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This question may seem ridiculous at first glance, but bear with me... As I learn more about Calvinism and Arminianism I am struck with the notion that they are each based on Scripture, and each emphasize important elements of the teachings of Scripture.

  • From what I understand, Calvinists believe that God has predestined some to Paradise and some to Hell; They believe that functionally the blood of Christ will only cleanse those who are in Christ; They believe that it is impossible for a man to prevent God from doing what He has purposed to do; They believe that those who are predestined for Paradise will most certainly arrive in Paradise.

  • From what I understand, Arminians believe that God predestines some to Paradise, but His decision is based on foreknowledge of something about that person; They believe that Christ died to provide salvation to anyone and everyone, if they will accept it; They believe that man can choose to reject the grace of God; They believe that those who come to Christ have a responsibility to continue in faith or they will no longer be "in Christ".

  • Both believe that we are all messed up from birth and unable to choose to do good aside from God's intervention.

My question is: Are these two views really incompatible?

Frankly, I think I believe all of the things listed above. Is it possible that both doctrines are rooted in Scripture and each camp could grow in their understanding by learning from teachers on "the other side of the table"? Or, is there something fundamentally incompatible about these two views that extends beyond semantics and strawman arguments?


Please stick with the standard, classical views, and avoid discussions about "hyper-Calvinism" and other fringe interpretations of these two doctrines.

Also, please let me know if I have misrepresented the views of either camp.

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Baptists certainly think so. ;) –  Affable Geek Dec 7 '12 at 1:25
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Just a note here, I'm about as much of a monergist as you can be. Some days I find myself closer to Calvin, some days closer to Luther, never closer to Wesley. However, I attend and serve under a very Arminian pastor (we are Baptist; he used to be a Methodist). Sometimes we cringe when we hear each other speak, but we both want to advance the cause of Christ, and so long as he is the pastor, my duty is to respect the man for being in the office or else wish him well personally and serve elsewhere. This is an important, but not divisive, issue in our church. –  San Jacinto Dec 14 '12 at 13:16
    
@SanJacinto Great point. I think I'm more Arminian myself (although I'm warming up to Calvinism as I understand it better). Many members of my church, Seminary, and denomination are more Calvinist, but we also learn, grow, and serve together. –  Jas 3.1 Dec 17 '12 at 20:49
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@Jas3.1 If you're studying this, I recommend a couple short books: "Grace, Faith, Free Will" by Picirilli, "Why I am not a Calvinist" by Walls and Dongel. On the other side, "Chosen by God" by Sproul, and with the caveat that I have not read this last one, "For Calvinism" by Horton. If you can only choose two, I would go with Sproul's and Walls + Dongel's. –  San Jacinto Dec 18 '12 at 13:06
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Background

Although Calvinism and Arminianism are often presented as polar opposites, they have a common heritage. Jacobus Arminius studied under Calvinist teachers and was himself a Calvinist when he began his ministry. So it's not a surprise that the two systems share a common framework.

But Arminius eventually questioned some of the tenets of Calvinism, and his disciples published a document titled Five Articles of Remonstrance outlining what they believed Calvin had gotten wrong. Calvinists in response developed their own five points, which have become well known by the acronym TULIP.

Differences

The differences between Calvinism and Arminianism is expressed in these five points, but at the core, there is really only one significant, irreconcilable difference between these systems.

Calvinists believe God alone determines who is saved and who is not, and there is nothing anyone can do to change it. Arminians believe that God expects us to cooperate with him in order to bring about our salvation, that God will not save someone against that person's will. There is no way to reconcile these two positions.

Calvinists and Arminians also disagree about God's fundamental character. For Calvinists, God's sovereignty is his most important attribute. For Arminians, God's most important attribute is his love.

This is not to say that Calvinists believe God is not loving, or that Arminians believe God is not sovereign. But a Calvinist would reject any teaching (e.g., libertarian free will) that might imply God is not completely sovereign. Likewise, an Arminian would reject any teaching (e.g., limited atonement) that might imply God is not completely loving.

In other words, this is not necessarily an irreconcilable difference; a case can be made that the difference is more a matter of emphasis than of complete disagreement.

