The Five Points of Calvinism: The TULIP Tag

Mrs Mugrage (also known as “That Neanderthal Nut” to her close friends) recently took up a gauntlet I had thrown down several years ago. I was bemoaning the lack of serious tags and considered trying to create one myself. That obviously didn’t happen. BUT Mrs M was more than equal to the challenge and this tag is the result. I was pretty impressed.

Back in 2017 (or, you might say, in “eternity past”), Bookstooge put up a request for a “serious” book tag. At that time, I did not even know that Bookstooge existed (hard as that is to imagine). But in the providence of God, I stumbled upon that forlorn request recently, and this is the result.

The Five Points of Calvinism

These five points are not all of Christian theology, or even all of Reformed theology. There is a lot more to it, and it’s all good stuff. These five topics are simply things that Jacob Arminius and his followers disputed in the early 1600s, after the Reformation was well under way and John Calvin had been writing for some time. All of this caused a huge kerfuffle in the Dutch Reformed churches, and eventually, in 1619, the Synod of Dort adopted the Canons of Dort which answered the Arminians’ objections point by point. So, though these five points are not the whole of Reformed theology, they do represent some of the doctrines that people are most likely to have issues with, as demonstrated by Arminius, his followers, and in fact most people down to this day.

Due to their Dutch character, the five points, if put in terms that are somewhat misleading, can be shoehorned into the acrostic TULIP:

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

Because this is a tag, I’m not going to parse or defend these points deeply. I’ll just explain each one in a short paragraph, then apply it to a book tag purpose. Since these things deal with the nature of man and God, they turn out to be fruitful for reminding us of our literary experiences.

T – Total Depravity

Arminius taught that people are free in their will to choose God or reject him. The doctrine of total depravity (or “sin nature”) holds instead that people, if left to themselves, are spiritually dead and will never voluntarily seek God. (Dead people cannot choose things.)

Name a book or a series that you appreciate for its jaundiced or realistic portrayal of human nature.

The Plague by Albert Camus. While I hated the story, Camus did an excellent job of portraying humanity in a horrible situation. It’s a classic for a reason.

U – Unconditional Election

Election means that God chooses to draw some people to Himself, making alive their hearts so that they are then able to seek, hear, and trust in Him. Arminians taught that God elects people for salvation in this way on the basis of some quality in them, such as humility, faith, “responding to the light they have,” etc. The doctrine of unconditional election holds that God does not choose people because they are better than other people. He chooses them just because He wants to.

Name a book where someone chooses someone else unconditionally.

Wrong Number, the first volume in the Oh My Goddess! manga series. Even though Belldandy “had” to fulfill Keiichi’s wish, as the series progresses it is evident that Belldandy chooses Keiichi even when she doesn’t have to. Good lovey dovey stuff 😀

L – Limited Atonement

The most confusing of the five points as far as I am concerned, Limited Atonement means that Christ’s death was actually just for “his people” – those God chose to elect – not for everyone generally. If it were for everyone generally, and some people rejected salvation, that would mean that God’s work in salvation was ineffective in some cases, which would throw the determining factor back onto the individual.

This point is confusing for two reasons: 1) Since we don’t know who is going to be saved, we are commanded to proclaim the good news to everyone as if they were all elect. 2) We know that the number of those who believe will be a very great number, enough that Christ can be said to have saved “the whole world.” So, “limited” does not mean a small number of people.

This is one of those fine distinctions that is kind of hard to squeeze down into a two-word phrase, which then fits into a flower acrostic.

Name a book that has a complex, confusing, or seemingly unworkable philosophy behind its worldbuilding.

The Culture novels by Iain Banks, typified in The Player of Games. Banks posits a completely materialistic society and has it operating at near-Utopian levels. The philosophy was so outside of what we know about humanity that I gave up on the series after the 3rd book.

I – Irresistible Grace

When God chooses someone, He works on their heart, giving them a new heart with a will that is now able to choose Him. This also frees their mind to be able to hear and understand His word (since, as we know, our intellect is embarrassingly tied up with our will). When this happens, they freely choose Him, now that their will has been freed from the sin that bound it. It is never the case that God gives someone a new heart, and they then reject Him. His grace is irresistible.

What book did you find irresistible?

The Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd. First that cover just dragged me in and then the story itself was everything I wanted from a flintlock fantasy. It was so engaging and pushed all the right buttons for me. It has only been 4 years since I read it, so a re-read isn’t in the works quite yet, but….. I am looking forward to see how it holds up. A great book must be re-readable.

P – Perseverance of the Saints

This doctrine means that once someone has been regenerated, heard God’s word, and begun to believe, they will not ultimately, or permanently, fall away. You cannot “lose your salvation.” This is a very comforting doctrine, for without it, we tend to panic every time we fall into sin (or have some previously unnoticed sin revealed to us that, unfortunately, has been with us all along).

