Both Calvinists and Extensivists speak as though things such as prayers, trials, testimonies, child rearing, education, and other influences play a vital part in salvation; these, along with a host of other influences may be categorized as events. It seems as though we all really mean these kind of events play a similar role in God’s salvation plan. However, such is not the case. The only thing similar is that Calvinists and Extensivists use the same words, but the way Calvinists use these words are essentially dissimilar to the way they are normally used and used by Extensivists. And Calvinists themselves tend to obscure the real differences.
These events may be classified as either uncertain or certain. By uncertain I refer to events in which human involvement can actually affect the outcome. This is in contrast to certain events in which God has predetermined that human involvement does not affect the outcome. Extensivism recognizes that Scripture includes both certain and uncertain events, whereas Calvinism recognizes only certain—determined—events. The difference between these two viewpoints is Extensivism actually believes these uncertain events really do play a part in God’s salvation plan. Keep in mind, while it is quite common for Calvinists to speak libertarianly, Calvinism utterly rejects man having libertarian moral freedom. Speaking libertarianly is especially misrepresentative of Calvinism’s determinism.
Calvinism’s belief in unconditional election and compatibilism, wherein everything is micro-determined, necessitates a different meaning than is normally understood when speaking of the correlation between events and a person’s salvation. It requires understanding that while such events may be a part of the process of God’s predetermined elective plan to bring his unconditionally elected into redemption, these events do not, in any way, play a role that includes the idea they could have been different or resulted in a different outcome. That is to say, all direct or suggestive talk by Calvinists of how pivotal events, someone’s prayers, or a person’s involvement in an individual’s life was not determined or played a non-determined role in someone’s salvation is misleading. It misrepresents the true meaning of Calvinism.
In contrast, according to Extensivism God comprehends libertarian freedom in his salvation plan so that these uncertain events do play an undetermined part; they can even play a part that actually affects the outcome. I refer to the relationship of these events as being constitutionally, organically, and substantially related. This is in contrast to Calvinism’s determinism in which nothing actually matters in an effective way but unconditional election and its partner, selective irresistible grace.
Here is the way I define the relationship of uncertain events in God’s salvation plan:
Constitutionally related: Constitutionally related speaks to the nature of God’s salvation plan wherein grace enablements are essentially, sequentially, and operationally incorporated into the structure of God’s plan. Since God’s work of salvation is a grace work, every aspect of the plan exists and functions according to his grace; therefore, such things as prayer, witnessing, listening with understanding of the gospel, other uncertain events, and exercising faith are not reducible to purely human works or virtues; for them to be merely human works, they would need to exist outside of God’s grace work of salvation; that is to say, they would need to be unconstitutionally related to his salvation plan. Since they do not so exist, they are grace components in God’s redemptive plan (Rom 3:28; 4:1–5).
Organically related: Something being organically related speaks to the complex relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s preconversional grace enablements that work according to his salvific plan of grace so that these really do matter in a person’s salvation. They have a systemic arrangement and interaction with other parts of God’s plan. To wit, they play an actual non-determined and non-meritorious role in one’s salvation. The outcome of this organic relationship is that many factors can actually be involved in the salvation of a person, salvation is available to every person, and man is saved by non-determined and non-meritorious faith (John 4:39–42; 11:42, 45; Eph 2:8–9).
For example, we may say the prayers of a grandmother were instrumental in a person’s salvation; by this we mean if the grandmother had not prayed, which she could have chosen to do, the person may not have been saved at that time. The influence of the grandmother’s prayers in the gospel encounter is solely because God included such non-determined components in his salvation plan. These components have an organic relationship to other aspects of God’s salvation plan; they do in fact matter (John 17:20–21; Rom 2:4; Titus 2:1–11; 3:1–8; 1 John 2:2).
An example of such a constitutional and organic relationship may be illustrated by considering a flower. Flower is the name we give to a particular plant that includes certain and various components in its structure; being organic means there is a systemic arrangement and interaction between the various components. Included in these components are things such as roots, stem, bud, petals, sepal, stamen, and pistil. Some of these are substantially related so that if they did not exist, the flower would not exist.
