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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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Friday Review: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

(You may skip my personal opinion piece PREFACE if you like and go straight to the review without skipping a beat! Though I believe I make an interesting point or two leading up to the REVIEW.)

PREFACE: Calvinism & The Mystery People

I have noticed over time that there seem to be two main categories of people (among many) in American Christendom. Not to over-simplify too much but one category would be those who are Calvinists and the other category contains those who are not but don’t care a dribble about delving deep into the theology, thinking it’s all a waste of time and just a striving after the wind. Who can know the mind of God in this?  The mystery of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will is fine enough for them. For lack of a better name I’ll call them the “Mystery People”!

The majority of US non-Calvinists might be carelessly classified as strictly Arminian but that might not be a very accurate or satisfying description.  Some of them would actually be called Semi-Pelagian not knowing what that meant, though some might be fine with it once this category was described to them.

With 20% of the nation claiming NO religious affiliation many Christians are wanting to move to more solid scriptural high ground.  Whether it is too much vagueness, too much political correctness, too much seeker sensitivity, too-much post-modern deconstructionism or just plain too much fluff they’d like stronger Biblical teaching that is not just rehashed fundamentalism.

So some have chosen to look again to Jonathan Edwards and revisit the Puritans for safe harbor… they are called by various names, The New Calvinists, Piper-cubs (after Minneapolis Baptist Pastor, Author and Passion Conference speaker, John Piper) and the best of the lot, “The Young, Restless and Reformed”.   Not all Calvinists are in this camp.  Many quiet and content Calvinists exist but there’s a new breed, the New Calvinists and they evangelize their theology much as one would the gospel.

I came from a church which was wonderfully started in 1979 or so and had not declared its allegiance to any camp (at least not to my foreknowledge) but was nonetheless (after affiliating itself with a larger group to form an non-denominational denomination) transformed into being Reformed with a charismatic emphasis church.

I was never able to fit myself into that camp even though I drenched myself in John Owen’s thoroughly probing and provocative work, “Sin and Temptation”.  Jonathan Edwards wasn’t too bad as he allowed for the operation of the Spirit of God in his midst.

My dilemma was compounded by the fact that I don’t make a very good “Mystery Person”.  I am too inquisitive and yes, too contentious to settle for a vague premise.  And being a pastor doesn’t give you much wiggle room in the non-committal approach to theology!

So in my journey to define what I really am and to understand what a real classical Arminian believes I came across this wonderful book by Roger Olson.

REVIEW

Due to a possible lack of understanding or significant judgemental bias Calvinists have often lumped Arminianism in with Semi-Pelagiansim.  There has been more than a few times where Calvinist leaders have called Arminianism heresy. (not to be confused with being an “Armenian”… your born one of those!)

I am not sure how I discovered the  book “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”.  But when I did it was a breath of fresh air. I was elated.  The book was both informative and easily understood.  A good introduction to Classical Arminianism.  As one review said,

Very well written description of classical Arminianism. Every christian interested in theology and soteriology in particular should read this book. Even if you don’t hold to same views as classical Arminianism you should read this book so that you actually know what being an Arminian means.

Olson divides the book into Myths instead of Chapters:  Myth 1, Myth 2, Myth 3 etc.  Ten Myths in all.  Myth 1 is titled “Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinism/Reformed Theology”.   Other interesting titles are Myth 4: “The Heart of Arminianism is Belief in Free Will” and Myth 9 “Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone”. 

For a full list of the 10 Myths you should check out this link:  10 Myths. It links you to Amazon so you are ready to purchase the book if you like.

A few other concepts that one might not know are part of Arminian Theology… Total Depravity is a concept integral to Arminianism… Prevenient Grace is integral.  A person cannot come to Christ with being drawn first by the Father… and finally God’s Divine Sovereignty is not subject to Man’s Free Will.  God is God and can intervene in any way he wishes.  Just because an Arminian does not subscribe to the notion of Irresistable Grace he can adhere to a God who as omnipotent and sovereign and able to direct the affairs of man as he desires.

In each Myth section, Olson gives the reader a brief overview into the perspectives of authors, teachers and proponents of Arminianism.  You will learn who has written concerning each topic and how they compare with the writings of Arminius himself.

Personally I really benefited from Olson’s defense of Classic Arminianism.  It clarified what I believed and gave me confidence in articulating Classic Arminian Theology.  It also increased my desire to learn more. While at my former church I was not encouraged to study and compare the two systems of thought.  Thank you, Roger Olson for bringing clarity and answers to the issues I struggled with before.

I recommend this book to anyone who has encountered Calvinism and wants to understand the biblical alternative of Classsical Arminianism, to the Calvinist who wants to understand true Arminian Theology and not the caricatures that are communicated in the general public and among Calvinists themselves.  It just not Free Will vs Sovereignty.

AUTHOR

Roger E. Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (both InterVarsity Press) and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox).

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