I’ll be honest. Wading into the murky quagmire that is the debate between Arminians and Calvinists is about as exciting to me as getting my wisdom teeth pulled. Oftentimes I find the disagreement to be less than gracious. Other times I find it to be vicious, condescending, and outright silly. Case in point: A recent blog caught my eye that tried to argue against Calvinism because, get this, Calvinists are big, dumb jerks! Just look at that Mark Driscoll guy! So did you catch that line of reasoning? Calvinists are rude therefore Calvinism is false. Well that’s a tasty sandwich topped with ad hominems, isn’t it? Another one argued against Arminianism by describing it as Pelagianism in different clothes (but forgetting to mention that the two are distinctly different). One particular forum even tried to say that Calvinists are secretly Pelagians. What?! Oh, and let’s not forget the old handy dandy “you guys aren’t real Christians” tripe.

Look, I’m not one who thumbs his nose from the sidelines while refusing to get his theological hands dirty. I hold a particular view on this issue (and have no problem sharing it when appropriate). But there is something that I think a lot of us have forgotten. The ongoing saga of Arminianism vs. Calvinism has been around for so long because Scripture appears to support both views. Just talk to a Calvinist or an Arminian. They can probably open their Bible and point you exactly where you need to go. Let’s face it: Arminians are just as confident waving around John 3 as Calvinists are whipping out Ephesians 1. Thing is, no one knows with a 100% certainty whether his view is correct. By the way I say “his” because I hardly see any women blowing a gasket over this issue.

So, fellow brothers in Christ, please help the rest of us, and yourselves, and this centuries-old debate by taking a deep breath and calming down. Since the goal of discussing this issue should be to get someone to consider your viewpoint fairly, then try to remember these simple tips:

#1 Don’t Be Obnoxious

Stop resorting to hyperbolic rhetoric to further your point. I mean it. If you don’t, I’m going to jam a million tooth picks through my earhole and into my brain until the part of me that recognizes hyperbole disappears. By the way, writing hyperbolically is not making an argument. It’s just writing hyperbolically. Perhaps that style of communicating is persuasive to some people but, for those of us who know better, it just looks childish. And the numerous exclamation points after sentences you want to emphasize!!!!!!!!! And the way your finger often slips off the shift key so that your seven exclamation points also now include the number one in the middle (!!!1!!!!) looks really sloppy. Also, incessantly italicizing words or phrases or typing in ALL CAPS TO REALLY EMPHASIZE YOUR POINT is not making an argument either. It just looks like you’re impulsive and probably screaming. In other words, if it takes all of these silly grammatical devices to make your point, then your argument (if it even exists at all) is likely weaker than the plot of Die Hard 5.

#2 Don’t Name-call

Calling your opponent a fake Christian if he disagrees with your viewpoint is never useful. It simply showcases the obvious insecurity in your own argument. That is, your argument should stand or fall on its own merits, not whether you’ve successfully intimidated your opposition through name-calling. Also, someone can just call you a fake Christian right back and now you’re stuck in a statistical dead heat in the first round. At the end of the day Arminians and Calvinists still believe in Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross. So, yes, people can actually disagree with you on this issue and still love the Lord. Trying to take away their salvation unless they think like you is almost as ridiculous as young-earthers suggesting that old-earthers are not real Christians. No, wait. That’s equally as ridiculous.

#3 Don’t Mischaracterize

Stop, stop, stop mischaracterizing your opponent’s point of view. Calvinists, stop telling people that Arminians deny God’s grace. Arminians, stop telling people that Calvinists believe everyone is a robot. I read a pro-Arminian post recently that went something like this: Calvinism is a false gospel that offers no eternal life or salvation by the Holy Spirit. Dear Arminian who decided that was actually worth writing down, perhaps you genuinely misunderstand your opponent’s view (in which case you never should have hit “send” on that post) or you do understand your opponent’s view and are purposely misleading others (in which case you probably shouldn’t own a computer). Brothers, in order to speak on a particular issue, you need to do your homework. And, by “homework,” I don’t mean skimming Wikipedia. Understanding your opponent’s view from his own perspective keeps you from landing a devastating uppercut on a jaw made entirely of straw. Think of it this way: If mischaracterizing opponents is what internet atheists do on Twitter, why would you want to do this to a fellow believer?

