Arminians Versus Calvinists: Some Surprising Statistics

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.

Church Size

Calvinist church attendance rose 13%.
Arminian church attendance rose 18%

Church Identity as defined by pastors

-Our church is Calvinist/Reformed
2000: 32%
2010:31%
(Statistically, this group has remained flat)

-Our church is Wesleyan/Arminian
2000:37%
2010:32%
(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:
Reformed: 29%
Wesleyan/Arminian: 34%

Ages 46 to 64-Baby Boomers:
Reformed: 34%
Arminian:33%

Ages 65+:
Reformed:26%
Wesleyan:27%
(This group was more likely to eschew labels)

Geographical Location

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.
Reformed: 29%
Wesleyan/Arminian: 47%

Non-mainline
Reformed: 35%
Arminian: 30%

Traditionally charismatic/Pentecostal
Reformed: 31%
Arminian: 27%
(This was the most surprising outcome since these churches tend to come from the holiness or Wesleyan traditions).

Churches that consider themselves doctrinally liberal

Reformed: 17%
Wesleyan: 13%

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.

 

 

Lydia's Corner: Nehemiah 11:1-12:26 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 Psalm 34:11-22 Proverbs 21:14-16

Comments

Arminians Versus Calvinists: Some Surprising Statistics — 68 Comments

  1. To be honest, Dee, I feel they entirely address two different things. Calvinism does well with regard to the sovereignity of God and how salvation is to His glory. Armenianism does well in explaining an aspect of man’s will that can either hardened or respond to the message of the Gospel.

  2. I’ve been a long term reader but this is my first reply. Thanks for all you do here. It’s put me on watch.

    Your post today especially hit home to me.

    After recently getting into a discussion with my calvinista brother about whether or not I was a calvinist, it came down to this for me: I was saved when I was 5 years old out of the Armenian tradition. I was convicted of my sinfulness. Jesus heard my prayer and filled me with a peace. I did not know I was Armenian; I simply knew I needed a savior.

    As a young adult, I heard about Calvinist doctrine, and it made sense and even countered some issues I had growing up in a church/ family with an Armenian slant. I embraced Calvinism as a theological construct in which to interpret the Bible. The overarching point of my summarizing my Christian walk is this: You can be saved as an Armenian or Calvinist AND live out the Christian life as an Armenian or Calvinist.

    I do not get this from neo-Calvinists. It seems to be very much Calvinism is the Gospel. To say it is not, is to deny the fullness of the Gospel. But Calvinism is not the Gospel. It is simply a construct in which we interpret the Bible. And this construct is man-made. It is fallible. I’ve found fallibility with Calvinism, just as I have with Armenianism. Again, it is not the Gospel. To treat it this way is to dismiss the accessibility of the gospel.

    I think that God knew what He was doing in leaving the question somewhat open-ended. Maybe He knew that some would have to believe they were choosing God and his salvation. Maybe He knew that some would need to believe that they were chosen to be saved. Like you said, Dee, there are enough paradoxes in the Bible to lend me to believe that this could be one as well.

  3. All I can say on this question is to ask two questions: first, who was the New Testament author that most eloquently spoke of Gods’ soverignty/election? answer: Paul Next question: who was the most passionate, persecuted, zealous evangelist of the New Testament? answer: Paul.

  4. I actually wrote my final paper (for my theology degree)on the pros and cons of Limited Atonement. My conclusion came down to two different views of the character of God (or perhaps more accurately, two different emphases) Does love trump sovereignty or does sovereignty trump love? (of course, it’s more nuanced than that!)

    Myself, I find Limited Atonement (or whatever name they’re calling it now) to not measure up to what the scripture actually says, and the whole logic of Calvinism falls apart if you remove it. But I’m not sure I’d call myself 100% Arminian either, though I lean closer. Part of the problem is that biblical truth is too complex and mysterious to quite fit into neat little systems of human logic — it’s a bit like trying to represent a 3 dimensional object in 2 dimensions, e.g. a map of a spherical earth — there are inevitable distortions, and the more accurate the map, the more disturbing gaps there are in it.

    On a more personal note, I spent many years in a Calvinist church, but I had to leave it behind in order to deal with some abuse issues in my life — Calvinism was leaving me stuck in victimhood. Only when I left it behind did I really find the God Whose love was my healing, who grieved with me over what had been done instead of standing aloof and decreeing my suffering (and the far worse suffering that goes on in the world every day). So I’m a little biased on this subject

  5. sotnam
    Great comment.You got it! It truly could be a paradox. All I know is that I have puzzled about this until I am puzzled out.

  6. Casey
    Interesting perspective. I always find it interesting to see how people approach this question. I fear I wasn’t terribly successful in my notebook approach.

