I've been studying the topic of Open Theism in comparison to other perspectives on God's sovereignty, omniscience, and man's free will.

As I understand it, on a scale spanning from full on deterministic fatalism to fully libertarian freedom, Hyper-Calvinism is on one extreme end and Pelagianism is on the other extreme. Since Calvinism allows for a form of free will, it is obviously not deterministic fatalism, but it's obviously close by. Also, as I understand it, Augustinianism is very similar to Calvinism (or, rather, vice versa since the former came first chronologically), and Semi-Pelagianism is approximately halfway between Augustinianism and Pelagianism.

My question, therefore, is two-fold:

  1. Does the above scale provide an accurate structure from which to understand the perspectives listed above?
  2. Where does Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism fall in comparison to the things listed above? In particular I've heard people effectively say that Arminianism is halfway between Calvinism and Semi-Pelagianism. Is that true, or is it closer to one than the other? I've also heard people describe Molinism as a variant of Arminianism. If true does it shift it towards Calvinism or away from it? Finally, it seems like Open Theism and Pelagianism are similar in that they exclusively focus in on either the nature of God or nature of man in ways fundamentally contrary to Scripture, and make vague statements on the nature of man or God.

Ultimately, I'm trying to get a big-picture overview of all these things and how they relate to one another, so if part of all of my understanding above is way off base, I'd appreciate an explanation of where I went off the rails, and how you would explain the relationship between all these things.

3 Answers 3


You kind of say it in your question; there are 3 dimensions to this (sovereignty, omniscience and free will), meaning there isn't a single-dimensional scale but a 3 dimensional cloud, not every axis of which is always covered by a given doctrine, and making this question a bit tricky to give a single answer to. I can try to summarize:

Hyper Calvinism: high on sovereignty, med-high on omniscience (not that they say there are truths God doesn't know, they would just say there are less truths than, say, a Molinist), zero on free will (I will use the term free will to refer to Libertarian free will, specifically)

Calvinism generally: high on sovereignty, medium to high on omniscience, medium to low for free will

Molinism: high on sovereignty, high on omniscience, high on free will

Open Theism: Med-low on sovereignty, low on omniscience (God knows all possible futures but not which one will actually happen), high on free will

Arminianism: High on free will (with the nuance of prevenient grace in many cases), medium to high on sovereignty (it's not really within the scope of the doctrine, various Arminians may differ), medium to high on omniscience (again not really within the scope)

Pelagianism is fairly specific and just to do with one aspect of free will, and I'm not sure about Augustinianism.

The above are very rough descriptions, some doctrines overlap more than others and ultimately there is no good answer to your question because you're wanting to compare apples and oranges. This is just where I would rank them, as a Molinist myself.


As I see it.

Calvinism/reformed is a belief that God predestined everything; the debate is mostly over individual salvation. Calvinism maintains that men preexisted creation in some form or other and were individually chosen to be saved helter-skelter, without rhyme or reason. Hence, Christ’s atonement is limited to only the elect.

Arminianism is derived from disagreeing with Calvinism's method of election. It objects to God just choosing the elect without rhyme or reason. Hence, the invention of “Prevenient Faith”. Arminianism tests each of these preexisting souls with prevenient faith, that is, each is given just enough faith to see whether they lean toward or against believing God, see which way the wind blows so to speak. Those who lean toward God get elected to salvation. This would also contradict limited atonement in that all are tested giving them a choice to lean toward God or not, hence salvation would be open to all. Further, since some lean toward God, all are not totally depraved. However, men are still individually predestined.

Somewhere along the line, it became the belief that Arminianism did not hold to individual predestination. People started saying they were Arminian just to say they did not believe in Calvinistic predestination. I call this modern or Neo-Arminianism.

Neo-Arminianism believes God just knows who will and will not be saved, not that he predetermined it, that it was a free will choice., God, as this belief surmises, is looking at the past, present, and future, all at once to see what happened to happen. Hence, he can not lay claim to being the causation of anything. No explanation is given as to where this past, present, and future came from that God did not know about and must look to see what happened. When pressed, they say God created it, which is tantamount to Calvinistic predestination.

Open Theology believes that everything is happening in real-time and that God is simply dealing with men as they come into existence naturally. Hence, there is no need for supplemental fabrications: preexisting souls, a history for God to see. Certain things are predestined such as the plan of salvation, the cross, final judgment, etc.; in between is room for free will, time and chance, and most importantly God’s judgments upon men and nations. Most of the course of history has been due to God's judgments upon the evil of men in real-time.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 KJV

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

There is one more, Universalism, which is the flip side of Calvinism. Neither could reconcile how Christ could have died for all and all not be saved. They cannot see the dual nature of eternal salvation. In consequence, Calvinism threw out salvation for all and introduced a limited atonement, just for the elect. Universalism went the other way and threw out eternal damnation and has all being saved eventually. They failed to see that Christ's death paid for the sins of the world and opened the door of salvation to all men, but each individual has to have their personal sins forgiven. The payment for sins was accomplished en masse, while forgiveness is done on an individual basis.

