Debating Calvinism: Reflections
The other night I did something I hadn’t done it quite some time: I had an in-depth discussion on Calvinism with someone who does not share my belief in the famous “5-points”.
Nevertheless, since the interaction, I have reflected back on why discussions like this are sometimes a bit frustrating. Each side can quote scripture, of course, and there was plenty of that coming from my side. But here are a few reasons –other that just looking at scripture– why it’s just not as simple as looking at a few verses in trying to reach common ground between the two polar opposites:
- There is a clear ‘language barrier’ that so often hinders these types of discussions. That is, when we use the term ‘Calvinism’, it is often misunderstood to mean something that it is not. Also, when the term ‘free-will’ is used, it likewise, is often defined in a manner different than we Calvinists intend.
- Sadly, too many equate ‘Calvinism’ with cold, dead, orthodoxy and a neglect of personal evangelism. Sometimes it is confusing as to why these types of perceptions arise. One reason, which I have covered before, is because Arminians recognize that Calvinists do not go about evangelism in the same manner as they. Another reason stems from the logical-consistency of their own minds in that if God is sovereign, then there is no point in doing anything about it. Yet another reason why Calvinists are given a bad rap is because the popularity of some teachers who mislabel the doctrine in order to denounce it. I suppose more could be written on this, but my main frustration is how these hurdles must constantly be cleared in order to really get through to an Arminian.
- It is simply assumed that Calvinist do not believe in a ‘will’ of man. A ‘will’, as used in the term ‘free will’, by necessity implies something other than just robots in motion. Calvinists, of course, believe that man has a will, and that it definitely has an element of freedom to it. Men have choices and make choices every day; men must choose to repent and place faith in Christ; but these are not the real issues as relates to this subject. The Arminian often fails to distinguish between absolutely free autonomy, and robotic-like, forced, coercion. (A will enslaved to sin and a will empowered by the Spirit are, of course, two opposites, and the only two options for human ‘freedom’; that is if we are follow scripture in this area instead of our own rational.)
- The pertinent issues as to WHY this subject is important are SO very often overlooked. That is, from the free-will side, it is hard to see why they should really care whether or not God is completely sovereign in salvation (I use the term ‘completely’, because most anybody who is the least bit orthodox will admit that God plays at least the majority-role in conversion. To put it better: most Arminians believe that God will draw, woo, and place men in special circumstances to ‘receive’ Him, but they stop short of saying that God is absolutely and completely sovereign from beginning (election) to end (regeneration/conversion)). Thus, most Arminians, holding a ‘foreknowledge’ or similar view, are actually very close to Calvinists in creed (being but a point or two off), but are in reality miles and in fact worlds apart in relation to how this seemingly small difference affects every aspect of faith and practice. For me, the Calvinist, this is often hard to communicate and demonstrate without a strenuous effort and much discussion.
Those are but a few observations after a fruitful discussion and further reflection on the subject. I’m interested, however, in better understanding how some people have overcome these problems. For I’ve been a Calvinist from (new) birth, and have never struggled with the perceptions listed above. If you have struggled with some of these hurdles in the past, and by God’s grace you were able to get over them, I would appreciate you sharing exactly how you finally dealt with the points listed above (coming from an Arminian to a Calvinist mindset). Also, I’m now looking into some resources on this subject that meet the criteria below; any recommendations are greatly appreciated. I am looking for material that:
-Is short, concise, and readable (no “freedom of the will”, “bondage of the will”, tough-read type of stuff). Would like to buy in large quantities to give as hand-outs.
-Will properly define the historical and accurate definition of ‘Calvinism’ and ‘hyper-Calvinism’.
-Will properly define the ‘will’ from a biblical perspective, not simply from a humanistic, philosophical, or of course, Arminian perspective.
-Can demonstrate how this subject radically but practically affects things such as: how we read scripture; our prayer; our worship; our evangelizing; how we see the world; what our churches should look like, etc.
-Will be candid in giving details on the pitfalls, shallowness, and slippery-slope consequences of Arminianism as pertains to personal sanctification and church structure.