Thursday, August 30, 2007

Calvinist or Arminian - which are you?

Personal Testimony

A few years ago I flew to a city in the northeast to preach. While driving to the airport for my flight home, one of the pastors who rode with me asked whether I was a Calvinist or Arminian. At the time, I did not know how to answer, since I was uninformed about the difference between the two. Rather than admit my ignorance, I claimed that I was Calvi-minian. The question, however, intrigued me.

That same year we were studying the book of Romans on Wednesday nights. As part of my study I was reading commentaries by James Boice and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I came across the words monergism and synergism, words with which I was not familiar. That led me to further study, and I found myself agreeing with Monergism. It wasn’t so much that I was being persuaded by what I was reading, as I was recognizing that the writers were putting words to what I already believed.

Paul’s argument in Romans 9 was a watershed for me. I began to identify myself as a Calvinist by the middle of the chapter. The objection that Paul raises in verse 14, then answers in verses 15 through 18 convinced me of the truthfulness of Monergism.

Romans 9:14-18 (NKJV)
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Lately, in my reading, listening to MP3 sermons, and discussing theology with others, I have come across a number of people that profess to be neither Calvinist nor Arminian. In a number of instances these individuals profess to be Biblicists. The question that arises in my mind is, “Can someone be neither?” and the answer that I come up with is a resounding no.

Church History

The Synod of Dordt met during 1618-1619 to settle a dispute that was initiated by the Remonstrance of 1610. The document that contains the doctrinal statements of that Synod is known as the Canons of Dordt. This historical church document outlines the difference between the Arminians and the Calvinists. If an individual denies one of the statements the Canons affirm, then on that statement he affirms the position of the Remonstrance. There is no third option, no Biblicist option. On each of the doctrinal points one either affirms the Calvinist position or affirms the Arminian position.

The Remonstrance consisted of five points, but in their response the Synod combined the third and fourth. For each point there are multiple Articles which lay out the conclusions of the Synod. Following the Articles there is a section listing the errors the Canons reject, which would be those arguments the Remonstrance was advocating. I have included select portions of each section and then summarized the Calvinist and Arminian position for each point. By noting which position you affirm, you should be able to determine where you stand on the scale between Arminianism and Calvinism. Hopefully you will be able to accurately answer the question, which I could not answer a few years ago.

First Head Of Doctrine
Of Divine Predestination

Article 1
As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish, and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin…

Article 7
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.

This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ,…

Article 9
This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended;…

Rejection 5
That the incomplete and non-decisive election of particular persons to salvation occurred because of a foreseen faith, conversion, holiness, godliness, which either began or continued for some time;…

Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that God has an elect people; the difference is that Calvinism affirms that God’s choice is based solely in Him, for His purposes. Arminianism affirms that God’s choice is based on how individuals ultimately respond in faith.

Which do you affirm – Calvinism or Arminianism?

Second Head Of Doctrine
Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby

Article 1
God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. And His justice requires (as He hath revealed Himself in His Word), that our sins committed against His infinite majesty should be punished, not only with temporal, but with eternal punishment, both in body and soul; which we cannot escape unless satisfaction be made to the justice of God.

Article 3
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

Article 8
…it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father;…

Rejection 6
…that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will,…

Both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm that the death of Christ was sufficient to atone for the sin of the entirety of humanity; the difference has to do with the effectiveness of His death. Calvinism affirms that Christ’s death effects the salvation of the elect, whereas Arminianism affirms that the effect of Christ's death is left to the free choice of man.

Which do you affirm – Calvinism or Arminianism?

Third And Fourth Heads Of Doctrine
Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God,
and the Manner Thereof

Article 1
Man was originally formed after the image of God. …but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts;…

Article 2
Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent,…

Article 3
Therefore all men are conceived in sin, …they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation.

Article 7
This mystery of His will God discovered to but a small number under the Old Testament; under the New (the distinction between various peoples having been removed), He reveals Himself to many without any distinction of people.

Article 10
…it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son,

Article 14
Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ; but because He who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.

Article 16
…this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor takes away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign, …

Rejection 4
That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God.

Rejection 7
That the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, …

Rejection 8
…that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit when God intends man's regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man's power to be regenerated or not.

