TULIP: Quick Reference Q&A

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A few weeks ago I posted a short introduction to what is called Reformed theology. In that post, I mentioned I would come back with a longer post about what are often called “the five points of Calvinism” or “the doctrines of grace.”

These doctrines are a way to talk about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, especially in salvation. These points are frequently explained using the acronym TULIP, which stands for:

Total depravity
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perseverance of the saints

No one knows when the acronym was first used, but the grouping of these ideas first occurred in the early 1600s. The story goes like this. A group of ministers heavily influenced by the teachings of Jacob Arminius drafted a theological document called the Remonstrance, which had five points. (It’s from Jacob Arminius that we get the name Arminian, just as we get Calvinist from the name John Calvin.) The five points of the Remonstrance were actually a critique of Calvinistic teachings. Several years later, another group of ministers drafted a Calvinistic response to the Remonstrance, which also had five points. This Calvinistic response is known as The Canons of Dort. For the most part, TULIP uses different vocabulary than the five points of The Canons of Dort, but the ideas are the same.

What follows in the rest of this post is a “quick reference” guide to each of the five points. My intention is to bring clarity to the topic, without being laborious.

(Note: all sentences in the second question labeled “Piper & Reinke” come from page 6 of The Joy Project by Tony Reinke.)

 

T in TULIP

  1. What does “T” stand for? 
    Total Depravity.
     
  2. Other helpful names? 
    Pervasive or radical depravity; affectional atheism (per Piper).
     
  3. What does total depravity mean? 
    Everything about us has been touched by, indeed corrupted by, the fall. When the Bible speaks of us as being spiritually dead, it means we are unable to come to God on our own and that nothing we do can earn his love. 

    Piper & Reinke: “Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy.”
     
  4. What does it not mean? 
    Total depravity does not mean we are as “bad” as we possibly could be. “Total” doesn’t mean we do every evil we could.
     
  5. Why is it controversial? 
    It’s controversial because the concept of deadness seems too radical. By asserting our inability to perfect ourselves and earn God’s love, total depravity assaults our pride. It’s also controversial because people sometimes misunderstand the doctrine to mean that people cannot do anything good.
     
  6. Why is it precious to us? 
    If apart from Christ we are really, truly spiritually dead and unable to come to God on our own, then it means when God does make us alive—when he does save us—our salvation is a free gift! In short, if salvation depends upon God, not man, then that’s a good place to rest our hopes. Also, a robust view of human depravity allows us to not be perpetually frustrated by the failures of humans to perfect ourselves. We do bad things because we are sinners.
     
  7. Key verses? 
    Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; John 3:20–21; Romans 3:9–18, 14:23; and Ephesians 2:1–3.

U in TULIP

  1. What does “U” stand for? 
    Unconditional election.
     
  2. Other helpful names? 
    God’s predestination or choosing of his people.
     
  3. What does it mean? 
    Before birth, God chose people to be his children, regardless of anything they would do for him.

    Piper & Reinke: “Unconditional election is how God planned, before we existed, to complete our joy in Christ.”
     
  4. What does it not mean? 
    Unconditional election doesn’t mean we should give up all hopes of sharing the gospel with people because everything has already been decided.
     
  5. Why is it controversial? 
    Unconditional election is controversial because it leads some people to believe that our actions in this life do not matter. This is a wrong understanding, however, and not at all what the Bible teaches.
     
  6. Why is it precious to us? 
    It’s good news that my eternal happiness was planned before I was born and doesn’t depend on me. Additionally, rather than the doctrine of election undercutting our evangelistic zeal, it should give us hope that many will embrace the gospel.
     
  7. Key verses? 
    Deuteronomy 10:14–15; John 6:35–45, 17:24–26; Romans 9:1–29; Ephesians 1:3–23; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5; and 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

L in TULIP

  1. What does “L” stand for? 
    Limited atonement.
     
  2. Other helpful names? 
    Particular atonement or definite atonement.
     
  3. What does it mean? 
    When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the punishment for the sins of all who trust him. As well, Jesus purchases for them the power that makes their salvation not just possible, but actual.

    Piper & Reinke: “Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of Jesus.”
     
  4. What does it not mean? 
    Limited atonement does not mean that God doesn’t love all people or that the benefits of the cross cannot legitimately be offered to non-Christians in an evangelistic way.
     
  5. Why is it controversial? 
    Limited atonement is controversial because, to be blunt, there are a number of verses that seem to indicate “Christ died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 10:29; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:2). Many people understand these verses to teach that Jesus took the punishment for sins for all people, regardless of whether they trust him or not.
     
  6. Why is it precious to us?
    It’s a joy to know that Jesus has done something special for his bride.
     
  7. Key verses?
    John 6:37–39, 10:11, 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 5:8, 10, 8:32–34; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4, 3:13; Ephesians 1:3–4, 7, 2:8, 5:25; 1 Peter 2:24; and Revelation 5:9.

I in TULIP

  1. What does “I” stand for?
    Irresistible grace.
     
  2. Other helpful names?
    Effectual grace and inward call. Also, closely associated with the cluster of synonyms of new birth, regeneration, and born again.
     
  3. What does it mean?
    God’s power to overcome all of our resistance to his love.

    Piper & Reinke: “Irresistible grace is the sovereign commitment of God to make sure we hold on to superior delights instead of the false pleasures that will ultimately destroy us.”
     
  4. What does it not mean?
    Sometimes people take this to mean that we cannot resist God and his grace. We can do this. We all do it. But what irresistible grace actually means is that God can overcome all of our resistance.
     
  5. Why is it controversial?
    Irresistible grace is controversial because it means our wills are not free in an absolute sense. It means, to quote the famous poem “Invictus,” I am not the ultimate “master of my fate . . . the captain of my soul.”
     
  6. Why is it precious to us?
    Irresistible grace is precious because it means God can overcome all of my resistance and deadness to true joy.
     
  7. Key verses?
    Hosea 2:14; John 6:44, 10:27–29; 12:32; Romans 9:1–29, esp. v. 25; and 1 John 4:19.

P in TULIP

  1. What does “P” stand for?
    Perseverance of the saints.
     
  2. Other helpful names?
    Preservation of the saints (note the word preservation looks similar to perseverance, but preservation emphasizes God’s sovereign work).
     
  3. What does it mean?
    All those who have been genuinely saved will continue believing the gospel until they die.

    Piper & Reinke: “Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.”
     
  4. What does it not mean?
    Some misunderstand the doctrine to mean that whether we keep believing or not, and whether we keep living the Christian life or not, is irrelevant to our final standing before God. This is not what “perseverance of the saints” means. The saying, “once saved, always saved,” doesn’t mean you can “get saved,” but then live a morally bankrupt life, one that is indifferent to God, and then still go to heaven. If they did fall away, perhaps they were never really saved.
     
  5. Why is it controversial?
    Perseverance of the saints is controversial because some passages seem to indicate that people can lose their salvation. Plus, we all know people who seemed to have once loved Jesus, but now they don’t.
     
  6. Why is it precious to us?
    Is it possible to have legitimate assurance that you’ll wake up a Christian tomorrow morning? Yes it is. God undertakes within Christians everything needed to keep us trusting him.
     
  7. Key verses?
    Matthew 13:1–24; Romans 8:18–27; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:3–9; 1 John 2:19; Jude 24–25; and Revelation 2:7.

 

* This post has been adapted from my study guide God’s Joy Project.

* Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash