In heaven, Jesus decided to host and moderate a debate between Calvin and Arminius, reserving the right if need be to question each man’s answer. Being perfected, Christ understood that both men would seek only to bring Him honor and glory, and such could now be done in their sin-free existence: there would be no tempers flared in this godly exchange. So, the stage was set with Calvin on the left, Christ the moderator in the center, and Arminius on the right. The first question was asked of Arminius, while Calvin would follow with a response.
Q: “Why, Arminius, did you teach that I had died for all people equally?”
A: “It was my impression,” answered Arminius, “that Scripture explicitly taught this: ‘Behold,’ said John, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29 NASB); ‘For it is for this we labor and strive,’ expressed Paul, ‘because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers’ (1 Tim. 4:10 NASB); John, again, stated that You, Lord Jesus, are ‘the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2 NASB).”
“Arminius,” said Jesus, “you spoke well. Calvin, you may respond. Why did you teach Limited Atonement?”
R: “I thought, logically, that for you to actually be the Savior of all men necessitated that you actually save all men. Since all men were not going to be saved, then You, Lord, could not actually be the Savior of all. Therefore, you were the Savior of those whom Your Father had unconditionally elected unto faith and salvation.”
“Where in Scripture,” asked Jesus, “did you understand that, though I died for all men, then all men must be saved?”
R: “I admit that this was logically deduced,” replied Calvin. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Jesus acknowledged his response and readied Himself for the next question.
Q: “Why, Arminius, did you deny the doctrine of Unconditional Election?”
A: “I did so, Lord, because Your word teaches that God was ‘well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’ (1 Cor. 1:21 NASB). There was no place in Your word which suggested that Your Father had unconditionally elected to save any person — only those who believe. For it is only those believers who are in You, Lord, who shall stand in God’s presence holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4).”
“Arminius,” said Jesus, “you spoke well. Calvin, you may respond. Why did you teach Unconditional Election?”
R: “I thought that, logically, Lord, since some were elect and others were not elect, that Your Father had unconditionally chosen to save only some, by-passing (or justly consigning to hell) the rest of men. After all, Your word declares, ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me’ (John 3:37 NASB). The ones given to You, Lord, were given by the Father, and those not given to You were the non-elect.”
“Did you not also read,” responded Jesus, “that the ones whom the Father gave Me were those who had heard and learned from Him (John 6:45)?”
R: “I did, Lord,” Calvin said quickly. “I assumed, logically, that the ones who had heard and learned from the Father were the unconditionally elect.”
“Where in Scripture,” asked Jesus, “did you gather that those were the ‘unconditionally elect’?”
R: “I admit that this was logically deduced,” replied Calvin. Another uncomfortable silence passed, and then Jesus acknowledged his response and readied Himself for the final question of this brief debate.
Q: “Why, Arminius, did you deny God’s exhaustive sovereignty?”
A: “I believe Your word, Lord, states that our God is in heaven; that ‘He does whatever He pleases’ (Psalm 115:3 NASB). Therefore, whatever does not please Him, He does not do or accomplish. That which is contrary to His holy nature and character — those things God does not bring about by His mighty will. Though He be sovereign over all things and all men, He governs rather than brings to pass evil or sinful events.”
“And what of My death, burial and resurrection: did My Father not reign as Sovereign over those events, even foreordaining them?” asked Jesus.
R: “Yes, Lord, Your Father was sovereign over those events as well. For God knows all possible things in the perfection of their own essence, and therefore all things impossible.1 The understanding of God is certain and infallible: So that He sees certainly and infallibly even things future and contingent.2 Because ‘known unto our God are all His works from the beginning of the world’ (Acts 15:18), God does nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do.”3
“Arminius,” said Jesus, “you have answered most well. Calvin, you may respond. What did you teach concerning God’s sovereignty?”
R: “Lord, the sovereignty and glory of God was the foundation of my theology. I taught that men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what He has previously decreed within Himself and brings to pass by His secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture.4
“Moreover,” replied Calvin, “regarding Satan’s attacks on God’s own people, I inferred that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and wicked robbers were merely the instruments.5 Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself devise, God holds the helm, and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of His judgments.6 God wills things to be done by us which He forbids us to do in His word.7
“Furthermore, by the term ‘predestination,’ I inferred this to be God’s eternal decree, which He determined within Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All were not created equal; some were unconditionally preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as God actually created every man for one or other of these ends, I insisted that he has been predestinated to life or to death.”8
In utter horror, mouths gaped wide open, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (cf. Rev. 8:1 NASB).
Original post appeared on the now defunct site The Arminian.
1 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XVII. On the Understanding of God,” The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:341.
3 Ibid., 2: 235.
4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 1.1.18.
7 Ibid., 1.3.18.
8 Ibid., 3.5.21.