Glossary

This list will let you know what I mean when I use the following terms:

Accessibilism is the belief that every human being receives divine revelation that is sufficient for salvation, because the faith that is instrumental in justifying sinners is appropriate to the revelation which God has given of himself to an individual. Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world, but not all those who are saved by his atoning work know about it. This understanding has also been called “inclusivism,” but “accessibilism” identifies more clearly the core conviction of this position, that saving revelation is universally accessible.

Apophatic Theology. The way of apophasis, or negation, in contrast to the way of cataphasis, or affirmation, as the basis for knowing God.

Calminianism is the belief that one can stand on the middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism, affirming simultaneously that God determines whom he will save and that libertarianly free creatures make this determination. The idea  is widespread among evangelicals at a popular level, but is rarely encountered in theological literature.

Compatibilism contends that a person can act freely even though that action is determined by God. This is affirmed in 3 different ways:

1) To the soft compatibilist, actions are free if the actors do them voluntarily or willingly, without coercion by anything outside of themselves., even though their actions may be predictable as an expression of their own desires.

2) Hard compatibilists, on the other hand, affirm that moral creatures are libertarianly free but that their freedom is consistent with God’s determination of all their actions.

3) Mysterian compatibilists may be agnostic about the nature of the freedom God has given to human creatures, but they are sure that humans are morally responsible even though they always act according to God’s eternal purpose, and they affirm that Scripture does not explain how these truths are compatible with one another.

Counterfactuals are events that do not in fact occur but that would occur if the circumstances were different. They are hypothetical but true, as hypotheses about what would pertain in a given situation if it were realized, although this particular situation never actually occurs.

More formally, they could be defined as: conditional propositions stating with respect to one or more free creatures God might create what each would do if placed in any possible situation in which they are left free.

Determinism. In the scientific sense, determinism is the theory that each event is necessarily as it is because of the factors or events that precede it. Theological determinism believes that events are as they are because God has determined they should be so. There is an ongoing controversy between compatibilists and incompatibilists whether a human act can be both free on the part of the human actor and determined by God. (See also “hard determinism” and “soft determinism.”)

Five-point Calvinism is the affirmation of the conclusions of the Synod of Dort. In the past century or so, the 5 points have commonly been referred to by the acronym TULIP, referring to total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.

With regard to the third of these points, concerning the atoning work of the Son, there were two approaches among the delegates to Dort and a consensus was achieved between them which accommodated both their views. Together, they asserted the universal sufficiency of Christ for all people and its particular effectiveness for the elect.

Dort stated that Christ’s death was “of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Art. III). This grounded the free offer of the gospel “to all persons promiscuously and without distinction.” (Art. V). Although many people do not repent or believe in Christ and “perish in unbelief,”  “this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Art. VI).

Dort also stated that “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death” (Art. VIII). (It is at this point that Arminians disagree with Calvinists.)

The two perspectives present at Dort, and incorporated in its Canons, have continued within Calvinism. These can be described as follows:

1) The atoning work of Christ should be understood in pecuniary terms and it had a single intent. That is to say, Christ died with the single purpose of redeeming the elect, and his death should be viewed as a payment for the sins of those individuals, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands. All for whom Christ died must therefore be saved.

 2) The atoning work of Christ should be understood in judicial terms and it had a double intent. That is to say, Christ died with a purpose concerning the provision of his atoning work and a purpose concerning the application of that work. The first represents the universal sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work, and the second represents the effective application of that work in the salvation of the elect. In this view, the atonement is conceived in judicial (rather than pecuniary) terms. Jesus died to make perfect satisfaction for human sin, bearing the curse of the law and of the Father’s wrath against sinners, so that God can justly vindicate all to whom the benefits of Christ’s death are then applied. In this regard, he died “for all.”

 Within Calvinism, proponents of the second (double intent) perspective have frequently been dubbed “four-point Calvinists.” This is historically unjustified and it is both misleading and confusing. The term “four-point Calvinism” should be reserved for those who, like Arminians, affirm a single, universal and provisional, intent for the atonement. These people disagree with Dort’s perspective as enunciated in Article VIII (see above).

Four-point Calvinism  affirms the T, U, I, and P of TULIP [see “five-point Calvinism”], but it rejects the assertion of the Canons of Dort that “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation’ (Art. VIII). On this issue, it agrees with Arminianism that there was a single intent for the atonement and that it was universal and provisional.

Grounding objection to Molinism: If creatures are libertarianly free, as Molinism states, it is impossible, even for God, to predict how they would act in situations which do not occur. Nothing grounds the truth of counterfactual statements of creatures who are free to do or to refrain from doing a particular action, all other things in the situation being the same.

Hard compatibilism. See “compatibilism.”

Hard determinism, as contrasted with soft determinism, is mechanistic in its assumption that an event is completely the product of the preceding state so that the idea that the event was brought about by someone’s will is completely illusory.

Hypothetical knowledge Calvinism asserts that moral creatures have the (soft compatibilist) freedom of spontaneity, and that God knows naturally or necessarily what every sort of person would do in every possible set of circumstances. It further asserts that God makes use of this knowledge in determining which of all the possible worlds he will actualize.

Inclusivism. See “accessibilism.”

Incompatibilism insists that people do not act freely if their action is determined by God even if they act willingly. It posits that genuine freedom must be libertarian and indeterminate.

Libertarian freedom is the state of freedom in which there is a real possibility that one could make at least two different choices in exactly the same circumstances, both external and internal. It is frequently referred to as the “power of contrary choice” and is the type of freedom affirmed by “incompatibilists.” Some compatibilists (such as Thomists) also affirm libertarian freedom.

Middle Knowledge (see “Molinism”).

Molinism designates the theory described by Luis de Molina (1535-1600). He argued for three logical moments in God’s knowledge: natural/necessary, middle and free, instead of the two that had classically been affirmed: natural/necessary and free. In God’s middle knowledge, he knows all true counterfactuals, that is, everything that would happen in every possible situation. This position is often discussed in terms of possible worlds. God knew all the possible worlds and chose one of them to actualize. In that world, creatures are libertarianly free.

Monergism is the belief that God determines everything that occurs in the history of creation, having planned it, in every detail, in eternity.

Mysterian compatibilism. See “compatibilism.”

Open Theism affirms that the future is open for God as well as for us. God does not know the future comprehensively because the future acts of libertarianly free creatures are unknowable. They do not exist until those creatures choose to do them. Thus God is omniscient, knowing everything that can be known.

Soft compatibilism. See “compatibilism.”

Soft determinism. Essentially the same thing as compatibilism, soft determinism affirms that everything is determined by God, but it denies that this can be understood in regard to moral creatures in a mechanistic fashion analogous to the form of determinism that may occur in the physical world.

Synergism is the belief that God does not determine all that occurs in the history of creation but that, though sovereign, God has chosen not to have this kind of control in the world. Normally, historical events therefore come about through the combined action of God and created agents but, ultimately, they are usually determined by moral creatures acting with libertarian freedom. God may, however, choose to over-ride the libertarian freedom of a moral creature, if his plan for the world necessitates it. This would be exceptional and, in such a case the creaturely agents bear no moral responsibility for their acts.Historical events therefore come about through the combined action of God and created agents, but they are ultimately determined by moral creatures.

 

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