What Are the Essential Differences Between Calvinism and Arminianism?
Questions by Various Visitors to My Website
by John Hendryx

What similarities does Arminian Theology have with the Augustinian/Reformed Tradition?
The Similarities of Reformed Theology and Arminianism include: belief in the inspiration of Scripture; the two natures of Christ; the historical uniqueness of Christ's death on the cross; Christ's physical resurrection; our future hope of eternal life (general resurrection); original sin, inherited depravity, and that man, of himself is not capable by reason or strength alone to produce faith, apart from grace. Both hold to all the early Christian creeds except the The Canons of the Council of Orange (Which Arminians Reject). Both hold in common the view that the rejection of the Trinity constitutes heresy and that justification is through faith alone.

Differences with the Augustinian/Reformed Tradition?:
Arminians teach salvation is by grace, but not by grace alone. Here's why >>> With the assistance of grace, they reason, man has the independent ability to either make good use of that grace (by believing the gospel) or to resist it. The human will is, therefore, to be viewed as the triggering device for regeneration (synergism) which is contrary to Scripture (John 1:13). If one receives the gospel it was not because of grace, or else why don't others also exhibit it as well? Why the difference among men? The natural man, therefore, has autonomous ability to cooperate or resist, and it is thereby something innate within man's natural capacity, and not grace itself, which is the sine qua non or determining factor in one's salvation. Man's self-determining role in salvation is, therefore, ultimate, while God's role is only penultimate. This means God's "election" of man is, in the Arminian scheme, conditioned on man's independent response to the gospel. William G.T. Shedd once commented,.“The dependence upon grace in the Arminian system is partial; in the Calvinistic system it is total.”

It should be noted that Arminian doctrine believes that man is never free to accept the gospel apart from a work of the Holy Spirit called "prevenient grace". This is the doctrine (deduced from logic) whereby God initiates with grace to place the sinner in a position above his inherited depravity. The unspiritual man is then given the autonomous choice to either resist Christ by rejecting the gospel or may receive the gospel by cooperating with that grace (synergism). Therefore, it is not grace which makes men to differ, but their innate capacity to believe or not. Arminian regeneration is, therefore, not effectual. In other words, they are faced with the awkward belief that spiritual affections for God are somehow possible prior to being spiritual (1 Cor 2:14). For grace to be effectual in the Arminian scheme, the humility, desire, and obedience of the natural man is required. But, we ask, where did spiritual desires, humility or obedience (in those who believe) come from? Are they from self? Doesn't this show some merit, or capacity in some that others don't have? Arminians generally explain the reason why some persons believe the gospel and others do not is by liberty of indifference. Some people just happen to love and believe God, and others don't, they say. But this doesn't answer the question of why one believes and not another. So we must ask, if the choice is first, before the existence of a good disposition of heart, what signifies that choice?

Contrary to the Arminian system, the Scriptures teach that we make choices based our greatest desires and affections. Otherwise our motives for our choice is not morally driven and indifferent. Reformed Theology teaches that even the very moral ability & desire to cooperate with God itself comes by the power and work of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 1:5), mercifully working holy affections within us (monergism). Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature. It is by grace itself that we even have the faith, the will, or the strength to cooperate or do all these things as we ought. If the assistance of grace depended on the humility or obedience of man and it is not a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, such teaching contradicts the Scripture which says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). All our spiritual blessings and moral ability to believe can be traced back to the person and work of Christ. What we could not do or produce for ourselves, Christ graciously does for us.

Our human reasoning is never free from the effects of sin. People deny Go,d not because they lack evidence, but because their hearts are rebellious. So the unbelievers problem is ethical first and then intellectual. Those who know facts, therefore, are not the same as those who forsake sin and come to love God. We must therefore appeal to the entire person and not merely his intellect. God is hidden from man because he loves sin and is in hostile rebellion against God. It is hostile affections that turn man from God, not because the naturalman lacks data or is not smart enough. So we appeal to the heart of the sinner because God is not an axiom in mathematics. To come to faith in Christ one must desire Christ, have affections for Him more than he does sin. These holy affections are not produced by our unregenerate human nature (1 Cor 2:14) and faith is not indifferent or neutral. So a full orbed gospel is not just and indifferent ticking off a list of impersonal propositions for our assent, it is putting forth Christ in His love shown in the cross and resurrection. We are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit through faith, which God has granted us in Him. The desire to come to faith in Christ then, is itself, a spiritual blessing which flows from the person and work of Christ (Eph 1:3, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 2:28, 1 Pet 1:3).

