“The choices are not between Calvinism and Arminianism; it’s between Calvinism and universalism. Arminianism is a self-contradictory mess that can never defend itself.” – James White
This is a favorite rhetorical jab of many Calvinists, but is in fact one of the more obvious fallacies they often employ. The logic behind it is simple and can be summed up with the statement:
“If Christ’s death saves, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”
Seems pretty easy, right?
Problems with this logic
Turns out the simplicity of the argument is its weakness, because it masks a hidden difference in underlying assumptions. The critical distinction lies in the first part of the sentence, “…Christ’s death saves….”
The differences in viewpoint on atonement
5-point Calvinists (and those of similar belief) view Christ’s atonement as a definite and unconditional act, that is to say, those who Christ died for will definitely receive its benefit, with no exceptions. Arminians (and most other Christians) view His atonement as provisioned upon faith, so that all the people it’s made for will receive its benefit only if they believe.
One can further clarify what is meant by “Christ’s death saves” from these beliefs. For the Calvinist, it means, “Christ’s death saves absolutely everyone for which it was made.” For the Arminian, it means, “Christ’s death saves all who believe in Him.” So the summary statement above makes sense if the Calvinist view of the atonement is assumed:
“If Christ’s death saves absolutely everyone for which it was made, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”
Of course, Calvinists aren’t using this kind of logic to argue against their own view. Since they’re trying to show how ‘self-contradictory’ the Arminian view is, it would be only fair to assume the Arminian view of the atonement when making the statement, which would then be:
“If Christ’s death saves all who believe in Him, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”
This of course doesn’t follow, since it’s not been shown that everyone Christ died for will necessarily believe in Him. Given God’s foreknowledge that He reveals in scripture concerning some people and the Arminian view of resistible grace, it’s quite evident that no Bible-believing and logically consistent Arminian can accept the idea of Universalism.
I suppose that if it could be proved that Arminians (who believe the scriptures which tell us that Christ died for all men) for some mysterious reason could only become ‘consistent Arminians’ by accepting the non-Arminian/Calvinist view of the atonement, then the accusation of inevitable Universalism might hold water. Until then, the assertion remains a ridiculous slippery slope.
[Link to original post and comments at the Arminian Perspectives blog. This post is part of a 14-part series that was previously posted here on our website, but is being republished. The old posts are being replaced by updated versions (though the content is the same) to bring extra attention to this excellent series.]