Rejection 9
That grace and free will are partial causes, which together work the beginning of conversion, and that grace, in order of working, does not precede the working of the will; …

Both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm that man is depraved; the difference has to do with the extent of man’s depravity. Calvinism affirms that man’s depravity extends to his incapacity to believe. God regenerates the elect, thus giving him the capacity to believe. Arminianism affirms that even though man’s depravity has incapacitated him, God has provided every man with "prevenient grace," which allows man by his own natural will to choose or reject salvation.

Which do you affirm – Calvinism or Arminianism?

Fifth Head Of Doctrine
Of the Perseverance of the Saints

Article 1
Whom God calls, according to His purpose, to the communion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, He delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world.

Article 8
Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, …

Article 12
This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, …

Rejection 3
That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever.

Rejection 5
That without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life.

Calvinism affirms the doctrine commonly referred to as "eternal security." The Remonstrance neither affirmed nor denied the doctrine.

Here is Article 5 of the Remonstrance:
That those who an incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict. and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the word of Christ, John 10:28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.

Which do you affirm – Calvinism or Arminianism?

By noting which of the Calvinist points you affirm and which you reject, you should now be able to determine where you stand on the scale between Arminianism and Calvinism.

For Further Study

Five Articles of Remonstrance

Prevenient Grace

Synod of Dort

The Five Points of Calvinism


The Arminian Controversy

What Are the Essential Differences Between Calvinism and Arminianism?

Some Things Non Calvinists Should Know About Calvinism

God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men

A Defense of Calvinism

Historic Church Documents

Links in this article are provided solely for information purposes,
and do not in any way imply full and complete endorsement.


Johnny T. Helms said...

Good day, brother. There are Reformed theologians these days who are indeed Calvinists (all five points of Dortian Calvinism) who prefer to describe themselves as "Biblicists" rather than as Calvinists. The reason is they are concerned about the misconceptions some (most) church folk have about Calvinism. To many, if you are a Calvinists you are a hyper-Calvinist and the word turns off the hearer immediately. Being a Biblicist is not as far as I know a "third" school of theology; not something between Calvinism and Arminianism.

Johnny T. Helms said...

By the way, this article is great. It provides information that the average layman will not find on most blogs. Thanks.

JohnBrianMck said...


I appreciate the concern of Calvinists over the misconceptions regarding the name, and a desire to use different terminology to describe the theology.

Those who I observed using the term Biblicist seemed to be defining a third category.

JohnBrianMck said...

C. Michael Patton at Parchment and Paper,

wrote an article on September 12, titled The Day I Became a Calvinist.

Romans 9 was a watershed for him as well.

JohnBrianMck said...

Under the "Third and Fourth Head of Doctrine I wrote the following summary:

"Both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm that man is depraved; the difference has to do with the extent of man’s depravity. Calvinism affirms that man’s depravity extends to his incapacity to believe. God regenerates the elect, thus giving him the capacity to believe. Arminianism affirms that man’s depravity does not incapacitate him, he has the capacity of his own natural will to choose or reject salvation."

Based on an article by Jeff Paton, a Wesleyan-Arminian, titled "Prevenient Grace," found here:

I am correcting the Summary.

"Both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm that man is depraved; the difference has to do with the extent of man’s depravity. Calvinism affirms that man’s depravity extends to his incapacity to believe. God regenerates the elect, thus giving him the capacity to believe. Arminianism affirms that even though man’s depravity has incapacitated him, God has provided every man with "prevenient grace," which allows man by his own natural will to choose or reject salvation."

Anonymous said...

There is a third view of corporate election of the church as a body and individuals only being considered elect or non-elect by being in the church or not. Thus one individual can switch from being elect to non-elect and vice versa numerous times depending on whether they are in or out of the church.

Anonymous said...

And there is also the position that like Arminianism affirms an individual election based on foreseen faith, but yet does not accept total hereditary depravity or inheritance of Adam's sin in any sense. Then there is the position that again affirms election based on foreseen faith and accepts only half the notion of inherited sin, i.e. that the flesh inherits Adam's sin but the soul does not, per Ezekiel 18:20 which shows the inability of the soul to inherit sins.