[Editor’s note: What is said in this post about Calvinists applies only to some Calvinists, not all.]
Google-search “Are Arminians saved?” and you will discover how so very concerned Calvinists are regarding the possibility of the salvation of Arminians. If you have ever wondered why Calvinists attempt to proselytize or evangelize Arminians then wonder no more. But the difference between their apparent concern over the salvation of Arminians and that of typical non-believers is striking: some Calvinists demonize Arminians, demean them with the harshest rhetoric, while patiently and carefully witnessing the Christian faith to non-believers and those of other religions.
We can only speculate as to why the blatant inconsistency. But what cannot be denied is how often the issue of the salvation of Arminians is raised among Calvinist circles. Allow me to grant a few explicit examples. I have already noted several times that Calvinist R.C. Sproul thinks that Arminians are “barely saved” by a “felicitous inconsistency.”1 I have also noted several times Calvinist J.I. Packer’s disdain for Arminian theology and his perspective that Arminianism is tantamount to semi-Pelagianism proper and an actual “return to Rome.”2 Moreover, for Packer, Arminianism is “un-Christian” and “anti-Christian.”3 If so, then we hardly think that Packer and his ilk think Arminians can be saved, as we adhere to an alleged un-Christian theology.
Added to these opinions, Ronald Hanko, writing for the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, offers the following by way of response to our question regarding the salvation of Arminians:
We want to emphasize … that Arminianism is another gospel that is no gospel (Gal. 1:6-7). Its teaching denies the sovereignty of God in salvation and the power and effectualness of Christ’s death on the cross (by teaching that Christ died for all it teaches that His death actually saves no one). It also denies that salvation is by grace alone with its teaching concerning the sovereignty of the human will. These are fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Let me not mince words or offer insincere niceties in my response: this entire paragraph is a lie. As a matter of fact, Dr. Roger E. Olson has written an entire book on Arminian theology based on the myths (lies) and misrepresentations propagated by Calvinists like Hanko et al. What is the Gospel? A strict biblical definition is granted by the apostle Paul: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:1-3 NIV, emphasis added) Note that Paul’s description of the Gospel he preaches is devoid of Calvinism’s presuppositional hermeneutic.
Calvinists tend to imagine themselves as the sole possessors and sole defenders of the Gospel but that is mere wishful and faulty thinking on their part. Arminians, semi-Pelagians, Open Theists and others can wholeheartedly, by the proactive grace of the Holy Spirit, believe that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, the He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and be gloriously and beautifully saved to the uttermost (cf. Heb. 7:25 ESV). No one is “barely saved.” To the contrary opinion of the likes of R.C. Sproul, one is either saved to the uttermost, or not saved at all (Heb. 7:25 ESV); and the Gospel that Paul preached is the Gospel that Bible-believing Arminians love, embrace, and spread to all mankind.
But what Hanko demonstrates in his answer to our question is a gross misunderstanding of Arminian theology — a charge that even John Piper is guilty of perpetuating as truth. The core of Arminian theology is not free will, not resistible grace, not even salvation available to all but the character, integrity, and glory of God Almighty. (link) Hanko concludes: “Nevertheless, those who think along these lines [i.e., that they, by grace, believed in Christ by their freed will rather than the irresistible and monergistic “gift” of regeneration], though they may be saved, also need to realize that what they believe is not the truth, and need to repent of it.” (link) (emphases added) Is that not an odd response and double-speak? How can one believing a lie, as opposed to the truth, be saved? (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10) I might have more respect for Calvinists if they would just consistently maintain their answer that Arminians, because they believe a lie, are not and cannot be saved.
Eric Tuininga, writing for Monergism.com, makes certain his readers understand the horrors of Arminianism. However, he concludes that making a blanket statement that “all Arminians are not saved” is overstating the matter. (link) R.C. Sproul Jr., blatantly misrepresenting Arminian theology, answers in a similar vein: “In the Arminian scheme there remains in man a part of him that is still righteous, that part out of which comes his ability to choose the good as it is offered in the gospel.” That is false. “The Arminian is not, according to his theology, fully repentant. In the Arminian schema, he trusts a great deal in the finished work of Christ, but trusts some in his own ability to choose the good.” (link) Sproul Jr., then, does not understand Arminianism at all. His conclusion is that those Arminians who are trusting in Christ’s work alone for their salvation are saved and will be saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ like anyone else.
