The Most Annoying Arguments Arminians and Calvinists Face From Each Other

by Eric Landstrom


Most Arminians aren't keen on being told by a Calvinist that they choose God, implying that God didn't choose them. Likewise, Calvinists are not pleased when it is stated that they believe in double predestination.


Clarification of Arminian theology's position of sin:

In regards to sin, Arminians do hold that man is unable to draw to the Lord on his own accord and will. Man is in a fallen state apart from God. However Arminian theology also holds that Scripture teaches us that God the Spirit is working on the hearts and minds of all men.

Arminians also confirm that we sin because we will to sin (i.e., man has the ability to act contrary to the will of God). Thomas Oden, in volume 3 of his systematic theology, states there are four things that make it easier to fall into sin: (1) the strength of our biological drives-our desires; (2) the imperfection of ethical judgement; (3) the inconstancy of will; and (4) the weariness caused by continued resistance to temptation. These factors conspire to limit human willing and acting. So it is no surprise that, as Kierkegaard has so astutely observed, humans will fall into sin without the special grace that God can give to resist the endless series of temptations that are around us. I must say this is borne out by my experience with a number of godly men who have fallen into sin. It is obvious that we who want to live sustained and prosperous lives must have mechanisms to deal with those factors that will cause us to sin.


An Arminian argument for the presence of God the Spirit present in and at work in all men:

All feel responsibility. No human consciousness can fully succeed in escaping some awareness of guilt and shame. This cannot be explained sociologically or in terms of parenting. The depth, extent, and power of these moral feelings require the explanation of a moral presence, God the Spirit, in all men. The voice that whispers within ourselves, our conscience, points to that which is beyond oneself. Conscience is not something we merely give ourselves (and could therefore also fail to give ourselves), but is a God given gift to correct and instruct against immorality. If it were objected that one gave himself moral requirements apart from a transcendent source, this would not constitute a suitable answer because oftentimes we wish we could get rid of our conscience, that it would cease to bother us. Hence, conscience is not self-imposed, but rather unavoidable, from a transcendent witness from within.

Yet obviously we can do things that are contrary to this witness, our conscience. Thus we are afforded reasonable evidence that God does not force any man unconditionally to be his servant. Romans 9:1 is an interesting verse to ponder this all over.

How does Arminian theology respond to the argument that it is they that choose God and not God that chooses them?

Solid Arminian theology holds that:

1) God the Spirit is present in and is working to redeem all men.
2) The moral choice that man makes is not to receive God the Spirit, for He is already there.
3) The moral choice is to reject God the Spirit, doing that which is contrary to God and His witness, your conscience. And this if done unto death means to die in your sins.
4) Thus man does not choose God, nor does God force man.

This is a response to the idea that good Arminian theology teaches that man chooses God (i.e., pelagianism, or semi pelagianism). This is charge that often times Calvinists levy against Arminians that apart from God the Spirit, man cannot choose God. This charge is simply a misunderstanding of Arminian theology on the part of the Calvinist because good Arminian theology affirms the reformed understanding that man cannot be drawn to God without God being present. You will note that the first part of the outline above is a preface that argues that God the Spirit is alive and working in the hearts of all men. The second part argues, that indeed, it is not man that chooses God but God who chooses man. Yet it also affirms that man is a moral free agent and can therefore respond positively or negatively to that which is morally righteous in eyes of our Lord.

As an example: God is good, and the things that He created are meant to be good. But with the increased capacity of good a created being possess, it's capability of evil also increases should the creation reject God. Obviously inanimate objects such as rocks are lacking in much capacity to do good, therefore rocks also lack much ability to do evil (though a falling rock could knock sense either into {good}, or out of you {evil}); but a living creature, one who has received the invaluable gift of life, God calls for an unreserved, grateful and active response to do good. Thus good could also be defined in creaturely terms as the creatures response to the giver of life that meets with favor in the eyes of the giver of the gift of life. Whereas evil could also be defined as an unfavorable response to the Giver of the gift of life. God the giver of the gift of life calls his creation to an unmerited positive response of His wishes and Arminian theology affirms this.

Nevertheless, man, created in the image of God, has a capacity for evil (that which is not good). Thomas Oden writes, "Made in the image of God, humanity is intended to participate in the blessed life. As persons who acquire habits, personality traits, and, in the long run, moral or immoral characters, we habitually come to act in ways that make us more or less fit to receive divine blessing. As moral decision makers we act concretely in good or evil works that either please or displease the holy, just, and good God" (Thomas Oden, The Living God, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 110). To that I would add that none of our works are righteous in the eyes of the Lord, unless they are His works manifested through us, by the power of His Spirit.

Moral freedom must be maintained if we are to justify responsibility before the Lord. Only if one can respond to a moral claim can one reasonably be addressed with, or address oneself with, a moral claim. Before this idea limited atonement states that the reprobate cannot respond to the offer of salvation because they are reprobate. Similarly, the elect cannot resist grace because they are the elect. Hence from an Arminian perspective, according to the reformed tradition, there seems to be two different offers in the very offer of salvation itself: the kind that isn't effectual, and the effectual and that neither party is able to respond with any sort of free agency. This should present to you the line of demarcation between Calvinist and Arminian systematic theologies. The true division is between limited atonement and unlimited atonement, which in turn orders how man is held responsible for his works before the Lord. The other differentiating points between Calvinism and Arminianism simply falls out logically from the Scriptural evidence we are presented with in the Bible from the starting premise of either a limited atonement or an unlimited atonement.


Clarification of Calvinism's position of predestination:

Interestingly, discussions between Calvinists and Arminians often do not dwell upon the primary difference between these two competing systematic theologies. Instead, most debates between the two systems argue a secondary issue, that of free will vs. predestination. These arguments almost always result in a quagmire of misunderstood terminology between Calvinists and Arminians because both good solid Arminian and Calvinist theology holds to what is referred to as the soft-determinist position (also known as compatibolism). What soft determinism means to you:

1) God definitely has foreordained from the foundations what will happen to those whom have followed Him and to those whom have not followed Him.

2) God has not predetermined individuals one way or the other. Yet this does not deny, that God:

a) Works to effect things.
b) Allows things.
c) Positively commands things.
d) Negates or negatively requires something not to be enacted.
e) Teaches or advises but does not coerce an action.

Simply put, just because God hasn't fatalistically predestinated the fate of each individual does not mean that God is not active in His creation. Neither does creature choice detract from the Lord's providence or sovereignty over His creation. Nor does creature choice mean that God has not predetermined what shall happen corporately to the aggregate groups of the faithful and the unfaithful

The position of soft-determinism refutes the notion that Calvinism teaches what is called double predestination (though some Calvinists do, just as some Arminians hold to libertarian theory of freedom), or that the fates of all creatures be they saved or not are predetermined by God as program in a computer from the foundation. This argument probably gets old for the Calvinist as fast as being called pelagianists does for the Arminian.

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