For many years not knowing what an Arminian was, this was my belief. I come from Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, which typically tend to be Arminian. After suffering for years under this school of thought, there was finally a changing of my theology. I’ve now come to a different understanding, more scriptural, transcending this general polarization of Calvinism and Arminianism.
Before I divulge my own views, here’s a brief comparison between the two schools of thought:
Total Depravity: This is the belief that sin controls every part of man. He is spiritually dead and blind, and unable to obey, believe, or repent. He continually sins, for his nature is completely evil. This is based on verses such as Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3, and 53:3.
Unconditional Election: God chose the elect solely based on His free grace, not anything in them. He has a special love for the elect. God left the rest to be damned for their sins.
Limited Atonement: Christ died especially for the elect, and paid a definite price for them that guaranteed their salvation.
Irresistible Grace: Saving grace is irresistible, for the Holy Spirit is invincible and intervenes in man’s heart. He sovereignly gives the new birth, faith, and repentance to the elect.
Perseverance of the Saints: God preserves all the elect and causes them to persevere in faith and obedience to the end. None are continually backslidden or finally lost.
To summarize a very basic picture of the Calvinistic viewpoint would go something like this: Man’s heart is depraved. If left to himself, he would only do selfish, sinful things. However, God arbitrarily decided, before time began, which people would be saved and which would be lost. Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross for the sins of those God had decided would be saved. The Holy Spirit comes upon a person’s heart in an irresistible way, so the person will choose to be saved. The saved person can never become unsaved, no matter what.
Free Will: Sin does not control man’s will. He is sick and near-sighted, but still able to obey, believe, and repent. He does not continually sin, for his nature is not completely evil.
Conditional Election: God chose the elect based on their foreseen faith. He loves all men equally. God passed over no one; He gives everyone an equal chance to be saved. This is gleaned from I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 3:9; Matthew 18:14.
Universal Atonement: Christ died equally for all men, and paid a provisional price that made salvation possible for all, but guaranteed it for none.
Resistible Grace: Saving grace is resistible, for God does not overrule man’s free will. Man is born again after he believes, for faith and repentance are not gifts of God.
Falling from grace: Believers may turn from grace and lose their salvation.
To summarize a very basic picture of the Arminian viewpoint would go something like this: Man’s spirit is damaged, but still somewhat good. God, able to see all things past and future, knowing who would say ‘yes’ to the Gospel, elected those people to salvation. Jesus died on the cross giving everyone the opportunity to repent and turn to Him, excluding no one from the possibility of salvation. The call of God can be resisted and, ultimately, rejected. A Christian can turn from God and no longer be saved.
– The preceding definitions and summaries of Arminianism and Calvinism are by Robert Driskell, from the web, ‘What Christians Want to Know’ (slightly edited).
Both views commented on:
There are both good points and bad points in both schools of thought. Calvinists see that salvation is not dependent on human will, but on God’s sovereignty. And because of that, we’re completely dependent on grace. Yet, they consign all the non-elect (the reprobate), based on unknowable and arbitrary determinations, to an eternal hell.
The Arminians rightly see that Christ’s atonement was universal, and that the possibility of salvation is open to all. However, they exalt human will to such a height that God cannot effectively save without violating it. We might as well say that people save themselves, by an act of their will. It’s a works-oriented and behavior-focused salvation.
What is woefully lacking in each school is Christ Himself. In Calvinism God is unwilling to save all humanity; in Arminianism God is unable to save all humanity. We see that without a Christ-centered focus, a distortion of perception occurs.
Rather than trying to choose between each school of thought, we must return to a Christ-oriented revelation in the scriptures to discover what is the Gospel. We now touch on seven areas of concern shared by both Calvinists and Arminians.
Calvinist and Arminian concerns:
A Christ Centered View:
While God’s will is absolute, it is never arbitrary. It is based on His inscrutable character in conformity to the divine nature, which is Love.
His sovereign will was the salvation of all humanity, which He accomplished without either violating human will (Universalism); nor in depending on human will (Arminianism).
(Ps 115:3; Mt 10:29; Rom 9:13-16; 1Jn 4:8, 16; Mt 22:36-40; Gen 18:25; Ps 129:4; 2Pet 3:9; Dt 8:2; 2Chron 32:31; Ps 139:23-24; Prov 17:3; Lam 3:36; Rev 3:20; Rom 10:9-10; Jn 12:32; Lk 3:6; Rom 5:18; 1Tim 4:10; 1Cor 15:22).
Adam did not pass down moral depravity. Neither did we inherit a sin-nature from him, nor from the fall. Moral depravity is a result of each one’s personal immoral decisions. And each learned immorality through example and environment.
