Arminian or Calvinist?
Recently we at the Paraclete Forum have received several inquiries on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. It seems that quite a few Christians these days are discussing the similarities and differences in these two theological schools of thought, as if they had to end up joining one camp or the other. Here is the latest inquiry:
"I have found your website and the wealth of information you have made available to be a vast help in my continuous journey of faith in Jesus Christ. I have to tell you I can't express enough my thanks also to you for also posting the Ray Stedman links that have helped me beyond belief in my walk.
Today I find myself in my journey concerned a little about this question of Calvinism and Arminianism, I have started reading some of your postings from the A.C. Custance writings, I hope i have his name correct. It has been somewhat helpful to me. But, I have to admit, I am a bit out of my depth when it comes to this portion of my faith. I had wished at times Ray Stedman was still around so I could ask him what his stance would be on this issue, I have come to believe much of what Ray has stated in his book Authentic Christianity that "nothing coming from me, and everything coming from God", could only be stated as a Calvinist. And for this teaching I am grateful, because I have found myself to be in such a depraved state at times that I know there is no other way I could have come to faith but by the power and grace of God.
Some of the questions I have raised have been answer as I continue to read these articles by Arthur Custance. I was hoping you might have an opinion you might be able to share with me on what your beliefs would be on this issue, and also, since it seems from your website and some of my readings over the years that you were relatively close to Pastor Ray that you might have an idea on what his beliefs were on this issue, and how I may find for myself what it is he believed regarding this long standing conflict in the church. I also would like to know what your opinion of the Calvary Chapel Movement is, I have been attending their Church's for a number of years, but have found myself noticing maybe a hint of Arminianism amidst their teachings. I heard the pastor from the Mars Hill church in Seattle (which you seem to recommend) make a comment also about the Calvary Chapel movement being Arminian in their beliefs. I did read the statement of faith by Pastor Chuck Smith regarding the issue at hand, and years ago I thought he put it relatively clear that somewhere in the middle of the two might the truth be found. I had felt at the time and for the past number of years this to be correct enough for me to believe, but recently I find myself troubled over this issue, and would like to resolve it once and for all.
Thanks so much for all your efforts in your website, and I look forward to our meeting in the clouds if not before. Blessings in Christ, Doug."
Below are the comments of several members of our team.
Comment from Fred:
The tension that we all see in the two positions, Calvinism and its emphasis on God's sovereignty v. Arminianism and its emphasis on freewill, may be one of the greatest examples of a paradox we can find. Obviously, both positions can be well-reasoned and based on tons of scriptures. After all, the Bible is very clear that God created the universe and all that dwell therein. So, BIG is hardly adequate to describe this God. All power and knowledge is derived from Him, our Maker. But, the Bible gives us instance after instance of God offering us choices: Choose this day life or death. And most of us who know God know that even our own faith is a gift from Him. Our salvation is a gift, our redemption is a gift, and our knowledge of Him is a gift (a revelation from God). And, we also know that our stupid decisions can get us in a lot of trouble.
IMHO, the first step for me is to simply come to the realization that I am a human being, limited in knowledge and very prone to error. I cannot trust my own heart sometimes (which the Prophet Jeremiah points out: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" As we grow in maturity in Jesus, we can learn that trust is a very key component to this all—Paul clearly writes that we should not trust in man, but trust in God. So, it seems that we don't really need to trust in ourselves, but the one who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
I've also come to understand that my choices are all limited in some way, as well. I cannot choose to wake up tomorrow and be 25 years old. I can't take thought and add to my height or my intelligence, or to think my way into knowing everything, just like God. Knowledge, at times, can make one arrogant—and we would come right back to the primal sin of pride—to be like God, the sin of Lucifer, and the sin of Adam and Eve. No, I will never be like God, and from the first Adam, our job is to trust in the one who is worthy of trust, the only one and the only God.
I can also tell you that the Calvary Chapel position is certainly not Arminian. It is an attempt to embrace both sides and the apparent paradox. The problems appear to be in the extreme views. For example, an extreme view of Calvinism makes it very close to absolute determinism or a kind of fatalism, that our decisions cannot possibly change anything. God chooses us, and his grace is irresistible. So, it is not possible to resist or fight against the sovereign will of God. I heard RC Sproul, (a marvelous theologian on the more extreme side of Calvinism), on the radio the other day. He was discussing all the different kinds of wills that God has, sovereign will, permissive will, prescriptive will, on and on. It was a challenge following all the various ways one can look at God's will. But, I find it very difficult to think that this type of esoteric philosophical debate is available to all human beings. Didn't Jesus have particular sympathy for little children? We are to be like children, and trust our loving Father.
