Is there a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism

Is there a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism June 4, 2011

I’ve blogged about this before, but just yesterday Southern Baptist philosopher/theologian/seminary dean Steve Lemke, one of the editors of the excellent book Whosoever Will (which I highly recommended here) posted a message to the SBCToday blog accusing me of committing the fallacy of excluded middle for arguing that Southern Baptists like he are either Calvinists or Arminians and should admit it and (in his case) embrace the label Arminian–something he and the other authors of Whosoever Will reject.

Lemke’s post is here:

I would like to know what exactly he or anyone else thinks is the middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?  Just saying “Majoritarian Baptist” doesn’t answer it.  You can find Arminians and Calvinists in the mainstream of Southern Baptist life and many Baptist denominations are explicitly Calvinist or Arminian.

There is no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism with regard to the three crucial doctrines about which they differ: election (conditional or unconditional), atonement (limited or universal) and grace (resistible or irresistible).

I wish Lemke and others like him would read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities where I argue that, whereas Calvinists and Arminians have much in common, there is no hybrid of them or middle ground between them.  In fact, Arminianism IS the middle ground between Calvinism and Semi-Pelagianism!

So far, in response to some queries in response to his blog post, Lemke has not explained exactly where he disagrees with classical Arminianism.  IF there is no significant difference between his/their theology and classical Arminianism, why the reluctance to embrace the label?  I think it can only be because the label has been so distorted and misrepresented by Calvinists.  Why give in to that?  Let’s rescue the label from its distortions and misuses ratherthan discard it.

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  • K Gray

    Lemke, I think, is not positing a middle ground or hybrid, but arguing that Calvinism v. Arminianism — pick one and only one — is a false dichotomy. He describes another way, a “both/and” kind of faith:

    “…the consensus among many Baptists in America is that the tension or paradox in Scripture between human freedom and divine sovereignty should simply be affirmed by faith, rather than attempting to impose a theological structure on it.”

    As an aside, if there is no middle ground, and if “both/and” were not viable, would that mean that all believing Baptists must be Calvinist or Arminian?

    • rogereolson

      The problem is I read (and reviewed) the book Lemke co-edited and wrote in (Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism) and the alternative to Calvinism it posits is classically Arminian. I don’t believe Lemke or any of the other authors embrace contradiction. And it would be contradiction to say that grace is both irresistible and resistible in the same sense at the same time or that election is both conditional and unconditional in the same sense at the same time, etc., etc. I personally know many Southern Baptists who are Arminians who just won’t admit it for some reason. Yes, there are also many (especially lay people and some pastors) who claim to be “Calminian,” but that’s nonsense.

      • Robert

        Hello Roger,

        You wrote:

        “I personally know many Southern Baptists who are Arminians who just won’t admit it for some reason.”

        My theory for this is that these Southern Baptists mistakenly believe that one can ***only be an “Arminian”*** if they believe that a person can lose their salvation (or however you want to phrase the notion that a saved person can end up lost). Since Southern Baptists strongly affirm the contrary, in their thinking they **must not be** “Arminians”.

        They may hold to conditional election, resistible grace, unlimited atonement, and yet they will not affirm what they see as the “Arminian” belief that you can lose your salvation. Therefore they are not Arminians! 


        PS- the simple solution, is to educate these Southern Baptists about the fact that one who holds to resistible grace, unlimited atonement and conditional election, is an Arminian whether or not they believe a person can lose their salvation. And especially to make the point that some Arminians believe that you can lose your salvation and other Arminians believe that you cannot lose your salvation. If Southern Baptists were informed of this it would change things greatly.

        • rogereolson

          That’s what I’ve been trying to do! But the prejudice against “Arminianism” is so strong in some circles.

  • I refer to myself as “neither” though I am not sure it is in the “middle.” I do not hold to any of the 5 points of Calvinism as traditionally defined by most Calvinists, but I cannot hold to some of the central tenants of Arminianism either, such as loss of eternal life, and a few others.

    Can you really be Arminian if you believe in eternal security?

    • rogereolson

      I’ve already been around that bush here several times. Yes, you can be an Arminian and believe in so-called “eternal security” (inamissable grace). Arminius himself declared he did not know the answer to that question and it would require much more study before he could decide. It’s not a litmus test of whether one is an Arminian or not.

      • CarolJean

        What does one have to believe to be considered Arminian?

        • rogereolson

          Put most simply: One has to believe in the classical Protestant doctrines of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and total depravity, conditional election, universal atonement and resistible grace (prevenient grace).

