[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a book by a Traditionalist/Provisionist author and an Arminian (see the reference at the end of the article). SEA publishes a variety of perspectives and sometimes non-Arminians when we think what they have to say is helpful in some way. But articles on SEA do not necessarily represent SEA. They are the perspective of the article author. References to “our reply” in this article do not mean SEA’s reply, but the authors’.]
John Calvin (1509-1564) popularized Augustine’s (354-430) doctrine of “Augustinian Predestination” which has come to be known as “Calvinism,” just as Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) popularized the opposing theology to Calvinism now known as “Arminianism.” Calvinists seem to have the belief that all opposition to Calvinism may be categorized under the broad definition of “Arminianism” because all non-Calvinist camps share a belief in the rejection of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “Faith is a necessary condition for salvation, but not for election. The prescient view makes faith a condition of election; Reformed Theology sees faith as the result of election. This is the fundamental difference between conditional election and unconditional election, between all forms of semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism, between Arminianism and Calvinism.”79
R.C. Sproul: “Arminians and semi-Pelagians ultimately rest their view of election on the one who wills and not on the sovereign grace of God.”80
R.C. Sproul: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference. The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? Obviously it is the positive response of the sinner, who is still in the flesh. Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?”81
To the last point, Calvinists simply assume an external cause rather than an internal cause through a person’s own volition.82 Nevertheless, Calvinists essentially combine all groups of non-Calvinists in the same class, given the rejection of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.
What do Calvinists believe?
Erwin Lutzer: “Arminianism is the name most often associated with the belief that a saved person can eventually be lost. Yet Arminius himself did not teach this doctrine explicitly. He simply said that it was an open question.”83
Arminians do predominantly believe in a doctrine of Conditional Security, in contrast to the doctrine of Eternal Security as predominantly held by Traditionalists or Provisionists. Arminians often challenge the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election through the doctrine of Conditional Security, because if salvation can be lost, then the doctrine of Unconditional Election is automatically negated. Calvinists believe that it is inconsistent for Traditionalists or Provisionists to hold to a doctrine of Eternal Security, on the grounds that if free-will can allow a person to receive Christ, then the same free-will can also allow a person to walk away from Christ. Of course, that ignores the change in nature that occurs whenever believers in Christ receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, meaning that Traditionalists or Provisionists could still hold to the doctrine of Eternal Security, believing that the Holy Spirit would ultimately preserve the faith of unbelievers.
79 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 145.
80 Ibid., 149.
81 Ibid., 187.
82 See the topic on “Why do you differ?” to find more discussion on that question.
83 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 226.
[This post has been excerpted with permission from Leighton C. Flowers with Richard Coords, [re]Reformed: A Journey In and Out of Calvinism with a Verse by Verse Commentary (Trinity Academic Press, 2020).]