Archive Mark Jones Reformed Irenicism

Why All Arminians Are Calvinists

I want to put forth an argument against Arminianism based upon an internal flaw within the Arminian scheme of predestination.

My argument, simply stated:

“The Arminian position on predestination is inescapably Calvinistic (of sorts). Because this is so, the only option is to embrace open theism or Calvinism.”

In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina (1535–1600) proposed the idea of middle knowledge, later embraced (but modified) by Jacob Arminius (1560–1609).

This view became known as Molinism. It may be that Molina’s “middle knowledge” refers to freedom of choices, not predestination. Later Arminians likely hijacked Molina’s middle knowledge for their own purposes. In other words, Molina is not the bad guy we have assumed him to be, which places the Arminians in a precarious position of being innovators of sorts.

Arminians generally hold that God could know, prior to choosing individuals, what a given number of human beings, who are free, will do in certain circumstances. In other words, God knows both what actually will happen and what might possibly happen under given conditions.

As a result, for the Arminian, God elects based on his “middle knowledge” that certain individuals will respond favourably to the gospel under specific circumstances. God does not elect independently and unconditionally in Christ but “reacts” to the foreknown choice of a finite being. He chooses based on a future conditional (choice).

If God’s foreknowledge depends on future conditionals, it needs to be asked whether he remains ignorant in some sense (hence, “open theism”). But that is another issue for another time.

In the Arminian scheme, God “sees” what would happen based on a conditional future and then chooses based on what he “sees” take place in a purely conditional world. In this scheme, God knows conditionals conditionally.

In sum, Arminianism introduces a separate category, in which the human decision becomes the causal factor that determines the event. It is a form of semi-pelagianism.

However, there is a flaw that I wish to bring attention to in this scheme, and it is one that I’ve not seen raised before. It may well be that someone has, but I have not yet read of this particular argument.

The Flaw

First, surely we would all agree that God has knowledge of all possible worlds. His knowledge is not limited to one world, but all possible worlds in which there are an infinite number of possibilities (e.g., no dogs in a given world).

Because of his absolute freedom, God was not coerced into creating this particular world in which we live. Theoretically, he could have created a different particular world based on his knowledge of an infinite number of other possible worlds.

By electing based upon a future conditional, God is electing based upon a certain possible world that he then chooses to bring into existence. Hence this world in which we live.

In this world (i.e., possible world A), he chooses {person x} based upon foreseen faith.

But in this same world, he does not choose {person y} because there was no foreseen faith.

Person x is predestinated to eternal life but person y is not predestined. All because person x believed (out of the freedom of his will) based on a future conditional.

However, in another possible world (i.e., possible world B), {person y} believes whereas {person x} does not.

We must ask ourselves this question:

Why does God choose to bring into existence possible world A but not possible world B? 

He does so, says the Calvinist, because of his free, sovereign decision to create possible world A but not possible world B. But the Arminian must concede that God therefore elects a world in which some believe and so do not when he could have elected a different world in which the outcomes would be different. In the end, election is still ultimately God’s choice.

Could God have brought into existence possible world B? Of course. The fact that he does not bring into existence possible world B shows that he is therefore electing {person x} over and against {person y} because he could have brought into existence a different possible world (possible world B) whereby {person y} would be saved.

In the end, for the Arminian, God still elects. He elects a certain world in which some have foreseen faith and others don’t when in fact he could have chosen to create a different world in which different people would be saved. The Arminian cannot escape sovereign election. In some sense, the Arminian is still a Calvinist, even if they are “anonymous Calvinists”.

Of course, middle knowledge is silly. It is semi-Pelagian. It bows to the god of human freedom and makes God the servant of humans. But even when this is done, the Arminian cannot escape a form of Calvinism where, ultimately, God elects based upon his own sovereign choice. No wonder, then, that so many Arminians have gone Socinian or turned into Open Theists. Or they turn to Leibniz and argue God chose this world because it is the best of all possible worlds.


By Mark Jones

The Rev. Dr. Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden Universiteit) has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. Dr. Jones is the author of several books, including Knowing Christ, God Is, Living For God (2020 Crossway).

9 replies on “Why All Arminians Are Calvinists”

They could respond that there is no possible world where person y exists and freely believes. So God had no possible world available to him where person y freely believes. Person y freely rejects Christ in every possible world where person y exists. Given their commitment to libertarian freedom, it seems it can’t be the case that there is no possible world where person y freely believes. To affirm that would seem to entail person y doesn’t have libertarian freedom, because person y can freely believe or not, which is to say (A) there is at least one possible world where person y freely believes. To say (A) means there was a possible world available to God where person y freely believes.

Doesn’t this miss the point of why many Arminians affirm Arminianism? True–“in the end, for the Arminian, God still elects”. But, for the Arminian, anyone who does not turn to Christ *could* have turned to Christ. That is to say, there are possible worlds where he does.

This is similar to WLC’s trans-world damnation view, but he wouldn’t say there’s no possible world (which would seem problematic for libertarian freedom) but only that there is no feasible world in which a reprobate person freely believes in Christ.

The absence of the Rev. Dr. Mark Jones on Twitter is a loss for the medium, if not for the Dr.

Something like that argument has been rattling around in my head for years. I think I’ve found a simpler form starting from creation ex nihilo.

God creates everything that is not himself from nothing. Everything must be one or the other, either God himself or something God makes. Time is not God therefore time is part of creation and God transcends it. It has its being in him, not vice versa. You could say he creates all history at once and be closer to the truth than assuming as we tend to that time is his natural habitat the way it is ours.

I remember bringing this up with a passing acquaintance almost twenty years ago. His response was that I was twisting words, using invalid logic (though he couldn’t demonstrate this), and probably an unbeliever since I didn’t agree with him. “I wonder what they DO teach them at these schools.” – Professor Kirke (via C.S.Lewis)

How can this response work? It seems to make the reprobate’s rejection of Christ necessary rather than contingent.

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