          • My beliefs:
            inamissable grace – yes
            salvation by grace alone through faith alone – yes
            total depravity – no
            conditional election – no
            unconditional election – no
            universal atonement – yes
            resistable grace – yes
            perseverance of the saints – no

            So I am definitely not a Calvinist, but I do not appear to fit in the Arminian stream either.

          • rogereolson

            Sure. Some people prefer to live in inconsistency. (How can election be both conditional and unconditional in the same sense at the same time?)

          • danner

            As to the question of conditional or unconditional election. I think his point is he is not convinced of either. The question of conditional or unconditional is a false question based upon mans logic. ( that same logic just so happen to be adjudicated to time and space.) God asked Job, “Where you there?”

            I ask myself, “Was I there?”
            Am I suppose to know how I was elected. It that essential? How do you know? Where you there? Election is sure. Beyond that, it is a clattering symbol of flamboyant reason.

            For example…..

            If you knew the answer of conditional or unconditional election. Then faith really would be useless and Gods whole order of faith would collapse, I presume….

            Reason with me a little while.

            If I knew (had knowledge) of God’s election was absolute and predetermined, and could publish that as revelation fact, then participation is useless. Faith would be inconsequential.
            In fact.

            Wait…that cant be,without faith it is impossible to please God.

            It may be true. and absolutely true, that election is unconditional and absolute and determined. Yet we are not permitted to know that. That is the mystery. Faith hinges upon that mystery. Take away the mystery, you are struck with pure naked knowledge where faith need not apply.

            That mystery, I believe, will be revealed, when faith is no longer necessary in the relationship between God and man. End of our faith…salvation of our souls. We will know as we are fully known.

            Then we have something like the 1000 year reign…that is different but may shed some more light on the confines of election? Not sure.

            Back to the original Question….

            Is election conditional or unconditional?

            That is a good question.

            I believe we are elected,

            but that wasn’t one of the options was it.


          • rogereolson

            One can always appeal to mystery to avoid taking a position on a controversial topic. I can’t think of a third alternative–to conditional and unconditional (individual) election. If you want to say there might be a third possibility, fine. I can’t imagine what it would be.

  • Michael Hochstetler

    Amen! I have heard this “neither Calvinist nor Arminian” business all my life, and it has never made sense to me. The folks that I know who claim to be “Calminian” are really just Arminians who don’t understand Arminianism or why try to paint themselves as being generous souls who rise above the fray, as it were. It strikes me as arrogant as well as illogical.BTW, I loved the section on this in your book.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. And you’re absolutely right. There’s really no such thing as “Calminianism” without total sacrifice of the intellect.

    • JP

      well put!

  • Excellent post: excellent point! I was thinking this very thing as I read Les Puryear’s post Calvinist No More: Pt. 2 yesterday, and I made the same comment on his blog as did you regarding his response: “I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian but a ‘biblicist.'” In Literary Theory, we call such a view naïve realism.

  • I’m guessing you are not holding your breath while you wait for the details about Steve Lemke’s disagreement with classical Arminianism. [By the way, it is amusing that your new web host uses a dictionary which thinks “Arminianism” is spelled incorrectly. It has no issue with “Calvinism.” 🙂 ]

    Apparently, this never-never land where there is a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism goes by the name “Calminian,” but Lemke seems to prefer the name “Baptist” for this conceptual territory. He says, “Neither Calvinists nor Arminians, but Baptists!”

    Whatever he calls this mythical middle ground, waving around the word “paradox” and invoking the fallacy of the excluded middle does nothing to resolve the issues of election, atonement and grace. At least you can be thankful he did not embark in molinism, the latest excursion boat to never-never land (though really quite old in its origin).

    I believe that many people simply do not want to risk being wrongly attacked as semi-Pelagian. The propaganda machine has been rolling a long time against any view other than Calvinism. Thanks for your courage.


  • Gary Foster

    As a SBC Calvinist from 74-80 I remember when I was labeled a Hyper-Calvinist by several “typical” SBC folks. One of them became identified with the “Cooperative Baptist” efforts in Missouri. You may even know him.
    Of course, I was no such thing as a “hyper calvinist” and the use of this label by my Prof. only caused me to lose a measure of regard for his abilities.
    These kinds of hostile attitudes were the norm for the SBC then and it helped push me toward a more classically “Reformed” stance and became a Presbyterian.(I am happy it happened)
    I will say, that I personally think the ongoing conversation between “Arminians” and “Calvinists” help keep us both honest and better refined. There are points of agreement and we should remember that.
    Having left the SBC in 80 and having not followed them for many years I was stunned to find a major movement toward Calvinism there. Of course this pleases me.
    I have never lost sight of the fact that we both sit at the feet of the same loving Savior and we are brothers and sisters.
    Labels never bothered me but lets use them accurately and charitably.

