TULIP: Introduction to the T.U.L.I.P.

Intro | Total Hereditary Depravity 1 | Total Hereditary Depravity 2 | Unconditional Election 1 | Unconditional Election 2 | Limited Atonement 1 | Limited Atonement 2 | Irresistible Grace 1 | Irresistible Grace 2 | Perseverance of the Saints 1 | Perseverance of the Saints 2tulip

by William J. Stewart

Though John Calvin was not a gardener (at least to the best of my knowledge he wasn’t), he is credited with planting, grooming and sharing with the world what has become to many an extremely cherished tulip. However, you will not find this tulip planted in a botanical garden somewhere; it won’t be in your neighbour’s backyard—Calvin’s tulip is a doctrinal system which has taken root in the hearts of believers throughout the world. Unfortunately, it is not a beautiful flower, but a destructive weed which has led many away from the truth of God’s word.

Over the next several weeks, we will examine Calvin’s tulip in the light of Scripture. Doing so, we’ll see the petals fall before God’s word, leaving behind the dead stem of a deadly doctrine.

Before we do so, it seems prudent to introduce the flower to those who have not seen it or are not familiar with it. This will be the goal of our article today.

T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym used to describe the five tenets of Calvinism. As a system of beliefs, Calvinism is consistent. Each of the tenets logically fit together and are interdependent. They stand or fall together. That is, if one of them is true, the rest logically fall into place, but equally, if one is defeated, the rest fall with it.

Before we introduce each of the components of Calvin’s tulip, I want to be clear, I believe all of these are false doctrines. Our purpose here is simply to introduce the doctrine, not to answer it. We will respond to each tenet with Scripture in upcoming weeks.

T—Total Hereditary Depravity
In some circles, this teaching is called Original Sin. Quite simply, this doctrine states that we are born sinful, corrupt before God. One authoritative source says:

Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. … By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (The Presbyterian Confession Of Faith)

U— Unconditional Election
Also referred to by some as predestination. One source summarizes it in this way:

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc.. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation. (The Five Points of Calvinism, Steele & Thomas)

L—Limited Atonement
As we said earlier, the doctrines of Calvinism are interdependent. That is certainly the case with “limited atonement.” We read:

Did Christ offer up Himself a sacrifice for the whole human race, for every individual without distinction or exception; or did His death have special reference to the elect? … Calvinists hold that in the intention and secret plan of God Christ died for the elect only. … this doctrine necessarily follows from the doctrine of election. If from eternity God has planned to save one portion of the human race and not another, it seems to be a contradiction to say that His work has equal reference to both portions. … These two doctrines must stand or fall together.
(The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Boettner)

I—Irresistible Grace
This is another doctrine that requires as a base the former tenets of Calvinism. If a depraved people (T) are saved or lost by the exclusive choice of God (U), not only would the Saviour be exclusive to those who are saved (L), but those who are chosen to salvation would not be able to deny or refuse the great love God has shown to them. We are told:

All those whom God has predestined until life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit … This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed by it.
(The Westminster Confession of Faith)

P—Perseverance Of The Saints
This last tenet of Calvinism is sometimes referred to as Eternal Security. Calvinists teach that the regenerated soul cannot turn away from the salvation provided. We are told:

They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (The Westminster Confession of Faith) All who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end. (The Five Points Of Calvinism, Steele & Thomas)

Again, I stress to you, I do not believe any of these doctrines to be Biblical. Here, we have simply presented what the Calvinistic system teaches. In the coming weeks, we will investigate each part of Calvin’s tulip in light of the Scriptures. We have stated (as have those who support the doctrine) that if one petal of the T.U.L.I.P. falls, the whole system crashes with it. We shall see the fall, both individually and collectively.

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