  • Thanks for your answer, but you didn't address Augustinianism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Molinism. Also, I get the impression this is heavily biased towards Open Theism.
    – tlewis3348
    Commented May 18 at 23:07
  • Open theology only addresses biblical election and God's foreknowledge. It can be boil down to one question, is history open or closed? Calvinism/Reformed, Arminians, Neo-Arminianism, all have history closed, completed, unchanging. Open Theology has history open, running in real time able to handle God's limited redetermination, free will, as well as time and chance. Commented May 20 at 1:26
  • 1
    I cannot handle these Stach Exchange rules limiting the length of comments and time to make one. I now remember why I left off with it. Commented May 20 at 1:37
  • The comment length rules are there for a reason; if you find a comment exceeding them, it's often a sign the comment is not suitable and either a separate answer should be written, or the conversation should move to chat Commented May 20 at 2:45
  • What reason could there be for having to edit a comment within 5 min? I think, I write, I think, I edit, I think some more, I edit some more. It too complicated for this old dog. Commented May 21 at 4:07

You should study the work of William Lane Craig on this topic, since it is mainly philosophical rather than theological. First, we should separate the theological implication of salvation (soteriology) where these positions differ, that is monergism and synergism. The philosophical implication is fatalism/Gnosticism vs freewill/ responsibility. Augustin Vs Pelagius.

Arminianism is an attempt to reject Calvinism for its fatalistic implications to push the doctrines of holiness and responsibility of man. However, it presupposes the reformed total-depravity by its need to cancel or counteract it through the universal prevenient grace, which is nothing but a formal negation of total depravity to render man neuter to accept or reject God. The soteriological intention is commendable, however it fails on the philosophical grounds of its weak omniscience and no predestination.

Dr Craig explains Arminianism:

Now, modern day Arminianism tends to be very different from Molinism. Modern day Arminianism affirms that we have free will and that the way that God knows the future is by, so to speak, looking ahead into the future and seeing what will happen. And knowing then what will happen, he decrees that it will happen. Well, this is an extremely weak doctrine of foreordination and predestination because it's a sort of fifth wheel. If God knows that it will happen, there's no point in decreeing that it will happen; it does nothing. So Molinism is rather different. It says that logically prior to God's decree to create a particular world, he knew all of the different orders of things that would be feasible for him to create given human freedom. Then he chooses one of these orders knowing exactly how the creatures would freely react if they were in those circumstances. And so he decrees that those people should exist and that they should be in those circumstances. Thus, he knows exactly what they will do. So, in this case, God's decree of a world is logically prior to his knowledge of what will happen. His knowledge of what will happen is based upon his middle knowledge of what creatures would freely do in any circumstances and his knowledge of his own divine decree.

  • Calvinism:
    It is correct that Augustin was a Calvinist, or Calvinism has direct roots in Augustin since he came from the Gnostic philosophy, the most widespread world-view in ancient times spread throughout the world. Calvinism is indeed determinism. There is no other valid form of freewill than the actual freewill or volition, the ability of determining our own decisions, being self-determinant. Redefining terms is not a confident and reasonable way for any argument. The moral or theological aspect of freewill under total-depravity is different from the metaphysical-libertarianism. This moral-freewill is defined by its limitation to choose good. It should be also noted that the distinction of hyper-Calvinism is also unnecessary, since it may simply be the issue of taking fatalism or denial of freewill to God himself, by making him a subject to predestination by some other constraints. Hyper-Calvinism is not a different version of Calvinism, it's one and the same thing.

Catholic councils rejected Augustin's fatalism in the 6th century council of Orange, and 16th century council of Trent. It affirmed monergism by condemning Pelagian, since Pelagius rejected not only fatalism, but preached that man is made pure and neutral, not totally depraved, which is an indirect rejection of monergism or original sin and the mandatory religious conversion for salvation. In denying total depravity, Pelagianism affirms the natural immunity against the problem of sin.

There is no such thing as semi-Pelagianism or semi-Augustinism. These positions are mutually exclusive: fatalism vs freewill; and monergism vs synergism. Some Calvinists have rightly described that the characterisation of semi-Pelagianism is misleading, that it is actually Pelagianism. They conclude that freewill itself is the characteristic of Pelagianism, since it gives the ability to man to either choose good or bad. Under the philosophical angle, in this minimalistic view, it is completely valid to describe that freewill itself leads to synergism (Pelagianism). Essentially, freewill leads to synergism, where man is responsible for his salvation. Free will is seen as a conflict with the sovereignty of God under Calvinism.

  • Molinism
    Molinism fits perfectly between the positions, which either rejects man's freewill or God's sovereignty/omniscience. Some Calvinists may characterise it as close to Arminianism for having freewill, and the Arminians calls it a sophisticated version of Calvinism for its acceptance of predestination.

Molinism conforms with the Pelagian soteriology, where it gives room for salvation out of religion, even those uninformed of the Gospel of Jesus. Basically, we can even conclude that the view that if anyone enters in heaven without the aid of religion, such as infant baptism or faith, such as dead children, is eventually Pelagianism.

Summary: I want to stress that the three doctrines are separate and there is no overlap among them. The main separation is of soteriology where Molinism and Arminianism falls under Pelagianism, even though proponents of both sides may deny this. Philosophically, on the matter of freewill vs sovereignty, the distinction is quite explicit. Calvinism denies freewill, turning man into a mere puppet. Open theism denies God's sovereignty or foreknowledge, as expressed in the word Open, where future is open to God himself. Molinism perfectly solves this traditional false dilemma between freewill and predestination, and thus most appealing and reasonable for scholars.

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