Here we stand, at long last, at the conclusion of our sojourn through the subtleties of soteriology. What can be said of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism?
We have pulled apart and examined all five of the petals of TULIP, considering as best we could briefly the notions of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. In each case, we ultimately arrived at the Scripture itself, weighing the clear – or otherwise implicit – measure of its words. There will be those who disagree with me to that end, and that’s fine. The debate between these two poles has been burning for hundreds of years; nothing I can add will change the layout of the battleground, and my only aim was to cast my own perspective into the fray.
In the end, the whole matter really boils down to two things: the sovereignty of God and the free will of mankind. There can be no doubt that God and His authority surpasses everything else in creation, yet we must still be curious as to how much freedom He allows us individually to have within that creation. I’ll come back to that in a moment though…
I’ve heard a number of Calvinist commentators say that their perspective on the matter is one that ultimately gives God more honor in the long run, granting Him greater glory and providing Him with a certainy of power that nothing could possibly ever encroach upon. They claim that the notion that man has an active choice in accepting his salvation effectively dishonors the sovereignty of God. In all things, their intent is to ascribe to Him the totality of the glory, and that is not a position without merit. My issue with it however is that, because of a number of the routes they go to ensure this glory, the invariably do harm to the nature of God; a nature which I believe the pages of Scripture reveal as one of a loving Father who paid the ultimate price in order that the lost – every single one of us – may have a choice in their path back to Him.
From the Arminian perspective, in so far as I personally hold it, this view of freedom and free choice is not meant to impose upon God’s infinite sovereignty or to rob Him of any glory at all. Rather, for me, it is a position that testifies to a goodness that surpasses anything we could otherwise imagine, revealing a heartbroken Father who seeks to restore a broken relationship with His children through love and gentleness and mercy as opposed to a – and forgive me for the apparent harshness of this comment, but – choice made for us by a jealous and narcissistic totalitarian dictator. If Calvinism be true, then God apparently has saved a handful of special folks and condemned the rest of us simply because He seeks greater glory among His elect. As Dave Hunt once put it, “How then can it be said that God loves those for whom Christ didn’t die, whom He never intended to save, but whom He predestined (reprobated) eternally to the lake of fire?” That image does not fit the Scriptures.
You know, my favorite book of the Bible is Genesis, and I am in love with the Creation Account. I have studied that miraculous advent of everything countless hours, and it is here that I come back to so often. If Calvinism is true, I have to ask, what’s the point? Why spend the time and go through the effort if He has already chosen whom He will save and whom He will condemn? Why put creation through the effects of the fall, and all the sickness and death and suffering that still today plague us? Why force His elect to endure all of that now, and furthermore, why create everyone else if they have ultimately no hope to experience His grace and mercy, condemning them all to an eternity in Hell? Why suffer the cross if He could have simply created just His elect and skip all of the needless suffering of countless others, in the past, now, and for eternity hereafter? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever!
On the debate, one of my favorite Christian apologists – Ravi Zacharias – put it this way:
“The challenge you and I face, therefore, in life is to see how we can responsibly operate within the parameters that are so clear–God is sovereign, and yet I have the freedom and reserve the right to say yes or to say no. You see, God has given to every man the fundamental privilege of trusting Him or refusing to trust Him. You know, the old illustration used to be the sign outside of Heaven saying “Whosoever will may come,” and once you enter in, you see the sign that says, “Chosen before the foundation of the world.” A person who is truly born again recognizes that it was really the grace of God that brought him there because he could ever have come this way himself. It does not in any way mitigate or violate the choice that he made. The choice man makes is to trust God’s provision.”¹
For me, in the end, Calvinism simply isn’t tenable. Its aim is full of merit, to be sure, but its arguments fall well-short of reality under careful scrutiny. Seeing the matter as I do puts me squarely at odds with a number of beloved commentators, such as John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul, but that’s Ok for – though a heretic I may be called – I believe I stand on the right side of Scripture and our Lord. Even so, I will submit that none of us, not me or any of those great commentators on either side of the issue, will know the whole extent of the truth on this side of eternity. One may find a certain sense of comfort in the words of Philip Schaff who said, “Calvinism emphasized divine sovereignty and free grace; Arminianism emphasized human responsibility. The one restricts the saving grace to the elect; the other extends it to all men on the condition of faith. Both are right in what they assert; both are wrong in what they deny. If one important truth is pressed to the exclusion of another truth of equal importance, it becomes an error, and loses its hold upon the conscience. The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism and more divine that Arminianism, and more Christian than either of them.” He’s probably a lot more right than wrong…
Ravi Zarcharias, in closing an address on these issues, put it ever so eloquently, saying:
“Both poles exist–His sovereignty and our responsibility. We rest on the fact that God is just, that God is love, that God is good, and He woos us enough so that we may trust Him and yet gives us enough freedom so that we might know that this freedom cannot be transformed into coercion.”¹
For now, all we can do is embrace the good Lord, cling to His precious promises, and accept the glorious salvation before us. From that point, standing in the light of His mercy, no matter whether we side with the Calvinists or the Arminians or somewhere in between, let us rest with the peace of mind that we may be saved if we but accept the hand offered to us. God bless you all, and may the Lord shine a light on the truth for each of us.
-D. S. Causey –