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?
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?