In a recent conversation I had with a work associate the topic of Calvinism came up. It ran the gambit of Christian doctrinal truths/arguments that various denominations hold to, whether their 4 point Calvinists, 3/5 Arminian, or whatever. For a while I got sucked hard into the neo-Reformed stream of thinking, which is pretty much old Reformation cake with Emergent frosting. Well, I suppose that’s simplifying things quite a bit and I’m sure there are more than a lot that wouldn’t appreciate being associated with the “emergent church.” In fact, a well-known Reformed pastor who has been outspoken about the fact that he is no longer connected to that “stream” of Christian “philosophy.”
Doctrine can bring together or divide Christians, and one of the hot topics in evangelical churches today seems to be Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The Southern Baptist Convention is taking shots at prominent Protestant, Reformed, Calvinist apologists and vice versa. I don’t know how much name dropping is appropriate, but it doesn’t take much research to see how much debate is going on with the Church universal over the topic. A quick search on Google of “Calvinism vs. Arminianism” came up with 122,000 hits. That’s just a taste (not of the background or history, but more) of the current debate that continues between the two theological highways to salvation.
Now, there are several sound, strong, Biblical arguments for both camps. The problem is that in arguing for one “side” each “team” ends up skipping over verses that would support the other. I’ll take a look at some of the strongest supporting verses for each line of thinking. I’ll start with Arminianism first and then move on to Calvinism.
1 John 2:2 – He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 – This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
And then there’s the game winning touchdown of a verse that everyone knows, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This was just a very short list of verses that talk about God’s desire that the entire world would be saved. And that would make sense, wouldn’t it? Why would God create people without the express purpose of saving them? The Calvinist would argue the definition of the word “world.” Are the writers of scripture (inspired by God) referring to the entire world, the known world of that historical era, what? Is God looking to save all through Christ’s sacrifice, or does all not mean all. If not then it’s a funny way of saying it.
The Calvinists have just a compelling of a case:
John 6:37 – All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Matthew 19:25-26 – When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And here’s a great look into the biblical foundation of Sovereign Grace:
Romans 11:5-7 – So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.
Honestly, the Calvinists have a very strong argument. Obviously these are only a short list of scriptural examples from either side. But which is right? With so many verses supporting both theological schools of thought, how can one say that the other is unbiblical, but there are examples throughout history of people calling Calvinists heretics. In fact, Jerry Falwell all but calls Calvinism heresy in 2007.
On the other side, the Synod of Dordrecht convened (1618-1619, nine years after the death of Jacob Arminius) with the express purpose of condemning Arminian theology, with Arminian adherents being denounced and Arminian pastors being exiled from the Netherlands.
Again, just a small bit of history showing just how much animosity can be held by two groups of people claiming to be followers of Christ.
Now on to my opinion section of this article, mainly including several questions that come from arguments used specifically by either side of this debate. Granted, I’m not going to be arrogant enough to believe that any of these are completely original thoughts, considering how long people have been thinking about the topics. So, here we go
Calvinists hammer on the truth of the sovereignty of God, the belief that not only does nothing happen outside of the knowledge of God that nothing happens without the express ordination of God.; that everything is with the authority and under the rule of God. I don’t think that many, if any, Christians would argue with the idea of the sovereignty of God, but may argue how God Himself puts that sovereignty into effect. So, for the Calvinist, not only does God know who will become Christians, but it is God that chooses who become Christians.
Romans 3:10b-11 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Also in Romans, salvation is described as a gift of grace freely given by God. God gives the gift, we don’t take it. However, if a gift is given, does that necessarily mean that we have to accept it? That would be the argument of the Arminian. However, human gifts and divine gifts are obviously not on the same level.
Still, this leads into the Arminian idea that man has free will in choosing his salvation, whether to say “I accept the atoning sacrifice of Christ” or “I choose not to believe.” They may say that God didn’t create robots. That would not be the action of a loving God. This continues on to the interpretation of “For God so loved the world” to mean the entire world, and that everyone has the opportunity for salvation. After all, wouldn’t a loving God desire for all to be saved? And wouldn’t an all sovereign God be able to ensure that this occurred?
But in this, if the choice is up to man, where is God’s will in all of this? If God has determined that “all should come to repentance” than wouldn’t God’s absolute sovereignty insure that His will would be done? This idea would seem to insinuate that man’s free will trumps the sovereignty of God. So, there is nothing that you or I could do, one way or another, that would sway God’s choice. After all, no one will enter heaven unless they “are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:27)
We know that the clay has no right to complain to the potter, but human being are hardly inanimate objects. We are made in God’s image and therefore have a certain dignity beyond that of a clay pot. Or maybe we’re not and it’s my pride that’s causing me to think that I do.
This is the kind of stuff that can tend to make my head hurt. It’s much easier to pick a side and just disregard what any opposing viewpoint might say. And then I meditate on what Paul asked, should we say “‘I follow Paul,’ or I follow Apollos,’ or I follow Cephas,’ or I follow Christ.'”? We are all followers of Christ, aren’t we? Should we really be saying “I’m a Calvinist” or “I’m an Arminian?”