I’m sure you have heard it before: “I used to be an Arminian, so recognize that I know what I’m talking about.”
The conversion argument is actually a common argument among all forms of debate, especially religon. It is the argument of personal experience and a claim to understand both sides. I’ve used it myself before, since I have changed my mind on several topics.
It is worthy to note that we are not dealing with a logical fallacy here. First of all, one cannot refute personal experience. I cannot argue with you about whether or not you truly experienced something: I wasn’t there. Secondly, if one was fully committed to one point of view, and understood it, and then changed sides, then there is probably a truly powerful reason for it. Finally, given the same two conditions of the second point, the person would understand both conditions.
Well, since so many Calvinists have in fact converted from an Arminian position, shouldn’t this argument bear a lot of weight? Well, in this case, no. Why?
First of all, the conversion argument is not a sufficient argument. The truth of a matter is determined by the truth of the matter. You’re experience may be significant, and most certainly relevant in your own life, but it doesn’t guarantee that you are correct. In every debate, people switch from one side to the other for various reasons. This is because there are good reasons to believe in any common idea: otherwise no one would believe it. The power of the argument derives from the validity of the reasons for one’s conversion.
Second of all, a proper conversion implies a true commitment, both to the former view of things, and to the latter view. This is sadly lacking in many Arminian churches. The term “Arminian” is generally not used outside of acedemic circles. Indeed, you will notice that your word processor probably attempts to “correct it” as Armenian, which is actually a nationality. Because of this, many of these converts first heard of the term Arminian from a Calvinist, who defined the term as a heresy. Therefore, they were never really committed to Arminianism as a label.
Finally, a proper conversion implies a true understanding of both points of view. Many of these converts, due to the reasons stated above, didn’t have a firm grasp on their theology. They didn’t know the Scriptural texts to defend their position, nor did they know the reasons for their position. Indeed, many of them probably weren’t Arminian at all, but were simply told they were an Arminian from the Calvinist “evangelist”.
I have yet to find a Calvinist who was formally an Arminian who has a clue what Arminianism teaches. That makes the commonality of this argument rather suspect in my opinion. It demonstrates how improperly the name “Arminian” is being used, and how uneducated much of the church is on basic soteriology. What’s most sad about this is how it doesn’t surprise me.
When speaking to a Calvinist who is using this argument, you should ask them to define Arminianism for you. If they refuse to do so, or if they are incapable of saying anything other than “believing in free will”, or “works salvation”, then they were probably never Arminian to begin with (especially with the latter). If they do give a detailed description, please compare it to the teachings of actual Arminians.