The Principle of Excluded Middle, according to oxforddictionaries.com, is “the principle that one (and one only) of two contradictory propositions must be true.” The Principle of Excluded Middle (PEM)is one I learned coming to seminary, but it’s a principle that just makes sense when applied to all of life. For example, as I was instructed in my theology classes, a light bulb is “either on or off; it cannot be both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time, in the same way.” This leads to a contradiction (where both “on” and “off,” two logical opposites, coexist at the same time in the same way).
One can easily apply this to genders: for the evangelical community, an “androgynous” gender (one that integrates both male and female traits) is impossible, simply because there are two genders in the world---male and female. Scripture itself confirms the PEM on this one; Genesis tells us that God made only two genders. “Male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27, NKJV). There is no transgender, asexual sex.
When it comes to soteriological systems, particularly the theologies of 1) Calvinism, 2) Arminianism, and 3) Molinism, or 4) some “Calminian” combination of 4 points Arminian and 1 pt. Calvinist, or 4 pts. Calvinist, 1 pt. Arminian, etc., the principle of excluded middle can apply. If two things are contradictory and only one can be right (because to affirm both leads to contradiction), then both cannot be right at the same time in the same way.
Let’s start with the soteriological systems of Calvinism and Arminianism. Are Calvinism and Arminianism soteriological opposites? Yes they are. Before I go on, let me demonstrate that both systems oppose each other. We can see this by comparing the five points of each system.
First, let’s see the Calvinist “TULIP”:
Perseverance of the Saints
Now, on to the five points of Arminianism (“FACTS”):
Freed by Grace (to believe)
Atonement for All
Security in Christ
Both Calvinism’s “TULIP” and Arminianism’s “FACTS” hold to Total Depravity. The other points, however, are where the two camps differ. While Arminianism says that election is “conditional,” Calvinism says that election is “unconditional.” The “un” prefix in unconditional is a negation of “conditional” (it means “not conditional”). Therefore, “conditional” and “unconditional” election are opposites, contradictions of each other. Since these two types of election are opposites, they are “mutually exclusive” opposites...and therefore, cannot be integrated to find a middle ground. Mutually exclusive systems have, by default, an “excluded middle”; in other words, there is no middle ground between conditional and unconditional election.
What about “Limited Atonement” (Calvinism) and “Atonement for All” (Arminianism)? Can these two mix? On the surface, both are direct opposites: Atonement cannot be for a select few (limited) and for all persons at the same time. These can work together if one qualifies them...but the qualification of both terms demonstrates that there is a surface contradiction to both terms together. Once again, the principle of excluded middle applies.
As for grace in both systems? Calvinism holds to “irresistible” grace (the “ir” prefix meaning “not”; the term meaning “not resistible”). Arminianism holds to “freed by grace to believe,” or “resistible grace.” One cannot say that grace cannot be resisted and grace can be resisted at the same time. This leads to a contradiction.
The last point remaining to discuss is security in Christ. Calvinism holds to “perseverance of the saints,” or “unconditional security,” while Arminians hold to “security in Christ” (in this case, conditional security). “Unconditional” security is the direct opposite of “conditional” security. Thus, to affirm these two is to affirm a contradiction. Once again, as with all the others, where there is a contradiction (two opposing terms), the principle of excluded middle (PEM) applies. By virtue of the above opposing concepts being “mutually exclusive” views, there is no middle ground between them. Where two terms are both exclusive, there can be no hybrid of the two.
All this is to say that the two systems themselves, by virtue of being direct opposites of each other (Calvinism and Arminianism), cannot be combined to create a hybrid theology. And how can we know this for certain?
Let’s take the so-called “hybrid” theology, Molinism, for our test example. Molinism holds to “Sovereign” election, a code name for “unconditional election” (Calvinism); in its view of the atonement, Molinism holds to “singular redemption,” which qualifies the terms “limited” and “unlimited.” The atonement is “limited” (in this view) in that only those who believe appropriate Christ’s redemption; it is “unlimited” in that Jesus died for all. On these qualifications, Molinism is Arminian because it holds to the universal love of God while positing the Arminian condition of faith by which one becomes a believer. So far, we have one point of the system as Calvinist and the other point as Arminian.
Next on the list is “overcoming grace,” the “O” in the Molinism acronym “ROSES.” Overcoming grace posits that one can initially resist the grace of God; however, God will eventually win out and that person will find God’s grace to be “irresistible” and be drawn to come to Jesus. In this sense, Molinism holds to “ultimately irresistible grace,” thus identifying with the Calvinist camp. Molinism, so far, is two points Calvinist, one point Arminian.
Last but not least is “E” in the Molinist system for “eternal life.” This is where Molinism, once again, conforms to Calvinism: it too, holds to the unconditional security of the believer and the eternal security of the saints. The final score of where Molinism stacks up as the hybrid theology? Three points Calvinist, one point Arminian. Total depravity (“R” for “Radical Depravity” in Molinism), is a neutral point; however, Molinism does agree with Arminianism in this regard.
In the final score, is Molinism a true hybrid of the two? No, not at all: it is (not counting radical depravity) three points Calvinist, one point Arminian. Is this a genuine hybrid of the two theologies? No. If it were, Molinism would not be overwhelmingly Calvinist in its theology. Half of four points is two points. Molinism has three points attributed to Calvinism, so it is beyond the half of the two theologies combined.
As a result, there can be no hybrid achieved between these two mutually exclusive systems. In the debate, one will either come down Calvinist or Arminian. I suggest that the Principle of Excluded Middle (PEM) is far more underestimated in theology than it ought to be. This calls for a resurrection of PEM in contemporary theology.