It’s Hard to Teach Calvinism to Arminians

My “Intro to Calvinism” class is off to a pretty good start. There are 9 students (counting my wife, but not our baby!). At least 5 of them are Arminians, so we get some good discussions. One of them is also a lawyer so we’ll see how that goes. :-)

I’m not sticking with “TULIP” exactly. I started with a discussion of why theology is important, what it means to “do theology”, and why Calvinism is a particularly important set of doctrines.

The order of topics I’m covering is:
1. The Sovereignty of God in a general sense.
2. Total Depravity
3. The Holiness of God
4. Regeneration
5. Unconditional Election
6. Limited Atonement / Particular Redemption (I am barely hitting this at all)
7. Irresistible Grace
8. Perseverance of the Saints

Our discussion on the Sovereignty of God is more accurately Providence, but the conversations have focused on spiritual issues. Is God responsible for sin? Is it fair for God to punish us for sin that He ordained? Do we make real spiritual choices? Why bother praying?

I am not taking Paul’s approach in Romans 9:20 in answering these questions, because these seem to be very real questions. It speaks highly of the people taking this class that they would come listen to me teach Calvinism when they don’t believe it. I’ve been very encouraged by that.

Calvinism is more specifically concerned with the sovereignty of God _in salvation_ rather than _in general_, but it’s important to understand that God does freely rule over His creation.

One of the biggest points I’m trying to make is that you cannot separate God’s sovereignty from the rest of His character and His purposes. It was His sovereignty that sent His Son to the cross, and it is His sovereignty that redeemed me. But His sovereignty also passes over others. He loved Jacob, but hated Esau. This isn’t Saddam Hussein we’re talking about – it is the God who died for us. This doesn’t _minimize_ His sovereingty or even really soften it, but it helps us remember just Who is sovereign.

I’ve spent two full 45 minute classes talking about this, and will have to wrap it up and move on quickly in next Sunday’s class. Hopefully by the end everything will start to “click”. After class last Sunday, one of the guys said that I was “very brave for being willing to teach this”.

When I teach on Total Depravity, I hope it will be logically clear that man _cannot_ come to God unless God regenerates him, and after God regenerates a man, that man will absolutely come to God. If you accept Total Depravity, the rest flows logically.

I do not think the elders of our church will take a strong position for Limited Atonement, so I am not going to teach much about it. Five minutes ought to cover it. Briefly, as I understand it, it speaks to the _intent_ and not the _extent_ of Christ’s suffering and death. It’s not as though God summed up all the punishment that the elect deserved, did some math, and decided how long Jesus had to suffer. God wasn’t running a stopwatch in Heaven while Jesus hung on the cross. If the number of elect was 1/10th or 10X what it is, Christ wouldn’t have suffered more or less. It’s not that there simply isn’t enough grace to cover any more sinners. Instead, Jesus was _actually_ providing for the salvation of the elect. That was His purpose – to save His sheep. (I wouldn’t bother teaching on this at all, except that I’ve gotten some questions about it already.)

We’ll see how it goes. I think I’d have more students, except that someone else is teaching a class on “Science and the Bible” which is mostly on Creationism I think. It’s very popular and has pulled most of the people. I might do this class again; I bet there are people who would take it but are in the Creationism class.

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20 Responses to It’s Hard to Teach Calvinism to Arminians

  1. ilona says:

    I think the idea of depravity of man is true, I think that God does indeed orchestrate circumstances in a man’s life to help him come to salvation, and the idea that man will absolutely come? that is to the degree that God’s Grace gives sight to one of His Person. With God “to know Him is to love Him” is my view.

    But I think there are things that your simple line does not account for, and these things are what give prayer its importance, and responses and will their importance.

    Otherwise you end up with a fatalistic view- one that is not in tune with the full scriptural inofrmation.

  2. rebecca says:

    Sounds to me like your taking a good approach in your teaching, and that you’ve got good students as well.

    And I do agree with you about limited atonement. Limited intent, infinite merit–not mathmatical–which makes it a lot more nuanced of a position that most people represent it as.

