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Calvinism and Arminianism

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Calvinism and Arminianism
Abel Bermea, Jr.
Liberty University
ENG /101
August 29, 2006

The purpose of this paper is to compare two theological positions, namely Calvinism and Arminianism. These are two positions on either side of the debate concerning free will and predestination. There are those who believe that we have the free will to love/obey God or hate/deny him, and there are those who believe that God, in his sovereignty, has predetermined who will be saved and who will not be saved and neither group is willing to budge. Both sides claim to have the support of Scripture, and both have specific verses they will undoubtedly point to as an "I told you so." The problem is that both sides appear, on some levels at least, to be right. The question that can be answered from a comparison of these two views is this: Which one of these positions offers the more sensible, biblical account?
Let’s look at a simple syllogism that sums up the argument of the Arminian (free will advocate). Premise 1: God desires that all men be saved. Premise 2: All men are not saved. Conclusion: Man, by exercising his will, has interfered with God's desire. Calvinists agree with the first premise, and even the second premise. But they come to a very different conclusion. Here is what the Calvinist argues: Premise 1: God desires that all men be saved.
Premise 2: All men are not saved. Conclusion: It is not God's chief desire that all men be saved; he has another desire which is stronger, and that is to only save some. This simply does not work logically. Whereas the Arminian’s conclusion is consistent with their starting premise, the Calvinist’s conclusion is contradictory to their starting premise. Their argument starts with "God desires that all men be saved" and ends with "God does not desire that all men be saved." The Calvinist argues that both statements are true, even though they are contradictory. This is the same thing as saying "James is married," and then saying "James is not married." Both statements cannot be true simultaneously. This is pretty basic logic.
According to the Arminian argument, which is logically coherent, man cannot save himself, but he can recognize of his own will his need of salvation. He can make a conscious choice to accept the gift of Christ's sacrificial atonement. If God wants all men to be saved, and they are not all saved, then there are men who have, by choice, denied God. Calvinists often argue that this makes God seem weak or fallible. If saving all of mankind was God’s chief desire, then he would, in their opinion, inevitably save them, for the Calvinist holds that nothing (and most certainly not the will of man) can interfere with God’s sovereign will/desire. So, in spite of all the clear and oft-repeated verses affirming God’s desire to save all, the Calvinist still has reasons why this cannot be God’s chief desire. Here are two of them: 1) All men are not saved, and 2) God absolutely must exercise his wrath by damning a large percentage of humanity in order to fully glorify himself.
This leads them to the conclusion that God must have a higher will, one which supersedes his will/desire to save all, leading him to only saving some. But this is a very limiting view of God, and it creates rather severe problems when we consider the fact that the nature of God is love, not wrath. Calvinists, by assuming this position, are arguing that God’s sovereignty, rather than making him all-powerful, ends up restraining him by preventing him from being capable of offering true freedom to his creation. The Calvinist reasons that if man had genuine free will, then man would be able to defy God, and if man could defy God, then God’s sovereignty would be compromised. In other words, God was limited in what he could create, and he is limited in the way he can handle his creation. But the Arminian responds: What if God, in his sovereignty, intentionally made it possible for men and women to be free, even though it would mean his desires could be interfered with? What if God, with whom anything is possible, has more options available to him than obligations? What if God, whose nature is love, knew that the only love worth experiencing (or even capable of existing) is that which is the product of a mutual choosing? In the words of C.S. Lewis, "God knew what would happen if humanity used their freedom the wrong way; apparently He thought it worth the risk."
Given all the available evidence, both found in our personal experiences and in the Scriptures, it is quite natural to accept the Arminian position which affirms libertarian freedom, which is logically necessary if we are to adequately and coherently explain issues like moral responsibility, God’s loving nature, and the problem of evil. It should be quite obvious, based on the Scriptures and on our personal experience, that we are free to love/obey God or hate/deny Him, and it is only because of this ability to choose that it is possible for us to love God back the way he wants to be loved. This is why we exist; this is why we were created. This line of thinking, one which assumes mankind has genuine God-given freedom of the will, leaves us with a more biblical and consistent God, one who does not contradict Himself by simultaneously willing that all men be saved, and yet that only some men be saved. Instead, man is to blame for his own damnation. God offered salvation to all, as the Bible assures us repeatedly and clearly, and man has, in vast numbers, declined the offer. God remains blameless, and man remains fallen and sinful, but free.
Consider another valid argument used in defense of the freedom of man: Premise 1: If we are morally responsible for our actions, we must be free. Premise 2: We are morally responsible for our actions. Conclusion: Therefore, we must be free.
There are only two possibilities here: 1) We are either morally responsible and free, or 2) we are neither morally responsible nor free. The Bible teaches that we are morally responsible. Therefore, because we cannot have moral responsibility without freedom, the Bible indicates that we must be free. It is quite clear that God expects a certain kind of behavior from us, just like we expect a certain kind of behavior from each other. But God cannot hold us responsible for decisions we are incapable of making, or actions we are incapable of acting out. If we have no free will to love/obey God or to hate/disobey God, then God has no basis on which to judge us -- and yet we are told that we will be judged! How are we to be judged if we are not morally accountable? How are we to be morally accountable if we are not free? We can't be. It's that simple. God cannot judge us unless we are free to do something worth judging. Therefore, it is my conclusion that the Arminian position, which asserts that mankind has free will, is more logically coherent than the Calvinist doctrine which states that everything is determined.

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