TULIP, five-point Calvinists, four-pointers

This “TULIP” is not one you typically tiptoe through. There is a hefty amount of Christian slang associated with Calvinism. For example, do you even know what “4½ point Calvinists” believe?

def-tulip-thumb(? Click here for an audio podcast version of this post. ?) The origin of the acronym TULIP dates to within a few years before or after 1900, based on the available evidence and my lexicographical “best guess.” The earliest citation for the term in print is 1913, and the author says he heard it 8 years earlier at a lecture he attended (see 1913 citation under *TULIP). Now bear in mind that Christians have been referring to these “five points” of Calvinism since the Synod of Dort in 1619, but first of all they were probably talking in German and Latin, and second of all, nobody had bothered to come up with a cute and memorable acronym by which to remember the five points. So all told it was about 300 years from the invention of the five points of Calvinism until the acronym TULIP was finally born.

In a similar vein, for 2,000 years Christians have been asking themselves “What would Jesus do in my situation?” But it wasn’t until 1896 that Charles Sheldon finally framed the question in the iconic format “What Would Jesus Do?” and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the famous initialism WWJD? was coined. So as you can see, if you want the Cliff’s Notes version of theology, sometimes you have to wait a while until the handy-dandy acronym finally gets invented.

In the 1960s, we start seeing the “point” and “pointer” slang for Christians who believe a specific number of these Calvinist points. As you can read for yourself in the definition of *TULIP below, the number of points refers to the number of doctrines you hold to be true. If you believe in three of the doctrines in TULIP, then you’re a “three-pointer,” and so on. It’s really quite fascinating how efficiently such a system allows Christians of varying levels of Calvinism and Arminianism to converse with each other!

Have you heard of TULIP? If you know it, does it help you remember the five points? Do you just like saying it to people to make yourself sound super-knowledgeable about theology? (Just kidding about that last question!)

 

