Lately I’ve been getting into a lot of talks with people about Arminianism and Calvinism, so I thought that I’d make a “short” post explaining my understanding of the two and where I fall in the spectrum. I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible in my analysis, but we all know that it’s hard to not hold opposing theories to the assumptions of the favored so forgive me if it is a little. Also remember that there is a lot of differences held between groups within these two “teams.” Not all members of either team agree on all the different parts, so my analysis isn’t perfectly detailed about the intra-team differences. If anyone from either team feels i grossly misrepresented or misunderstood any part of my analysis, I would really encourage you to share your thoughts so I may deal with it and amend what I’ve said accordingly.

Analysis

The basic doctrine of Arminianism is summarized by an acrostic: FACTS. Arminianism was formulated in the 5 Articles of Remonstrance presented to the Church of Holland in 1610 and based on the teachings of Jacobus Arminius.

  • Freed By Grace (To Believe) — Article 4 of Remonstrance

Arminians believe that in a demonstration of his Sovereignty, God gave man free will. Free will is the ability to choose between God and anything else. God calls all people to repent and believe the Gospel and enables all people who hear the Gospel to respond to it positively in faith. So, knowing there is sin in the world, God offered grace to anyone who is willing to accept it.

  • Atonement For All — Article 2 of Remonstrance

Arminians believe that God loves the world and wants everyone to come back to him. Therefore, God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice to provide forgiveness and salvation to the world. While this provided a way so the whole world could become saved, it does not guarantee salvation. Forgiveness and salvation is only given to those who accept the offer of grace through faith.

  • Conditional Election — Article 1 of Remonstrance

Arminians believe God has sovereignly decided to only choose those who have faith in his Son to receive salvation and his eternal blessing. God has always known who would have faith in his Son. Some Arminians believe that this means that God, foreknowing who would have faith in his Son, chose (or elected or predestined) those to salvation. Other Arminians believe that God corporately chose those to salvation, so the church in a faith-union with Christ is elected to salvation. This means that those who have divorced themselves from the church are not part of corporate body and will not receive salvation. In simpler terms, God, in his foreknowledge, did not choose those who would have faith in his Son, but then lose it, to salvation.

  • Total Depravity — Article 3 of Remonstrance

Arminians believe man was made in the image of God, good and upright, but chose to leave that state through disobedience; sin. This leaves man separated from God. So now sin impacts every part part of our being, making us fundamentally corrupt. This means that man is incapable of doing anything good by themselves, including receiving God’s merit or save ourselves from the eternal judgment we deserve. If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.

  • Security in Christ — Article 5 of Remonstrance

Arminians believe that since salvation is only found through faith in Christ, our security of salvation continues through faith in Christ. Since the Holy Spirit empowers us to believe in Christ, he empowers us to continue to believe in Christ. God protects us from any force that would irresistibly snatch us away from Christ or our faith and preserves our salvations so long as we have faith in Christ. Arminians have differing views of whether scripture teaches that God irresistibly keeps believers from forsaking their faith (entering them into eternal condemnation as unbelievers).

My short summary of Arminianism is that man sinned. Seeing this sin that would separate God’s creation from him, God himself atoned for that sinned and offered grace to the whole world. Those who accept that grace are chosen for election and their sin is forgiven.

The basic doctrine of Calvinism is summarized by an acrostic: TULIP. Calvinism was formulated as  5 points in 1619 at the Synod of Dordt and based off the teachings of John Calvin.

  • Total Depravity — Point 1

Calvinists believe that the effect of the fall is that sin has extended to every part of man’s being. Our personalities, emotions, and will all reflect sin. It’s not that we are intensely sinful, but that sin extends to our entire being. Man is dead in sins, and deaf and blind to the Gospel. So man will never come to knowledge of the Gospel unless God makes him alive through Christ.

  • Unconditional Election — Point 2

Calvinists believe God chose to those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based on merit shown by those nor by a foreknowledge of those who would “accept” the offer of the Gospel. This, however, does not take aways man’s responsibility to believe in the redeeming work of God. Good works are a result of God’s saving grace, not a means to receive it. So, doing good works is an indication that God has given you his grace.

  • Limited Atonement — Point 3

Calvinists believe that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save. He died for many people, but not all. Christ died for the invisible church — all those who would ever rightly bear the name ‘Christian’. Christ’s death was not a death of potential atonement for all people, it is an assured atonement for specific sins of specific sins.

  • Irresistible Grace — Point 4

Calvinists believe the response to the inward call of the Holy Spirit toward the elect is certain when they receive the outward call given by an evangelist or minister. Everyone who God has elected will receive this call, and everyone who is elected will come to a knowledge of God through it. Inversely, this means anyone who God has not elected will not receive this inward call and will not come to a knowledge of God.