  • I hear you completely… let me express my struggle (which, I suspect, is why many call themselves “Calminians”):

    I feel the force of Arminain Theology (I’ve always considered myself a Wesleyan-Arminian) but I see the biblical validity of the Calvinist position (which, when I think of it, I can’t stomach), and I am pressed hard by the weight of the Open Theist position.

    So I find myself not able to think these things through to a level of satisfaction where I can say “this is what I believe”. I know appeal to “mystery” just won’t do (yes, I read “Questions to all your Answers), but I found Walter Breuggemann’s book, Unsettling God, helpful at least in that I can now sleep at night. I’d love to find that God “settles” in nicely in one of these three theological systems, but I’ve never read an author who’s been able to make that case convincing.

    I still would say that I prefer the Arminian view, but from a distance (followed closely by Open Theism with Calvinism not even on the table). Am I an “Open-Arminian”? 🙂 An Arminian who allows for some tension with an Open View of God.

    Question: Given the unsettling depiction of God in the scriptures in these areas, how can I confidently stake a claim and finally say: “I am an Arminian!”?

    • rogereolson

      Because it’s the view that contains the least problems and that holds onto the mysteries you can live with? At least that’s why I can say confidently I’m an Arminian. All the alternatives just don’t work for me–biblically, tradition-wise, rationally and experientially.

  • Dave

    Roger, I just finished reading your book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I must say that it was a very interesting read, especially for a non-scholar layman such as myself. Growing up in Sweden I really don’t have any experience at all of arminianism as we’re mostly influenced by Luther here, but reading your book I now have a good view. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write the book, it has really deepened my knowledge about a soteriology that I actually adhere to more than I ever knew!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks. And by the way, Arminius appealed to Melanchthon to defend his claim to be fully Protestant. He (Arminius) thought Melanchthon, in contrast to Luther, was a synergist like himself.

    • John I.

      By Roger’s definition of Arminianism (see above, copied below), open theists are Arminians: “One has to believe in the classical Protestant doctrines of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and total depravity, conditional election, universal atonement and resistible grace (prevenient grace).”

      The difference between open theists and other Arminians is in how they understand, define, and explain the nature of knowledge. Personally, I believe that open theism makes philosophical sense, but my commitment is to the minimum requirements of Arminianism.


      • rogereolson

        Right. Open theists are Arminians but not all Arminians are open theists. It is simply fallacious for someone (like Lemke) to argue that they are not an Arminian just because they are not an open theist or other things some Arminians are. That’s like saying I’m not Protestant because many Protestants believe in infant baptism. What?

  • Where would you place Molinism? It affirms that election is both conditional and unconditional, atonement is universal yet limited, and grace is resistible: would you make it a channel whereby Arminianism is philosophically defensible or would you put it somewhere else?

    • rogereolson

      There’s a huge debate about that among Arminians and also among Calvinists! Bruce Ware versus Paul Helm among Calvinists; William Lane Craig versus Dave Hunt (Jr.) among Arminians. Personally, I don’t find Molinism helpful for anything because I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of counterfactuals of freedom (what a libertarianly free person would do in a different set of circumstances). But I don’t have a problem with Molinism so long as it is NOT used to explain or defend monergism (that God is the sole determining person in a person coming to salvation) or double predestination.

      • I guess you would also put Thomism closer to Calvinism (though they’d probably froth at the bit for that suggestion–lol).

        • rogereolson

          It depends on which Thomism you mean. Rahner’s transcendental Thomism is definitely closer to Arminianism. But I think Thomas Aquinas himself was a monergist.

  • james petticrew

    I totally agree there is no common ground or middle way on these key issues. I have talked to several people who admit that and that the positions they hold are Arminian positions but refuse to embrace the name because they know that the term has been so vilified in their denominations that to self-identify as an Arminian would be to become an automatic target for certain groups.

    The key problem at least here in Scotland is the “strawman” Arminianism which is held up, discredited and vilified whilst not being a true representation of the Arminian position at all. I remember getting a whole lecture about why Arminianism was wrong at Bible College only for the lecturer to admit somewhat sheepishly that he had never actually read what Arminus or Wesley had said themselves on the matters he was condemning them for! So much for scholarship!

