Calvinism is the formal name of the theological tradition espousing what is embodied in the acronym TULIP.
- Total Depravity (with Irresistible or Efficacious Grace)
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints (Once Saved, Always Saved)
Arminianism is the formal name of the theological tradition espousing essentially the opposite of what Calvinism teaches.
- Total Depravity (with Prevenient Grace)
- Conditional Election
- Unlimited Atonement
- Resistible Grace
- Conditional Perseverance of the Saints (Conditional Eternal Security)
It is important to note that there are variations such as four-point Calvinists (reject Limited Atonement) and four-point Arminians (reject Conditional Perseverance of the Saints).
Love demands free will
I believe that God is love so I lean towards Arminianism. 1 John 4:16 is profound.
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, NASB)
I briefly digress, but the question of whether or not darkness exists independently can shed light on the nature of love. Darkness does not exist independently, it is a concept that can only be understood as the absence of light. Similarly, evil is a concept that can only be understood as the absence of a God whose character defines goodness. In Mark 10:17 a rich man comes running to Jesus to ask the ‘Good Master’ what could be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus wisely responds, in verse 18, by flipping the question and asking the rich man why he called Him good when no one is good except God alone. So if God’s character defines goodness, anything apart from Him is evil
Going back the notion that God is love, I would argue that love demands free will. Most people would agree that a computer program designed to express love to its programmer would not be expressing genuine love. This is because genuine love requires the ability to freely choose whether or not to reciprocate an expression of love. God has to grant humans free will if He wants us to genuinely love His goodness. As a result of this free will, we have the ability to reject God’s goodness. Thus, we are left with so much evil and suffering in the world. The Arminian stance on salvation emphasizes free will and therefore gives a sense of ultimate purpose to the existence of evil and suffering. On the other hand, the Calvinist stance on salvation throws out free will.
God’s will has two primary components that need to be understood. There is the decretive will of God which means His decrees come to pass by way of His sovereignty. However, at the same time, there is also the prescriptive will of God which means God prescribes things for us and we have the free-will to go along or reject His prescribed will. Many Calvinists, unfortunately, conflate the decretive will of God with the prescriptive will of God and come to the conclusion that God determines everything and that humans do not influence what ultimately occurs. If we as humans are not in control of our actions, it does not make sense for God to punish us eternally because He would be responsible for our actions.
Predestination by foreknowledge
Romans 8:29 is a verse that Calvinists love. But I think they gloss over or misunderstand the nature/role of foreknowledge. It does not say God foreknew in the sense of an intimate relationship and that He predestined those which He arbitrarily is intimate with. Rather, the plain meaning of the verse is that it was by God’s foreknowledge (not of the future reality - as in simple foreknowledge, but of counterfactuals - as in Molinism) that predestination occurred (not directly of an action - as in simple foreknowledge, but of the world in which an action would take place - as in Molinism).
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:29, NASB)
We can see a glimpse of how God’s foreknowledge works in the passages where Pharaoh himself hardens his own heart multiple times, then God in-response hardens Pharaoh’s heart.
But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. (Exodus 8:15, NASB)
And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. (Exodus 9:12, NASB)
In dealing with these allegations, three distinct declarations are made with regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. First, the text states that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8), and the hearts of the Egyptians (14:17). Second, it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15,32; 9:34), that he refused to humble himself (10:3), and that he was stubborn (13:15). Third, the text uses the passive form to indicate that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without giving any indication as to the source (7:13,14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35).
Excerpted from apologeticspress.org (Link)
Pharaoh made up his own mind to resist God’s demands. Of his own accord, he stubbornly refused to comply. Of course, God provided the occasion for Pharaoh to demonstrate his unyielding attitude. If God had not sent Moses, Pharaoh would not have been faced with the dilemma of whether to release the Israelites. So God was certainly the instigator and initiator. But He was not the author of Pharaoh’s defiance.
Excerpted from apologeticspress.org (Link)
Yet, the example of Pharaoh is brought up in Romans 9:17-18 with wording that seems to indicate that God alone chooses whom He has mercy upon and whom He hardens. In Romans 9:19, the Apostle Paul even includes a rhetorical question about why God finds fault with those He hardens, and whether anyone can resist His will. In Romans 9:20, the Apostle Paul basically says who are we to talk back to the potter. Therefore, it seems that God sovereignly chose a world in which Pharaoh would harden his own heart using his free will and God would as a result harden Pharoah's heart.
Vessel unto honour, vessel unto dishonour
Proponents of Calvinism like to bring up verses such as Romans 9:21 where it talks about God’s right to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour to make their point. However, it is improper Biblical hermeneutics to take one verse out of context and then read an interpretation into the verse. All scripture is God-breathed and makes sense when Scripture is used to interpret Scripture.
Interestingly, we see that Romans 9:13 quotes from Malachi 1:1-5 to say that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. God did not hate Esau and all of his descendants in the modern sense of the word ‘hate.’ Biblical scholars generally understand that it was an idiom used to express God’s preference for Jacob’s nation over Esau’s nation. This becomes increasingly clear when we look at Luke 14:26 where Jesus uses the same idiom to say that anyone who wants to be His disciple must hate even his father and mother. Jesus certainly was not commanding ‘hate’ against fathers and mothers in the sense of intense dislike or disgust. What He was saying is that following Him requires a special sense of affection for Him over everything else in this world.
So to return to Romans 9:21 with the context in mind, God is saying that the potter can sovereignly choose to use one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use. God is not saying that the potter arbitrarily consigns some to eternal security and others to eternal punishment.