For those who don't believe desires play a role in our faith, let me ask -- could someone actually believe that we could come to Christ in faith without desiring Him? Is such an act possible?

Arminian Five Points of the Remonstrance of 1610
with contrasting Five Points of Calvinism

1) Election is conditioned upon man's response or foreseen faith (conditional "election")
The Reformed Tradition, by contrast, teaches that election is unconditional.

2) Universal Atonement (According to Arminians Christ has already atoned and propitiated for the sins of all humanity. Christ purchased redemption not only for those who would believe but for all men, yet only those who believe go to heaven). The Reformed Tradition asks, if this is the case, why aren't all men saved if all their sins are atoned for? Unbelief is also a sin. By contrast, we believe the Bible teaches that the redemptive blessings of the atonement were intended only for those who would believe, the elect (particular redemption). Christ died in a way for the elect that He did not for the non-elect.

3) "Unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God's will" (thus eliminating the categorization of either "Pelagian" or "Semi-Pelagian." The latter holds that the first steps are originated by the human will rather than by the Holy Spirit) This doctrine is similar to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, with some important differences.

4) Grace is not irresistible
(Thus faith is itself a principle or capacity in autonomous natural man standing ultimately independent of God's action of grace)
The Reformed Tradition, by contrast, teaches that God can make His grace efficacious

5) Possibility of falling away from grace
This is the supposition that our sin as believers can result in God's judicial displeasure.
Many Arminians teach that our judicial standing before God must be maintained by holy living. Justification, in other words can be gained and lost. The Reformed Tradition, by contrast, maintains the biblical teaching that our judicial standing before God is through Christ's blood, which alone is sufficient to maintain our justification. Holy living and perseverance springs from our new nature received in regeneration which now delights in God's law, and will not fall away.

These Five Points of the Remonstrance of 1610 are virtually identical (prima facie) with Catholic Molinism


Question #1
I am new to this whole Calvinism/Arminianism thing. Why should I believe any certain position, whether Calvinism or Arminianism or some other doctrine as being truth from God? For the last eleven years of my walk, the issue has never come up, why is it important to adopt a particular position?

The question of the debate between the two perspectives centers around whether or not we are saved by grace ALONE. Do we contribute something to our salvation or is salvation of the Lord alone? These are the ideas that the debate is all about so we all end up coming down on some side. The Scripture puts great importance on the idea

We all need to answer the important question:

Why does one person believe the gospel and not another?

Was one more wise? or more humble? Did one create right affections for God that the other was unable to? Or was it grace that makes men to differ? Calvinists believe that it is grace itself that makes us humble and willing to believe. Even the beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly comes to us through regeneration. - We reject that this affection, desire or capacity belongs to us by nature rather than by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our affections and turning them from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness. Paul said, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).

Calvinists reject any form of synergism in salvation - that God imparts grace and man does the rest by either cooperating with that grace or not. If anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Scripture that says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

We believe that our faith is not just some morally neutral or indifferent choice, for then there would be no reason we chose one way or the other. Rather our choices are based on our desires. We choose what we desire most ... and our desires, our affections, are moral, not morally indifferent. Prior to regeneration we loved darkness and hated the light and thus WOULD NOT COME INTO THE LIGHT (John 3:19, 20). The problem was with our affections. 'Love' and 'hate'. We did not want God. So does the Holy Spirit just make an offer of salvation and leave it to fallen man or does He change those He has sovereignly determined to save? And that is why we all pray for unbelievers … because we know man cannot save himself and needs Jesus Christ. Even the blessing of the effectual grace that gave rise to our faith can be traced back to His work on the cross (Eph 1:3; 1 John 5:1; 1 Pet 1:3).

