Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Calminianism" (clarification added)

Some claim that Calvinism and Arminianism are both right in some ways and wrong in some ways. Thus, the good of both can be combined into a synthesis, while avoiding the errors of both. The argument for this seems very weak.

"Calminian" means something like this: we chose our salvation freely, but cannot lose our salvation once we have freely chosen it. By "free" is means the Arminian idea of power of contrary choice. That is, God does not predestine us to salvation (election). God offers it and we, by our own power, chose or reject it. Or, more technically, God does all that is necessary for salvation, but not all that is sufficient. Calvinism claims that God does all that is necessary and sufficient for the salvation of the elect. Or, more broadly, Calminianism is understood to mean that God is sovereign (something Armianism denies) and that we are responsible for our choices (something Calvinism denies).

But this will not fly. Both Calvinism and Arminian have differing and incompatible accounts of both God's sovereignty and human responsibility. It is not the case that Calvinism emphasizes sovereignty and de-emphasizes human responsibility. Nor is it the case that Arminians emphasize human responsibility and de-emphasize sovereignty. Therefore, for you cannot synthesize them.

Let me explain this with respect to Calvinism, and leave Arminianism aside. On the Calvinist model, God exercises "meticulous providence" (Paul Helm) over every detail of existence, including human salvation (Ephesians 1:11). The number of the elect is set before the creation of the universe. It is not determined by God passively "looking ahead" to see who will chose salvation. Rather, it is determined by God's sovereign grace. On this, I present chapter three from The Westminster Confession. (I have omitted the copious biblical citations.)

Chapter III

Of God's Eternal Decree

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise 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, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.

VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.

Many think this account is incompatible with human freedom, but it is not, since everything depends on how one understands human freedom. Take it from The Westminister Confession of Faith.

Chapter IX

Of Free Will

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

I have not given an argument for Calvinism. Rather, am claiming that synthesizing Calvinism and Arminianism into Calminianism is not a logical option. One might remain agnostic on how to combine God's sovereignty and human responsibility, but this would not be "Calminianism."


Ross said...

Dr. Groothuis, this is an interesting post. I'm not sure what it is in your initial account of the Calminian position is problematic. What is it about the following statement
"Calminian" means something like this: we chose our salvation freely, but cannot lose our salvation once we have freely chosen it.
that is fundamentally opposed to Arminianism? In my understanding, Arminius himself did not settle the question of whether a believer can lose her salvation. Bruce Ware has told me that this position is a minority position among Arminians, but that he considers it a viable variation of Arminianism.

Further, I don't see anything in what you have said that would indicate that this is a logically inconsistent position. It seems that on a libertarian account of choice, we can make irrevocable choices. Say I freely choose to get married. Even if I freely choose to want to get out of the marriage, I may be unable to (say that dissolving a marriage requires both the husband and wife to agree to ending the marriage, and my wife refuses). Or here's another example. Say that my consent is needed to be adopted into a family, but once I am adopted, I cannot choose to stop being the child of my adoptive parents. It seems to me that there's nothing problematic on a libertarian account about freely entering into a relationship without the power of being able to freely get out of the relationship.

Now this may not be what you believe to be the case about salvation, but I take it that you think that mainstream Arminianism (one can lose his salvation) is false as well. What is it about the above position that is more problematic for you than mainstream Arminianism? I'd be interested to hear what it is about this position - that one can (libertarian) freely respond to God's gracious offer of salvation without being able to dissolve the salvific relationship with God - that is rationally problematic.

I do admit that there are statements of the Calminian position that are contradictory - that God determines all things AND that humans have libertarian freedom. But this isn't how you characterize the Calminian position.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. -- Ross

Weekend Fisher said...

I hesitate to stir up hornets' nests -- and talking about Calvinism and Arminianism usually does just that -- but I'll give your blog a shot, here.

While I don't subscribe to either Calvinist or Arminian views, I'll give them each credit in this: they do a respectable job of explaining the shortcomings of the other.

I think the biggest problem in the debate is that it is so polarized that most people only see two options: Calvinist or Arminian. Or, still seeing only those two options, try to make a hybrid rather than a clean break.

Take care & God bless

R. Chapman said...

I believe it's a misrepresentation to say that Arminians believe they come to Christ solely through the power of their own choice. From what I've read, Arminians hold that no man can come to Christ unless God first initiates them. There is a point at which they can resist God's grace, but it is certainly not in any human's power to seek God solely through his own free-will. (For a devastating critique of Calvinism, see William Lane Craig's contributions to *Four Views on Divine Providence.*)

Tony Scialdone said...


First, let me thank you for your good work. I've read a book or two of yours, and appreciate you.

I haven't studied Arminius directly, but I grew up in the Nazarene church (in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition). I'm not sure if you've accurately or inaccurately described Arminius' position...

However: in the 30 or so years I've been studying apologetics, I've NEVER met anyone claiming to be a believer who denies God's sovereignty. You claim that that's the Arminian position, and I'd love to read that for myself. Can you point me in the right direction?

You see: if you've inaccurately described the Arminian position, it could be that you've inaccurately understood it...or that I have. Thanks!

I do appreciate that you see the conflict in 1) having free will prior to salvation, and 2) losing it after. That's never made any sense to me.

Paul D. Adams said...

FYI: Here's a paper I just learned about that seeks to show the difficulties in holding to some kind of indeterminism and remain in the Reformed camp. Though I've not read it in toto, it looks to be provide significant clarity and minimize the confusion around moral responsibility, free will, and God's sovereignty. See here for author details.

Anonymous said...

One of the writers above said:

You claim that that's the Arminian position, and I'd love to read that for myself. Can you point me in the right direction?

Poor God. He wants everyone to be saved but His desires are subject to man's freewill. Poor, powerless, God.

That is the Arminian position.

Thank God I found the Doctrines of Grace. I almost lost all faith attending Arminian churches.

T said...

I believe that the critique against "Calminianism" is valid.

The most intellectually honest and persuasive answer to this question that I know of is that, basically, it is a mystery that our finite minds cannot know.

William Lane Craig actually mentioned his dissapointment that no one arguing for "mystery" was included in the four views book mentioned above- instead, there were two people defending similar reformed views- in one of his podcasts.

See this link for an explanation of what I'm referring to