Answers to Common Calvinist Questions

Some answers to common Calvinist questions:

Q: Why does one person believe in Jesus and not another?
Q: Man is dead. How can a dead person believe or do anything?
Q: If man is dead in sin, how can he believe outside of the grace of God?
Q: If man can make choices, doesn’t that weaken God’s sovereignty?
Q: If man can make choices, how can God have exhaustive knowledge of the future?
Q: Here are [insert list of scriptures] to prove that Calvinism is true.
Q: Doesn’t Arminian Theology leads to boasting because man contributed to his salvation?

Q: Why does one person believe in Jesus and not another?
This question assumes a deterministic framework. Each person is a unique being who has the God given capability to make his own choices ex nihilio. One person believes and not another because one chose to believe, and the other did not.

Q: Man is dead. How can a dead person believe or do anything?
A: This is a non-scriptural definition of death. Death does not mean “unable to respond”, rather, it means “separated from God”. In the parable of the lost son (Luke 15), the father states “my son was dead, but now is alive. He was lost, and now is found.” The son was able make decisions, including the decision to go home. Yet, he was separated from relationship with his father, and dependent on his father for reconciliation. To be dead is to be separated from Christ. To be alive is to be in relationship with Christ. Making choices does not give one the ability to be reconciled to Christ absent his consent.

Q: If man is dead in sin, how can he believe outside of the grace of God?
This is a statement that Arminians fully agree with! Arminians believe in prevenient grace, that God is in the process of drawing non-believers to himself. It is God’s drawing that enables the sinner to believe. We differ with Calvinists in that 1)We believe scripture teaches that God gives a measure of genuine grace to everyone (Titus 2:11), and 2)We believe that grace is resistible (John 5:34,39-40).

Q: If man can make choices, doesn’t that weaken God’s sovereignty?
Sovereignty is not synonymous with determinism or meticulous control. Rather, it means that God does what he pleases (Psalms 115:3). It pleases God to endow mankind with a measure of genuine freedom. A.W. Tozer stated it like this: “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so. “(1)

Q: If man can make choices, how can God have exhaustive knowledge of the future?
Arminians believe that God can know our choices without causing them. Some Arminians believe that God exists outside of time and sees the future as present (The Eternal Now theory). Others believe that God exists in the present but can see into the future. In this case, man’s actions are the cause of God’s foreknowledge, not the other way around. All man’s actions are certain but not necessary.(2)

Q: Here are [insert list of scriptures] to prove that Calvinism is true!
A: This is a debate tactic. While it may result in a Calvinist winning an argument, it is not a reasonable or contextual approach to reading and understanding the Bible. For a detailed and funny description of this tactic, check out The Machine Gun Hermeneutic, by Martin Glynn.

Q: Doesn’t Arminian Theology leads to boasting because man contributed to his salvation?
Arminian Theology is an entirely grace centered theology. We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ. By grace through faith. In order to be saved one must believe in Jesus and accept his sacrifice on his behalf. Since Jesus died for everyone, we have no grounds for boasting. Rather, we are motivated to share the gospel with everyone, so that they can also believe. On the other hand, Calvinism can easily lead to a haughty attitude. Calvinism teaches adherents that there are two classes of people: those who will be saved and those who cannot be saved. John Wesley correctly stated: “As directly does this doctrine [Calvinism] tend to destroy several particular branches of holiness. Such are meekness and love, — love, I mean, of our enemies, — of the evil and unthankful. I say not, that none who hold it have meekness and love (for as is the power of God, so is his mercy;) but that it naturally tends to inspire, or increase, a sharpness or eagerness of temper, which is quite contrary to the meekness of Christ; as then especially appears, when they are opposed on this head. And it as naturally inspires contempt or coldness towards those whom we suppose outcast from God.”(3)

(1) A.W. Tozer, The Sovereignty of God
(2) See Thomas Ralston, Elements of Divinity
(3) John Wesley, Free Grace, Section II

