There are two systems of theology that has been dividing the church for centuries: Calvinism and Arminianism. They are opposing doctrines of salvation.
These two systems of theology diverge at the foundational issue of human depravity.
How could there be such a divide on a fundamentally imperative tenant of Christianity? After all, salvation is what it’s all about. It is the very derivation—the root of being a Christian. So, which one is correct? In this article, we are going to take a look at Arminianism vs. Calvinism.
What is Calvinism
Calvinism is the theology that was a product of the Protestant Reformation and was largely defined by John Calvin (1509-1564). He was born in France, but lived most of his life in Geneva Switzerland. Though a contemporary of Martin Luther, he was a generation removed and the two never met. Calvin, like Martin Luther, formed theology that was based on an understanding of the errors of Roman Catholicism, in particular the belief in a works-based salvation. Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” which laid the foundation for his system of theology, was first published in 1536. This doctrine emphasizes God’s omnipotence, man’s depravity and the salvation of God’s elect by grace alone.
A proper understanding of Calvinism is fully dependent on understanding Calvin’s view of man’s depravity. He taught that man, (Adam), who once enjoyed perfect fellowship and communion with God, had his very nature changed through the fall into sin. This not only destroyed the communion between God and man, but also removed the ability of man to have communion with God. Man’s nature became so utterly corrupt as to leave him unable to choose against his nature. A fallen man is able to choose to do what he wants, but is unable to want God. There seems to be a misconception that Calvinists do not believe in man’s free will, but this is not the case. Calvinism teaches that free will exists, but is bound by a man’s nature. Man is a slave not to God, but to his own nature. Because man does not want God, he can never choose Him. [Refer to Rom 6:16- 18] Only God, in His Sovereign free will, can change man’s nature and make him capable of repentance.
The five points of Calvinism are often summarized in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. which stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.
Below is a brief discussion of each of those points. For each I have provided the Bible passages from which they are drawn. I have added a brief comment to each which explains how that passage is interpreted as verification according to Calvinists doctrine.
Man’s will is held in captive to his nature. Man is free to choose according to the way his nature dictates, but his nature is so totally corrupt that he could never choose for good. He is free to choose, but he cannot go against his nature. With a sinful nature it is impossible to take an action that would be anything other than sinful and rebellious. It is impossible to choose a righteous or pleasing work capable of pleasing a holy God.
In the same way, God is able to choose according to His free will, but cannot contradict his nature, which is perfect. Therefore, God could never take an action that was anything but perfect and holy.
Genesis 6:5 – God saw that the intent of every heart was only repeated evil.
Genesis 8:21 – The intent of every heart is evil from childhood.
Isaiah 64:6-7 –Because of uncleanliness no one calls on God’s name or is stirred to take hold of God.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and beyond cure.
John 3:19 – Even though light has arrived, men loved darkness rather than light because their hearts are evil.
Romans 3:10-18 – There is none righteous. There is none who seeks God. They all have turned away.
Romans 8:8 – Those that are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 – The worldly man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God and cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned.
Ephesians 2:1-3 – God in His mercy made us alive when we were dead in our sin. We once walked in sin and were children of wrath.
2 Timothy 2:25,26 – We have been taken captive by the devil to do his will and if we are granted repentance God will bring us to our senses and help us escape.
Calvinists believe that God’s election is entirely unconditional and it is He who makes the ultimate choice for salvation. God foreknows who will be His elect and this is based on His decree, plan and purpose. He chooses people for His good pleasure and in His will. God brings His chosen people, through the Spirit, to a willing acceptance of Christ. His choice has nothing to do with man’s free will. God the Father chooses people for reasons we do not know or understand. God does not choose people because they would choose Him. He doesn’t choose them on that basis.
The Scriptural basis is as follows with interpretational verification:
Matthew 11:27 – No one knows the Father except the Son and the ones to whom the Son chooses to reveal.
Matthew 13:11 – To some it has been given to know God, but to others it has not.
Matthew 15:13 – God is the one who does the planting.
Matthew 20:23 – God has ordained who will sit at His right and His left.
Mark 13:20 – God chooses the elect.
Luke 10:21, 22 – God chooses to whom He will reveal the plan of salvation based on what seems good in His sight.
Luke 12:32 – It is God’s pleasure to give some the kingdom.
Luke 13:24 – Some will seek the kingdom but may not enter.
John 5:21 – The Son gives life to whom He pleases.
