Breaking free from any views we hold is often very difficult for us. Few Democrats ever become Republicans without years of thought. Few Baptists ever become Presbyterians without something or someone influencing them in such a way that they see the change as positive. And even fewer Calvinists become Arminians. In fact I would probably argue that Arminians change over to Calvinist more often than the other way around. I have my reasons for that but I will save that for a later post.
There are out there those within Calvinism who do doubt what they have been taught. I do believe that whether you are an Arminian or a Calvinist, you should examine what you believe. Don’t simply believe what someone else tells you to believe, but take the Bible and examine your faith (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). After all, both Arminianism and Calvinism are derived from the theological views of men and both can (and do) have problems with their views. We would be foolish to believe that John Calvin or James Arminius were not limited as we are by our flesh, and neither had a perfect understanding of our infinite God (Romans 11:33-36).
However, specifically speaking what must a person do to become an Arminian? After all, there is no special club to join, no creed to endorse, or no church you can just join and declare to the world that you are an Arminian. In fact, many people who claim to be Calvinist would probably be shocked to hear that they are not true Calvinists but are more inclined to Arminianism if not semi-Pelagianism than they would be comfortable with. I have found that there are many who like to pick and choose their faith so that they believe with Calvinists on some theological issues but hold to Arminianism on others. Again, we are all fallen creatures with no perfect knowledge of God or His ways (Romans 3:10, 23).
To me, the bottom line issue for moving from Calvinism toward Arminianism is the issue of unconditional election. Arminians hold to the sovereignty of God, to the doctrines of predestination and election, to the doctrine of total depravity, to justification by grace through faith, to the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ,* to the core beliefs of the evangelical faith such as the virgin birth, Christ’s sinless life, His death on the cross, Jesus’ resurrection, the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Scriptures,** the visible and invisible Church, the reality of heaven and hell, the judgment of both believers and unbelievers, the second coming of Jesus Christ, etc. but the watershed issue I see that one must decide on is the issue of unconditional election. If one holds that God has chosen by His own choice those who would be saved and those who would be damned, then one will in turn hold to a limited atonement (since Christ died only for the elect) and all that follows in the TULIP.
Arminianism, on the other hand, rejects unconditional election instead opting to teach that election is based on conditions that God has ordained, and once those conditions are met, then the person becomes part of the Church and is thus called the elect. Arminians reject the notion that election is not based on the God established conditions of faith and repentance. One must have faith in Jesus (John 1:12-13; 3:16; 5:24; 20:31; Acts 15:9; 16:30-34; Romans 3:21-27; 4:24-5:1; 10:9-13; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Galatians 3:1-4; 5:1-4) and repentance (Luke 13:5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 26:20; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9) in order to be saved (John 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:18-25). Once a person has faith in Jesus which leads to repentance, that person becomes part of the elect (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:10).*** The conditions, stresses Arminianism, is what one must obey in order to be saved (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 6:46-49; Acts 5:32; Romans 1:5; 1 John 2:3-6). The conditions, however, are not met by man’s own power but man must submit to the drawing of the Holy Spirit of God (John 6:44) through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17; 10:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14). It is by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we are saved (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 15:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; James 1:21-22) and not by our own good works of any kind (John 6:29; Titus 3:5-7). It is the grace of God alone that brings salvation (Titus 2:11-14).
How does this view effect the biblical teaching of the absolute sovereignty of God? Arminians do believe in the sovereignty of God. However, we believe that because God is sovereign, this does not mean that He determines all things but permits them. In other words, God does not predetermine the elect from the unelect but He foreknows who will believe (Romans 8:29-30) but still allows the individual to make their own free choice (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17). This election is based on the conditions being met and not on some arbitrary divine choosing. Because God is love (1 John 4:16) and because of His great love for humanity (John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7-12), God allows His creation a limited amount of freedom to either respond to His grace and be saved or reject His grace, but either way, the choice is not predetermined by God but rather is foreknown.
So the watershed issue that clearly defines Arminians and Calvinist is the issue of unconditional election. Even my Calvinist brethren would agree that there are many similarities between Arminians and Calvinists, but to me the main difference is the issue of unconditional election.
* Editor’s note: Not all Arminians hold to the penal aspect of the atonement, though all do hold it to the substitutionary aspect of the atonement.
** Editor’s note: Not all Arminians (or evangelicals of that matter) hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, though all do (or should!) hold to a high view of Scripture. SEA members must at least hold to the infallibility of Scripture, though many members do hold to the inerrancy of Scripture.
*** Editor’s note: This is describing the corporate election model. More traditionally, Arminians have held that God elects individuals in eternity past for salvation based in his foreknowledge that they will meet the condition of faith. The corporate model seems to have become the dominant model among Arminians.
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]