March 9, 2010

An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Arminian and Calvinist debate is the amount of misunderstanding that goes on about the two positions. We have found that caricatures of both sides seem to be more common than honest descriptions. SEA (The Society of Evangelical Arminians) has been devoted to bring clarity as to what defines the Arminian position and promoting the position while remaining respectful to those that disagree.

We have just set up a new primary link that gives a detailed comparison between the Arminian and Calvinist sides. You will find it under An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism and the TULIP of Calvinism

This outline is intended to be both an introduction to the debate for those who are new to it, a correction to those who have a misunderstanding of one side or the other, and as a resource for those trying to explain it to others (there are lots of internal links for this purpose). We present the two sides using two acronym: TULIP for Calvinism, and FACTS for Arminianism (after all, we prefer facts to flowers ;-D) . Though individual opinions may differ from the outline at times, we believe that it fairly describes the general stances of either side.

For those interested, there will be a full right up for the FACTS acronym coming in the summer.


Dan Martin said...

Martin, I appreciate this summary. As you know, I'm neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, but more an Anabaptist Open Theist. . .but I wanted to highlight in particular one of your points on the FACTS side:

God has ultimate and absolute free will. His choice to supernaturally free the will of sinners by his grace to believe in Christ is a matter of the exercise of his own free will and sovereignty.

This is an excellent summary, and a perfect response to the Calvinist claim that if God doesn't have absolute say over who's saved or damned, He's not sovereign. Well said.

I would ask you to elaborate further on Total Depravity as you describe the Arminian point of view: Therefore, human beings are not able to think, will, nor do anything good in and of themselves.... You go on to point out that humans can't merit favor from God on their own, and I don't have an issue with that, but I'm not convinced humans are incapable of ANY good apart from God. Are you suggesting that an act of selfless kindness done by an atheist or Buddhist or whatever other non-Christian "" is actually God-enabled/prompted? To me, this beggars logic almost as much as your (quite correct) illustration of the circular "irresistable free will." I would rather argue that, even as God created humanity "very good" at the beginning, the fall (while separating humans from God) did not entirely obviate that goodness with which we were created. Therefore, the capacity to love, to create, to serve, remains in all humans as part of the original divine image which we all bear. It is not salvific, so don't misunderstand me there, but it does exist...

Jc_Freak: said...


To your questions about Total Depravity, I would make two points. First, Prevenient Grace is extended to every human being from birth, so every human that you have ever met has been touched by the hand of God. This doesn't mean that every good act a non-Christian does is directly caused by God, but that the good deed is possible because of God's activity throughout that person's life.

Second, some Arminians disagree as to the exact extent of depravity. The main point of Total Depravity is that it is pervasive throughout the person. It is not necessary for every act to be evil, but that evil has touched every part of the human's life or soul (which is the second bullet point). What this means in the third point is that any "good" which we do in a sinful state is tainted with sin. That doesn't mean that it is purely sinful, but that there are sinful motivations that factor into it so that it is not pure. This is why our good deeds are as filthy rags to God.

Dan Martin said...

That helps to clarify it, Martin. I guess my question would be: if we accept (as I do) that salvation and redemption are by the grace of God, and that even when he uses our actions redemptively it is his redemptive grace, not the goodness of our actions, that makes them effective; I say, if we accept that, then what is the necessity of the Total Depravity doctrine? It seems to me at best redundant (the necessity and all-sufficiency of God's grace don't need a because), and at worst an unnecessary beating up of people.

Jc_Freak: said...

Well, Total Depravity has two important implications to it. You mentioned one: the necessity of God's grace, and even Semi-pelagianism holds to that. You are right in that TD is not necessary to establish it.

The second though is the primordiality of God's grace. In other words, God acts first. I suppose it is possible to say this without TD, but that doesn't tend to be the pattern in my experience. It is also true that most that argue for TD, including Calvinists, do so to defend the primordiality of God's grace, not its necessity. Thus, this is the bigger reason.

However with everything theological idea there must be two questions: is it true and is it important. It's veracity is the grounds of our belief in it. It's importance is the grounds for us fighting for it.

In other words, I don't believe in TD for either of the reasons given above. I believe in it simply because I think Scripture and life support the idea, and that is a good enough reason to teach it. The reasons above are why I argue for it. However, I don't think it is important enough to be a heresy line. I don't think you need it to be Christian, but, like you said, you should believe in the necessity and sufficiency of God's grace.

Dan Martin said...

The second though is the primordiality of God's grace. In other words, God acts first. I suppose it is possible to say this without TD, but that doesn't tend to be the pattern in my experience.

And yet I would argue that God demonstrated his grace in creation before the a time when TD (assuming it's a valid doctrine) had yet to take effect. So I would argue that if God's grace is truly primordial (a point I would agree with since grace is a basic element of God's nature), then it precedes man's depravity as well.

