Calvinism and Arminianismby Rit Nosotro
Being as objective as possible, outline the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism
[Parts of this essay are taken with permission from www.guidetodenominations.net by Robert H. Stearns.]
There are several notable differences between the two theologies of Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism is linked directly to the Protestant Reformation of Europe in the 16th century. It was refined and directed by John Calvin who worked closely with Martin Luther until their doctrinal disagreements broke them apart. The Calvinistic theology continued after John Calvin’s death in 1564, but varieties soon began to appear. Due to this fact not all Calvinists agree with the beliefs stated in this essay. Arminianism began with a man named Jacobus Arminius who became a popular Calvinist speaker and theologian. However, his views changed. He underwent a period of intense study and emerged with a new outlook. Jacobus Arminius left the Calvinistic theology and lost no time in letting others know what he had found. Thus, he started the Arminianism theology and gained quite a few followers. Not all Arminians will agree with the beliefs stated in this essay.
Calvinism has five pillars which support their belief system. These statements were created after the death of John Calvin. The first pillar is ‘Total Depravity’; it states that man does have free will, but only in accordance to his nature. It proceeds to state that man’s nature is corrupted so that he would never freely choose God unless the Spirit has regenerated him. “Faith is God’s act and a gift to man”. Calvinists have quite a few Biblical references to support this belief. One example is Jeremiah 17:9 which says that “more than anything else, a person’s mind is evil and cannot be healed. No one truly understands it”.
The second pillar is ‘Unconditional Election’; it states that God has previously elected who will and will not be saved. His choice is in no way connected to the free will of men. God’s choice is the ultimate ticket for salvation. Furthermore, He did not foresee that the selected people would make a choice for Him or not; they were not chosen on that basis. This pillar is also supported by a number of texts. One is Ephesians 1:11 and it says that “in Christ we were chosen to be God’s people, because from the very beginning God had decided this in keeping with his plan. And he is the One who makes everything agree with what he decides and wants.”
The third pillar is ‘Limited Atonement’; it declares that Christ died and took the only the sins of those who were predestined for salvation. Though the sacrifice at the cross was a sufficient price to buy the salvation for the whole world, it is only given to those who will be saved at the end. This viewpoint is supported by several texts, one of which says “with one sacrifice he made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
The fourth pillar of Calvinism is ‘Irresistible Grace’; it basically states that there are two methods that God uses to bring people to repentance. The first method is the ‘outer call’ which anyone may receive once they have heard the gospel. This call can be rejected. The second method is the ‘internal call’ which only “those will be saved” can hear. This call can never be rejected. This belief is supported by texts like John 6:44, “The Father is the One who sent me. No one can come to me unless the Father draws him to me, and I will raise that person up on the last day.”
The fifth, and final, pillar of Calvinism is the ‘Perseverance of the Saints’; it states that no one can fall from salvation. If someone who used to be a “Christian” no longer lives that lifestyle, one of two things has happened. Either that person is still a believer, simply falling away from God for a time (but will be saved in the end) or the person was never truly saved. This belief is supported by a number of texts like 1 John 2:19: “These enemies of Christ were in our fellowship, but they left us. They never really belonged to us; if they had been a part of us, they would have stayed with us. But they left, and this shows that none of them really belonged to us.” The five pillars of Calvinism can be remembered by using the acronym TULIP.
Arminianism is also supported by “five points” which directly rebuke the five pillars of Calvinism. The first point is ‘Free Will’; it states man’s sinful nature has not completely removed his ability to make a decision against or for God. The Holy Spirit does not force people to choose salvation but enlightens them enough so that they may choose salvation. “Faith is man’s act and a gift to God”. This is supported by a number of texts; one of which is John 7:17: “If people choose to do what God wants, they will know that my teaching comes from God and not from me.”
The second point is ‘Condition Election’; it declares that the God knew who would choose to be saved and, in response to the act of free will, He chose them to be saved. Therefore, the decision to choose salvation is a human act and not the forced will of God. Romans 8:29 is a good example: “God knew them before he made the world, and he decided that they would be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers.”
