Several recent articles in the blogosphere have relit the controversial debates surrounding Calvinism vs Arminianism. And as we all know this discussion has been a centuries old one which has led to many different factions in the Protestant Church.
What gave rise this time, was Dr. Olson’s call late September for all of us to admit our Theologies are flawed. Which led to some animated discussions and Dr. Olson’s further explanations in several posts (1,2) as to what he, as an Arminian, perceives to be the challenge with Calvinist theology. But for all clarity, he also admitted the flaws he can see in the Arminian approach:
Let me step out and dare to name a problem with Arminian theology and then challenge a committed Calvinist to do the same. One thing I wrestle with about Arminianism is the mystery of free will. I don’t know how it works. There does seem to be an element of uncaused effect in it. (I don’t think that’s a contradiction, but it is a mystery.) And I’m not sure how God foreknows with absolute certainty libertarianly free decisions that haven’t been made yet. That does seem to be a mystery and therefore a problem insofar as I would very much like to have an answer for it but don’t. These elements of classical Arminianism cause me some cognitive dissonance
Note how he puts it forth as a dare. Michael Patton, of Reclaiming the Mind ministries and for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, took Dr. Olson up on the dare and admitted that:
As a Calvinist, I find it very difficult to understand why God did not choose everyone. All explainations that are given in my camp are terrible. I am not saying that they are necessarily wrong (I don’t know), but they are completely unsatisfying. There is simply no problem with unconditional election of all people. The problem is when God, who loves all people, only elects some.
And just as Dr Olson continued to explain his further challenges with Calvinism, Michael explained his challenges with Arminianism.
So far, the background. And why does it matter ? Why do we care ?
It is sometimes (often times ?) much easier for us, who are not theologians by trade, to respond with “Why can’t we all just love Jesus ? We don’t need any of this and it doesn’t matter”. Granted, it does not matter for salvation. It is not what we would call a “Sine qua non” or core doctrine of the Christian faith. We have a hard enough time understanding those.
So why does it matter ? Why do I think it’s important to understand the differences without necessarily having to claim one of the camps as your own ?
It matters twofold:
1) It will define what your understanding and perception of God is.
2) It helps being a better disciple
1) It will define your understanding of God, sin, heaven and hell,
Do you have what is called a “High view” of God ? Is God fully in control and omnipotent ? Is He above and beyond all space and time ? Is He above all understanding ?
Or do you have a high view of Man ? Is man freely able to choose God without His willing ?
Your understanding and interpretations of Arminianism or Calvinism will ultimately influence your view of God. If one believes man is freely able to choose God or reject salvation, how then does this in your opinion mesh with God’s omnipotence ? What do you do with that ? How do you defend that ? Further down the logical path, it will influence your opinion on original sin. If we are all sinners, beyond the ability to do good, how can we pick something good without God’s will ?
On the other hand, if you believe in strong 5-point Calvinism, how do you rhyme a loving, caring God with the fact that He ultimately is condemning people to eternal suffering without their free choice ? Or again further down, it will influence your understanding of heaven and hell. Something along the lines of “If people can’t choose, and God is loving, maybe hell doesn’t exist after all ?”
You see that this ultimately in both cases will lead to an understanding one way or the other of what the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross really meant. Which sins ? What’s the result for those that are saved vs. not.
2) It helps being a better disciple
Working through these , admittedly difficult, questions, ultimately has helped me to be a better disciple and witness out there. Here are some examples:
As an IT professional, I do work with a lot of developer from India. One of them, who has been here quite a while, finally asked whether I could explain the many different Christian denominations to him. It seemed to him that Christianity was almost a faith with many, many gods since there were so many different denominations. He was wondering why we had Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc, etc.. Ultimately most of these different factions were born out of their different interpretations of what we just talked about. And some more (Lord’s supper, baptism, etc.). After explaining this to him, it obviously led to the question what I believed. Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers, but at least I was able to talk and reason through things.
Understanding theology and our differences, via programs such as the Theology Program (you’re welcome for the plug CMP ;-)) , allowed me to better articulate and defend Christianity. And even though we don’t have all the answers, we know at least the core doctrinal beliefs of our faith.
I hope this can invite you to study more. Get a better understanding of the different theological ideas within our faith and perhaps ultimately be better ableto serve and glorify Him.