It is possible to argue that man is insufficient to his own salvation, without going to the opposite extreme of TD. The whole notion of "redemption" is that of a more-powerful, more-wealthy individual "buying back" that which once was his, but was lost, stolen, or otherwise separated from him. It's a beautiful motif, quite consistent with the God who has been struggling to put his creation to rights ever since it got sullied, but like all of the best doctrines, it puts its focus on the greatness of God. God needs no "un-great" opposites (depraved man) to be great.

Which returns me to my position that TD is an unnecessary flagellation of self and others, wholly irrelevant to the acknowledgment of God's greatness and grace or our need of him. Whether it's Isaac Watts' "worm," David Crowder's "full of dirt," or any other form, our faith is better expended on recognizing God's wonder than on insisting on our own unworthiness.

Dan Martin said...

And as for TD being scriptural, I'd say it's a fairly one-sided reading of scripture. While there is the "there is none righteous, no, not one," (Rom. 3:10) there are also numerous instances of scripture calling specific people righteous and blameless, e.g. Luke 1:5-6, Luke 2:25, Luke 23:50, and perhaps most telling, the sheep & goats parable of Matt. 25. Heck, Paul even refers to himself and his colleagues as conducting themselves as "holy and righteous and blameless" in 1 Thess. 2:10. (there are others, but these are the ones I pull quickly).

So I would conclude that to argue that TOTAL Depravity is a scriptural concept requires some fairly selective use of scripture. That humanity is, by and large, depraved, is not only scripturally but empirically true. To move from there to the doctrine of TD is to go beyond what is written IMO.

Jc_Freak: said...

I don't think TD necessarily has to be flagellation, though it most certainly happens. I don't beat myself up over the depravity that I had, because it is something that enslaved me, and that now I am delivered from. I agree that it is wrong for Christians to focus too much on it, because when we do, we are focusing on ourselves anyway. I see TD more as an enemy which God defeated.

But I recognize that that is not typical. I just am not going to reject an idea because it is abused.

I also don't think that creation fits into my point about primordiality. I'm talking about soteriological grace, not all forms of grace. My point is that faith is a response to God's present actions in my life. He reached out to me before I knew I wanted Him.

As for Scripture, I can see it going both ways. I recognize that some of the texts can be hyperbolic (especially from Psalms) but there are others that I most certainly believe support the idea that soteriologically God acts first because man can't.

Dan Martin said...

I most certainly believe support the idea that soteriologically God acts first because man can't.

And maybe that's one of the reasons I part ways with both Calvinism and Arminianism here. . .because I believe that both doctrines, in their emphasis of personal salvation, have oversimplified, and to some extent misrepresented, the gospel. I know you've read N.T. Wright; I forget if you've specifically read Surprised by Hope or not. As Wright argues, God's plan of redemption includes the whole cosmos, of which man is certainly an integral and important part.

If we look at God's salvation as directed at the cosmos, man included, instead of focusing solely on the salvation of the individual, then the notion that God's soteriologic grace must precede any response by the ones being saved is kind of a "duh" moment--as if it could be any other way!

In some ways, I think the whole question of prevenient grace, or election, or whatever other elements of the Calvin/Arminius fight you want to pull in, come from the unfortunate faith/works battle started by Luther. Luther--quite correctly--identified that salvation was not dispensed by church officials in return for penance, indulgences, or purchase. To this, he contrasted the biblical notion of justification by faith.

But too many Protestants after Luther took the concept too far, and repudiated any responsibility for good works at all, including the works demanded of God's people by God himself. In the obsession with not being saved by works, the notion of material obedience got lost in the shuffle, and all this analysis of HOW we are saved through grace gathered steam.

Yet another thread, I think is the degree to which state churches (Catholic and Protestant) throughout the ages have used the threat of damnation as a means to control their populace. This has to some extent been a political tool as well as a spiritual teaching, but it's not biblical, as I discovered in my study on hell. But once we dispense with the notion of salvation as fire insurance, and get on with the business of living as disciples of Jesus, a lot of the stuff that got Calvin's and Arminius' knickers in a twist becomes, quite frankly, beside the point.

Jc_Freak: said...

Interesting thoughts. I agree with your emphases here, but I don't see the need to dispense with TD. Personal salvation is an element in God's overall soteriological scheme, though I agree that many Protestants focus on it too much. And though I agree with the correctives that you mention here, I feel that to some degree the baby's getting tossed out with the bath water.

I haven't actually read Wright yet, though he is on my list of people who I have to read. I primarily a student of Thomas Oden and his paleo-orthodoxy view, and on the whole, I agree with Luthor that it is better to stick with what has been generally held true in the past until it can be demonstrated to contradict Scripture. I'm not sure whether or not TD can be proven 100% from Scripture, but I don't see it as contradicting it either, and I hold to it because I don't see it in the way of the more important matters, and I believe it helps frame the other things that I really want to say.

