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Despite the number in common, the “five points of Calvinism” (TULIP) don’t come from the Decision of the Synod of Dordt on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands (more popularly known as simply the Synod of Dort, 1618-1619).

The first documented use of the TULIP acronym for the doctrines of grace can be found here. Writing in 1913, the author recalls a popular lecture from Dr. Cleland B. McAfee in 1905. Dr. McAfee was the pastor of Lafayette Avenue Church in Brooklyn at the time. (In 1913 he joined the faculty at Mc­Cor­mick The­o­log­ic­al Sem­in­ary in Chi­ca­go.)

Dr. McAfee essentially gave the acronym as we know it today, except that “U” stood for “universal sovereignty” in his talk, whereas it’s known today as “unconditional election.”

Total depravity
Universal sovereignty
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perseverance of the saints

It has become popular of later to retain the content of the “five points” but to tweak the terminology and even rearrange them for better communication. One of the more creative ones is found in Timothy George’s Amazing Grace: God’s Pursuit, Our Response:

Radical depravity
Overcoming grace
Sovereign election
Eternal life
Singular redemption

And it’s also hard not to admire the gospel- and grace-based approach of Roger Nicole:

Obligatory grace
Sovereign grace
Provision-making grace
Effectual grace
Lasting grace

I believe that the five points—rightly understood—are gloriously true and can be clearly demonstrated exegetically—but I still had to smile at this comment in Greg Forster’s forthcoming book The Joy of Calvinism: Knowing God’s Personal, Unconditional, Irresistible, Unbreakable Love (Crossway, coming in February 2012):

It sometimes feels like Calvinists first invoke the five points, then apologize for invoking the five points, then explain how the five points don’t really mean what they seem to mean and aren’t really saying what they seem to be saying. This can’t possibly be the best way to introduce people to what we believe.

Forster’s own alternative brings out the trinitarian nature and redemptive progression of this teaching:

State of man before salvation: wholly defiled
Work of the Father in salvation: unconditional choice
Work of the Son in salvation: personal salvation
Work of the Spirit in salvation: supernatural transformation
State of man after salvation: in faith, perseverance

Tongue in cheek, Forster writes:

This gives us the handy mnemonic WUPSI, pronounced “whoopsie”—as in, “whoopsie, we just realized that TULIP is giving everyone heinously false ideas of what Calvinism is all about.” Perhaps it’s not as memorable as TULIP, but it has other virtues to make up for that.

For more on these issues, see Kenneth Stewart’s third chapter in Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition.

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29 thoughts on “Tweaking the TULIP”

  1. I always thought the ‘U’ stood for Unconditional Election, but I guess Universal Sovereignty amounts to the same thing.

  2. Continuing the vegetation theme, my pastor/writer Dad did a paper on one a while back using JUNIPER. He may have kind of cheated grammatically on the last one a bit.

  3. Daniel F. Wells says:

    Dr. Douglas Kelly in his ‘Introduction to Theological Studies’ course at RTS goes through the TULIP and notes two negatives to the formulation (though he certainly adheres to the doctrines of grace). First, the origin of TULIP is in a negative reaction to the Remonstrants. It usually isn’t a good idea to make the basis for your theology a formulation that was drawn up as a negative (though true) reaction. Second, there is ab absence of perhaps the most important soteriological theme of the New Testament, our union with Christ.

    1. All negative reactions (as well as positive) are “true” reactions. Whether they are grounded in the FACTS is another matter altogether.

  4. Matt Kamps says:

    I like this formulation:
    F = Fallen Humankind
    A = Adopted by God
    I = Intentional Atonement
    T = Transformed by the Holy Spirit
    H = Held by God

  5. Clayton Carroll says:

    I had Ken Stewart as a teacher at Covenant College (he’s a fantastic teacher) and I suggest to EVERYONE that they read his book if they are confused about the Calvinist tradition. He is very, very, very in-depth on a lot of things with Calvinism.

  6. Roger Upton says:

    I like to use the gospel of GRACE . . .

    G = God’s Sovereignty
    R = Radical Depravity
    A = Accomplished Atonement
    C = Called effectually
    E = Eternally Secure

    1. Tom says:

      Yes. This is my Favorite. Came across it several years ago at my stepdaughter’s church while visiting in MN.

  7. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    It is my Libertarian Free Will to choose the TULIP of Calvinism.

  8. Arminian says:

    Well, we Arminians prefer the biblical FACTS rather than playing around with flowers! At the Society of Evangelical Arminians, we have summed up the biblical doctrines of grace (i.e., Arminian theology) with the acronym FACTS (see where we also contrast the FACTS with TULIP):

    Freed by grace (to believe)
    Atonement for all
    Conditional election
    Total Depravity
    Security in Christ

    I appreciate Forster’s candor. But it does open up the suggestion that the mnemonic WUPSI, pronounced “whoopsie”, suggests rather, “whoopsie, we’ve realized that TULIP and Calvinism are false and unbiblical!”

