Practically Rethinking the Arminianism/Calvinism Debate

Let me start with a quote from “A Primer on Perspectivalism” by Reformed Theologian John Frame:

“Sometimes our divisions of theology and practice are differences of perspective, of balance, rather than differences over the essentials of faith.”

Let’s apply two different (very condensed) gospel presentations through this filter:
(note: when using the terms Reformed and Arminian, I am referring to the practical expression of these theological teams today not their classical finer points)

Reformed: You are a depraved dirty rotten sinner that hates God. God has taken his wrath out on Jesus in your place. Won’t you repent of your sins and follow Jesus to confirm your election as one of his chosen people?

Arminian: You are completely lost and unable to do anything to save yourself and have a relationship with God. In Jesus God has provided a way for you to be saved and enter into relationship with him. Won’t you accept Jesus and enter into relationship with him?

Now we can safely say that these are two polar (if not hyperbolic) examples of how the two teams share the gospel. Is there a biblical basis for both examples? Yup, I would say the book of Romans covers both adequately (note: this is my sorry excuse for quoting the Bible in this post. I don’t have the time to get verse examples for all I am writing, nor to I think proof-texting is exegetically sound. This is my way of appeasing both.) Can we say that neither really attacks the essentials of the faith? Yup. Can we say that both examples represent a balance of the what God has done in salvation? Um, actually, no.

One way to really take this rethinking deeper is to focus on salvation. Namely, what we are saved from. The two teams mentioned focus on different biblical examples of what we are saved from:

Reformed: God (primary), Satan sin and death (secondary)

Arminian: yourself (primary), Satan, sin, and death (secondary)


The main theological quandary here is as follows: what does it look like to have a balanced theological view of what we are saved from, so that we can have theologically balanced gospel presentations? Are we primarily saved or primarily lost? Surely we are not equally both? Are we? Wait, doesn’t our lostness lead to our depravity, or is it the other way around? Doesn’t God’s justice and love for his glory outweigh his benevolence and desire to see “all saved”? Is a church that only preaches one unbiblical?

Before I give an argument for how this should be practically lived out (in a later post) I would like for us to discuss it first. I mean, if we can get 50+ comments on the election then surely we can produce a lively discussion on this topic. So what say you on the questions I posed and any other that this subject brings up?



8 Responses

  1. * I don’t know that we need a balanced view of what we’re saved from. I think we need a right view.

    * I’m not sure what you mean by primarily saved or primarily lost?

    * Why do you think lost and depraved happen in an order?

    * Is it an issue of outweighing glories or is it an issue of a singular glory?

    Just a few bounce backs I guess…


  2. I moved back to Iowa about 5 months ago. Since my return I have been trying to find a church that is as gospel oriented as the one we left in Colorado. I grew up in the liturgical church and found my own faith to be dwindled and weak resting on the false gospel of tradition. The exposure to an evangelical church while in college awakened my existent knowledge of Jesus and gave me water to match the roots of my upbringing. The complication has been returning home again. Trying to find Jesus oriented gospel centered missional churches is near impossible back here. Why? Because people here desire to be near Jesus but do not want Jesus to expose them. Matt Chandler preaches on this from the VILLAGE in Denton, Texas. It is a common problem in the Bible Belt. People are exposed to Jesus and for a few weeks it is bliss…change the world kind of stuff. Suddenly Christ asks about this one aspect of our life tucked away in a corner and to try and compensate for not talking about it or giving it up to Him we say things like “I will just run 3 small groups instead” and that way we are near Jesus but we are not really known by him. This is all to say that even though both liturgical and evangelical churches are based on Christ, it is extremely different to me to have one that promotes heart change and growth instead of doctrine, history and tradition.

  3. Well I will “proof text.”

    Eph. 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

    Eph. 2:4-5: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

    Rom. 3:10-12: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

    Jesus paints this same picture of us being dead and unable to do anything about our spiritual plight in the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

    Last, I think our depravity and unrighteousness are what lead to our “lostness.”

