Dana Steele, “Explain Arminianism and Calvinism to Me Like I Am Eight Years Old”

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My daughter came home from summer camp when she was 8 years old and told me she asked her counselor, “Do you believe that anyone can be saved or only certain people can be saved?” I was impressed how my 8-year old was able to condense an age old debate into a single question. I’m not suggesting that this covers all the nuances of the debate, but simplification can sometimes help provide some perspective of the forest amongst the trees.

As I was driving to work this morning, I was thinking about Good Friday, and what makes it good. My conclusion was that it is the gospel that makes Good Friday good. That got me thinking about the gospel which got me thinking about my Arminian understanding of the gospel. While I affirm that Calvinists and Arminians are in agreement about the essential facts of the gospel, our understanding of the extent of the goodness of the gospel is certainly influenced by our theology, and it seems to me that Arminian Theology does a better job of highlighting the goodness of the Good News.

As I began to think through an Arminian understanding of the gospel in simple terms (terms an 8-year old could understand) I came up with the following 5-points which I called,

The Arminian Layperson’s 5 Points of Arminianism:

  1. God loves everyone
  2. God wants everyone to be saved
  3. Christ died for everyone
  4. God gives enough grace to everyone
  5. Anyone can be saved

This certainly sounds like Good News. In contrast to this, the Arminian Layperson understands the 5 Points of Calvinism to entail that:

  1. God does not love everyone
  2. God does not want everyone to be saved
  3. Christ did not die for everyone
  4. God does not give enough grace to everyone
  5. Not everyone can be saved

I’m not saying the Calvinist viewpoint is devoid of Good News but can we agree it is not as good? In response, the Calvinist may see a lack of goodness in these same 5 Points of Arminianism, arguing they entail that:

  1. God loves freewill most of all
  2. God can’t have what He wants
  3. Christ wasted His blood
  4. God’s grace is ineffective
  5. Maybe no one will be saved

And while a Calvinist Layperson might not think through all the entailments of their theology, they would certainly affirm some goodness in relation to these 5 points:

  1. God loves me and He might love you too.
  2. God wants me to be saved and He might want you to be saved too.
  3. Christ died for me and He might have died for you too.
  4. God gave grace to me and He might give grace to you too.
  5. I am saved and you might become saved too.

There is certainly some Good News to be found in the above, but I can’t help but feel the goodness of the Gospel is significantly muted.

To be clear, none of these lists are complete presentations of the gospel. They all leave out the essential facts of agreement, that we are sinners, guilty and helpless, that Christ died in our place for our sins, rose again and is coming again to separate believers from unbelievers. But perhaps we could learn something from my daughter and keep it simple to appreciate just how good the Good News really is. Anyone can be saved! My prayer is that this Good Friday and Easter you will glory in the goodness of the Gospel.