By Jun P. Espina | Last updated on March 23rd, 2021 at 07:29 pm
I WANT TO CLARIFY that I don’t have any intention of trying to add more confusion to the hundreds of years of the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. Tozer once said that there were so many people more intelligent than we are who took part in the centuries-old Calvin-Arminius doctrinal war. All of them ended siding with either Calvinism or Arminianism. My humble interest is just to share what I believe, and why. My primary supporting Scripture is found in Ephesians 2:8-10 (for the two camps). For the Calvinist, verses 8 and 9, and for the Arminians, verse 10. It is like debating which chicken part is more delicious. The same Word of God; different interpretation. The following exhortation punctuates more on hyper or extreme Calvinism and the controversial points in Arminianism.
▸ I attended a Bible Conference on hermeneutics where our speaker, a very learned American preacher, told us he’s reading 3 to 5 theological books weekly for 30 years already and, discontented of his self-promotion, swashed: “I can debate any of you here.” If the apostle Paul was there, he would probably say, “Knowledge makes arrogant . . . . If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.” (1 Cor. 8:1-3)
Then one participant stood up and asked: “Sir, you told us that in interpreting a text we need to stick to the character of God, right? Can’t we also include the honor, glory, and praise of our dear Lord Jesus Christ as part of the basis (which is the character of God) in interpreting a text?”
Our speaker, the bookworm, listened (. . . and challenged). “For example, Sir,” the former continued, “the doctrine known as predestination or that God destines some to heaven, others to hell . . . this teaching doesn’t give glory and honor to Christ because it is equivalent to saying that Jesus our Lord does not love all!” The questioner got the speaker’s attention.
“Charles Spurgeon, Sir once said,” added the inquirer, “that in interpreting a text he would look for a path toward Jesus, and that if he couldn’t find one, he would make one.” Retorted our speaker after dropping one vague statement: “Now, this time, I wouldn’t allow any more questions. . . .” That was the worse statement he ever gave after saying, “I read 3 to 5 theological books weekly for 30 years.”
A certain question went into my mind, though: “Why did our speaker, being a hyper-Calvinist, refuse to answer the question just raised when it was all about Calvinism? Was the question too shallow for him? Or was it the negative result of over-study, or the fluid effect of addiction to theological intellectualism?
The Need to Examine a Teaching
Some church leaders are not interested in exploring academically the danger of the extremes of either Calvinism or Arminianism. I believe they erred in this matter, for “[in] pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” (1 Tim. 4:6) Through the apostle Paul, God wants His leaders to point out to the brethren that which is sound doctrine and to pay close attention to their teaching. (1 Tim. 4:16a)
On Extreme Calvinism
What has made extreme Calvinism so objectionable to the spiritual mind is its teaching about predestination or that man is predestined either to heaven or hell. This doctrine cannot give honor and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ. For it denies the Bible teaching that Jesus died for all; He shed His blood for humanity. He offers salvation to all, not just to the chosen ones!
This heresy has been the subject of so much controversy since the early 17th century after it was being questioned by Jacobus Arminius, who was once a disciple of Calvinism, thus originating the endless Calvinism-Arminianism debate. Church leaders of such popularity as Knox, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Owen, Hodge, Shedd, Pink, among others, were mild or extreme Calvinists.
Both the Calvinists and the Arminians Claim Solid Biblical Foundations
Predestination rests on the Calvinist Theology that God is “[subject] to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases.” 1 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” (Rom. 9:15)
The followers of Jacobus Arminius known as the Remonstrants wrote a five-point theological position against Calvin’s teachings in 1610, after which the Calvinists, wanting to respond, gathered and wrote their own “5 points” of Calvinism.
I believe that the depth and magnitude of our eternal future requires scriptural truth far beyond the Calvin-Arminius-theology debate. The problem is that all gifted Bible scholars, including those responsible for either uniting or dividing Bible Christianity, have scriptural support on their respective claims. That is why I insisted that I dwell on a teaching that is Christ-glorifying. True, the Calvinism-Arminianism “debate is certain to continue as finite beings try to explain an infinitely mysterious God.” 2
The TULIP and the Arminian’s 5-Point Doctrinal Position
Many insist that the “TULIP” of hyper-Calvinism, its theology’s acronym, has made God unfeeling and stonyhearted to the nonelected. Giving it a closer look, TULIP is an organized or systematic doctrine where the tearing apart from one of these five teachings can render the four others like broken glass. You need to believe all five to see its entire form or architecture. These five teachings are Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the Saints, hence TULIP or five-point Calvinism.