The third point of Arminianism is ‘Universal Atonement’; it states that when Christ died on the cross, He paid for every sin that men has (and will do) throughout time. This does not mean that everyone is saved, but that Christ gave everyone the opportunity to accept or reject His gift of salvation. There are several verses which support this viewpoint. One of them is Hebrews 2:9, which says “but we see Jesus, who for a short time was made lower than the angels. And now he is wearing a crown of glory and honor because he suffered and died. And by God’s grace, he died for everyone.”
The fourth point is ‘Obstructable Grace”; it states that God never forces salvation on anyone. Neither does He force people to repent by giving them a “call” which they cannot refuse. Rather, the Holy Spirit woos them into recognizing their sin and repenting of it. Many scriptures support this viewpoint. One of which is John 5:39-40: “You carefully study the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. They do in fact tell about me, but you refuse to come to me to have that life.”
The fifth, and final, point of Arminianism is “Falling From Grace”; it states that because man has free will, it is possible for him to fall away from salvation. Just as man as the free will to enter the kingdom and to accept grace, so does he have the will to leave the kingdom and discard the grace. This point is supported by several texts as well. 2 Peter 2:20-22 says, “They were made free from the evil in the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But if they return to evil things and those things control them, then it is worse for them than it was before. Yes, it would be better for them to have never known the right way than to know it and to turn away from the holy teaching that was given to them. What they did is like this true saying: ‘A dog goes back to what is has thrown up,’ and ‘After a pig is washed, it goes back and rolls in the mud’.”
Now, after that brief description, the differences between these two theologies should be relatively clear. Each point of Arminianism is a direct rebuke to one of the five pillars of Calvinism. Here is a simplified example of how their differing beliefs affects their view on the process of salvation. . .
(A Calvinist View of Salvation)
God foresaw man’s fall and elected some to eternal life.
Man fell into sin and his will became bound by his sinful nature.
God calls everyone who hears the gospel to repent. This call is accepted only by the elect.
God gives the elect an inner call to repentance which they are unable to reject.
The Spirit regenerates the elect.
The Spirit gives the elect faith that was obtained through Christ’s death.
Based on the preceding work the elect have no choice but to repent.
The elect are justified (made right) before God.
(An Arminian View of Salvation)
God foresaw man’s fall and elected those He saw would repent.
Man fell into sin and became sinful, but retained free will.
God calls everyone who hears the gospel to repent. This call can be accepted or rejected by anyone.
The Spirit woos people, “encouraging” them to believe.
Man heeds the Spirit’s wooing and develops faith.
Based on man’s faith, the Spirit performs His work of regeneration.
Man chooses to repent and accept Christ.
Man is justified (made right) before God.
(The simplified layout seen above was created by Scott Yang.)
Well, there’s the outline of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. But please remember the potential bias of this situation. Scripture is not biased when kept in context. However, a person can present scripture in a way that seems to support their stand. Both Calvinism and Arminianism use the same texts to prove their own beliefs. An example is Romans 8:28-30; it says “we know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan. God knew them before he made the world, and he decided that they would be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers. God planned for them to be like his Son; and those he planned to be like his Son, he also called; and those he called, he also made right with him; and those he made right, he also glorified.” Calvinism uses that text to prove their point of ‘Unconditional Election’. Arminianism uses the text to prove their pillar of ‘Conditional Election’ (they only reference Romans 8:29). Because of situations like this, it is vitally important to study the word for oneself when determining what is truth and what is not. It is also equally important to pray for discernment before beginning and to approach your study with an open mind instead of looking for specific texts that support your beliefs. Above all, when disagreements arise, we must maintain a Christian attitude. If our doctrine is 100% right but our attitude 100% wrong, we will have lost what is most important.
1. Scott Yang, “Scott Yang’s Playground”, 19 May 2004, <http://www.challies.com/archives/000055.html>
(18 May 2004).
2. James Lefeu, “Land of the Penitent Serf”, 2001, < http://james.parachurch.com> (18 May 2004).
3. Robert H. Stearns, “Stearn’s Guide to Denominations”, 2003, <http://www.guidetodenominations.com> (18 May 2004).
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