Arminians vs Calvinists, daggers at dawn?

Arminians vs Calvinists, daggers at dawn? December 3, 2010

It need not always be this way. A while back I posted on the famous Wesley vs Simeon encounter which demonstrated that moderate Calvinists and moderate Arminians can in fact agree. If you are not aware of that incident, please do read about it. More recently, Luke picked up on my post which cheekily asked if Spurgeon was an Arminocalvinist and commented about me in the following post: “Calvinist Extends Hand of Friendship to Arminians.”  He also linked to a helpful article written by an Arminian which is one of the best-argued cases for classical Arminianism I have ever read. The article begins with the frequent assertion of Calvinists that Arminianism  is man-centered rather than God-centered:

Certainly there is some truth in these criticisms, but their target is wrong when aimed at classical Arminian theology.  Unfortunately, all too seldom do the critics name any Arminian theologians or quote from Arminius himself to support these accusations.  When they say “Arminianism” they seem to mean popular folk religion which is, admittedly, by-and-large semi-Pelagian.  Some, most notably Horton, name 19th century revivalist Charles Finney as the culprit in dragging American Christianity down into human-centered spirituality.  Whether Finney is a good example of an Arminian is highly debatable.  I agree with Horton and others that too much popular Christianity in America, including much that goes under the label “evangelical,” is human-centered.  I disagree with them, however, about classical Arminianism about which I suspect most of them know very little.

What would count as truly God-centered theology to these Reformed critics of Arminianism? First, human depravity must be emphasized as much as possible so that humans are not capable, even with supernatural, divine assistance, of cooperating with God’s grace in salvation. In other words, grace must be irresistible. Another way of saying that is that God must overwhelm elect sinners and compel them to accept his mercy without any cooperation, even non-resistance, on their parts. This is part and parcel of high Calvinism, otherwise known as five-point Calvinism. According to Boice and others theology is only God-centered if human decision plays no role whatsoever in salvation. The downside of this, of course, is that God’s selection of some to salvation must be purely arbitrary and God must be depicted as actually willing the damnation of some significant portion of humanity that he could save because salvation in this scheme is absolutely unconditional. In other words, Calvinism may be God-centered, but the God at the center is morally ambiguous and unworthy of worship. . .

According to Arminius (and all classical Arminians agree) Calvinism implies that “God really sins. Because, (according to this doctrine,) he moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to his own purpose and primary intention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit in man.” Also, “From the same position we might also infer, that God is the only sinner. For man, who is impelled by an irresistible force to commit sin, (that is, to perpetrate some deed that has been prohibited,) cannot be said to sin himself.” Finally, “As a legitimate consequence it also follows, that sin is not sin, since whatever that be which God does, it neither can be sin, nor ought any of his acts to receive that appellation.” (“Sentiments,” p. 630)

So, here we have two sentiments taught by some Calvinists that Arminians recoil against. The first wrong idea is that God does not desire all men to be saved, that he damns some for his pleasure and saves some for his pleasure, standing equally behind each decision. Well, as Spurgeon pointed out in my quote from him, the Bible doesn’t really teach that so many (perhaps most?) Calvinists do not believe that.

The second point also is that to most Arminian’s, Calvinists teach that God is somehow the author of sin. No wonder they recoil against that since of course sin is not God’s perfect will, and he did not create it!

It seems even clearer to me from reading this article that that the argument between Arminians and Calvinists really does centre around the issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Extreme Calvinists deny man’s responsibility to protect God’s sovereignty. Extreme Arminians deny God’s sovereignty to protect man’s accountability for sin. Moderates on both sides of the divide do try and believe in both despite the apparent logical contradiction.

Like Spurgeon, I believe God must get ALL the credit for man’s salvation but man must get ALL the blame for his damnation. I don’t really care if that statement alienates some of my Calvinist friends, or if it fails to win over some Arminians.  But I do think that moderates on both sides will agree and in any case we need to remind ourselves that we are brothers. Some parts of the Arminian wing of the church are indeed drifting into liberalism. I suspect that many of our Bible-loving Arminian brothers would reject that as strongly as we reject the evangelistic passivity and hyper-critical tendencies that some on our side of this fence are slipping into.

Maybe, just maybe, even as the reformed charismatic and reformed cessationist wings of the church seem to be enjoying a lot more unity than previously, select Arminians should also receive the right hand of fellowship!

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