  7. justabeliever
    Could you expand on your answer a bit. What initial question are you addressing in your first line?

  8. Lynne,

    There’s more out there than Calvinism and Arminianism.

    I’m neither. 🙂

    fwiw, I don’t see how anyone could read the NT and come up with so-called “limited” atonement. I would like to see the champions of that idea in a debate with the apostle Paul. 😉

  9. Oh numo — so would I! It’s quite scary when you study this stuff in depth and find out how much distortion of scripture takes place to get there. And these guys (and we all know who the big Calvinist figureheads are) don’t even see that they’re making scripture subservient to their theology, when it should be the other way round.

    I think they also make me nervous because extreme Calvinism, with it’s vision of a rigidly hierarchical universe, seems to be an extremely good fit with extreme complementarianism. Of course, what also makes things interesting is that Calvin was quite open about the fact that he got a lot of his ideas from Augustine, and Augustine was a Neo=platonist at one stage before he was a Christian. Some of Calvinism’s views of God — so remote, impassible etc, seem to have more than a tinge of Plato about them

  10. No doubt you’ll get plenty of comments from both sides of the debate. I’m just wondering why you didn’t mention Calvin in the list of theologians you studied. Or another great reformer/Reformed, Luther.

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  12. Sotnam –

    I agree – I too think God knew what he was doing in leaving it somewhat unclear.

    It seems like many who argue in favor of one perspective or another in theology are mainly coming from a place of wanting to be right about their perspective. When one get’s to that place they have essentially put God in a box of man’s own thinking. God must certainly be beyond our limited brain function, otherwise He isn’t God! Now I do believe there is much we can know about God, but I don’t want him in a box of my limitedness! That would be terrible! Some people don’t realize that they make God small and incapable of being God. Got it all figured out do they?

    Dee – I must have gone off the deep end as well! I DON’T want to be one or the other. I want to follow Jesus, not a system or vein of theology.

  13. Bridget2 – well actually, there *are* other theological positions besides these two. If you do a bit of checking, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    I am very, very glad that I’ve never had to bother with this, although I do have a bit of experience at trying to alert Calvinists to the fact that their pov vs. Arminianism aren’t the only game in town. I was met with skepticism, to put it politely.

  14. Well, if the question is who makes the final decision as to one’s salvation, I think Arminianism and Calvinism (classic, not “new” Calvinism) are the only games in town. Norman Geisler, for one, tried to find a “middle way.” He brought in a lot of philosophy, a subject he knows well, and decided that he was a moderate Calvinist. When he described what he thought moderate Calvinism was, it had all the characteristics of Arminianism.

    If there is a middle way, or another way, then it’s beyond our ability to conceptualize it; it’s known only by God. But I don’t think it’s wrong to work with what God has revealed to us. After all, the words “election” and “predestination” are in Scripture. People define them in different ways.

    Election is hardly the most important subject in Scripture, but it does overlap with our view of God’s sovereignty. (I’m not implying that Arminians do not think God is sovereign.) Arminians tend to put more weight on human freedom; Calvinists on God’s sovereignty.

    dee – I’m impressed that you not only read all of Grudem’s book, but taught it as well!

  15. Something Driscoll said years ago that had some Reformed types annoyed with him is he said that the problem with how people handle limited atonement or “definite atonement” is assuming that the work Christ accomplished on the Cross has to be small enough or monothematic enough to have only one function. He proposed that while only X people may be elect Jesus, as the second Adam, wasn’t just accomplishing an atonement with definite scope but also purchasing back creation from Satan, sin and death. He got some complaints that he was trying to find a middle ground. I do think, however, that Driscoll’s point bears some thought, people who fixate on the Arminian/Calvinist discussion of the atonement are fixating on salvation merely as the domain of how individuals get saved, particularly in Western Christianity. As others have pointed out, there are other approaches within Christianity. Although I’m still be all measures a “Western” Christian I figured out early on in my adult life that not all Christian is Western, particularly in contrast to a bunch of cultural warrior historical revisionists.

  16. Paul was a lawyer and theologian, and both tend to use big words to talk about big ideas, but they use those words differently than the rest of us (I can say that as a lawyer and something of a theologian). But, when you take Paul’s words and stack them against what Jesus is reported to have taught in the Gospels, you have to decide whether to adjust your interpretation of the words of Jesus or the words of Paul in order to make them all fit together. Non-Calvinists tend to choose to keep the words of Jesus and adjust their understanding of Paul’s words. Calvinists the opposite.

    Jesus said that prayer changes what God does. That sounds a bit like ‘open theism’, which is just a small step beyond Arminianism.

