November 17, 2008


I have heard many attempt to say that they are searching for a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. The impetus of this is peace. They see the issue as too divisive, and they believe that by finding a middle ground, they can end the need for conflict.

Though I highly respect the sentiment, ultimately such a project will fail. There can be no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. Why? Because they are too similar.

“Too similar? I thought that Calvinism and Arminianism were opposites!” Actually, no. If we consider Arminianism and Calvinism to be on a scale of understanding divine action and human response, they would not represent the opposite poles. On the one side you would have Pelagianism; on the other side Fatalism. Calvinism and Arminianism would actually be two positions right next to each other. If Pelagianism is a 1, and Fatalism a 10, then Calvinism is a 9 and Arminianism a 8.

Name the following doctrinal position:

God created humankind to be in His image, and thus, humanity was created perfect. But, when Adam and Eve fell, them and all of their descendants became so entrenched in sin, that it became impossible for them to accomplish any true good. Their hearts became devoted to evil. But God, in His mercy did not want humanity to fully suffer from its sin. So, He provided for each human an amount of grace to prevent them from reaping the full measure of their sin. God also wanted to redeem humanity. So, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, and that whoever would have faith in Him would be redeemed by the cross. But, because of humanity’s depraved state, no one can generate such faith. Therefore, God provides sufficient grace, so that whoever comes to have faith in Christ only does so by that grace of God.

The truth of the matter is that both Arminians and Calvinists can affirm the above statement. That is a lot of common ground. The difference between the two is simply how God dispenses His grace. Everything else that we disagree about derives from that basic disagreement.

In truth, Arminians and Calvinists are as far apart from each other as the living room is from the hallway. Its just a thin wall. However, they are also separated by a wall. The difference is a very real, and significant difference. It is easy to find a middle ground between opposites, but not between neighbors. Calminians are basically people trying to sit on the wall, not really understanding the context of the debate. They have overly simplified understandings of Arminianism and Calvinism that project them as opposites. Seeing them as opposites, they view their own position as somewhere in the middle. But when you actually look at the true defining wall of Arminianism and Calvinism, they always fall on one side or the other.


Richard Coords said...

Hello JC,

Yes, the similarity between C & A theology is that both affirm:

1) the depravity of man
2) necessity of grace
3) salvation by grace thru faith

However, in your statement of faith, are your sure that a Calvinist would agree with this sentence: "So, He provided for each human an amount of grace to prevent them from reaping the full measure of their sin"?

Also, the paragraph mentions the word humanity/human 5 times, when yet the C perspective is completely elect-centered. Compare with the following quote from Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer:

Lutzer: "What is important to understand is that Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology that cannot be harmonized. Either God made the choice as to who will be saved and then grants man the ability to believe, or the choice is made by man. Either the elect are being saved, or God is saving as many as he can but failing in his purposes. Either God has ordained whatever comes to pass, or, because of man's free will, the best he can do now is adjust himself to evil as it occurs." (The Doctrines that Divide, p.220)

C theology = elect centered
A theology = Christ centered

Godismyjudge said...


Hum... the best candidate for a middle ground seems to be congruism. It's not a well known system, but some Catholic theologians falling out of the Molinist/Dominican debates held to both LFW and unconditional election.

Here's some info:

"The second dispute concerns the reason for the efficaciousness of the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific acts of free choice. Suppose that in circumstances C, influenced by grace G, Peter freely elicits salvific act A. All Molinists agree that God places Peter in C with G knowing full well that Peter will freely elicit A; and they also agree that G is not intrinsically efficacious and hence does not causally predetermine A. However, there is strong disagreement about whether or not it is Peter's free consent alone that "extrinsically" renders G efficacious in C with respect to A.

One possible scenario is that God first resolves absolutely that Peter should freely elicit A in C and then, as it were, consults his middle knowledge to see just which particular graces would, if bestowed on Peter in C, obtain his free consent and thus issue in A. It follows that, given his antecedent resolution, God would have conferred some grace other than G if he had known by his middle knowledge that G would turn out to be "merely sufficient" with respect to A, i.e., that Peter would not freely consent to G in C. So G is rendered efficacious not only by Peter's free consent but also, and indeed more principally, by God's antecedent predetermination to confer a "congruous" grace that will guarantee Peter's acting well in C. This model, which brings Molinism more into line with Bañezianism, is known as Congruism and was worked out in detail by Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez."


God be with you,

Richard Coords said...


Thanks for supplying the link. In other words, the Calvinistic form of Molinism (which Molina rejected), was that there is an elect body (Calvinism's elect), and God uses His exhaustive Middle Knowledge, that is, His knowledge of all contingencies, to orchestrate the events which He knows will effectually result in their repentance. It sounds like a form of Compatibilism.

Jc_Freak: said...

"However, in your statement of faith, are your sure that a Calvinist would agree with this sentence: 'So, He provided for each human an amount of grace to prevent them from reaping the full measure of their sin'?"

Sure. That's the Calvinist concept of "common grace". Common grace isn't something that every Calvinist believes, but most do.

"Also, the paragraph mentions the word humanity/human 5 times, when yet the C perspective is completely elect-centered."

That's an interesting observation. The paragraph doesn't really represent Calvinism, nor Arminianism. Instead it represents what they have in common. I guess that could mean that what they primarily have in common is their view of humanity.

Jc_Freak: said...

Dan, thanks for the link. I'm not sure if that can really constitute a "middle ground." I'll have to give that so thought. I've run into congruism before, but it's been a while.

Keith Schooley said...

Hi JC. It seems to me that the reason there is no common ground between Calvinism and Arminianism isn't that they are too similar, but that the wall that separates them is the knife edge of an either/or choice. God gives the grace necessary to respond positively to the gospel either to all or to some. There is no middle ground between "all" and "some," and that's what engenders the debate.

It seems to me that most of the people who want to opt for a mediating solution actually come to a moderate form of Arminianism, but they're afraid of the name. Actually, since they tend to characterize "Arminianism" as essentially Pelagian, the "middle ground" they arrive at is--Arminianism!

Godismyjudge said...

Dear Richard,

...God uses His exhaustive Middle orchestrate the events which He knows will effectually result in their repentance.

Not quite. The events are not effectual. It's the combination of God's election and man's freewill that renders God's grace effectual.

It sounds like a form of Compatibilism.

Many people have that reaction, and perhaps it's warranted. But it should be noted that the advocates of congruism affirm LFW and deny determinism; and the determinist opponents of congruism claimed they were heretics for asserting LFW and denying the sovereignty of God.

God be with you,

a helmet said...


I just got here via the "society of evangelical arminians". Yes, your illustration with the thin wall between two neighbored rooms, is a good and apt one. I lately wrote an article entitled "God's absolute sovereignty and man's absolute freedom" on a new blog of mine dedicated to arguing against the doctrines of grace. There I'm actually going to deal with Calvinism based on its fundamental scriptural proof-texts, but inserted that post due to conversations with Calvinists. You might check it out. (

-a helmet