Having grown up and done ministery in an environment that held all positions concerning predestination and our free will to choose, I have experienced being a Pelagian, an Arminian, a supposed middle position between Arminianism and Calvinism, and now Calvinism. But I still move in circles where many of my friends are Arminian or "Middlers," which, as I will discuss below, are just Arminians who don't know what Arminian theology is. I've had good conversations with them for the most part, but it seems like they just don't get it for some reason. I don't mean that they don't get it in the sense that they don't accept what I believe to be the best explanation for all of the biblical evidence. I mean they don't understand the positions they say they reject or accept. They just plain don't get it. Because of this, there is just mass confusion that then goes on to create mass hysteria when one position is demonized to the point of heresy.
Now, of course, one position (Pelagianism) is heresy, but it is possible for many Pelagians to just have this view by default. Our society is Pelagian after all, so one should not expect novice believers or laymen who have not been taught correctly to hold something other than this necessarily. So it is a belief that needs to be corrected, and if the individual is in communion with God, it will be.
Of course, Arminian theology is often fine, unless you're in a Reformed Church. I think Arminian theology is heresy if its implications are implied, but only usually ever heterodox instead, as its implications are pretty much never applied. When they are, the person just moves over to semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism. But that's not what I want to talk about today. What I want to address today are "Middlers." What I'm calling "Middlers" are people who think that they can just take some of what they agree with from Arminians and some of what they agree with from Calvinists and create a middle position (after all, evangelicals are the kings of "balance" and that means that whatever is in the middle is more level headed than what is on one side of an issue--a truly nonsensical and self serving idea that I've addressed before on this blog).
Now, before I show that there is no middle position, that such a concept is only an illusion created by ignorance of the claims made by each position, I do want to say one thing about some "Middlers" I know. Some of them aren't attempting to teach one thing or another. They just want to teach the text. So if the Scripture emphasizes the sovereignty of God over man, that's what they teach. If the Scripture they're preaching next week emphasizes the choice that man makes, that's what they'll be teaching. In other words, they just follow the lead of the Scripture. I have no problem with that. HOWEVER, since one builds his theology of salvation, ministry, the role of the church in each of those, etc. upon one or the other, it is impossible to completely stay out of the debate. One side is always chosen. Don't think so? Let me ask you a question then, and show you why there is no middle position.
Did you choose God because He first chose you, or did God choose you because you first chose Him?
There it is. That's it. That's the real issue of these systems. Now, where is the middle position in this question? Answer: IT DOESN'T EXIST! There is no middle position. Either your choice was caused by God's choice, or God's choice was caused by yours. There's no "both/and" here. The question is simple, "Is God responding to you choosing Him, or are you responding to God choosing you?"
Now, here is where preaching the text to answer this question, if it were really being preached, would help the Middler; but what I fear is that Middlers are really just Arminians who don't realize that they are Arminians. But I'll return to that in a minute. My point about the text helping them has to do with the fact that when this specific question is the issue, that's when the Scripture talks about God's sovereignty in our salvation. The answer of Scripture is always, "God chose you and you responded by choosing Him." When the Scripture commands us what we are to do, or speaks of doing something to get something (i.e., have faith/believe and you will have eternal life), that question isn't the issue anymore. The question there is, What must I do to be saved? It's the human perspective versus the divine. But lest any man should boast, when the other question I posed above is asked, the answer is never, "Because you believed," since the very question is "Why did you believe, as opposed to others, in the first place?"
What Middlers do is usually agree with most of the TULIP, except for Unconditional election (i.e., the "U"), Limited atonement (i.e., the "L"), and Irresistible grace (i.e., the "I"). In other words, they accept TP, but not ULI. Of course, this is exactly what Classical Arminian theology accepts, so in what way are the Middlers not Arminian? I mean, they may not be Wesleyan Arminians, who think you can lose your salvation, but even most Wesleyan Arminians believe in Total depravity.
This, of course, leaves open the question for Middlers, as it does for Arminians (hint: because it's the same thing), as to how one can make any choice for God if God does not irresistibly draw him to Himself. This is where the idea of prevenient grace comes in, a concept held by both Arminians and, again (you guessed it), Middlers.
