(and its dangers)
by Keith Drury
|For the last several hundred years, the church in America has been
mostly Calvinist while Arminianism has been a minority position.
All that has changed. The evangelical church today is basically Arminian in its approach. For now, Arminianism has triumphed and Calvinism is in retreat. I don't mean that the Calvinist denominations have officially changed their doctrine. Most Calvinistic theologians have stuck with their five-points. But most of the ordinary people have drifted from traditional Calvinism toward the Arminian position. The average Christian today might claim to be Calvinist, but they function as a "practical Arminian." While many Calvinist pastors still ascribe to the Calvinist shibboleths, in their practical theology, they are functioning Arminians..
Arminianism has triumphed. This great theological battle was won without warfare, with few debates, with "dueling magazine articles." How ironic that in a day when theology no longer matters to most people, one of the great theological battles of all times seems to have been settled. Droves of Calvinists have become Arminians—at least in practice..
Some historical background:
The terms "Calvinist" and "Arminian" are derived from the names
of two individuals who promoted differing theological approaches.
Calvinism comes from John Calvin who was a French reformer who lived
in the early 1500's. He was a main leader of the Protestant
Reformation. An organized and systematic thinker with a excellent
legal mind, John Calvin promoted the doctrines that eventually came
to be called "Calvinism." Actually Calvinism was not a new doctrine
at all. The approach was pretty similar to the theology of Augustine
who lived about a thousand years earlier.
Does man have a role in getting saved?
A true Calvinist begins and ends his discussion of salvation with
God. God alone. For the true Calvinist, man has no ability to move
toward God. He cannot even recognize his own sin. Salvation is
something which happens wholly as God's work. What man does or is
makes no difference. Confession, repentance, or "going to the altar"
does not make a difference. To the true Calvinist, salvation happens
totally apart of anything man does or is. It is purely God's work
done without man's participation in any way whatsoever.
How shall we approach evangelism?
Since a Calvinist believes salvation is wholly God's work without
any partnership with man, he or she approaches evangelism
nonaggressively. Calvinism teaches there is nothing whatsoever a
person can do to become saved—we can't "decide for Christ" or
"receive Christ" enabling a person to "become a Christian." To do
this would give man a part in salvation. Calvinists believe
salvation is from God and God alone. To make salvation hinge on an
individual's "accepting Christ" or "receiving Christ" makes
salvation partially a human endeavor. A true Calvinist believes that
nothing whatsoever a person does or is contributes anything at all
to salvation. Salvation is God's work alone and we play no part in
it—not even receiving salvation counts.
Are people totally and completely evil?
Calvinism teaches that men and woman are totally
depraved—absolutely evil from birth. Every single baby coming into
the world is born with an evil heart—totally depraved and completely
inclined to wickedness. Total depravity teaches that men and women
from birth are rotten to the core. A man or woman can do nothing
whatsoever good or pleasing to God—it is impossible, for we are born
absolutely and altogether sinful. Since we are born so sinfully
inclined, we are therefore totally incapable of any good. Even
little babies are absolutely sinful..
Did God pick who would be saved?
The Calvinist doctrine of election teaches that long before the
beginning of time, God chose who would be saved. He
"predestined"—set their destiny before hand—some to be saved and go
to heaven. This teaching says that out of all the people who would
ever live in future history, God selected some to be saved. Some
were "picked," others were not picked. The chosen ones would be the
only ones saved. No one else.
For whom did Christ die?
The Calvinist doctrine of a "limited atonement" teaches that
Christ died only for a limited number of people—only for those
chosen ahead of time to be saved. No one else. Calvinists believe
that God chose beforehand exactly who would be saved. Thus there is
no need to "waste" Christ's blood on those not chosen. Thus Christ
did not die for all men and woman, but only for the elect, those God
picked to be saved. Christ did not die for all men.
Can you keep from being saved?
The Calvinist teaching of "irresistible grace" argues that there
is nothing whatsoever a man or woman can do to keep from being saved
if he or she were already chosen. The grace of God is totally
irresistible. Those elected by God will be saved. They can't help it
and they can't resist it.
Can you quit being a Christian?
The Calvinist doctrine of the "perseverance of the saints"
teaches that once you are a Christian, you are forever a Christian.
Once born into God's family, you can't quit being a family member.
God will never disown you. Once made alive in Christ, you can never
die—"once saved, always saved." To the Calvinist, you can never
divorce God out of your life, and he won't divorce you under any
circumstance. In a word, "you can't, He won't."
The Triumph of Arminianism
There is little doubt about it: Arminianism has triumphed in the
pew, if not in the seminary. The average Christian is a practicing
Arminian, even if he claims to be a Calvinist in theory. "Practical"
modern church members are increasingly rejecting traditional
"five-point Calvinism." While Arminianism has been a "minority view"
for decades, today there is a major drift toward Arminianism in most
Why the switch?
I spent several years as a determined five-pointer as a young man
before changing my mind to accept Arminianism. I made the switch
purposefully and with quite a bit of painful study as a student at
Princeton Seminary. But many Calvinists today are making the switch
for purely pragmatic reasons. They have not become convinced the
Bible really teaches the Arminian approach. Frankly, Arminianism is
simply more palatable to a secular culture. It "fits in" to the
mind-set of the people in their pews. Like it or not, the secular
mind is naturally Arminian in its outlook. I've discovered this
repeatedly myself by administering a theological questionnaire to
The Dangers of Arminianism
I admit that I am a committed Arminian. Of course I welcome the
host of new "practical Arminians" joining ranks with my theological
tradition. I think this approach fits better with the Bible, reason,
tradition, and experience. But I must be honest. There are some real
hazards over here in the Arminian ocean—especially for Calvinistic
churches. You can sink your theological ship here. As a local
"pilot," I'd suggest you keep your eyes open wide for submerged
1. TOTAL DEPRAVITY
Mankind is totally depraved, but God has extended His common
grace to all so that every man or woman can search and find God.
2. UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Before the foundation of the world God elected all men to
salvation but most refuse His offer.
3. LIMITED ATONEMENT
The atonement of Christ is open to all men everywhere and is
limited only by our refusal to be saved.
4. IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
The "common grace" of God is given to all men everywhere and it
is irresistible, but saving grace can be refused by a stubborn
5. PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Once saved, a person will always be saved unless by defiant,
continual, purposeful, rebellion he or she refuses God's grace and
chooses apostasy. Though relatively rare for a truly saved person,
apostasy is possible.
By Keith Drury, 1995. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.