    • rogereolson

      Yes, exactly. It happens here in the U.S., too. Most Calvinists, for example, only know Arminianism through Calvinist authors such as Charles Hodge and Lorraine Boettner and (more recently R. C. Sproul) which means they know almost nothing true about it. Among Southern Baptists, “Arminianism” is virtually synonymous with “eternal insecurity”–the idea that one’s salvation can be lost and refound and lost again and refound again. (I don’t really know any denomination that teaches that, though.) That is why I think Southern Baptist Arminians don’t want to be called “Arminian”–because it’s politically disadvantageous within their particular context.

      • james petticrew

        “it’s politically disadvantageous within their particular context.” …. so sad but sadly so true.

  • Steve

    The first difficulty with all of this is just exactly what do people mean when they say ‘Arminianist’ and ‘Calvinist’? I agree that a number of people I know who would call themselves Calvinist have no real idea about Arminian theology. They also don’t have much understanding of Calvinist theology. I am constantly bemused by the lack of rational disucssion and scholarship around this issue (oe even a desire to investigate honestly). Most of what I come across is half-baked and driven by other issues (almost political I would say). Perhaps people are afraid of Arminianism. They are afraid that they may need to alter or discard their position entirely which can be costly. Maybe they are not willing to pay that price.
    Secondly is this whole issue of ‘labels’. Labels mean different things to different people. The ‘strength’ of a label is in how well the ‘meaning’ is communicated. Maybe there is a problem here as well. Namely that Calvinism and Arminianism are jsut not clearly enough defined and communicated or as you say ‘distorted’ and ‘misrepresented’.
    Lastly,I think essentially there is no middle ground. I am of the opinion that the ‘God’ of whom Arminius and Calvin spoke is essentially two different entities. Thus the vehemency. In the end if one says that God actively predestines people to hell before the foundation of the world (an immense error in my opinion)and the other says that God wants all to repent and desires that all men be saved then as I say you have two essentially different entities. The decision is which one are you going to follow? And also, what is the outcome of following one or the other?

  • Bravo, Roger. There is no middle ground between synergism and monergism of which Arminianism and Calvinism are key Protestant representatives.

    Since so many want to be in the middle (with Aristotle’s “golden mean,” perhaps), let me suggest, however, that Calvinism IS the middle ground – between Arminianism and fatalism/hard determinism.

    • rogereolson

      Touche! But, of course, I disagree. 🙂 (Because I regard Calvinism as deterministic. Watch for my argument in Against Calvinism–due out in October if not before.)

      • Yes, Calvinism is deterministic. But there is an important difference between soft determinism (compatibilism) and hard determinism which is fatalistic.

        I look forward to the forthcoming book.

        Incidentally, in my book “Providence and Prayer,” I included a chapter on the fatalist model, not because it is common within Christianity but because synergists so often charge Calvinists with fatalism. By unpacking a genuinely fatalistic model, I hoped that its difference from Calvinism would be apparent. (To some degree, my chapter on the Semi-Deist model, at the left end of the spectrum serves somewhat the same function, in regard to forms of synergism that are evangelical options, like Open Theism, the Redemptive Intervention model and Molinism.)

        Given my efforts in that book, I will be very sorry if you charge Calvinism with fatalism. The difference is significant, as I endeavoured to demonstrate in my own book.

        • rogereolson

          Don’t worry. I don’t charge Calvinism with fatalism. I correct my students when they do that. All I saying in my response to your earlier comment was that IF it’s appropriate to charge Arminianism with Pelagianism or even semi-Pelagianism, it would also be appropriate to charge Calvinism with fatalism. Neither is correct.

          • Okay, I’ll bite. What would keep an all-inclusive decree (Calvin: “not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command”), which presumably extends down to quantum states, from being fatalism? It will be instructive to see where the alleged flexibility will fall.


          • rogereolson

            “Fatalism” is determinism without purpose.

    • I am closer to Terry, though John Wesley was as an Anglican, both closer to Luther and Calvin on several Reformation doctrines: Sin, the Vicarious Atonement, and Justification somewhat..”Within a hair’s breath of Calvinism.” 🙂

      • rogereolson

        Wesley did say that. But in “Predestination calmly considered” there’s more than a hair’s breadth between Wesley’s Arminianism and Whitefield’s Calvinism!

  • Kurt Willems

    This sounds quite “Pomo” to me which I suppose (among other things) is a label for those who hate labels. 🙂 I had not been aware of this discussion, but clearly outside of completely ignoring the questions of human willand divine sovereignty, there is clearly zero middle ground… Just variances between the two broad traditions.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Again, Roger, you have the better argument. It seems like Lemke would protest the very nature of a True/False question on a test. But that is merely obfuscation. He believes something. He’s getting caught up, rather, with labels. (Maybe he’d get kicked out of his favorite club if he were to identify himself as an Armenian.)