John 6:44 – No one can come to the Son except those who are drawn first by the Father.
John 6:65 – No one can come to the Son unless it has been decided by the Father.
John 8:43-47 – The children of the devil cannot comprehend Christ’s teaching.
John 10:26-30 – Christ’s sheep know His voice. Those who are not His sheep cannot follow Him.
John 12:37-40 – The people were kept from believing in order to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy.
John 13:18 – Christ knew who He had chosen. He did not choose Judas.
John 15:16 – Christ does the choosing.
John 17:6 – Some were given to Christ by the Father for eternal life.
Acts 13:48 – As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Romans 8:28-30 – Those who were predestined were called, glorified and justified.
Romans 9:11-13 – God chose Jacob before his birth, not based on his works.
Galatians 1:15 – Paul was set apart by God while in his mother’s womb.
Ephesians 1:3-5 – He chose us before the foundation of the world, having predestined us to adoption according to His will.
Ephesians 1:11 – We have been predestined according to His will to receive an inheritance.
Ephesians 2:4-7 – God made us alive while we were still dead in sin.
Colossians 1:26, 27 – It was God’s will to make Christ known to the saints.
Colossians 3:12 –God’s chosen people.
1 Thessalonians 1:4 – Knowing the election of God.
2 Thessalonians 13, 14 – From the beginning God chose some for salvation.
2 Timothy 1:9 – God saved us and called us according to His own purpose.
Hebrews 9:15 – Only those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
1 Peter 1:1, 2 – We are elected according to God’s foreknowledge and will.
1 Peter 2:7, 8 – Some have been predestined to hell.
Jude 4 – Some were predestined for condemnation.
With Calvinism, there are two ways God calls people to repentance. The first is the outer call which is extended to anyone who hears the gospel. This can be and often is rejected. The second is the internal call which is extended only to the elect and can never be rejected. In the natural state an individual is spiritually dead and as dead men are incapable of responding to anything. Therefore, he or she must be brought to life before they can respond to God. The Holy Spirit, in cooperation with the electing will of the Father, in the fullness of time, gives the gift of salvation to the elect who are powerless to resist God’s grace. God then bestows to the recipients the faith which Christ secured for us at the cross. Finally, the Spirit leads them to cooperate with God and repent. The order of salvation is regeneration, followed by faith and finally repentance. The Spirit’s work of regeneration must precede both faith and repentance lest they be acts of man.
The Scriptural basis is as follows with interpretational verification:
John 6:37-39 – God has sent the elect to Christ.
John 6:44 – No one can come unless the Father draws him.
Ephesians 2:1-10 – While we were still dead in sin and trespasses, God made us alive.
Philippians 2:12-13 – God works in us the desire to do good for His good pleasure.
John 1:12-13 – We are born not of our own will but born of God.
Romans 8:8 – Those that are in the flesh cannot please God (which confirms that regeneration must precede faith and repentance).
Romans 9:19 – No one can resist God’s will.
1 Corinthians 15:10 – It is only by God’s grace that Paul was a believer.
Perseverance of the Saints (OSAS)
According to Calvinists, because God authors and finishes our faith, we cannot fall away from salvation. Having been born again, we cannot be unborn. The elect, then, will persevere in righteousness and will never fall away from God. If someone who once professed Christ no longer appears to, one of two things must be true. Either he is still a believer and has fallen away from following God for a time (though not from salvation), or he was never saved.
The Scriptural basis is a follows with interpretational verification:
Matthew 24:24 – It is impossible to deceive the elect to nullify their salvation. (See also Mark 13:22)
Luke 15:11-32 – The prodigal son falls away for a time, but not eternally.
John 3:36 – He who believes in the Son has everlasting life
John 4:14 – Whoever receives, drinks the water of Christ will never thirst again.
John 6:39 – It is God’s will that of all He gives to Christ, none should perish.
John 10:28 – Jesus gives believers eternal life and they shall never perish.
Romans 8:28-30 – Those whom God calls He also justifies and glorifies.
Romans 11:29 – The calling and gifts of God are irrevocable.
1 Corinthians 1:8 – Christ will confirm us to the end.
Philippians 1:6 – He who has begun a good work in you will complete it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24 – God, who calls us, is faithful and will preserve us until Christ comes.
2 Thessalonians 3:4 – Paul has confidence that God will preserve them.
2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.