What saith John MacArthur? He states clearly: “I really believe that it is possible to be Arminian and to be a Christian.” (link) He also states that heresy salvifically kills, that Arminianism is heresy, and yet Arminians can still be saved. This double-speak is typical among many Calvinists. They want to appear gracious toward a theology they find not only heterodox but also a return to Roman Catholic teaching and overt damnable heresy. Granted, Arminian theology does not grant warrant for the charge of a return to Roman Catholic teaching, and such was demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jacob Arminius. At no theological point do Arminians insist that works contribute toward salvation or that one’s free will saves. (See the FACTS of salvation.)
Calvinist Vincent Cheung, who imagines God actually is the Author of sin and evil, opines that “most people who claim to be Christians are not saved.” (link) Oddly enough, Cheung is a bit more critical of Calvinists than Arminians, and that is quite the turning of the tables:
On the other hand, many Calvinists are in love with their Calvinism, and the idea that they affirm Calvinism, much more than they are in love with Jesus Christ. They take up the doctrines about God’s grace just because they have been taught this way, or because these doctrines better satisfy their intellectual tendencies, or some other worthless reason. They enjoy debating about them, harassing people with them, and winning arguments with them. They could not care less about God, but they care about their Calvinism — not as doctrines about God, but as their own personal philosophy. They are repeating these doctrines about grace just like some Arminians repeat the doctrines on free will. They are very proud of their Calvinism, but in their hearts they are stubborn, arrogant, and cruel people. (link)
He questions the salvation of Calvinist Cessationists and grants quite the pass to Arminian Pentecostals who, though the latter may deny God’s grace (defined by him in irresistible fashion), they at least believe in God’s power. (link) Cheung is quite surprising in his remarks. What I also find surprising is that a Calvinist like Charles Spurgeon, who thinks that Calvinism is the Gospel, can also highly respect and admire a devout and self-professed Arminian like John Wesley:
Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines that he preached [ditto for Wesley regarding Calvinism], yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the Twelve, I do not believe there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. (link) (emphases added)
Calvinist evangelist George Whitefield, when asked if he expects to see Arminian John Wesley in heaven, replies “No.” He qualifies that answer thusly: “John Wesley will be so close to the Throne of Glory, and I will be so far away, I will hardly get a glimpse of him.” (link) (Both John and Charles Wesley maintain a similar opinion of their friend Whitefield.) What all this banter about Arminians and salvation means to me is not that Calvinists are genuinely concerned about our salvation: their specific concern is about being right. Some Calvinists insist that a fully accurate understanding of theology and soteriology does not save the soul and yet many among them begin to ponder about the salvation of Arminians. But there is an even more troubling aspect in all this.
If Calvinism is true, especially regarding its deterministic notions of God’s so-called sovereignty, then God, from eternity past, necessarily decreed and rendered certain that we adhere to Arminianism: a system of beliefs that are, according to Calvinists like Piper, harmful to the Church, as Arminians preach a partial Gospel, and thus a defective Gospel, and a Christ-demeaning Gospel. (link) Yet, he inconsistently claims that Arminians can also be saved, saved while holding a defective Gospel, a partial Gospel, and a Christ-demeaning Gospel. At least C. Matthew McMahon, of A Puritan’s Mind, boldly and consistently confesses that the god the Arminian worships is not the God of the Bible. (link) In other words, though McMahon’s views are utterly deplorable, at least he, unlike so many other Calvinists, is not speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Allow me, an Arminian, to provide an answer to our question. Are Arminians saved? Yes, many Arminians are saved, and some Arminians are not saved. Are Calvinists saved? Yes, many Calvinists are saved, and some Calvinists are not saved. God, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, saves believers. God has graciously chosen to save the one who will believe in Christ (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). God does not regenerate and thus save unbelievers (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13). Salvation belongs to Him; salvation was His idea; and He delights in saving believers to the uttermost.
1 R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 25.
2 Ibid., 24.