What is TULIP Theology?

“Calvinism” series: (post #1)

I am an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention denomination. Even though some Baptists actually resent being called Protestant, the S.B.C., with its 15 million members, gets categorized as the largest Protestant denomination in America. Therefore, it is highly significant that a 2012 poll conducted by Lifeway Research showed that 30% of S.B.C. pastors considered their churches Calvinist, and almost 60% were concerned about the growing impact Calvinism was having upon the denomination.

Calvinism, as you might not know, is not a denomination in and of itself. It is, instead, a doctrinal system of theology that has historically made its way into all sorts of churches and denominations across the globe. As Mark Oppenheimer wrote in a 2014 New York Times article:

The Puritans were Calvinists. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist….In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist. But in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism, and at churches that used to worry little about theology.

And so where did Calvinism originate? As you might guess, it originated with a guy named Calvin. John Calvin was a French theologian who lived in the 1500s. He was raised staunchly Catholic and was a brilliant scholar who studied to become a lawyer, but his path in life was radically changed when he converted from Catholicism to the new teachings coming out of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation.

There is some debate about the exact date of Calvin’s conversion, but it occurred sometime between 1529 and 1533. What is known for certain is that he published the first edition of his wildly influential Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. This was Calvin’s initial attempt at putting his doctrinal views into writing, but he would publish updates and new editions of the Institutes periodically for the rest of his life.

Scores of books have been written about Calvin’s life and ministry, but I’m not here to offer a biography of the man. What I want to do is devote a series of posts to examining the doctrinal system that ultimately arose from his teachings and came to bear his name. By the way, you should know that Calvinism also goes by the titles “the Reformed Faith,” “Reformed Christianity,” “Reformed Protestantism,” and “Reformed Tradition.” Basically, anytime you see the word “Reformed” in the name of a church, you are right to assume that the church is a Calvinist church.

But what exactly did John Calvin believe? The answer to that can be found in the acrostic “T-U-L-I-P.” From this, we get the term “TULIP Theology.” Calvin himself didn’t employ the acrostic, but those who adhered to his doctrinal system began to use it as a teaching device at some point after his death. As for the five doctrinal points the acrostic represents, those were first formally presented by Calvin’s followers at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. Those five doctrinal points are:

  • “Total Depravity” (represented by the “T” in “TULIP”)
  • “Unconditional Election” (represented by the “U”)
  • “Limited Atonement” (represented by the “L”)
  • “Irresistible Grace” (represented by the “I”)
  • “Perseverance of the Saints” (represented by the “P”)

Over the next few posts, I’m going take each of these terms one at a time, define it, and examine Calvinism in the light of the totality of scripture. And I’ll go ahead and tell you that what we are going to find is that Calvinism is wrong. It’s just wrong. It simply contradicts way too many easy-to-understand passages for us to label it as correct doctrine. So, tune in next time and we’ll get started by talking about “total depravity.”

This entry was posted in Bible Study, Calvinism, Church, Doctrine, God's Word, Salvation, Scripture, Series: "Calvinism" and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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