I am of the belief that the Gospel is so deep that (old line) elephants can swim in it, but babies can never drown in it. The elegance of the Gospel story, that Jesus died for my sins, is the kind of elegance and sophistication that philosophers and theologians can chew on for their entire lifetimes, but it is simple enough for the uneducated person to grasp in all its glory. "For God so loved the world..." and that includes the educated as well as the uneducated, the literate and illiterate.
Well, maybe God has a dozen different kinds of will, and when He says that He desires that none will perish, that's the kind of will that does not determine my choice. But, when Jesus said to His disciples for the first time, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men," that would be a good time to follow Him. Even Jesus had one follower who was obviously not like the others. Was that God's fault? Maybe be yes, maybe no. Does it change the value of His death and the importance of His resurrection? Absolutely not.
The Arminian side, in its more extreme form, says that, in order to give human beings a true choice, God cannot see the future. (He didn't make us little robots that continually walk around giving Him praise and adoration. God seeks fellowship, not automatons.) For, if God can see the future, then the future could not be any other way. If God could see a flower bloom at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning, than that flower must bloom at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning. So, say, God sees that you, Doug, make a choice to follow Him ten years from now; His vision of the future means that you will, indeed, make a decision to follow Him. In a sense, His knowledge of the future would cause your decision to occur because it could not be otherwise—He saw it! In the Arminian view, God is running along the corridors of time (another well-known saying) with you; so, therefore, He is bound by His own laws of Space and Time. He can only be in one place at one time. In this view, omnipresence can only refer to place, and not time, with serious ramifications. (Omnipotence also has to be seen in that context.)
I had a conversation with a group of devoted Arminians, and they spoke of God's omniscience, but not in any way that I was used to (which does not make them automatically wrong). God's knowledge is inexhaustible; He knows all things. However, they added that He only knows what is knowable, and future events are not knowable. (Much of pop psychology confirms this, in a way, that we cannot know what a human being will do next.) They suggested that God's mind is like a humungous super-computer that can figure out all possibilities and probabilities. That's the only way they could see that God could have possibly spoken through the Prophets, e.g., predicting by name that Cyrus would be the person who began the return to Jerusalem by exiled Jews.
Well, I hope it's obvious that this extreme view overlooks the character of God as revealed in scripture quite a bit. The God of Arminianism is finite, a lot like me. How can God exist before the beginning if we can trace His existence to some kind of beginning? "In the beginning, God..." certainly implies that God was already there at the beginning of time—or was that only the beginning of His creation? Did God suddenly spring into existence? My Bible tells me that God exists from the vanishing point (infinite past) to the vanishing point (infinite future). After all, He revealed to Moses that His name is "I am that I am." He doesn't have a name by which we have to distinguish Him from other gods or goddesses: He simple exists, always has, and always will, despite what some recent philosophers say (that God is dead).
The Arminian position appears rational in the sense that all points are reasoned, but it doesn't appear to me that the reasoning is based on Scripture first, and that all the inferences are made accordingly. On the contrary, it is a type of reasoning that seeks support for its premises, which is quite the opposite.
So, we bounce back to the Calvinist view that God is outside of time. He sees all things at once. It's like viewing a parade, but being able to see the head and the tail at the same time. Look, there! Doug just tripped on his shoelaces! If God sees you trip in the middle of the parade, He obviously did not cause you to trip; He just saw you trip. We are the ones marching along the corridors of Time, but God views Time in a much different way. (See http://ldolphin.org/time.html). Chuck Smith has a similar view.
But, apparently, God still has chosen to respect our choices. Otherwise, how could a just and merciful God justify anyone going to Hell? If God's will is the only thing that we had to consider, then we wind up being in the position of saying that God created billions of people just to rot in Hell and experience eternal torment. That God is both small and mean. Calvinism, too, starts out with a set of premises and deductively backs into many of its conclusions, having to reinterpret the many scriptures that point to choice and freewill.
