The debate has raged for centuries. People have been persecuted, otracized, and even killed for taking one side or the other. To start, here is a brief overview of the two theological points of view. This is an excerpt from an article by Mary Fairchild for About.com. She outlines it well.
Calvinism & Arminianism Compared
Calvinism – God’s sovereignty is unconditional, unlimited, and absolute. All things are predetermined by the good pleasure of God’s will. God foreknew because of his own planning.
Arminianism – God has limited his control in correspondence with man’s freedom and response. God’s decrees are associated with his foreknowledge of man’s response.
Calvinism – Because of the Fall, man is totally depraved and dead in his sin. Man is unable to save himself and, therefore, God must initiate salvation.
Arminianism – Because of the Fall, man has inherited a corrupted, depraved nature. Through “prevenient grace,” God removed the guilt of Adam‘s sin. Prevenient grace is defined as the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit, given to all, enabling a person to respond to God’s call of salvation.
Calvinism – Before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally chose some to be saved. Election has nothing to do with man’s future response.
Arminianism – Election is based on God’s foreknowledge of those who would believe in him through faith. In other words, God elected those who would choose him of their own free will. Conditional election is based on man’s response.
Calvinism – Jesus Christ died to save only those who were given to him (elected) by the Father in eternity past. Since Christ did not die for everyone, but only for the elect, his atonement is wholly successful.
Arminianism – Christ died for everyone. The Savior’s atoning death provided the means of salvation for the entire human race. Christ’s atonement, however, is effective only for those who believe.
Calvinism – While God extends his common grace to all mankind, it is not sufficient to save anyone. Only God’s irresistible grace can draw the elect to salvation and make a person willing to respond. This grace cannot be obstructed or resisted.
Arminianism – Through the preparatory (prevenient) grace given to all by the Holy Spirit, man is able to cooperate with God and respond in faith to salvation. Through prevenient grace, God removed the effects of Adam‘s sin. Because of “free will” men are also able to resist God’s grace.
Calvinism – All men are totally depraved, and this depravity extends to the entire person, including the will. Except for God’s irresistible grace, men are entirely incapable of responding to God on their own.
Arminianism – Because prevenient grace is given to all men by the Holy Spirit, and this grace extends to the entire person, all people have free will.
Calvinism – Believers will persevere in salvation because God will see to it that none will be lost. Believers are secure in the faith because God will finish the work he began.
Arminianism – By the exercise of free will, believers can turn away or fall away from grace and lose their salvation.
“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.
Christian denominations disagree over which points are correct, rejecting all or some of either system of theology, leaving most believers with a mixed perspective. Because both Calvinism and Arminianism deal with concepts that go far beyond human comprehension, the debate is certain to continue as finite beings try to explain an infinitely mysterious God.” ~ Mary Fairchild
So where does this leave us? For me, I am a complete Arminian in that I affirm all of the Arminian points of view in the comparison above. So what? Who cares? What substantially does it change about anything that matters in this life? For example, when speaking with a Calvinist about the mission of the church we find many similarities. Several years ago I had a conversation with a wonderful gentlman who was attending our church. After attending for several months, the Calvinist/Arminian discussion came up. I was asked what our church believed. I started out by saying I didn’t think it really mattered and that Calvinists and Arminians should be able to worship side by side. Then I affirmed that I am indeed a lover of Free Grace as John Wesley so wonderfully put it. Yep, I’m an Arminian. The man then started to look very uncomfortable as he started to talk about why he’s a Calvinist. So I questioned him. I asked him what his view on the mission of the church is. He talked about how we are to bring hope to the world by preaching the good news, doing missions, loving the lost, serving the poor, and worshipping the eternal God. I said I agreed 100% with everything he said. He then told me how much he loved our church and especially loved our worship, but that he and his family were going to have to leave to find a new church home because we were not Calvinist. I was heartbroken to see a great family leave for such a reason. I have asserted over the years that there is no substantial difference in the mission of the Calvinist from that of the Arminian, nor do we love God any differently. Calvinists and Arminians both assert the same essential doctrines of things like the Trinity and the Great Commission. Yet we divide over something we can never fully understand. This deeply frustrates me.
I find such division completely unecessary and quite frankly I am concerned that at the heart of it is a “need to be right”. It seems somewhat Pharisaical to me. Why in the church can’t we find ways to see some things differently without the need to prove ourselves right or divide over things that don’t really make a substantial difference. Obviously we’re going to divide with groups that are decidedly non-Christian, but both Arminians and Calvinists ARE CHRISTIAN. They simply disagree about something that doesn’t change much about the way they live as believers. I prefer a different approach. I prefer the path of love. Perhaps this is why one my favorite Bible teachers in the whole world is a Calvinist. And one of my favorite commentators on the Bible…you guessed it, John Calvin.