This seeks to be an introductory study into the differences between Arminian and Calvinistic theology. This study is by no means definitive, but exists merely to introduce the five main concepts in which the two traditions have fundamental disagreements. Scripture verses used as proof texts are provided for each concept and short, unbiased comments have been added to each proof text to show how the text supports that viewpoint. The best course of study is to examine each viewpoint and then examine the Scripture passages from which they are drawn.
Calvinism is the theology that was a product of the Protestant Reformation and was largely defined by John Calvin (1509-1564). The doctrine emphasizes God’s omnipotence, man’s depravity and the salvation of God’s elect by grace alone.
Historically, the ranks of well-known Calvinists include Augustine, the Reformers of the 16th century, the Puritans of the 17th century, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. More recent Calvinists include Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Gresham Machen, Martin Lloyd Jones, J.I. Packer, Francis Shaeffer, R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur Jr.
Churches that teach Calvinist theology include Presbyterian Denominations (Presbyterian Church of America, Reformed Presbyterian Churches, Orthodox Presbyterian Churches, etc), the various Reformed Churches (Dutch Reformed, Christian Reformed, Reformed Baptist, etc) and traditionally many Baptist denominations, though recently this has changed.
Arminianism is the theology of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and his followers, known as the Remonstrants. Arminianism arose as a rejection of Calvinism and its doctrines of predestination and election. Arminius taught that God has given humans free will, and humans are able to freely choose or reject salvation.
The ranks of well-known Arminians include historical and current day Roman Catholics, the Remonstrants of the 17th century and John and Charles Wesley. Recent Arminians include Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Billy Graham, Rick Warren and most other “mainline” preachers and evangelists.
Most churches teach Arminian theology. Among them are most Baptist denominations, Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Catholic.
It is important to note that not all Calvinists will subscribe to all five of the tenets of Calvinism. Likewise, not all Arminians will agree with all five pillars of Arminianism. Generally speaking, though, an Arminian can be defined as someone who believes in human free will and that humans are free to accept or reject God. See the definition of free will later in this series for more insight into this. A Calvinist is someone who rejects the Arminian concept of free will, believing that the will of all humans is bound by their sinful nature and will remain bound until God performs His regenerative work. The two systems of theology diverge at the foundational issue of human depravity. Calvin says “That man has the best knowledge of himself who most thoroughly knows his depravity.” Calvinism is founded on the belief that man is completely and utterly unable to make a choice to follow God because the will of the unsaved person is bound by his sinful nature.
Interestingly, despite the fact that Arminianism arose in response to Calvinism, it is the Calvinists that are on the defensive today, needing to defend their beliefs against the majority of Christians who are Arminian. Whereas by rights Arminianism should be defined in light of Calvinism, the opposite is generally true.
It is also very important to note that the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is not a salvation issue. Though the two viewpoints stand in contradiction to each other, meaning that one must be right and the other wrong, there are no beliefs in either tradition that would leave people believing the opposite outside of salvation. Christians should not allow the differences between these viewpoints to become divisive in their unity with other true believers. That being said, it is still important for Christians to search for the truth and to discern for themselves, in the light of the Bible, which viewpoint is more Scriptural.
Tomorrow we will look at the five main teachings of Calvinism.