Substantially (substantively) and insubstantially related: Substantially and insubstantially related speaks to the relationship between things, people, personal experiences, and other events as part of the process and the process’s final product. Something substantially related indicates if it were not present in the process, the product would be different, or at least would likely be different. In contrast, components that are insubstantially related would not change the product by their absence; given libertarian freedom, some events (uncertain events) may or may not be present because these relationships are not predeterminately fixed. In Extensivism some events are substantially related to salvation, but in Calvinism, events are determined and can only be insubstantially related because they cannot actually change or change the process or the product.
In other words, even though strictly impossible in a compatibly free world, if some events were not there, the product, such as unconditional election, would still take place in precisely the same way. It is unconditional. If Calvinism accepts that uncertain events exist and are substantially related to one’s salvation, then things like unconditional election are really organically related to them so that election incorporates these grace contributors in the production of the end product; this means the abandonment of compatibilism and transforming unconditional election into conditional election.
In Extensivism, given libertarian freedom, events are substantially related because if they were not a part of the process in the way they are (and that could have been the case), something different would be happening; therefore, the result could be different in various scenarios (Matt 11:20–24).
Calvinists and Extensivists may speak similarly about salvation, but this is because Calvinists are constantly speaking libertarianly about people being saved, praying, witnessing, and events substantially affecting one’s life. I can only ask my Calvinist brothers and sisters to be as resolutely committed to speaking determinatively (so that all understand, including the Calvinist speaking) as they are in pedestaling compatibilism and denouncing libertarian freedom as depending on something other than grace.
Then, we can have meaningful discussions about the merits of Calvinism and Extensivism. And people listening can make a clearer and more informed decision about what label they wear.
 I use Extensivist and Extensivism, in its general sense, as a positive term for non-Calvinist.
 Uncertain does not mean unknown to God, but only that these events are contingencies; they are not determined, and therefore, did not have to happen.
 One may also add the other elements of Calvinism’s decretal theology.
 It is true these things can be a part of the process of a person’s salvation in Calvinism, but it is not true they can be an alterable part of the process, or alter the product, which is how they are most often portrayed.
 By grace enablements I mean things which God has to do in order to make salvation available to all. See a list of some of these enablements at https://ronniewrogers.com/?s=grace-enablement.
In nine years of experience as an occupational therapist working with geriatric and stroke patients, I have observed that disruption of vision is one of the most devastating deficits a person can experience. That’s no wonder, since neuroscientists estimate that more than eighty percent of the information we receive about our environment is through the sense of vision. Our brains take in and interpret the information we receive through our eyes. In the same way that we need physical vision to make sense of our world, we also need spiritual vision to effectively navigate through life. This longing for clear spiritual vision is evident as we cry out to God in worship with songs like Be Thou My Vision and Open the Eyes of My Heart.
I have reflected extensively on the importance of vision because of my family history of eye disease. I have seen first hand how a deficiency in physical eyesight can affect a person. Both my grandmother and my mother were diagnosed with macular degeneration, and because this disease has a strong genetic component, I am a good candidate for developing this condition as well. I do all I can to reduce the odds by taking vitamins specifically designed to slow the process, protecting my eyes in bright sunlight, and paying attention to diet, but am I equally vigilant when it comes to maintaining good spiritual vision? Ensuring our ability to make sense of spiritual matters is of far greater consequence than protecting our physical eyes. So how can we maintain 20/20 spiritual vision?
Three primary components of vision are necessary for making sense of our physical world: visual acuity, oculomotor control, and visual field. If any one of these is absent or deficient, we have a difficult time safely interacting with the environment. Acuity enables us to see clearly, oculomotor control directs the eyes toward a particular target, and visual field enables us to see the whole picture. In the same way that these components are necessary to make sense of the physical world, they are also applicable to the spiritual realm. Just as a skilled optician can create the perfect pair of glasses to bring our physical vision to 20/20, God has given us tools to utilize as we journey through life.
