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An Arminocalvinist Spectrum, or Why it’s Not So Simple as Arminians vs. Calvinists

Jacobus Arminius

John Calvin

As a follow-up to my “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” post I have reposted a blog article by Adrian Warnock from December 10, 2010 (Link to original post) 

I think when we come to the Arminian / Calvinist debate we must understand it is not simply a clear cut issue.  When I meet other Christians and get to know them, the most important question I have is not whether they agree with every line of theology I have, and express that agreement with the same wordings I do. I am much more concerned with what is their attitude to the Bible.

Some on each side seem more attached to their system than the Bible itself.  Others love the Bible, but do not realize that the other side is not as extreme as they were told. There are many who have been taught to reject either Calvinism or Arminianism as rank heresy that fail to realize that as a moderate they have much more in common than they believe.  For more on this see my previous post on the subject.

Today I thought I would share a breakdown of different perspectives on this debate, in a similar style to one I called the “Evolutionary Spectrum.”  Where are you on this spectrum and why?

The following spectrum aims to reflect the views of people I am aware of, but I would value anyone who wants to suggest that it needs to be tweaked.  Indeed, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that I have incorporated feedback from, among others, Roger Olson who was eager to emphasise that while he understands my desire for a mutual respect between Bible-believers from both sides, there really is a divide between the Arminians and the Calvinists.  I remain open to tweak this further, but here is my Arminocalvinist spectrum:

1. Hyper Calvinist

  • Believes in double-predestination (God actively chooses to damn unbelievers in a similar way to which he chooses to save the elect)
  • Believes God in a sense stands behind every act that occurs, including sin. Opponents will say this makes them sound like they believe God is the author of sin.
  • Believes in the so-called Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP
  • Often has a tendency to work around certain scriptures (or, as their enemies might accuse them, “twists” or uses some Bible verses to “trump” others.) Parts of the Bible which are not convenient to their theology are conveniently ignored.
  • Believes that the Gospel offer is only valid for the elect so there is no need to preach gospel till people seem under conviction.
  • Is often passive in evangelism, believing God will save whoever he chooses so there is no point preaching to everyone.
  • May discourage the gospel of grace being taught to anyone unless they already seem convicted of sin.
  • May argue we should not say that “Jesus died for you” or “God loves you” to anyone unless we are sure they are part of the elect.
  • May argue that God hates sinners.
  • Does not see that faith is a duty to be commanded (see Wikipedia’s Hypercalvinist article).
  • God’s sovereignty rules supreme, but man’s responsibility is essentially denied.

2. Strong Calvinist

  • Believes in double-predestination, may well describe this decision as unequal in weight, endevoring to maintain the idea that God is not willing that any should perish.  In other words, God stands behind the decision to save and the decision to damn in different ways.
  • Believes that Jesus only trully died for the elect (strong limited atonement) though may accept that his death had implications for all.
  • May believe that the world is the best of all possible worlds (These first two bullets are the so-called “sixth and seventh points of Calvinism according to Piper).
  • Believes God is entirely sovereign over all acts but not in such a way as to make him the author of sin.
  • Believes in TULIP in its classical sense.
  • John Piper would be a good example of a strong Calvinist.

3. Moderate Calvinist

  • Believes in all the TULIP but may understand some of them in a slightly different way to stronger Calvinists.  For example “limited atonement” may be moderated by saying that there are some senses in which Jesus died generally for the whole world, and others in which he  died especially for the elect. (see for example Edwards on Limited Atonement)
  • Does not believe in double predestination. In other words does not believe God damns sinners willingly.  Despite the apparent illogicality of this statement believes that man condemns himself entirely freely and rejects a genuine offer of salvation from God, while the believer is saved only because of God’s irresistible grace and predestination.
  • Another way of putting this would be to say that God gets all the credit for saving us, but man gets all the blame for damnation. Spurgeon was a strong advocate of this position.
  • Is likely to believe that although salvation is secure, a mere response at a gospel event is not sufficient to be sure that someone is genuinely saved, and many backsliders were never saved at all.
  • Believes the Gospel must be preached to all, and Jesus commands everyone to repent.
  • Will freely teach God loves sinners, and that Jesus died for the world.
  • Believes that God chooses some to be saved out of his love for them rather than any foreseen faith.

