Calvinism and Arminianism: History of the Debate Brief Overview

Brief Overview

The modern debate of Predestination, today, centers on the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is one of the most complicated and challenging issues of Calvinism. Not only is it hard to explain, but there is a lots of theological implications to holding opinion to one side (or the other) of this doctrine. Scripturally, the doctrine is complex because Scriptures seem to speak for both sides of the man-made argument. The problem is the man-made argument, not the Scriptures. The doctrine is very Biblical, although the argument divides people by misunderstanding and forces an artificial false dichotomy.[1]

Calvinists hold that God chooses certain people to have his special favor upon.[2] God’s selection of those for salvation is absolute and unconditional. God chooses people because He loves them, it pleases Him to do so. God only takes part in salvation. While Arminians hold that Christ died for all men and (all men) have the ability to choose faith in Jesus Christ. Man takes part in salvation with God. Followers of both Calvin and Arminius have taken extreme views of both positions and twisted each other’s words to make the argument more complex.

Wayne Grudem, a reformed theologian defines election as “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.[3]” The reformed position makes it clear that God is in full control and does as He pleases. Man has little say in the matter. Man cannot earn salvation in the first place. Arminians agree that individuals are foreordained to salvation, that God chooses one over the other. Where Arminians disagree is on the point of “unconditional” or “absolute” predestination or election. Arminians have gone so far to say that Calvinism is fatalistic and kills evangelism.[4] Arminians ask Calvinists “why then should we live holy if we are just God’s puppets/robots?” And “ Does not this doctrine contradict free will?” And “if all is ordained, why evangelize?”

The Calvinist response to these objections is not “double predestination.” Rather, a deeper study of the Word. The Word of God presents the out-working of our salvation in a personal relationship with God. God’s act of election was neither impersonal nor mechanical.[5]The New Testament shows us that our choices in life do matter. We are not robots. It is also clear in the Bible, that we as Christians must preach the Gospel. Election should comfort the saint, give them reason to praise God, and encourage evangelism. Both reasonable Calvinists and Arminians can agree with these Biblical truths. So much of the debate of election is in the details, it is an interworking of a non-essential.

Is it possible that man works with God on salvation? That God bases his foreknowledge of predestination on man’s faith? No. Scripture never speaks of our faith as the reason God chose us. Election based on something good in us would be the beginning of salvation by merit. Think about the idea of unconditional grace. It is not earned. It is a gift. Predestination based on foreknowledge does not give people free choice. In fact, that is the definition and Calvin’s point exactly! Election must be unconditional![6] While many Arminians are “reformed” and believe the “Solas” of our faith, somehow the understanding of “Grace Alone” is not enough for them. Man having a choice over God would contradict both Calvin and Arminius, in their views of God’s predestining and a reformed idea of Grace Alone.

The modern debate between what is known as Calvinism and Arminiansim centers also on the acronym of T.U.L.I.P. which was devised to summarize the five points of Calvinism.[7]The five points are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Preservation of the saints. Total depravity means that all men are sinners by nature. While these are the main points of the modern debate, it is not really what John Calvin focused on, and while Arminius and his followers did construct five points of Arminianism (which is separate from the TULIP or five points of Calvinism), it was not meant to go against ALLCalvinists, just the extreme ones.



[1] I have dedicated entire research papers to this topic alone. I recommend this article:MacArthur Jr, John. “Is the Doctrine of Election Biblical?” Adapted from The Body Dynamic. (1996.) Christian Art Distributors. Retrieved fromhttp://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/GTYW02.htm accessed on Aug. 1st, 2009.

[2] Millard Erickson. Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), pg. 929.

[3] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.( Grand Rapids, Mi: Zonderzan, 1994), pg. 670.

[4] Milard Erickson. Christian Theology. Pg. 934.

[5] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Pg. 674.

[6] Ibid, pg. 676-679.

[7] See appendix A

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