Words With Friends, part 2: Precise Names for Soteriological Views
by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Ala.
From 1982-1990, the television sitcom Newhart entertained America with eccentric characters who lived in a small Vermont town, among them three backwoodsmen who lived in a shack and whose last name was never mentioned. The spokesman for the brothers introduced them the same way every time: “Hi, I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” With apologies to boxer George Foreman, the failure to identify your children with unique names is intrinsically ridiculous.
In a similar fashion, confusion reigns in a small town not far from a church I previously served as Pastor. This town featured street names practically identical to one another—names like Third Place, Third Street, Third Lane, Third Avenue and Third Circle led to the next block where one might find Park Drive, Park Road, Park Court, Park Trail and Park Way. Most Pastors in the community, when attempting visitation, did not even bother with maps or directions, but simply dropped by the fire station for assistance from the professionals who memorized the confusing street patterns in order to save lives.
Fortunately, there is a better way. By giving brothers and streets and theological positions their own unique names, we contribute to clarity, precision and mutual understanding on the part of everyone involved. To put it simply, the Calvinist Family has entirely too many brothers using the same name. We can do something about it.
In Part One of Words With Friends, I discussed a unique, whole, acceptable and unused term for the specific view of salvation doctrine that I believe accurately describes the majority position among Southern Baptists—Savabilism. In Part Two, I will now turn my attention to the moniker Calvinism, a multi-faceted, umbrella term whose strongest proponents must even admit fails the test of theological precision quite miserably. Some will say, “But Calvinism is not a monolithic system.” Indeed. To paraphrase a line from The Incredibles: “If everyone is a Calvinist, then no one is.” Only by providing each theological view their own name, room and cell phone will our communication improve.
A TAXONOMY OF UNIQUE SOTERIOLOGICAL LABELS
1. Fatalist: Also called Hyper-Calvinist, this view rejects the idea that the atonement in any respect was intended for the salvation of all. It thus discourages inviting all men to believe in Christ for salvation. Fatalism lies beyond the scope of Calvinism per se. Thus, a Fatalist is truly no Calvinist at all. An example would be John Gill.
2. Calvinist: This view embraces all five points of the TULIP, while also affirming the free offer of the gospel to all men. May the label “Five Point Calvinist” become viewed as a redundant term, for there is truly no other kind. An example would be Al Mohler. It is possible, however, to identify three noteworthy Calvinist subcategories:
2a. Supralapsarianist: Also called High Calvinist, this view embraces all five points of the TULIP while placing the creation of the elect and the reprobate logically prior to the fall of man. An example would be Jonathan Edwards.
2b. Infralapsarianist: Also called Low Calvinist, this view embraces all five points of the TULIP while placing God’s choice of the elect and the reprobate logically after the fall of man. An example would be Charles Spurgeon.
2c. Nonlapsarianist: This view rejects both of the lapsarian positions above, considering them either speculative, unnecessary or lacking in scriptural support. An example would be Herman Bavinck.
3. Amyraldist: A position disaffirming limited atonement but holding to the other four points of the TULIP. While God provided Christ’s atonement for all, He saw that none would believe on their own, and thus elected unconditionally those He would bring to faith in Christ. An example would be Richard Baxter.
4. Molinist: A position disaffirming limited atonement and irresistible grace, reconciling divine determinism with man’s free will without appealing to the Calvinist explanation of a mystery. Through God’s “middle knowledge,” He knows what His free creatures would do under any circumstance, as illustrated by the statement, “If you enter the ice cream shop, you will choose chocolate.” God also actualizes the world in which we freely choose that which God intends for us. An example would be William Craig Lane.
5. Savabilist: While compatible with the Molinist understanding of election, this view affirms one point of the TULIP, namely perseverance of the saints. Unlike Arminianism, perseverance of the saints is a doctrine embraced in a completely non-negotiable manner. An example would be Eric Hankins.
6. Arminian: A position disaffirming unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace, while embracing an interpretation of total depravity that affirms total inability. Unlike Savabilism, this view remains open to either perspective concerning the perseverance of the saints. An example would be Roger Olsen.
7. Semipelagian: According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, this is “the name given to doctrines on human nature upheld in the Fifth Century by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that grace supervened only later.” An example would be Saint Faustus of Riez.
Please note that the label Semipelagian is rejected by Arminians and Savabilists alike, for neither maintains that the process of salvation is initiated by human free will. In the same way, on the other end of the spectrum, the label Fatalist is rejected by Calvinists and Amyraldists, for they embrace the free offer of the gospel to all men. Our ongoing conversation regarding soteriology invites enormous damage whenever we attempt to push the definitions of our debate partners into either extreme position on the spectrum.
In conclusion, this two-part essay has attempted to promote the use of specific, clear, whole words for each soteriological view. The goal is to distance ourselves from the kind of language encumbered by modifying terms and negating prefixes. To those who say, “We are all Calvinists of one sort or another,” let me reply, “Such a characterization is not at all helpful, for it is profoundly denied by those who disaffirm Calvinism.”
Fortunately, there is a much better way to approach this subject. If we desire to promote improved understanding, collegial conversation and respectful dialogue, let us begin by avoiding the tendency to lump every position into a few broad categories. Let us give each specific view a term of its own and a friendly welcome to the soteriological table. In this manner, whenever I ask Darryl to pass the salt, everyone knows what I mean.