Calvinism & Arminianism


Total Depravity: As a result of Adam's sin, people are born in a "depraved" state.  This means that although people may do things that are good, they are constitutionally unable to submit themselves to the gospel (Rom. 3:11; Jn. 6:44,65).  Therefore, before fallen people can trust Christ, a special work of the Spirit is necessary.

Unconditional Election: Because of total depravity, salvation is not dependent on man at all.  For his own good reasons, God sovereignly chooses which individuals he will save.  "Unconditional" in this context means that there are no conditions that humans have to meet, including faith.  It is argued that faith is the gift of God (Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8), and cannot be generated by man because it is a good work (1 Thes. 1:3).  Therefore, if human-generated faith plays a part in salvation, salvation is not entirely by grace.

"Double predestination" (also called reprobation) is the doctrine that holds that the elect are predestined to heaven, while the non-elect are predestined to hell (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4; Rom. 9:22,23).  Not all Calvinists believe in double predestination.  Instead, they believe that God is active only in the election of the saved, and that He is passive in the non-election of the rest.

Limited Atonement: Christ died for the purpose of saving the elect (the chosen), and the elect only (Acts 13:48).  This conclusion arises from the idea that God would not punish sin twice, and that he already knows the elect.  Not all Calvinists hold to limited atonement.

Irresistible Grace: As seen above, God's grace in salvation includes imparting saving faith to the elected one.  Such grace is therefore irresistible since it does not depend in the will (Rom. 9:16; Jn. 6:37,44,65; 15:16).

Perseverance of the Saints: Because election depends on God, those who are elected cannot lose their salvation (i.e., eternal security).  The elect will show evidence of their election by continuing to believe in Christ and manifesting good works consistent with salvation (2 Pet. 1:10; Heb. 3:6,14; Col. 1:23).

Arminian Position

Total Depravity: Wesleyan Arminians accept the doctrine of total depravity, while some radical Arminians deny that people are unable to choose for God.

Conditional Election: Election is conditioned upon people's faith response to God's grace (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 3:28).  Arminians reject the claim that faith is a work, since faith merely receives the gift that God offers (Rom. 4:4,5; Gal. 2:16).  Those who trust Christ are predestined to be conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:5).  Both predestination and election are based on God's foreknowledge of our decision to trust Christ (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29).

Unlimited Atonement: Christ's atonement is sufficient for all men, but only effective for those who believe (Jn. 1:29; 1 Jn. 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 4:l0; Heb. 2:9).

Resistable Grace: It is God's will that all people be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9; Ezek. 18:23).  Therefore, God in his grace draws all people to himself (Jn. 12:32; 16:8).  But since we are free, responsible agents, we are capable of resisting God's will (Mt. 23:37; Heb. 4:2; Lk. 7:30).

Perseverance of the Saints:  It is neither logically nor biblically necessary for Arminians to reject eternal security.  However, in point of fact, the vast majority of Arminians do reject this doctrine.  Most (i.e. Wesley) hold that the Christian can have present assurance of salvation, but that it can be lost either by rejecting Christ or by slipping away through sin into apostasy.  Some hold that the apostate can be restored; others deny this possibility.

Selected Bibliography

Berkhof, Louis.  Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 415-549.

Erickson, Millard.  Christian Theology.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, pp. 907-928.

Forster, Roger T. and Marston, V. Paul.  God's Strategy in Human History. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1973.

Packer, J. I.  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1961.

Pinnock, Clark, ed.  Grace Unlimited. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1975.

Thiessen, Henry C.  Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1983.