We must maintain visual acuity or clarity in our worldview. We can only see clearly from a spiritual standpoint by viewing the world through the lens of God’s Word. Let us not underestimate the importance of being in the Word daily in order to keep from stumbling and falling due to blurry vision. As an occupational therapist, one compensatory strategy I have at my disposal to improve acuity is increasing light. The Bible tells us in Psalm 119:105 that, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (NKJV) Let us as followers of Christ use the application of Biblical wisdom as our strategy to prevent us from stumbling along life’s path. It is only when God’s Word illuminates our way that we can see the obstacles ahead poised to trip us up or cause us to stray off the straight and narrow road. Darkness cannot prevail against the light of God’s Word.
Fixing Our Gaze
When the muscles in our eyes demonstrate good oculomotor control, our gaze is maintained and fixed in the right direction. Weak eye muscles can be retrained and strengthened through tracking exercises in which an individual practices following a target with his eyes. Control of our spiritual muscles is necessary to keep our lives focused appropriately, and they also require training. We must make the conscious decision to only engage in those things which are conducive to our spiritual growth, and divert our gaze away from anything that is not beneficial. Hebrews 12:2 says we are to run the race while keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith… (CSB) It is only with Jesus as our target that we are able to safely navigate this world. While it is easy to turn aside and follow worldly passions, we will only keep moving in the right direction as we train ourselves daily to keep our eyes fixed on Him through employing the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study.
We maintain an awareness of all that is going on around us through a functional visual field. One strategy used in cases of visual field deficits is called visual scanning. Through this technique, individuals are trained to be acutely aware of areas of decreased vision, and employ a specific pattern for scanning toward those sections of the visual field. We need to be aware of our deficits spiritually as well and utilize strategies to compensate for our weaknesses. If our spiritual field of vision is deficient, we cannot perceive attacks coming from the enemy. Blind spots in our vision give the enemy an opportunity to assault and isolate us. John 10:10 says, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV) We must have a strategy to stay vigilant and alert regarding anything or anyone that would enter our world seeking to take away the blessings of life in Christ. Fellowship with other believers can be very helpful in this regard. Others are often able to see things in us that we cannot see in ourselves. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help fill in our blind spots and alert us to areas in which we need to grow.
Walking By Faith
Toward the end of her ninety-four years on earth, my grandmother lost much of her eyesight as a result of macular degeneration. It was difficult seeing her struggle to do everyday tasks we all take for granted. This disease also robbed her of the ability to do things that she once enjoyed such as reading her Bible, doing crossword puzzles, or playing along with Wheel of Fortune. It was comforting though to see that a physical disease could not steal the joy of the Lord from her life. She continued to walk with Him, allowing the Lord to take her hand and guide her when she couldn’t see the way. That’s the way spiritual eyesight works. We allow God to be our eyes, guiding us to places He’s already been, along a path He created for us, in order to follow His will for our lives. One of my grandmother’s favorite verses was Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (NKJV) And that is how Nannie was able to function when she all but lost her sight. She put her hand in God’s hand and submitted to His guidance when she couldn’t see the path ahead of her. Should such a time ever come in my life, I pray that I would follow in her steps and faithfully allow God to be my vision.
Having known Paige Patterson for forty-three years as mentor and friend, and serving under his leadership at SWBTS since 2004, first as the Dean of the School of Theology and currently as the founding Dean of the School of Preaching, I am compelled to speak.
As a student (1978-1981), later as a trustee (1992-2004 and chairman of the board 2003-2004), and then faculty member/administrator (2004-2018), I have invested thirty years at SWBTS. My tenure on the Board of Trustees overlapped three presidents: Drs. Dilday, Hemphill and Patterson. The SWBTS Board of Trustees elected Dr. Patterson as the Seminary’s eighth president in 2003. Continue reading