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The debate between Arminians and Calvinists has been going on for over 400 years and has caused some numerous divisions in churches, friend-groups, and even families. At the center of this argument is the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity, the initial letter of the famous acronym TULIP. This doctrine is seen by Arminians to have limited the grace of God and led many believers to a misconstrued view of God’s intentions. This steaming hot debate, however, should not be dealt with as it has been in the past, with anger and hostility, but should be handled with love and grace, so as to imitate the love and grace of the very God we are speaking of. While this discourse is a statement written by a fallen man and will, therefore, like any human work be biased, we are not to forget that we remain on the same team and serve the same and loving God.
As with any debate, both parties will always bring their own presuppositions to the table, which take part in forming their topical stance. Everyone is already biased prior to entering into a debate so it is important to establish these stances before things get heated. It is possible that both parties might agree on more than they think.
There are many presuppositions that Arminian’s hold that are important to their understanding of free will, grace, and their refutation of TULIP that play an important role in their doctrine of salvation. These assumptions are not solely tied to Armenian doctrine but they are those in which validity was placed during theological development. The first of many is that of God’s unending grace. Nobody with an orthodox theology is going to refute this statement but to the Arminian’s this phrase is a picture of the character of God that seems to suggest that Gods grace is willing to be stretched as far as it needs to be in order to reach all who proclaim their need and want for it. Just as it was stated in the previous paragraph the debate is not a disagreement with the presuppositions but more what they mean to their respective parties. Those in Calvinist circles could easily say, “yes, God’s grace is unending, but for those who He has predestined and elected according to His will and grace.” While on the other hand Arminian’s could say, “God’s unending grace is offered up for all of mankind and everyone who hears and believes can latch onto this grace.” Neither of these statements is inherently unbiblical and both make their points effectively. Even though this is a debate on a particular doctrine of salvation it is not a salvation issue, both groups are still saved and the opinion they hold does not determine whether or not they are. While personally the Arminian stance is more convincing that does not mean that there is not validity in each position.
It is quite obvious that Calvinists seem to have more blatant proof for their understandings of Salvation and election while the proof for Arminian’s is all in their understanding of the character of God. The number one argument on the Arminian side of things is that it is God’s will that all of mankind would be saved, however, because of free will that same mankind is able to resist His call to them and unfortunately live out eternity apart from Him, if they so choose. The Calvinist side begins with that of predestination, the almost curse word in some circles, and the election of Gods chosen ones. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). At first glance, this word does have a very Calvinist connotation to it and does seem to strongly state that God chose previously those who would be saved and named them His elect. Even Strong’s Concordance translates it to mean, “foreordain, predetermine, or to mark out beforehand”(Strong’s Greek), so it seems to be a strong place to start. Then moving on to Romans you have Paul saying, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy”(Rom. 9:16). With this, we move into the Calvinist view on Irresistible Grace, the belief that once the Holy Spirit ministers to you it is not possible to resist Him. Using the excerpt from Romans seems to be an easy way to back up this view but you could just as easily translate it to mean that man cannot save himself and therefore must rely on God to do so. As we move on to the biblical evidence for Arminianism we turn to the book of 2 Peter in which it states, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance”(2 Peter 3:9). This seems to be the stronghold of the Arminian’s, the belief that God does not want anyone to perish and therefore would not predestine some to go to Hell. This would seem to contradict the will that He already made known. Other verses appear to suggest the same thing in different words, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”(1 Tim. 2:4). The word “desires” suggests that even though God wants everyone to be saved He knows that some will not turn to Him. Lastly, we have an excerpt from John saying, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”(Jn. 12:32). This verse seems to propose that Jesus will draw all of mankind to Himself and it will be up to them in their free will to choose to run after Him or not. There is a good bit of biblical evidence on both sides of the debate and therefore gives both validity as an acceptable option.
According to our textbook, speaking on the doctrine of salvation during the patristic era, “No ecumenical council dealt with disputes concerning salvation until the fifth century, so the patristic era displays a remarkable lack of clarity or consensus on the subject”(K. Keathley, p.551). While there is this lack of clarity, we are aware of some issues that arose during this time. One of the issues was that of Sacramentalism, the belief that you received grace by partaking of the Lords supper and by being baptized. Specifically on the area of predestination in the patristic period we look at Origen who believed that God’s foreknowledge was based on the persons merit, knowing how the person would turn out and therefore making a decision based on that knowledge. The medieval era was not much different except for the fact that they took this idea of Sacramentalism to its extreme. They “were viewed as concrete, visible means by which inward grace is received, further sanctifying the practicing believer”(K. Keathley, p.552). Also during this time, the view of double predestination arose with the monk Gottschalk of Orbais that stated that God chose both people to be saved and to go to Hell. In the reformation, the belief of salvation through grace alone launched back to the forefront of the Church with proponents such as Luther and Calvin. It was during this time when Calvin described the difference between Sanctification and Justification, most likely the paramount discovery of the reformation. It was also during this time in which Calvinism began and took a foothold as orthodox doctrine. The modern era has been one large debate when it comes to the Doctrine of Salvation; proponents of both sides have developed arguments based on both Calvinist and Arminian Doctrine. One of the most dramatic splits during this era was John Wesley breaking off from Calvinism and has resulted in most modern-day denominations that arose from Methodism holding to an Arminian set of beliefs.
Over the years, many types of Theological Methods have arisen bringing their own spark to the fire of Christian Theology. In the early church, they were very adamant about developing their theologies solely from the Holy Scriptures. The primary theologian who did this was Irenaeus. Ones like Tertullian, Clement, and Origen while also drew from scripture tended to draw from different pagan philosophies in order to refute the heresies as well. Augustine used a narrative framework for his method and stuck very close to the scriptures; however, he also drew from other areas such as law and poetry. The medieval period was fueled by the scholastic method which according to our textbook put “emphasis on biblical exposition, rigorous logical analysis, and careful linguistic distinctions) but later was influenced by mysticism”(B. Ashford, K. Whitfield, p.22). Theologians like Aquinas also used scripture as their main source of theology. He specifically is known for many things, one of which being his Summa Theologiae which was his attempt to write a “disputed question” form of theology. Martin Luther and John Calvin, being the two most influential theologians of the Reformation both used scripture as their main source for their theology but also tended to venture back to the ideas and understandings of the church fathers in an attempt to latch on to their understandings of God. Out of this very limited list of methods the method that looks to be most, biblical would be that of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The most important thing in the search for Theological understanding is knowledge of the scriptures. While many other Theologians used this as their main source as well, the area of research that stuck out was that of journeying back to the fathers of the church and dissecting what they believed. The combination of eyewitness beliefs systems and inspired scripture is by far the most reliable Theological Method presented.
With any theological presentation the aspect of practical application must be held to importance because if we as believers are not applying what we learn and discuss to our daily lives we are learning in vain. In the debate on salvation we should strive to find middle ground with one another, living in such an argument divides the body of Christ and therefore should be discouraged if at all possible. I believe this debate has gone on for far to long and we as the current generation of Pastors, Evangelists, and Theologians should do our best to peaceably find the middle ground in which we can both agree on a biblical stance. As of right now, there is no correct party, no one is completely right. Aspects of Calvinism are at fault as well as some Arminian Doctrine, and the trick is to use the previously stated theological method to sift through the grey in which the answer probably lies. “Jesus’ life was not black and white, it met people in the gray of their lives”(M. Rumppe). Let us discover the middle ground so that we can join this body together again and continue to fulfill the great commission and partner with God for the reconciliation and renewal of all things.
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