Tag Archives: Grace

What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

Time for a little in house debate between Protestants in preparation for my dangerous posts on “Why I am not a Catholic” and “Why I am not a Calvinist”, which will lose me 90% of my Christian readers. Sigh. I don’t want to lose any readers, but I like to be me!


I spotted this article over on Birds of the Air blog. (H/T Neil Simpson)


Classical Wesleyan Arminianism:

1. Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation
2. Salvation is possible by grace alone
3. Works of human effort cannot cause or contribute to salvation
4. God’s election is conditional on faith in Jesus
5. Jesus’ atonement was for all people
6. God allows his grace to be resisted by those unwilling to believe
7. Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith

Standard Calvinism:

1. Total Depravity – After the Fall, human will was given over to sin and is as if it were dead, so that without being “awakened” by the Holy Spirit (the initiator) a human is unable to choose to be saved.
2. Unconditional Election – God’s choice was not determined by anything ever done or to be done by a human; it is a free gift not earned by merit. Under this view, God is the initiator of salvation.
3. Particular Redemption (AKA Limited Atonement) – The blood of Christ was a substitution for the penalty of sin, and was effectual for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, it not only secures but guarantees salvation.
4. The Efficacious Call of the Holy Spirit (AKA Irresistible Grace) – The outward call to salvation is made to all, but the Holy Spirit also places an inward call in the hearts of those who are elected for salvation. The outward call can (and often is) resisted, but the inward call is more powerful than human willpower. The Holy Spirit causes the sinner to respond in faith.
5. Perseverance of the Saints – The Holy Spirit will keep the believer secured in faith in Christ to the end.

I am basically in agreement with the Classical Arminian view, and I would accept the following points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Definite Atonement. I totally disagree with Irresistible Grace. Perseverance of the Saints is fine, except for people who literally reject their former faith. I.e. – you can’t lose your salvation by committing sins X,Y and Z. I am a 3.99 point Calvinist.

For my non-Christian readers who struggle with understanding why you are assumed to be in rebellion, ask yourself how much of your busy lives you have spent trying sincerely to decide whether God is really there by watching debates, making friends with Christians, visiting church, reading the Bible, praying test prayers, etc. Before God starts to work on you, you are in full flight away from God. That’s just the way it is.

When you are at the point of inventing an infinite number of universes to explain the fine-tuning, you’ll know what I am talking about. For every 100 non-Christians who starts to make that speculative multiverse reply to the fine-tuning argument, maybe 1 of you closes his mouth and says “ENOUGH”.

The doctrine of middle knowledge

And I think Wesleyans like me can recover an extremely robust view of divine sovereignty by invoking the doctrine of middle knowledge. This is the view that God can foresee what any individual will do in any set of circumstances (counterfactuals of creaturely freedom). And he uses this middle knowledge to actualize a world in which everyone who can freely choose to be respond to God’s saving initiative will be placed in the exact time and place where they would freely respond.

Consider Paul’s defense in Athens on Mars Hill: (in Acts 17:22-31)

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

I’ve actually stood on Mars Hill, so this is a special, special passage for me.

Without God’s actualization of the conditions needed to save each individual person, no one could be saved. And it’s more than just the time and place, God has to individually reveal just the right amount of himself to the person in that time, so that they have the choice to respond without being coerced. So you have unilateral salvation initiated by God, but man is still responsible for rejecting God. It’s PERFECT!

If you haven’t heard of middle knowledge, I highly recommend that you take a look at it. It solves the problem of reconciling divine foreknowledge, free will and human responsibility. It’s kind of new though, so you may not have heard about it unless you are into philosophy of religion research. I went to a Wheaton Philosophy conference which had the Calvinist Paul Helm of Oxford University as the main speaker. He plowed, but the consensus among the audience (90% in the people I surveyed and judging from audience questions) was that middle knowledge was the correct solution to these thorny problems.

Further study

I have to mention this post on Between Two Worlds linked by Muddling Towards Maturity. This has to do with the scope of the atonement.

For whom did Christ Die?

Michael Bird posts three short entries by three different scholars regarding the intent and extent of the atonement:

My guy in the race is my favorite historian, Ben Witherington, but I’m not familiar with Jensen. Witherington is highly qualified scholar who is respected and endorsed across the spectrum. He is an evangelical.

I’ll be posting something about the atonement later this week.