The Five Points of Arminianism versus The Five Points of Calvinism
Of all the theological views held by various Protestant denominations, the two most conflicting are those of French Reformed theologian John Calvin (1509 – 1564) and Dutch Reformer Jacobus Arminius (1559-1609).
Their differences can be summarized in five major points, often called “The Five Points of Arminianism” and “The Five Points of Calvinism”. The five points of Arminianism are in contrast to the five points of Calvinism.
I. The Arminian five points are listed below, explained, and supported with Scripture:
1. Unrestricted Free Will – This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God. His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
2. Conditional Election – God chose people for salvation based on His ‘foreknowledge ‘. God looked into the future from eternity past, to see who would respond to the Gospel message.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined…” – Romans 8:29
3. Universal Atonement – The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” – John 1:29
“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2
4. Resistable Grace – The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally quenched, so as to reject salvation in Christ.
“while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’” – Hebrews 3:15
“Do not quench the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:19
5. Potential to ‘Fall from Grace’ – The teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation, even after he has been ‘born again’, or, regenerated.
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” – Galatians 5:4
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” – Hebrews 6:4-6
II. The five points of Calvinism* are listed below, explained, and supported with Scripture:
*(The Five Points of Calvinism are often represented by the acronym T.U.L.I.P.)
1. Total Depravity – Man is completely fallen and affected by sin in all that he is, as well as in his nature. However, not all sinners are as bad as they could be.
This ‘total depravity’ means that the unregenerate cannot, of their own free will, choose to receive Christ. As Jesus taught in John 6:44, the Father in heaven must “draw” him.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:44
The unbeliever is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), loves darkness rather than light and does evil (John 3:19), does not seek for God nor does any good (Rom. 3:10-12), is ungodly (Rom. 5:6), dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1), by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), cannot accept or understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16-20).
2. Unconditional Election – (Also called ‘Particular’ Election.) God elects a person based upon nothing in that person because there is nothing in him that would make him worthy of being chosen; rather, God’s election is based on what is in God. God chose us because He decided to bestow His love and grace upon us and not because we are worthy in and of ourselves of being saved.
Election is the sovereign act of God where from before the foundation of the world, He chose those whom He would save (Eph. 1:4). This election to salvation is not conditioned upon any foreseen faith (Rom. 9:16) or good works of any individual (Rom. 9:11; 2 Tim. 1:9). This election is based completely on God’s sovereign choice according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:11). God chose the elect because He decided to bestow His love upon them (John 3:16; Eph. 2:4) based solely on his sovereign grace (Gal. 1:15) and for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).
3. Limited Atonement – (Also called ‘Specific’ Atonement.) Christ bore the sin only of the ‘elect’, that is, those ‘chosen’ by God since the foundation of the world, according to His foreknowledge. The blood of Christ was not shed for everyone who ever lived, otherwise, God would have wasted the blood and suffering of His Son knowing that not everyone would receive Him.
Christ’s blood was sufficient for all but not all sin was imputed to Christ. Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover all people. But the sufficiency relates to His divine value which is different from our legal debt. Sin is a debt (Matt. 6:12 with Luke 11:4) since it is breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4). In limited atonement Calvinists are saying that there was a limit to whose sins were imputed to Christ in a legal sense. They are not denying the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to cover all people. Instead, they look at the legal aspect of the sin debt. Peoples’ sin debts were transferred to Jesus (1 Pet. 2:24) and were cancelled on the cross and not when we believe (Col. 2:14). Therefore, legally speaking, those cancelled sins cannot be held against the sinner because their quality of being a debt has been cancelled by being paid on the cross (John 19:30; Col. 2:14). If the debt is cancelled, it does not exist and cannot be held against the debtor/sinner. Therefore, Christ only legally bore the sins of the elect even though His blood was sufficient to cover all. Also, consider 1 Sam. 3:14 which says, “Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
4. Irresistible Grace – (Also called ‘Persuasive’ Grace.) The term unfortunately suggests a mechanical and coercive force upon an unwilling subject. This is not the case. It is the act of God making the person willing to receive Him. It does not mean that a person cannot resist God’s will. It means that when God moves to save and regenerate a person, the sinner cannot thwart God’s movement; and He will be regenerated.
God moves the heart of the person where He wishes it to go (Proverbs 21:1). The choice and mercy of God depends on God’s desire–not man’s ability (Romans 9:18, see also Acts 13:48).
5. Perseverance of the Saints – We are so secure in Christ that we cannot fall away. (Christians may ‘backslide’, but God in His love will bring them back to Himself, even if He must use the rod of correction.)
Jesus will not lose any who had been given to Him by the Father from eternity past (John 6:38-39); He gave eternal life to them, so they will never perish (John 3:16; 10:27-28).
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” – John 10:27-28
If Christians can lose their salvation, then the gift of “eternal life” (John 3:16) is not eternal.
Those who leave the faith were never believers to begin with (1 John 2:19).
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” – 1 John 2:19
As demonstrated above, both views have abundant Scriptural support. Which leaves us with the question ‘How do we as theologians reconcile these differences without compromising the plain teaching of Scripture’?
It helps to understand that many doctrines in Christian theology are ‘paradoxical’. In other words, according to God’s revelation in the Scriptures both are ‘true’ even though they seem to contradict each other.
Understanding this peculiarity about the Bible helps us to realize the importance of the proper application of sound hermeneutical principles when interpreting anything in Scripture.
John Calvin himself has been quoted as saying, “No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.”
It’s good to remember that Calvin’s theology on ‘predestination’ was further developed after his death. It’s my conviction that, if he were alive today, he might not agree with all the doctrines that are credited to him.