Calvinism and Arminianism

I recently finished reading For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.

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Before I get into the “five points,” I want to begin with this. First, I think that Calvinism is way more than the five points (TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). Second, I think that Arminianism is way more than just a negation of those five points. Third, I want to say that I find it decently unhelpful, at least for myself, to claim that I’m one or the other. I might lean towards Calvinism, but I wrestling with a lot of questions. Quite frankly, I could care less whether Calvin said X or Y, or Jacob Arminius said X or Y. I care whether Scripture says X or Y.

Nevertheless, I will go into at least describing the five points that Calvinists claim about salvation:

T (Total Depravity): Every part of every human being is affected by sin from birth. This is not saying that each of us is as bad as we could be.

U (Unconditional Election): God elected certain individuals that he would save from the foundation of the world. (There are typically two views on election: double predestination – the idea that God elected some people to salvation and some to damnation – and single predestination – the idea that God elected some people to salvation without electing others to damnation.)

L (Limited Atonement): Christ’s death on the cross forgave the sins of the elect and secured their salvation. (It should be added that even if the cross did only save the elect, the effects that the cross had on the world are still too vast and far reaching for us to even comprehend.)

I (Irresistible Grace): Since we all will naturally resist God, He must put in us the spirit of belief. Irresistible Grace usually refers to the “effectual call” as opposed to the “general call.” (Arminians tend to say that regeneration comes after faith and Calvinists tend to say that regeneration comes before faith). What irresistible grace says is that it is God who is the author of our faith.

P (Perseverance of the Saints): This doctrine claims that once someone is called by God, he cannot be “unsaved.” Once someone truly comes to Christ, God will never lose him/her.


The few nuances I have come from people like Michael Horton (who wrote For Calvinism) and from James K.A. Smith (Letters to a Young Calvinist). First, I find the term “Particular Redemption” preferable instead of “Unconditional Election.” Similarly, I find the term “Effectual Calling” more helpful of a term than “Irresistible Grace.” People like Roger E. Olson (who wrote Against Calvinism) have objections with regards to changing the names of these doctrines (he claims that the doctrines are the same no matter what you call them).

I tend to side with the Calvinist view, but I think there is room to nuance and to ask questions, especially since Scripture is not the easiest thing to pinpoint. I actually have questions for both Calvinists and Arminians:

Questions for Calvinists:

  1. How is a person assured of salvation?
  2. What is the nature of God’s love?
  3. Is God free? Are we free?
  4. Is God the author of sin, evil, suffering, and unbelief?
  5. Did God plan redemption before (causally, not temporally) sin entered the world?
  6. Can we think that evil things are bad? Or, is it just that all things are part of the plan, and therefore all things that happen are “good?”
  7. What does it mean that all is for God’s glory?
  8. Is God’s plan of redemption an end to justify the means? Is the future glory worth the suffering that happens on earth?

Questions for Arminians:

  1. How is a person assured of salvation?
  2. What is the nature of God’s love?
  3. Is God free? Are we free?
  4. Is salvation by grace through faith?
  5. Is God not in control?
  6. If the cross only made possible the salvation of human beings, did the cross actually do anything?
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4 thoughts on “Calvinism and Arminianism

  1. Thanks for sharing your reflections on the Horton and Olson books. Your summary of TULIP is a helpful and clear, and your questions are worth exploring. When it comes to any system or school of theology, the operative question for me is this: what has the most explanatory power of Scripture? Obviously, the reason we have a debate between Calvinism and Arminianianism is due to some wiggle room or interpretive latitude in Scripture. Sometimes I read Scripture and think Calvin was right. Other times Arminius seems right.

    Two questions: (1) Would you be able to characterize the accent of Calvinism and Arminianianism? By “accent,” I mean the chief burden or emphasis. For example, the accent of Karl Barth’s theology (or Barthianism) is Christocentrism – Christ at the center. (2) What do you regard as the primary benefits of each school of theology?

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  2. I’m not sure I could characterize the accents of Calvinism and Arminianism myself without the fear of misrepresenting both sides.

    It should be noted that, for the most part, I find these labels unhelpful (“I’m a Calvinist” or “I’m an Arminian”). I care about what Scripture says, not what Calvin said or Arminius said.

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  3. I can attempt to pinpoint what seems to be the focus of each of these theological worldviews. Calvinism tends to emphasize the sovereignty of God, whereas Arminians will either focus on the free will of man or protecting the character of God.

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