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Low vs. High-Calvinism

Note: In the following correspondence, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My replies are in red.

Exchange #1

>Subject: A quick question about low-Calvinist view of the creation/ fall


I just finished my freshman year in college, have held Calvinist views for a few years now, really enjoy the realm of theological study. I have read a little about the classifications such as low and high Calvinism, not too familiar with the precise differences, haven't been concerned with what official/unofficial category I would call myself, but anyway I was reading on your site and had a question about the low-Calvinist view of the creation/fall.

At least to me, it seems that "high-Calvinism" is a more consistent relationship of beliefs, at least in my current understanding of the differences between "high" and "low." Since God is sovereign and omniscient, when creating humanity He would know that Adam and Eve would fall, (regardless of whether it was a "free-will" choice, depending on how you define that is it even possible?) and because of that God in a way for-ordains some for salvation and the rest for damnation.

It seems to me that the difference between low and high Calvinism is perhaps one of euphemisms? "High" saying that God predestined some for damnation while "low" says God allows their sin to condemn them without his intercession, either way God is doing the same thing.

Thanks for your time I would appreciate any response concerning these differences between high and low views.


You basically have it correct. To define it more technically, in high-Calvinism (supralapsarianism) before ("supra") the Fall ("laspe") to glorify Himself God decided to create. In doing so, He decided to create some in order to save them and to create some in order to damn them. The saved would then glorify God when they see the plight of the damned.

In low-Calvinism (sublapsarianism), to glorify Himself and to extend His love, God decided to crate. Then after ("sub") the Fall, God looked down the corridors of time at all of the people that born, and He decided to save some of them, while rightly damning the rest for their sins.

Of course, in both views God knew ahead of time what would happen and what He would do. That is why this is called the "logical order of decrees." It is not a temporal time-line. But the main point is that in the high view God creates some in order to damn them while in the low the damned are damned for their sins.

Probably both can be defended from Scripture depending on how important verses are interpreted, but personally I agree with the low view. The high view simply is too harsh for me.

I hope that helps.

Exchange #2

>Thanks, I really appreciate you taking time to reply. Then, to me it seems that there is no real difference in God's actions in one view from the other (high and low Calvinism), but the difference in classifying is simply a difference in the way one prefers to explain the same idea to others. Would this be correct?<

I think there is a real difference, but it subtle. It has to do with God's purpose or intent in creating.

>And on that note, I don't quite understand your view of harshness concerning supra over sub. Do you mean that in explaining Calvinism to others or in witnessing to non-believers, you prefer to explain it from the sub point of view? If that's what you mean I understand that completely.

But, do you mean that you think that the supra view is incorrect or flawed? I don't understand how this could be because it seems to me that the views are different ways of viewing the same fact.<

Probably both. I don't think the verses that high-Calvinists use are "strong" enough to support their position.

>My thinking: God is perfectly sovereign and omniscient; it would be impossible for him to create Adam and Eve and yet be ignorant of the resultant actions of his creatures, the Fall. So then the Fall was pre-destined. So then God also planned and knew of the results of the fall, and how no one could come to Him without his regenerating intervention on the heart.<

Foreknowledge does not necessarily equal predestined. I can know for a certainty that something is going to happen without causing it to happen. In the case of God, it's the distinction between Him causing something and allowing something. They're not the same.

>So whether you take the low-Calvinist view and say that God justly damns the unsaved for their sin, or say in the high-Calvinist view God planned to damn them before the Fall, they mean the same thing. Even in the low-Calvinist view, because of God's omniscience and sovereignty it must be admitted that he knew who would be saved and damned before the Fall, just like the high-Calvinist view. In either view God's attributes and characteristics do not differ. The two views are in agreement, but different ways of explaining it. At least this is my understanding. I'd appreciate further comments about this, again thanks for your time.



There's a difference between God knowing that He would damn people if He created and Him creating people for the purpose of damning them.

Exchange #3

>Ah, the key point then is whether one believes that foreknowledge implies pre-destination. I am a little surprised, isn't your explanation of foreknowledge the same that Arminians' use to debate the idea that God's election of Christians was not His divine providence, pre-destination, but his response to his foreknowledge of who would "freely" choose? I had thought that this was a major point upon which Calvinists differed from Arminians, the meaning of pre-destination and foreknowledge in the Scriptures. I am not trying to put words in your mouth, just noting a similarity that I see, please correct me if I'm wrong.

As far as debating that foreknowledge does imply pre-destination, I have thought about the topic this way, and heard others explain it similarly I think. Ordinarily if someone had foreknowledge of an event it would not at all mean that they had control over it and had pre-destined it. I.e. if Martha Stewart knows that a stock will fall, it does not mean she was responsible for causing it.

