The Watershed Difference between Calvinism and Arminianism
John Piper and other aggressive Calvinists continue to hammer away at their readers and listeners about “the watershed difference” between Calvinism and Arminianism. According to them it is salvation by grace alone. Allegedly, only Calvinism really protects the truth of salvation by grace alone because all alternatives, including Arminianism, give some credit to the sinner for choosing saving grace. In other words, allegedly, if saving grace is freely chosen and not imposed by God unconditionally and irresistibly, it is not really grace alone that saves.
I have refuted that claim here many times. I have also refuted it in my writings such as Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP) and Against Calvinism (Zondervan). It really takes very little to refute the claim. All one has to do is imagine a homeless beggar, starving and sick, who is rescued from his plight by a wealthy and altruistic person but must accept such rescue to benefit from it. He, the beggar, is free to refuse the rescue. If he does not refuse it, but allows himself to be rescued, the gift by the wealthy and altruistic person is no less a gift. And the beggar has no grounds for claiming merit or credit for merely accepting the gift. Anyone who cannot see the logic in that is, in my opinion, blind to logic.
But what, then, is the real watershed difference between Calvinism and Arminianism? It lies in the doctrine of God.
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While, of course, many amateur and novice Calvinists don’t know it, real Calvinism includes belief that God not only saves some sinners unconditionally and irresistibly but also damns many sinners unconditionally and irresistibly. Of course, Calvinists will point to how good and gracious God is to save even some because all deserve damnation. But we Arminians insist that they acknowledge that God could save all because he is powerful enough to do so.
The question is why does God not save all when he could?
The only answer offered (besides “mystery”) is that God’s main purpose in creation and redemption is to display his glory and damnation of sinners is necessary for the full display of his glory. The display of God’s glory means manifesting all his attributes without prejudice to any (Edwards) including justice. The way God’s eternal and immutable justice is displayed is by wrath and eternal damnation.So God, who the Bible says “is love,” unconditionally and irresistibly damns some sinners while arbitrarily choosing some to save. (The difference has to be arbitrary because it is “unconditional.”) Of course, most Calvinists will not state it this strongly; many will even say this way of putting it misrepresents what they believe. Okay, but I argue that this way of putting it is simply expressing what they mean most clearly and bluntly. “Single predestination” is a red herring meant to distract from the fact that God could save everyone but chooses not to. Calvinist R. C. Sproul was right to criticize fellow Calvinists who claimed that predestination is “single” rather than “double.”
Arminianism says that God wants to save everyone and has provided the possibility for everyone to be saved but some sinners refuse God’s offer of free pardon, mercy, and salvation.
Which view of God is more like Jesus who wept over Jerusalem because it (meaning the Jewish people of his time) rejected him as some of their ancestors had rejected the prophets? “How I would have…but you would not.” Which view of God is more like God commands us—his people—to be? Forgive seventy times seven!
The God of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Piper, if not of all Calvinists, is a narcissistic God who cares more about his own glory than about sinners created in his own image and likeness. That God is not like Jesus; he is at best a “hidden God” (Luther) because his character is unlike Jesus who asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him.
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