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Comparing Arminianism and Calvinism

Updated on August 8, 2019
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Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Bible Expositors Seminary, Philippines.

Calvinism

Calvinism gets its name from John Calvin. Just as we saw with Pelagianism and Arminianism, the system is named for the person who is most well-known for articulating the position. The Calvinist acrostic TULIP did not exist before the Synod of Dort. It was the followers of Jacob Arminius who protested to the Dutch Church to accept the teachings of Arminius.

We should note that Calvin died in 1564 and Arminius died in 1609. The Synod of Dort began in 1618. To say that Calvin is the author of the 5 Points that are attached to his name is not accurate.

The 5 Points of the Remonstrates

The Remonstrates (Arminians) presented 5 points for the council to consider.

The Synod responded to these five points. The council’s response is what we now know as the “5 Points of Calvinism” or TULIP.

The 5 Points of the Remonstrates

1) Election is conditional upon belief.

2) The Atonement of Christ was for all men.

3) Man is Fallen and requires grace for salvation.

4) Grace is given to all men and can be resisted.

5) Logically, man can Fall away and reject the grace that was given to him.

The Response of the Synod of Dort

1) All men are under the curse of Adam and incapable of responding to the Gospel so then God has before time, elected some to salvation.

2) All who believe are the elect and those who do not believe are non-elect so that it follows that Christ’s death is only for the elect.

3) Man cannot be born again on his own but only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

4) Election is the means to salvation and salvation is not based upon any act or merit.

5) Given that God saves, it is God who preserves those who are saved.

The response of the Synod was later formulated into the acrostic “TULIP.”

T- Total Depravity

U- Unconditional Election

L- Limited Atonement

I- Irresistibly Grace

P- Perseverance of the Saints

When we compare the two positions, we can see that they are opposite.

Arminian Consistency

I must say at this point, it is not my intention to put forward a Biblical argument for either position. Rather, I want us to see the two systems as being coherent and cohesive. That is, both positions have internal, logical consistency.

We must understand that the points put forward by the Remonstrates were not merely chosen randomly nor were they chosen to express a preference. The points are logically consistent. What one believes about the effect of the Fall will determine everything else they believe about the salvation of man.

In the Arminian view, man’s will is free. Remember, that this is not Pelagianism. The Pelagians said that the Fall was only partial and left humanity in a state of ability. The Arminians affirm the totality of the Fall but they say that God also granted a correcting grace that restored the will of man. Man’s volitional ability now has at least some freedom to respond to the Gospel.

If humanity has a free will, then it necessarily follows that election and salvation are conditional. How so? If repentance and faith, which are necessary for salvation can be had by exercising the free will, then salvation is conditional upon that exercising of the will. Failure to choose to repent and believe would prohibit the person from being saved.

To say this another way, in the Arminian system, the only way a person can be saved is if they exercise their will to repent and believe. Salvation and election are conditional or dependent upon the free-will choice of a person.

Given that all men have a free will, it necessarily follows that salvation is at least possible for all men. If salvation is possible for all men, then Christ must in some way have died for every person. Hence, the atonement is unlimited or universal.

If salvation is possible for all people, and all people have the equal ability to reject or accept the Gospel, then grace is resistible. If grace were not resistible then the will of man would not be free to choose but would be over-ridden by this grace.

Finally, to be consistent, we must affirm that man is not guaranteed to maintain salvation but can indeed, fall away. Simply put, if a man must exercise his free will to salvation, he can just as easily choose to forsake his salvation and return to his previous state of disobedience.

The Consistency of TULIP

If we start with the idea that the Fall had a total effect on man, and that man is still under the state of that complete effect, then man cannot have a free will. This is not to say that man does not make choices which are his own but rather that the choices he makes are from a will that was devastated by the Fall. Man is so totally corrupted by sin and his will fulfills the desire of his sin nature, which is in opposition to God.

If a man cannot come to God, then it must be that God is the one who will bring men to Himself. So then, the election is not conditional upon any act of man because man is incapable of belief and repentance under his power.

If a man is affected by sin, and unable to come to God, we must ask, “Are all people saved?” We can look in Scripture and see that not all people are saved. Therefore, from the Calvinist perspective, the atonement must be limited only to the elect. If it is God alone acting to save, salvation is not extended to everyone and Christ atones (pays) for sin, then the atonement is limited to those who will be saved.

If a man is incapable of repentance, and God grants repentance then it follows that the grace of repentance must be irresistible to be effective. If the grace to repent could not overcome the will of man to rebel then no one would be saved.

If it is God alone who saves, and we know that God is all-powerful, then those who will be saved cannot fall away but will be preserved. Given that man had no power to save himself, now that he is saved, his will and desires would incline him to remain saved. But more importantly, if it is God alone who saves then God will preserve those He has saved.

Conclusion

What a person believes about the Fall determines their view of the will of man and election. The point being made here, is not to argue for or against either Arminianism or Calvinism, but to see that they are both logically consistent systems.

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