Skip to main content

John Calvin's theology in his TULIP for the novice theologian

John Calvin did most of his ministry in Geneva, Switzerland

John Calvin's TULIP

John Calvin is one of the Reformed Theologians, and in trying to help people understand his theology developed the mnemonic device TULIP. Each letter of TULIP teaches people one lesson of how to live and how much God loves us. This way people could better understand who God was in their life and how their salvation was already planned and fully in God's hands. The TULIP mnemonic helped people in Geneva understand and remember that God is sovereign over all of us, a doctrine that John Calvin fully believed in and taught.

John Calvin (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564)

John Calvin was a lawyer turned theologian during the Great Reformation. He lived in Geneva for a time creating his theological works including Institutes of the Christian Religion.

John Calvin was a lawyer turned theologian during the Great Reformation. He lived in Geneva for a time creating his theological works including Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The tulip is a lovely flower and a great way to remember John Calvin's understanding of salvation.


T- Total Depravity.

The first letter of TULIP, Calvin was very clear that people are depraved, in other words, they do things that are sinful, wrong, or just plain dumb. Our sinful nature pulls us away from God and makes our relationship with God in need of healing and redemption. John Calvin believed when we understand that we are sinful, that we do wrong in the eyes of God, then we can better understand the love God has for us as we are redeemed and saved. Sin is everything we do that does not bring us closer in a relationship with God and Christ.

U- Unconditional Election

We are not chosen on race, gender, social standing or genealogy. We are saved because God loves us, and there is nothing we can do to earn or lose that love. We cannot work harder or earn more money to gain access to heaven. This right is give by God alone, and when we understand that we can live our lives with a different perspective. While good works is needed, God is the only one who can actually give us the salvation we need. Some people have confused this with predestination, which is another thought attributed to Calvin. This is the belief that people are going to heaven (or hell) before they are born and there is nothing they can do to change this fact. Calvin also used a term called "the elect" to explain who was going to heaven and who was not. The only challenge here lies that we do not know who is elect and who is not, thus Calvin teaches us to treat everyone as the elect, and let God figure out the rest. Our salvation is not for us to change, which I take comfort in, because I am the type of person who would mess up and I don't want my errors to determine my salvation. I would much rather have God in charge of something that important.

L- Limited Atonement

The act of Christ dying on the cross was for the purpose of our salvation. We are all brought to that one event and through his death we are no longer held captive to sin or death. While the event was limited in time and place, Christ's death and saving grace reaches far beyond the moment. John Calvin understood the need for people to recognize daily how much Christ has already done for them. In his life and ministry, Jesus Christ saves us even today. in Calvin's TULIP we can understand that with this Limited Atonement we are a blessed people yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I- Irresistible Grace

God cannot be resisted, and when someone has been chosen to be saved, they will be. We can turn our backs on the saving grace of God, but it is always offered and we will see signs of God's grace and sovereignty in our lives. There is no way to lose the salvation we all have when God is in charge. This goes to John Calvin's belief of the sovereignty of God, which is just a big word for God is all powerful, God loves us, and God is fully in charge of our salvation. The idea of God's sovereignty is also meant to help us understand we cannot change our salvation. God has already done everything needed to bring our sins to redemption, and John Calvin wanted his congregation to know they are saved no matter how sinful they feel they are. In our lives we can fail, but in the end God understands us and loves us enough to offer grace to everyone, especially those who believe in Jesus Christ.

P- Perseverance of the Saints

Those who God has chosen to be saved cannot lose their salvation. This is a common thread (as I am sure you have noticed) throughout Calvin's theology. It goes beyond that and states that if one believes they are saved they are not going to turn away from God and reject the grace they were given. It is a life changing experience to walk through TULIP, because you first admit that you are completely full of sin and without hope, and then you realize that because God loves you, you will be saved for all time. We must continue onward in serving God because God has already done much for us.

TULIP in action

John Calvin taught and desired everyone to understand the over-reaching love of God. He did things his way sometimes and that is why he was forced to leave Geneva once. However, because of his desire to show others God's love he was asked back and continued to serve the church in his ministry, with his intellect, and also with his life. Understanding TULIP will help us to understand how much God has done for us already, and how much we need to continue living our lives as people who are already saved, and also seeing others as being good people, the elect, the people God chose before they were even born.

Theology is important

I feel it is important to help all types of people understand who God is in their own life. John Calvin, in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, states the more we understand ourselves the more we understand God and the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. In the study of God, or Theology, everyone has their own perceptions and ideas. As we come together we can learn more about ourselves and God by how we relate to others. I am currently trying to bring theology to a level where a child, specifically a 5-year old child, can understand how God loves everyone. The links below are other Hubs that relate to talking to children about God, theology, and other religious issues. I hope to continue to share my thoughts on bringing God to all, and also sharing the amazing perceptions of how a five-year- old can help adults reflect on what they know about God and Jesus Christ.

He's got the whole world in His hands, and we are better off because of this.