Inherited from Adam are the results of sin: a fallen world, war, sickness, poverty and death. The Second Adam (Christ) reversed the fall and it’s consequences, inaugurating a new humanity.
(Ps 139:13-14; Dt 24:16; Ezek 18:4, 20; Rom 5:12-19; 1Cor 15:45-49; 2Cor 5:14-17)
God elected Christ, and in Him elected each individual. We were all included by virtue of Christ incarnating as humanity itself. This is a double-predestination, not in the sense of hyper Calvinism. The rejection of all in Christ’s death, and the election of all in His resurrection.
(Eph 1:4-12; 1Cor 15:22; Rom 9:13-16; 11:1-7, 11-12, 15, 23-33)
This is universal and all inclusive, effectively saving all humanity by an imputation of righteousness toward them. Christ’s faith saved us, but the individual must come to personal faith in Christ to appropriate it. This faith in Christ may be explicit or implicit in terms of personal knowledge as to the particulars of salvation. The finished work is metaphysical, but our enjoyment of it is our choice.
(Jn 3:16-17; Rom 3:21-31; 2Cor 5:19-21; Ga 2:16; Acts 10:34-35; 1Tim 4:10)
God’s grace has appeared to all humanity in Christ, sovereignly giving salvation to all. Grace itself is neither resistible (Arminian) nor yet irresistible (Calvinist). Instead, it’s God resisting human pride in relation to grace. One thus may fall from grace in law-keeping, or fail [fall short] of the grace of God by lawlessness, both of which are conditions of pride.
(Tit 2:11; 3:4-5; Eph 2:4-5; Col 1:21; Rom 8:6-8; 1Pet 5:5; Jam 4:6; Ga 5:4; Heb 12:15).
Man’s will is free [or able] to choose and yet powerless through the flesh to perform what is chosen in terms of righteousness. The will however reveals the contents of the heart, whether as selfishness or benevolence, and is therefore of great interest to God. We must consider human will only in the shadow of the divine will, and this then necessitates grace.
Will-worship is the bane of humanity. Pride brought about all works oriented and legalistic religious systems. Yet under submission to God, the human will unlocks the door to the divine will, the heart opening up like the pedals of a rose.
(Mt 26:41; Rom 7:15-25; 8:3; 2Chron 32:31; Mk 7:21-23; Rom 10:9-10; Ezek 36:26; Heb 3:12-13; Col 2:23; Mk 14:36).
Perseverance of the saints is a foregone conclusion, remembering the One Who saves and preserves us. And we know that Christ reveals our ultimate state as being one of felicity and glory.
However this fact does not exclude the possibility of an individual choosing unbelief with its consequences. Our state in the afterlife, as in heaven or hell, is related to the state of our heart at death. Yet even an unfavorable condition such as hell does not mean one has abrogated their salvation. It may be rather that in the afterlife the enjoyment of salvation awaits repentance.
God’s relating with the impenitent in the afterlife is a mystery, and not an either-or scenario. However, God as Love and His intent to save all of humanity, is not a mystery.
(Jn 10:27-30; Phil 1:6; Jude v.v. 1, 24; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 5:13; Mt 22:11-13; Lk 15:28; 18:17, 24; Rev 2:11; Mt 5:21-22)
Scriptures on a postmortem salvation: Ps 86:13; 88:1-13; 139:7-10; Hos 13:14; Jon 2:2-6; Rom 8:38-39; 1Cor 5:5; 1Tim 2:4; 1Pet 4:6.
Christ-centered view summarized:
God elected all humanity as a sovereign act, by His love and wisdom, in His Son before the creation of the worlds.
This election, foreseeing mankind’s depravity, included a double-predestination. The death of the cross was the fate of all that is sinful in us. Likewise, His resurrection is the awakening of all our foreknown perfection.
Jesus Christ was crucified for all, reconciling humanity to God; no longer imputing unto us our sin, but instead giving us righteousness. Faith alone accesses the righteousness of God, which each individual exercises in repentance.
The unbelieving or impenitent wicked, will be pursued by God postmortem, albeit in hell. This may continue until they freely repent and believe the Gospel. But this is not dogmatic Universalism, where human and divine lose their freedom. We may thus be hopeful toward a universal reconciliation- even if it takes unto The Age of Ages. We thus opt for mystery, rather than the dogmatic positions of either school of thought. Whether that of Arminianism, Calvinism, or even Universalism, we refuse to put either God or man in a delimiting box.
In Christ we see hope for all humanity, as the salvation of all is in Him. But this metaphysical reality is not forced on any, even as God was not compelled to save. Rather each must existentially reconcile themselves to this free gift, either now or in eternity.