The CALVINIST ARMINIANIST CONTROVERSY is often seen as logical, and conducted with reason. In subjects such as predestination,atonement, justification, assurance of salvation and God’s foreknowledge, emotions and the subconscious play a significant role. Few appear to realise what a powerful effect subtle emotional nuances can have on our reason and logic and how our general worldview, or paradigm, affect our logic.
It is a sad state of affairs, when after 2000 Years of debate, we still haven’t learned to listen to the other side. Is it so ingrained in the human psyche, that when the other side is speaking, we are too busy thinking of a counter argument, that we are unable to understand what the opposition is saying? We hear what they are saying, but fail to understand it. Both sides, at the end say, “We really showed them didn’t we?”
In the 60s, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book, ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.’ There he explained how we tend to suffer from paradigm blindness, the inability to comprehend ideas outside of our particular paradigm. Progress in science occurs when there is a paradigm shift.
Paradigm blindness is what this controversial debate has suffered from for two millennia. When paradoxes occur, it is a sign that the paradigm needs modification. In this ongoing debate, the paradoxes have been apparent from the start, Yet both sides avoid facing them. An example of one such paradox is the Calvinist concept of ‘assurance of salvation.’
Calvin in ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ book IV, chapter 14, illustrates a classic example of how paradigm blindness can influence Bible interpretation. There he explains the parable of the sower and the seeds (Matthew 13:18-23) but neatly slips out of the issue of assured salvation, by only mentioning the first and last seeds, ignoring the second and third seeds which directly relate to the subject of assurance of one’s salvation. This is a fault most theologians fall into; choosing Scripture fitting their preconceived ideas, while ignoring other Scripture. That is the main reason why one should pay attention, not only on what is written, but also on what is left out from theologians’ reasonings. The first question one should ask is from which paradigm do they reason, and the next question to ask is why other relevant Scripture is ignored.
If one steps out of the paradoxes, and looks at where the bible leads us, we see firstly, that most of the original Arminianist and Calvinist beliefs overlap. Secondly we see that where they don't overlap, they are both firmly based on Scripture while refusing to consider Scripture supporting the other side’s views. The truth must be that both are partly right and both partly wrong.
When apparent contradictions appear in our reading of Scripture, then we need to reconsider our doctrines. Usually our error is in trying to simplify a complex concept by avoiding Scripture that does not support the interpretation as we would like it top be, or as we have been taught.
In both the Arminianist and Calvinist camps, the original sources, Arminius and Calvin have been superseded by doctrines, guarded in the various denominations, as if each has the whole Truth. Wherever one looks there is this ‘us and them’ attitude perpetuated by theologians studying what other theologians had to say about what earlier theologians had to say, and in the process missing the original message.
The error is a product of complicating the purity of the Gospel. These theologians try and find a ‘one size fits all’ solution. How we come to the Lord, and how our Lord calls us, is very individual. One person may wake up one night and feel God's presence and understand Agape Love; the next day going to a church for the first time in decades, this person comprehends God's Grace. Another person might pray for the Lord's illumination and wait a Year for it, and then struggle for Years to comprehend Salvation; all that time the Lord is patiently leading this person, step by step, to understanding.
Each relationship with God is unique, just as each of us are unique.
Calvinists, appear to have an understanding of Calvin that contradicts statements made by Calvin himself in his works. Or are they reading with selective amnesia? Many staunch Calvinists argue strongly, as if it were an absolute truth, the five petals of the TULIP. Yet, in Calvin’s writing there are numerous contradictions to all those five dogmas.
The acronym TULIP stands for the five pillars of Calvinism:
Total depravity of man (man is totally unable to love God)
Unconditional election (God chooses whom He wishes)
Limited atonement (Christ died only for the elect)
Irresistible grace (those God chooses cannot resist the calling)
Perseverance of the saints (those God chose, God is faithful to keep until the end)
Then there is the Calvinist’s version of the Arminianist view, the DAISY:
Diminished Depravity (Free Will or Human Ability)
Abolition of true Grace (election is conditional)
Impersonal Atonement (Universal Redemption or General Atonement)
Sovereignty of the sinner (man’s will to turn away from God)
Yielding eternal uncertainty (God doesn’t preserve us)
Then there is Yet another Calvinist alternative to DAISY, and that is WEEDS:
Will of man for free choice
Election is conditional
Every man has been redeemed
Denial cuts off grace
Some will lose salvation
It seems the Calvinists have been developing their dogmas, more as a defence against Arminianist ideas, than a desire to have a fuller understanding of Scripture. The path many modern Arminianists have taken, by using their doctrines to justify their merging with the secular world, has strengthened this Calvinist tendency.
The Arminianist Five Articles of Remonstrance, were published shortly after Arminius died, by the first generation of Arminianism. There was then full agreement with the T in the Calvinist TULIP. Both sides agreed that without God’s intervention, man is in sin and unable to turn to God. Therefore the ‘D’ in DAISY and the ‘W’ in WEEDS reflect modernist ideas, and not the original Arminianist view.
Calvin believed in general atonement, in spite of what Calvinists, who have studied Calvinism at university may believe. In “A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God” Calvin wrote:
“I also confess with my whole heart, according to Paul, that the righteousness of God is freely extended to all through faith.”
Calvin tries to extricate himself by considering that only the elect have received “illumination.” But Paul, in Athens said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (acts 17:30)
Assurance of salvation has always been a tricky subject. There are numerous examples of people who have been staunch adherents to the Faith, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, elders, and even pastors, who have turned their backs on God and the Body of Christ. If these people, some of whom had even preached assurance of salvation, can slip away, how can we feel an assurance? They were convinced they were “saved”, yet clearly were not.
Calvin himself exhorts us to “works,” as he wrote in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2nd book, Chapter 8:
“We must rest entirely, in order that God may work in us; we must resign our own will, yield up our heart, and abandon all the lusts of the flesh. In short, we must desist from all the acts of our own mind, that God working in us, we may rest in him, as the Apostle also teaches.”
Calvin refers here to Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
In Calvin's commentary on Hebrews, referring to Hebrews 12:25, “See that you refuse not him that speaks.” Calvin states, “He (the author of Hebrews) uses the same verb as before, when he said that the people entreated that God should not speak to them; but he means as I think, another thing, even that we ought not to reject the word destined for us”. (my emphasis)
Passages such as this, of which Calvin’s works abound, make a Christian life appear as hard work on our own without God’s assistance, in order to merit God’s favour.
Assurance of Salvation is not an act of “works”, but a relationship. It is through the intuitive experiential insights into God’s awesome being (which can only come from God) that keeps the sinner from sinning. The assurance comes from the relationship. As the relationship of the individual with God deepens, the assurance deepens until the mere thought of breaking that relationship becomes inconceivable. At that point one does not need a pastor to convince one of that assurance.
When one has reached that point the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, the TULIP and the DAISY, are academic, best left to theologians, while the rest of us enjoy our relationship with our Lord and fellow believers in the Body of Christ.
But to continue in the War of the Petals . . . . . .