Friday, January 30, 2009

arminians v calvinists

As with many topics, I am amazed and the violence Christians do to each other over a number of topics. As a staunch Calvinist, I see far too many like-minded believers spewing brutal messages toward our Arminian brothers (and of course I have also seen the reverse). Therefore I found it refreshing that Michael Patton began his series of posts on this topic by noting what we have in common. Well done.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that people are born sinful. Both agree that all people are born with an inherent disposition of antagonism toward God. Both Calvinists and Arminians reject what is know as “Pelagianism.” Pelagius, a fifth-century British monk, taught that people are born neutral, neither good nor bad. Pelagius believed that people sin as a result of example, not nature. Augustine, the primary opponent of Pelagius, responded by teaching that people are not born neutral, but with a corrupted nature. People sin because it is in their nature to sin; they are predisposed, bent, or inclined to sin from birth. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree with Augustine believing the Scriptures to teach that people are born with a totally corrupt spiritual nature, making their disposition toward God perpetually antagonistic. Therefore, according to both sides, people are absolutely helpless without God’s gracious, undeserved intervention. This is an important mischaracterization of Arminian theology that adherents to my position fail to realize. Arminians believe in the doctrine of total depravity just as strongly as Calvinists.

This adherence to total depravity makes the Arminian doctrine of Prevenient grace necessary. A former Wesleyan theology professor of mine who believed in Prevenient grace once called it the “ingenious doctrine.” Why? Because according to Arminians it allows them to hold to the biblical and orthodox position of total depravity, yet also allows true free will. You see, according to Calvinists such as myself, if people are in such desperate condition, being inclined toward enmity with God from birth, and unable to change their condition on their own (as a leopard cannot change its spots - Jer. 13:23), having no freedom to choose against this depraved nature, then the only way to answer the question, How is anyone saved? is to answer that the sovereign will of God saves them. In other words, if our will could not change our disposition, then God must have changed our will for us. Up to this point, both Calvinists and Arminians could agree.

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