Some (very) simple ramblings on Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Preachers often say the Gospel is so simple even an 8-year-old child canCal Armi understand it and that’s very true once you’ve accepted Christ. But it’s the Holy Spirit Who opens hearts to the Truth of the Gospel through the Word of God. The Gospel is such a simple message but it’s also beyond our human comprehension. There are many theologians with multiple doctorate degrees who don’t understand that they’re sinners without one plea and on the way to judgement, but that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died for their sins, and they can have forgiveness and eternal salvation in Him if they will only repent of their sins and receive Him as Savior by faith.

Why are some people able to understand the simple Gospel and others cannot? A controversy has been raging in the church over that very question for centuries. There are some folks, called Calvinists (after French/Swiss Reformation leader, John Calvin), who believe God predestines only certain people for salvation and everyone else is predestined for hell. This doctrine sounds very uncharitable at first glance but there are many verses in the Bible which indicate that God irresistibly draws the “elect” to Him and that their faith is entirely a gift from Him. Calvinists believe a person who is drawn to Christ and consequently trusts Him as Savior can never lose their salvation. Some denominations that embrace Calvinism are the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and the Congregationalists of a bygone era. Calvinists believe free will plays no part in God’s plan of salvation.

On the other side are the Arminians (after Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacobus Arminius) who believe God’s grace draws people to Christ but the individual is then free to accept or resist the Gospel. God, in His sovereignty, already knows who is going to accept Christ so He makes sure those people get to hear the Gospel. Some, but not all Arminians believe a person who accepts Christ can reject Him afterwards and lose their salvation. Those who follow Arminianism are the Methodists, Wesleyans, Freewill Baptists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. Arminians can also cite many Bible verses that seem to support free will over predestination and maintain that free will is an integral part of God’s plan of salvation.

Taken to its extreme, Arminianism becomes a works-based, legalistic religion with similarities to Catholicism. Since Arminianists sin all day, every day, just like everyone else, they could potentially lose their salvation and have to re-accept Jesus as their Savior multiple times throughout each and every day. Arminianist leaders like Wesley and Finney tried to get around this difficulty by preaching that dedicated Christians could eventually achieve a state of sinless perfection as Catholicism also teaches.

Taken to its extreme, Calvinism minimizes obedience as the fruit of a genuine conversion to Christ. Hyper-Calvinists see no point in evangelism or missions because God is going to save exactly who He wants to.

I’m not a theologian and heavy debates over the Calvin-Arminius question hold only a limited appeal for me. My viewpoint? After accepting Christ I attended an independent Baptist church for eight years which believed strongly in free will but also taught a genuine Christian could not lose their salvation. I then attended a church for a year where the young pastor was Reformed Baptist and leaned toward Calvinism. The pastor of the non-denominational (with Baptist roots) church we’ve attended for the last six months is also a Calvinist but I’ve yet to hear him harp on about predestination. I guess right now I’m somewhere in the middle of this debate. I believe the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and opens their hearts to the Gospel but I also believe free will plays a part in salvation. I believe some people understand the Gospel but reject Christ. That was me for about one year before I finally accepted Him. I don’t, however, believe a person who is truly reborn by the Holy Spirit and is in Christ can lose their salvation.

So are you a Calvinist, an Arminianist, or do you fall somewhere in between? You can’t say you don’t care (as much as you might like to) because your pastor does take a stand in this debate.

28 thoughts on “Some (very) simple ramblings on Calvinism vs. Arminianism

  1. You’re not a theologian?!?!…could’ve fooled me Tom. Lol. I love to read your posts because I always learn something new. I believe God/Jesus/Holy Spirit reaches those who cry out for help, forgiveness, etc. I didn’t know Him at all until last year. My 10 year old son makes believing, knowing, and having faith look so easy. I love to watch him during service because he’s so into what Pastor has to say and he leans over and says “yes that’s my brother..or my sister..or his dad” etc. But I don’t understand why people would want to pick apart how or why He saves anyone. He’s just simply too big, too great for us to ever know until we die and meet Him..only then will we know the entire, complete truth.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Andi! Sometimes I like to “talk out loud” through a complicated topic to sort it out for myself. I think both positions get into trouble at their extremes and you’re right, we’re never going to figure out how it all works this side of eternity. The debate certainly isn’t necessary for the person who understands the simple Gospel and accepts Jesus as their Savior!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “I’m somewhere in the middle of this debate. I believe the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and opens their hearts to the Gospel but I also believe free will plays a part in salvation. I believe some people understand the Gospel but reject Christ. That was me for about one year before I finally accepted Him. I don’t, however, believe a person who is truly reborn by the Holy Spirit and is in Christ can lose their salvation.”

