December 11, 2010

Spectrum or Divide? A Response to Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has recently written on: An Arminocalvinist spectrum, or why it’s not so simple as Arminians vs Calvinists.  I would like to note a few items in response, but let me say first that I appreciate Adrian and the tone he has taken as a mediator in this debate.  Adrian has served Christ's church in many ways, especially with his book, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, which, as the title indicates, points to the centrality and importance of Christ's resurrection (and the believer's) for the Christian faith.  Let me say that I also appreciate the irenic tone that Adrian has taken in the Arminian/Calvinist debate.  I aim to take that same tone in my response.  Adrian is looking for ways to unite those with somewhat different views on how God accomplishes and applies his saving work in Christ to those who believe.  That is a noble and helpful endeavor that should be undertaken by more.  All too often, we Christians focus on what divides us rather than on that which unites.  These things said, here are a few thoughts in response to Adrian's "Arminocalvinist spectrum".

First, it is quite helpful to point out the differences (or spectrum of beliefs) within the larger Calvinist and Arminian groups.  There are things that Calvinists disagree on; the same is the case with Arminians as well.  Different people mean different things by these labels.  So, Adrian's taxonomy, which utilizes qualifiers like hard, moderate, or soft, is very helpful in that it provides nuance to differing views within each larger position.  This taxonomy also nicely highlights the fact that some brands of Arminianism are closer to Calvinism that others.  For example, I probably fall in the "Reformed Arminian" group, which would likely put me closer to Calvinism that it would an open theist.  This is a benefit of the taxonomy because while both myself and an open theist might be labeled Arminian, I would much prefer that others see me as closer to Calvinism than open theism. 

Second, while there are variations within the Calvinist and Arminian camps, we should remember that there are specific differences between them as well.  The divide comes down to whether or not God overcomes the wills of those whom he saves; that is, the divide is over the nature of grace, whether it is resistible or irresistible.  The spectrum of Calvinist views in Adrian's taxonomy are united by their belief that God acts in such a way upon his elect to overcome their resistance, and that he does not act in this way upon those who have not been chosen.  All the Arminian groups, on the other hand, believe that God doesn't act in such a way as to irresistibly overcome any person's will.  So, while there is a spectrum of belief, we shouldn't forget the divide in the midst of the spectrum.

Third, I'm very hesitant to grant the Arminian name to open theists, though many of them would want to adopt it.  My hesitancy stems from my readings of James Arminius and John Wesley.  Both saw God's foreknowledge of faith as essential to the doctrine of predestination.  God elects those whom he knows will one day believe.  If God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge and cannot foresee faith, then neither can he elect on the condition of faith.  The result is that the historical Arminian soteriology goes out the window and must be replaced with something else.  Is it is accurate to place two highly contrasting views of salvation in the same camp?  I tend to think not, though many on both sides of the debate would disagree in this case.

To close this post out, let me say again that I appreciate Adrian's work and think his post is quite helpful.  This debate needs more like him who will look for what unites us rather than bombard each other over what divides.  I hope this post contributes to just that.

2 comments:

Adrian Warnock said...

Well, I do take your point about the Open Arminians, but to be fair, we have to put up with the hyper calvinists!

Matt O'Reilly said...

Indeed, you do, and I take your point. However, upon further reflection I think its worth pointing out that Hypercalvinists and those who are less hypercalvinists still have basically the same soteriology: God chooses who he will save unconditionally and brings about the fulfillment of his electing decree unilaterally and in such a way as to overcome the resistance of the elect. Classical (or Reformed) Arminians have a distinctly different soteriology from open theists. Arminians hold that God foreknows who will believe and predestines those who believe to salvation. Open theists don't believe that God foreknows anything, and as a result establish a distinctly contrasting soteriology. So, while you may have to put up with hypercalvinists and I have to put up with open theists, I'm not sure the difference are really parallel.

Thanks for your comment.