"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Monday, July 02, 2007

Calvinism and Arminianism

As I mentioned in the previous post, we do not wade in the shallows when we think about election (or the Trinity or how Jesus can be fully man and fully divine). So if we go out into deep waters, how should that affect our relationships with those that disagree with us. For example, how should a "Calvinist" relate to an "Arminian"?

First, let's acknowledge that there is a danger in being in deep water. One risk is that we become overly rigid and exclusionary. This, it seems to me, is especially true about those who have just discovered these truths. The danger of becoming too exclusionary is present in part because some of these truths are exclusionary. Christians are the only theists who believe in the Trinity. It has been a dividing line between us and Jews and Muslims for centuries. Therefore it is not always easy to know what truths are worth dividing over. The other risk, which seems common in our day, is that the depth of the water makes us despair of being able to know anything.

But I believe that deeper studies, especially if done prayerfully and always with a dependence on the Scriptures, are corrective to each of these risks. Why? Because we will come, with Paul, to understand that we cannot fully grasp who God is or what He has done. We are left with only doxology about how great God is. I am finite and fallen, so I can never comprehend the infinite, holy God fully. But through these studies we will also see that God has revealed Himself, so there are truths about God that we can know and understand.

Second, let us realize we are not called to a war to eradicate Arminianism. Do I think election is important? Definitely. Do I think the Reformed understanding of election as outlined by Luther, Calvin, and the men who follow in their footsteps is the correct understanding? Definitely. Do I think Arminians are lesser Christians? Definitely not. Charles Spurgeon, a far more capable proponent of election than I, noted that two men he held in highest esteem were George Whitefield, a Calvinist, and John Wesley, an Arminian.
Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. C. H. Spurgeon "A Defense of Calvinism" (middle of 3rd paragraph from the bottom)

For a similar perspective on this topic, I would commend to you a post by Mark Dever on the Together for the Gospel blog. In part he writes (emphasis his):
The real front line is not between Calvinist evangelicals and Arminian evangelicals. It is between those who are lost in their sins and those who have been saved by God's sheer grace in Christ.

Third, this doesn't mean we don't discuss, debate, and contend for our beliefs. But it is the kind of contention that allowed George Whitefield to rebuke John Wesley for Wesley's Arminianism, but then say that he did not expect to see Wesley in heaven because Wesley would be so much closer to the throne of God than Whitefield that Whitefield would not be able to see him.

Election is neither an essential doctrine, like justification by faith alone, nor is it a personal conviction issue, like whether Christians are allowed to partake of alcohol in moderation. Election and other doctrines which fall into this middle ground are doctrines which should be discussed. Therefore, the (admittedly difficult) task is to contend for our understanding of truth with a humble, irenic spirit.

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Blogger Greg said...

Just went through the grand experiment of teaching through Romans 9 to our very non-denomination, theologically eclectic congregation. It was a pure joy to see how people came alive in seeing how much the passage stretched their minds and hearts. I appreciate the helpful way that you've called attention to the Wesley/Whitefield divide/friendship. I used the same illustration and think it proved helpful to many as they wrestled through it all.

2:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...


Thanks for the comment. Spurgeon was not a key figure in my coming to understand election, but he was very helpful in teaching me to hold the doctrine with a proper spirit. Particularly because of Whitefield and Wesley. It is also good to hear that the word is being proclaimed, even the difficult passages, and people are responding. I pray that God will continue to bless your ministry.

4:16 PM EDT  
Blogger Greg said...


Thanks for the encouragement. Hey did you see my comments on Stephen King posted on your other blog? I'd love to get your feedback...

8:59 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...


Hadn't seen it. I'm still getting that blog set up like I want it and do not have email notification of comments turned on. I will respond though.

10:55 PM EDT  

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