Words that Arminians and Calvinists Define Differently

Arminians and Calvinists define some theological terms differently. This has a tendency to cause us to talk past each other when discussing theological issues. Here are some of the words that Arminians and Calvinists have different meanings for:

Arminians – A plan of God to establish parameters for the way something will work. For example, God can decree for humans to have and make decisions.
Calvinists – A plan of God to cause things to happen in a predetermined way.

Arminians – God chooses Christ. Those who follow Christ benefit from his election.
Calvinists – God chooses certain individuals to be saved. The chosen are elected.

Arminians – Faith means to trust God. Because of God’s drawing grace, it is possible for each person to trust God.
Calvinists – Faith is an ability that God gives to the elect but not to the reprobate. A person cannot trust God unless God causes him to to so.

Arminians – God has passive knowledge of our future choices. His knowing is based on our doing.
Calvinists – God foreknows the future because he has rendered it certain. His knowing is based on determining what will happen.

Free Will
Arminians – Free will is the God enabled ability to make choices. A person can do one thing, or he can choose to do something else.
Calvinists – Free will means to follow one’s strongest desires. When a person makes decisions, his strongest desires determine what he does.

God’s Love
Arminians – God loves each person with an infinite amount of love, and desires for each person to be saved and to be in relationship with him.
Calvinists – God has a special kind of love for the elect that he does not have for all people. God may love the reprobate in some sense, but this is not a kind of love that enables them to be saved.

Arminians – Sovereignty means that God does what he wants to do. God sovereignly created a world where creatures have the ability to make choices.
Calvinists – Sovereignty means that God deterministically causes every thing that happens. If God does not ultimately cause everything, he can’t be sovereign.

The world
Arminians – The world is inclusive of each and every person that has or ever will exist.
Calvinists – The world is all of the elect people from all over the world, not all people.



Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism

11 responses to “Words that Arminians and Calvinists Define Differently

  1. Very clear. It seems that definitions are important in reaching greater common ground with our Calvinist brethren.

  2. Tom Maloley

    Helpful post, Kevin. I do have a question about your last point, are you applying your definitions of “world” to how it’s used in the Bible as a whole?

    • Hi Tom, good question. I’m referring to the passages that address salvation and refer to the world. Such as John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2. “World” can mean different things based on which author we’re talking about, and the context of how he’s using the term. For example Luke 2:1 refers to “world”, but it’s pretty clear in context that Luke only means the area controlled by Rome. Arminians and Calvinists agree on the usage of the word that passage. However, we disagree when speaking of God’s intended scope for salvation. Arminians think world means that God wants everyone to be saved, whereas Calvinists think that world means that God wants some people from everywhere to be saved. An example of the differing usages can be seen in 1 John 2:2,15-16. In this chapter John uses the word to refer to both the scope of the atonement (v2) and to the fallen world (15,16). The Arminian sees John using the same scope in both passages (Jesus died for everyone, everyone is fallen). The Calvinist interprets John as using different scopes in the two passages (Jesus died for some people everywhere, everyone is fallen).

      • Tom Maloley

        Good points, I agree that the definition of “world” is dependent on it’s context. I don’t see how we could use the same definition in 1John 2:2 and 2:15-16, though. It would seem that the definition of “each and every person that has or ever will exist” of “world” in 1 John 2:15 would make it contradictory to the rest of the book. Throughout the book we are told to love one another, but 1 John 2:15 would be telling us to not love one another since we are all a part of this “all individuals” definition of “world”. But if “world” in this verse means something like a generalization of our sinful planet and all it contains that is bent against God and characterized by sinfulness of people, not individual people themselves, it seems to work well.

      • Hi Tom, Typically John uses “world” to specifically refer to the fallen world – those separated from God. All of us were separated from God and hostile to hime when we came into the world. So in that sense the world refers to every person. Using that definition (the fallen world) 1 John 2:2 and 15 are in agreement. This language is pretty consistent in First John (and in the book of John too).

        1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
        1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
        1 John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

  3. jeff

    First visit to your blog. Great stuff. I found this post especially helpful as I think the main cause of trouble is that both groups use words differently. We can both say a sentence using the same words and have completely different meanings. Frustrating. This will be a helpful post to give to a person struggling with the argument in general.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jeff. :)

    • Adrian

      I have to agree jeff that “the main cause of trouble is that both groups use words differently”. But an added problem is when group A does not actually know what group B (I chose not to say “group C” :-) ) means by a particular word (or concept).

      For example (and I could have used others) under Faith Kevin says: “Arminians – Faith means to trust God” but then says “Calvinists – Faith is an ability that God gives to the elect … A person cannot trust God unless God causes him to to so”. I would have worded this differently, I’d say “Calvinists – Faith means to trust God … A person cannot trust God unless God gives him the ability to do so”.

      So jeff my definition of the word is not only different to Kevin’s but also different to what he thinks it is.

      In the latest posts here ( https://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/how-can-a-dead-person-believe-unless-god-makes-him-alive/ ) I’m trying to understand how a person sees something but what I’ve got back is “I think the burden of proof is on you, not me, to explain …”. Makes things difficult.

  4. Pingback: Traduções Curtas: Palavras que Arminianos e Calvinistas Definem Diferentemente | credulo

  5. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | This Week in Arminianism

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