Similarities

Despite their differences, both Calvinists and Arminians share a faith in the same Christ. We use the same Bible and we both take it seriously. We share a common heritage going back through the early Reformers. Both Calvinists and Arminians should be equally comfortable with the professions of the Nicene Creed and other early ecumenical statements of faith.

Calvinism and Arminianism are defined as theological systems solely in how they differ from each other, but the points we have in common are much more numerous than our differences.

Summary

Are Calvinism and Arminianism compatible? Not if the goal is to agree on all our theology. But if the goal is to worship and glorify Christ, then Calvinists and Arminians both have something to contribute, and we can learn a lot from each other.

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1) Calvinists believe God will not save any who do not want to be saved. The question is fundamentally "how does one want to become saved?" That's where the disagreement is (Prevenient Grace enabling a choice leading to life vs. Calvinistic Regeneration yielding life and guaranteeing the proper choice). 2) It doesn't matter much this specific discussion, but I think you'll find that Calvinists stress God's holiness above all else, followed closely by His Sovereignty. –  San Jacinto Dec 13 '12 at 18:57
    
(+1) When I get more time I'd like to talk through these more, but a couple of thoughts: (RE:#1) I wonder if Calvinists aren't focusing more on the reality of total depravity and the insufficiency of works prior to conversion whereas Arminians focus more on the reason why God intervenes for some and not others. These two things may not be irreconcilable...? (RE:#2) If both agree that God is sovereign, holy, and loving, this doesn't seem like an irreconcilable difference so much as a difference in emphasis. Ultimately both agree they are all true and somehow reconcilable. –  Jas 3.1 Dec 17 '12 at 20:59
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@Jas3.1 Part of the debate is how God acts on people. So while what you've written in your last comment is pretty accurate, it's not 100%. Calvinists believe that until God regenerates a man, the man continually rebels and that when he no longer rebels, it's because God has quickened him. Though the man must choose to obey God, when he finally does so, it is not because he's cooperating with God, it's because he is inclined to. The Arminian position begins with the same rebellion but says that God quickens all men and that it's each man's choice to act in cooperation with God... –  San Jacinto Dec 18 '12 at 12:55
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...by responding with repentance. Essentially, God inclines a man to follow him until the man decides he doesn't want to be inclined to that and will not repent. As a Calvinist, I obviously disagree with the Arminian position, but the real sticking point to me is that we both agree on Total Depravity and dependence on God for quickening. Without common ground on that, I cannot have fellowship with a person who calls themselves a Christian, because they would not be in need of Christ in the way that I am. –  San Jacinto Dec 18 '12 at 12:57
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@Jas3.1: It's not accurate to say Arminians believe God intervenes "for some and not others." We believe God intervenes on behalf of all, giving prevenient grace to turn us toward him. However, some (most?) rebel and resist. But your second point, about God's character, you're right that it's more a difference in emphasis. –  Bruce Alderman Dec 18 '12 at 15:20
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From http://www.theopedia.com/Arminianism

Arminianism is a school of theology based on the teachings of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, for whom it is named. It is perhaps most prominent in the Methodist movement and found in various other evangelical circles today. It stands in contrast to Calvinism, with which it has a long history of debate. Arminians as well as Calvinists appeal to various Scriptures and the early church fathers to support their respective views, however the differences remain — particularly as related to the sovereignty of God in salvation and the ideas of election and predestination.

Arminian theology

The Arminian party suggested five anti-Calvinist corrections, articulated in the Five articles of Remonstrance of 1610, which gave rise to the historic controversy and are summarized as follows:

(To see how they are summarized, view the page.)

Arminianism is a response to Calvinism, with opposite views on each of the classic TULIP points in Calvinism, so yes, they are incompatible. Two opposite statements cannot both be true. One or both is wrong.

However, Arminians and Calvinists to agree on quite a bit, in general. It's simply in the five defining points of each - TULIP vs. FACTS

(Note, that is NOT "Facts" is in truth, or "reality" as opposed to fantasy or error. It's merely an acronym used by several, including this pro-Arminian, anti-Calvinist site) I am in no way endorsing one over the other, just pointing out where the incompatibility lies.)