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7 Comments

Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism, questions

7 responses to “Answers to Common Calvinist Questions

  1. Excellent article. I may post this at my blog if that is okay. Thanks!

  2. Brother Kevin:As a former Wesleyan-Arminian, I would like to respond to the first question in this post. I think perhaps you misunderstand the essence of what a Calvinist is really asking by this question. You responded that "One person believes and not another because one chose to believe, and the other did not." The underlying question we are asking is "But WHY did the one choose life and the other death?". None of the Calvinists I know deny that individuals make a choice – freely of their own will. But the doctrine of Total Depravity (or perhaps, more accurately Total Inability) simply points out that, though we all make the choice and we are all certainly responsible for that choice, we are also incapable of choosing Christ because to do so would require a spark of human goodness within us – a spark that does not exist, according to the Scriptures. If you have spent much time debating these things with Reformed folks, I'm certain you've heard all of this before. But I've yet to hear an adequate Arminian response. Inevitably, the Arminian brother must point to his doctrine of Prevenient Grace, a doctrine for which I cannot find Scriptural support. But if, in fact, this Prevenient Grace is given freely and equally to all mankind, the only logical conclusion is that those who choose Christ do so because of some other inherent difference, be it greater intelligence, education, natural holiness, etc. The Reformed understanding of God's sovereignty in salvation finds the Arminian explanation both lacking and arrogant. Please do not take personal umbrage at this last statement. I was raised Wesleyan-Arminian, attended a Wesleyan-Arminian Bible college, married the daughter of a Wesleyan-Arminian pastor, have Wesleyan-Arminian (and godly) parents and grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. I truly love all of my true brothers and sisters in Christ. But it deeply grieves me to see God's glory robbed from Him when we claim to have been sovereign in our own salvation. I beg your patience. I am newly Reformed and am not the best person to represent our understanding of these things and a blog comment is far from an adequate format. I trust, however, that you will hear my heart and know that there are many of us who are not impressed with nor engage in hermeneutical shenanigans, "machine-gun" or otherwise. We most assuredly love our King (and ALL his children) and desire to understand his Word to us rightly and to serve Him with a full heart and a holy life.In Christian Love,Jon

  3. Hi Jon, thanks for stopping by and thanks too for your gracious tone.The problem with the question "why do some follow Jesus and not others?" is that it's misleading. It begs the question and assumes the answer (much like the "why do you beat your wife" question). One difference in Arminianism is that we don't see the ability to make decisions as taking away from God's glory. There are several reasons for this. First, what if it pleases God to create creatures that do make genuine decisions? What if God wants to have a people that have truly chosen to follow him, rather than to have a people whom he has "caused" to follow him? In that case our choices give him glory.Second, the decision to follow Jesus is not meritorious in itself. When a person believes in Jesus this decision gives him nothing to boast about and no righteousness before God. God credits the decision as righteousness, but being righteous and being credited as righteous are separate things entirely.Going back again to the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The son was dead, he was separated from his father. The son decided to go home. The son's choice was not meritorious, and in fact was self serving (he was hungry). The son's ability to make the decision to go home didn't reconcile him with his father. In order to be restored he was entirely dependent on the mercy of his father. Yet without going home, he could not have been restored. The lost son parable is a great scriptural example of the way God goes about reconciliation.You are correct that Arminians believe strongly in Prevenient Grace. We can't make the choice to follow Jesus without him first enabling that choice by beginning the process of drawing us to himself. I did a post on the scriptural support for prevenient grace here.It's interesting too that you've found no scriptural support for prevenient grace. That's because I don't see the Calvinistic concept of irresistable grace as Biblical. It is a logical result of TULIP, but is not taught in the Bible. If God does have such a tool as irresistible grace, this raises more questions. First, why does he complain so often when people disobey him? Given the Calvinist definition they are unable to obey, unless he "makes" them. God's complaints do make sense, however, if he has given people the opportunity to follow him and they don't. Second, if irresistible grace is a reality, why doesn't God "make" everyone believe in him? I've never heard a good answer from Calvinists on these questions. They typically appeal to mystery.Also for more on the topic of grace check out "The Transforming Power of Grace" by Thomas Oden. He give a detailed exposition on grace from a scriptural and historical perspectives. The Calvinistic idea of "irresistible grace" was largely an innovation of Augustine.Anyway, thanks again for stopping by, and God bless. Kevin

  4. SLW

    Kevin and Jon,Kevin gave a superb answer to Jon, I would add only this: why wouldn't God "make" everyone believe in him when he has specifically stated that he finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he wants all men to be saved? If he has the power through irresistable grace to accomplish his stated purpose why is that purpose not accomplished? I cannot fathom how irrestible grace (not found in scriptures) does not lead to universalism when applied to God's self-disclosure in the scriptures.

  5. This is Hannah Bevills, Editor for Christian.com which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian's needs. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together as one (no matter denomination) and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward to an email regarding the matter, Thanks! God Bless|Hannah Bevills|Christian.com|hannah.bevills@gmail.com

  6. Can you submit this to SEA? I would like to publish it this week.

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