    • rogereolson

      It seems so. I don’t know why else he and his co-authors run from the label when it so adequately describes their soteriology.

  • Taylor

    If I can’t claim middle ground and I can’t accept limited atonement, as it is biblically unreasonable, does that make me 2 parts Calvinist, 1 part Arminian?

    • rogereolson

      Technically, it makes you an Amyrauldian. Mose Amyrauld (or Amyraud) was a French Reformed theologian who rejected limited atonement. Most people who agree with him call themselves “four points Calvinists” and there are many. But that just brings us around to the other two of the three crucial differences: election (conditional versus unconditional) and grace (resistible versus irresistible). If a person affirms conditional election, universal atonement and resistible grace and is a Protestant, I regard him or her as an Arminian and I don’t know why he or she would not want to be called that. Well, the one exception I can think of are Anabaptists who affirmed those three things long before Arminius showed up!

      • Steve

        sorry roger. there is no such thing as 4 point calvinism (or 3 point etc). if you believe total depravity then you believe the other 4 and so on. they are interconnected and work backwards and forwards.Total depravity leads to unconditional election and that leads to limited atonement etc. You simply don’t need to take part in this silly nonsense.There is this continual need to have to systemise the unsystemisable. The fun part of all of this is the ‘journey’ because there is no end to it. Nobody understands. Thats the great part about it all. I agree with you when you say ‘its the view that contains the least problems….’ Thats the point, you will only get something that has less in terms of problems.

        • PLTK

          Well, since total depravity has always been an essential belief of Arminianism, was clearly held by Arminius and Wesley, and is included in doctrinal statement by Arminian churches such as the Church of the Nazarene, etc., I think your claim that total depravity leads to unconditional election is based on a misunderstanding of arminian beliefs and in particular the workings of prevenient grace.

          • Steve

            I think it is important that we remain with scripture. Total depravity is mentioned NOWHERE in scripture. It is simply a proposition that attempts to draw together an understanding or rationalisation of various aspects of the Biblical narrative. I’m really not interested in Calvinism or Arminianism or any other ‘attempts’. Essentially all of them are flawed in one way or another (scripturally I mean). I am of the opinion that Calvinism in all of its forms is sub Biblical but there are also problems with Arminianism. One of which you have mentioned. My point was that within Calivinism’s formulation (TULIPS)it is one complete unit of understanding. You simply cannot pick and choose aspects that suit you because it was not conceptualised that way. As far as Arminius is concerned the understanding of prevenient grace is, again, nowhere to be found in scripture although I would say he ‘stumbled’ into what I consider to be something like what scripture portrays. Underlying all of this is my point, as soon as you align with any concept your ability to confront scripture as it stands, is compromised. So I am not interested in ‘understanding Arminian beliefs’ I simply confront any aspect of any theological construct on its merits. Thats it. Simple.

          • rogereolson

            “Total depravity” is simply theological shorthand for Psalm 14 which Paul quotes in Romans 3.

  • barobin

    I guess the issue should be viewed as: If you reject TULIP, does that automatically make you an Arminian (provided that you are not a Semi-Pelagianist or Pelagianist)? Could you reject both TULIP and any form of Pelagianism and not be an Arminian? While people could and of course, have made up their own views, that view has to also be a logical possibility philosophically and biblically. So would the other alternative that Steve Lemke is offering, fit that?
    Also, what about Molinism? As far as I understand it, that would be an Arminian view itself.

    • rogereolson

      As I said in response to another commenter, Arminians debate Molinism among themselves. I do regard any Protestant who rejects TULIP (especially U, L and I) as an Arminian even though Anabaptists rejected them long before Arminius, so it might be anachronistic to call a Mennonite, for example, an Arminian.

  • Jason White

    Hi Dr. Olson,

    I sincerely believe one of the most significant reasons people are currently resisting the Arminian label is because they are afraid to be associated with open-theism because it is closely related to the theology of classical Arminian. In fact, you are one of the few Evangelicals that are proud to be Arminian, as it seems so many retreated from defending the fundamentals of libertarian freedom during the classical-open debate early last decade. My opinion is that Arminianism in conservative Evangelicalism died last decade because they allowed Calvinists to trash their system of thought for the sake of what they thought was the greater good, namely the demise of open theism. From early last decade until the present, there seems to be some actual fear in evangelical Arminianism. How sad!!!