(See Matt 11:27; John 3:8; John 5:21; John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Acts 2:39, Acts 16:14b, Acts 9; Rom 8:30 ROM 9:11-24; 1 Cor. 1:9-26; 1 Cor 2:14; Gal. 1:6-15; 1 Thess. 1:5, 6; 1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:4,5 1:18; 4:1-4, 5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3-10)


Question #2
I have seen you describe the Arminian position on salvation inaccurately. We Arminians believe that true believing in Jesus Christ (trust in him as Savior and Lord) is never done apart from grace; grace calls, convicts, enlightens and enables. We have never said prevenient grace simply returns a person to "neutral." But even with all the help and encouragement of grace a person can still resist. Our emphasis is not on the natural capacity to will the good (which we deny) but on the "impossible possibility" (mystery) of the person who resists and rejects the advantage given him by the grace of God through the Word ... Just because the person's decision is self-determined does not mean that he has some innate capacity to believe the gospel apart from God's work of grace. The latter does not follow from the former; it is a non sequitur.

So according the above statement you would agree, then, that one person made use of the advantage given him by the grace of God while another man did not make use of the advantage? Correct? The thing that makes these two men to differ, then, is not the grace of God, but something else to be found in their own independent capacity and desires which is the sine qua non or determining factor in one's salvation.... otherwise why the different response to the gospel? Man's self-determining role in salvation is, therefore, ultimate, while God's role of grace is only penultimate. The final determination, therefore, is made wholly apart from grace. In other words, while you ARE in fact teaching that salvation is by grace, you deny that salvation is by GRACE ALONE.

Furthermore, our faith is not just some morally neutral or indifferent choice which has no basis, for then there would be no reason we chose one way or the other. If this were the case then some people would just happen to believe while others would happen to not believe? Then our belief would be a mere fluke, a haphazard possibility determined by impersonal fate. Rather our choices are based on our desires. We choose what we desire most ... and our desires, our affections, are moral, not morally indifferent. You cannot come up with a scenario where our faith is separated from our desires, affections, humility and obedience. There is a reason some people believe that Jesus is the Christ and others don't. This Arminian belief that our choices are indifferent ... that some just happen to believe and others don't is severely problematic and fatal to the whole system.

Arminians need to answer why? Why do some believe and not others? If it is not God's grace then you cannot say it is a mystery. Man either loves or hates God. We choose because we want something more than we want something else. Desires are moral in their very nature. If one man loves God and the other does not how do you account for the difference? Now since you have ruled out that grace effectually saves anyone, but rather places us in a position where we can choose one way or the other, there is, by definition, something that causes us to make the decision we do. It isn't something that happens by chance. So if the ultimate choice isn't by chance, or it isn't because of God's grace, what you have left is one thing: autonomous self-determination based on person desire. Salvation is BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, not by GRACE PLUS FAITH. Faith is not part of the price of our redemption. Christ died for all our sins not just some. If He does not die for our unbelief then who does? Does your belief somehow atone for and make up for your former unbelief? No! All (100%) our salvation is to be ascribed to Christ, not your 95%.

For grace to be effectual in your scheme, the humility, desire, and obedience of the natural man is required. There is no believing without humility or the desire of the one believing. But, I ask, where did spiritual desires, humility or obedience (in those who believe) come from? How does one who is unspiritual come up with spiritual desires? (1 Cor 2:14) Doesn't this show some merit, or capacity in some that others don't have? Do some people just happen to love and believe God, and others don't? (chance) Why do some perceive and delight in God's moral beauty, while others do not? The answer, some love, and others do not, is no answer at all. It is merely saying the same thing in other words.

If your answer is because one man is humble and the other proud that they decide the way they do then God ends up choosing those with better moral character. You see, it is impossible for you to come up with any scenario where our faith is merely some morally neutral act. If it is neutral then the choice is by chance our destiny is determined by an impersonal fate. But as soon as you put a reason why one person chooses God and not the other you have MOTIVE. A motive in itself is either good or bad, not neutral. You are not considering the words of Jesus who said a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. To those who disbelieved Jesus says, "You do not believe BECAUSE you are not my sheep" He does not say you are not my sheep because you don't believe. Jesus sheep hear His voice and follow Him. The nature of a person determines his desires and what he loves.