#4 Be Honest about Your Shortcomings

It seems to me that people from both camps tend to be, let’s just say, selective in the passages of Scripture that they cite in support of their view. That is, they selectively forget the ones that don’t support their view. Also, for some reason, I keep noticing that the average Arminian is way more interested in his system than citing Scripture while the average Calvinist doesn’t want to do anything but cite Scripture. Maybe that’s not characteristic of these groups. I’m open to that. The point is: In order to formulate a robust view, the Calvinist and the Arminian must deal with the problems their respective systems create. Calvinists, how do you square Luke 7:30 with your view? Arminians, how do you deal with Jesus’ own words in John 6:65? And, most importantly, are your answers sufficient to the challenge or are they just exercises in swatting them away?

In Conclusion

Here’s the point, gentlemen: Whether Arminian or Calvinist, neither of you is at 100% certainty in your respective views. I don’t need to meet any of you to know that you’re not. No one is. We are all somewhere between 51% and 100% certainty. But all of these issues I’ve raised so far seem to stem from those acting as if they’re 100% certain. So why don’t we all calm down, try to reconcile all of Scripture to our particular viewpoints (because maybe you have a good argument to share that we haven’t heard yet), and exhibit a heck of a lot more humility and less ostentation. I mean, isn’t the real purpose of these kinds of discussions to be winsome not gruesome?

20 COMMENTS

  1. So can we start arguing or what? But seriously, I found this SEP article was a good place to start (especially if you want a three-way battle by including universalists in the argument) – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/ – Talbot suggests we pick two out of three:

    (1) All humans are equal objects of God’s unconditional love in the sense that God, being no respecter of persons, sincerely wills or desires to reconcile each one of them to himself and thus to prepare each one of them for the bliss of union with him.

    (2) Almighty God will triumph in the end and successfully reconcile to himself each person whose reconciliation he sincerely wills or desires.

    (3) Some humans will never be reconciled to God and will therefore remain separated from him forever.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thank you for the comment and the opportunity to discuss! I read the article and agree with you that it is a good resource. I did have a problem with the rather narrow parameters that Talbot constructs in his article. That is, I don’t think that a strictly Arminian or Calvinist/Augustinian solution exists when attempting to reconcile the balance of Scripture that appears to teach both determinism and free will. I think, ultimately, the solution presents itself in the form of either molinism or compatibilism. And then the question is: Which view presents fewer Scriptural liabilities. Notice I didn’t say emotional or instinctual liabilities (as some appeal to that for their particular system). I mean the actual picture that revelation gives us.

      P.S. I do love Stanford Encyclopedia, though! Great materials there!

  2. I find it fun to debate theological issues. I always or almost always learn something. Many times I find myself in error in a passage of the Bible. I have become angry but when I then, actually research and pray, I see something new.

    Debate is great! It’s just that hotheads (and you know who you are!) need to know when to cool down!

  3. One of the more interesting aspects of internecine Christian Cat-Fights is no matter what the topic they inevitably reveal the myriad holes in the entire fabric of theism which screams: ”We made it all up!’ to onlookers.

    Is it any wonder there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations?
    Enough to try the patience of a Saint, I should think.

    😉

    • Let me see if I understand this argument:

      1. There are internecine disagreements within Christianity (I agree)
      2. Therefore theism is all made up

      Or let’s try this one:

      1. There are different Christian denominations (I agree)
      2. Therefore theism is all made up

      I don’t see how either of these follow. Do you?

      • Of course I do. YOu consider yours is a revelatory faith. So someone somewhere has got there wires well and truly crossed.
        Further more, we know full well that much of the Bible is spurious and the early church battled for years to hammer out a unifying Code de la guerre as it were allowing them to attempt to annihilate all dissent.
        And that didn’t work too well?
        So now we have around 30,000 different Christian sects or denominations,each one claiming bragging rights.
        A perfect example is the Catholics, the inventors of your religion who you, as a fundamentalist protestant do not consider proper Christians at all.