  17. It might interest you to know that Wesley himself radically changed his theology as he went through life. As a young man, he is described by more than one theologian as being only “a thread’s breadth from Calvinism” and did not become Arminian until later in life. I belief our theology can and must change as our experience with God changes. I agree with the post, that when we get to heaven,we’ll find both Calvinists and Arminians are equally right and equally wrong.

  18. Jeff said:

    “After all, the words ‘election’ and ‘predestination’ are in Scripture. People define them in different ways.”

    I would be cautious about what you say here. Yes these words are in English translations of the bible but to get the real meaning one has to go back to what was the original intent in either Hebrew or Greek. Something can be lost with the translation. Words that are translated in certain bibles as “predestined” or “elected” can mean something different when going back to the Hebrew and Greek.

    I wouldn’t build a theology based on relying what words various translations of the bible state without some understanding of the what the translated word means in its original language.

  19. The irony of this whole debate is that a large percentage of Ariminians have never heard of Arminius. But all Calvinists have heard of Calvin. :o)

  20. “I wouldn’t build a theology based on relying what words various translations of the bible state without some understanding of the what the translated word means in its original language.”

    Amen, Steve. We have entire doctrines built around faulty word meanings such as “teshuqa”, “authenteo”, “kephale” and even the word “heart” which in the 1st Century was thought to be where our thinking came from instead of the head. Each one of the words above (both Hebrew and Greek) had the original meaning changed over time in translations. For example, teshuqa in Gen 3:16 was translated as “turning” up until about 1300 when a monk named Pagnini changed it to “desire”. Totally different meaning.

  21. Jeff
    But do you not see the irony here? I did teach Grudem’s Systematic Theology (the big book, not the smaller one). He does not think women should be teaching, especially a mixed class of men and women. I found it all rather amusing.

  22. Dee,

    I wonder if our readers know the difference between Grudem’s large Systematic Theology text and the smaller version. From what I understand, the smaller one is a required text in the SGM Pastors College.

    Steve240 can probably confirm that. By the way Steve, you made an excellent point about going back to the original languages of the Bible to discern the true meaning of certain words.

  23. Jeff – I think you will find that Lutherans, Episcopalians/Anglicans and Roman Catholics do not fit into the Calvin v. Arminius paradigm. There are other streams of Christianity in the West besides Reformed that predate Calvin, and you cannot easily shoehorn any of these churches’ theologies into the Calvin/Arminius argument.

  24. Since I grew up in a “free will” part of the world, I was surprised a few years ago to find that this was a topic of discussion and debate. After some thought and examination, I decided that when Christians were “doing” Christianity that I would not be able to distinguish one from the other.

    Since then, I think the discussion is interesting but not very important. After all, what is, is. Our opinions don’t matter–and from a Calvinist point of view, they CERTAINLY don’t seem to matter. It seems strange to me that so many of them seem determined to “convert” people to their way of thinking.

  25. I would be interested to know if the survey tracks intensity of belief. In other words, I wonder how many people would have identified themselves as Calvinists ten years ago, but who are much more certain or militant about it now. Conversely, I wonder how many people would have leaned slightly in an Arminian direction, but after listening to the discussion over the last decade are much more strongly opposed to Calvinism today.

    It would be interesting to know how many people have become more or less certain, entrenched, or militant in their viewpoints. People don’t need to switch camps to experience extreme change in their positions; the same general view with a much greater or lesser degree of dogmatism is still a big change, just at a different level, and with different consequences.

  26. I don’t find that most Christians are conversant enough on these terms and categories to make an accurate judgment.

    I do not think that the percentage of Christians who call themselves “Calvinists” has risen or declined in 10 years. In evangelical seminaries, I think that there has been an increase, but whether and to what extent that will translate to the pew is anyone’s guess.

    I believe that some of the emphases of reformed theology have found new receptivity in light of our culture’s increasingly hostile view toward the faith.

    The mass evangelism movements and many evangelism techniques are not as effective, or perceived to be as effective, as in the early or mid 70s.

    One way to process this is to understand that God is sovereign in salvation, and leading someone to Christ is not as simple as presenting the 4 Spritual Laws, and if that doesn’t work, try some other technique.

    The younger generation, in my opinion, is not going to be guilted into the belief that some people are going to hell because believers did not give enough, work hard enough, live right enough, pray enough, or use the right evangelism techniques.

    They are running up against opposition and difficulties that do not appear to respond to any of these things. Our culture continues to move away from a culture dominated by Christian thought, theology and morals.

    So, the verses in the Bible that talk about God’s election, our inability to see spiritual truth without the spirit’s intervention, and the apparent fact that God does actively hide the truth from some (which is most difficult for Westerners to perceive) speak strongly to the experience of us all.