However I think that the idea is different with God, because God is the sovereign creator of what he foreknows. He is not a passive bystander who can view something as happening from sidelines as humans can, because humans are not God, not sovereign creators. Humans make choices for reasons, because of various influences in our lives.

As you have said on your site God ordains the ends but also the means (I think this was in the context of evangelism, but could the same principle apply to other things?). After all, would it not take a lack of sovereignty or lack of omniscience on God's part, in other words a lack of being God, to create something and yet not also be aware of and creating the causations which lead to it?

God is not bound by time, so he would be aware of something's future destiny at the moment of creation, or perhaps before, after all how can we assign a tangible moment of time to a receiving of omniscience? So God would by necessity of his attributes not only create something, but also create the influences and reasons that cause it to be. Concerning the Fall, God created Adam and Eve, with their attributes, personalities, weaknesses, etc. and it seems to me that for God to only know they would fall, and yet not be responsible for it, God's sovereignty must have been lost somewhere in the process. That is my current understanding of it.

I guess I may tend to ramble when talking about this, or have a hard time conveying what I mean, hopefully I have carried a point across. Thanks,



Your "quick question" has turned into a long theological discussion. But I'll try to answer only because I am planning on posting this discussion on my site.

That said, a clarification on some issues will help to answer your questions. And it regards the different perspectives' attitudes toward human nature. I will start with low-Calvinism first.

Low Calvinism believes the following about human nature:
Before the Fall:
Able not to sin/ able to do good.
After the Fall: Not able not to sin/ not able to do good.
After regeneration: Able not to sin/ able to do good.
After glorification: Not able to sin/ only able to do good.

Now, what this means is, in low-Calvinism, there is "free-will" but only in regards to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were created with such a nature that they could have not sinned. God, fore-knew that they would sin, but He did not create them with such a nature that they *had* to sin.

After their sin, their natures were corrupted so that now were no longer able not to sin. And they passed this corrupted nature onto all of their descendents. So we all are no not able not to sin.

The important point here is that Adam was our "representative." What he did in the Garden we all would have done if it has been us. IOW, even without a sin nature, we still would have sinned. So it can be said we are sinners by nature and by choice.

It is for this reason that the Scriptures teach:
For this reason, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death; and thus death passed through [or, extended] to all people, for that [or, because] all sinned (Rom 5:12).

For just as in Adam all die, in the same way also in Christ all will be given life (1Cor 15:22).

among whom also _we_ at one time lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts [fig., senses], and we were by nature children of wrath, as also the others (Eph 2:3; ALT).

Now, in high-Calvinism, the scenario is as follows:
Before the Fall:
Not able not to sin/ not able to do good.
After the Fall: Not able not to sin/ not able to do good.
After regeneration: Able not to sin/ able to do good.
After glorification: Not able to sin/ only able to do good.

To explain, in high-Calvinism Adam was created in such a way that he *had* to sin. There was no choice involved. God both foreknew and predestined that Adam would sin. So your comments are in line with high-Calvinism but not with low-Calvinism. The supporting passage for this view is Romans 9:18-24.

Now my concern with the high-Calvinism view is that it means God created Adam with a sin nature. So it could be argued that this makes God the author of sin. Moreover, it is not really true that sin entered the world through Adam. God is the One who initiated sin and death. It was His plan and intent.

And it would not be not true that we died in Adam, we never were alive because Adam, our representative, was never alive. He was dead in sin from the start. As for the Romans passage, I believe it refers to us now and not to Adam.

For comparison, the Arminian scenario would be as follows:
Before the Fall:
Able not to sin/ Able to do good.
After the Fall:
Able not to sin/ Able to do good.
After regeneration:
Able not to sin/ able to do good.
After glorification:
Not able to sin/ only able to do good.

Now some Arminians would argue that after the fall people are not able not to sin. But the main sin here is of rejecting Christ. Moreover, Arminians argue that people can, of their own free will, do the "good" of accepting Christ. So the main point is, people are not completely "sinners by nature."

So basically, what low-Calvinists teach about Adam and Eve only, Arminians teach about all people before regeneration. In their view, we all have such a nature that we can do good and not sin.

So the main difference regards the passing on of the sin nature. Arminians teach we are not totally dead in sin while low-Calvinists do. But the Scriptures teach, "And _you*_ being dead in transgressions and sins" (Eph 2:1; ALT).

I hope the above clarifies things!

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Calvinism - Limited Atonement and Free-will
Calvinism (Reformed Theology)

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