    • rogereolson

      Well, I’ve lived long enough to know that Arminianism has been regarded with suspicion by most evangelical theologians (outside Wesleyan circles) long before open theism came along. In the 1970s, when I was in seminary, I was warned by my professors (Baptists all and not particularly Calvinistic) that “Arminianism” leads to liberal theology. Most of them have now read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and recanted what they told me. The “Arminianism” they were talking about wasn’t true Arminianism but semi-Pelagianism or what Alan P. F. Sell calls “Arminianism of the head”–a rationalistic distortion of true, classical Arminianism. I agree with you in one sense, however. Many Reformed evangelical enemies of Arminianism are using open theism against us–claiming Arminianism necessarily leads to open theism. Of course, I could argue that classical Calvinism necessarily leads to fatalism.

      • Steve

        The Calvinists I know are definitely fatalistic

    • Steve

      Very sad indeed

  • Brandon E.

    Professor Olson,

    This topic reminds me of an exchange in John Piper’s recent (May 1st) interview with Rick Warren. At the end of the interview they talk about unconditional election and “whosoever will.” Warren says he affirms that the Bible reveals both. He briefly comments on some scriptural issues in theology being a matter of conjunctive (both/and) thinking rather than disjunctive (either/or) thinking. He says apparent contradictions in Scripture are due to his finite human brain capacity: “Me trying to understand God is like an ant trying to understand the Internet.” He says he is “able to hold tensions in my mind rather than having to explain them.” Piper mentions that some people are wired differently: “When I see these two, I am pressed, if I can—and sometimes you can’t—to push them down until the root merges.” In other words, if the Bible reveals two seemingly opposing sides a person like Piper feels that he must synthesize them into one understanding, but a person like Warren is comfortable with simply affirming both sides without trying to reconcile or explain them.

    So how should we label or classify those Christians who believe that the Bible reveals both sides (God’s sovereignty, man’s freedom) and prefer to let the tension or mystery rest there? Even if we do not agree with such an approach, is it not a valid, existing alternative to fully embracing either Calvinism or Arminianism (and their own conundrums or mysteries)?

    I think this is what Lemke is trying to get at when he says in his article…“the consensus among many Baptists in America is that the tension or paradox in Scripture between human freedom and divine sovereignty should simply be affirmed by faith, rather than attempting to impose a theological structure on it” and “The ‘Calminian’ majoritarian Baptist perspective (which affirms the paradox of both strong divine sovereignty and meaningful libertarian human freedom) is among those possibilities.”

    Even if there is ultimately in reality no middle ground between the three doctrines about which Calvinism and Arminianism differ, I wonder if it is indeed necessary for us as believers come to decisions about such doctrines. Maybe it is for God’s knowledge only?

    • rogereolson

      Of course, I believe classical Arminianism DOES affirm both. Arminianism IS the “both/and” approach to the issues of election and grace. And it affirms both God’s sovereignty and human freedom without embracing contradiction. I don’t think we pay God any compliments by embracing sheer contradiction. That’s a cop out. I would ask Warren and others who claim to embrace paradox whether they believe saving grace is resistible or irresistible. There’s really no way to say it’s both if you are talking about the grace of God that saves a person. It can’t be both resistible and irresistible. And, with regard to Lemke, as I’ve said here several times, I read his book (Whosoever Will) and reviewed it for a magazine and it is thoroughly Arminian. Not of the authors, so far as I can tell, embrace a “both/and” with regard to the U, the L or the I of TULIP. Their view is the Arminian one.

      • Steve

        I so agree with you roger

  • Keith Noren

    The only middle ground is one of “I just do not know”. Just think about it – it is arrogance of the first order to say we know the world of God.

    We do however have to make a working assumption on pragmatic grounds – what view of God’s relationship to the world, as we know it, helps us most in living up to the dictates of our consciences. If we believe God already exhaustively knows all that will ever happen (as both Calvinism and Arminiaism do), we are in a fatalistic worldview – Qui sera , sera. As such we have no genuine reason to attempt to live according to our consciences or that given to us thru God’s words as recorded through human words in the Bible and elsewhere.

    That in a nutshell is why I favor Open Theism (although not so strongly to be absolutely sure or be in counterfellowship with those who think differently). Also, the general Biblical working assumption that commands us to live in certain ways, implies we can obey or disobey. To believe in Calvinism or Arminianism is to say God/biblical authors are being disingenuous with us. If that is so, how cab we trust the gospel story of Christ.

    If i had to chose Calvinism (ala WCOF Article 3 ? God’s Eternal Decree) or Arminianism, I would choose Arminianism since Calvinism adds the fact that God is the author of all sin.

