For many years I was curious as to why a person reared as a conservative Calvinist, would become a theological Arminian.
For those who are not familiar with those terms, a Calvinist is a Christian influenced by the teaching of the French religious theologian, John Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564), one of the leaders of the Reformation. An Arminian embraces the religious biases of the Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius (Oct. 10, 1560 – Oct. 19, 1609). Notice that Calvin and Arminius were not contemporary adversaries for Jacobus was four years old when Calvin died. Nevertheless, in his maturity, Jacobus Arminian brought much controversy to Christendom.
Whereas Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God in salvation based upon predestination and election, Arminius emphasized the love of God for everyone, and exalted man’s free will to be the ultimate determiner of salvation.
A lifelong friendship with a man who was reared in a strong Calvinist family, has helped me to understand why a Calvinist might want to become an Arminian. His own journey in grace is a compelling story, though not unique.
If I understand his narrative correctly, part of the reason for his theological transformation, from Calvinism to Arminianism, was based on his childhood image of God. As a young person my friend came to see God as being distant, mean, stern, unkind, and unloving. The Most Holy One was a God of judgment and wrath. He created souls to be damned, for His own good pleasure. God was a monster.
I can understand how a young child can come to hate and rebel against a perceived Divine Tyrant, and how a mature person of age would utterly reject Him. No one wants to try to love and serve a God that induces nothing but fear and dread in the hearts of His creation. Such a God can never be pleased. A person can never know with certainty, if they are one of His elect.
Being baptized as an infant, and being told he was a child of covenant promise, could not, and did not overcome my friend’s psychological trauma, inner uncertainty of being among the elect, or his dreadful fear of God.
One day, my friend heard the teaching of a dogmatic pastor, that, like Jacob Arminius, exalted the will of man. The pastor made free will the ultimate arbitrator of salvation. In addition, the minister asserted, with academic certainty, that God loved everyone, without exception.
Such a message can be a powerful theological aphrodisiac to someone looking to be wanted and valued. It can take a person to new heights of spiritual ecstasy. There is a sense of freedom, and being loved.
The idea that man, not God, determines one’s ultimate eternal destiny appeals to many people who have the will to power. People like the idea of being the captain of their souls, the master of their fate.
The idea that God loves individuals no matter how depraved and corrupt they are can bring forth emotions of relief and gratitude. The God of love, can replace the God of wrath. The free choice of man, can replace a robotic predestined future.
My friend wrote his autobiography to help other people move from Calvinism to Arminianism, and to replace the idea of predestination with the idea of the freedom of the will which has the power of choice.
Many Arminians believe that a person’s free will is so powerful that man chooses his own ultimate destiny. The sovereignty of God is arrested, and substituted with man’s sovereign choice in an hour of decision.
Why is free will exalted? Because only if man has an independent will is love free to flow, according to the Arminian. Man must be able to love God of his own free will.
Ironically, classical Arminians and Calvinists agree on far more than they disagree. For an introduction to this proposition, see “Arminius and Calvin: Partners in Reform,” by Christopher Talbot.
Still, there are different emphasis, so that the conclusion is this. Arminians want to love God freely, and they do, but they tend to forget that God first freely loved them. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Arminians want to choose God of their own free will, and they do, from a human perspective. But they tend to forget that, from a divine perspective, Jesus first chose them, and freed their will which was in bondage to sin so that they could rightly choose God.
Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16).
Jesus sets the captivity free in body and soul. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). If the Son makes a person free, they are free indeed (John 8:36).
If the Son does not make a person free, then an individual will be left in bondage to their sin, and will use their will to freely choose to hate Jesus, and reject the way of salvation.
No unbeliever is coerced to sin. Each person, by nature and by choice, is willfully enslaved to their own lusts. People sin voluntarily. Therefore, God is under no obligation to save anyone. That God saves some is a testimony to His sovereign grace. It is also a great mystery of Divine love, grace, and mercy.
In like manner no unbeliever is every coerced into believing, or being saved against their will. The Biblical teaching is that God knows how to change a person’s will in the day of salvation (Psalm 110:3).
“God does not compel us to go, oh, no!
He never compels us to go.
God does not compel us to go against our will,
But He just makes us willing to go.
While Nicodemus, the Pharisee, sought the Lord before salvation, his regeneration, or rebirth, was of God. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5). We must experience a new birth – and a birth is not something a child chooses.
Arminians want to chart their own destiny. They believe they must have an absolute free will to do so, conditioned on no one and nothing but their own decision. Many Arminians emotionally hate the doctrine of predestination. They read Ephesians 1:5 and Romans 8:29-30 and conclude that while God planned the purpose for human beings in the beginning, to become His sons and daughters, He does not know what each of us will do (United Church of God).
To those who hold this view there is only this response: “Your God is too small.” The God of revelation has declared that He does know what each of us will do, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). It pleases God to “proorizo” [pro-or-id’-zo], predetermine those who shall be the heirs of salvation.
A Calvinist would concede that many Arminians have good hearts, but they also have some very bad theology. They imagine God to be one way, and will not see Him as He reveals Himself, the Sovereign Lord and Master of the Universe that rules and reigns, not just over creation, but the hearts of men. He also loves to the point that He gave His only begotten Son to die for sinners.
Dottie Rambo’s older brother, Eddy, was not a Christian. He had lived a very wicked life, and knew it. When he was dying of cancer, Dottie tried to speak to him about salvation, but Eddy replied, “I am too big a sinner for God to ever save.” But God worked a work of grace in Eddy’s heart and he came to faith in Jesus. In her joy, Dottie wrote about God’s great love for sinners. She wrote of how Jesus left the splendor of heaven, knowing His destiny. Was the lonely hill of Golgotha-there to lay down his life for me.
“If that isn’t love, the ocean is dry,
There are no stars in the sky, and sparrows can’t fly!
If that isn’t love, then heaven’s a myth,
There’s no feeling like this, if that isn’t love.”
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turns it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1).
To all who love Jesus, give God the glory for what He has produced in your heart by way of the new birth, freedom! Salvation is of the Lord for there are none that seek God apart from a Divine initiative. On one point, Calvinist and Arminians should agree. God’s free grace and free love is superior to the free will of the natural man, who will only use his will to enslave himself to sin.
If there is a final word of exhortation for all people, it is this. Let the Bible shape your view of God, not men. It can save a lifetime of sorrow.
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.”