Thoughts Regarding “Extensivism,” and Why I Chose the Term to Represent My Perspective on God’s Great Salvation Plan

I use the term Extensivism to encapsulate my soteriological (salvational) understanding. I gave considerable thought in choosing the term. Although only used by me (hence, the need to continuously define for others), it does seem to be free of negative connotations and appears to me to be a suitable parallel for discussing soteriology within this Calvinist/non-Calvinist theological milieu in which I live. That is, consistent Calvinism is soteriologically exclusive (limited salvific love, limited unconditional election, limited efficacious call, limited atonement, etc.); whereas, we who disagree with that exclusive approach do so because we believe the Scripture teaches an extensive soteriology. The term also permits me to avoid spending time defending the nuances of other non-Calvinist perspectives with whom I agree on many points.

I employ the term in two ways. Broadly, I use it to include all who believe that God salvifically loves everyone and has evidenced such by provisioning sufficiently for everyone to have an opportunity to believe and be saved. This includes Traditionalists, Arminians, and Molinists with all their variations so long as they believe that. In this sense, it serves as a positive term for non-Calvinists. More particularly, I use the term to express precisely my view regarding some of the specifics of how God accomplishes His salvific work of love and grace and answering tough questions posed by Scripture and Calvinism (which may be a little different or worded differently than others who agree with me, broadly speaking).

Here is my definition, Extensivism, is the belief that man was created in the image of God with otherwise choice and that God’s salvation plan is comprehensive, involving an all-inclusive unconditional offer of salvation and eternal security of the believer; reception of which is conditioned upon grace-enabled faith rather than an exclusive plan involving a limited actual offer of salvation to only the unconditionally elected, or any plan that, in any way, conditions salvation upon merely a humanly generated faith.

Applied more generally, I use Extensivism as a positive term in place of non-Calvinism. It may have some things in common with Arminianism, Molinism, or even Calvinism, but Extensivism does not rely exclusively upon any of them. Further, similarities do not equal sameness. Extensivism seeks only to present a comprehensive, consistent system of soteriology that is reflective of the warp and woof of Scripture, which may have shared beliefs with other systems of soteriology, but Extensivism seeks to neither be consistent with nor defend them.

I am presently writing two books on Extensivism in order to describe my beliefs, and the biblical and logical rationale for those soteriological beliefs more fully. In these books, I will also probe deeper into the underlying endemic problems with Calvinism as I see them (theological, philosophical expressions, assumptions, and entailments), which I believe are irreconcilable with Scripture. These difficulties, and the lack of clear answers and disclosure by Calvinists, played a significant role in my disenchantment with, and ultimate departure from, Calvinism; they continue to serve as fecund soil for inconsistencies within Calvinism.

My disagreement with Calvinism is at its most basic, non-negotiable fundamental level. This means that I reject all five points of the TULIP and more as properly defined by Calvinism (including its significant assumptions and definitions regarding the nature of God, sovereignty, and created man) that lead to their understanding of the TULIP.[1]

It is my practice to seek to only deal with mainstream Calvinism (those who embrace four or five points of the TULIP), and leave hyper-Calvinism to others. I seek to evaluate their system of beliefs based upon what they say and believe rather than what others may say they believe. This becomes very precise when I am engaging an individual, and more encompassing of the general teaching of Calvinism when dealing with only a particular topic. Even when I interact with a particular topic, I most often seek to engage a specific Calvinist and thereby employ both a broad and specific engagement.

In spite of their weaknesses, I do find labels helpful so long as they do not cause one to engage what a particular individual is not saying (beyond consistency within their chosen system). For example, some of Millard Erickson’s views are different from Charles Hodge’s; consequently, when I engage Erickson, I do so based upon what he says about his own specific belief even though both claim to be Calvinists.

One of my frequently expressed concerns is that of inconsistency within Calvinism. My increasing awareness of and concomitant disdain for the pervasive rhetorical practice of double talk within Calvinism stimulated my evanescing commitment to Calvinism. This customary manner of communication obscures the inescapable disquieting realities of Calvinism to both the Calvinist and the listener, and this whether it is done wittingly or unwittingly.

Until one is willing to face with inflexible consistency the harsh, and I believe unbiblical realities that such practice gauzily veils (and communicate so that listeners may do likewise), he cannot truly evaluate the compatibility of Calvinism with Scripture. If one is willing to speak, write, and pray consistently with these non-negotiable essential ideas and entailments of Calvinism, he can be a thorough Calvinist.

For example, one such often-elided essential is the absolute micro-deterministic nature of Calvinism. This indisputable bedrock of Calvinism is rarely communicated without a nearby contrary palliative statement, and may very well be impossible to live by; at least, I can say I have never met anyone who lives and communicates consistently with his or her espoused belief in determinism. Thus, eventually, out of respect to God and Calvinists, I doffed the label. I must admit, after 32 years that was a difficult and lonely time.