Arminianism’s five-point doctrinal positions are Free Will or Human Ability (or Not Total Depravity); Conditional Election; Universal Redemption or General (not limited) Atonement; we can resist the Holy Spirit (or grace is resistible), and Falling from Grace (no Eternal Security).
I think the common position of most Christian leaders such as Billy Graham, John R. Rice, among others, is a mixture of Arminianism and Calvinism. The followers of both Calvin and Arminius actually invented the contrasting five-point arguments. Arminius (died 1609), being a student of Calvin’s self-appointed successor, Beza, was not a diehard “five-pointer” himself as his students. Calvin’s “salvation by faith alone” or “assurance of salvation” teaching is Biblical (see: Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 8, etc.), but the Calvinists’ “TULIP” is questionable, hence the coining of the term “hyper-Calvinism,” which as the term suggests, connotes an exaggeration on Calvin’s teachings.
Both the teachings of Arminius and Calvin are deep Christian thoughts adorned with Scriptures. “It’s important to note that all of the doctrinal points in both theological positions have a biblical foundation, which is why the debate has been so divisive throughout church history.” 3
Never Reduce God’s Mystery and Revelation Into Five Points
Reducing the Bible into a five-point system of doctrine, however, is like putting God’s mysterious character and revelation into a five-cornered box. Human wisdom, once unleashed, always explains what is divine and beyond the province of the human mind. As a student of God’s word, I have the responsibility to embrace what is Christ-glorifying from both the Arminians’ and the Calvinists’ doctrines.
Calvinism Versus the Scriptures
Man is not totally depraved, contrary to Calvinism, because sin just marred the image of God in man, but not obliterated it totally. That is why man does not need seminary training to believe that God exists.
“I know,” wrote A. W. Tozer, “there are some who contend that when the Bible says we are dead in trespasses and sins, it means that we are dead in such a literal sense of the word that we have no moral awareness. But I think that kind of exegesis is so bad and so confused that it should be rejected immediately. It just has no place at all in the Scriptures.” 4
Man’s Knowledge of God
Man knows God, but his knowledge is being darkened by sin. The argument that man is dead spiritually (Eph. 2:1) and is, therefore, incapable of believing in the Savior Jesus Christ, by the exercise of his own free will, is logical. It is just half of the truth, however, because man’s alienation from God on account of sin is not total as you may observe God’s giving Adam and Eve clothes made of skin after their fall. God, in Proverbs 20:27, says that: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being.” Man’s conscience is there, ready to convict the murderer or the adulterer of his crime. Man is not totally dead spiritually, as evidenced by the multitudes of the wooden idols he carved and then worshiped. Very spiritually alive, man invented a tomb as elaborate as the Taj Mahal for spiritual reasons.
Depraved Sense of God
But since man is depraved and darkened by sin, although not totally, he needs the help of God’s Spirit for him to understand God’s promises. It is the second half of the truth: man has free will to believe or reject Christ, but he won’t come to Christ without the help and wooing of the Holy Spirit. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth . . . No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 16:13; 6:44)
Man invented thousands of gods, because he is God-wired, although a depraved sense of God. If man is totally depraved and therefore cannot exercise his free will to believe, why is there no unified faith among the so-called chosen ones, those predestined to populate heaven—those “brainwashed” by God to believe? Why are there so many denominations as there are various doctrines? The only answer we can find is that man is naturally loaded with spiritual sensitivities that he desires to have a personal God in his life through the exercise of his will—he can be Baal or the Father of Christ. Thus he’s not totally dead spiritually on account of the fall of man.
In Acts 10, we find Cornelius, a non-Jew, who was better than many Calvinists spiritually even before his salvation. God, through Luke’s pen, did not describe him as one totally depraved:
How did Cornelius do it even before receiving the Spirit of Christ: fearing God; giving many alms; praying to God continually? The only valid reason is that the spiritual death of man on account of his fall is not complete and final darkness. The doctrine of man’s total depravity, therefore, doesn’t have the full weight of Scriptures!