        • Ok so let me see if I understand your new argument:

          1. If Christianity were true, everyone should agree on every single issue.
          2. Christians don’t agree on every single issue.
          3. Therefore, Christianity isn’t true.

          Can you explain why #1 must be true? This is where I think you misunderstand Christianity.

          Let me see if I can apply this same argument to something else.

          1. If quantum physics were true, everyone should agree on how the math should be interpreted.
          2. Scientists don’t agree on how the math should be interpreted.
          3. Therefore, quantum physics isn’t true.

          • Firstly, Christians argue about doctrine. Something that has no basis in evidence.
            This makes every claim spurious and the main reason you cannot and never will find agreement.
            Your doctrine was formulated by committee, a process that began in earnest with the first council of Nicea.

            To illustrate the problem you face; consider the potential convert – me for example ( and wouldn that be a thing!) – how on earth would I know which was the right ”faith” or church or sect to follow?

            Just suppose I were to decide to become Catholic ( gods forbid, right?) why would that immediately label me as not a real Christian in the eyes of the vast majority of fundamental protestants?
            And if I rejected Creationism, the same would happen.

            Or even the dispute between Young Earth and Old Earth.

            Furthermore, as you have no factual evidence to support a single foundational tenet, that they are all faith – based claims, then everything is open to interpretation, a fact we see by the myriad Christian sects.

            I hope you understand the argument now?

          • Of course it does.
            It gets at the core of what Christianity is by simply by-passing as much of the semantics as possible.

            If two or more people are arguing the merits, or lack thereof, of a piece of fiction, it doesn’t change the fact that whatever the outcome it will remain fiction.

            This is why you cannot agree on which Christian doctrine is correct.

            Tell me, why you do not accept Catholics as genuine christians? The invented your religion, via Paul, of course, so surely their version supersedes all others?

          • Arkenaten, I’m going to say something that is the best advice anyone is ever going to tell you. You talk around people. You don’t listen. And that causes you to think and speak against views that others don’t even hold. This is a huge problem, especially when it comes to assessing points of view. And I would strongly urge you to consider this particular flaw sincerely and seek to correct it so you can have productive conversations with folks. Now, you can dismiss me and call me a condescending jerk but I guarantee you this isn’t the first time someone has either told you this or said this about you to others.

            My question was: “Can you explain how #1 is true?” I even gave you an example with quantum physics utilizing your own logic. I trust you don’t want to dismiss science. But given the structure of your argument you must. Unless you want to change your argument? By the way, I never said I do not accept Catholics as genuine Christians. Once again, your assumptions have colored your judgment.

          • Actualy Nate it really is you who are not listening, simply because you have been thoroughly schooled in a narrow band of apologetics and refuse to consider the very real possibility that your world view is built on shifting sands.
            Now I am going to give you a piece of advice that you ought to really take to heart.
            Your problem is an internal struggle based on the indoctrination you suffer from. I am perfectly aware of the mechanisms of apologetics and I will not pander to your wordplay when what you believe is based on a lie. It is as simple as that.
            Now, the moment you are prepared to seriously look at what you currently believe and maybe have a chat with a deconvert or two then you might begin to grasp the true extent of the brainwashing you have been subjected to.
            No amount of theological two step is ever gong to convince an atheist and this is something you need to understand.
            Other people follow these threads and if you are seen in any way not to be scrupulously honest in your approach, especially by fellow fundamentalists who may be teetering, then your game plan is a wash out.
            I do not give tuppence for apologetics.
            It is built upon a bedrock of subterfuge and falsity.

            It is time to grow up a little and face reality head on.

          • I’m glad others will follow this thread. What’s sad is they’ll never see proper engagement because of your talking points, which are never replacements for real conversation. As anyone (but you) can clearly see, I was engaging your responses. You’re the one who two-stepped around a very simple but important question.

  4. Mark Noll in his book about 18th century evangelical christianity suggested that Calvinist Augustus Toplady’s wrote the Hymn, ‘Rock of Ages’ as a criticism of the Arminian view of salvation.

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