Is there an "Arminocalvinist spectrum?"

Is there an "Arminocalvinist spectrum?" December 13, 2010

Many people have asked my opinion about an attempt to identify an “Arminocalvinist spectrum” by blogger Adrian Warnock (  Warnock proposes that we regard Arminianisms (the plural is intentional) and Calvinisms as sharing a spectrum from extreme versions to moderate versions with the latter being closer to each other on a shared spectrum of beliefs about God’s sovereignty.

I have argued that classical Calvinists and classical Arminians share much common ground in “mere Christianity” and even basic evangelical faith.  Both are perfectly orthodox in terms of the Great Tradition of biblical Christianity.  Both affirm Christ’s deity and the Trinity as well as God’s omnipotence, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. 

However, I’m reluctant to talk about a “spectrum” that includes both theologies.  A spectrum assumes only degrees of difference.  Insofar as we are talking about the distinctives of Arminianism and Calvinism, however, the two theologies are different in kind and not only in degree. 

Let me illustrate.  The three main historical views of Christ’s second coming in relation to the Kingdom of God on earth are premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism.  Can they be said to share a spectrum?  Are they different only in degree?  I don’t think so.  All three are within the realm of orthodox Christianity; none is heretical.  But one is not “closer” to another.  That’s because they are three absolutely incommensurable answers to the same question: what is the fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth and when will Christ return in relation to that?  (Okay, maybe those are two questions, but in terms of this historical debate they are inextricably linked with each other.)

I cannot picture a “spectrum” shared by these three eschatologies.  On certain issues two are closer to each other, but on other issues those two would be incommensurably divided and one would probably be closer to the third.

The question Warnock seems to be attempting to answer is whether there are versions of Calvinism and Arminianism that are closer to each other than to other versions of their own views of God’s sovereignty.  I think that assumes some measure of commensurability of real Calvinism (not “Calminianism!”) with real Arminianism.  On the crucial issues of the nature of God’s election to salvation, the extent of the atonement and whether grace is resistible or irresistible  (the three main ideas that divide Calvinism and Arminianism) the divide between any and every version of Calvinism and any and every version of Arminianism is deep and wide.  So much so that it is really not possible to put them on the same spectrum.

Of course, there are people who call themselves Calvinists and people who call themselves Arminians who are not really at all what those labels traditionally imply.  But that doesn’t change the fact that these two theologies, defined in terms of their histories and anchored in their respective namesakes, are not close to each other at all. 

God’s election to salvation is EITHER conditional or unconditional (when we’re talking about individuals).  Christ’s atoning death was EITHER meant by God for all people without exception or meant by God for only the elect.  Saving grace is EITHER resistible or unresistible.  On these issues, at least, classical Arminianism (which Warnock labels “Reformed Arminianism”) and classical Calvinism are worlds apart.  Putting them on a spectrum close to its middle says nothing more than that they share some common ground with regard to OTHER loci of Christian theology.  But, in most cases, so do the other, more “extreme” versions of Arminianism and Calvinism.

My concern with the attempt to place Calvinism and Arminianism on a shared spectrum is that some people will take this as permission to be “a little bit Calvinist” and “a little bit Arminian” as if that were possible.  It isn’t.  At least not if logical consistency matters at all!  If it doesn’t, then the whole thing doesn’t matter.  Mix and match as you will!

Rather than placing Calvinism and Arminianism on a shared spectrum I would prefer to simply place them together under the category of historical Christian orthodoxy.  They are entirely different, incommensurable views of God’s sovereignty as that pertains to God’s providential governance of history and soteriology.  Neither one can be said to be heretical–in terms of “mere Christianity.”  Of course, in terms of certain denominations one or the other is heretical.  (In case someone reminds me that I forbid calling either Arminians or Calvinists “heretics” on my blog–that pertains to the word “heretical” in relation to basic Christian orthodoxy.  Of course it’s okay to say factually that Calvinism is heretical within a particular Wesleyan denomination (for example) and that Arminianism is heretical within a particular Reformed denomination (for example).

I admire and applaud any attempt to show that classical Calvinism and classical Arminianism are both Christian theologies.  But placing them on a spectrum that includes only versions of Arminianism and versions of Calvinism implies that they are somehow commensurable which they are not.

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