So really the only difference is that Middlers are Arminians who accept a form of P, which is not even P actually. They accept the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), which is where someone cannot lose his or her salvation. Why? Where did free choice go, you may ask. I guess it's lost once someone chooses to follow Christ. So God wants us to freely choose to follow Him initially, but then to be forced the rest of the way. Yeah, I don't get it either. Of course, if one simply explains that God has so wooed those who are saved that their love and desire for Him now causes no one who has been saved to reject Him, then that would be a very biblical answer. Unfortunately, for the Middler, he has just given the biblical reason why anyone chooses God in the first place as well, so he can no longer cast Calvinism as a system that says God forces people to be saved against their wills. Uh Oh. No caricature is left, so why doesn't he just admit that it would be more consistent to say that this is the way God works with us and we choose Him in the first place (i.e., irresistibly, using our choice because God has so caused us to love and desire Him that we simply cannot think of choosing otherwise)?
Again, the Middler's adoption of P is curious, as is his constant caricature of Calvinism, and then his employment of the very reasons Calvinists would use to support, not only P, but also I. Of course, the L isn't necessary to be a Calvinist, so all he has left is the U, "Unconditional election."
For the Middler, U is very confusing, especially when he tries to explain it. On the one hand, he doesn't want to say that we are saved by something we did. It was because I made this decision, exercised this because of something within myself, and that's why I'm saved today and my nextdoor neighbor isn't. Yet, he also doesn't want to say that he is saved because God chose to do a work in him, giving him a love for God he did not have before, and not to his next door neighbor. This is largely just left up to "mystery" by Middlers. What it really is, however, is a real contradiction. It is not a paradox. It is not an apparent contradiction. That's where Middlers make the mistake. This is a real contradiction, which means that both of them cannot be true. Again, it comes back to the first question I asked that deals with the cause of your choosing God. If your choosing was not first caused by God choosing you to choose, then what you have left is that you, your circumstances, other great people around you, etc., caused you to choose God. But God receives no glory for that decision, only the work He did before, and does after, you make that decision. But if God chooses you and that is the reason you chose Him, the lack of Him choosing your neighbor has to be the reason for your neighbor not choosing Him. Which is it?
You can't just say that we can resist. We resist God all the time. The question is whether one who is given the love of God, and now sees God as the best possible choice out of that love that is given, will ever choose otherwise. The answer, as we are told in Scripture, is, No. All who the Father draws come to Christ and are raised up in glorification. He loses none of them (John 6:36-47). Those who are foreknown (the people, not their choices) are predestined, the same are effectually called by the gospel (the drawing/teaching of the Father that brings His people to Christ), the same are justified, and the same people are glorified (Rom 8:28-30). It's not one group that is predestined and a different group that is justified and yet another group that is glorified if they make it.
So, again, what is the reason we have chosen God? If you answer that it is all God, then you are simply stating a firm belief in the "U" and "I," even if you turn around and illogically say that people can resist. If it is all God, and not the human decision to "not reject," and yet all are not saved, but those who are predestined are saved, then that means that the election is unconditional and the offer irresistible.
So make up your mind. Don't be a Middler, because you think you're being balanced. Instead, you're just being dishonest with yourself and with others, and that never leads to something good. If you deny the U and I, you are an Arminian (note: Arminius himself never decided the matter of what would later be considered P, so he himself may or may not have believed a version of P as you do). If you essentially accept that everyone has made the choice to follow Christ because God first loved and chose them (Eph 1:3-12; 1 John 4:19), then you are a Calvinist. Own it. Man up. Who cares about the label? Follow the Bible. Be a Biblicist, but be one that is paying attention to the answers the Bible gives to the right questions that are asked in context, not one that has to ignore all of that to remain comfortable on the couch of the "balanced."
So there is no middle ground. Obviously, God chose us and we chose God. That's not the question. The question is what choice is a response to the other? And there is no middle answer to that. To say otherwise is dishonest to everyone involved.