    But there is a huge gulf in recovering an appreciation for those concepts, and adopting wholesale a theological system that has difficult places, just as all systems do.

    In my opinion, that is what is going on here.

    If there is a Great Awakening, however, or something like it, it may spur Christians on to believe that any person can be won, with the right technique, prayer, hard work etc. And then we will be right back where we were 50 years ago. Some new Billy Graham will come along – reformed by his Southern Baptist heritage, but in practical terms, more like Finney than Edwards.

    So, it’s not a question that I really pursue.

    I have lived through the birth and development of Contemporary Christian Music, the highs and now lows of crusade evangelism, the Christian School movement, the Home School Movement, the door to door witnessing phase, the Discipleship phase, the political activism phase, the theraputic counseling emphasis, the Missions era, the seeker movement (an Arminian exercise if there ever was one – “People don’t come to church because church is not cool enough”) and now the Reformed era.

    Years ago, it was the “Build Colleges” phase. That one was expensive. And they are almost all gone now. The Baptists have been particularly bad, even though some of them are wilfully blind to that fact and still think that Wake Forest and Furman are fine Christian Schools! All it will take is some Muslim or Hindu alum who becomes fabulously wealthy in the US to donate $300 million to Wake or Furman, and they will run a Muslim flag up the flag pole or erect a golden statue of Buddah at the entrance. (And when that happens, some brainless moderate Baptist will say something like, “Our college has never been as truly Christian as it is now”.)

    It will be something new in 5 years. Trust me.

    And it will still be good, and have some truth in it. And it will have excesses, as well.

    That’s my 2 cents worth.

  27. But what is the “logistical” difference between the two? How do the two “sides” ACT differently? So, does it really matter which side you take here? Why not just not take a side…

  28. “In other words, I wonder how many people would have identified themselves as Calvinists ten years ago, but who are much more certain or militant about it now. ”

    I have been astonished at a few militant New Calvinists a few years ago who are now agnostics or athiests. So, far I know of 5. But they were sold out to the New Calvinism just a few years ago.

  29. “But what is the “logistical” difference between the two? How do the two “sides” ACT differently?”

    One of the guru’s of the Reformed movement, Al Mohler, says that if you are theologically minded and want to see teh nations rejoice for Christ, you have no where to go but Reformed doctrine.

    Now, if that does not mean that those who are not Reformed– ARE NOT theologically minded and DO NOT WANT to see the nations rejoice for Christ—I do not know what else it could mean.

    Another way they “act” differently is a result of their doctrine of melding justification and sanctification. (specifically new calvinism). They basically teach that “Jesus obeys for us”. They don’t say that explicitly but it is implied all the time. You can even trace this back to their focus on Sovereignty. After all, God is controlling your puppet strings so everything you do, even sin, is God ordained. (You are not responsible)

  30. God predestines and we choose.
    A Christian Mystery
    Antinomy: Apparent contradiction
    Resolved in the mind of God
    Much like the hypostatic union – 100% God; 100% Man – two natures united in one person forever.
    Most of us don’t get as charged up about the nature of Christ as much as we do this area.

  31. Jeff –

    I’m sorry, maybe you mean something that I don’t understand, but what in the world does this statement mean:

    Jeff on Thu, Dec 01 2011 at 05:14 am

    “Well, if the question is who makes the final decision as to one’s salvation, I think Arminianism and Calvinism (classic, not “new” Calvinism) are the only games in town.

    Are you saying that believing in ONLY one of these two (man-made, might I add) perspectives is the determining factor in one’s salvation?

    Where would this leave the sovereignty of God? Does Jesus have nothing to say about who he calls “his own sheep that know his voice?”

    My goodness, I believe I have brother and sister believers all over the world who have never heard of Calvinism or Areminianism and never will, but they are believers and may be better off without all of the systematic reasoning. I have nothing against knowledge but it does have a way of “puffing one up.”

    The patriarch’s of the OT certainly never heard any of these ideologies and Christ had not come into the world as yet – but we are told,

    “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

    and

    “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”

    and

    Well – all of Hebrews 11 but especially – “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Do you think they have and/or had some great system of theology? They had faith in God and/or Jesus (.!)

    P.S. Many millions, dare I say (?), never even had or saw a Bible.

    And I agree with Steve240 that since the time of the written word, words and their definitions have been constantly changing so when studying the Bible – go to the original language.

  32. Numo –

    I agree with you. I wasn’t trying to infer that there are only two choices of theology. There are many. But that is not the same as faith in God. For me, there is only one choice, you believe in the life, death, and reserrection of Jesus and that leads to eternal life or you don’t believe it. I don’t see that Jesus had other qualifiers for people. He did warn of why some would find it difficult to enter into that salvation. He told us what it would look like to be a brother/sister with him. He told us that when we see him we have seen the Father. He stated the two most important commandments are. The scribe asked him which is the most important of all. I find it interesting that Jesus replied with two commandments not just one.