Calvinarminians Believe that God’s Sovereign Will Does Not Mean the Dissolution of the Human Will
The hyper-Calvinist, if we were to invite his opinion with Cornelius, would tell us that the sovereign grace of God leads Cornelius to believe or that he was chosen to believe and couldn’t resist God. “Calvinarminians” like myself believe that God’s sovereign will does not mean the human will’s dissolution. Just as man is not totally depraved, so he is not devoid of the power to choose. Let’s go back to Scriptures, not to human reason, to prove our point that man has free will to choose: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” (Rev. 22:17) In this verse, God is inviting man to decide, for God wants man to love Him voluntarily!
God’s Grace is Resistible
I also believe that God’s grace is resistible. Hyper-Calvinists taught the reverse: that it is irresistible! Its core verse is Ephesians 2:1, which says that man is spiritually dead and is therefore totally depraved and unable to exercise his own free will to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is ruined by the effects of sin after his fall, and only God’s sovereign grace which is irresistible can make him believe. Predestination is the word they used: some are predestined to hell, others to heaven—the doctrine which limits Christ’s atoning blood only to the chosen ones, elected through His sovereign grace. The “TULIP” is linked-teachings into this one philosophy that God has a special people called the elect, or the chosen ones, and that the blessings and promises of God contain in Scriptures are all for them. Others are not as lucky, making God the Sole Executor of the floods of unloved and damned humanity who are predestined to the torments of hell.
Can you agree with the hyper-Calvinists who teach that God created billions of people just He could happily cast them all into hell forever, for the simple reason that they are not the chosen ones? Do you think it to be the mind of God to cause multitudes of people to tremble in fear and gnash their teeth in pain day and night forever in hell? Wrote Arthur Pink, a staunch Calvinist:
It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of divine mercy…. ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’ It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them. But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so to do.
Still, less is it the merits of the creatures which causes Him to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of meriting ‘mercy.’ ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He save us’ (Titus 3:5)—the one standing in direct antithesis to the other. Nor is it the merit of Christ which moves God to bestow mercies to His elect: that would be substituting the effect for the cause. It is ‘through’ or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Luke 1:78). The merits of Christ make it possible for God to bestow spiritual mercies on His elect righteously, justice having been fully satisfied by the Surety! No, mercy arises solely from God’s imperial pleasure. (Underscoring added.) 6
This is one problem with hyper-Calvinism (just like Arminianism in one way or the other!): Scriptures adorn its logic and intellectualism. What force of reasoning is it to say that God is God and can be influenced by no one and by nothing at all: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9:15)! What Pink wants to pin down is the teaching of meriting mercy, since it “is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of divine mercy . . . . Nor is it the merit of Christ which moves God to bestow mercies to His elect.” This teaching is the offspring of Calvinists’ understanding of God’s sovereignty which to them means that God is subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent!
The Honor and Glory of Christ
I don’t have the qualifications to argue with great authors as Arthur Pink; I am only interested in investigating the place of my dear Lord Jesus Christ in the above teaching. Where is Christ’s glory and honor in hyper-Calvinism?
The apostle Paul said that in Christ “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Col. 2:9) Or that we can understand God better through Christ Jesus:
Our Lord said that he “who has seen [Him] has seen the Father” or that the Father thinks or shows mercy the way Christ did! It seems that Pink’s God is like a “monster” to the nonelected. Wrote the Apostle Peter that our Lord Jesus is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) Christ is wishing that all would repent before returning to earth.
Christ Wanted to Gather All of Us the Way a Hen Gathers Her Chicks
What a merciful Savior is He! The hyper-Calvinists believe, however, that the word “all” in 2 Pet 3:9, in John 3:16, and other verses having the same stress is referred only to the elect. Thanks to their glorious Theology! God’s word says “all” or that everyone is capable of repenting. But the Calvinists have a contrary view. Christ, according to them, doesn’t have business showing mercy to the widow at Nain or to Bartimaeus, for mercy belongs to the Father and the Father alone. And it is given only to the elect according to His “imperial pleasure.” For God is subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases! What a God; His sovereign grace is indeed irresistible, a theology that requires the Holy Bible to be rewritten, for Christ Himself said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matt. 23:37-39)
What did Stephen say to the Jews before he died in their hands? “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51, KJV) Even the word “resist” is used by God’s Spirit here to show that indeed God’s grace can be resisted. I believe that the Calvinists have a hard time kneading their theology against it.