Name one of your favorite redemption arcs in a book or movie.

The redemption of Darth Vader in The Jedi Doth Return. If someone who is as evil as Darth Vader was, can be redeemed, then there is hope for any of us. It is also made clear that he was redeemed by Luke’s love and faith in him, not because of what he did at the end. The action was the result of Luke’s conviction.

And there we go. A Serious Tag. It took me a week to answer these questions, as I wanted to give them serious thought. Thank you Mrs M, this was great!

28 thoughts on “The Five Points of Calvinism: The TULIP Tag

    1. Essentially, your first sentence is correct. The second sentence is more of the “How” He accomplishes that instead of being the prime reason.
      It’s one of the more complicated and divisive issues out there, the whole Predestination vs Free Will, with Christians falling all along the line of the spectrum.
      I don’t know how deep you want to take it, so I’ll let you decide 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That all depends from what perspective you approach it from.
      I have found that the people who have the most problems with it tend to be humanistic and “humanity as the ultimate arbiter” while those who view God as the Ultimate Authority tend to have less problems, even if they’re still wrestling with questions about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is an intriguing book challenge, but not because I agree with the theology. It’s the human psychology and logic that I find intriguing. Humans created TULIP through their logic and worldview, and you will find aspects of it in fiction, even by secular authors because it really does come down to logic and worldview… or, I should actually switch those. Worldview is a foundation for how we parse logic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m currently preaching through Romans on Sunday mornings and we’re coming up on Romans 9… time for a deep dive into election/predestination issues. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to it because people tend to get so hostile about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good luck!
      For me, I’d say my attitude has been the big thing that has changed in the last 5 years on that issue.
      I don’t ignore the consequences of what rises from believing more strongly from one side or the other, but they don’t have as big a hold on me as they did. No one is going to go to Hell who wants to go to Heaven to is my go-to attitude now. OF course, that’s simplistic and there’s a lot more to it than that but I keep that in the forefront and try to stop myself from arguing. That’s a big win for me too, keeping my mouth shut. Hahahahaa!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes! I think it is so foolish for Christians to freak out at each other over this issue. It’s like God lifted the curtain to give us a glimpse of what’s going on “behind the scenes” and rather than respond with awe, thankfulness, or humility we find new ways to fight among ourselves. I personally lean in a mostly “TUIP” direction (I have issues with the “L”), but it usually makes little difference in daily Christian life and practice from someone who leans more Arminian. (I also tend to think that anyone who thinks they’ve completely and definitively worked out the interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility probably has too high of an opinion of themselves.)

        Liked by 2 people

          1. What really struck me in this list is that the agency of the faithfull is really reduced. As I read it, it is God who decides, and you can’t really decide to resist him if he decides to call you.

            You know I’m really interested in questions free will, and I’ve always thought certain forms of Protestantism basically acknowledge that humans aren’t free, and the way I interpret TULIP confirms this. I really feel there is an interesting convergence here between (non-religious) science about our behavior, and this specific branch of religion.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. This subject is one that I’m not firmly entrenched on. I have my doubts about it 😉
              I’ve definitely changed my views as the older I get.
              As a teen and 20something. I was firmly in the camp of free will trumping all. I reconciled it and God’s sovereignty with the idea that God had voluntarily given humanity’s free will the power over His sovereignty in this world.
              The older I have gotten, the less I think that, mainly because I’ve come to realize that God’s Sovereignty has that capital “S” 🙂

              If you’d like to discuss it in more depth, feel free to shoot me an email. I’ve got very little skin in the freewill/Sovereignty game so I can discuss it pretty easily.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. For what it’s worth, the actual doctrine in the Canons of Dort is that when unregenerate, the human will is bound by sin and is not free. The Holy Spirit, when regenerating a person, frees their will, “enabling them to freely choose God.”

              Of course, any time we discuss human free will we will quickly get into paradox territory.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I am so excited! And I’m interested that all the comments so far are about the theology rather than about your book choices.

    I actually never thought I’d see the name Belldandy in a post that also contained the word “Calvinism,” but I guess that just shows how wide your interests are.

    Also, I just Duck-Duck-Go’d “flintlock fantasy” and it sounds like something my brother would like.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I wrote this I wasn’t sure if people would ignore the books or the commentary. I guess we know which one they chose to focus on 😀

      Hahahahaha. Yeah, my reading tastes are very eclectic 🙂

      It’s not a huge sub-genre, but it’s very much growing. The God Fragments series by Tom Lloyd is also a good example of it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oops! sorry, I was in the middle of writing a review for a book by Brian McClellan, who mainly writes flintflock fantasy, so I was thinking about him when I made the reference to Tom Lloyd. It took me until now to realize the post had a reference to Tom Lloyd and not McClellan.
      Sorry about that.

      Liked by 1 person

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