    So, with hopefully some good natured satire, my Calvinist brothers and sisters, let me invite you all to embrace the FACTS instead of TULIP or any of its tweaks!

  9. MarkO says:

    I recall a funny one that John Gerstner put together for Arminians.

    L – Limited Depravity
    I – I Choose Christ
    L – Limitless Atonement
    A – Arrestible Grace
    C – Carnal Security

    Justin, somewhere I’ve read that the “T” in TULIP was originally expressed as Total Inability. Anybody seen that?

  10. Robert Woodyard says:

    Here are a couple of flowers for the Arminians:

    D – Diminished Depravity
    A – Abrogated Election
    I – Impersonal Atonement
    S – Sedentary Grace
    Y – Yielding Eternal Uncertainty

    Or John Gerstner’s LILAC:

    L – Limited Depravity
    I – I Choose Christ
    L – Limitless Atonement
    A – Arrestible Grace
    C – Carnal Security

    1. jcfreak737 says:

      Slight problem with those: ARMINIANS BELIEVE IN TOTAL DEPRAVITY! Well, that’s not the only problem, but it is probably the most frustrating. The rest I just ignore as tongue and cheek. But it does frustrate me that Calvinists are unwillingly to acknowledge what Arminians say about themselves.

  11. Bruce says:


    Thank you for your, as always, clarifying comments. However, as a further point of clarification regarding the Synod of Dordt and the Five Points, it seems to me that it is the case that the the “five points of Calvinism” do come from the Decision of the Synod of Dordt. These points were a response to the five points of the Remonstrants. These five points of response are what later came to be called the five points of Calvinism. However, while these five points of response are in a different order than the order as they are found in the TULIP acrostic, they are the same “five points” nevertheless. It seems to me that the issue specifically concerns the use of the TULIP acrostic, not the points themselves. It sometimes seems that the impression is given (e.g. – Kenneth Stewart’s fine book) that the “Five Points” and the use of TULIP are identical and both only of recent origin. Isn’t it the case historically that the “Five Points” asserted at Dordt are the same points set forth in the TULIP acrostic regardless of the terminology used, or order they are set forth in, or whether an acrostic such as TULIP is used?

    Just a “point”, I hope, of clarification.

  12. LB says:

    Daniel Montgomery @ Sojourn Community Church just recently finished a series called PROOF. It is available @ check out the trailer

  13. Forster has a great style of humor with his work.

  14. Ken Stewart says:

    You are not quite hitting the nail on the head. Two issues are intertwined.
    First, what _were_ the heads of doctrine of Dordt? They weren’t TULIP as we know it. Dordt’s points were (in this order): Divine Election and Reprobation, Christ’s Death and Human Redemption through it, Human Corruption and Conversion to God (3&4 combined in one)and Perseverance.
    Thus the sequential themes of TULIP are not the sequential themes of Dordt, except that Perseverance comes last in both schemes.

    There is a second question, though.
    Haven’t the Five Points of Calvinism been around longer than TULIP (which we can trace back to 1905)? The answer is ‘yes’- certainly within English language usage. Dabney referred to these (reluctantly); Spurgeon preached a series of sermons on them at the opening of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. They can be traced back at least to Anglican theologian John Edwards in the early 1700’s. But the main point to take away is that until TULIP was introduced (and it is a highly arbitrary and inexact way of describing Dordt’s burden), pastors and theologians had a very free hand in describing Dordt’s message in language that seemed helpful,suitable and constructive. It seems that whatever advantages the use of TULIP has brought (I can only think of one: its being easy to remember)there have been tremendous disadvantages (such as inaccuracy of representation of what Dordt actually declared).
    English language readers have had access to the actual Canons of Dordt in English since the British Anglican, Thomas Scott (1747-1821)put them in English in the 1820’s. With Dordt’s actual concerns this accessible, it is a wonder that people have not been more concerned about getting summaries of Dordt right.

  15. Bill Combs says:

    “The first documented use of the TULIP acronym for the doctrines of grace can be found here.’

    The link is to a pdf that is over 1000 pages long. Can you tell me on what page the reference to TULIP occurs?

  16. Christian says:

    My buddy and I (Calvinist leaning guys), came up with the following during an undergraduate course in Bible college:
    Sovereignty of God
    Total depravity
    Unconditional election
    Particular atonement
    Irresistible grace
    Deliverance of the saints

  17. Bruce says:

    Thank you for your response Dr. Stewart.

    My concern was not to disagree with your helpful observation that the TULIP acrostic itself is of fairly recent origin; that is a matter of historical record. Nor was it to advocate for the specific English terminology represented by each of the letters (I acknowledge that their conotations can be potentially misleading, and arguably may not be the best terms to use). I am not even contending for the sequence.

    Yet, it seems to me at the end of the day, the same truths that TULIP represents, as they have been unpacked and defined, are a summary (in a different order and wording) of the teaching of Dordt. Would that not be accurate to say? As I read the Canons of Dordt I don’t get the impression that they are saying anything different.