When cross-referencing the verse with 2 Timothy 2:20-21, we see that those who keep themselves pure will be used as a vessel unto honour. It is within our free will to determine whether we are a vessel unto honour.
Importantly, when reading Romans 9:22 about God showing His wrath to the vessels fitted for destruction, it is not God who has arbitrarily fitted them to destruction. Rather, the vessels have made themselves fit for destruction. Therefore, based on His foreknowledge, he has predestined some for destruction and, as Romans 9:23 says, some for glory.
Corporate election and individual election
Another perspective on Romans 9 is the concept of corporate election. This is evident in Romans 9:24 where God is not calling out individuals to honour or dishonour, but rather God is calling out groups. With election being Christo-centric and corporate, individuals can use their free will to identify themselves as being in-Christ and reap the corporate reward. An interesting example I've come across is a last will. Just like a last will can be given to a group of people like grandchildren, and then grandchildren can freely choose to identify themselves with the group.
However, I am not so sure that the concept of corporate election alone can satisfactorily answer the passages where individual election can be seen. For example, going back to the example of Jacob and Esau, it is said in Romans 9:11 that God elected the elder to serve the younger before they were born or had done any good or evil. Furthermore, Acts 4:24-28 seems to indicate individuals like Herod and Pontius Pilate crucified Christ according to the plan of God. Acts 13:48 makes it clear some are appointed to eternal life, and the counterargument that they were simply disposed to eternal life is not satisfying. Acts 2:23 evens says the crucifixion occurred according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. An article by Dr. William Lane Craig has numerous of these arguments (Link).
In the article, Dr. William Lane Craig promotes Molinism which is an interesting model with regard to divine sovereignty and human freedom. Essentially, it argues that God has middle knowledge or knowledge of counterfactuals. Counterfactuals are evident in reality, and God's knowledge of counterfactuals is evident in Scripture. Therefore, God could have with full sovereignty chosen a specific world in which people use their libertarian free will a certain way. Molinism is generally interlinked with Arminianism because it involves resistible grace by virtue of libertarian free will. However, some Calvinists adopt Molinism, with libertarian free will, through Congruism. And some Calvinists even propose compatibilist Molinism. I am not a compatibilist because voluntary action or a 'free agent' is not genuine free will if it is coerced or determined by an external cause.
Here is an interesting quote that highlights the problem with the simple foreknowledge view that many Arminians hold to.
it is not clear that simple foreknowledge -- foreknowledge that is not based on middle knowledge (see below) -- could be of any aid to God in providentially ordering His creation. If God knows what will actually happen, He cannot also use this information to arrange for something else to happen, for then the contents of what He “knows” would not comprise knowledge. Foreknowledge is of the actual occurrence of future events; once the occurrence of these events is known, it is “too late” to prevent them (or to bring them about). Doing so is incompatible with their occurrence being infallibly known by God.
Excerpted from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Link)
Here is an interesting summary of the Molinist view.
The most plausible view of how human libertarian freedom might be compatible with a traditional view of providence, and thus the greatest competitor to Open Theism, is a view called “Molinism,” named after a sixteenth century Jesuit theologian, Luis de Molina. Molina predicated “middle knowledge” to God and explained God’s providential determination of what will occur in terms of this knowledge. Middle knowledge is knowledge that lies between (in an explanatory sense, not a temporal sense) God’s “natural” knowledge of all the possible ways the world might go and His “free” knowledge of the one way the world will go based upon His creative decree. Natural knowledge is pre-volitional knowledge of necessary truths, including all the possibilities for creation. Free knowledge is post-volitional knowledge of contingent truths, including all future contingent truths. And middle knowledge is pre-volitional knowledge of contingent subjunctive conditional truths of the form: if such and such were the case, then so and so would be the case. God’s middle knowledge includes all the facts about how the world would go given various antecedent conditions. These facts, because they are known before God wills anything, are outside of His control.
Excerpted from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Link)
Conditionality of election + eternal security
UNLIMITED ATONEMENT FOR THOSE TOTALLY DEPRAVED THROUGH RESISTIBLE PREVENIENT GRACE
Those who support Calvinism also like to bring up John 10:28-29 where Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The verse clearly states that no one can be snatched out of the Father’s hand, and Arminians would agree. However, by our willful choices, we can choose to leave the protection of our Father’s hand. This is why in Revelation 22:19 it mentions that God can take away a person’s share in the tree of life. Furthermore, in Revelation 3:5, we see that the names of the overcomers will not be blotted out or erased from the book of life. This implies that names can be blotted out or erased from the book of life, which is in stark contrast to the ‘once saved, always saved’ position of Calvinists.
and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:19, NASB)
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:5, NASB)
Many people in the New Testament such as Judas or Ananias and Sapphira had a close relationship with God but made untimely decisions to abandon the truth. The Bible speaks of God as the potter in Isaiah 64:8. The potter’s field was a place where clay was obtained to make pottery. Afterwards, it was often used as a burial ground. In one sense, Jesus rescued Judas from the potter’s field or the grave to mould him and shape him. However, Judas refused to yield to the potter’s hand and left the potter’s hand by betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. As we see in Matthew 27:7, the thirty pieces of silver was used by the council to buy the potter’s field to bury strangers in. And from Acts 1:18, we know that Judas ultimately committed suicide in this field. 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 tell us that it is God’s desire for all to come to repentance, not just a few as Calvinists claim. Jesus died for everyone including those like Judas, but we can reject God’s love even after God rescues us from the grave like He rescued Judas. Going back to 1 John 4:16, we need to abide in the love of God. Our salvation is not of works but of the grace of God.
who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4, NASB)
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, NASB)