TULIP n. A mnemonic acronym for the five traditional Calvinist doctrines, which are commonly worded as: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. (See a theological dictionary for an explanation of these five terms as well as the term Calvinist.)
Christians who affirm all five of these doctrines, or “points,” are *five-point Calvinists (or *five-pointers). Christians who reject some of these doctrines in whole or in part are designated by the number of doctrines they fully affirm and partly affirm: so Christians who affirm four doctrines and partly affirm a fifth are *four-and-a-half-point Calvinists; Christians who affirm four of the doctrines and reject a fifth are *four-point Calvinists (or *four-pointers). The pattern continues all the way down to *zero-point Calvinists (also called a *no-point Calvinists). Also see main entries for *three-point Calvinist; *three-and-a-half-point Calvinist; *two-point Calvinist; *one-and-a-half-point Calvinist; *one-point Calvinist; *half-point Calvinist. Christians who affirm only the last named doctrine in the TULIP acronym (“perseverance of the saints”) are *fifth-point Calvinists or *last-point Calvinists.
Christians who reject all five of these Calvinist doctrines are *five-point Arminians. Christians who reject four of the doctrines but affirm one of them are *four-point Arminians, and so on. Also see main entry for *four-and-a-half-point Arminian.
Furthermore, according to the logic associated with this numbering scheme, every Christian must have either a Calvinist or an Arminian outlook for each of the five doctrines; consequently, a one-point Calvinist is synonymous with a four-point Arminian (for example: at *four-point Arminian, see 1990 citation); at *half-point Calvinist, see 1989 citation; at *last-point Calvinist, see 1985 citation).
Numbers higher than five—such as *six-point Calvinist and *seven-point Calvinist—can be used for comic effect or to convey a special theological meaning; see senses 1 and 2 of those two entries for more. Generally speaking, because there are only five traditional points of Calvinism, the meaning of a number higher than five must be established through context or it will be ambiguous.
The origin of TULIP seems to be the turn of the 20th century (the 1913 citation refers to the term’s use 8 years earlier, but no citations before 1913 have been discovered).
See also .
1913 Vail The Outlook (21 Jun.) 394 : Some eight years ago I had the privilege of hearing a popular lecture, by Dr. McAfee, of Brooklyn, upon the Five Points of Calvinism given before the Presbyterian Union of Newark, New Jersey, which was most interesting as well as instructive. To aid the mind in remembering the Five Points, Dr. McAfee made use of the word Tulip, which possessing five letters, lends itself nicely to the subject in hand…. Dr. McAfee used them as follows: T stands for Total Depravity; U … Universal Sovereignty; L … Limited Atonement; I … Irresistible Grace; P … Perseverance of the Saints. 1932 Boettner The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination 60 : The Five Points may be more easily remembered if they are associated with the word T-U-L-I-P: T: Total Inability; U: Unconditional Election; L: Limited Atonement; I: Irresistible (Efficacious) Grace; and P: Perseverance of the Saints. 1953 Cairns Christianity Through the Centuries 336 : At the risk of oversimplification, one can summarize the essence of Calvin’s theology by the use of a simple mnemonic device that has been developed in recent years and has often been used by students. The first letters of the main words of Calvin’s theology spell the word tulip [etc.]. 2002 Zoba Sacred Journeys 171 : I should note that my sons are five-point Calvinists. The five “points” spell the word TULIP, an acrostic derived from the following theological essentials: Total depravity, [etc.]
five-point Calvinist n. Also *five-pointer. A Christian who affirms all five of the traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
1974 The Presbyterian J. XXXIII. 182 : No doubt there are Journal readers who are not five-point Calvinists. 1985 Jones Cornbread and Caviar 184 : A man may be a five-point Calvinist and not put his emphasis there and maintain a reasonable, humble attitude toward himself and a proper zeal for the souls of men. 1996 Herald of Holiness LXXXV. 41 : There aren’t many pure “five-point” Calvinists around today. Wesleyanism has done much to “Arminianize” modern Protestant thought. 2009 Stiver Life Together in the Way of Jesus 184 : Contemporary strong Calvinists, or five-point Calvinists, who represent another significant tradition, deny this notion of freedom.
five-pointer n. Syn *five-point Calvinist.
1989 Pinnock The Grace of God, the Will of Man 88 : I had a Calvinist professor (he was quite proud that he was a solid “five pointer”) in seminary. 2001 Baker Deadly Flower: TULIP 6 : Some people say, “Well, I’m not a five-pointer; I just believe in four points.” Some say, “Well, I’m just a two-pointer.” 2010 Gonzales Steps of Grace 61 : Today, even Calvinists differ on how many of Calvin’s five points they accept with relatively few of them being “five-pointers.”
four-and-a-half-point Calvinist n. A Christian who fully affirms four and partly affirms one of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP). The partly affirmed doctrine is usually “limited atonement.”
1974 The Presbyterian J. XXXIIII. 43 : We praise God, too, for 4½ point Calvinists!
four-point Calvinist n. Also *four-pointer. A Christian who affirms only four of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP). The rejected doctrine is usually “limited atonement.”
