The debate over Calvinism and Arminianism often turns into a battle over the sovereignty of God. Many Calvinists assume that Arminians do not believe in the sovereignty of God nor in the doctrines of election and predestination. Of course, this is not true since Arminians hold to all three doctrines as being taught in the inerrant Word of God. The fundamental difference between Calvinism and Arminianism lies not in the power of God but in the character of God.
Arminians turn to passages such as John 3:16 or Romans 5:8 or 1 John 3:1 or 1 John 4:9 and we see the entirety of Scripture as teaching as foundational to our understanding of God, the great love of God for his creation. Arminians hold that God is sovereign (Psalm 115:3) and that his will will be accomplished (Ephesians 1:11). Yet we differ with our Calvinist brethren over the extent of the love of God toward all humanity. Calvinism, while seemingly embracing the love of God for his elect, believes that the sovereignty of God must exclude free will [as normally understood]1 and therefore must exclude the desire of God to save all who would [freely] come to Christ by faith. Arminianism, on the other hand, teaches that the love of God for humanity begin before the Fall (1 Peter 1:19-20) and continues to this day through the powerful work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross and through his resurrection (1 Timothy 1:15-17).
It is true that Calvinists often do preach the gospel to all men since no one can know who the elect are apart from the preaching of the Word (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Charles Spurgeon commented, “If the elect were marked with an X then I would not need to preach ‘whosoever will’ but since they are not then I continue to preach ‘whosoever will.’” With these Calvinists we are in full agreement over preaching of the gospel [in that it should be proclaimed to all] (Matthew 28:19-20). The call of the Church is to go and preach to all of creation (Mark 16:15) by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). We believe further that it is not just God’s will to save the elect but that all who come to Christ by faith become the elect (Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Peter 1:10). We agree that the call is to all but we differ with Calvinists that all can not respond [in that we believe God enables all to respond] (Revelation 22:17).
This difference begins not in the sovereignty of God but in how we understand the character of God. We believe that since God is love (1 John 4:17) he acts through his loving character. It is the love of God for humanity where we see the doctrine of free will (Genesis 2:15-16; 3:21). It is in our belief of the love of God that we see God’s desire to communicate to us through his Word (Psalm 19:7-14). It is through the lenses of the love of God that we read the Gospels and see the greatest expression of God’s love in his Son (Isaiah 53; John 3:16-17). It is the love of God that motivates us to obey him (John 14:15) and it is the love of God that compels us to preach the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). It is the love of God that leads Arminians to not embrace a divine determinist view of the character of God. While we embrace a sovereign God, we also believe that God in his sovereignty and in his love has given humanity the choice to come to salvation in his Son (John 6:40; 12:32). While some will refuse to come (Matthew 7:13-14; John 6:60-66), those who do so become the elect of God by his grace (Romans 8:28-30).
The character of God. Therein lies the fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians.
[Editor’s note: Brackets indicate editor’s additions.]
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]