4.  Soft Calvinist

  • Drops at least one of the five “points” or so extensively redifines one of them they would be unrecognizable to stronger Calvinists. Mark Driscoll is hard to place in this scheme as he desrcibes himself as a four and a half point Calvinist, modifying one of the points so much that he calls it “limited/unlimited atonement.”
  • In fact Driscoll’s view is very similar to many others who would fit in the moderate Calvinist group.
  • Many soft Calvinists would doubt irresistible grace, and may begin to speak in some way about God’s predestination being in some way associated with man’s response.
  • Eagerly stress both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility

5. Reformed Arminian (often called Classical or Evangelical Arminianism.)

  • The really key point that separates all Arminians from all Calvinists is this, that they do not believe in irresistible grace, in other words they do not believe that in some way God overcomes our resistance to being saved in order to save us.
  • Would very much see themselves in the Reformed part of the church, and as the heirs of a man like Wesley who by the end of his life could agree with the Calvinist Simeon, although would surely have been considered strong Arminian during his earlier years. Arguably Arminius himself was a Reformed Arminian.
  • Believes (as do all the groups above this one) in the so-called “Five Solas of the Reformation
  • Like the other groups above will passionately believe in Penal Subsitution, holding that it is central to our understanding of the work of Jesus.
  • Deny some or all of the so-called TULIP, though very likely to believe in a form of Total Depravity, and Total Inability, i.e. that without God’s help we are incapable of responding to the gospel. (see for example the Society of Evangelical Arminians).
  • Likely to believe that someone who is truly saved cannot be un-born again.
  • Believes in regeneration, and that salvation is only possible if God acts upon the human heart.  Unlikely to believe that this process is irresistible.
  • May well believe that election is in some way resultant from faith foreseen i.e. that it is not entirely unconditional
  • Will boldly say that Jesus died for all.
  • Still believes that God is sovereign over the universe and over every event that happens (as does every group above this) and yet that he limits himself, thereby giving man free will, but God remains able at any time to restrict this.
  • Would join all Calvinists in upholding that as per the words of Romans 8:28, God is working all things together for good to those who love him.
  • Some Reformed Arminians will in actual fact believe very similar things to those held in the TULIP but will express them in different ways.

6. Strong Arminian

  • May adamantly deny all points from TULIP, although many would make an exception for Total Depravity, and believe in that (see for example this post although the author of that post identifies himself as a Reformed Arminian)
  • Rejects as contrary to God’s character that he could choose to save people irrespective of any act in them or cause in them.
  • Believes that faith is a response of the human heart (possibly aided by God) that is the trigger for salvation.
  • Believes it is possible to lose your salvation.
  • May well still believe in penal substitution but likely to stress that it is only one aspect of the work of Jesus for us.

7. “Open” Arminian

  • Believes that God has chosen to limit himself to make room for love and freedom to truly exist (See this Tweet).
  • Critics accuse them of using human logic to deny critical aspects of our faith: For example, if a future event has not happened, some argue it is impossible for God to foreknow it.  Thus God is surprised by faith in us, or indeed by whether or not we sin
  • God is portrayed as somehow weaker and less God-like than any of the other groups would suggest
  • Many deny aspects of the gospel, and see the Bible as culture-bound.
  • God is no longer truly sovereign, but man’s responsibility rules.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I would place myself as a moderate Calvinist.  What about you?

Postcript

Hope you enjoyed this article.  I found it very thought provoking and informative. I would best describe myself according to this listing as #5 A Reformed Arminian.  As the author asks… where do you place yourself in the spectrum?

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5 thoughts on “An Arminocalvinist Spectrum, or Why it’s Not So Simple as Arminians vs. Calvinists

  1. Hey there, What you are calling “soft Calvinist” was actually the position of Luther, and most of the original Reformers, including, Bullinger, Musculus and Calvin.

    Another taxonomy we use which dates back to the 17thC is first hyper-Calvinism (Hussey and others) then High Calvinism (Owen and others) and moderate Calvinism. Some of these expressions were being used to distinguish the two main orthodox groups within 17th century Calvinism.

    What is more, the thing we call TULIP was only invented about 1915ish. See Ken Stewart’s recent monograph Ten Myths About Calvinism. He documents, as does Richard Muller, that TULIP was first an American device which has come to influence all Angl0-American expressions of Calvinism since. In traditional Dutch groups, TULIP is not as influential. And so while TULIP was an attempt to capture the earlier construct of the so-called 5 Points of Calvinism, it actually deviates from Dort. Dort allows for moderates (what you would call 4-pointers I suspect) and high Calvinists to co-exist within its confessional framework.