In various forums, I have often mentioned that I do not believe the designations of one, two, or three point Calvinism are actually representative of Calvinism because to maintain such means that one has so personalized their beliefs that it is no longer true Calvinism; nor is it representative or respectful of consistent Calvinism. Unfortunately, I used all for brief periods to describe my fluid perspectives during my migration from being a steadfast four-point Calvinist for over twenty years to my final rejection of Calvinism. I think such designations misrepresent true Calvinism, confuse the discussion, and unjustifiably make Calvinism the standard (the question becomes what kind of Calvinist are you).

I base this conclusion upon the reality of the mutually exclusive understandings that exist between Calvinism and one, two, and three point perspectives regarding some of the core concepts. Such concepts include both theological and philosophical ideas that are determinative in whether one is actually a Calvinist or an Extensivist. The different perspectives regarding such concepts as the nature of man’s freedom, God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge, which if properly understood and consistently applied, illumine the substantive and irreconcilable dissimilarities between true Calvinism and one, two, and three point perspectives.[2] Thus, such nuanced positions are actually more reflective of Extensivism than Calvinism.

Accordingly, I ask that when one reaches that level of nuancing and personalizing of Calvinism that, for the sake of clarity and maintaining an accurate portrayal of true Calvinism, he disabuse himself of using the term and realize that he is not truly a Calvinist; of course, this is my opinion, but I think I can demonstrate such to be true.

I believe that if one accepts unconditional election (understanding that unconditional means unconditional as defined by mainstream Calvinism, which also includes the inherent determinism in man’s freedom, God’s foreknowledge, as well as what God can know and be sovereign over), one can claim the title Calvinist. Then the question correctly becomes whether the individual is a consistent Calvinist.

If one does not accept unconditional election, I do not believe one can rightly claim to be a Calvinist, and the label actually becomes a detriment to understanding the substantive and pervasive differences between Calvinism and Extensivism (broadly speaking). I am well aware of a number of people who are not Calvinists, and yet employ the descriptive of one, two, or three point Calvinist to describe themselves, which practice I believe they should doff.

I think it is helpful in discussions between Calvinists and Extensivists to evaluate one’s beliefs in light of what the particular individual claims to believe. For example, when I reason for libertarian freedom, this engenders all kinds of questions in the knowledgeable Calvinist mind. I believe as an Extensivist, I need to answer these questions so that they are consistent with Scripture primarily and secondarily with Extensivism. As I ask questions of Calvinists, the same applies. They need to provide answers that are consistent with Scripture and Calvinism.

The breakdown in dialog often surfaces when we ask questions of Calvinists, in which we seek answers that comport with an Extensivist soteriology rather than consistency with Scripture and Calvinism. Similarly, the same breakdown of communication occurs when Calvinists ask Extensivists questions in which they seek answers that comport with Scripture and Calvinism. I have found, both when I was a Calvinist and now as an Extensivist, that Calvinists are quite often either unable or unwilling to consider a perspective with which they disagree without filtering it through the deterministic lens of Calvinism; thus, they are foiled in their attempt to evaluate whether a competing perspective, although not deterministic like Calvinism, is biblical or not.

For example, since Calvinists believe that man is endowed with a compatible freedom, Extensivists need to evaluate whether Calvinism is consistent with compatibilism in its proclamations, rather than whether or not their statements are consistent with libertarian freedom, which knowledgeable Calvinists reject. Conversely, since Extensivists believe that man is endowed with libertarian freedom, Calvinists need to evaluate whether Extensivism is consistent with libertarianism in its proclamations, rather than whether or not our statements are consistent with compatible freedom, which we reject. Moreover, all evaluations of both sides must preeminently include evaluating each perspective, as defined by the adherent, in light of Scripture. Then we are better situated for accurate and helpful comparisons between the two perspectives.

To wit, I do not engage Calvinists in order to seek only answers that are consistent with Extensivism, nor should they seek to evaluate Extensivism in light of their system. I am not ambiguous; I am not a Calvinist, and I actually reject the underlying essentials of the system systemically (not only the TULIP, but also the soil from which the TULIP grows). My engagements with Calvinism are not to convert them to Extensivism per se. Rather I seek to challenge them to be consistent within Calvinism to the Scripture and their chosen system in all points when they speak, write, and pray (including living their daily lives) so that not only do they understand their system more accurately, but those who hear them do as well. If they cannot, they should abandon Calvinism. I do not mind challenges for me to do the same.

One point of clarification is in order. When I speak of the pervasive inconsistencies within Calvinism, I am not referring to inconsistencies in light of Extensivism, nor the inconsistencies due to the frailty of all men; rather, I refer to the inconsistencies within their own system and between their doctrinal beliefs and their writings, preaching, and prayers, for which I find the perennial rejoinder “it is an inscrutable mystery” to be symptomatic rather than resolvent. Further, I do applaud consistent Calvinists for seeking to be clear about all their beliefs and the entailments of those beliefs (disquieting realities), even though we disagree.


[1] TULIP – Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the Saints.
[2] I even include four-point Calvinism, the perspective that I maintained for many years, because their view that Christ died efficaciously (rejecting limited atonement) for everyone does not truly liberate the gospel to be a genuine opportunity to those who hear since they maintain unconditional election. Unconditional election is the real determiner of whether someone is a Calvinist or not.