Calvinism vs Arminianism: What Does the Bible Teach?

Does the Bible teach Calvinism or Arminianism? Here, we’ll argue that the Bible teaches the Calvinist position, and not the Arminian position. We’ll begin with some general principles, then we’ll cover the major differences between the two and list some Scripture references, and finally, we’ll answer some common objections against Calvinism. This is more of a summary video, so in other videos, we’ll cover more specifically the topics that are introduced in this video.

1. Why Use the Terms “Calvinism” and “Arminianism”?

First, let’s clarify that we use the terms Calvinism and Arminianism simply because these are terms that help encapsulate an entire set of beliefs about what the Bible teaches. These terms are simply helpful when we discuss these issues, and we don’t use them because we follow John Calvin or Jacob Arminius above the Bible.

2. Calvinism and Arminianism Cannot Both Be True, and the Answer Is Not a Mystery

Second, we’d argue that the Bible is consistent and clear in teaching Calvinist doctrines. We would argue against people who say that the Bible teaches both Calvinism and Arminianism, that it teaches neither Calvinism nor Arminianism, or that we can’t really know what the Bible really teaches about this topic.

Calvinism and Arminianism are contradictory and mutually exclusive because either salvation is dependent upon God alone, or it’s dependent upon a human free will decision to accept what God has done. These two options simply cannot both be true.

3. Calvinism vs Arminianism Is a Debate Worth Having

Third, we’d argue that the debate is worth having, even though it can be divisive, because it involves questions that are foundational to and at the center of Christianity, such as: How are we saved? How is God glorified through salvation?

4. 5 Points of Calvinism – Key Differences Between Calvinism and Arminianism

Fourth, here’s an overview of five key differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. The Five Articles of Remonstrance are five points that were raised in objection to Calvinism in 1610, and the Five Points of Calvinism are the five responses to the Five Articles of Remonstrance that were agreed upon at the Synod of Dordt in 1618 to 1619. The five points of Calvinism are commonly summarized with the acronym TULIP:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

Total Depravity

Total Depravity teaches that sin has corrupted humans in such a way that, in their natural state, they would never choose to have faith in or submit to Jesus. Humans only choose to have faith in and submit to Jesus when they are first regenerated, or made alive, by God. 

Arminianism teaches that all humans are able to choose to have faith in and submit to Jesus without first being regenerated by God. A common teaching is that God has provided a “prevenient grace” to all sinners through Jesus’ atoning work that enables them to choose to have faith in and submit to Jesus.

Some Bible passages that teach Total Depravity are:

  • Genesis 6:, Genesis 8:21
  • Jeremiah 17:9
  • John 3:3, John 8:34
  • Romans 3:10-12, Romans 8:7-8
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14

Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election teaches that God chooses whom He will regenerate, or save, apart from seeing or foreseeing anything good or bad in the sinner. In other words, God has chosen everyone whom He will save before He created the universe, from eternity, by His sovereign will alone. 

Arminianism teaches that salvation is not unconditional, but rather conditional upon whether the sinner freely chooses to have faith in Jesus.

Some passages that teach unconditional election are:

  • John 6:37-40, John 64-65
  • Romans 9:10-23
  • Ephesians 1:4-5, 11

And Limited Atonement

Limited Atonement teaches that Jesus died only for the sins of the elect, or the people whom God has chosen to save, and not for every single human being. 

Arminianism teaches that Jesus died for the sins of every single human being, and that humans need to accept what Jesus did for them. 

Let’s also note that Calvinism and Arminianism view the atonement as both “limited” and “unlimited” in some way.

  • With Calvinism, the atonement is “limited” in the sense that Jesus did not die for every human being, but it’s “unlimited” in the sense that it actually saves those for whom Jesus died by providing regeneration and faith for them.
  • With Arminianism, the atonement is “limited” In the sense that it doesn’t actually save people, since they need to freely choose to have faith to receive it, but it’s “unlimited” in the sense that it’s for every single human being.

Some passages that teach Limited Atonement are:

  • Isaiah 53:8, 11-12
  • Matthew 1:21 and 20:28
  • John 10:11, 15, 11:51-52, and 17:9
  • Ephesians 5:25
  • Hebrews 9:28
  • Revelation 5:9

Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace teaches that God will irresistibly draw the elect to have faith in Jesus through the gospel call. 

Arminianism teaches that people need to freely choose to accept the gospel, and that everyone can reject the gospel call. 