    That would sum up my thoughts pretty well. Thanks for making such a fine comment on my behalf, Tom. Although I rejected for far longer than a year. I didn’t so much reject the presentation of the Gospel, I just simply refused to ever let anyone tell me. Once I actually sat and heard it, it was only a matter of a very short time until I believed it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot, Wally. There’s many verses in Scripture that seem to support both election and free will so I’ll just walk down the middle of the road and not be too concerned about those “how” details.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s just not understandable, Tom, because as you said one can find support for all views. So, they all much be true, but we just don’t understand how. I am actually pretty comfortable with that myself and don’t really struggle with it at all. In fact, the idea that I don’t get God comforts me. If I could totally get it, He would not be much of a God.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Right. They’ve been arguing this issue for nearly 500 years and we’re no closer to a resolution. The Calvinists and Arminians must basically ignore the other side’s Scripture verses. As you say, I can’t really articulate a “middle” position other than I know it’s God Who reveals His Gospel to us and I believe we are free to accept it or reject it. I think my oldest son understands the Gospel or is very close to understanding it but fears being identified as one of those Jesus people.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I reject the Calvinist view and believe it has done a lot of damage to the Body of Christ because it effectually portrays God as insincere and unjust. I believe the notions of election and predestination can be much better understood as William Lane Craig teaches here:

    In a nutshell, election is primarily corporate, i.e. all who have faith in Christ are part of the elect. God doesn’t choose individuals to become part of the group….he chooses the group and we choose whether or not we want to be part of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the information, Caroline. Calvinism, if taken to its logical conclusion, and many do, means no more evangelizing and no more missionary work. It just doesn’t seem “right” to us that God would arbitrarily choose some people over others but there are many examples of that in the Bible that Calvinists point to. In addition to Lane Craig’s argument that the elect refers to those who choose Christ, some Arminianists would also argue for “conditional election” which says God in His sovereignty already knows who is going to accept and reject Him so His “election” is based on that.

      I have a real hard time with the extreme positions on both sides. Hyper-Arminianists take God’s grace almost completely out of the picture and attribute salvation primarily to merit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that you and Wally mentioned a “middle” position. Are you familiar with the concept of God’s middle knowledge, aka Molinism? Is this what you meant by him knowing “who is going to accept and reject Him” and do you believe that to be extreme?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the interesting info on Molinism. It’s clear others were also trying to reconcile God’s sovereignty with mankind’s free will. Molinism seems to resemble Arminianism’s conditional election. In my opinion Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election is much more harder to swallow than Arminianism’s tenet of conditional election

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Caroline

      I was not really familiar with the term, and sort of am now if that sense. I do believe we choose, and I also beleive God know all that will occur. Maybe that is the word for it, but it would take more study to really know.

      How’s that sound?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Wally. That sounds right, but that’s really just God’s foreknowledge that you’ve described. His middle knowledge is knowledge of what WOULD be if he had created the world with different circumstances. So for example, he knows whether or not you would have believed in him if you had been born in a different country or to a different family.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’d be really curious as to your thoughts on this. Maybe I am slow but Am not really getting the difference between fore knowledge and middle knowledge. But me not getting something is not a shock by any means

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Foreknowledge is God’s knowledge of what WILL be. Middle knowledge is his knowledge of what WOULD be in different circumstances. So before he created the world, God knew what each of us WOULD do in whatever circumstances he put us in. This allowed him to place certain people, like Judas for example, in such a time and place where he knew Judas would betray Jesus of his own free will.

    So before creating the universe, God could consider all the different combinations of people, places and circumstances to bring about his plan without violating anyone’s free will.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That was a good word there Caroline, and did help somewhat. I’m still curious your thoughts on this whole issue, though. It still seems to me that if there is any free will at all then we circle back to something resembling middle knowledge. Told you I was dense LOL.

      I am reading a pretty good book off and on by Norman Giesler entitled Chosen but Free that tries to deal with this topic. I’ll probably have to read it several times to grasp it all.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. “So before he created the world, God knew what each of us WOULD do in whatever circumstances he put us in. This allowed him to place certain people, like Judas for example, in such a time and place where he knew Judas would betray Jesus of his own free will.”