    These may be simplistic words, but that’s what I think.

    • John I.

      However, it’s certainly not arrogant to say that we know some things about God and “the world of God”. Afterall, he chose to reveal himself to us through Jesus and his word (Scripture). The question of knowledge about God then becomes one of scope, detail, and accuracy.

    • charles

      “…I would choose Arminianism since Calvinism adds the fact that God is the author of all sin.”

      you might want to check your facts there, cowboy…

      WCF: “God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin…”

      • rogereolson

        I’m on “cowboy’s” side here. True, almost all Calvinists reject the idea that God is the author of sin, but their account of God’s role in history, including the fall (as foreordained and rendered certain by God) ineluctably makes God the author of sin whether they admit it or not.

  • “Why give in to that? Let’s rescue the label from its distortions and misuses rather than discard it.”

    Awesome! We see so many that reject Arminian based on a misrepresented view of the theological truths. I read a major denominations Positional Papers and they stated that they were on the middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism regarding God’s Sovereignty. When they clearly stated their position it was like a quote from Arminius…

    • rogereolson

      Exactly. Happens all the time.

      • CarolJean

        This is why it is a good thing that you have a blog! 🙂

    • Steve

      I heard a series given by a 5 point guy recently here in Australia and it was around John3:16 ‘world does not mean world’. By the time he was finished the first lecture he was so far Arminian it wasn’t funny.It was bizarre. The very thing he meant to back he shot down. And rightly so. It was nonsense what he was attempting to get scripture to say.

  • I am really trying to understand this, and I have read the post, Lemke’s post, the comments, and Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

    I agree that Dr. Lemke needs to explain which points of Arminianism he disagrees with.

    What I am trying to understand is why there cannot be any middle ground. If the positions on the U, L, and I of TULIP are what distinguish a person as Calvinist/Arminian, it seems like there is room not to be Calvinist/Arminian. If one goes Calvinist on U and I but Arminian on L (Amyraldianism), as that not a “middle ground” position?

    Is your argument, Dr. Olson, that any other combination of these three doctrines would require “total sacrifice of the intellect”?

    Thank you! I’m just trying to understand.


    • rogereolson

      I consider a person who accepts all of TULIP except “L” a modified Calvinist. I don’t know anyone who accepts “U” but not “I” or vice versa. Anyone who embraces the U and the I of TULIP cannot be Arminian. So, there are varieties of Calvinism and Arminianism, but no hybrid or middle ground between them because of the fixed gulf between U and I.

  • K Gray

    Brandon summed up what I was thinking, from a layperson’s perspective. I am interested in the notion of only two choices. How about 5, e.g.:

    Is God’s grace resistible?

    A. yes
    B. no
    C. A and B
    D. neither A nor B
    E. I don’t know!

    • rogereolson

      I said one cannot have a “both/and” view of grace as both resistible and irresistible in the same sense at the same time. So if we are talking about the saving grace of God for the individual it cannot be both resistible and irresistible. That would require sacrifice of the intellect. Of course a person can say “I don’t know,” but that’s not an answer; that’s a rejection of an answer. Such a person would be neither Calvinist nor Arminian but not a hybrid or some middle ground.

  • JP

    I went and read Lemke’s article and found myself getting thoroughly annoyed while reading it. It was like listening to someone recite a weak catch phrase over and over in an attempt to defend their position that they obviously had not thought through. After reading the article and the responses of commenters below, including yours, I was so happy that someone “stood up” to his thesis. I read this blog every day and am enriched by the theological conversation that takes place and hope it will keep me from being too ignorant, especially on an issue like Arminianism and Calvinism, which seems to have become quite the hot topic in Baptist circles.

  • gingoro

    “There’s really no way to say it’s both if you are talking about the grace of God that saves a person. It can’t be both resistible and irresistible.” I would agree if and only if you are talking about the salvation of a particular person.

    Since I believe that God can and does work in this world to bring about his will and that such work may be in many instances irresistible thus I also strongly believe (probability close to 1) that God can and does irresistibly save some. My assumption is that you Roger believe that God never irresistibly saves anyone.

    It is also true that I believe that God irresistibly saves all who are or will be saved but I am much less sure of this proposition and would say that its probability of being true is greater than .5 and exactly how much greater I can’t specify.