  18. Ken Stewart says:

    I do not come away with the impression of sameness when I compare these, because TULIP both thrusts into prominence aspects which are not prominent at Dordt and characterizes Dordt narrowly when Dordt accomodated breadth of opinion. An example of each:

    TULIP thrusts “Total Depravity” into prominence, and ever since TULIP’s emergence, a century ago, Calvinists have had next to address what this doesn’t mean. The Dordt emphasis is on sin’s having permeated the whole human race and each person, since our race was plunged into sin by the disobdience of our first parents and we have added to it our own transgressions. It is not the fact of this universal spread of sin which was under dispute at Dordt — but only the manner by which guilt is assigned to each descendent of Adam. The language of “total depravity” itself is not distinctly Calvinist.

    TULIP wrongly represents the Reformed theology of the early seventeenth century as united in the conviction that the death of Christ was LIMITED in a certain real respect. But Dordt never uses language suggesting limitation or circumscribed adequacy. The point of view we today call ‘general redemption’ was quite well represented in Dordt — particulary by the British delegates. Dordt, while upholding the principle that the atonement serves a definite design (that of divine election) resolves instead to speak of the adequacy of Christ’s death to bear away the sins of multiple worlds. The implications for preaching the gospel of tethering oneself to the concept of ‘limitation’ rather than ‘adequacy’ are very obvious.
    All of this concern about misrepresentation of Dordt’s actual meaning comes into expression again over “I” for Irresistable Grace. It was not Dordt who used this language (which is regularly taken to mean that God overpowers sinners). No, it was the Jesuit critics of Calvinism who chose to misrepresent Reformed teaching this way. Dordt teaches that the human will is renewed and that sinners are ‘wooed’ and then freely believe.

    So who would settle for TULIP? Its emphases are not the emphases of Dordt.

  19. Mike says:

    Found this online from an article written by Southern Baptist John Sullivan. It’s the SBC version of TULIP, PETUNIA:

    In the past few weeks, I have shared two acrostics with you—TULIPS and ROSES—as concepts of grace and atonement. I have one more, which I think depicts the basic theology of most Baptist churches—PETUNIA. They are not listed in order of importance.

    Priesthood of believers/soul competency
    Eternal life
    Total depravity
    Unmerited grace
    Non-regenerative ordinances: Baptism/Lord’s Supper
    Inerrancy of Scripture
    A regenerate church membership

    Here are my definitions to these concepts:

    Priesthood of Believers – When I am saved, I stand alone before God as morally accountable. However, I can be a priest in your behalf and you can do the same for me.

    Eternal Life – (Same as perseverance of the saints) We are not saved to do anything we want to and never be lost again. We are saved to do everything we ought to do as the children of God.

    Total Depravity – (Defined in previous articles) Man cannot save himself by works or family. Without the grace of God, man has no hope and is capable of every conceivable sin.

    Unmerited Grace – The redemptive love God has shown us in Jesus by his death, burial and resurrection cannot be earned, bought or even adequately described. All grace is unmerited grace.

    Non-regenerative Ordinances – There are two ordinances in most Baptist churches-baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are symbols. In baptism we symbolize our death and burial to an old life and resurrection to new life. In the Lord’s Supper we symbolize the life and death of Jesus Christ for sinners. Neither ordinance offers salvation or maintenance of salvation.

    Inerrancy of Scripture – This is the source of authority for our theology. Scripture can be trusted for life and conduct.

    A Regenerate Church Membership – Persons who are members of churches should be redeemed. You become part of the body of Christ by repentance and faith.

    While this is not a comprehensive look at all that Baptists believe, it is my effort in some measure to speak to basic theological tenants.

  20. Mike says:

    Here is Frank Page’s version “Five Points of Scriptural Soteriology” using the acronym GRACE from his book “Trouble With the TULIP”:

    G-Given through Christ (election)
    R-Rejected through rebellion (resistible grace)
    A-Accepted through faith (freedom of the will)
    C-Christ died for all (unlimited atonement)
    E-Everlasting life=security of the believer (perseverance of the Saints)

  21. It seems that most of these other acronyms are shying away from “limited atonement” or anything close to that. Surely there should be a way to address this. I mean, it seems we feel the need to apologize for God’s sovereignty.
    I’ve never had issues explaining TULIP before, and I’ve never really been ashamed to use it. I mean, at bottom, it’s just a handy tool to memorize concepts.

  22. What would really help is simply to realize how intensely evangelistic the doctrines of TULIP are. Each one is an invitation to salvation. Dr. Eusden in his introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity stated: Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage. I applied the idea to each of the doctrines and went looking in the Bible for examples where each was used as an invitation to salvation, to faith. Try Mt.15:21-28 for starters…and add Reprobation, too. Recall the ideas of paradoxical intervention and therapeutic paradox and apply accordingly.

  23. Adam Olive says:

    Does anyone know the source or origin of the phrase “Doctrines of Grace”?

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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