      If God foreknew, why did He need to place? How did He place without violating their will? If (and He does) foreknow everything completely and with out error, how can any who are foreknown to believe not believe; how can any who are foreknown not to believe believe?

      Reliance on mere divine foreknowledge does solve the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi! I’ll attempt to represent the Biblical position of sovereign grace in election. This is what I believe. Naming a doctrine after a mere human being isn’t good but call me a Calvinist if you want to.

    First, in answer to the charge that holding the doctrines of sovereign grace, sovereignty in election, leads to a neglect of the Gospel and missions, the answer is that though it is counterintuitive, most of the time (except rarely) Calvinists preach the Gospel strongly and engage in missions, knowing that the Lord uses these means to effectually call His children who are scattered abroad to Him. Famous sovereign grace missionaries:

    “John Calvin: Calvin sent missionaries from Geneva into France and as far away as Brazil. Most of these young men sent to France died a martyr’s death, but the church of Geneva continued to send them.

    John Eliot: A missionary sent to the American Indians in the 1600’s. He is believed to be the first missionary among this people group. As many have said, if William Carey is the father of the modern mission’s movement, then John Eliot is its grandfather.

    David Brainerd: A missionary to the American Indians in the 1700’s. Many historians believe that he has sent more individuals into the mission field than any other person in the history of the church via his diary, An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend David Brainerd.

    Theodorus Frelinghuysen: The great evangelist and preacher, who set the stage for the First Great Awakening in the middle colonies.

    Jonathan Edwards: The great theologian, writer, and preacher of the First Great Awakening. He was also a missionary to the Indians.

    George Whitfield: The great voice and preacher of the First Great Awakening. He journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times and scholars believe he preached over 18,000 sermons.

    William Tennent: He founded the Log College, which later became Princeton University. This college trained pastors and provided many of the revivalist preachers of the First Great Awakening.

    Samuel Davies: The famous President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), preacher of the First Great Awakening, and evangelist to the slaves of Virginia. It is believed that hundreds of slaves came to saving faith through his evangelism efforts.

    William Carey: He is the famous missionary to India and is considered the father of the modern mission’s movement.

    Robert Moffat: The first missionary to reach the interior of Africa with the Gospel. He translated the entire Bible and Pilgrim’s Progess into Setswana.

    David Livingstone: Arguably, the most famous missionary to the continent of Africa.

    Robert Morrison: The first Protestant missionary to China and the first to translate the Bible into Chinese.

    Peter Parker: An American physician and missionary to China who first introduced Western medical techniques to the Chinese. He also served as the president of the Medical Missionary Society of China.

    Adoniram Judson: The famous missionary to Burma, translated the Bible into Burmese, and established multiple Baptist Churches in Burma. His mission work led many to enter the mission field and was foundational for forming the first Baptist association in America.

    Charles Simeon: The vicar of Holy Trinity Church and the founding figure of the Church Missionary Society. This organization was instrumental in leading many students to the mission field. The Society itself has sent more than 9,000 missionaries into the world.

    Henry Martyn: The renowned missionary to India and Persia. He preached in the face of opposition and translated the New Testament into a number of languages.

    Samuel Zwemer: He is affectionately known as “The Apostle to Islam.” His legacy includes efforts in Bahrain, Arabia, Egypt, and Asia Minor. His writing was used by the Lord to encourage and mobilize an entire generation of missionaries to labor in Islamic countries.

    John Stott: Scholar, preacher, pastor, and evangelist of the twentieth century. He was one of the principle authors and the influential leader in establishing the Lausanne Covenant, which promoted world-wide evangelism.

    Francis Schaeffer: Pastor and found of L’Abri, which has been used by the Lord to draw many to saving faith as they intellectually wrestled with the tenants [sic] of Christianity.

    D. James Kennedy: The founder of Evangelism Explosion, which many believe is the most widely used evangelistic training curriculum in church history.

    John Piper: Pastor, writer, and theologian, who has been used by the Lord to define missions and send many young people into the mission field.”

    There are many more…


    For me the notion that we’re chosen simply as part of a group of those who will decide to believe is chilling. I mean, the Lord knows even the stars by name – wouldn’t He know us as individuals, and call us, and isn’t calling effectual? That is, what God does stands, and He does whatsoever He pleases. Again, what about the Lord’s freedom to do as He pleases – HIS freedom of choice? Foreknowledge is more than His omniscience of the future acts (decisions) of people, but an intimate knowing from the womb, like His knowing and calling of Jeremiah.

