Calvinism and Classical Arminianism are not opposite theological views (link). In fact, I like to say that they are theological first cousins, both residing under the “Reformed” umbrella. While there are certainly differences, both systems of theology affirm all Five Solas of the Reformation, including salvation by grace through faith alone, and maintain a high view of Scripture (Sola Scriptura). Both firmly hold to the doctrine of Total Depravity (or Total Inability) as well.
Arminianism often gets misunderstood, and even falsely accused of believing that a sinner’s free-will decision is the final cause of salvation (I can’t count the times I’ve heard this accusation!) However, nothing could be further from the truth. Wikipedia describes “Decisionism” as:
A theology that stresses the importance of the decision to become a Christian for salvation. (link)
I personally believe that it’s vital that the church come to the understanding that placing all emphasis on getting one to make a mere “decision” (or gaining a vote for Jesus, as I often call it), and rejoicing when that one simply repeats a prayer is not only useless, but dangerous as well. We continue to rely so heavily on tactics and methods to get “decisions”, that we have forgotten that salvation comes only by an inward working of the Holy Spirit. As noted above, Classical Arminianism (sometimes referred to as Reformed Arminianism or Reformation Arminianism) teaches that according to Scripture*, man’s depravity is not partial but total, due to Original Sin. Arminius himself writes:
I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. (Works of Arminius)
He also writes that:
Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. (Works of Arminius)
So, is the final choice of salvation up to the will of man? God forbid! If this were the case, no one would ever be saved. If man be left to himself, he will only choose to sin and live a life of continual rebellion. When one rejects the gift of saving faith, it is totally natural, and is entirely due to his or her depraved nature. Therefore, since mankind is radically depraved and unable to do anything truly good in and of himself, any good that is done is totally due to the grace of God. This means that it is not natural but rather it is the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. Pastor and SEA member John Smith recently said it like this, “This ability to believe is as supernatural as giving life to dead bones.” This is why Arminians can affirm, and gladly proclaim that “Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9)
Martin Luther says it well, and Classical Arminians agree wholeheartedly, that:
“…if ‘Free-will’ cannot of itself will good, but wills good by grace alone, who does not see, that good will, merit, and reward, belong to grace alone.” (Bondage of the Will)
Classical Arminians would also agree with St. Augustine when he writes:
Let them, therefore, observe how they are mistaken who think that our seeking, asking, knocking is of ourselves, and is not a gift given to us.
In my favorite hymn, “And Can It Be”, penned by Charles Wesley, a picture of the amazing grace of God is painted so beautifully. Writing of his own conversion, Charles writes:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Arminians strongly insist that if you are truly born again, you can take absolutely no credit, for “it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
*Eph 2:3, Col. 2:13, Rom. 8:7-8, Rom. 3:11, I Cor. 1:18, I Cor. 2:14, Jn. 3:3, Jn. 14:17, II Cor. 4:4, Jer. 17:9, Jn. 6:44