Hebrews 10:14 – By His offering Christ has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
1 John 2:19 – If they were of us they would have remained with us.
Revelation 3:5 – Names cannot be blotted from the book of life.
One thing to note regarding the Scriptures in the gospels: the timing was before the Holy Spirit was administered.
What is Arminianism
Arminianism is the theology of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and Arminianism arose as a rejection of Calvinism and its doctrines of predestination and election. Arminius taught that God has given human individuals free will, and they are able to freely choose or reject salvation.
Jacobus Arminius (1559 – 1609) was born in The Netherlands and spent the majority of his life as a pastor in that country. His followers were known as the Remonstrants. From the beginning of his pastorate he came under fire for teaching theology that was contrary to Calvinism, which was already a well-established system of theology. He taught that individual free will and God’s sovereignty could be reconciled and also denied the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.
As Calvinism cannot be understood without a proper understanding of man’s depravity, so Arminianism is dependent on understanding individual free will. Armenians’ believe that God has given individuals free will in all areas. Although the term “free will” is widely used, there are different understandings of it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as follows:
1. Voluntary choice or decision. 2. Freedom of individuals to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.
These definitions, though correct, do not expose the full meaning as it pertains to theology. For theological purposes the definition must be expanded. For a will to be truly free there must be must an alternative to what the person in question actually chose. A person who is presented with only one option does not truly have free will. Calvin taught that man is free to choose but only within the bounds of his nature (limited free will).However, Arminius believed that this was not true free will. For free will to exist man must be able to of his own accord choose or reject God.
The five points of Arminianism are: Free Will, Conditional Election, Universal Atonement, Obstructable Grace and Falling from Grace.
Below is a brief discussion of each of these points. For each I have provided the Bible passages from which they are drawn. I have added a brief comment to each which explains how that passage is interpreted as verification.
Arminius taught that man’s fall into sin has not completely removed his ability to make a choice for or against God. Rather, man’s will is in a neutral state and is not able to choose only evil. The will is free to make a choice for either good or evil. In terms of salvation, the Holy Spirit draws people sufficiently and enlightens them enough that they can, of their own free will, choose salvation. However, He does not draw or enlighten them enough to force them into a decision.
Matthew 18:12, 13 – He rejoices if he finds one of the lost sheep.
Matthew 23:37 – Jesus desires to gather the people to Him but they are not willing.
Luke 15:11-32 – The prodigal son came to the realization of his depravity by himself.
John 3:16 – “whosoever believes in Him” would seem to indicate we choose to believe in Him.
John 5:40 – You are not willing to come to Me so you may have life; this involves choice.
John 7:17 – “If anyone chooses (wills) to do God’s will.” Indicative of choice.
Acts 2:37-38 – after asking what they should do, if they chose to repent and be baptized they would receive the Holy Spirit and be saved.
Acts 16:31 – Paul and Silas told the jailer that if he were to repent and baptized he would be saved, seemingly indicating that he was given the choice of repentance.
Romans 10:9 – Free will is indicated in that we are told that if we believe with our hearts and confess with our lips we will be saved.
Arminians believe and teach that God’s election is based upon his foreknowledge that a person would choose to be saved. In the broad scope of eternity God can see those who would choose Christ and in response to this act of individual free will, God in turn chose them and called them the elect. We see that election is conditional upon free will because God has to see that a person will make a free will decision in the future before He is able to impart salvation to that person. The decision to be saved, then, is ultimately an individual’s decision initially and not an act of God. God ultimately responds to that decision.
Romans 8:29 – Those who He foreknew, He predestined.
Romans 11:2 – God foreknew His people.
1 Peter 1:1, 2 – Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; “through the sanctifying work of the spirit through the obedience of Christ.” This is by the choice of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
When Christ died he took upon Himself every sin for every individual being throughout time. This is not to say, however, that all individuals are saved. Therefore, Christ’s sacrifice does not actually save individuals but only provides the potential for every individual to be saved. Christ’s death will only provide salvation when it is completed by a free will decision made by an individual. A simple formula to express this would be, Christ’s sacrifice + man’s free will choice = salvation. Salvation cannot be completed without both of the pieces being in place. Again we see that atonement is conditional upon free will, as individuals are able to freely choose or reject atonement.
John 1:12 – Those who received him were given the right to become the children of God.
John 1:29 – John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” not solely the sin of the elect.
John 3:16 – God so loved the world, not only the elect.