  • Perseverance Of The Saints — Point 5

Calvinists believe that the saints (those who God has elected) can be assured of their salvation. God will not let anything snatch them away from him until he has santified them and they live eternally in heaven with him.

My short summary of Calvinism is that man sinned. Seeing this sin that would separate God’s creation from him, God chose to redeem some and made himself an atonement for their sin and bestowed grace upon them. Those who God bestowed grace to are the elect and their sins are forgiven.

I do not want anyone to get the impression that I’ve made all this up. The information about the Arminian team comes from the Society of Evangelical Arminians (evangelicalarminians.org) and the information about the Calvinist side comes from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (reformed.org). I tried my best to interpret confusing parts correctly and removed the parts from each side that exaggerates an incorrect interpretation of the other side to make their own point look stronger. I don’t like that both sides of the debate do that, so I tried to rephrase those to not be prejudicial but hold true to the meaning of that side’s argument.

What I Believe And Why

One thing I have heard is that people from one team or the other is a heretic and I’ve even heard people that say those on the other team are not Christian and therefore going to hell because of which team they are one. My response is simply that neither John Calvin nor Jacobus Arminius wrote any part of Scripture. We cannot hold that one man holds the key to creating or understanding doctrine. What they taught is not Canon so we cannot take it that way. Both sides have plenty of Biblical support and both sides have their flaws. It is also important to realize that the two sides do not disagree on the ends — Those who put their faith in Jesus will receive salvation through grace. They disagree on the means to get there. They do not disagree on which individuals will receive salvation. They disagree on how to classify those individuals.

I grew up in a Calvinist church that was open to differing opinions about what it called “non-essentials.” The idea of freewill and predestination are included in this. I’ve had conversations with the senior pastor, one of the men I respect most, about this and have found that he was very open to intellectual discussion. Both Arminius and  Calvin were sinful men and both of their doctrines have flaws. It is very reassuring that I can openly discuss and debate these with one of the greatest theologians I know without fear of retribution.

So first, Arminianism. Arminianism feels like what people are presented with during a Gospel presentation. They are told they are sinners and deserve hell. There is nothing they can do about it, but God sent his only son so whoever believes in him can have eternal life. If they believe on Jesus for salvation they will be saved. Arminianism does not deny God’s sovereignty nor does it deny man’s responsibility for his choices. Further, verses such as Matthew 23:37 seem to suggest that Jesus wants everyone to come to grace, but some are not willing. Joshua 24:14 says that you need to choose who you will serve. Other verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4 both say that God wants all men to come to grace and be saved. There are, however, verses that refute the claims of Arminianism. One passage that stands out to me is Isaiah 46:10-11. These verses hurt Arminianism because if it is God’s will that all should come to salvation and God says that he will do his will (suchas it says in the Matthew 23:37 verse), then all will come to salvation. However, we know that is not true. Also Acts 13:48 seems to say that some are appointed to eternal life and those are the ones who believe, meaning it was chosen for them.

Now, Calvinism. The real benefit to believing Calvinism is that you can rest assured on your eternal condition. I assume anyone who would worry about such a thing is included in the elect, but even if you are not in the elect your position cannot change either way so there is no reason to worry or fret about it now. If God bestowed grace on you before the foundations of the earth, he will not allow anyone to take that away. Verses like Ephesians 1:4-5 support this. 1 Peter 2:8 also says that some are appointed to doom. My issue is that Calvinism seems to fall apart with the issue of “Original Sin.” God showed his favor undeservedly toward Adam by making Adam in his own image. Calvinism teaches that sin only invaded in man’s life as a result of the fall and that as the elect God will allow nothing to take you out of his favor. I cannot reconcile how Adam was capable of sinning without sin in his life and with God not allowing anything to pluck him away without the cause of Adam’s sin turning back on God himself. No matter how I spin it, it always comes back to either God took his favor away from Adam, leaving him free to choose sin and unable to be in the knowledge of God, or it comes back to God forced Adam to sin — thus God is the reason why we are separated from Him. I can understand the Calvinist viewpoint as it applies today, but if God predestined Adam to sin then Genesis 1:31 lied when it said that God saw everything and it was very good (only after the 6th day, when he created man, did God call any part of creation VERY good). If Adam was predestined to sin, then one part of creation had to have been created corrupt.

Neither one of those conclusions for original sin can be backed biblically, and they disagree with the Calvinist position of the perseverance of the saints to boot. To me, the Arminian idea that God gave man the free will to choose him or choose anything else explains original sin far better. Sin does not fall back on God, man makes the choice to sin. Prior to the fall Adam could stand naked before God without shame because he was in the holy image of God, but when Adam chose something else he became ashamed because at that moment he realized he was totally depraved of his own accord, not on God’s accord.

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