Evangelical Systems Compared

This chart is my own personal attempt at sorting out the various belief systems found within the “evangelical” fold. I’m certain I’ve missed some, and I’m certain I’ve missed some sub-species of the various forms of thought I’ve put here. In other words, I might be all wet. But, it’s at least an attempt at sorting the mess out so people can understand it better.

Calvinism Arminianism “Free Grace”
Total Depravity Man is “dead,” a “slave to sin,” and hence unable to respond to God’s call. Even though man has a choice, he will never choose salvation of his own will or volition, because his will is enslaved to sin. 

God’s will is the primary mover; God only knows that which He has willed.

Man is “dead,” a “slave to sin,” and hence unable to respond to God’s call. Even though man has a choice, he will never choose salvation of his own will or volition, because his will is corrupted. Man is totally depraved in his actions and thinking, being a slave to sin, but slaves can still desire freedom. Men can, therefore, react to the Gospel through their volition, or will. 

Faith is not a work.

Note the final result here, in practical terms, is the same as a Moderate Calvinistic view of Total Depravity plus prevenient grace given to all men.

Unconditional Election Men are elected by God without regard to their merit, will, or volition. Men are elected through God’s will alone, because God only knows that which He has willed. 

In one school of moderate Calvinism, all men are given the grace to accept salvation, although all men do not. (This is actually similar to the Free Grace view explained to the right, expressed using different terminology).

In high Calvinism, only specific men, chosen to be saved, are given grace to be saved. (This view appears to make God capricious.)

Men are elected by God in light of His foreknowledge of their choice. All men are given grace to overcome total depravity and choose salvation. 

God’s knowledge is the primary mover; God only wills that which He knows.

Open Theism is an extreme form saying God doesn’t have foreknowledge of men’s choices, so men’s free will forces God to modify His plan to accommodate man’s will to His will.

Men are elected by God’s will and within His knowledge; will and knowledge are intertwined in salvation.  

God is balanced, using both will and knowledge to shape the future, choosing from among all possible outcomes with perfect middle knowledge. God’s will and knowledge interact, rather than one being dominant over the other.


Limited Atonement The atonement of Christ only paid for the sins of the elect; the sins of the “unelect” are not paid for. 

There are schools of moderate Calvinism that do not believe in limited atonement.

The atonement of Christ paid for all sins, or the atonement paid for the sins of all those who accept salvation through faith. The atonement of Christ paid for all sins; the atonement isn’t applied to an individual sinner until they accept Christ. 

The “Crossless Gospel” teaches you do not need knowledge to attain salvation, only a will to seek God.

(Irresistible) Grace If God elects you, you cannot refuse the election. God’s grace is irresistible. You can resist God’s grace. 

Note this interacts with election, above.

You can resist God’s grace within the bounds of God’s sovereignty and knowledge. 

This interacts with election, above, and is similar in its implications and thought process.

Persistence of the Saints Once you are saved, you are saved; there is no chance of losing your salvation. 

If you are saved, you will see signs of salvation (fruit) in your life. If you backslide, fall into persistent sin, or renounce Christ, you were not saved in the first place.

Lordship Salvation places an emphasis on the Lordship of Christ here, stating that unless you claim Christ as Lord over your life, you were not saved.

The “classical” view teaches that if you make an explicit rejection of Christ in this life, then you will lose your salvation. 

The “Weslyan” view teaches that if you slide into habitual sin, or do not continue on in spiritual growth, then you lose your salvation.

Once you are saved, you are saved; there is no chance of losing your salvation.
Justification and Sanctification Since regeneration occurs before salvation, justification and sanctification are the same thing. God’s irresistible grace will bring spiritual maturity in spite of your will (since your will is corrupted, and cannot choose God). 

Some forms state that once you are regenerated you are “free from sin,”  gaining responsibility for your own spiritual growth and maturity.

Justification is the first stage of salvation, sanctification (into spiritual maturity) the next, and then finally glorification. Justification guarantees sanctification, but not spiritual maturity; spiritual maturity is attained by walking in the spirit and changing the way we think to align with God’s. 

Lack of spiritual maturity results in loss of rewards in the Kingdom (not the eternal state).

I think these theological systems really differ more along the edges, than in the center, as the chart below shows.

That moderate Calvinists, classical Armininians, and “classical” Free Grace believers are really very close in their beliefs. It is only along the edges, at High Calvinism (perhaps Lordship Salvation), Open Theology, and the Crossless Gospel, that the war really wages. What happens most of the time seems to be someone who is a moderate Calvinist, say, attacks someone in the Crossless Gospel camp, and then decries all of Free Grace in the process (or the other way around).

In the center, it mostly becomes a matter of definitions, rather than practical differences.

  • Is man able to respond to the Gospel because God provided a certain level of grace to all, or because, in God’s grace, man has free will even through the fall? In practical terms, does it really matter?
  • If a man renounces Christ, is he no longer saved (Arminianism), he was never saved (Calvinism), or we’ve no idea what the status of his soul was in the first place (and we still don’t—Free Grace)? In practical terms, does it really matter?

There is a great deal of space for understanding, agreement, grace, and discussion in the middle of the chart, and there is a good deal of work to be done elsewhere, too much for us to be picking each other apart the way we currently do.