Words That Arminians and Calvinists Define Differently

, posted by Kevin Jackson

Arminians and Calvinists define some theological terms differently. This has a tendency to cause us to talk past each other when discussing theological issues. Here are some of the words that Arminians and Calvinists have different meanings for:

Decree
Arminians – A plan of God to establish parameters for the way something will work. For example, God can decree for humans to have and make decisions.
Calvinists – A plan of God to cause things to happen in a predetermined way.

Election
Arminians – God chooses Christ. Those who follow Christ benefit from his election.1
Calvinists – God unconditionally chooses certain individuals to be saved. The chosen are elected.

Faith
Arminians – Faith means to trust God. Because of God’s drawing grace, it is possible for each person to trust God.
Calvinists – Faith is an ability that God gives to the elect but not to the reprobate. A person cannot trust God unless God causes him to to so.

Foreknowledge
Arminians – God has passive knowledge of our future choices.
Calvinists – God foreknows the future because he has rendered it certain. His knowing is based on determining what will happen.

Free Will
Arminians – Free will is the God enabled ability to make choices. A person can do one thing, or he can choose to do something else.
Calvinists – Free will means to follow one’s strongest desires. When a person makes decisions his strongest desires determine what he does.

God’s Love
Arminians – God loves each person with an infinite amount of love, and desires for each person to be saved and to be in relationship with him.
Calvinists – God has a special kind of love for the elect that he does not have for all people. God may love the reprobate in some sense, but this is not a kind of love that enables them to be saved.

Sovereignty
Arminians – God as ruler does what he wants to do. God sovereignly created and governs a world where creatures have the ability to make choices.
Calvinists – God as ruler deterministically causes every thing that happens. If God does not ultimately cause everything, he can’t be sovereign.

The World
Arminians – The world is inclusive of each and every person that has or ever will exist.
Calvinists – The world is all of the elect people from all over the world, not all people.

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1The view described above is called “corporate election”. Some Arminians also hold to “individual election”. In this view God elects those whom he foreknows will believe in Christ.