3 Ways Arminians are either Calvinists, Deists, or Open Theists

calvinism arminianism

I have friends and family who are Arminians (or semi-pelagians). They are not evil, nor demonic. They are nice, lovely, and most truly love Jesus. I like them. I don’t think true Arminianism is heresy or evil (though semi-pelagianism is leaning there), but Arminianism(and semi-pelagianism) is very inconsistent, especially when it comes to understanding the sovereignty of God over evil. It does not stand its ground, but switches positions, ever so softly. I was reading a few essays by Roger Olson, and noticed this in his writings, specifically about how Arminius framed this discussion. Arminius is quoted as saying “I openly allow that God is the cause of all actions which are perpetrated by the creatures,” but Olson elsewhere affirms a contradictory idea “ I, for one, would rather believe God limits his power than believe that God’s power is the ulterior reason for whatever is happening.” The second contradicts the first. Both men are “Arminian” but don’t have a truly unique “Arminian” answer, merely a contradictory blended answer borrowed from Calvinism and a Open Theism.


Below is a chart showing four different views about Gods attributes, and how people from each group answer the question “why did God not stop this particular evil event or action?” Notice that the first three views are very different in their presuppositions and thus different in their answers. Also notice the theology of last two views is exactly the same, the only difference is the answer to the “why” question. Think of it as a math problem, the first three views (Open Theism, Deism, Calvinism) are like 1×1=1, 1+1=2, 1-1=0, they are fully different problems, with fully different answers. While the last two views (Calvinism and Arminianism) are like 1+1=2 and 1+1 =7, they are the same problem, but with a different answer.

ARMINIANISM DOESN’T KNOW WHERE IT BELONGS: 3 Common but different answers to the “why” question.

The Bible says that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. He can do literally anything and he knows literally everything. I would argue that in light of these two attributes, Arminianism is unfair. It accuses Calvinism of making God the author of evil, accuses Deism of making God uncaring, and accuses Open Theism of making God weak. Yet different statements by Arminians appear to be coming from each of those same views. All of those views contradict each other, yet Arminianism states all of them at different times. And it much choose only one to avoid contradictions. There is really only those three positions. A fourth is not permitted by the laws of reason.

Arminianism or semi-pelagianism does not have a full and consistent answer to the question of “why did this specific evil to happen?” Rightly so, they will point to the agents of evil, satan, demons, or sinners. But then, when asked “where was God? Is he not powerful enough to stop those agents?” their answers diverge, and they borrow one from either Calvinists, Open Theists, or Deists.  One of the reasons for this is because many would first override God’s supreme sovereignty, or his involvement, rather than human free will.

So lets ask Arminians “Why did God allow Kennedy to be shot?” Did God not have the power to make the wind move the bullet 3 inches left? Sure, all four views agree its the shooter who is morally responsible for his action. Yet, what was God’s role? Why did he not stop it?

1. Deism: God did not get involved to not override free will, a natural law

Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that evil happens because God permits humans to have free will. They say God is present and cares but He let humans run the place by virtue of free will! While He wants to intervene, He can’t because that would take over free will. This pays lips service to all God’s attributes, but is ultimately deism. If this God who is near doesn’t interact or change situations, then whats the difference with a deist God who is far away? None. If God does not overrule human choices, because that would deny them free will, God is not involved, for all human choices are said to be free will! So basically in terms of affecting the earth He is gone and can’t change or stop evil that a human decided to do, because that’s against their free will. Deists are free to use this answer, but its unfair for Arminians to say they believe God is sovereign, gets involved, and then say he doesn’t.

2. Open Theism: God limited Himself to not override free will

Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that this  evil happened because God limits Himself.  If he was truly sovereign, then all people would become robots. They say God chooses to limit his power to allow them to make their choices, and then he can risk and respond to them. He may want them to stop but wont overrule them, because then they would be automatons. He is very present, and pleading with them, but limits Himself from actually intervening and Sovereignly changing events. God wanted the shooter to stop, and pleaded with him to stop, but ultimately limited Himself from stopping the bullet, because God wanted the shooter to choose good by free will. This view is the most fair and consistent type of Arminianism. It is also not Arminianism, but actually open theism. I don’t think its Biblically accurate, and really diminishes God’s attributes, but at least its more intellectually honest than the common inconsistent answers Arminians/Semi-pelagians usually give. It’s fine for Arminians to give this answer, but its unfair of them to say they are not Open Theists and that they do believe in God’s complete sovereignty over every molecule of this universe.