1986 Sproul Chosen by God 204 : They refer to themselves as “four-point” Calvinists. The point they cannot abide is limited atonement. 1989 Lutzer All One Body—Why Don’t We Agree? 186 : Arminians (and so-called four point Calvinists) remain unconvinced. They believe that Christ suffered for all men but that the payment was only potentially made. 1991 Lightner Sin, the Savior, and Salvation 123 : These might be called four-point Calvinists or moderate Calvinists. 1999 Ryrie Basic Theology 367 : Among Calvinists there are some who hold to universal redemption (so-called four-point Calvinists) … and some who teach particular redemption (so-called ultra or five-point Calvinists). 2007 Logan Confronting Kingdom Challenges 230 : In all seriousness I left seminary priding myself on being a “four-point Calvinist,” the problem being, of course, that thorny doctrine of “limited atonement.” 2010 Smith Letters to a Young Calvinist 12 : Nonetheless, several of my professors had a habit of calling themselves “four-point Calvinists” and regularly invoked the likes of B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and W.G.T. Shedd in my theology courses.
four-pointer n. Syn *four-point Calvinist.
2011 Olson Against Calvinism : Many Calvinists say they are “four pointers” or “four-point Calvinists.” They mean they believe in T and U and I and P but not in L.
three-and-a-half-point Calvinist n. A Christian who fully affirms three and partly affirms one of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
2009 Smith A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church 242 : [Note 10:] A recent debate at the Southern Baptist Convention … featured Dr. Al Mohler, a “five-point Calvinist,” and Dr. Paige Patterson, a “three-and-a-half-point” Calvinist.
three-point Calvinist n. A Christian who affirms only three of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
2005 Sparks Raccoon John Smith 11 : Still, Whitefield must be described truthfully as being at most a three-point or four-point Calvinist in practice even if he was a five-point Calvinist in belief, one who never completely accepted for practical purposes the doctrines of unconditional election or irresistible calling.
two-point Calvinist n. Also *two-pointer. A Christian who affirms only two of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP)—usually the doctrines of “total depravity” and “perseverance of the saints.”
2006 Olson Arminian Theology 77 : Some Arminians call themselves “two-point Calvinists,” especially if they live, work or worship in contexts where Reformed theology is considered the norm for evangelicalism. By this they usually mean that they affirm total depravity and perseverance of the saints. (This is especially common among Baptists.)
two-pointer n. Syn *two-point Calvinist.
2001 Baker Deadly Flower: TULIP 6 : Some people say, “Well, I’m not a five-pointer; I just believe in four points.” Some say, “Well, I’m just a two-pointer.”
one-and-a-half-point Calvinist n. Also one-and-one-half-point Calvinist. A Christian who fully affirms one and partly affirms another of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
1995 Pritchard Willow Creek Seeker Services 46 : Bilezikian calls himself a “one-and-one-half-point Calvinist.” Bilezikian agrees with point five, the perseverance of the saints…. He also believes a part of the first point, total depravity.
one-point Calvinist n. A Christian who affirms only one of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP)—usually the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints.”
1980 Hutson Why I Disagree with All Fives Points of Calvinism 3 : I have heard preachers say, “I am a one-point Calvinist.” I have heard others say, “I am a two- or three-point Calvinist.” 1981 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament VI. 220 : A four, three, two or one point Calvinist is a Pelagian if he deserves to be classified anywhere. 1983 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament XIV. 108 : The one-point Calvinists … know nothing of the TULIP except “once saved, always saved.” 2009 Iorg The Painful Side of Leadership 20 : One Christian leader jokingly told me, “I am a one-point Calvinist. I believe in the absolute, total, abject depravity of man. That’s one absolute I’m sure of.”
last-point Calvinist n. A Christian who affirms only the fifth of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP—the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints.”
1983 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament XII. 192 : The Calvinistic Presbyterian with a firm faith in the TULIP is closer to the truth of God, despite the fact that he sprinkles babies, than the Last-Point Calvinists among the Baptists who hold firmly to immersion in water for believers only. 1985 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament XVI. 202 : The “last point Calvinists” who are “first four point” Arminians struggle to show that enlightenment and tasting and participation are experiences that stop short of regeneration.
fifth-point Calvinist n. Syn *last-point Calvinist.
1983 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament XIV. 207 : There is much talk among the Arminians and the Fifth Point Calvinists, who call themselves Evangelicals, about free moral agency. Man, though lost and in serious need of salvation, is said nevertheless to be free to choose whether he will cast his ballot on the side of Satan who wants him lost or God who wants him to be saved. 2006 Harmon Towards Baptist Catholicity 123 : Not a few Baptists in the United States—especially [in] the southern United States—[are] becoming for all practical purposes “fifth-point Calvinists,” meaning that while they may have grave doubts about unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, and irresistible grace, they cling tenaciously to the fifth point of Calvinism … : the perseverance of the saints.
half-point Calvinist n. A Christian who partly affirms only one of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
1989 Daniel The Hist. and Theology of Calvinism 419 : These are really “Half-point” Calvinists and “Four-and-a-half Point” Arminians.
