The Origins of TULIP#

The English acronym TULIP was created as a mnemonic for the preservation of the five doctrines questioned by the Dutch Remonstrants of the 17th century. It stands for:

  • T: Total Depravity
  • U: Unconditional Election
  • L: Limited Atonement
  • I: Irresistible Grace
  • P: Perseverance of the Saints

But are the terms represented by this acronym the best way to express these doctrines? R.C. Sproul in his series of articles on the topic suggests alternatives that make these ideas clearer and avoid some of the misunderstandings that the terms as they stand might engender.

Radical Corruption#

The issue with the term Total Depravity is that the Bible doesn’t teach that human beings are always (or even ever) as evil as they could be. What it does say is that everyone has inherited a sin nature and is, in all their faculties, corrupted by sin.

Radical Corruption emphasizes the Reformation idea that sin affects us at the very root of our being (radical comes from the Latin for root). Our wills, minds, motivations, affections etc. are all affected by sin. We aren’t sinners because we break God’s law, we break His law because we, in our hearts, are sinners.

Sovereign Election#

Unconditional Election is also a little bit misleading. It doesn’t really deal with the main point; that God is completely sovereign in his choice.

The basis of election is God’s sovereignty. Because of the fact that we are radically corrupt, none of us deserve God’s favour. So God has chosen those who will be saved out of all those who deserve condemnation. It is not about some people meeting certain conditions, it is about God choosing according to his good pleasure.

Definite Redemption#

Once again, the usual term Limited Atonement can be misunderstood, especially since Christ’s sacrifice is not limited in it’s power. Instead, Definite Redemption focusses on the fact that certain people, namely the elect, are redeemed by Christ’s atonement.

Since we are corrupt to our core, God sovereignly chose those who would be saved from his righteous anger against sin. And since he chose them, he redeems them. It’s that simple.

Effectual Grace#

Some people have, it seems almost deliberately, misunderstood this point by characterizing Irresistible Grace as God dragging sinners against their will into the kingdom. Using the word Effectual defuses this caricature by making it clear that the Lord is doing nothing of the sort. He draw people to Him by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

In other words, the radically corrupt ones who God sovereignly elected to be saved, are redeemed by Christ’s blood and effectually drawn to Him by the gracious work of the Spirit. Since we are sinners, we can’t choose Him without His work in our innermost being changing us so that we want to live for Him.

Preservation of the Saints#

Using Preservation instead of Perseverance here emphasizes the fact that God is at work keeping his people instead of them keeping themselves. Once again, the whole chain works together.

If God, by His grace, chose certain sinners on whom to shower his sovereign love, then it only follows that he will effectually draw them and preserve them to the end. If we are His chosen ones, then we are His forever. He will never let us fall out of His favour.

In Conclusion#

I don’t think that we should stop using TULIP as a mnemonic. All I really think is that we need to understand what we mean by these terms and be able to explain them. I really don’t think that the acronym RSDEP is going to catch on any time soon.

We can use TULIP to remember and also think about how our corruption is radical, God’s election is sovereign, Christ’s redemption is definite, God’s grace is effectual and that we will be preserved to the end. We can take comfort in all this.

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