What is TULIP and how does it relate to Calvinism?
The Synod of Dort and Jacobus Arminius
Let’s go back to the Synod of Dort. This is in the Netherlands. There’s been a civil war. The Calvinists are coming together. There are 62 leaders from the Dutch provinces, and another 24 foreign dignitaries that come together. The Synod of Dort is the backdrop of what’s happening here. There’s a guy named Jacobus Arminius who will later be known as the father of Arminian theology. He raised a lot of challenges against Reformation thought. The primary one was predestination. He did not believe in it the way it was being taught; he did not believe in sovereignty.
As a reminder, the Reformation was trying to reform the Catholic church. They weren’t trying to start a new denomination called the Protestant Church. That’s a pejorative term. The first protestant Bible was a joke. So Arminius raises the questions about predestination and sovereignty. As always, a good communicator attracts students. So this became a controversy. The Belgian confession is a very important benchmark. And if we were to get under the wire a little bit, he was a teacher at the University of Leiden. So he held some controversial views, and he had tenure of sorts.
This whole Synod of Dort is a response to what happens. Arminius gets together, and he has a group called the remonstratives. There were five remonstrative positions. These came before Calvinism and TULIP. One: conditional election. Two, universal atonement. Three, cooperative ability. Four resistible grace. Five, the necessity of perseverance as a condition for salvation. Now, this is a guy who’s not buying the reformed doctrine. So the Dutch reformers will get together and respond to this conference.
The TULIP Acrostic
So the five points of Calvinism and the TULIP come along. Don’t miss that this was after Calvin’s death. The five points of the TULIP are total depravity, conditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace (not contingent), and perseverance of the saints.
Total depravity does not mean we’re all murderers and horrible people. It means we are naturally sinful and depraved. We’re born out of sin. Unconditional election is where it becomes tricky. God does not elect based on what we do. He did not look down the annals of time and say, ‘Michael’s going to trust Christ when he’s a former drug head at fifteen years of age and get his life together and make good decisions.’
This is sometimes called foreordination, that God looks through time and says, ‘Oh, I’ll pick these people.’ That goes against all election in the Bible. He chose Abraham, Aaron, Noah, and reluctant prophets for no reason. He didn’t choose them based on their behavior but rather for His reason, unconditional election. Limited atonement is the most controversial. Calvinists would say He only died for the elect. However, Scripture teaches that the offer is universal. Reformers might say Christ’s blood was spilled or wasted, but that’s not in the Bible.
Scripture to Support Unlimited Atonement
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Reformers like to debate what ‘the world’ means in this verse. John 12:32 says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” He’s talking about the crucifixion that drew mankind to what He did. 1 Timothy 2:6 says, “who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of The Saints
If Christ’s blood is efficacious for all, who will respond by faith, predestination and election included, why does it somehow damage the work of Jesus? Irresistible grace means He’s going to call you, and you’re going to respond.
You don’t wake up one day and say, ‘I studied world religions, and I think this is the right one. I’m going to become a Christian.’ You can’t resist His grace. Finally, the perseverance of the saints is confusing due to how it is generally taught. Most will say that if you’re a Christian, you’ll persevere until the end. The reformers held that it meant once saved, always saved. That’s confusing unless you understand the council of Dort. Arminius was peddling this idea that there is a necessity of perseverance for salvation.
How does that look practically? A Catholic, Nazarene, or Wesleyan can lose their salvation. They’re taught Arminian theology. So, on a good day, you might be saved; on a bad day, not so much. The TULIP is a very valuable teaching tool, but you have to remember the context of Dort and the fact that this brand of Calvinism does not come from Calvin himself. Calvinists wrote the TULIP acrostic in response to Jacob Arminius’ heresies that he was teaching in the church.
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