringing about certain events.

 

Tulip and the Bible

What Jesus said
John 13:18, "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ˜He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me."

What Paul said
Eph. 1:4,"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

1 Tim. 5:21, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality."

 

Dictionary Calvinism

"The theological system of J. Calvin (found chiefly in his Institutes), esp. as formulated by T. Beza. Accepted with varying degrees of modification by most non-Lutheran reformed Churches, it holds certain doctrines characteristic of Lutheranism, as well as other elements peculiar to itself. Among the former are the doctrines of Scripture as the only rule of faith, of the bondage of human free will through sin, and justification (q.v.) by grace through faith." (Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.)

 

 

 

 

  • 1. McKim, Donald K. (2014-04-21). The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded (Kindle Locations 14590-14592). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
  • 2. calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.