Where Did McAfee Find His Points in the First Place?
Others have explored the origins of TULIP as far back as Cleland McAfee’s 1905 lecture. I find it highly unlikely, however, that this mnemonic device erupted from a single individual’s didactic imagination. It’s possible, of course, that Cleland McAfee developed the TULIP completely on his own—but, even if he did, it’s worth asking where he derived these five particular phrases that differ so sharply from the terminology in the canons of Dort.
“Irresistible grace,” “perseverance of the saints,” and on rare occasions “total depravity” are present in the writings of seventeenth-century Puritans. “Universal sovereignty” carries a variety of meanings in works published in the seventeenth century and earlier. “Unconditional predestination” and “unconditional election” appear in Reformed literature as early as the eighteenth century. And yet, as far as I can tell, the five phrases never appear together until the nineteenth century, and “limited atonement” remains altogether absent.
In the early nineteenth century, the phrases that would someday spell “TULIP” began to appear together—but the list didn’t arise from proponents of Reformed soteriology. The five terms emerged among the American heirs of the Church of England, the Episcopalians and the Methodists. Here’s how one Episcopalian summarized the soteriology of the synod of Dort in 1832, in an article arguing that the doctrinal standards of the Episcopal Church were distinct from Dort:
According to the Calvinistic belief, the atonement of Christ is partial, and limited exclusively to the elect. … Upon this foundation of a limited atonement is built the theory of sovereign and unconditional election and reprobation. … The points of doctrine peculiar to the Calvinistic system of theology are the total depravity of man, unconditional election and reprobation, irresistible grace and instantaneous conversion, and the certain perseverance of the saints.
In 1873, a similar listing appeared in a feature that argued many of the same points in The American Church Review. Later that same year, the Methodist Quarterly Review reprinted that article.
How the TULIP Grew from the Nineteenth Century to You
In articles and books written near the end of the nineteenth century, theologian and church historian Philip Schaff picked up these same five phrases to summarize the synod of Dort—but Schaff always retained the original order presented in the canons of Dort. Here’s how Schaff presented the points:
The five points of Dutch Calvinism of Holland which were tried at the synod of Dort in the year 1619 … are as follows:
1. Unconditional Predestination.
2. Limited atonement.
3 and 4. Total depravity, and irresistible grace.
5. Perseverance of the saints.
Cleland McAfee could have encountered this fivefold summary in a variety of books and periodicals—but there’s another place where he may have heard these five phrases as well. When McAfee was training for pastoral ministry at Union Theological Seminary, his professor of sacred literature and church history at Union was none other than Philip Schaff.
And so, who first reworked these five phrases into a floral arrangement?
Clearly, all of the phrases predate Cleland McAfee’s 1905 lecture in Newark. It is possible that McAfee was the one who rearranged these widely-known phrases to form the name of a flower. Given the emergence of these five phrases at least two generations before McAfee arrived in Brooklyn, it’s also conceivable that McAfee picked up the TULIP acrostic from some earlier source, perhaps even an unpublished oral meme. I could easily imagine the TULIP having emerged as a memory aid in preparation for a seminary examination, especially since Philip Schaff likely used the five phrases in lectures.
Whatever the original source of the five phrases may have been, the TULIP acrostic provided the framework for Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. This text, first published in 1932, remained popular for decades in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist congregations. From the publication of Boettner’s book to the present, TULIP has developed into the predominant summary of the Reformed doctrines of grace, particularly in the United States.
Cleland Boyd McAfee may have rearranged the five points to spell the word TULIP, but he wasn’t the one who chose the wording of the five phrases. These phrases predate McAfee by several decades, and they weren’t developed for the purpose of promoting Reformed soteriology. They seem to have emerged as part of an Episcopalian effort to distance their denomination from the doctrines summarized in the canons of Dort—which might explain, at least in part, how less-than-ideal terminologies such as “limited atonement” wormed their way into this summary in the first place.
This post was originally featured on proofofgrace.com. Click here to see the original post.
“Bishop Brownell’s Second Charge,” Banner of the Church 1 (1832): 197.
“The Seventeenth Article,” The American Church Review 25 (1873): 17-18.
“The Five Points of Dort and the Five Points of Westminster,” The Church Eclectic 18 (1890) 140.
“Brooklyn Likely to Lose Great Church Leader,” The New York Observer 91 (1912): 548.
“The Five Points of Calvinism Historically Considered,” The Outlook 104 (1913): 394-395.