A Protestant Debate: Calvin & Arminius

It may be hard to determine whether one’s worldview shapes ones faith, or if ones faith shapes one’s worldview. The spiritualist might hope that faith is the force that develops ones worldview, leading and guiding the adherent to view the world through the lens their faith tradition. The secularist, on the other hand, hopes that it is tolerant worldview that will guide and interpret ones faith, fearing man’s long history of religious violence.

To this question I have no answer. It is but the springboard for the topic I wish to discuss.

Within the Protestant branch of Christendom there is a debate. It is a debate everyone is engaged in. It is both a public and personal struggle. It is a campaign that attracts the attention of the academic, the pulpit, and the coffeehouse thinker.  It is both pragmatic, and dogmatic.

It forms around several simple questions about God.

“Did I chose God or did he choose me?”

“Can I resist God if he chooses me?”

“Once I receive God’s salvation can I loose it?”

Now matter where you go, you will find Protestants engaged in this debate. Many have chosen a side and raised their flag. Many others are still wading through the murky waters dogging shots that the two polarized sides are taking at each other.

Many don’t realize but this is a unique debate to the protestant branch of the Christendom. The reason why it has such a polarizing effect of denominations and Church’s is because this debate represents a rift tracing back almost to the beginning of the protestant reformation.

A key figure that rose to prominence after the wake of the Protestant Reformation was a Pastor named John Calvin. John Calvin was a gifted preacher and theologian, who detailed his theological views in a work called Calvin’s Institutes. This became theological framework many adopted and taught. One of these students was Joseph Arminius. Arminius in a strange turn of events abandoned the views of Calvin, and began teaching an opposing theological view. The pupils of both men would eventually label each other heretics and part ways.

Calvin’s influence can be traced through the Presbyterian, Reform, and some Baptist traditions. Arminius influence can be traced most predominantly through the Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions.

Many Protestants assume that this issue consumes all of Christendom, however it does not. Lutheranism, a protestant denomination that solidified early into the Protestant Reformation, accepts what they like to label the balance of the truth represented in the Scripture.

Below is an outline of the issues that divided Calvin and Arminius, and how Luther balances the harmony of Scriptural witness.

T: “total depravity”

Calvinism: Man after the Fall has no ability to cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Arminianism: Man after the Fall can cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Lutheranism: Agrees with Calvinism on total depravity

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 3:9-20; Gal. 3:22

U: “unconditional election”

Calvinism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation and the others (reprobates) for damnation.

Arminianism: Before the world was created, God foresaw those who would choose Him of their own free will and elected them to salvation

Lutheranism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation but did not reprobate (chose for damnation) any.

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 9:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Mat. 25:34, 41.

L: “limited atonement”

Calvinism: Jesus only died for the elect, objectively atoning for their sin, but he did not die for the sins of the reprobates.

Arminianism: Christ died to give all the possibility to be saved.

Lutheranism: Christ’s death objectively atoned for all the sin of the world; by believing we receive this objective atonement and its benefits.

Relevant Bible passages: John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19.

I: “irresistible grace”

Calvinism: In all of God’s outward actions (preaching, baptism, etc.) there is an outward call which all receive, yet there is also a secret effectual calling which God gives to the elect alone. This effectual calling alone saves and is irresistable.

Arminianism: God gives in His outward actions the same grace to all; this grace can be resisted by all.

Lutheranism: The question is not answerable; for the elect, grace will irresistably triumph, yet those who reject Christ have rejected that Grace; yet the grace is the same.

Relevant Bible passages: Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48; James 1:13-15

P: “perseverance of the saints” (sort of like “once saved, always saved.”)

Calvinism: Salvation cannot be lost. Those who have truly put their faith in Christ may temporarily lose the evidence of their faith and even live for a time in grave and unrepentant sin, without losing their salvation.

Arminianism: Salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin and unbelief.

Lutheranism: Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief, but this legal warning does not cancel the Gospel promise of election

Relevant Bible passages: 1 Cor. 10:12. 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22.
*Comparisons taken from Three Hierarchies.

For many people, what they believe is more of a reflection the conflict between worldview and faith, then theology.


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10 responses to “A Protestant Debate: Calvin & Arminius

  1. cronos08

    It’s interesting how we see calvinist guys like Driscoll Chandler and Piper. (More so driscoll than any other) Quote Luther and love Luther but interestingly enough Luther doesn’t really agree with Calvinism… Sorry but i think that’s really funny… Good Post man.

  2. charityposey

    i don’t know… still…

  3. cronos08

    But beth that’s the beauty of it!! 🙂 I’m an arminian… But I could be a Calvinist… It’s an argument that seems to be so vital but is an argument that does not make any side worse… We can agree to disagree. 🙂 Hope all is well! God bless 🙂

  4. charityposey

    Thanks Brian 🙂
    all is well, on the God side of things. But not so much on the earthly side… if that makes any sense…haha

  5. worthyofrepetition

    Good stuff. I appreciate you putting this together. What are the church you’re pastoring at’s views (where do they line up with all that, what denomination, etc.)? Do you have any recommended reading of Luther’s? I got an Amazon gift card as a graduation present so I want to get some good stuff so I’m thinking…Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, some of the classic stuff…stuff along those lines.

    • thekeynote00

      If your looking for more from Luther you might as well pick up the Book of Concord. It is a compilation of Lutheran writing, the foundation of that tradition. Personally, Spurgeon is to contemporary. You might as well read Mark Driscoll. If you ant to read historical Christian theology read from the first few century authors. They can be difficult to read in comparison to contemporary authors (most likely their words have had to be translated into English).

      My rule is I never try to read from one source to often. Even if you disagree doing this keeps you sharp.

  6. charityposey

    WAIT! what is mortal sin?????

    • thekeynote00

      Mortal sin is not a universally held idea within Protestantism. In fact for many it is only seen a Catholic doctrine.

      However, its origin can be defended from Scripture.
      1 John 5:16-17 (English Standard Version)

      “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”

      In the theology of some Christian religions, mortal sin is sin that, unless forgiven and fully absolved, condemns a person to Hell after death. These sins are considered “mortal” because they constitute a rupture in a person’s link to God’s saving grace: the person’s soul becomes “dead”, not merely weakened.

      In Roman Catholic moral theology, a mortal sin, as distinct from a venial sin, must meet all of the following conditions at the same time:

      1. Its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter.
      2. It must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense (no one is considered ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are inborn as part of human knowledge, but these principles can be misunderstood in a particular context).
      3. It must be committed with deliberate and complete consent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin.

      Now, is this doctrine true?
      I would need more time to research before I could give you my opinion..

      • charityposey

        Yeah, I think that I have trouble believing that really… I just don’t know… Let me know when you find more research, I want to look into this myself too..

  7. cronos08

    well we see it multiple times in scripture… people taking communion wrongly and God killing them (not sure if it’s stated exactly like that or that you could possibly die) umm God striking people dead for withholding money and lying about it. Jesus even says that there is sin that if committed is unforgivable. Sin against the holy spirit or blasphemy against the holy spirit… I don’t really have a problem at all with it… Just like i don’t have a problem with being able to lose our salvation… God is loving and merciful… But is also a righteous holy God. We can’t forget that… We look at God as a loving father but that tends to be the only way we seem him… God is love God is love… Isn’t the wrath of God more present in the bible than the love of God… View him as father but also don’t forget to view him as GOD A HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS JUDGE… (emphasis is included simply because it annoys me when people leave that off because we don’t like that fact and would rather just say God is nothing but love and i can do whatever and get away with it.)

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