Arminians vs Calvinists a spectrum

Arminians vs Calvinists a spectrum December 10, 2010


In this post I outline an Arminocalvinist spectrum, and explain why it’s not so simple as Arminians vs Calvinists. 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.

Where would you place yourself?

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