    “The most important, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

    IMHO – everything Jesus said and did sprang from these two commandments.

  33. In 2004, I came to the conclusion that Calvinistas do not believe that God is Sovereign over his own Sovereignty, so that he cannot eschew controlling everything in accord with some plan that he made before creation. Which of course, means that all of the evil in the world was caused by God before creation, including hell being predestined for specific children yet unborn regardless of their choices in life. Not a God I can worship.

  34. Hi, everyone!
    I continue to wrestle with these issues, and while I listen to some Calvinist and neo-Calvinist theologians and pastors, I think the more extreme views of predestination fly in the face of what Christ taught and Scripture as a whole. Scripture does speak of adoption, which implies that God chose us and can be a beautiful teaching, but it also has a whosoever will message and tells us that if we come to God with a contrite spirit he will in no wise cast us out. I am reminded too of the parable of the Pharissee and the publican, the former was * sure he was chosen and the latter, who beat his breast and cried that God have mercy on him, a sinner, went to his house justified rather than the other. Like the initial post that started this enlightening and thought-provoking discussion, I share the author’s view that how God chooses us and yet offers salvation to all is a paradox. In saying all that I am probably muddling things horribly, lol! but think there is merit on both sides of the issue. Is it possible to see the strengths and weaknesses in both theological frameworks, while giving all glory to God for His grace and mercy? Just thinking out loud, lol!
    Love to all,
    Andrea

  35. Bridget2 – oh gosh; that post I made re. Lutheranism and such was intended mainly as a response to Jeff, though I think yours (just a few posts up) is far better and gets right to the heart of things.

  36. “The irony of this whole debate is that a large percentage of Ariminians have never heard of Arminius. But all Calvinists have heard of Calvin.”

    True that. 🙂

  37. Eagle –

    It is not about the concept of “predestination.” Salvation in Christ is a gift. All you do is receive it by faith from Jesus. I’m not convinced you became unsaved, Eagle, unless you have never actually acknowledged faith in the work of Christ on the cross and a need for Jesus’ forgiveness in your life.

  38. “I wonder if our readers know the difference between Grudem’s large Systematic Theology text and the smaller version. From what I understand, the smaller one is a required text in the SGM Pastors College.”

    I seem to recall that this smaller Grudem book being specifically developed for SGM and used in in their Pastors’ college. One interesting item is that this smaller book doesn’t have the section that Grudem writes where Grudem denounces someone in this day and calling themselves an “apostle.”

    It certainly is ironic that the top leaders in SGM called themselves “apostles” for a period of time while at the same endorsing Grudem who pretty much denounced a modern day leader applying that label.

  39. Steve240 –

    So Grudem edited the book down to appease SGM’s theology AND make some money. While SGM got a version that suited their system. Hmmm. Sounds a bit too convenient and sickening to me. Didn’t Grudem feel like he was compromising his beliefs??

  40. To become “unsaved”??

    I cannot imagine but that God is cheering you on, Eagle, in your most honest appraisal of things, and as you process it out.

    Process is good.

  41. Eagle, given what you talked about in your most recent post… well, it sounds very overwhelming!

    Hang in there; you’ll be OK. and in the meantime, like elastigirl said above, process is good.

  42. Elastigirl and Eagle –

    I was not saying that I believed one can lose salvation. I was referring to Eagle’s own past posts about his seemingly loss of faith in God.

    You have and are going through some difficult things in life, Eagle. I encourage you to look to Jesus and not to the many systems of theology that are out there. Jesus is the way. He has living water. He will never leave us or forsake us.

  43. Eagle
    It does not all come down to predestination as your friends might insist. It comes down to a loving Savior who willing gave His life for you and loves you very much.

    The Bible is clear-God does not want anyone to perish. I think there are far too many Calvinistas who do not have a clue but they sure feel good about themselves and their “evident” election. CS Lewis says there will be some surprises in heaven. I am betting that he is correct.

    And I think Yancey does a darn fine job of stating the faith.

  44. This is a very interesting article Dee, and Deb. Really enjoyed it.

    I struggle too, with wondering which “side” I’m on. I’m gravitating towards being more in the Armenian camp as an SGM refugee, like Virginia, but I’m not sure if that’s due to my extreme distaste for SGM and their unabashed lauding of all things Calvin as truly being the only biblical way of thinking. Try being an Armenian pastor at SGM…you’ll be shown the door before you can get the word out.