To some degree it is a matter of practicality. There are so many other matters that need discussion that it is impractical to always be questioning everything. I think we can hold up Wright's basic points as I understand them to be, and introduce a more corporate view of salvation and election without shunning how many in the past have understood it working personally. Otherwise you end up causing debates on small matters because the other guy is in such a defensive position.

Dan Martin said...

Point taken. I guess my response would be that I don't feel any need to dissuade you from holding to TD as long as you don't beat me (or worse, the poor nonbelievers) over the head with it. You don't, but in my experience you're far more gentle than most who preach the concept. But on the other hand, while I don't mind you holding gently to TD, I have a real problem when somebody's statement of faith requires me to assent to it as a condition of fellowship. That's my real issue with creeds through the centuries--while claiming to be tools of summarizing important doctrine, in reality they often are tools for separating the "faithful" from the "apostate" or the "heretic."

I contend that such divisions must not--ever--be made on the basis of any doctrine which is not 100% derivable from sola scriptura. Other stuff you can believe or teach as long as you hold it loosely, but orthodoxy really needs to be a reductionist thing. You said:

I'm not sure whether or not TD can be proven 100% from Scripture, but I don't see it as contradicting it either, and I hold to it because I don't see it in the way of the more important matters, and I believe it helps frame the other things that I really want to say.

OK, fine. Hold to it in peace. But that's the sort of standard that IMO leads to an optional opinion, not an established dogma.

For my part, I DO see it in the way of the matter of inviting to salvation the person who has yet to be convicted of those ways he falls short of God's goal. You and I discussed (and in the main agreed) this point in my post Why do you need God? inspired by "Fireproof" a couple weeks back. I believe it's wrong to insist people acknowledge their worthlessness before they can meet Jesus, and I don't see anything in his own life and teachings that pointed that way. Yet TD in the context of evangelism often--if not always--leads to a "Way of the Master" style of message.

Dan Martin said...

it is better to stick with what has been generally held true in the past until it can be demonstrated to contradict Scripture.

In contrast to the "paleo-orthodoxy" you describe, I guess I'd hold more to a "neo-first-century" approach, if I may coin a (probably bad) phrase. The paleo-orthodox crowd seems to concentrate heavily on the canonical councils and the creeds that issued therefrom. . .I see those councils as the very places that the church as a unit began to "go beyond what is written" by attempting to force scripture to answer questions that the scriptural writers themselves had neither asked nor answered. In other words, paleo-orthodox isn't "paleo" should shift its emphasis about 200 years earlier. Rather than accepting the "accepted wisdom," I argue that every generation's beliefs should be held up -- repeatedly -- to the lens of scripture and re-evaluated "to see whether these things are so." The result would be LESS dogma, and more acceptance of paradox and uncertainty in those areas scripture did not clearly address. This would be A GOOD THING (tm).

Jc_Freak: said...

You are right that the paleo-orthodox crowd focuses on the early church fathers. Indeed, it focuses on viewing church history as a whole, and focusing on those areas where their is unity instead of division. It is an irenic based movement, and I, myself, also focus on the early church fathers.

As for TD being used to define entry within certain groups, that depends on the nature of the group. I don't think it is right to use it for the inclusion/exclusion of an evangelistic society, or even really a church. But it does make sense for a theological society which is making a stand for a certain idea that holds to TD. SEA is such a society. Indeed, if you ask most members (maybe all) whether or not you are Christian, they would reply in the affirmative, and would have no problem fellowshipping with you. However SEA is a group of Arminians, and not believing in TD means that you are not an Arminian.

Actually, we've had a lot of problems in terms of Open Theism because we take the same stance with that, but there are many open theists that have attempted to join and more than many in SEA or Open Theist sympathizers, though not Open Theists.

But the point of the group is to articulate what Arminianism is and what it isn't, and such stances must be made.

What we don't do is deny fellowship. Anyway can write to us, and we will respond, and we except those that are not Arminians as Christian brothers, including Calvinists. Indeed, having such an attitude is another requirement for membership. Rejecting the salvation of Calvinists specifically, and Open Theists and those like your self extensively, as Christians is a mentality that we don't want because we are trying to be irenic while taking a stand. It is a very difficult balance, and I hope that we are doing it well.

Dan Martin said...

And I have nothing to say but to affirm your last comment, Martin. As I have read your stuff I have come to understand that I am not Arminian. . .before I sort of thought it was anybody (well, any Christian) who wasn't Calvinist and who believed in free will. Now I know better, and I agree that it would be silly for me, clearly and consciously NOT Arminian, to desire to join SEA. Your distinction of fellowship vs. society is a perfectly reasonable one that causes me no heartburn at all.

Thank you, by the way, for a stimulating discussion. It has definitely refined my understanding of a term--and a group of Christians--I thought I already understood.

Pax Christi!