The Great Debate: Calvinism or Arminianism

So I posted this status a couple of days ago:

“Who cares which side you stand on: Calvinism or Arminianism. Is your stance pushing you closer to Jesus? Is it drawing you to push others close to Jesus? Or does your stance compel you to push others to your stance? If your theological stance is not primarily drawing you and others to sanctification & discipleship then your stance is worthless!! Is our primary aim to become like Christ or to become militant converters of our theology?”

A fellow brother (Pastor Justin Cox) re-posted this status on both of his pages. It drew some “militant” Calvinist and Arminians to the surface, and showed why this status was something that so needed to be said. I am writing this blog to address this debate, not for the purpose of who’s right or wrong, but for the purpose of “is this really worth the debate”.

First things first...

Let me first address the harshness of the accusations. In regards to these two theological stances, to say that the Calvinist or the Arminian isn’t saved because one is supposedly unbiblical is a wide net to cast. This would mean that many, many great, Christ-honoring men and women that have been vital to the internal and external defense, theology, and growth of our Faith were false converts, still condemned in their sin, and not operating in the Holy Spirit. That’s more blasphemous than the supposed unbiblical teaching!

  • To say that John MacArthur, A.W. Pink, J.I. Packer, George Whitefield, the Puritans, and so on are heretics because they adhere to Calvinism is unbiblical.
  • Or to say that John Wesley, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Billy Graham, and so on are heretics because they adhere to Arminianism is unbiblical.

All of these men agree in the essentials. None of these men ever said of the other that they weren’t born-again, how dare we! George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers were friends, they ministered together. John MacArthur’s books are used in some Arminianistic theological Christian colleges as textbooks. I know, I go to one of those colleges and I hold to reformed theology. My college actually considers John MacArthur one of the top modern-day theologians, but they hold to Arminianism! How unifying is this! If these great men, these theologians, these academic institutions can find unity in the essentials with one another, why not those of us who use “their” teachings to fuel our arguments find and follow “their” example of unity amongst the brethren as well.

Next...

Next, what then are the essentials? Well since this great debate is on soteriology (the study of salvation), let’s just list the essentials in regards to our salvation. The essentials are:

  1. Everyone is born spiritually dead in sin (Rom. 5:12, 14-15, cf. Ps. 51:5, Eccl. 7:29) and therefore everyone is going to suffer God’s righteous, eternal punishment/penalty for sin unless someone rescues them/pays the penalty (Rom. 5:18-21; 6:23, Gal. 3:22).
  2. God the Son—Jesus—came to earth as atonement for sin (Heb. 9:26, Jn. 19:17-18, 30).
  3. Only those who believe in the atoning work of Jesus (death and resurrection) shall be saved (Jn. 3:14-18, 36; 8:21-24, Rom. 10:9-13).
  4. The evidence of one’s salvation will be manifested in repentance and sanctification (Jn. 14:19-24, Rom. 6:1-22; 8:5-17, 29, Phil. 2:12-13, 1Jn. 1:5-7; 2:3-6; 3:1-10, cf. 1Cor. 1:8, Phil. 1:6, Heb. 13:20-21, Jude 24).

The Gospel is sin, grace, faithsalvation, and repentance. Historically, both theological camps agree with us being born spiritually dead in sin. Historically, both theological camps agree if it were not for God’s grace in Jesus Christ we all would be doomed. Historically, both theological camps agree that those who believe in the atoning work of Jesus have been brought from spiritually dead to spiritually alive (salvation). And historically, both theological camps agree that the evidence of one being truly born-again is manifested in repentance and sanctification. Now if anyone has strayed from these essentials, then questioning what they believe is understandable. However, for the most part/in most circles, both Calvinists and Arminians agree on the essentials of the Gospel. It is in the “how” God goes about saving us that these two soteriological camps chiefly disagree. One camp says God chose and enables us beforehand to believe in Him. The other says God enables our “will” to freely accept or reject His gift of salvation. And consequently, the rest of their theological stance flow from these two main differing points.

Let’s tackle the reality of this chief disagreement.

—To my Calvinist brethren, if God predestined “some” to be saved then “they” are going to be saved regardless to which view “they” hold, and that’s because “their” salvation is on “them” being predestined to believe the essentials of the Gospel not on the believing that “they” were predestined. If they are God’s sheep, they are God’s sheep. To say they aren’t is to contradict your own theology of unconditional election.