    I suppose, for me, it comes down to which view lends itself more to spiritual tyranny (NOT that that was ever Calvin’s intention…I would never make that leap). In that sense, Calvin is the winner, hands down for me. If it’s all predestination, then you really are a thoughtless numbskull who needs your wise pastor to lead you along like the stupid sheep you are. You have no say. You have no will of your own that matters. Your questions are irrelevant; so is your opinion. Your freedom of thought and being is merely an illusion. Not saying that Calvin advocated such things, but, again, Calvinism lends itself to that kind of tyranny, I think. In the end, really, in the extreme version, your very faith doesn’t matter. Whatever is God’s will is God’s will. No faith, no personal responsibility, no questions. THAT’S Calvinism…to me.

    But free will? Ha. When’s the last time you heard: “Yeah, I hate that church because they oppress me with my own free will.” Let’ me see…I can control my own actions and thoughts and formulate my own beliefs of my own volition, I can resist sin, I can have faith, I can love God, I can chose to follow him of my own free desire, I can accept His love for me of my own free will, I must take responsibility for my own sin as well as my own victories made possible by God’s power of the Holy Spirit freely given to me, and which I FREELY accepted (because God’s grace in creating me gave me the power to make that choice). I don’t know…that just sounds better to me. I picture a relationship with God as freedom. Calvinism to me seems like a prison, in my experience. But that’s just me; I’m not theologian.

    I suspect, in the end like a wise poster said, there are some truths to both points of view.

  45. “Steve240 –

    So Grudem edited the book down to appease SGM’s theology AND make some money. While SGM got a version that suited their system. Hmmm. Sounds a bit too convenient and sickening to me. Didn’t Grudem feel like he was compromising his beliefs??”

    It certainly was convenient for both parties that that section of the book was left out.

    Shifting subjects I don’t think a lot of people understand all that believing in Calvinism or synonymous names such as “predestination” or a “sovereign grace” mean. A “sovereign grace” isn’t to be confused with the group called “Sovereign Grace Ministries” though SGM supposedly believes in a “sovereign grace” hence their name. I have seen some Baptist churches have the name “free will” to indicate they don’t believe in Calvinism or a “sovereign grace.”

    Some of what Calvinism teaches is:

    – God only “elects” certain people to salvation.
    – Those that God “elects” have no choice but to become save. They call this an “irresistible grace.”
    – Those who God doesn’t elect have no chance to become saved. (It depends only on God who has mercy according to Calvinism.)
    – No matter how you bring your children up, if God doesn’t “elect” them to salvation they have no chance of being saved.

    Sadly a lot of people don’t understand that this is what Calvinism teaches. Some call the above the “darker” side of Calvinism. Basically this is that some have no chance of ever coming to Christ.

    One other item to note that you see in SGM is that SGM claims they believe in Calvinism but then holds leaders accountable for their adult children’s behavior including these children not coming to Christ or falling away. If one truly believes in election why hold a leader accountable for their children not coming to Christ? After all, they claim to believe that it is God who decides who He elects to salvation. The shouldn’t say that things work one way and then have actions that indicate they believe something else.

  46. Steve 240:

    I like what your post at 11:06 pm says. However, there is a tense issue.

    – God only “elects” (elected before creation) certain people to salvation.
    – Those that God “elects” (elected before creation)have no choice but to become saved. They call this an “irresistible grace.”
    – Those who God doesn’t elect (did not elect before creation) have no chance to become saved. (It depends only on God who has mercy (on those elected before creation) according to Calvinism.)
    – No matter how you bring your children up, if God doesn’t “elect” (did not elect) them (before creation) to salvation they have no chance of being saved.

    According to strict Calvinism: There is no current activity in this regard, even by God. He had a plan before creating the earth that included EVERYTHING that happened, happens or will happen, and that is that. No deviations.

  47. Pingback: Feel-the-love department | Civil Commotion

  48. I’ve been away from this thread too long. I’ll address one topic now, the rest later.

    I never meant to imply that there are only two theological systems: Calvinism and Arminianism. Of course there are others. I was dealing with only one question: Who makes the determining decision in a person’s salvation? It seems to me that there are only two choices: 1) God; 2) The person. Who else? The person’s dog (notwithstanding the reverse spelling)? The person’s best friend? The person’s best friend’s dog?

    I wrote that, if there’s another possibility, it’s beyond our understanding. I gave, as an example of someone trying to find a “middle way,” Norman Geisler. What he called a middle way, was, in fact, Arminianism, not a third way.

    I also wrote that this topic was far from being the most important one in Scripture.

  49. I have a feeling that when Christ brings us forth from the grave and we are situated somewhere in the New Creation we will still have questions about this. God is mysterious in His ways and may not consider it as something we need to know. Also, at that point, we may have lost interest in the entire subject. I’m not sure that it has been an enlightening subject over the years, rather a sidetrack that keeps us from doing the work of Jesus.