John 12:32 – I will draw all peoples too myself. He draws, we accept (or not).
Matthew 18:14 – It is not God’s will that any of His sheep should perish.
Romans 11:32 – So God might have mercy on all.
1 Corinthians 15:22 – As all fell in Adam so all are saved in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 – One died for all.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 – God desires all to be saved and gave His Son as a ransom for all.
1 Timothy 4:10 – God is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.
Hebrews 2:9 – Christ tasted death for everyone.
2 Peter 2:1 – Jesus “bought” even the false prophets.
2 Peter 3:9 – God does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and be saved.
1 John 2:2 – Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
The fourth foundation of Arminian teaching is that God never forces salvation upon anyone. Though the Holy Spirit is instrumental in salvation, He does not force anyone into repentance. The Spirit merely encourages people who are then free to choose for or against the gift of salvation.
The process of salvation is this: The Spirit encourages people. Man in his free will chooses to believe in Christ accepting Him as Lord and Savior. Having believed, he then begins to exercise faith. As a result of these actions, the Holy Spirit regenerates him. Faith, therefore, precedes regeneration and is actually the cause of regeneration. Faith is what allows the Holy Spirit to do His regenerative work in the new believer. As with the other points, we see that free will is fundamental.
Matthew 23:37 – Christ longed to gather Jerusalem, but they were not willing.
Luke 7:30 – The Pharisees and lawyers chose to reject God’s will for themselves.
John 1:12 – To those who received Him who already believed in His name, He then gave the right to become children of God.
John 3:18-21 – Man has to choose between light and darkness.
John 5:40 – We can refuse to go to God and receive life.
Acts 7:51 – We can resist the Spirit as our fathers did.
2 Corinthian 6:1 – Do not receive the grace of God in vain.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 – Do not quench the Spirit. We can even choose to put out the Spirit‘s fire.
Fall from Grace
Because man has free will and in the process of salvation can choose for or against God, it must then be possible to fall away from this grace. God can never impose His will upon us so that we lose our free will. It follows, then, that we must be free to accept or reject this grace at any time. This is a necessary conclusion since man must be as free to reject God’s grace and leave God’s kingdom, as he was to accept God’s grace and enter the kingdom. Again, we see that this belief is entirely dependent on free will.
Matthew 5:13 – Salt can lose its saltiness (also Mark 9:50).
John 15:1-7 – Vines can be cut off and burned if they don’t bear fruit.
Romans 11:22 – If we don’t continue to grow in goodness we will be cut off.
2 Corinthians 11:4 – The people had fallen away but Paul attempted to bring them back.
Galatians 5:4 – Paul says that those who have tried to be justified by the law had fallen from grace.
Hebrews 6:4-6 – The passage discusses how it is possible, after accepting, to fall away from God.
2 Peter 1:8-10 – It is possible to forget our salvation. We can choose to close our eyes to the truth (vs. 9).
2 Peter 2:20-22 – It is better to have not ever known the way of righteousness than to have known it and then turn away from it.
Revelation 2:5 – God threatens to remove the church’s lampstand, indicating judgment, if they do not repent.
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So which one is correct? My response would make this post too lengthy. Therefore, my response can be found in the next post entitled: Arminianism vs. Calvinism: my response
Please feel free to leave any questions or remarks below. It will be greatly appreciated.
4 thoughts on “Arminianism vs. Calvinism Introduction: There are two systems of theology”
Nice post on an introduction to Arminianism and Calvinism. I grew up in a religious household and I remember my father discussing Jacob and John a couple times. Not sure I really understood it at the time but your refresher post makes me realise I get it now. John Calvin always seemed a little scary to me when I was a kid, that we are all born evil or something like that. Doesn’t feel good to believe you are inherently depraved or somehow a sinner just for being born. Great post on Arminianism vs Calvinism, I enjoyed it.
Hello julzdk – glad you enjoyed the post. This has been an onging debate for centuries. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Nice introduction to Calvinism and Armenianism. You provided a very thorough basis of the two.
I am a student of religion and theology, and have mentored Education for Ministry groups for 8 years. These groups study the Bible, Church History, and Theology from the beginning to the present time. There are many more theological statements than just the two you discussed.
Everyone comes to their own theological conclusion by the leading of the Spirit and study of Holy Scripture. God meets us where we are and leads us to be the people He means us to be.
Thank you Ellen for viewing the post and commenting! Have a blessed day.