zero-point Calvinist n. A Christian who rejects all five of the traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
2007 Stokes The Nehemiah Project 59 : He would say, “I’m a zero-point Calvinist.” He would then delineate the TULIP—the acronymic term describing the five tenets of Calvinism—by rebutting each, one by one.
no-point Calvinist n. A Christian who rejects all five of the traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
2002 Horton Four Views on Eternal Security 114 : If that is the case, Professor Geisler is not a one-point Calvinist but a no-point Calvinist, who nevertheless describes his position as moderate Calvinism.
five-point Arminian n. A Christian who rejects all five of the traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP).
1968 Palmer Encyc. of Christianity II. 275 : Later, in 1618, a national Synod affirmed what they concluded was the truly Biblical view of these particular doctrines. They did so in five responses to the five-point Arminian claims, arranging the points in the well-known acrostic T-U-L-I-P. 1983 Ramm After Fundamentalist 31 : To repeat an earlier statement, one may be a five-point Arminian, a five-point Calvinist, a seven-point dispensationalist, or a five-point fundamentalist and still learn much from Barth’s method. 2009 Houdmann Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered 282 : There are five-point Calvinists and five-point Arminians, and at the same time three-point Calvinists and two-point Arminians. Many believers arrive at some sort of mixture of the two views.
four-and-a-half-point Arminian n. A Christian who rejects four of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP) but partly affirms a fifth.
1989 Daniel The Hist. and Theology of Calvinism 419 : These are really “Half-point” Calvinists and “Four-and-a-half Point” Arminians.
four-point Arminian n. A Christian who rejects four of the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP) but does affirm one of them—usually the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints.”
1985 Yeager The Renaissance New Testament 202 : The “last point Calvinists” who are “first four point” Arminians struggle to show that enlightenment and tasting and participation are experiences that stop short of regeneration. 1990 Leonard God’s Last and Only Hope 67 : Many Southern Baptists are one-point Calvinists and four-point Arminians. 2005 Hubner The Saving Grace of God 67 : As time will tell, the book is really just another slam of Calvinism written by a four-point Arminian. Joel will hold on to eternal security and deny the rest of Reformed theology.
six-point Calvinist n.
1. A humorous term for a Christian who is regarded as being a particularly fervent Calvinist.
• [2000 Larsen The Company of the Creative: A Christian Reader’s Guide to Great Literature 269n2 : It has been said humorously that “hyper-Calvinism” is actually “six-point Calvinism,” the sixth point being “total inflexibility.”]
2. A Calvinist who affirms not only the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP) but also an additional doctrine, usually that of double-predestination. In brief, double-predestination is the doctrine that God not only chooses who will go to heaven but also chooses who will go to hell. (See a theological dictionary for a full explanation of double-predestination.)
The numerical significance of the “sixth point” can be considered in two ways: double-predestination may be considered a distinct doctrinal point that follows logically from the first five points of Calvinism and is counted as a separate, sixth point; or double-predestination simply makes the predestination aspect of traditional Calvinist theology count for two points instead of one (because it is a “doubled” view of predestination).
Six-point Calvinists are sometimes referred to as *hyper-Calvinists (see citations for 1998 and 2000).
See additional information at *TULIP.
1998 Yeager Renaissance New Testament XV. 514 : There are no one point, two point, three point, four point or six point Calvinists. Modified and hyper-Calvinists are not Calvinists at all. 2007 challies.com (28 Jun.) : A six-point Calvinist though, believes that God chooses some for salvation and some for perdition and that He does so not on the basis that some people are better or worse than others, but simply through His sovereign choice.
seven-point Calvinist n.
1. A humorous term for a Christian who is regarded as being a particularly fervent Calvinist.
2007 Logan Confronting Kingdom Challenges: A Call to Global Christians 230 : Lest you question my truly Reformed pedigree, let me state, “I’m a seven-point Calvinist. I found two that Calvin missed!” In all seriousness … [etc.]
2. A Calvinist who affirms not only the five traditional Calvinist doctrines (which are commonly represented by the mnemonic acronym *TULIP) but also two additional doctrines which are held to logically follow from the first five points. One of the two additional doctrines is usually that of double-predestination (see *six-point Calvinist).
The term is commonly associated with John Piper (see citations).
See additional information at *TULIP.
2004 Hunt What Love Is This? 483 : John Piper … described himself as “a seven point Calvinist.” 2006 desiringgod.com (23 Jan.) : When John Piper says he is a “seven point Calvinist,” he does so half jokingly and half seriously. Historically, there are five points of Calvinism, not seven. Piper isn’t seeking to add two more points, but is simply calling attention to his belief in the traditional five points (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints) in a way that also points toward two additional “Calvinistic” truths that follow from them: double predestination and the best-of-all-possible worlds.

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