Obviously this debate between Calvinists and Arminians is never going to be resolved until heaven. But SOME evangelical Calvinists and SOME evangelical Arminians regard the others as true evangelicals or at least true Christians (brothers and sisters in Christ).
The problem is that especially Calvinists tend to misrepresent Arminian theology. Too often they use language that is so misleading one has to wonder how they can think what they are doing has any integrity at all. I admit that some Arminians do the same.
IF we think of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and IF we think our churches should cooperate in some endeavors (as opposed to simply rejecting each other as non-Christians), then we need to get together in the real world (not just the blogosphere world) and talk things over.
I will tell you that I have talked about these matters face-to-face with many Calvinists and it dismays me to hear them turn around and go on misrepresenting Arminianism to their audiences.
Here’s how that usually happens. They attribute to Arminianism (which is the same as attributing to Arminians) beliefs Arminians reject. Then, when challenged, they always say something to the effect that “Well, that’s what you should believe given what else you believe.” In other words, they take what they think is a “good and necessary consequence” an Arminian belief (such as universal atonement) and directly attribute that to Arminians as if that is what they believe.
The equivalent behavior on the part of Arminians (and other non-Calvinists) would be to say publicly “Calvinism holds that God is the author of sin and evil.” In fact, almost no evangelical Calvinist says that. (Jonathan Edwards did say it but with so many qualifications that I wouldn’t even attribute it to him without stating his qualifications.) So, I never say that or anything like that. When I say “Calvinism makes it difficult to tell the difference between God and the devil” I AM NOT saying Calvinists believe there is no difference between God and the devil (or even very little difference). No one hearing or reading me could think that is what I’m saying. Everyone knows Calvinists do not believe that and nothing in my words indicates that they do. I am clearly saying that FOR ME Calvinism makes it difficult to tell the difference.
I have no problem whatever with Calvinists saying something like “Arminianism makes it difficult to see how salvation is all of grace.” Fine. I understand that as a statement coming from a Calvinist’s perspective; it is not a statement about what Arminians believe. I will argue that the person saying that is wrong, but I won’t claim it is dishonest or even misleading.
People sometimes ask me if I am personally offended by Calvinists or if I think they are so wrong as to be defectively Christian. My answer is always–No. I am only offended by them and made to wonder about the integrity and reality of their Christian faith when they continue to misrepresent Arminianism (or other belief systems) to their audiences after they have been corrected.
I had the publisher send copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities to several leading Calvinists who I have heard since then continue to misrepresent Arminianism. Some people the publisher sent it to gratis refused to read it. One leading Calvinist asked me for a copy. (The one the publisher sent somehow didn’t make it’s way past his front office to him personally.) So I sent it to him. I never heard back from him even though I specifically asked him to read it and respond.
Another unfortunate experience I frequently have is Calvinists pestering me with questions I have answered (obviously not to their satisfaction) but refusing to answer my questions.
I have asked here and elsewhere and many times in many places how Calvinists account for the goodness of God (as anything meaningful to us because somehow analogous to the very best of love as that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in Scripture) in light of their belief that God could easily save all people (because salvation is irresistible) but does not–thus consciously and willfully damning many people to eternal torment in hell. The answers I get to that question don’t answer the question at all. The most common one is: Everyone deserves hell; God doesn’t owe salvation to anyone. That doesn’t answer my question.
I want to say to my Calvinist interlocutors: You answer MY questions and then maybe I’ll answer yours. But I have answered yours before. I have said, for example, that I don’t think one can prove either Calvinism or Arminianism by citing proof texts. Scripture seems to be genuinely ambiguous about some of these issues. But that doesn’t make things equal because, as I see it, IF Calvinism is true then God is a monster. Answer that, please. None have ever seriously attempted to answer it; they have simply rejected the question.
This is likely to go on and on until and unless well-intentioned people of integrity on both sides who care about honesty and fairness sit down in the same room and talk face-to-face about these things.
What I want, and will not settle for less, is for Calvinists to describe Arminianism fairly–as Arminians describe it. (How? I’ve answered that in Arminian Theology!) Only THEN go on to disagree–as strongly as desired. I reserve the right to disagree with them strongly. I don’t expect anything different from them. What I DO expect (but rarely find) is fairness.
When I spoke to a large group of student leaders of a chapter of the Reformed University Fellowship they told me afterwards that they had never heard Arminianism so described. They were shocked and surprised at what I said it is. Their leaders had not told them the truth. I know that to be the case because their leader spoke to my class and said “Arminianism is just Pelagianism.” I challenged him and asked him to let me speak to his RUF group and he did. (I’m not sure how much choice he had as I was on the university’s committee for religious groups on campus! I don’t know if he knew that or not, but he knew I was influential. Others I’ve asked to let me speak to their Calvinist groups have generally refused.)
I call on all evangelical Calvinists who care about fairness and honesty to meet with me and other evangelical Arminians to work together toward a moritorium on unfair attacks on each other.