Calvinism vs. Arminianism: A Worthwhile Debate

Question
Does the battle between Calvinists and Arminians really matter? I've seen excellent arguments and strong biblical support on both sides. But what I keep coming back to is, who cares? Both Arminians and Calvinists believe that, one way or another, salvation comes from repentance and belief in/on Christ. They both believe that all Christians are called to serve, witness, evangelize, worship in spirit and truth, and become Christ's presence ("body") in the world until he comes again. So, if we all agree on the basics, is the argument over predestination, etc. really important?
Answer
As far as Calvinism and Arminianism are concerned, I do think the issue is an important one. However, for the most part, I also think it is an in-house debate. That is, I believe that most Calvinists are Christians, and I believe that most Arminians are Christians. One reason I think the debate is important is that I think biblical truth is important. The Bible benefits us as we understand and apply its truths to our lives. If we fail to understand it rightly, we run a high risk of applying it inappropriately. In my own estimation, Calvinism accurately represents biblical truth, and Arminianism perverts it.

A good and very significant example of this relates to the difference between the Arminian and Calvinistic systems of salvation. We both admit that in order to be saved we must have proper faith, and that faith must have proper content. We both admit that we will not be saved if we believe that Jesus was just a man, or that he did not rise from the dead. However, the Bible also teaches that we will not be saved if we trust that we will be counted righteous before God on the basis of our own merit (e.g. Rom. 9:30-33). Sadly, many Arminians believe that they stand righteous before God on the basis of their own merit. They believe in forgiveness in Jesus alone, but in positive righteousness obtained by human merit.

To speak in broader terms, I also believe that Calvinism is more honoring to God, and that it is leads to greater joy in Christ. I believe it is more honoring to God because it ascribes more glory to him, and represents him as more sovereign (the ultimate decision is his, not ours) and more faithful (he will do whatever it takes to ensure that believers do not perish). Calvinism also does not allow man to claim that he has contributed to his own salvation (either by positive righteousness, or even by making a critical decision of his own free will). Calvinism ascribes all the glory to God. It is also more honoring to God because it more accurately understands and accepts/submits to God's Word. It leads to greater joy because believers may trust that Christ will keep them securely, that he will never allow them to slip from his grasp and to lose their salvation. It also offers greater hope in evangelism -- no longer must we think that the salvation of others depends upon our human abilities to convince them of the gospel's truth. Rather, we may rest in the fact that the Holy Spirit is able to use even our feeble efforts and misguided understandings in order to bring people to faith by his own power.

I agree that most issues between Calvinism and Arminianism are not salvific ones -- both Calvinists and Arminians will be in heaven. I also agree that Christians may live largely similar lives even if they disagree on issues such as limited atonement and unconditional election. But the same cannot be said regarding doctrines such as total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. These greatly impact the way we understand our own abilities to be faithful to God, our feelings of security in Christ, the guilt or joy we feel in evangelism, the fear or comfort we feel when we fall into sin, our approach to sin and temptation in general, and host of other practical things in Christian living.

Further, because these doctrines of salvation are so fundamental to the assumptions of biblical authors, we may tend to miss the point in many passages if we are not persuaded of the Calvinistic viewpoints. More importantly, Calvinistic doctrine is rooted in covenant theology. Without a proper understanding of covenant, we are likely to misinterpret much of the Bible, such as its teachings on the current application of the Old Testament law to the lives of believers, the validity of other means of salvation than Christ, and the hope of the Christian life in the current kingdom of God.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.