Calvinism and Arminianism: History of the Debate Introduction

Introduction

The soteriological debate between God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will (which includes issues of election, depravity, predestination, and atonement) has been heated and cooled many times through-out the past three centuries. The debate continues to be relevant in the 21st Century as seminarians, pastors, ministers, professors and theologians search for the most Biblical response. The debate is not a simple one. Besides the confusion over theological terms and finding the real Biblical truth, a lot of concepts have been tweaked by bias over the span of history.

History tells a story that needs to be heard. Not everyone who is familiar with “T.U.L.I.P.” is familiar with where “T.U.L.I.P.” came from. Many people know the concepts of Predestination and Free Will, they know the “theological grids” and all the concepts to debate unfortunately these same people do not know what real life history brings to the argument. They do not know the story behind the theology. Dare I say, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius would both be rolling in their (respective) graves if they had seen or heard the arguments people are making today about the theology they each supported. A lot of the hype in debate is based on assumptions and exaggerations of both Calvin and Arminius, not on their actual teachings. Worse, much of the modern hype in this debate is exaggerations of false assumptions! Recent history has taken the debate much outside of what these theologians ever intended it to be.

Certain theological topics keep coming up throughout history. What is interesting is that the topics dominating the debate between Calvin and Arminius were not novel topics. They had been thought and even debated about long before Calvin’s lifetime. Augustine and Pelagius, would be the first really well documented “debate” on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Luther had an interesting and related theological response to Erasmus regarding this topic. Somehow it is the “Calvin V. Arminius” conflict that is most remembered, even though these two men never even met in real life, unlike the other two situations! Calvin died when Arminius was only four years old.

This is precisely the concern of this paper. If Calvin and Arminius never met in real life to debate God’s Sovereignty, why are these two men’s “theological grids” always compared to one another’s? One must examine the history of the life of John Calvin, his followers and his theology and then also one must study the history of the life of Jacob Arminius, his followers and his theology to truly comprehend not only what these two men truly had to say but how followers of these men have influenced and skewed the debate and the theological grids to be different from what these original men had in mind.

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