3. Calvinism: God allowed this specific evil to happen for some good reason

Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that evil happens because God allows it. Sometimes they affirm omnipotence and omniscience (or that God is all-powerful and all-knowing). Arminians very wisely say that God, being sovereign, chose to allow this specific evil to happen for some good reasons only He knows. I would argue that this is pure Calvinism. Arminians often tell Calvinists that we make God to be Satan, for in our view God is the ultimate cause of evil in this world. But how is this “Arminian” idea that  God’s choice to permit each specific evil different from Calvinism? If I have the COMPLETE power and opportunity to save someone from robbery, yet I CHOSE to allow the robbery to happen, you would, in part, try to blame me. Arminians and Calvinists have the same exact situation, but the Arminians just deny it!

For God, to ordain or to permit, is the EXACT same thing, in both cases God makes a choice that ultimately determines the way events unfold. If God ordains an already-evil man to steal, or if he permits and already-evil man to steal, it is the same thing! In both cases God does not make a neutral man into an evil one, but coordinates events that are for our good and His glory. If a king watches two men fighting, and holds up his hand to stop his soldiers from breaking it up, Calvinists say that king “ordained” that fight. Arminians will say he “permitted” that fight. Yet how are the two different, except in our wording? In both cases, the king makes a choice, his choice means the fight happens. While it is the men who are guilty of hating each other, yet the king is sovereign over the fight, can stop it, but chooses to ordain/allow it for some good reason. It’s fine for Arminians to say God permits evil for a good reason, but its unfair of them to call Calvinists evil for the exact same belief, with a different word.

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11 responses

  1. Nice text? Why more then 81 like on FB?
    Does not mention bible once. It does not prove it is not biblical but for me it open one problem.

    Let discuss this not mentioning God:
    Particles of universe are interacting according the natural laws. The number of particles is finite, the laws are exact, so it is possible to predict the condition of universe (particles positions) in every time point. So, everything is unchangeable. Even you thinking on something now because you brain-work is result of particles interaction. But can we do such a prediction? No. Can Someone outside of the universe see and calculate all this particles interaction? Possible, but still we have no idea how this would be like.
    I see this problem only as problem of human understanding, not God character or actions.
    Bible says about the problem a little. Less then some might want. And it tells some exact things that are quite understandable. These things are easy to accept both Calvinists and Arminians.
    In the question about God will and human will see nothing theological or spiritual or biblical or beneficial. The problem with paradoxes is then people falsely assume they know (or may know) verity of some statement.

    Try to solve this paradox (of two envelopes):

    A statement of the problem starts with:
    Let us say you are given two indistinguishable envelopes, each of which contains a positive sum of money. One envelope contains twice as much as the other. You may pick one envelope and keep whatever amount it contains. You pick one envelope at random but before you open it you are offered the possibility to take the other envelope instead.

    It is possible to give arguments that show that it will be to your advantage to swap envelopes by showing that your expected return on swapping exceeds the sum in your envelope. This leads to the logical absurdity that it is beneficial to continue to swap envelopes indefinitely.


    • Dmitry, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      As to Bible passages, there are plenty that speak of Gods omniscience and omnipotence, both are very old Christian doctrines because Scripture overflows with them. Passages like Daniel 4:3:”All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?””

      I definitely don’t claim to know everything, or completely fathom the way God works. However, in theology, we discuss another attribute of God, called simplicity. That God can be understood by his attributes and is complicated or convoluted like creatures. If you are really interesting, there is a cool conversation between a few seminary students and professor here: http://reformedforum.org/podcasts/ctc185/

      • I listened to the talk. It is about simplicity in sense that God does not consist of parts, not about human fully understand God.

        I just want to rephrase my primary statement: the problem is that you (and I so many other people) can discuss the calvinism/arminianism without ever quoting a scripture! It is very bad.

        Also, there are different subgroups in calvinism arminianism. You can’t just be so naive to do such strict statement. Especially without quoting bible. And even theologians. Too bad.

        The primary reason I think you do this is that you do not understand there your expertise, education, knowledge, human limitations to understand end. That is quite common but still. You are writing about God so it is higher requirements.

        • Dmitry, I guess this is the only article where I look at it from a philosophical perspective instead of a straight scriptural exegesis or hermeneutic. I agree that we should not ONLY look at these things from a philosophical view, however, I have written extensively about how Scripture screams about God’s sovereignty. (Here is where I outline some basic passages, if you are interested: http://ask.yuriyandinna.com/2011/12/01/what-is-calvinism-all-about/).

          More important than that, there are hundreds of pastors and theologians, who have spent lifetimes discussing, teaching, preaching Scripture, and talk about Calvinism only from that Scripture.

