The 3rd Rail: Why the Middle View is Here to Stay

SBC Calvinianism-Arminianism Spectrum Chart Expanded

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

Calvinists and Traditionalists have been arguing, with varying degrees of amity and enmity, since the SBC was formed. But between these two (with slight overlap of both) is a less argumentative and more cooperative middle view. Because this middle view has commonalities with both Calvinism and Traditionalism, this group has little problem working with pastors and supporting missionaries from either end of the spectrum. However, this ability to cooperate leaves the middle position “out of sight and out of mind,” since we (I count myself among them) usually have little use for “in-house” theological debate*. When we encounter Calvinists who demand that God is the ultimate determiner of the destinies of men, we give a hearty, “Amen!”–and we respond the same when that other side demands that men have the free will and ability to choose otherwise. Now this doesn’t mean that we in the middle accept all that the two sides hold to–not at all. But whereas Calvinists deny the full, free will of men, and Traditionalists deny that God is the ultimate determiner of the destinies of men, we in the middle deny  neither. We affirm both because the plain-sense reading of Scripture affirms both–and we hold that revelation trumps philosophy and human reasoning. In other words, if something is plainly revealed in Scripture, then it is true whether or not we can explain it through human reasoning.

When forced to acknowledge the existence of the middle view, proponents of both ends of the spectrum will argue that God is not the author of contradiction, and claim that the middle involves contradictions in human reasoning. But is He not the God of revelation? So why is a supposed contradiction in human reasoning less acceptable than a contradiction of the word of God? While both sides claim that the middle accepts a logical contradiction, both will gladly show how the other side contradicts the plain revelation of Scripture. We in the middle ask, ought we not to  start  by ridding our view of anything that contradicts revelation and  only then  work out an explanation from human reasoning that is without logical contradiction?

Besides, we do not admit to accepting any contradiction–and neither side can prove any contradiction is involved except that which depends on their presuppositions (which we don’t share). One of those presuppositions shared by both ends but not the middle is that  if God determines events then it is by necessity (with no difference between necessity and certainty).  Calvinists embrace such a necessity-based determinism, while Traditionalists object to  any  determinism, as if determinism required necessity. But there is a middle option available, held by such Baptist centrists as Andrew Fuller, in which God is seen to determine men’s destinies through  certainty  alone and not by  necessity.  This distinction is lost on the two ends, since it is not needed by either’s theology and they’re only used to arguing with each other.

Necessity leaves no real alternative possibilities in this world. Every fork in the road is merely apparent, as the course is infallibly set. Calvinists affirm it and Traditionalists deny it. But remember that Middlers affirm  both  Scriptural principles, that God determines destinies and that men must freely choose. Certainty is the Biblical means by which both are true. Certainty does not remove from possibility all alternative courses of action, like necessity does. With certainty, a world of innumerable alternative possibilities exists, but it remains utterly certain which of the many possible courses of action will be chosen. With a scheme of necessity, men must be forcibly regenerated or they will perish, without any real choosing on their part. But certainty recognizes that men do have a choice of which they are indeed capable of making, and it recognizes both the warrant to offer salvation through Christ to all (even the nonelect) and the need for divine influence to “woo” and pursue and persuade free sinners to believe.

Necessity sees unbelief as an unfortunate circumstance; whereas certainty sees unbelief as the ultimate sin of rebellion, expressed as rejection of that inner ring of truth experienced by all who have been made in God’s image, as well as the witness of the Holy Spirit that always accompanies the preaching of the gospel. God need not hide His gospel when men are more than willing to reject it on their own. And God is fully able to persuade men without infringing on their free will. God is able to convince men of His truth, and align the sinner’s will with His own, such that the sinner sees that it is in his own best interest to surrender his life to God through the death of the cross, so that He may rise to life anew and eternal in Christ.

Of course, many will object that the middle is inferior merely because it is the middle–as if it were a compromise by the very definition of  middle.  But such objections beg the question–an unjustified assumption that the Biblical truth could not possibly be located in the center since the center is always a compromise between two sides. We in the middle encourage you to open your eyes to the fact that you both might be wrong. That middle might be not a fence but a third rail from which the Biblical truth radiates.

The next time that Calvinists and Traditionalists want to sit down and productively engage in discussing their differences, set a place at the table for us in the middle so that  all  Southern Baptists can have a voice—there may even be more of us in the middle than there are of you on the ends. If we can see that we’re all on the same spectrum, we might realize that our commonalities outweigh our differences.

  • (Among centrists, I’m the exceptionally argumentative type.)

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