Why do people still believe that man has some small role in their salvation? These humanistic presuppositions being read into the biblical text is a desire to hang on to one's own island of righteousness, be it ever so small. And this is to rob God the honor He alone deserves for your salvation. Everything about the gospel is designed to glorify Christ and abase man. Therefore, anything that diminishes Christ’s glory is either directly or indirectly inconsistent with the gospel. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone rightly abases man and duly exalts Christ. Paul, after declaring that “By God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness” (I Corinthians 1:30). It ensures that our boasting is entirely in the Lord. It ensures that He receives all the glory. There isn’t anything we’ve done or will do that we could boast of in our salvation. You are fooling yourself if you think that your faith-contribution is non-meritorious. There are motives behind your choices and to deny this is to deny the plain facts of Scripture. In reality, Grace is altogether prior to, and productive of, justifying faith. The synergistic alternative exalts man as the ultimate cause.

Response by another Arminian to my answer to Question #2
If a man desires deliverance from intense unending pain more than suffering intense unending pain, does this desire render him morally virtuous?

We are not saved because we desire deliverance from unending pain. No where does the Scripture teach this. If that is your ultimate motive then you need examine yourself. Rather, we are justified because we trust in the person and work of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Affections are what give rise to our faith in response to God illuminating our hearts and minds to His beauty and unsurpassed excellency. John chapter 3 says that natural man LOVES darkness and HATES the light and WILL NOT COME INTO THE LIGHT... Why? because we either love or hate God ... there is no neutral or indifferent ground for our choice. Love and hate are affections. You will not turn to God unless you have affections for Him. Salvation comes to those who turn to God because they love and desire Him, not simply because they fear hell, as you have said. How do you account for affections and desires for God in one and not in another? Our repentance is from objects we previously worshipped and exchanged for the True God. Saving faith includes repentance from trusting in other gods and exalting God alone as worthy of this glory. We love Him now more than we love other things. Could someone actually believe that we could come to Christ in faith without desiring Him? Is such an act possible?

If two people are presented the gospel why one ultimately believes in Jesus Christ and not another is critical. No choice is made out of indifference. Such is beyond the realm of possibility. You ALWAYS chose what you desire the most. It will not do to answer that the choice is made under the influence of the desire of happiness, for this being common to all, is no reason for the difference between people or the result, which is the very thing to be accounted for. To say that the choice is made under the influence of the desire of happiness is only to say that when the character of God is presented it gives pleasure. But the same character is presented in both cases, the same desire exists in both, yet in one it gives pleasure, is an object of desire; in the other not.

Your above description to deliver oneself from unending pain would be nothing more than as act done for self-gratification, not faith and desire for Jesus, and thereby cannot be a holy or saving act. It is the motive which gives the moral character to the act. If the motive is good, the act is good; if the motive is bad, the act is bad; if the motive is indifferent, so is the act. The act has no character apart from a motive. Moral indifference cannot make a choice because there is no motivation. If the choice be first, before the existence of a good disposition of heart, what signifies that choice?

The Scriptures teach that it is grace that makes men to differ, not something you can produce for God. Enough boasting in your faith over others who don't have it. Enough boasting that you made better use of grace than your neighbor. The last bastion of pride is to think you are the author of your own faith. The desire for faith is not of yourself but a gift of God.

For those who might have trouble with the idea that there is a reason (desire, affections, nature) behind why we believe, see the following biblical texts:

Jesus himself says, "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:26-27)

"Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. "(Matt 7:16-18)

" Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. " (Matt 12:33- 35)

34Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin..."If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does...44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
(John 8:34-47)

So I can grasp the Arminian position better let me get this straight. Am I to understand you to be affirming that people can come to Jesus without having any desire for Him? Is such a thing even possible?

I could only conclude from such a belief that one person just happened to believe the gospel and another didn't. Like out of thin air or something. Am I right to conclude this is what Arminians believe?

But Jesus is clear that there are reasons that we believe and do the things we do. He says:

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)

And to believe in Jesus is a command of God

"This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23)

... so the cause of faith consists of affections/desires.

Am I to understand from you then that all acts subsequent to faith are from love but our first act of obedience is indifferent? by chance? It seems arbitrary of you to draw this distinction. A person doesn't want Jesus but chooses Him anyway?

Related Articles
Does God Desire All Persons to be Saved? by John Hendryx
Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx (Comparison Chart)
Doesn’t God Choose us Based on Foreseen Faith? by John Hendryx
The Inconsistency of Arminians on Election & Foreknowledge by WithChrist.org
Human Inability by C.H. Spurgeon
A Comparison Chart of Calvinism and Arminianism by David N. Steele and Curtis Thomas

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