          Charles Spurgeon once said: “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what
          nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism;
          Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can
          preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without
          works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation
          of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal,
          immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the
          gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of
          His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor
          can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are
          called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of
          damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor. “Salvation is of the Lord.” That is just an epitome of
          Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it. If anyone should ask me
          what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible.”

          I definitely understand that my experience, reasoning, and traditions, are fallible. But then so are yours. If my argument for, is prone to such criticism, so is your argument against. However, I do agree we should always tread carefully when approaching the holy, and never claim we know all or comprehend every minute detail. The more you learn the more you realize you know so little.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts and criticism. I appreciate it.

          • I find it interesting that the guy that has the critique that you don’t “mention the bible once” does not mention the bible once either

  2. Yup, you said that “It seems that all three explanations are one and the same.”
    All groups who offer these different explanations would all agree on one thing, that such a statement is inaccurate.

    “For a supreme being to allow something against his desire he would have to limit himself in some way.” In the calvinist framework, God allows one thing for the greater good, for his great plan to defeat evil. In the arminian/open theist framework, God allows evil, or limits Himself, not to limit humans.

    If you want to read a reformed perspective that explains how God is not the author of sin, I would encourage you to take a look at this: http://egblog.yuriyandinna.com/2010/08/26/does-god-author-sin/

  3. I have yet to hear a Calvinist state why God must abdicate His sovereignty to give living persons actual choices. For a human (or an angel for that matter) to be a person and have self-awareness and operate as an individual person it is absolutely necessary that he be capable of making self-determined choices between obeying God and refusing to obey God. When God created man, He knew that it would be necessary to give them choices – real autonomous choices. The alternative is nothing more than puppetry.
    You said “For God, to ordain or to permit, is the EXACT same thing, in both cases God makes a choice that ultimately determines the way events unfold.” This is very strange and strained thinking. They are in no way the “exact same thing”. According to the Calvinist supposition, God makes choices that do ultimately determine the way things unfold, but according to the non-Calvinist stand-point, God is able (in spite of the Calvinist’s inability to grasp this), to use mans’ choices to accomplish His ends – working all things together for good to those that love and believe in Him. To ordain or predestine men’s actions and decisions is to decide for them. To actually allow them to make their own real-life decisions is to do just that – to allow them to be real persons.
    This fact and only this fact makes it right and just for God to condemn those that reject the Heavenly calling and deny all evidence of His existence that God provides for mankind.
    It seems to be hard for Calvinists to grasp that God is actually powerful enough, omniscient enough, and willing enough to give personalities the option of determining their own destinies. Thus we are told of the limited Calvinist God that loves only a few, while expecting men to love all mankind – though He Himself, as said before, loves a pitiful handful. Remember that Paul would have given his own life to save his Jewish non-believers, but God according to Calvin, rejected them and Christ refused to give His life to redeem them. Why did this Holy-Spirit love flow in Paul and not in Paul’s God? In fact it did and does flow in God.
    If you have the courage to prayerfully seek truth apart from your peer group, read the many scriptures that call men to repentance, that show that God punishes and condemns men for their sin and wilfulness , thus revealing their ability to hear and obey Him – if you honestly have the courage to put aside your prejudices and try to find God’s will for you, reading plainly and sincerely the words of scripture such as “world”, and “all” “any” “not willing that any should perish” etc. etc. rather than forcing them to fit your doctrine, then you may find out the truth and the truth will set you free.
    The Calvinist claims about God’s supposed predetermining of all that is to occur in the lives of humans (and angels), must attribute the existence of sin to God and not to man.

  4. Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that evil happens because God allows it. Sometimes they affirm omnipotence and omniscience (or that God is all-powerful and all-knowing). Arminians very wisely say that God, being sovereign, chose to allow this specific evil to happen for some good reasons only He knows. I would argue that this is pure Calvinism. Arminians often tell Calvinists that we make God to be Satan, for in our view God is the ultimate cause of evil in this world. But how is this “Arminian” idea that God’s choice to permit each specific evil different from Calvinism?

    Glad you asked. Arminianism can rightly claim that God permits evil while not willing it to happen or ordaining / planning for it to occur such that it must occur. This would be because God limits His power to allow FW choices including the consequences and damages of those He created.

    Calvinism can claim that God permits evil, but the right word is ordains evil. Thus the evil that occurs was determined and made necessary by God to occur rather than a forseen event (as in all views except OT). The latter is ruled out by the WCF. If the event is not foreseen then one has to wonder how God makes sure His will and all the events He deemed necessary will occur?


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