It seems to me that the divide that Calvinist and Arminians have in their theology is one of emphasis. The divide is centered around the question of free will, or man’s ability to choose to become a Christian or not. In the Calvinist system, we believe that man cannot choose to come to God until the Holy Spirit has moved in his heart, enlivened the spirit in man, working faith in him, and at that point, the man believes in Christ for salvation.
All the work, in the Calvinist system of justification, is done by the Holy Spirit. The man is awakened spiritually and responds to the call of the gospel. The illustration that Jesus gives is that the man or woman is finally born again. Just as a child is born because of nothing in and of himself, so too are we born again because of nothing in and of ourselves. The act of being justified is one purely of grace, and not man’s ability to believe or not, since we would we are spiritually dead before conversion.
The Arminian, of course, opposes this view. They would say that man does have free will and can choose to do so. Since he can choose, then it is man’s responsibility to believe. In their system, they believe that God has made the way of salvation possible, and it’s up to us to believe and be saved. This means that God’s election of men before the foundation of the world, is based upon man’s will and decisions, and not God’s will.
They also accuse those of us who are Calvinist as making God out to be mean because He chooses some and does not choose others. The problem I have with their position is that they have yet explain to me the discussion of this very thing found in Romans 9. There, Paul makes the case that God chooses whom He chooses to show mercy upon. In that section of Scripture Paul makes it clear that man’s will is not a factor in being chosen, but the decision is based upon God alone. John 1:12-13 also make this clear, that God alone is the One who makes the decision, not us.
Now there charge against our position is that this makes God responsible for sin, even though the Scripture clearly says that there is no darkness found in God at all (James 1). We say that man is responsible for his own sin, and this is the only thing that is truly ours, but if you know anything about sin at all, it’s nothing we want anything to do with.
They would also say that God desires all men to come to Himself. And we would agree that on one level, God does disire this, but not when it comes to actuality. God is glorified in those who reject His grace just as much as He is glorified in those who accept. Through the one, His justice is glorified, in the other, His mercy is glorified.
And I believe that is truly the dividing point between the two camps. One camp, Calvinists, address both God’s justice(or Holiness, which is where His justice is derived) and His mercy (which is manifested in His love.) The Arminian camp, I believe, tends to focus only on His love. They cannot accept that fact that God would save some and not others, and therefore they put the full responsibility of salvation back in man’s lap, to the point that if a man rejects the gospel, then it is the man’s responsibility and not God’s. The problem we have with this is that it makes God less than sovereign over all things, and He actually seems more like a dottering old grandfather wishing and hoping that men would trust in Christ and be saved.
We would agree that it is man’s responsibility to trust in Christ and be saved, but not within his ability, and it is only when God moves on behalf of the sinner that the sinner believes in Christ and is saved. Since the man is spiritually dead, he cannot move in this way at all. He needs to be born again, an act that he cannot bring about. To the Calvinist, this truly speaks of God’s grace and magnifies it, for we see the richness of grace all the more in that there is no reason for us to boast if we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). To the Calvinist, God is sovereign in all of life, not just a few areas of life, and He rules in every aspect of the universe.
The God of the Arminian however is One that is only partly sovereign, which is an oxymoron, and has merely set salvation up so that it might be possible for all to be saved. To the Calvinist, God has set it up so that His elect will be definitely saved. There are no doubts in their salvation. As Jesus said, nothing can rip them from His hand.
And the logical conclusion to Arminianism is what has become know as the Open Theist movement, in which God really doesn’t know the outcome of tomorrow any more than you are I do. He is merely reacting to events instead of guiding them. I cannot accept this, nor do I want to worship a God that is like this.
I’m grateful that God is sovereign in all aspects of life, not just some. Yes, He grabbed me, and worked faith in me, and I have no reason to boast in my salvation. I am grateful He opened my eyes to my own sinful fallen nature, and showed me that the only way out of salvation was faith in Christ. I’m glad He worked faith in me so that I would believe and would help me in my unbelief. Yes, I am a Calvinist. That is not a boast, for the true Calvinist knows he has nothing to boast of… but God’s saving grace. For the true Calvinist we truly do sing the words Amazing Grace with gusto, for we know that were it not for His grace, we would be rightfully sent to hell, which all men deserve. But by God’s grace, He has saved some, and I am among those.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…