Saturday, July 28, 2007

Doctrinal Debate - Calvinism vs Arminianism

I think that most folks who come to this blog are Christians. I'm sure some aren't, but given that a high percentage of the postings and linkages deal with Christianity explicitly or have a religious right flavor, those who are not so disposed probably run for blogs that think like they do.

Within the evangelical church, there are many factions, and some of those factions have factions, which sometimes breed other factions. In fact, there are now so many factions, that I wouldn't be surprised if independent churches are becoming the norm.

In my world (and welcome to it) I have had an ongoing debate with my brother and my partner regarding the Charismatic side of things. What about tongues? Slain in the spirit? Word of knowledge? I don't agree that these things are necessary in the Biblical age, but I'm OK that they do.

My prayer partner tends toward the Calvinist side and is a bedrock member of Calvary's mother church. We love to debate one another and have lively differences on some of the issues that divide Southern Baptists and Calvary thinking.

That debate now rages close to home. I'm just guessing, but for 99% of Christians I doubt that the Arminian/Calvin issue ever comes up, and for almost that many I doubt they even know there is a debate.

There are several points of disagreement, but foundational to all is the sovereignty of God. All fundamentalists believe that God is 100% sovereign, otherwise how can he be omnipotent (all powerful, and omniscient (all knowing.) The narrower question is the application of this to our lives, even to our salvation.

Calvinists believe famously in predestination. You may be more aware of this concept from the Presbyterian church where the debate sometimes is compacted into: "there is a bullet with your name on it. Nothing you can do." That trivializes the actual issue which is better stated thus: God does not love all people, only those he predestined to be saved. We are born completely depraved and with no good in us. But at some point in your life, if God has chosen you, He will regenerate you, and you will recognize your need for Jesus. It will not be up to you to choose Jesus. That would be a "work" on your part, therefore you could boast that you had a hand in your own salvation.

The Calvinists acknowledge that this seems to strike a death blow to the idea of Free Will in general, and specifically the issue of man's responsibility for his actions that can only arise out of his having free will. The Arminian (Southern Baptists and most other Baptists, Methodists, etc.) argues that if we don't have a free choice over the most important decision in our life, having free will on the rest is pretty meaningless. Thus, the Arminian says that God knows the beginning and the end, and therefore knows who will be saved, but that we must choose to accept the gift of salvation. (Modern Methodists commonly would think this choice can just be part of a running lifelong participation as opposed to a clear-eyed, come-to-Jesus moment.)
Thus, our Free Will is intact for this decision.

Most of my friends on both sides of this issue say that this distinction should never be a family divider, but it has been and will undoubtedly continue to be a congregation divider. I'd sure be interested to hear comments from the blogosphere.


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Anonymous said...

As a born-again believer, I hold most dear the fact that my God died for all & is not willing that any should perish. To teach "predestination" changes the very Character of God and the Blood Atonement.