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I'm aware of the history of the debate, and the two lists of 5-point arguments, but I'm not sure that the existence of a debate necessarily indicates an incompatibility. As I learn more about each I am struck with how many strawman arguments are used, and how difficult it is to sort through the nuances in semantics. Each camp has their own definitions for each of the key words. What I am looking for is a more explicit "X vs. not-X" presentation of an incompatibility. –  Jas 3.1 Dec 6 '12 at 23:53
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That does not negate the core of my answer - "Two opposite statements cannot both be true" therefore, they are not compatible on those five points, and it is those five points that define each. The rest was supportive of the core answer for those that, unlike you, might not know, since the purpose of the site is to serve as a resource not just for those asking and answering, but those that come along later. I did not mean to imply you didn't understand all that. I apologize if I gave that impression. –  David Stratton Dec 6 '12 at 23:55
    
Essentially you're citing the Law of Non-Contradiction; that "X" cannot be both true and false in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. What I'm getting at with my question though is that if one "side" defines X in a different way than the other side, then it is not a contradiction for one to say "X" and one to say "not X"; so you would have to show that the two sides actually do mean opposite things, not just that they say what appears to be opposite things. –  Jas 3.1 Dec 6 '12 at 23:58
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Ok. I think I get what you're getting at now. The classic misunderstanding of people using the same words with different meanings, thinking they're understanding each other when they're not. Didn't see it the first time. Slightly different here, but same principle. Is that right? Thanks for the clarification. I think I'm getting slow lately. –  David Stratton Dec 7 '12 at 0:37
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I'll leave this around so someone else doesn't give the same answer if they suffer the same misunderstanding. –  David Stratton Dec 7 '12 at 0:44
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Calvinists believe that man contributes nothing on the issue of justification. God is the sole source of salvation. Monergism teaches that God creates a desire to believe the Gospel in man, spiritual sensitivity, without which he would not understand, much less accept it. It requires regeneration, being made spiritually alive.

1 Corinthians 2:14 NET The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Arminians believe that all men receive prevenient grace, enabling them to understand the Gospel. Acceptance of the Gospel results in regeneration. Synergistic salvation.

As you can see, Calvinists restrict salvation to those God chooses. Arminians believe the choice lies with all men.

John 3:16 NET For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

The harm caused is not in mission. Calvinists don't choose who they share the Gispel with, they share it with the whole world, ”cosmos”. It is when followers of Christ believe they will never know if they are IN Christ, lack confidence in their election. Calvinists believe a person can make a false confession. Doubt about their own condition can be devastating, psychologically.

Quote from an article by R. C. Sproul

Quote

A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness that we have from time to time, and suddenly the question hit me: "R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?" Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.

I tried to grab hold of myself. I thought, "Well, it's a good sign that I'm worried about this. Only true Christians really care about salvation." But then I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance. My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself, the worse I felt. I thought, "Maybe it's really true. Maybe I'm not saved after all."

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+1. Monergistic vs. synergistic salvation is the big dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism. –  Bruce Alderman Dec 11 '12 at 18:45
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This is not a bad answer, but it seems unfair to single out Calvinists as though the belief that a person can make a false confession is unique to that view. Don't Christians of all stripes believe that? –  Steven Dec 13 '12 at 18:38
    
Arminians believe that a response from man is possible and is required, it being belief in Christ manifested through good works, as final judgment is based on good works, ranging from mere giving of water to extensive caring for the downtrodden. People who call Him Lord and even do miracles are called lawbreakers and cast out. They left out caring for the disadvantaged. Progressive societies care for their weak, unlike the jungle. But then animals do not have the image of God. –  Footwasher Dec 14 '12 at 6:30
    
@Footwasher what you have written in your last comment leaves no distinction between Calvinists and Arminians. You should have said "both positions hold that a response..." The disagreement isn't over whether one must choose to believe to be saved; the question is how that person comes to have the ability to choose. –  San Jacinto Dec 14 '12 at 13:05
    
@San Jacinto: I responded that Arminians do not believe someone can make a false confession that disqualifies them. Lack of works does the latter. Was that helpful? :) –  Footwasher Dec 14 '12 at 13:26
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