    What about this verse? Romans 9:18 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

    “Molinism, [was] named after 16th Century Spanish Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.” (Wiki) I know only the BARE essentials about Molinism. But I know things of substance about the Jesuits, the members of the Society of Jesus, who are the vanguard of Rome’s Church Militant and notorious for undermining the truth by any means they can, for example, inventing doctrines. Their implacability as adversaries was understood in former times but is dismissed today. I would no more accept a Jesuit doctrine than put my hand into a viper’s cage, because that viper by nature will kill, just as the Jesuit by nature will undermine my Biblical faith.

    The doctrine of sovereign grace in election is far older than the Reformation, as old as the Word of God, and was held by other Bible Christians including the Waldensians, as well as held by some Catholics, such as, Augustine. It wasn’t however, as people have said, Augustine’s doctrine, but the Bible’s.

    About injustice: The Lord knew that the human argument against His justice would be made: the Apostle Paul anticipated this charge and answered it in Romans 9. If you think the Lord is unjust, how do you respond to Paul who speaks for the Lord Who revealed Himself as sovereign?

    ROMANS 9

    6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

    10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

    14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

    19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

    22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

    I’ve only read parts of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. From what I’ve been told, his discussion of predestination was left for near the end. Obviously predestination isn’t the Gospel but is strong meat. It is maligned and misunderstood. This was anticipated by the Lord in His Word.

    Why, I ask, when the Word of God was ‘rediscovered’ in the Reformation by larger numbers of people were so many “Calvinists”? It is a Biblical doctrine, anathematized by Rome’s Council of Trent, which anathematized the Gospel too.

    Thanks for bearing with me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maria. I chuckled when I saw your quote from the Kevin DeYoung article because I had just read it about 30 minutes previous. We were on the “same page.” Looks like I may have been passing along an Arminian stereotype. I don’t have an emotional stake in this debate because I don’t have the knowledge to argue either side adequately although I do know Arminians can also quote many Bible verses and passages to support their view. I never endorsed the Molinist view, I only acknowledged it was an attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s free will. I should have mentioned in my original post that Augustine and Pelagius battled over the same issue 1100 years prior to the Reformation as I’m sure you’re aware. Many Reformed Protestants would like to claim Augustine as one of their own but he held to many distinctly Catholic beliefs. As I said before, I very much appreciate the principle truth of God’s grace over man’s striving. There is no joy, peace, or rest in a gospel of works. So maybe an Arminian can join with you in a friendly dialogue and I’ll watch from the sidelines?

      BTW…as I’ve mentioned several times, I really admire the conservative Reformed pastors and theologians. No other group is standing up for the Gospel of grace like those guys are these days. DeYoung, Challies, MacArthur, Lawson, Sproul, Ferguson, Horton, Begg, etc. I can read those guys’ stuff all day long.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tom, thanks for your kind reply! It may be that I put the kabosh on discussion, but I’m saddened to read Christians speak of the damage Reformed doctrine has done, forget our missionary endeavours, call the Lord’s justice into question if indeed He is sovereign (He is!), and bring in Jesuit teachings. This last thing is what stirred me up to answer the way I did, because Jesuit concepts are now found in evangelical churches a lot – there is a major influence in many areas as Jesuits fight the continuing Counter-Reformation, for example, by introducing Ignatian spirituality (Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism).

        Guess I’d better say goodnight! I enjoyed your comment! Lord bless and guide us all!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey, Maria. Although I’m certainly not in complete agreement with Calvinism, I’m very grateful to the Lord for leading me to Reformed-friendly faith communities and influences when I returned to Him. Our experience in an Arminian IFB church for 8 years as new Christians was a rough ride.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maria. I didn’t care for the way our previous pastor – Reformed Baptist- embraced aspects of Catholicism but I’ll always be grateful to him for emphasizing God’s grace over guilt. That was a RADICAL change for me after having come out of an IFB background.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. The question that must be answered has not been asked. Does evangelical obedience (faith and repentance) cause regeneration, or does regeneration cause evangelical obedience? The former is the man-centered gospel of Arminianism; the latter is the God-centered gospel of Calvinism. How is one born again? What does the Bible say? Where does it say it?

    No one deserves God’s grace. The Lord healed one man even though there were a great many sick people lying around him. John 5. Unfair? Unjust? No, just sovereign. It is an attribute of God. Had He healed no one would that be wrong?

    Liked by 1 person

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