  4. matt –

    how about the limited/unlimited atonement view? as driscoll has put it when speaking on the subject, “we should keep all the verses.” (paraphrase)

    i would have to agree with ryan that our depravity leads to our “lostness.” adam and eve got themselves depraved, then lost. i would add that other than our first parents, we have all been equally lost and depraved (though this is philosophical conjecture).

    God’s glory reigns supreme and outweighs all else; things are either a part of making His name great (salvation being an exmple), or opposed to it. (“…but for this purpose have i come upon this hour. Father glorify your name. John 12:27 Jesus says that even his cross is first and foremost about the glory of the Father)

    church’s could definitely error on the side of God’s justice and glory in our place and time. many churches are too focused on man’s glory (self-worh, self-esteem, self-actualization), and how we can make ourselves better through “life’s instruction manual.” (Jer 2:12 talks about nature itself shuddering in fear that God might destroy creation for the way men forsake him – if nature can get it right you’d think that we could)

  5. hey, why does that arrow diagram look familiar? (thinking…thinking…thinking…)

  6. Why do we have to choose between (a) the glory and supremacy of God and (b) the love of God for His entire creation? It’s a completely unnecessary dichotomy.

    And isn’t God’s love (“God IS love”) more essential to His nature than anything else? (“God LOVES justices”, not “God IS justice”…) If “justice” was really the essential quality of God, why did He kill an innocent man and let the guilty go free (for the sake of argument, I’ll stick with the overused metaphor of penal subsitution for understanding the atonement).

    Driscoll’s right: we should keep all the verses. We should keep them in their larger context of the whole grand narrative of God’s redemption for the world. We should keep all the verses – even the ones that come from the OT prophets (those pesky fellows who portray God as loving and passionate. Yes, God as passionate.). Driscoll’s not exactly known for theology that recognizes the entire narrative of Scripture. (But maybe you shouldn’t listen to me – I’m a woman.)

    Highly recommended on this whole Reformed/Arminian discussion: Roger E. Olson’s “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.”

    And if you’re still curious about it all (and want to hear from someone who strongly believes in God’s soverignty and glory while still upholding free will, grace, and love), you can go here:

  7. i think that making a dichotomy between God’s sovereignty and glory on one side and free will, grace, and love on the other is unnecessary. God has granted us free will through his love, sovereignty, and grace and we glorify Him for this.

    jonathan edwards “freedom of the will” is an incredible reference on bridging sovereignty and free will (they need not be kept distant.)

    i would encourage investigating the limited/unlimited atonement view (while i mentioned a paraphrase by driscoll, d.a. carson and bruce ware are some notables that share this viewpoint.) one of the founding tenets of this viewpoint is that there are many reasons for the atonement (one of them being God’s redemptive plan for the world/creation.) as well, it predates the 16th century (a point that vanillatea rightly makes), so it’s got that going for it.

    speaking of driscoll, he spoke at a conference for female arminian pastors a couple weeks ago; from his account a great time was had by all (i was pretty surprised to hear this, but he said they aren’t heretic’s and love Jesus, and that’s what counts.)

    “yes, God as passionate.” i am curious as to what you are getting at here, julie…

    matt – i’m kinda bummed, i was hoping you’d get more traction on this and there’d be tons of comments (above-stated goal). you need a good plan. here’s what you’re going to do: go grab yourself a powder hound and enjoy it sitting in your favorite chair. it’s not going to improve anything, but you’re going to feel better. alright. (it’s really important that you’ve seen those peyton manning commercials…)

  8. I think the Church is blinded by the semi-Pelagian viewpoiint. As Martin Luther called the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Arminainism is not just “another evangelical viewpoint,” but a cancer on the truth of the Church. People that don’t want to quarrel over this truth are not only afraid of controversy, but guilty of not contending for the faith. We can’t be afraid to offend with the truth. Anyone who has read Martin Luther’s “The of the Will” will realize that this is the key to understanding the gospel itself. Much to the dismay of modern-day evangelicals, the orthodox position is the Reformed position, not the Arminianism one, which was condemned at Dort in 1618.

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