In my experience, I know many people who have heard the Gospel and flat out rejected it—it's too hot, it's too cold, it's too simple, it's too complicated. They consciously reject the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. "There can't be one absolute truth, or one true religion. How narrow-minded and intolerant!" They believe that all so-called religions say the same basic thing. Obviously, most of these people have never really examined the claims of Jesus nor the claims of other religious leaders. But, anyone who exists has to wonder where they came from; and, we all die, so it makes sense that we should ask sincerely what's gonna happen when we die. As bad as our corporate testimony can be sometimes, there are also the eyewitness accounts of millions of people who have met God in Jesus, who have experienced His grace, mercy, and love—yet we, just like Jesus, are subject to the scorn and ridicule of people who think they're too smart to believe such a simple story about a carpenter from Nazareth, the Messiah, and King of the Jews. How could one man's death pay for my sins? What is sin, anyway?
Well, if the world rejects Christ, then it is certainly not God's fault. He thought of a plan that anyone and everyone could figure out. All you have to do is seek, and you'll find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you. Believe, and have everlasting life. I know lots of people who will know that God's judgment will be absolutely fair, even if they did reject His love for their entire lives. After all, God did say through Isaiah, "Come, let us reason together."
So, in my opinion, the middle point is a good place to be. I grow everyday in my knowledge of the greatness of the Living God, His mercy, and His amazing grace. I also find that I reluctantly learn to trust and obey. The world, my carnal nature, the real enemy, all the things that the Bible teaches us, act in me. "O wretched man that I am!" I'm so glad that God is there, that He is faithful when I am faithless, to pick me up when I trip, and to set me on His path, the narrow path.
My personal conclusion is that many people want to follow one position or the other to its logical extreme. But, the extreme Arminian has to overlook an awful lot of evidence, just as the extreme Calvinist has to interpret every time the word "choice" enters the text. If my choice has nothing whatsoever to do with accepting the gift of the cross, then what possible effect could evangelism have? Why would Jesus tell us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel? What's the point?
Right smack in the middle of the Bible is a very curious book called the Song of Songs. It details (rather graphically) a romantic relationship between Solomon and the Shulamite woman. Jews have traditionally interpreted it as a picture of God (Y-H-V-H) and Israel, His bride. (But she, as a nation, rejected her beloved. Just read the prophets.) Christians have interpreted it as a picture of Jesus and His Bride, the church (the people, not the steeple). Jesus spoke of wedding feasts, and we have that picture pretty much throughout scriptures.
However, how does one become a bride? Doesn't she have to say, "Yes"? Without her consent, there is no true marriage. Many are called, but few are chosen...curious way to put it, no?
So, out I go into the highways of my life. I try to have a reason for this hope that is in me. And, I will tell people about the wedding feast of the Lamb. Unless they're invited, they simply won't know, and they won't have anything to respond to. But, I also know that it is the Holy Spirit who draws all men to Jesus. So, I don't even have to trust my inept ways of communicating, or all the times that I say the wrong thing or nothing at all. We are all called to repentance, a repentence of the heart. After that, we learn to trust and obey.
I don't suppose I've cleared up anything. But, I can tell you that once you stop trying to know everything and be like God, it does kinda become easier.
Feel free to write me back and express exactly where your problems are. This was just a general overview. Sorry it's so long. Blessings, Fred
By Chuck Missler:
Predestination vs. Free Will
from the April 01, 2008 eNews issue
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever..." - Deuteronomy 29:29
From the beginning of time, thinkers have puzzled over the paradox of fate vs. free will, or predestination vs. free choice. In theological terms, this leads to the struggle between Calvinism and Arminianism. As we explore this paradox, we find that examining the fruit of each position reveals that the River of Life seems to flow between these two extremes, and that once again, truth involves a careful balance.
At the heart of the controversies between Calvinism and Arminianism is the emphasis on the sovereignty of God by the Calvinists and on the sovereignty (free will) of man - or human responsibility - by the Arminians. Calvinism emphasizes that God is in total control of everything and that nothing can happen that He does not plan and direct, including man's salvation. Arminianism teaches that man has free will and that God will never interrupt or take that free will away, and that God has obligated Himself to respect the free moral agency and capacity of free choice with which He created us.
Both doctrinal positions are reasonable and both have extensive Scriptures to back them up. Both are, in our opinion, both partially right and partially overextended. As Philip Schaff has put it, "Calvinism emphasized divine sovereignty and free grace; Arminianism emphasized human responsibility. The one restricts the saving grace to the elect; the other extends it to all men on the condition of faith. Both are right in what they assert; both are wrong in what they deny. If one important truth is pressed to the exclusion of another truth of equal importance, it becomes an error, and loses its hold upon the conscience. The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism and more divine that Arminianism, and more Christian than either of them."
