the following is an excerpt written for the Introduction to Theology course in Truett Seminary’s Certificate of Ministry Program
In the subject of theology, there is often no greater disagreement than over the matters of Calvinism and Arminianism. These two perspectives are often pitted against each other, and their supporters can often be adamantly opposed to the opposite view. With many books being written from both sides.
This matter is also compounded by the frequent misunderstanding of Arminianism because of the constant misrepresentation Calvinists have made of Arminianism.
(Upon this subject of misunderstood Arminianism there is probably no one better to consult, than the Truett Seminary faculty member, Roger Olson. He is widely known as being an expert on this matter, and though we will be fairly brief in our consideration of the matter, interested students will want to turn to his writings, particularly, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.)
What I hope to do is to provide some helpful overviews of both sides, along with some quality further readings that will allow each side to be fairly represented and explored.
When studying theology, one of the crucial steps towards healthy understanding is care in selecting sources and materials. And within the subject of theology there is no more difficult task than finding quality materials on the subject of Arminianism and Calvinism. There is a HUGE amount of information online that is not as helpful or as accurate as it could be, and so to help out we have put together 4 pages on the subject to both introduce the subject, and to help you navigate it well.
Should this subject interest you, many longer readings have been provided, and should it not interest you at all, we have tried to keep our explanations concise and helpful.
To begin with, here are two acronyms to help us understand Calvinism and Arminianism more easily.
T.U.L.I.P. and F.A.C.T.S.
TULIP is a very widely known acronym, and it sums up what are commonly referred to as the “5 Points of Calvinism”.
(This short essay,is a recommended read for anyone wanting a scripturally supported argument regarding T.U.L.I.P.)
Each of the 5 points of Calvinism are intertwined and dependent on each other, and one might hear the phrase, “I am a 5-point Calvinist.” Meaning that person believes and holds to all 5 points. On the other hand, some of these points are difficult to come to terms with, so someone else might claim to be a 3-point or 4-point Calvinist, meaning that they only hold to 3 or 4 of the 5 points. Usually someone of this type will disagree with Unconditional Election or Limited Atonement.
What these 3 or 4-point “Calvinists” often don’t understand is that 3 or 4-point “Calvinism” is Arminianism. But Arminianism has been so misrepresented that it is often viewed in negative ways. In his previously mentioned book, Roger Olson describes over and over how he encounters Calvinists who claim and argue that Arminianism is the same thing as a heresy called semi-pelagianism.
Semi-pelagianism or Semipelagianism
An understanding of salvation which holds that the beginning of faith is the work of humans, and the growing in faith is the work of God. That people will choose to trust in God, and that God will then work in their lives. It goes against the Christian doctrine of Total Depravity (that sin prevents us from even wanting to choose God on our own), because this “beginning of faith” would be considered a “work of righteousness”. Something which everyone is incapable of while still lost in sin.
As a result of this severe misrepresentation of Arminianism, it is often misunderstood by most, and harshly condemned, criticized, and put down by its critics (often well known people like John Piper, Matt Chandler, or Mark Driscoll).
The first towards a more accurate understanding of Arminianism is a handy acronym like the well known TULIP.
For the purposes of convenience the acronym F.A.C.T.S. is quite helpful and easy to remember.
(The F.A.C.T.S. acronym is courtesy of– a very helpful and comprehensive overview of Arminianism – it is a highly recommended read for anyone wanting a strong scripturally supported argument – though it is rather long)
One of most helpful experiences I ever experienced was when a theology professor drew out an Arminian understanding of prevenient grace on a whiteboard in class. It was as if a light bulb went off, and it immediately helped me understand everything so much better.
In my attempts to help you in similar fashion, I have created the following two illustrations. They are not perfect, but they should hopefully help to illustrate Arminianism and Calvinism. Some additional comparison is offered on the next page.
In Arminianism the elect and non-elect are properly known as “conditionally elect” and “conditionally non-elect”. This means that God elects those that he knows will choose him. The moment at the cross is the moment of choice – the moment of “conversion”.
In the Calvinist model, the non-elect are more than “lost in sin” they would perhaps more properly be described as the enemies of God. In addition, as the lines demonstrate, the elect have always been destined to salvation, and the non-elect have always been destined to damnation.
Comparing the Two
Now that we have a passing understanding of the Calvinism and Arminianism, let us compare and contrast the two a little further.
As you can see below, each of the 5 points correspond with a point on the opposite side. Due to the inter-workings of history, this matchup is intentional.
Total Depravity vs Total Depravity
Calvinists believe that humans are so utterly affected by sin, that there is no possible way for a person to respond to God’s offer of salvation – thus God has to select them entirely of God’s own will, and then grace works in them to compel them to conversion.
Arminians believe that a humans are so utterly affected by sin that there is no possible way for a person to respond to God’s offer of salvation except that God extends prevenient grace to restore our ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.
Unconditional Election vs Conditional Election
Calvinists believe that God elects (chooses) everyone’s eternal destination (predestination) unconditionally (without free choice), while Arminians believe that God only elects those whom he knows will freely accept the gift of salvation (foreknowledge of our free choice).
Limited Atonement vs Atonement for All
Calvinists believe that Jesus’s death is only effective for those whom God has already chosen (the elect), but Arminians believe that Jesus’ death is effective for everyone.
Irresistible Grace vs Freed to Believe by God’s Grace
Calvinists believe that God’s offer of grace cannot be resisted – this is tied to the belief of Unconditional Election, andLimited Atonement -essentially God offers grace to specific people, and it is always accepted, because it cannot be rejected.
On the other hand, Arminians believe “God does not save people without their free assent but gives them prevenient grace (grace that goes before and prepares) to liberate their wills from bondage to sin and make them free to hear, understand, and respond to the gospel call.” (Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
Perseverance of the Saints vs Security in Christ
Calvinists believe that because God does the choosing, it is impossible for a true Christian to lose salvation. This is because the individual’s actions have nothing to do with their eternal destination.
Arminians believe that a person’s salvation is secure as long as that person believes and trusts in Christ, but that it might be possible for someone to recant their salvation. Though many would argue that these recanters were not true Christians to begin with (on this last point, many Calvinists and Arminians might be in agreement).