  50. David
    I’m with you! In fact, that is where I have always been. Then, the secondary issue doctrine Nazis appeared on the scene. Now I am condemned if I don’t march lockstep with the current “theory” du jour. Let’s see, there are some who think you may not be saved if you are not a 5-point Calvinist, a Young Earther, a premil/pertribber, an ESSer, a complementarian, etc. That is one of the reasons I blog. This is the voice of a couple of women who are trying to say “Cut it out.”

  51. dee, this is my first time looking at this blog, but it is very appealing from what I see. To say that we can’t be saved unless we adhere to a certain set of side-track legalisms is to pervert the grace offered to us in Christ. Keep up your good work.

  52. David C,

    Welcome to The Wartburg Watch. My best buddy Dee and I do our best to keep up with faith trends, and we report on them in this forum. We cover a wide range of topics, but spiritual abuse and the Young, Restless and Reformed movement seem to top the list since they are such hot button issues.

    Please continue to read (even our archives) and comment.

    Blessings!

  53. Dee Clarifies a Comment!!!

    I received a comment from a concerned reader which was well justified. She/he was concerned about my comment when it came to views on Christian fiction. I obviously did a bad job conveying my thinking in this matter. I love Christian fiction. I have read more Christian sci fi and fantasy books then many of my friends. I believe that fiction can sometimes convey theological issues better then wooden literalism. I will try to do a post on some of my favorite fictional books in the near future.

    Here is my comment to the concerned reader.

    “I think my comment came acroos in a way that was unintended. My critique was not meant to be a jab towards fiction writers. In fact, I have been considering doing a post on Christian sci fi books that I have loved. Maybe I should do it more quickly now!

    My critique was meant to be directed at women who are not interested in the spiritual themes of a book. They just want to discuss story line. In fact, I believe that fiction is far better at conveying theology than wooden literalism. That is why i like GK Chesterton and CS Lewis’ fictional writings.

    For example, the books these ladies wanted to discuss were Jan Karon’s series. I loved those books and found the themes heartwarming. In fact, I think some of the hardliners could learn some empathy from her books.”

  54. A) There is a lot of support for Armenianism in Jesus teachings. He seemed to think we were responsible for choosing or rejecting Him.

    B) Paul’s teachings that are interpreted in light of election can also be interpreted in light of a free will choice.

    C) I find especially amusing how Calvanists deal with Peter’s discussion of what happens when people fall away. (they were never ‘really’ saved etc. etc)

    I personally am not either. I know some aspects of life are predestined, and am also convinced some aspects are subject to free will.

    But what I despise is people who take one side or the other and then make up stories to explain away the texts that point to the opposite side. I firmly believe that God is beyond our mortal comprehension, and it is the height of arrogance to assume that we know what the Bible is saying to the point we can dismiss scriptures that clearly contradict what we think the Bible is saying.

    As far as I’m concerned, the Bible teaches both predestination and free-will, and to whatever extent that confuses me it is my responsibility to trust God and not demand or manufacture an answer.

    In that regard, keep in mind that most non-trinitarian cults are based on the fact a fellow decided that the paradox of the trinity could not be true because it did not make sense to him, and so he invented an ‘answer’ that solved the problem but denied the clear teaching of scripture.

    Zeta

  55. The paradox is at the garden. Adam was the only one with true free will and how he chose sin without a sin nature is beyond me.
    After the fall, I think Calvinism get’s it right on and Arminianism borrows from Palagianism (thus called semi-Palagianism) since its underlining assumption is that we still have a will that is like Adam’s in that we can choose right or wrong regardless of our sinful nature.

  56. William
    I have no problem with Calvinism although I find neither Calvinism nor Arminianism gives me an answer that fully satisfies me. I think that it is a paradox in our way of thinking since we are binary creatures. I listened to a lecture by Hugh Ross a couple of years back. He was discussing the number of dimensions that exist. Many of our smart readers understand this stuff but I was almost overwhelmed when I considered the possibility of 12-13 dimensions. Then, it was speculated that God exists in His own dimension.

    I am a 3 dimensional being who is bound for heaven which is most likely in another dimension. I cannot imagine such wonders-yet I know it is complex. So, I relax about this whole issue. I believe in a sovereign God and in a God who allows choice. I don’t believe in utter pre-determinism yet get why some do.

    However, there is one thing I do know. I am like Paul. I want to do what is right but often choose what is wrong. And sometimes, when I am in a really foul mood, I even want to do what is wrong (sulk, etc). Because of this simple fact, i understand my utter dependence on the grace given to me by Jesus.