Certainly, the Bible does teach that God is sovereign, and that believers are predestined and elected by God to spend eternity with Him. Nowhere, however, does the Bible ever associate election with damnation. Conversely, the Scriptures teach that God elects for salvation, but that unbelievers are in hell by their own choice. Every passage of the Bible that deals with election deals with it in the context of salvation, not damnation. No one is elect for hell. The only support for such a view is human logic, not Biblical revelation (which John Calvin did teach).
The concept of total depravity is consistent with Scripture, but the doctrine of limited atonement, that Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world, is clearly contrary to Biblical teaching. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died for everyone's sins and that everyone is able to be saved if they will repent and turn to Christ. Limited atonement is a non-Biblical doctrine.
Election and predestination are Biblical doctrines. God knows everything and therefore He cannot be surprised by anything. He is beyond the constraints of mass, acceleration and gravity, therefore He is outside time. He knows, and has known from "eternity past," who will exercise their free will to accept Him and who will reject Him. The former are "the elect" and the latter are the "non-elect." Everyone who is not saved will have only himself to blame: God will not send anyone to hell, but many people will choose to go there by exercising their free will to reject Christ.
On the other hand, no one who is saved will be able to take any of the credit. Our salvation is entirely God's work, and is based completely on the finished work of the Cross. We were dead in trespasses and sins, destined for hell, when God in His grace drew us to Himself, convinced us of our sin and our need for a Savior, and gave us the authority to call Jesus Lord. Is this grace, this wooing, this courtship, irresistible? No, we have free will and we can (and do) resist, even to the damnation of our souls, but God does everything short of making us automata (preprogrammed puppets) to draw us into His forever family.
Matthew 13:37-39 And he answered and said, He that sows the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil: and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are angels.
John. 10:29 My Father, who has given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Romans 9:21 Or has not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
Comment from LB.
The Calvin, Armenian discussion has huge groups on each side. My very brief opinion comes from passages such as these:
John 10:26-29 is saying no one can snatch us out of His hand. This means no one.
But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Ephesians 1:11-14 is saying that once we "believe" we are "sealed" with the Holy Spirit, a promise of our inheritance, a possession of God. This sealing has a finality to it, a promise that we will stay His.
In whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.
There are many other passages that provide this assurance. I have never met someone who says, "I have lost my salvation" even though they might believe it is possible.
I would not like to live each day believing my salvation rests on my ability to keep it. I'm simply not that capable. A life with no evidence of being a new creature in Christ and loudly expresses a rejection of such belief once held, I suggest there never was a belief, an acceptance of Christ.
Yes, we can fall and be forgiven. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and question.
Added Comment by LB 9/26/08:
First Arminianism and Calvinism as you know are not biblical words, simply views from highly respected people in the past. Calvin had an emphasis in predestination, total depravity and eternal security. In reading about his life and ideas I find like most of us had many contradictions and personal flaws. IÕm not comfortable in using Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. to describe the Christian faith. It is far more important to examine scripture, a passage and discuss its meaning. Once away from the text we quickly jump into speculation and general philosophy.
Arminius had an emphasis on losing one's salvation in contrast to Calvin's view of once saved always saved. Many of his ideas are very biblical including salvation by GodÕs grace, not by human effort.
The Pentecostal branch of believers tend to follow the Arminian view however it is not wise to characterize a group of believers. In talking to people, pastors in both camps I find a great diversity but also common agreement.
I have many friends who hold the Arminian view however rarely meet one who acknowledges losing their salvation. They usually speak of "backsliding" not losing eternal life.
I can't imagine once accepting Christ as Lord ever wanting or even able to leave that position however do believe many "christians" were never born again, the term Jesus used with Nicodemus. Many reject the "christian faith" never really having a personal relationship with Christ, merely the social, church experience.
Comment from Elaine:
The issue of eternal security (Calvinism) vs. Arminianism has its roots in a deeper issue, which is Sovereignty vs. Free Will, does it not? In which case, IMO, we must hold that both are true since both are clearly taught in Scripture. The tension between the two seems to human thinking paradoxical, but is actually a case for "the mystery of godliness", or 9 better yet the mystery of GOD. "Mystery" has become a key word to me in my dotage.
Of course "mystery" has its own peril, in that it can be used as an escape hatch for issues we choose to avoid. It can also turn mystical in a negative sense, or just another way of trying to comprehend God.
A Quote from Donald Grey Barnhouse:
"People are all standing in a room with several doors. Above one door is a sign which reads "All who will may enter." Those who choose to enter the door find on the back side of the door a sign which reads, "Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world."
Originated July 19, 2008