Theology help for kids and adults

  • Why do we put our hands together in prayer?
    Praying is what brings us closer to our God. How we put our hands may affect how comfortable we are praying, and this may help people be more comfortable in their prayer life.
  • Remember your baptism
    I don't. In my denomination we believe in one baptism and it can happen anytime in a persons life. I was baptized as a baby, with my parents proclaiming to the community they would raise me in the...
  • Did Jesus tickle his disciples' feet?
    This is the question that my four year-old asked me while I was giving him a bath one day. Usaully I tickle his feet while I am washing them, and we had just talked about in church when Jesus washed his...
  • God Talks Us
    While driving in the car, my 5-year old son told my wife and me, God talks us. I don't know about you, but I had no idea what he was talking about. After asking many questions we figured it out. He was...


Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 23, 2014:

I am sorry if you felt I was offering eternal punishment as an option. I do not like to believe in a God that would allow any to be tormented forever. I was explaining the view of Calvin (and I do not speak to what he did or did not believe) that there are some people who will spend eternity with God. I also wanted people to understand we are not meant to treat others or judge others because of what we think. I see your passion now, and I understand your position. I don't know that we are perfectly aligned, but I can see now that we are on the same side of the coin. :)

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 10, 2014:

Let me offer this as a thought- what if the difference in election is that people are too often trying to find a way to be better than someone else. Calvin's view of election was to help people understand that they don't know all the answers. God's election, the salvation of people completely by God's love and mercy, is meant to be a hope. To help people understand that God is in charge of all outcomes, that the ending of the story has already been written, BY GOD. Also, maybe there is no damnation, but only death. I realize people try to find ways to say that Jesus spoke of Hell, but he spoke of Sheol- a place of death in eternal sleep, and spoke also of a place where trash will be burned to get rid of it. People have taken that message and just RAN with it. I personally believe that some people SEEM to be evil. God created them too, right?

Scroll to Continue

So there are three questions I learned in Seminary, that basically play out as two truths and a lie. Does God Love us? Is God all powerful? Does Evil Exist?- I do not believe that evil exists, because it is more important for me to think that God loves us all, and God is all powerful. Because for there to be a Hell, and a Devil and all that- then obviously God is not powerful enough to stop him or that God does not love us- Which I guess is where you would be- but I cannot believe those "facts". There are times when people do awful actions, and then greater good from other people come from that. It is VERY possible for election to have nothing to do with damnation. That is what I am trying to say. I am sorry if my logic does not match yours.

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 10, 2014:

You seem pretty sure what I can and cannot believe in. So be it. I agree, we cannot change each other's opinions. I thank you for the interesting perspective and several interesting points, but in the end, you still seem to want to say that all Calvinists believe God has ordained people to Hell. You are wrong, but like you said, I am obviously too brainwashed in my own thinking to understand that. I will just keep believing in a loving God and using Calvin to see that loving God in everyone I meet. Blessings to you. :)

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 10, 2014:

It seems you stay focused on the negative aspect of being Elect. The idea behind the concept is that God loves people. God calls them into relationship, and desires us to love him back. God "elects" people to be those who are going to be closer to him in life and death. You are also confusing the Elect with Double Predestination which is the idea (not Calvin's) that God puts some people in heaven and some in Hell. You are also trying to argue that God does this almost willy-nilly. Do you not see people that are evil in this world? You could argue that election breaks free will, but to say God created people simply to have them suffer in Hell is way off the point. I am sorry that you like to focus on what is negative, I see the beauty in the election. There are people God calls to show his love to others, and that no one knows more than God what we need in this world and the next.

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 08, 2014:

God does not create us to be tortured forever in flames. God creates us to be in a relationship with him. We are called to love and support others. Again, it seems to be a perspective, basically what one focuses on. If you want to see God as someone who picks people to be tortured forever, there is probably nothing I can say to change your mind. I see God as the loving creator who constantly reminds us of his love and mercy. It is a bit extreme, but very much a glass half full/ half empty perspective.

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 08, 2014:

That is very true. There is absolutely a chance any one is not elect. I personally find comfort in the fact that God has complete control over my salvation. I would probably mess it up if I had any sway. I guess it is your perspective on it, but you offer some great food for thought, thank you.

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on July 08, 2014:

That is one of my favorite aspects of Calvin's thoughts. There is no way to tell if we are elect or not, so we are called to treat everyone as if we are elect and as if they are elect. It is not up to us to earn our salvation, but God's mercy and Christ's love.

I also believe that those who strive to be closer to Christ, or who work for Christ, are doing so because they are elect. They are the ones who strive to show God's love to others.

Rev. Akins (author) from Tucson, AZ on May 10, 2012:

There are several great resources out there to understand Calvin's teachings. The ones I would start with are the Institutes of the Christian Religion (I have the two volume set), and I also have works on his Pastoral Piety. Thanks for the comment!

Sushmita from Kolkata, India on May 10, 2012:

I have been looking for the principal teachings of John Calvin, more for a need to understand some literary work, than from theological pursuits. Thanks for an introduction to TULIP. To the point Hub. Voted interesting.

Related Articles