There are those who believe that Christians (nor anyone else) should never debate one another. I once contacted a large church in my area about debating the pastoral staff on a Sunday night over doctrinal issues such as divine healing, personal prophecy, and the sufficiency of Scripture (this was a Word-Faith/Health and Wealth church). One of the associate pastors e-mailed back that they would never debate me nor anyone else since this was not glorifying Christ. He asked, “What purpose would the debate bring but confusion and anger?” I responded, “For one, it could teach the people in your church how to disagree with those whom you disagree with without the influences of the world.”
There is a time and place to debate theology. I am convinced that the reason most people don’t know what they believe is because they have never been challenged to explain what they do believe in. Most disciples know that the Bible calls for us to share our faith (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8) but few not only know how to share but what to share. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV). 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (ESV). Jesus told His disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV). It’s not enough to simply say, “I believe in Jesus” but the question becomes, “In what Jesus do you believe?”
In college we used to joke with our Greek professor, “Don’t give me exegesis. Just give me Jesus.” He would reply, “But brother without exegesis, what Jesus would you get?” We are not only to have faith in the Lord Jesus but the Lord Jesus from the Bible. Bear in mind that Paul told Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).
So how should Arminians and Calvinist debate? I don’t believe that we should not debate but I believe that there needs to be simple ground rules that we should all follow.
1. Recognize Each Other As Christians – There are many on both sides that actually believe that if you don’t hold to Arminianism or to Calvinism then you are not a Christian. How foolish. The foundation of being a Christian is not holding to the five points of either but the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:22). Without the blood of Jesus, we are not forgiven (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7). Faith in Jesus is the beginning point of what it means to be a disciple (John 20:31; Acts 15:9-11). We can debate whether faith is a gift from God given to the elect only or whether the disciple was predestined by God’s sovereign decree before time began but we must first accept that the person is a born again believer or not (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:18-25).
An example from a Calvinist blog will show you what I am trying to imply. Notice the attack on Arminians:
The Bible condemns Arminius’ teaching as heretical. The Bible makes it exceedingly clear that different Gospels, counterfeit Gospels, are no Gospels at all and deserve condemnation, not admiration. Paul said in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Worshippers of a different “god” and different “gospel” are not going to be slapped on the wrist and sent to their room in heaven. Rather, they are going to be sent to hell for being idolaters.
The article goes on to say that the god that Arminians worship is none other than Satan himself. Granted, this is an extreme view but it does come from a popular Calvinist blog. The fact is that at the foundation of our faith, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of the Trinity, the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, the person of the Holy Spirit, the penal substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead – Arminians stand firm. We differ with Calvinists over theological debates within the faith, not from outside.
2. Make Sure The Facts Are Correct – Both Arminians and Calvinist often take each other’s words out of context. Arminians have a natural dislike for John Calvin and his works as well as a dislike for many Calvinist authors but the same is true from the other side as well. When Roger Olson wrote his book, Arminian Theology, many Calvinist took his book personally and personally attacked Olson through Calvinist blogs. They quickly decried that the book is wrong and that Olson is wrong. One blog called him, “an angry Arminian” but I have heard worse.
What are facts I wish Calvinists would know about us Arminians? First, that we are not Pelagian nor are we semi-Pelagian. Secondly, we are not all followers of John Wesley or Charles Finney. Thirdly, that we don’t believe in the sovereignty of God is simply not true. Fourth, that we are not all Open Theists or that we support Open Theism. Fifth, that we believe in the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of the Bible. Sixth, that we don’t center our theology around the free will of man. And seventh, we don’t all believe that one can lose their salvation.
Arminianism is as broad as Calvinism is. We are not all mindless robots who follow James Arminius. We don’t all agree with one another let alone with Arminius or Wesley or anyone else for that matter. As within Calvinism, we agree on certain aspects of Arminius’ teachings but we allow for personal studies as well.
3. Avoid Making The Debate Personal – When I was in college I once debated a fellow student over Calvinism and Arminianism. The debate turned so ugly that this young man never regarded me as a Christian. He would make remarks to me in the dorm such as, “Hello heretic” or “I am praying for your salvation.” He had allowed the debate to turn toward it being personal and not over theology. By the way, sadly the young man fell away from Christ and last I heard had become a new ager.
Christians can disagree and yet agree to disagree. Paul and Barnabas disagreed (see Acts 15:36-41) but they simply agreed to disagree it appears from the story. John Wesley disagreed sharply with George Whitefield over many issues not only related to Arminianism but to politics as well. For example, Wesley felt it was wrong to hold slaves and he preached against slavery. Whitefield, in contrast, spoke to the leadership of the state of Georgia urging them to hold slaves, he said, “for the purposes of the gospel.” How he came to that conclusion I will never know but both Wesley and Whitefield continued to love one another and Wesley even preached at Whitefield’s funeral.
We must keep this before us at all times: The debate is theological and not personal. When it turns to being personal, walk away.
4. Be Godly – How simple to say but is it really? We don’t like feeling like we are losing a debate. When I was a young Christian I would follow Mormons on their bikes around neighborhoods. I quickly learned that I didn’t know half as much as these Momons knew. I learned that I needed to be grounded in the Word about my own faith before I tried to share Christ with these Mormons. So I went to studying. But my false dreams of being a brilliant theologian came crashing down when I confronted a Mormon bishop outside of an LDS campus school near the University of South Carolina campus. He shot me down like a Japanese fighter over the battle of Midway. I went home and cried at my “failure” and the debate had turned ugly when I got angry at this Mormon.
Godliness will go a long way. We should not only be godly toward those outside of the faith but how much more to those inside our faith (1 Peter 3:15-16). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV). “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]