Trinitarian theology---Calvinist or Arminian?

Jacob Arminius
John Calvin
Unfortunately, some try to force-fit Trinitarian theology into the continuum that exists between Calvinism  and Arminianism. Doing so overlooks (or at least oversimplifies) the history of Christian theology, which goes back to the Apostles and from there flows in multiple streams, including Orthodox streams in the East; and Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopal and other streams in the West.

Contrary to common misunderstandings held by some (many?) Western Protestants, Calvinism and Arminianism are not the only theological "games in town." Trying to locate Trinitarian theology within the continuum between those dueling theologies is like trying to force the proverbial square peg into a round hole. The result, often, is badly misinformed criticism of Trinitarian theology.

Martin Luther
In a recent post on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) professor Douglas Sweeney showed how trying to fit Lutheran theology into the Calvinist-Arminian continuum is a similar mistake. He concludes the blog post, titled "Was Luther a Calvinist?" with these words:
The wrong thing to that Lutherans are hesitant Calvinists, or two-and-a-half-point Calvinists, or imperfect Arminians. Lutherans are Lutherans. Their theological frame of reference is not closely related to the Calvinist-Arminian continuum. Lutherans have their own theological history, one that has contributed in major ways to the evangelical movement. 
There are, of course, similarities between all Christian theologies. Trinitarian theology does have common ground with Calvinism and Arminianism. But there are important differences. We do an injustice to all theologies when we try to force them into the grid of another. Instead, we should evaluate each one on its own merits, comparing it principally to the revelation of Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus is ultimate Theology. His person and work (which are inseparable) constitute the complete and final revelation of the true knowledge of God. Every Christian theology, being faithful to the orthodox, historical, Christian faith (as summarized in the early creeds), bears something about this true knowledge of God (i.e. true theology). There are similarities that can and should be noted, and the truths found should be appreciated and embraced. But there are real differences to be noted (without demonizing any of them). Within my tribe (Grace Communion International), we find incarnational, Trinitarian theology to be the most faithful representation of the theology found in the person and work of Jesus--his revelation of the nature and work of God.

The roots of that theology are found in the writings of the Apostles. It was then developed by some early church leaders (most notably Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers--pictured below). These leaders sought to understand the theology that upholds the truth concerning Jesus given in Scripture and through the church's life in the Spirit.

T.F. Torrance
The teachings of these early church theologians greatly impacted the formulation of the Nicene Creed. Their teachings then informed 19th Century theologians like George MacDonald and 20th Century theologians like Karl Barth, T.F. Torrance and J.B. Torrance. Through prayerful study of Scripture and the writings of these and other Trinitarian theologians, the Spirit led GCI to what it sees as a more accurate understanding of the incarnational, Trinitarian theology that underlies the doctrines of the Christian faith.

To learn more about this theology, read GCI's booklet, The God Revealed in Jesus Christ. To learn more about T.F. Torrance, click here to read chapter one of Myk Habet's helpful book, Theology in Transposition.


  1. Tkach: After much thought, we're now Protestant.
    Clerics: Good.. So are you Calvinist or Arminian?
    Ted J.: Don't know, we should rely primarily on Jesus' words for this.
    Critics: You mean you trust the Gospels in a post Jesus Seminar era?

    1. Dear Minimalist: It would be more accurate to say that after much thought we embraced the historic, orthodox Christian faith that aligns to some extent with the views of the reformers, but to a larger extent takes us back to the theological vision and core doctrine of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creeds. Thus we do not align fully with either Calvinism or Arminianism--the dominant theological strands of Western Protestantism. That was the main point of this post on which you commented.

  2. I have heard and read a little on Trinitarian Theology, and some of the points get me thinking of Lutheran theology as opposed to Calvin/Armenian. I understand, as you point out here, that Trinitarian Theology cannot really fit in to Calvin/Armenian "spectrum" as it questions and answers in a different way, but could potentially be compared/contrasted, as some have tried. Is there any place I could find such a comparison and contrast (for want of a better way of putting it) more between Trinitarian Theology and Lutheran (particularly one that actually understands Lutheran theology)? I've been looking for one, and it's not so easy to find. Thanks

    1. Good question Kandl. I personally am not well informed concerning Lutheran theology, but here are a couple of online articles that might help address your question (and perhaps other readers can be of assistance):


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