Some passages that teach Irresistible Grace are:

  • John 6:37, 44
  • Acts 16:14 and 13:48

Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints teaches that God will preserve the faith of the elect until they die, so that none of them will ever lose their salvation. People who turn away from God were not truly saved to begin with. 

Arminianism teaches that people can lose their salvation by turning away from God.

Some passages that teach Perseverance of the Saints are:

  • John 10:28
  • Philippians 1:6
  • 1 Peter 1:5
  • 1 John 2:19

5. Answers to Objections Against Calvinism

Fifth, let’s answer some common objections against Calvinism.

A. Command Implies Ability

Objection number one: The Bible commands people to believe, so that means we must have the ability to freely choose to believe.

However, it’s simply not true, logically speaking, that a command necessarily implies ability. It’s not unfair to requires faith from people who are unable to have faith, as long as they are in a state where they are actively choosing to not have faith. There is never a situation where someone genuinely wants to have faith, but is prevented by God from having faith.

The gospel is about our inability and God’s ability, and the biblical position is that all of us are so depraved that we would never choose to believe or obey God, and it’s only by God’s free and unconditional grace that He regenerates us, transforms us, so that we have a changed heart and now desire God instead of sin, desire faith, and desire to obey God.

B. It’s Unfair for God to Predestine People to Hell

Objection number two: It’s unfair for God to predestine people to go to hell.

The response to this is that this is not unfair for two reasons:

First, Romans 9 directly answers this objection by saying that since God is the potter and we are the clay, God has the sovereign right to do what He wants with His clay.

And second, it’s not unfair to sovereignly decide who will be saved and who will go to hell because everyone who goes to hell deserves to go to hell. Similar to the previous answer we gave, everyone who goes to hell has chosen to reject and disobey God. There is no situation where someone wants to believe and obey God, but could not be saved because God didn’t choose for Him to be saved. Everyone who repents and believes is part of God’s elect.

C. Calvinism Takes Away Motivation for Evangelism

Objection number three: Calvinism takes away motivation for evangelism, since God has already chosen everyone whom He will save.

The response to this is that Calvinism does not take away motivation for evangelism because the Bible teaches that it’s through evangelism and the preaching of the gospel that the elect repent, believe, and are saved. Since none of us know who the elect are, it’s our responsibility to obey God’s command to spread the gospel to all people and nations.

Also, Calvinism actually gives motivation for evangelism because it gives us confidence that when we spread the gospel, it’s God who works in the hearts of His elect to bring them to repentance, faith, and salvation. In other words, Calvinism teaches us that it’s God who saves sinners through the preaching of the gospel, and it’s not our persuasiveness or eloquence or personality that saves people.

D. Predestination Is Based on God’s Foreknowledge

Objection number four: Romans 8 and 1 Peter 1 say that predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge of what humans would choose.

The response to this is that the Bible nowhere defines God’s foreknowledge as a passive knowledge of future events. Rather, the Bible is consistent in teaching that God’s foreknowledge is basically the same as God fore-loving people. When God “knows,” or “foreknows,” a person, this knowledge isn’t a passive knowledge about the person, but rather an active love towards and relationship with the person.

E. Calvinism Means Humans Are Just Puppets or Robots

Objection number five: If Calvinism is true, then humans are just puppets or robots.

The response to this is that humans are in a completely different category than puppets and robots. Puppets and robots are inanimate objects that don’t make any real decisions. In contrast, humans make real and meaningful decisions that have real consequences. That God is sovereign over and completely in control of human decisions does not mean human decisions are not real or meaningful. In the same way that humans are in a completely different category than puppets and robots, God is in a completely different category than puppet masters because He is infinitely more creative and powerful, and God’s relationship with humans is completely different from a puppet master’s relationship with a puppet.

F. God Is More Glorified When Humans Freely Choose Him

Objection number six: God is more glorified when humans choose Him out of their own free will.

The response is that that’s just a subjective opinion, and it’s just as plausible, and indeed more true because the Bible teaches this, that God is more glorified when He is the only one who saves sinners.

G. Calvinism Means that God Is the Author of Sin

Objection number seven: Calvinism means that God is the author of sin.

Here’s the answer: The Bible teaches that God is completely sovereign over creation, which means that even sin is under God’s sovereign control. At the same time, God is not guilty of sin because He is not the one who is actually committing the sin. Sinful humans are the ones who commit sin and are guilty of sin, not God, in the same way that an author is not the one who commits the evil actions of characters in a book.

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