Saturday, January 26, 2013

Calvinism vs. Arminianism


Salvation. If you’re a Christian, that’s probably an important topic to you. Sadly, this crucial concept has been politicized and compartmentalized to an absurd degree. Just talking about going to Heaven can bring about bitter debate. Ask any theologian and he’ll tell you that there’s basically two ways of looking at salvation, Calvinism and Arminianism. What are these viewpoints, and which one’s right? I’m a new Christian, not even a year old in my faith, but I thought I should take a heartfelt look at it.

First on the table is Calvinism. Originally argued by John Calvin, Calvinism has been unfairly maligned. Some Christians see it as diminishing free will and God’s love. While I am sympathetic to their criticisms, I think there’s a lot of good doctrine. John Calvin was obsessed with the sovereignty of God. This is certainly important. Without sovereignty, God is not in control. Think about it, does man save man? Of course not. We are broken in sin, and our works are like dirty rags. Calvinism, put bluntly, states that some people are elected for Heaven, and some are predestined to Hell. There is no free will.

Calvinism also gives us eternal security. The phrase meaning “Once saved always saved” in the common sphere of Christian thought. The justification of which is evidenced by simply asking the rhetorical question “How much sin does it take for God to stop loving me?” Clearly, God will not let us go.

Still, the weaknesses of Calvinism are there. If you look at the most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, it says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Less known verses like 1st Timothy 2:4 tell us that God “Wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” How can someone be automatically doomed to Hell in light of just these two verses? Did Jesus die for all of us, or just a few? Which is more amazing? So, is Calvinism wrong then? Not quite. I’ll explain later.

The other option is Arminianism. First articulated by Jacobus Arminius, Arminianism focuses heavily on free will. It looks at Jesus’ crucifixion and correctly understands that God’s most central attribute is love. He loves us lavishly. It wouldn’t make sense for God to send his only son for just a handful of his favorite folks. The Gospel’s overriding theme is hope. Hope in something better. The Arminian knows that there is nothing hopeful for someone being predestined to Hell. Everyone has the same chance, if not, then it’s simply determinism.

Still, Arminianism is not perfect. The belief among most Arminians is that grace can be resisted, that the Holy Spirit can be stopped by choice. Is this biblical though? Verses like Romans 9:16 say “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Clearly, God’s saving power is overwhelming. This is actually good news for us. If God is not sovereign, then he is not all-powerful. If he’s not all-powerful, then he is weak. If he’s weak, then how can he save us from sin? So, is Arminianism wrong as well? I don’t think so. I’ll elaborate.

Look at this one verse from John 6:37 “All that the father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s the answer, right there. Of course, the answer is shrouded in gray. The solution is that there’s a complimentary fusion of the two models. How does this work? I don’t know. Similarly, I know about the Trinity, but I can’t explain it. It’s just truth. God alone saves, but there is free will. God is all-powerful, but he is also loving.

The bottom line is that we don’t know everything about God. We know that Jesus is our savior, but really, beyond that we’re guessing. We can make good guesses, but they are still rooted in human interpretation. Let’s not put God in a box. Let’s just worship him.

6 comments:

  1. I never really liked John Calvin.

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    1. Yeah. I never held Calvin in high regard because he helped murder Michael Servetus. Still, his faith was genuine. He was just flawed, like every Christian.

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  2. I like your conclusion - we don't know! Anytime someone lands at a really hard line conclusion on one side or the other it seems that there are probably some Scripture they are not taking into account. Great to explore, search, seek, even debate... but conclude with humility, we are seeking insight into one of the most mysterious activities one can experience. Good stuff man!

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    1. Thanks, Robby! I think God is so amazing that we can't even wrap our minds around most of what he is. We just know the bare essentials, that he's all-powerful and loving. Like you said, humility is needed when discussing doctrine.

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  3. C.H. Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile these two truths to each other. “I wouldn’t try,” he replied; “I never reconcile friends.”

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    1. That's a great quote!

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