Calvinism vs Arminianism: Both Wrong but Both Important

Calvinism vs Arminianism: Both Wrong but Both Important April 21, 2024

Don’t let your theology trump the Bible

Roger Olson recently wrote about why he believes Calvinism cannot be true and discusses how Evangelical power brokers have excluded him in certain situations because of his Arminianism.  I feel a lot of sympathy for what he describes because I believe that Arminians and Calvinists have a lot to offer each other. I believe they are both wrong on some things but right on others.   However by adding “and is it heresy” Olson starts to fall into the trap of those evangelical power brokers who reject him.  We must accept one another as brothers and sisters who reflect part of God’s glory that we ourselves can’t.

Roger Olson’s post

Why Calvinism Cannot Be True and Is It Heresy?


Over on Roger’s Post I replied as follows:

First as someone who has been known as a reformed charismatic, can I apologise for such bad treatment. Historically there has been arminians and calvinists firmly within the evangelical fold well since Calvin and Arminius. I’m fairly sure that the truth lies somewhere in between a moderate view from each perspective. I shared a quote with you a while back from Spurgeon who was not quite the ardant Calvinist many think he was. Here’s one on a conversation between the elderly Wesley and another British Calvinist Simeon. I wish that more of us could converse with this level of respect:

“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.” READ MORE 

Roger replied to me:

If only the aggressive, conservative Calvinists among evangelicals in America these past three to four decades had been/would be as generous with us Arminians. That has not been the case.

I came back with:

It has worried me greatly that sectarianism and believing we are right about everything has taken over! There’s a pride that assumes one knows best and everyone else is a Heretic that is not how it should be. We see this on so many issues including the charismatic (eg the strange fire wholesale rejection) the role of women, and the requirement to support the republicans or even worse Trump or be considered beyond the pale. I wish we could all have the humility to recognise each of us likely have blind spots and if we are not careful our theological systems make those worse. Too often we try and rationalise away verses that seem to contradict our firmly fixed theological systems. I think many older Christian figures were like Surgeon willing to admit that some elements of truth are best seen in those from streams we might not be in. I firmly believe that if we are all seeking to reflect Gods glory we can only do it in part and so we can see aspects of God better through looking at others from different camps. Some Arminians diminish Gods glory whilst some Calvinist’s diminish gods kindness for example, we can’t allow power brokers to require uniformity or we will risk the whole project of being always reforming and learning from one another. I always love your writing and think you have a major gift to the whole church. If nothing else when we read people we might disagree with on some issues we show we are humble and willing to allow biblical arguments to modify our thinking.

Some Calvinists teach that God does not truly want 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, the Bible doesn’t really teach that so many (perhaps most?) Calvinists do not believe that.

Some Calvinists also teach that God is somehow the author of sin. No wonder many people recoil against that since of course sin is not God’s perfect will, and he did not create it! The same is true of suffering, God is NOT the author of our pain either and we will explore more of that when I get back to writing about my suffering spectrum.

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 Calvinists are slipping into.

Spurgeon explains it well:

I am myself persuaded that the Calvinist alone is right upon some points, and the Arminian alone is right upon others. There is a great deal of truth in the positive side of both systems, and a great deal of error in the negative side of both. If I was asked, “Why is a man damned?” I should answer as an Arminian answers, “He destroys himself.” I should not dare to lay man’s ruin at the door of divine sovereignty. On the other hand, if I were asked, “Why is a man saved?” I could only give the Calvinistic answer, “He is saved through the sovereign grace of God, and not at all of himself.” I should not dream of ascribing the man’s salvation in any measure to himself.

I have not found, as a matter of fact, that any Christian people care seriously to quarrel with a ministry which contains these two truths in fair proportions. I find them kicking at the inferences which are supposed to follow from one or the other of them, and sometimes needlessly crying to have them “reconciled;” but the two truths together, as a rule, commend themselves to the conscience, and I feel sure that if I could bring them both forward this morning with equal clearness I should win the assent of most Christian men.  READ MORE

My Arminian Calvinist Spectrum helps show why both groups have something to teach us.


Arminians vs Calvinists a spectrum

PIPER FRIDAY – Charles Simeon and John Wesley

Was Spurgeon an Arminocalvinist?

Imperfect Churches Reflect God’s Perfect Glory

Reformed and charismatic belong together

Is God the Author and Orchestrator of all our Suffering?

Introduction to the Suffering Spectrum – differing views on God’s role in our pain

Gender: Complementarian vs Egalitarian Spectrum

Jesus is not a republican or a democrat

Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum

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