Life isn't like a book. Life isn't logical or sensible or orderly. Life is a mess most of the time. And theology must be lived in the midst of that mess. Charles Cotton
Landslide on the Asteroid Vesta-NASA
In the early part of the previous decade, I set out to decide, once and for all, whether or not I was an Arminian or a Calvinist. I read books by Sproul, White, Piper and others and compared them with similar books on the other side. Not only did I read the ENTIRE Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, I taught it over the course of a couple of years.
I had a notebook divided into two columns. Whenever I felt one side proved a point, I would write it down. This little experiment went on for a very long time. Poor Deb, I would discuss this stuff ad nauseum. She, thankfully, is still a friend. I looked at that notebook recently and realized that, although this exercise was thought provoking, I was left just as confused as I was before i started this journey.
I was left with this conclusion: the faith is full of paradoxes and this debate, for me, remains a puzzle. What do I mean? Think about Christ’s birth.
- The immortal takes on a mortal body.
- A human baby with undiminished Deity
- The timeless one existing in time
- The omnipresent now living in Israel
- The omnipotent one becoming a powerless baby
I could go on and on. The argument between Arminians and Calvinists boils down to a simple disagreement. Does God elect us or does God, in some manner, allow us to choose? Before I proceed, I am well aware of the arguments regarding total depravity and irrestible grace. Once again, I see myself presented with choice as being one side or the other. But could the truth have some elements of both? I know ardent defenders on both sides of the fence will now have conclusive evidence that I have gone off the deep end.
I have come to a simple conclusion regarding these supposedly conflicting theologies. If there are well-educated, godly theologians who are on different sides of an issue, then I believe we may have a paradox. Christian theologians agree on the virgin birth, the Cross and Resurrection. We all agree on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper but some, such as Lutherans, have a slightly different take on what happens in that process. We all agree on some form of baptism but we disagree about the timing and form.
The Reformed/Arminian paradox may not be resolved until we get to heaven. Even then, God remains the Creator and we are the created and we may never be able to fully comprehend the complexities of His being. Although He reveals much to us, He is a God of infinite mystery.
Until that time, unless I am convinced otherwise, I am agnostic on the Reformed/Arminian question. I like what a pastor I know says, always with a grin “I was predestined to be an Arminian or I chose to be a Calvinist.”
I said all of this to inform you that I do not have a dog in this hunt. I do not like authoritarian bullies of all stripes who hit people over the head with theology that makes them out to be lower than worms. I don't buy the idiot sheep theology, whether it comes out of the mouth of a Calvinist intellectual (we call those types, Calvinistas) or a good ole SBC Arminian pulpit banger.
So, in the court of public opinion, which of these two theologies is gaining ground in the court of public opinion? If one were to believe all the hype, it would appear that Neo-Calvinism’s star shines the brightest in today’s theological firmament. However, the surprise answer is this. When comparing Calvinism to Arminianism, there appears to have been no significant change in the numbers that make up either group in the last decade!
One of our alert readers from Down Under sent us a link to a Barna study link published in November 2010.
This study looked at various parameters over a period of 10 years from 2000-2010. For the sake of brevity, please assume that Calvinism and Reformed are interchangeable. The same goes for Wesleyan and Arminian. All statistics are from the above Barna article. Please refer to the full article for more in-depth understanding.
Calvinist church attendance rose 13%.
Arminian church attendance rose 18%
Church Identity as defined by pastors
-Our church is Calvinist/Reformed
(Statistically, this group has remained flat)
-Our church is Wesleyan/Arminian
(Statistically this group has had more fluctuation both up and down.)
Does age of a pastor affect the percentage who consider themselves Calvinist versus Arminian?
Ages 27 to 45:
Ages 46 to 64-Baby Boomers:
(This group was more likely to eschew labels)
Reformed churches: Common in the Northeast, least common in the Midwest.
Wesleyan/Arminian churches: Equally likely to appear in each of the four regions.
Types of churches
Mainline Churches (American Baptist Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and United Church of Christ.
(This was the most surprising outcome since these churches tend to come from the holiness or Wesleyan traditions).
Churches that consider themselves doctrinally liberal
Conclusion by Barna:
Calvinists, hold your breath, count to 10…. “Kinnaman, who serves as Barna Group president, concluded, "there is no discernable evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over. . Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most of today's church leaders.”
(Digression: Is he saying all those conferences are not making a difference?)
However, Barna expects changes to occur over the next decade.
“…most of the nation's 300,000 Protestant churches are in a state of theological flux, apparently open to identities and trends that do not necessarily fall within expected denominational or doctrinal boundaries. Given this profile, we expect that new theological, relational, as well as methodological networks that emerge will redefine the Protestant landscape over the next decade."
From my perspective, these statistics were most surprising. The hype in evangelical circles over the past five years has been about the rising star of the Neo-Calvinist movement, along with it’s supposed “superstar” preachers. However, if these statistics are accurate, there has not been a net trend change in the past decade. Could it boil down to “big hat, no cattle? Time and statistics will tell.
Let's end this with another song to remind us about our Loving Shepherd.