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What’s in a name?: Calvin vs. Arminius

There is increasingly hot debate in Christendom today in regards to what is “reformed” theology and which theological construct is biblically accurate.  The two main views tossed around contain the beliefs of two dead men, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius and are labeled after their respective leaders by adding “ism” (Caveat: placing “ism” after your last name does not give credence to your belief system so don’t try it….already tried Tilghmanism and it didn’t work).

There are a few basic suppositions from which I intend to base this post and I will lay them out right now:

1. Both views are arguable from a completely, and faithfully, biblical viewpoint. While one may argue that their view is more biblical than the other, both are plausible views in so far that they seek to be faithful to the text.

2. Both theological frameworks are within the realm of Christian Orthodoxy.

3. These frameworks, although they differ, do not do so in any substantial way in regards to any first-order doctrine upon which your salvation hinges, therefore there is freedom and liberty to be had and shown.

Now, the reason for my post (Disclaimer: I will not be discussing my personal thoughts on the matter nor will I be seeking to provide textual support for either theology. I do not claim to be an expert in either school of thought.  Also, I reject the term “reformed” to explain Calvinism in an attempt to set it apart from other theologies.  If you are a protestant, you are reformed, end of discussion):

While there is room for fruitful discussion in regards to Calvinism and Arminianism, not much of it is being had.  Instead of fruitful discussion there is more of an attack posture being taken among adherents to each school of thought.

Calvinists, while hopefully and most likely not intentionally, have a tendency to place Arminians in a “second-class” position.  They argue that the Arminian viewpoint is one that is not academically or scripturally sound.  I love John Piper and R.C. Sproul however they are two individuals that can tend to come down rather harshly on those who hold a more Arminian viewpoint.

Arminians, on the other hand, have a tendency to categorize all Calvinists as anti-evangelism and cold-hearted determinists.  While some of them can be that way, many individuals I know that hold to a more “calvinistic” viewpoint are very far from either one of those extremes.  They hold a very high view of God’s glory and also are active in evangelizing and sharing their faith.

With that said, I believe it is time to stop the in-family bickering and name calling.  It is time to realize that we may all agree on far more than we disagree.  Surprisingly enough, this is not the first time the church has dealt with this type of situation. While not exactly the same context, Paul did encounter a similar situation in the church at Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 3 he says:

“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.”

While this verse may not address an exactly same situation, my point is this: Calvin and Arminius are both human teachers.  They did the best they could with the finite and limited minds and Spirit-driven illumination that they had been given to systematically describe the human experience in light of who God is and what scripture says. They are to be commended for their efforts, however I believe we have strayed so far in our path that we now argue for either school of thought above the essentials of basic Christianity.

Our desire should be, as far as we are able, to find unity in the body of Christ. There are good points to be made by both sides.  Calvinists have a very high view of God’s glory and his sovereignty which we could all learn from.  Arminians have a beautiful view of God’s love, care, and desire for humanity which we would be good to emulate.

Now, there are certain areas where both theologies diverge and there is room for serious disagreement, however both are within the realm of orthodox Christian thought.  I think Michael Horton, a true Calvinist, put it best when he said

“Only by endeavoring more to talk with each other as coheirs with Christ instead of about each other and past each other as adversaries can we engage with serious disagreements — and with the hope that we may also be surprised by felicitous agreements along the way.”

So, I encourage us all to have these discussions about deep theology.  I challenge us all to have FRUITFUL discussions about deep theology.  I challenge the Church collectively, and specifically in the US, to get back to teaching sound Christian doctrine and not watered-down, warm-fuzzy character studies of the Bible.

But the most important thing we should remember in all of this is summed up in the doctrinal statement of the church body that I call home:

“In the essential beliefs, we have unity (Ephesians 4:4-6) In the non-essential beliefs we have liberty (Romans 14: 1, 4, 12, 22) In all beliefs we have charity (1 Corinthians 13:12)”
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