All is not unified within the family of believers who identify themselves as Calvinist. Framed by the the five points of the TULIP, each point dependent on the others, this theological system is pulled and disassembled by many adherents as they pick and choose which of the five petals they agree with. We find in our relationships and the abundant literature an array of four, three, and even one-point Calvinists. Norman Geisler is among those who self-identify as Calvinist but who provide a modifier for the label – Moderate. He uses the term ‘moderate’ to differentiate theology that differs from ‘Extreme Calvinists’ (Strong Calvinists in later writings) who are ‘more Calvinist than Calvin.’ Geisler enumerates the differences that he notes in his book Chosen But Free so I will leave the details to your further reading but the table below (CBF, pg 120) summarizes the difference as we focus on this ‘moderate’ take on Perseverance.
|TULIP||Extreme Calvinism||Moderate Calvinism|
|Total Depravity||Intensive (destructive)||Extensive (corruptive)|
|Unconditional Election||No condition for God or man||No condition for God; One condition for man (faith)|
|Limited Atonement||Limited in extent (only for elect)||Limited in result (but for all men)|
|Irresistible Grace||In compulsive sense (against man’s will)||In persuasive sense (in accordance with man’s will)|
|Perseverance of the Saints||No saint will die in sin||No saint will ever be lost (even if he dies in sin)|
Moderate Calvinists (recognizing Geisler as the spokesman) confirm that believers will persevere until the end with no possibility of losing their salvation through act or belief. The Strong Calvinist position is that no saint will die in sin and that all will be faithful until the end. Unifying the P with the rest of the TULIP, this faithfulness is a foregone product of the other four points. In other words, the saint will be faithful because he or she is unable to do otherwise, thus countering the promises of Election as interpreted by Augustine and Calvin. The Moderate view differs in lessening the requirement of faith saying “moderate Calvinists hold that even if some true believers are not faithful until death, nonetheless, God will still be faithful to them.” (CBF pg 101)
If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim 2:13)
A subtle difference, it seems, is the divide between assurance and security. The Strong Calvinist finds themselves in a position where they have no earthly assurance of their eternal state – one cannot know if one is elect or not. The elect are secure in their salvation but they must persevere to the end in order to find out upon meeting the Lord. Assuming one’s state is ‘false assurance’. As Sproul asserts, “we may think that we have faith when in fact we have no faith.” (Chosen by God, pg 165-66) The Strong will point to apparent believers who fall away, thus not persevering until the end, as clear evidence that they were not true believers or among the Elect. Backsliding for a season of life should render one anxious about their eternal status then given the lack of present assurance. The Moderate believes that one can have both assurance and security.
Assurance leads the believer into a more productive Christian life and the Moderate Calvinist points to this in extolling their framework. Geisler quotes the Puritan writer Thomas Brooks, “Being in a state of grace will yield a man a heaven hereafter, but seeing of himself in this state will yield him both a heaven here and a heaven hereafter.” The Scriptures encourage us to seek this assurance:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. (2 Cor 13:5)
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1:10-11)
As John wrote:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
Ultimately, both the Strong and Moderate Calvinist assert that the Elect will persevere and be gathered home for eternity in heaven. Article III of the Canons of Dort states the Calvinist position stand: “But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end. While not the only difference theologically, the distinction with regard to this perseverance is that the Strong Calvinist does not believe that one can be assured of his or her eternal state while the Moderate says that present assurance is available and is an important part of the Christian life here in the world.