—To my Arminian brethren, if God enables our will to freely accept or reject Him, then Calvinists, though they don’t know, have actually freely accepted the essentials of the Gospel and are saved like you. To say they aren’t is to contradict your own theology of free will.

"How" God goes about getting us saved behind the scenes is God’s doing. It is not an essential confession in the Gospel that we have to know “how” He does it. Just like knowing how God works behind the scenes in everything is “not” an essential of our Faith (Deut. 29:29, Acts 1:7, 1Thess. 1:5), this is no different.

Also allow me to say this, Calvinism nor Arminianism are nicknames for the Gospel nor is it the same as the Gospel. The Gospel is the only Gospel. To label the Gospel anything other than what the Scripture calls it is dangerous, because it can lead to idolatry in that some people will esteem the “label” over the Gospel; which is more blasphemous than denying the theology of the opposing stance.

And still...

Some of you will still disagree. Unto which I say, why? And some of you will say, “I’m just being obedient by teaching the truth of Scripture.” But is it wholehearted obedience that God would receive if in the process you are disobeying other truths of Scripture? For example,

Colossians 4:6 (NASB) says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” In context, Paul did say in the prior verse to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside” (v. 5). However, in context with the whole scope of Scripture, Paul was not voiding this principle being used amongst those within the household of God, for he had already charged the Church with these things before (Col. 3:12-17, Phil. 2:1-5, 14-15, Eph. 4:11-15; 5:15-16).

Another example,

2Timothy 2:23-24 (NKJV) says, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…” In context, the Greek term for “quarrel” used here is machomai, which means to war (i.e. [figuratively] to quarrel, dispute—fight, strive, argue). And Paul says rather than quarreling, be gentle—that is, pleasant/friendly. In context, the Greek term for “gentle” is épios which means affable (i.e. mild or kind—gentle). These totally contrast the militant, aggressive, argumentative nature and approach some brethren have in regards to this great debate. Furthermore, in both of these passages we see an order by the Apostle—“let” and “must not”. Thus, this is an order by God.

With that now said, let’s move on. So you preach, “The Bible says we have to adhere to biblical truth”; though you do it dogmatically sharing your theology, while negating adhering to other “biblical truths” in your sharing. Would that not be considered unbiblical…you know, cherry picking which theological principles you obey? Could one then not use your same argument and say you aren’t saved because you are unbiblical? These questions are rhetorical. I just wanted to make a point:

What’s your purpose for sharing your stance in this debate? Is anyone getting saved from your debating this? Is anyone being encouraged to grow in sanctification from your debating this? Is anyone being encouraged to be conformed more into the image of Christ from your debating this?

Debating these theological stances, regardless to your purpose for it, does nothing for the main purpose of the Gospel—to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We are saved/redeemed to become like Christ (Jn. 17, Rom. 8:29, 2Cor. 3:18, Eph. 4:20-24, Col. 3:1-4, Heb. 2:10-11). That is priority! That is most essential! If our theology is not pushing us to achieve this purpose, then our theology is worthless. And to deny this, is denying Scripture. To ignore this and continue to meaninglessly debate these two camps is ignoring the true essence of the Gospel—to become like Christ.

To conclude...

I hope we have seen that while there are differences between these two soteriological camps, both camps agree and are unified in the essentials, and their differences have no barren whatsoever on one’s salvation. Hence, they are not worth the time nor energy spent debating. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-15). Combatively trying to guide the brethren into biblical truth is futile and flesh-centered—i.e. “you” (in your own strength, intellect, and argument) are trying to do something that only the Holy Spirit can do. Let us do what we can do—share God’s Word with one another in love, seasoned with grace, uniting in the essentials and allowing liberty to agree to disagree in the non-essentials—and let God do what only He can do—guide us into all truth, though in His timing not ours.

In the same manner that I am asking both camps to continue to pray that the Holy Spirit does what only He can do in regards to this debate. I also ask us who aren’t participating in the great debate to pray for our militant brethren that are still going to disagree with this treaty and continue uselessly debating.

 

“In the essentials, unity;
in the non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, charity.”

 

May our flesh be denied and God be glorified! I truly hope this helped. Take care family.


PS: Since I hold to reformed theology, I wanted to share something extra for my militant Calvinist brethren. Here is a link (http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-19-6.htm) to read a transcript of how John MacArthur answered this similar question.


10/13/2010