Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you were just awestruck? Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset or a shooting star and had your breath taken? Have you ever seen something so amazing that it left you speechless? How do you describe to someone who has never been a parent, what it feels like to hold your newborn baby for the first time? How do you describe to someone who has never been in love what is like to fall in love for the first time? These type of events and many more are hard to describe. But if you try hard enough to you could probably find words that though imperfect would be appropriate. Sometimes words are just not enough however. In the case of God, words can not convey everything there is to Him. We as humans are imperfect. God's word is perfect. For years now, two school of thoughts have been trying to state in imperfect words, something that is perfect. I am talking about Calvinism and Arminianism. Some baptist churches accept all of one side while others accept all of the other side. But most baptist churches fit somewhere in the middle of these two schools. So what follows is my imperfect attempt to describe the differences in Calvinism and Arminianism.
First of all we are going to start with a little bit of history. This is by no means comprehensive but just the basics. The history of Calvinism starts with John Calvin who was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation. In Geneva, his ministry both attracted other Protestant refugees and over time made that city a major force in the spread of Reformed theology. He is renowned for his teachings and writings, in particular for his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Calvin had a great commitment to the absolute sovereignty and holiness of God, thus his teachings and writings serve to constantly remind us of these attributes of God. While Calvinism bears his name, it really did not form into a complete school of thought until after his death. Many of his students further developed Calvinism in the years after his death, especially at a council called the Synod of Dort. The Synod of Dort was in part a reaction to Armenianism.
Jacobus Arminius was a dutch theologian who was orphaned at a young age. He was adopted by a priest and spent his years learning theology. He was actually fond of some of John Calvin's teachings but disputed several key point. After Arminius's death, his students would also go on to further develop Arminianism. Arminianists or The Remonstrants as they liked to be called would go on to develop 5 key points on doctrine. At the Synod of Dort, Calvinists stated their 5 points in response. Even though Arminianists had the 5 points first, today Calvinists are more known for their 5 points.
Ok so that leads us to the debate. Now the debate on these 5 points actually goes back further to St. Augustine and Pelagians in the fifth century but it really did not pick up steam till Calvin and Arminius. (I'm tempted to call Arminius, Hobbs because spell check does not like his name.) One further thing before jumping into the debate. Both schools of thoughts have been instrumental in the foundings of several denominations including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Nazarenes. It is also becoming a bigger debate in Southern Baptist seminaries today.
The Debate centers on theological cornerstones of soteriology. What is Soteriology. It is the study of salvation or more importantly the process of salvation. Neither side disagrees that salvation exists or that salvation can only be found in Christ. Both sides are just trying to put into words the process of salvation. The best way to describe it is to relate it to gravity. Scientists know it exists and know what it does but they differ in the process and mechanics of gravity.
We are going to begin with the 5 points of Hobbs aka Arminius since they technically came first.
(I) conditional election - This means that even though salvation is a gift of God and completed by Christ it is conditioned on our faith. That means that we must decide to be saved by our faith.
(II) unlimited atonement- This means that Jesus's death and resurrection were meant for everyone. His sacrifice is sufficient for all of humanity. But in going back to the first point, salvation is conditioned on faith.
(III) total depravity - Arminius states "In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.
(IV) resistible grace - Free will allows us to resist the grace that God offers us. God takes the initiative in Grace and offers it to all people, but we must take the step into faith.
(V) possibility of apostasy- All believers have full assurance of salvation with the condition that they remain in Christ. Salvation is conditioned on faith, therefore perseverance is also conditioned. Apostasy (turning from Christ) is only committed through a deliberate, willful rejection of Jesus and renouncement of belief. Some people like John Wesley took this further to say that unconfessed sin could cost salvation.
So that was the 5 points of Arminianism with some minor explanation. Here are the 5 points of Calvinism. What I like about them is that they fit into a neat acronym called TULIP. See if you notice that some of the points are the same or similar as Arminianism.
T: Total Depravity- The doctrine of total depravity (also called "total inability") asserts that, as a consequence of the fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.)
U: Unconditional Election- The doctrine of unconditional election asserts that God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy alone. While those called by God will have faith and develop virtue, these are the effects of the call and not the cause.
L: Limited Atonement- This doctrine states that Christ's sacrifice is definite and specific for those called. Calvinists view the atonement as a penal substitution (that is, Jesus was punished in the place of sinners), and since, Calvinists argue, it would be unjust for God to pay the penalty for some people's sins and then still condemn them for those sins, all those whose sins were atoned for must necessarily be saved. Or in simpler terms, Christ's sacrifice was just for the saved.
I: Irresistible Grace- This means that in God's sovereignty all that He calls will be saved. When God choses someone , God's call will overcome that person's total depravity and resistance to salvation. Calvinists point to Paul's conversion as an example.
P: Perseverance of the saints- This simply means that those that God saves He is able to keep. For my catholic friends, saints means all believers or all of the elect. All true saints will remain till the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return back to that faith.
Ok so that about covers everything. You will notice in both lists, they seem to be saying the same thing but differently. Ultimately the debate rests on the issues of Free will vs Predestination. One side focuses heavily on our ability to choose and our responsibility while the other side focuses on God's Sovereignty and His Ability to Save. Like I said earlier, most Baptist churches fall somewhere in the middle. My paster calls himself a Calminian. I would have to agree with that as well. There are vasts amount of Biblical evidence for both sides of the argument. The Bible does point to predestination while at the same time pointing to our responsibility. The Bible also points to Christ's redemption being for the Church but also available to the World. The Bible also points that salvation is not by works or by man's power. But it also points to faith as an ingredient in salvation. With this all said and just for the fun of it I am going to end with the 5 points of Spurgeon. I just made them up but who knows maybe someday in the future someone will be arguing over them.
1.Total Depravity- Both Arminian and Calvin agreed on this point and I do to. The Bible says that All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. The Bible speaks of original sin and that as a result of Adam's sin, all men are born with a sinful nature. We are all born with a nature that hates God. We are incapable of saving ourselves though works. But yet we are made in God's image, so something of that truth remains in all of us, causing us all to yearn for Christ.
2. Unconditional Conditional Election- Because of our depravity we are unable to save ourselves. Salvation is 100% dependent on God. God is the author and sustainer of our salvation. He is completely behind the beginning, middle, and end of our salvation. No man can boast in regards to salvation. Faith is a gift of God given to us that we may use it. Our salvation is dependent on this faith. Our responsibility in salvation is faith.
3.Atonement for all who will- The Bible says who so ever will confess the Lord as savior shall be saved. Christ's atonement is for all to accept.
4. Grace- Grace is God's gift. He offers it to whomever He chooses. He would be no less loving or graceful to offer it to no one. But God offers Grace to whomever He desires. The Bible says He desires no one to perish. God's grace is irresistible to those whom hearts God has not hardened.
5. The New Creature- God's grace remakes us into a new creation. The total depravity is gone and replaced with a heart made by God. We are now totally free to serve God as He intended. God has made us a new creation and we can never go back to the old life because it is dead. Yes saints sometimes sin but God will keep all those entrusted to Him. Those who commit apostasy were either not new creations or are like the prodigal son and will return.
Thanks for taking the time to read all this. I hope it peaks your interests in Doctrinal studies. As you can tell from my 5 points, it is a mixture of both. Most baptists line up somewhere in there. The majority in fact probably about 99% would agree with my 5th point and Calvins 5th point. The Bible just says too much about eternal security. So anyways stay tuned for more discussion. Next time I will try to discuss eschatology differences.