Skip to main content

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

By Fri, 8 May 2009May 31st, 2018No Comments

A dear family friend nonchalantly threw this hand grenade at me the other day;

I don’t think I’ve asked before: where do you stand on the free-will/predestination debate?

I teased him because the forum he asked me this question in is designed for 2-sentence answers and this is one of the most hotly debated controversies in all Christendom.

In educated Christian circles, this debate is known as “Calvinism vs. Arminianism”.

But, after a little research, I was surprised to find that the two are not polar opposites. This from Wikipedia (my favorite free, albeit somewhat less-than-perfect source of information);

John CalvinJohn Calvin’s international influence on the development of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation began at the age of 25, when he started work on his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1534 (published 1536). This work underwent a number of revisions in his lifetime, including an impressive French vernacular translation.

The rising importance of the Reformed churches, and of Calvin, belongs to the second phase of the Protestant Reformation, when evangelical churches began to form after Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Calvin was a French exile in Geneva. He had signed the Lutheran Augsburg Confession as it was revised by Melancthon in 1540, but his influence was first felt in the Swiss Reformation, which was not Lutheran, but rather followed Huldrych Zwingli. It became evident early on that doctrine in the Reformed churches was developing in a direction independent of Luther’s, under the influence of numerous writers and reformers, among whom Calvin eventually became pre-eminent.

Calvinism stresses the complete ruin of humanity’s ethical nature against a backdrop of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It teaches that fallen humanity is morally and spiritually unable to follow God or escape their condemnation before him and that only by divine intervention in which God must change their unwilling hearts can people be turned from rebellion to willing obedience.

In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on them. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God’s gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners…

The doctrine of total depravity (also called “total inability”) asserts that, as a consequence of the fall of humanity into sin, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. ~ Calvinism,

The contrast between the Calvin camp and the Arminian camp is not as stark as you would think. Again, from;

Jacobus ArminiusArminianism is a school of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and his historic followers, the Remonstrants.

Arminianism holds to the following tenets:

  • Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation…
  • Salvation is possible only by God’s grace, which cannot be merited.
  • No works of human effort can cause or contribute to salvation.
  • God’s election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • Christ’s atonement was made on behalf of all people.
  • God allows his grace to be resisted by those who freely reject Christ.
  • Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith.

Within the broad scope of Church history, Arminianism is closely related to Calvinism (or Reformed theology), and the two systems share both history and many doctrines in common. Nonetheless, they are often viewed as rivals within Evangelicalism because of their disagreement over details of the doctrines of divine predestination and salvation. ~ Arminianism,

The question isn’t so much “which camp is right” but of degrees.

Both schools of thought seem in agreement on the depravity of man, which is good, because this is solid Scripturally—

From the prophet Jeremiah;

Jeremiah 17:9
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”
New American Standard Update

To King David (here reaffirmed by the Apostle Paul);

Romans 3:9-18
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;
10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
New American Standard Update (abbreviation added to counter disrespect)

To our L-rd, Himself;

Matthew 15:16-20
16 Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also?
17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?
18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
New American Standard Update

Although Arminians and Calvinists agree on the depravity of man, it is a concept that nonBelievers are usually estranged to. Many find false comfort in pretending that they do not need a Savior because they are basically “good”. Unfortunately, the One who judges “goodness” as the condition for entering Paradise is G-d, and (according to Scripture) He considers “good” as “perfect”;

Matthew 5:48
48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
New American Standard Update (capitalization added to correct disrespect)

James 2:10
10 For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
New American Standard Update (capitalization added to correct disrespect)

And, as to Salvation being an unmerited gift, both camps are in accord with this too. You would think the Arminians would be a strong contrast to a Calvinistic view of Salvation by unknowable Divine intervention and Grace but, as quoted earlier;

Salvation is possible only by God’s grace, which cannot be merited.

This is entirely Biblical;

Ephesians 2:8-9
8 For by Grace you have been Saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the Gift of G-d;
9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
New American Standard Update (capitalization and abbreviation added)

The Divine Will can be a frightening Thing to comprehend. We who are called must always carry our Salvation with trembling humility;

Philippians 2:12-13
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your Salvation with fear and trembling;
13 for it is G-d who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good Pleasure.
New American Standard Update (capitalization and abbreviation added to correct disrespect)

One of the most disquieting passages in all of Scripture implies that some humans were born for destruction for the purpose of making the Bride of Christ eternally humble and grateful to be the companion to the Maker of the Universe;

Romans 9:22-24
22 What if G-d, although willing to demonstrate His Wrath and to make His Power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
23 And He did so to make known the riches of His Glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
New American Standard Update (capitalization and abbreviation added to correct disrespect)

However, unless you know the Mind of G-d, you should not have that knowledge keep you from doing all you can to spread the Gospel. In fact, such frightening thoughts should spur you on to evangelize even more fervently.

OK, if Calvinists and Arminians have so much in common, where do they differ?

It would appear that Arminians allow for a little more participation from the Believer than do the Calvinists;

  • God’s election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • God allows his grace to be resisted by those who freely reject Christ.
  • Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith.

I find this, also profoundly Biblical.

In the following discourse, our L-rd explains to His disciples that, if they do not “abide” in Him—that is make Jesus Christ the very Foundation of all you do—and do not bear fruit as a result, their end will be in the same fire reserved for the heathen;

John 15:1-6
1 “I Am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
3 You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
5 I Am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
New American Standard Update (capitalization added to correct disrespect)

“No,” you say? “Jesus is talking about unBelievers,” you say? Recall the Parable of the talents? What a wonderful coincidence that such a word is a denomination of money and a gift of personal ability, in the English. Do you remember the fate of the servant gifted with the talent given by the master?

Matthew 25:24-30
24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
26 But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
29 For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

In fact, there is a danger that Calvinist doctrine can be taken to such an extreme that it lulls the Believer into thinking that, since they have no bearing what-so-ever on their Salvation, they might as well live as they please. Such a behavior would be satanically catastrophic for that Believer;

Hebrews 10:26-27
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the Truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a terrifying expectation of Judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
NASU (capitalization added to correct disrespect)

So whose camp do I stand in?

Oproepen me “Jacobus”!

Leave a Reply