    Many/some high Calvinists say that one must not only accept TULIP but also meticulous sovereignty or control of even the most minute event in the Cosmos or else one is an Arminian. Of course Arminian’s would describe such a person as a Calvinist.
    Dave W

  • I see that Dr. Lemke responded with The Middle Way. He does not work within the framework of the five points which is normally where disagreement takes place, IMO. Instead, he argues from ecclesiology, the doctrine of God, original sin, ordinances, etc.

    This does not mean he is incorrect, but some of the points are stated as disagreements because some or many Arminians may or may not agree.

    Dr. Olson, would you say that Lemke has met the challenge of showing a middle way between Arminianism and Calvinism?

    • rogereolson

      By no means. I posted an Arminian response at the sbctoday blog where his “The Middle Way” appeared. I’ll post a version of my response here.

  • Hi Dr Olson, Could there be middle ground to argue that God works in some individuals to save them irresistibly, but with others he works to save them preveniently?

    So say for example, God irresistably saves Paul on the Damascus road, because Paul is key to spreading the gospel. But with others (say Timothy), God works with drawing/wooing grace rather than irresistibly.

    That would make God inconsistent, but with the good reason of further spreading the gospel.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think God saved Paul or anyone else irresistibly in the Calvinist sense. God may approach certainly people in a seemingly irresistible way FOR SERVICE, but he doesn’t regenerate them without their consent as Calvinism implies.

    • K Gray

      Good questions.

  • Hi Roger,

    I think you might be right about no “middle way” between Calvinism and Arminianism. What about the Barth/Torrance view of unconditional election of Christ as the electing God/electing man who is able to carry all humanity in his corporate personality? The way I read Torrance (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that he certainly affirms resistible grace (calling it something unexplainable) and an atonement for all. Yet he holds to an unconditional election of Christ rather than looking at the election of individuals. I don’t think this skirts the issue, but looks at it from a different angle. I also seem to recall you said in a previous post a while back that Arminianism holds election as a corporate reality also. Maybe it would help if Arminians pushed that issue more forcefully.

    Jim Gifford

    • rogereolson

      I don’t really see the Barthian stream (including Torrance) as a middle way. It’s revisionist Calvinism. And I often say if I could be a universalist I could be a Barthian Calvinist!

      • Hi Roger,

        I am presently reading through Torrance’s compiled lectures on salvation (in a book edited by his nephew called “Atonement”). He clearly rejects L and I while affirming the modified view of U, so he is at best a 3-pointer. He also rejects universalism with the same logic which is used to reject limited atonement (as he calls them the twin heresies). I realize Barth could be ambiguous about universalism, depending on how one reads him, but Torrance is clear. He upholds that not all are saved.

        Torrance is careful to maintain, as do Arminians, that not all are saved while it is God’s will that all may be saved. He does it while simultaneously upholding a modified version of U.

        Jim Gifford

        • rogereolson

          Thanks for that information. I’ve never delved into T. F. Torrance very deeply. There is a phenomenon I call “revisionist Reformed theology.” G. C. Berkouwer is a prime example. James Daane was another. Apparently Torrance is another. These are people who, without embracing Arminianism, so modify Calvinism that it is unrecognizable. The problem is, in my opinion, they don’t really hold a “middle ground” or a “third way” because their soteriology (or soterologies) is inconsistent. I see them as on the way to Arminianism, but most of them haven’t arrived yet. One I think has almost fully arrived, but who is still considered Reformed, is Alan P. F. Sell. His 3 volume Doctrine and Devotion series is just excellent. It’s a mini-summa. Very pietistic in the good sense of that word and, as an Arminian, I find almost nothing in it with which to disagree. (Sell was the theological secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.)

  • James

    TF Torrance articulates his “alternative” to Calvin and Arminius in his work “Trinitarian Theology”.

    • rogereolson

      I have read so many attempts to carve out an alternative to Calvinism and Arminianism it exhausts me. On the U, the L and the I of TULIP there are no alternatives. One lands either where Calvinists land or where Arminians land–whatever they may call their own theologies.

  • Dan Newlun

    “Is there a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?”
    Yes. Jesus “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. I think we have come to a very scary place where we feel it necessary to define God, His plan, and His nature by the understanding/interpretation of two men and then insist on naming ourselves after them. If some of the smartest men in the world have been fighting over this for hundreds of years…and people have actually lost their lives in this debate…we have missed something here. I don’t claim to know what it is, but out human minds will never be able to fully understand God’s ways. I am thankful that God alone will be judge.

    • rogereolson

      There is no need for Calvinists and Arminians to disagree that Jesus is the one Way, Truth and Life. In fact, we don’t. My question about middle ground had nothing to do with our spiritual unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was a theological question not so easily to be dismissed by anyone who cares about truth.