    It is only since the dominance of TULIP that Dort has really been skewed in how it was intended to be interpreted originally. At Dort, there were many moderate Calvinists (again what you would call 4pointers) who helped frame the confession and signed off to it when completed.

    HyperCalvinism dates back to the 17thC but was seen as totally aberrant and generally moved to become something outside the “Reformed” tradition. It has only been recently reinjected back into the Reformed tradition through the influence of men like Hoeksema and Clark.

    Anyway, I thought I would just throw some of this at you for your consideration.
    David
    http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=7147

    • Thanks for writing David. Appreciate your comments.

      It might be that “Soft Calvinist” is not described correctly as the next step down from TULIP as you say. Though the acronym does not start till later it is derived from the Five Articles of Remonstrance and how the points were addressed at DORT. However if I understand your thought, TULIP or 5 point Calvinism was not the ultimate and definitive result of DORT but rather a denunciation of the Articles of Remonstrance was leaving room for 4 point Calvinists, is that correct?

  2. I think you need a category #6a which is category #6 without “believes it is possible to lose your salvation.” I’m more comfortable with John 3:16 (the disciple whom Jesus loved) who than with John Calvin (the man who had Michael Servetus burned at the stake.)

    • Thanks for your comment Joe. I appreciate your sharing your observation. I re-posted this blog as a way to provoke discussion and thought.

      You have a case for a #6a. There are churches that would identify with Strong Arminianism yet emphasing “once saved always saved”. If someone appeared to “fall away” they might say “He who falters at the finish their faith was faulty from the first”.

  3. You say: It might be that “Soft Calvinist” is not described correctly as the next step down from TULIP as you say. Though the acronym does not start till later it is derived from the Five Articles of Remonstrance and how the points were addressed at DORT.

    David: Well I cant speak for the Remonstrant articles. However, the articles of Dort are not the same as the standard TULIP categories or the older “5-points of Calvinism” as many things are different. For example, Dort does not teach a limited atonement, only an effectual atonement. Moderate Calvinists believe in both an unlimited extent of the satisfaction and an effectual intent to apply to some. Both propositions were held by moderates at Dort like Davenant and Martinius.

    The Remonstrants affirmed the former but denied the latter. Dort only seeks to affirm the latter, making no comment on the former, the extent question. It leaves it totally open-ended; because as I noted, many of the leading delegates held to an unlimited extent. Whereas modern TULIP and the older standard 5-points define it as limited extent as well. Also “total” depravity does not reflect the theology of the Reformed at the time. It is misleading. Richard Muller and Anthony Hoekema have both pointed this out. And of course Irresistible grace, Richard Muller, especially, chastises this. TULIP and the “5-points” are reductionist and slant the frame of reference in a direction not originally intended by Dort and its Reformed delegates.

    So when one grids all the discussion in terms of 5 pointer versus 4 pointer, then one is already skewing the discussion. It immediately communicates that one is more orthodox, and one is not. When in fact, Dort never thought to suggest such an idea. In one sense this is all a small point, but it is totally crucial as TULIP skews the way we see the biblical narrative relating to God’s redemptive dealings with mankind.

    You say: However if I understand your thought, TULIP or 5 point Calvinism was not the ultimate and definitive result of DORT but rather a denunciation of the Articles of Remonstrance was leaving room for 4 point Calvinists, is that correct?

    David: TULIP and the 5-piont schemas are both inaccurate reflections of Dort. TULIP has blinded both sides of the divide on this. Its really bizarre. It has shaped the way High Calvinists frame their discussion and it has equally shaped the way non-Calvinists have framed their response to Calvinism in general. Second, if by the Remonstrant articles, you mean as they are defined in terms of direct opposition to the TULIP or the 5 points (cf Boettner et al) then that needs to go too. The base line for the Remonstrant position should be their own articulation from the time. Just junk TULIP or the 5 point schemas as a means by which you filter your historical investigation of the theology of the pro-Dortians and the anti-Dortians (so to speak) at the time. These modern schemas are just wrong and unhelpful. This holds good to modern High calvinists similarly trapped by the death-grip of the TULIP schema. Shaping the discussion around TULIP vs anti-TULIP is all so reductionist and tragic. It’s a complete waste of time in terms of opening up the actual historical, Gospel, and biblical narrative. I’ve got some good articles which point this out by way of a critique of modern HyperCalvinism. I can send them along to you if you like. Just shoot me an email.

    David
    http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=8466

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