  57. None of the above. That is my answer to the Reformed vs. Armenian debate. Both schools of thoughts have serious problems. That man has a free will is possible because of the Sovereign choice of the God of Love. The fact that God instituted the free will offering should be a giant “DUH!” to everyone. The fact that Adam knew he was naked, knew he had sinned, knew he needed to hide from God, proves that in our depravity we can know of our condition and can most definately make a choice to accept or reject, to believe or not believe. We are all drawn, all convicted, all given opportunity to believe or not believe.

    Calvinism/reformed theology misrepresents God’s heart and thereby hurts His reputation. I am sure many of those who have bought into this system really love God and have yet to realize where the bottom button of their theology leads when you button the shirt all the way down.

    God is not a contradiction and I believe we must apply the law of non-contradiction to our theology. It was Him who said, come let us reason together…

    Choose “none of the above” and let the scriptures alone, in context, inform your understanding or who God is.

  58. Quote:

    “Most of us don’t get as charged up about the nature of Christ as much as we do this area.”

    My Armenian friends would say that the argument is about the CHARACTER of God and my Calvinist friends would say the argument is about the POWER of God (and powerlessness of humanity).

    So…to both, this argument is just as important as an argument about the nature of Christ. What’s more, MOST evangelical denominations have close agreement on the nature of Christ and its ramifications — those were hammered out centuries ago. These other issues have not been hammered out and may never be.

    I do agree with those who say there are other options. Both Calvinism and Armenianism (and all points in-between) are positions that only make sense within a shared worldview, using shared categories. To an increasing number of Evangelicals, as well as to Catholics, EOs and to many, though not all, Lutherans and Anglicans, the statements made by both sides are nonsense because the categories they work with are so different.

  59. jh

    Good comment. You said ” These other issues have not been hammered out and may never be.” The problem is that hammering continues. The saints get hammered if they do not believe in pretrib, young earth, 5 points, etc. Now, we have guys like Tom Challies who will not let women read Scripture in the pulpit. We are rapidly losing our ability to work with each other.

  60. The author is to commended for a well balanced article. The modern church seems fairly 50/50 on this issue, and the main focus question therefore seems to be whether or not we can all work together for the glory of God, in mutual acceptance of one anothers’ faith and confession to combat the more pressing issues of our day: secularism, atheism, Islam and liberalism in the church.

  61. B.P. Burnett,

    Welcome to TWW! You are so right. We have pressing issues to address in 21st century Christendom, and some are hung up on forcing fellow Christians into their narrow view of Scripture.

  62. The real question is truth.Either God elects man or man elects himself.One of these is true and the other is false.Arminianism is more pleasing since it allows man to be the master of his faith. It also is egalitarian and American. So Arminianism will always be the major theology.Personally,I think Arminianism is a Providential device to maintain charity while Calvinism is there to maintain truth.

  63. JW
    Ah, the “truth” argument. If it was so clear, then why aren’t all Christians of good will who care about the truth convinced? Are we all just American materialists who are rugged independent cowboys? Are all Calvinists just the best of all bestest theologians who must put up with the riff raff out there?

  64. I fall into the paradox camp as well. The Bible seems to clearly teach both that God chooses as well as the importance of man’s need to choose.

    A question for those who reject predestination… I believe in the reality of some kind of predestination because I see God choosing throughout Scripture. He chose the Hebrews and did not choose the Canaanites, Hittites, etc. He said Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Do I understand how God would condemn entire people groups such as the Canaanites? No, I don’t. It is an uncomfortable question to consider. But that’s the reality of the Scriptures. I ask this as a sincere question. How do you understand these passages of Scripture where God seemingly chooses to not choose some? And if He made the decision to not choose some, doesn’t it follow that He might still do so? Again, I realize this is a hard question to consider and I don’t have a perfect answer. But when I see how God sovereignly chooses some and not others in the Scripture, I’m not sure how to come to any other conclusion except that some form of predestination must exist paradoxically with man’s free will to choose or reject Christ.

  65. Great article Dee…I am going to say this and don’t mean it in a condescending tone at all, but…

    I am sure that God meant to create the paradox…I just wonder, is He shaking his head at us (not the TWW, but Christianity in general)? I mean, the question is, “What did you do with my son Jesus?” Not did you know the 5 points of Calvinism? Or were you Armenian? Did you get the whole gender thing right? Oh, your a chick and you went on a mission to a foreign country and taught villagers (men & women) the gospel? Tsk…tsk…

    I think the greater question is did you imitate Christ?

    Forgive me, I just spent six months at MH doing “theological sword play” while everyone ignored the most important thing…and experienced GRACELESS living. And you know what, I am not complimentarian or egalitarian, I am not Calvinist or Armenian, I am saved by grace. I am of no reputation.