One of the big debates among Protestants for the last four or five hundred years deals with the character of God. Is He a God who rescue individual humans by His will alone regardless of what the people do or think? Or is He an all-loving God who gives humans both the choice to follow Him and the grace to act upon such a choice?
In theological terms, those two views of God are called Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism, named after John Calvin, follows the concept of the first question listed above why Arminianism, named after Jacobus Arminius, follows the concept of last question. Both views came into prominence in Europe during the 1500’s while the views themselves date back further. Calvinism draws off of the teaching of St. Augustine in the fifth century while a lot of Arminianism back to the first century and Church Fathers.
It should be stated that neither viewpoint fully answers all the theological questions in a satisfactory manner. There are holes, weak-points, and unknowns in both theological systems as well as every other theological system ever developed. The fact is that God is so amazing and huge that we, as created creatures, can never fully understand His ways (Isaiah 55:8). We can think about He and talk about Him as He Himself told us to “come and reason” with Him (Isaiah 1:18), but in the end all we can do is throw ourselves at His feet and cry “Father, Father, here I am.”
Sadly enough there is a growing number of evangelicals in the USA who are pushing Calvinism as the ONLY correct theological viewpoint out there. They have bad mouthed Arminianism, Open Theism and anybody who does not agree with their viewpoint. I myself have personal come under the gun a few times from folks like this who tried to persuade bagger me into believing the things they did.
When this happened, I typically fell back on a viewpoint taught to me by an old college professor. This viewpoint, typically called “Calminanism”, confirmed both Calvinism and Arminianism without fully making a decision. However the more I study and learn about the issue, the more I realize that this professor, while trying to be helpful, really didn’t help his students.
The reason I say that is because the idea of blending Calvinism and Arminianism lends itself to a very shallow and stereotypically view on the concepts behind Calvinism and Arminianism. For example, if I were to ask you all to define Calvinism and Arminianism, most if not all of you would say that Calvinism is about the sovereignty of God (i.e. God is in control and choose who goes to heaven) while Arminianism is about free will (i.e. humans can choose to follow God or not). A “Calminanism” view would then be the view that confirms both the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.
Interesting enough, as I have recently discovered, this “sovereignty-of-God-and-the-free-will-Calminanism” view of theological is actually the view thing that Arminianism teachings. Yes, you heard that correctly. Arminianism confirms the sovereignty of God, teaching that no one comes to the Father except those called by Him, while also confirming the fire will of humans to reject the call of Jesus to follow Him. It IS the middle path!!
You see, while most USA Protestants evangelicals only ever hear about Calvinism and Arminianism, there are actually two other systems of belief that try to answer the question of how one is saved. In the fourth to fifth century there was a monk named Pelagius who claimed that humans could climb out of the hole of sin and evil by themselves without help from God. This concept, called Pelagianism, was ruled a heresy as it would mean that Jesus’ death was meaningless. Soon afterwards some of Pelagius’ followers tried to tamper down some of the more grieves parts of Pelagianism, saying God will pull people out of sin and evil once they start moving towards Him. In other words, the initiative or spark for salvation begins with humanity after which God will step in and help save them. This view, called Semipelagianism, was also banned as a heresy as it throws out Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
With both Pelagianism and Semipelagianism now on your mind, let us return to Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism follows Semipelagianism in the sense that humanity needs God to rescue them, only instead of having humanity start the process, God Himself starts the process. Furthermore, people who are chosen by God for salvation cannot deny or reject God – meaning that they are saved regardless of what they do or even if they wanted to be saved or not. Arminianism, in turn, follows Calvinism in that God has to start the process for salvation as humanity is trapped by the evil one. However, instead saying that God picks and choses who too save and who too damn, Arminianism says that God cares about everyone and, therefore, gives everyone the same spark of grace to move them towards Himself. Humanity then has a choice, they can either accept this grace and be saved, or reject it and continue on into
Therefore Arminianism becomes the middle path between God doing everything (Calvinism) and humanity doing it (Pelagianism/Semipelagianism). Or in different terms, Arminianism is the path of tension holding together two seemingly opposite view while confirm everything within the Scriptures – both the passages where people have a choice to follow Jesus and those which say that God chooses the elect and delivers His people.
Radical stuff…. Very radical stuff…
For those of you who want to learn more about Arminianism, as it is sadly not taught correctly in most churches or schools, I would recommend either reading Dr. Roger Olson’s blog post “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?” or watching his recent forum talk about Calvinism and Arminianism.