We Don’t Have the Divine Mandate to Teach Doctrines Outside of Christ’s Glory and Honor
The argument that God is Sovereign and in control and is the One giving man free will to choose or reject Christ is scriptural because God is omnipotent. But since we can find from Scriptures hundreds of verses showing man’s responsibility and free will, the Holy Bible seems to be silent as to why on one hand, God would say that His grace is irresistible (cf. Rom. 9:15) and on the other, that it is resistible (cf. Matt. 23:37-39). Where there’s scriptural silence on one particular issue, we don’t have the right to speculate outside of Christ’s glory and honor. “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 15:5)
Wrote John MacArthur that there are things of God, although revealed in Scriptures, that are beyond our finite understanding:
“[Some] of God’s ways we will never understand as fully as others, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord’ (Deut. 29:29). Isaiah 55:9 tells us that God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. And that is certainly true when it comes to the doctrine of election . . . . Although man’s will is not free in the sense that many people suppose, it is still part of his being. Apart from God, that will is captive to sin. But he still has the capacity and responsibility to choose God because God makes that choice possible. And God has to do it because if left to our own abilities, we could never choose Him (see Rom. 3:11). Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (see John 3:16) and that ‘everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die’ (11:26). The frequent commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord (e.g., Matt. 3:1-2;4:17; John 11:28-30) clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will. Yet the Bible is just as clear that no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord who has not been chosen by God (see Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2). Jesus gives both truths in one verse in the Gospel of John: ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out’ (John 6:37) . . .. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are integral and inseparable realities of salvation—though exactly how they operate only the infinite mind of God knows.” 7
The Arminians also erred in many respects. Their “good works” Theology causes many so-called believers to have an unappreciative look at the finished work of Christ. I tried to interview common churchgoers about their assurance of salvation for which almost all doubted their eternal life because of this one error that they have free will to lose their grip of heaven. Man has the power to believe or reject Christ in their lives: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already.” (John 3:18)
But after experiencing the second birth, God “. . . will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) Our Lord Himself promised that “of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day . . . and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 6:39; 10:27-30)
Heaven is the home of the born-again Christians, according the God’s Word.
Like Calvinism, as showed before, the Arminian Theology is also stuffed with Bible verses. We may fall from grace, argued the Arminians, quoting Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 3:12-15, etc.: “you have fallen from grace… heart that falls away from the living God.”
All the Arminian, as well as the Calvin-favored Bible verses, have been debated for hundreds of years already. There’s no use engaging ourselves into such controversy, for doing so belongs only to the most gifted mind. My thesis is plain: I want to uphold a teaching that is giving our Lord Jesus glory and honor. Without giving us, His children, the assurance of salvation, is like having a poor father who’s so powerless as to protect his own family. The Arminian teaching, that our salvation may be lost if we won’t help God protect us from the enemy who is the devil, robs Christ of His honor and make Him a lame-duck Savior without power to keep His children from falling!
Arminianism is portraying our Lord as a weak Savior, hence I won’t embark on such a system of doctrine, for “God highly exalted [Christ], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11) O, how great is our Lord Jesus!
Give me all your intellectual arguments that are flavored with power verses suited for a Christian “soup” for my soul, and I will just turn all of them down as I am content and happy with my “great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for [me] to redeem [me] from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession . . ..” (Titus 2:13-14) Giving Christ the honor and glory due Him is sweet doctrine for me.
N o t e s:
4A.W. Tozer, The Tozer Pulpit (Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1974), Vol. 1, Book 3, pp. 77-78
6Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Florida: Mt. Zion Publications, 1930), p.78
7John MacArthur, A Simple Christianity (California: Regal From Gospel Light),pp.34-35