  3. MegLogan says:

    *insert appropriately sad, confused, misunderstanding sigh here*

    Ok Ok, I see you are a Calvinsit. But I just dont get it. Why do we (the church) split hairs over this? When I look into both sides I see that they are both scripturally supported. You use the scripture about Jacob and Esau to say that God chooses, but what about the scripture that says “I wish that none should perish”? (for the life of me i cant find where this scripture is, or exactly what it says, if you know i would be happy to be corrected)

    I am so puzzled by this whole arguement between Aminians and Calvinists… I just dont see why it is so important to salvation… if it is so important how could a child be saved? how could we have faith as a child, and why didnt God just make it totally clear?

    Well anway, I hope you post more lessons, so i can get a better grasp on Calvinism. Especially scripturally supported positions.

    I rather to think that it is not so vital to our salvation to know how it works, but that we can be assured of our salvation by the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, evidence of our connection to the Vine. Im sure you have another opinion… help me to understand.


  4. Robert says:

    Sorry it took me a little bit to respond… busy with a deployment at work.

    I think the best approach to answering Ilona’s and Meg’s comments will be to post here what I’ve been teaching.

    Meg, the verse you are looking for is 2 Peter 3:9. I believe God does want everyone to repent and be saved. You and I would probably agree that God absolutely could save everyone if He chose to. And we would probably agree that not everyone will be saved. So, Calvinist or Arminian, we have to ask “Why doesn’t God save everyone, since that is His desire?”

  5. MegLogan says:

    because, people choose not to accept His salvation… what is your answer?

  6. Chris P. says:

    Don’t mean to just barge in, but this is a good discussion.
    I have one question for Meg, and I am not trying to be contentious, but in light of the Scripture that Robert quoted from 2 Peter, and your reply to that; how does Romans 9:6-24 fit in?
    For Ilona; why is prayer important? What is prayer actually for?

    Good post Robert! May your teaching ministry be extremely fruitful.

  7. MegLogan says:

    To be honest, Chris… I really havent taken sides. I just dont think it is necessary to choose one over the other. I try to follow Gods commands regarding going into the earth and making disciples, and winning people to the Lord. I do not think that Calvinism and Arminianism ought to be a dividing line in the Body. I was asking these questions of Robert to see what his point of view is.

    I generally think that this is one of those mysterious things which we cannot comprehend. It is both, true that the Lord wishes none should persish, and that He will harden the hearts of whom He chooses, and have mercy on whom He chooses. It is infathomable to me to understand how these two things can be congruent, and not contradictory in nature. But because I trust one> that God is sovereign, and two> that He is all powerful, and three> that He is perfect beyond measure, then I can trust that He is always doing the right thing, whether I understand it, or not, whether it appears to be good or not… my perception is unimportant, His divinity, Perfection, All Consuming nature… GOD, GOD is important, and He can handle all these things, whether we understand or not.

    THerefore, I do not feel that we need to choose sides or divide the Body over such issues. This issue really has no bearing upon a saving faith, other than to say that it is in His control. And therefore we ought to just trust that without having to explain it or undertand it.


  8. Dan Paden says:

    Enjoy teaching your class. I think you are correct; there are many currently in the creationism class that will also be interested in Calvinism. Creationism is an extremely hot topic right now and will continue to be. It is foundational to how people look at the Scriptures, so to me, the fact that the creationism class is full should be very encouraging. It says that there are a lot of people in your church that take the Scriptures seriously.

  9. Chris P. says:


    I did not ask the question to create a divide or to force people to “choose sides” as far as Calvin or Arminius. Moses and Joshua put forth th real proposition.
    Your thoughtful response is a witness to me that you are a discerner of the Word. You said He is sovereign, all powerful, and perfect and that is exactly what Paul is saying in Romans 9
    God can choose to do whatever He desires to do and we have nothing to say in the matter. The question always is;what is it that He is doing? The labels of Calvinist vs.arminianist are just a way of saying
    God’s sovereign, perfect, acceptable, and holy will (Romans 12:2) vs our finite and rebellious will. Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword. It is the Word that divides whenever we hear and use it properly. Christ is the divide and the bridge. The Word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart
    God Bless you Sister.

    Exodus 30:11-20; Joshua 24:14-15;Matt 10:34-38; Roamans 10:5-13; Eph 6:17;Hebrews 4:12-13;Rev 1:16 and Rev. 19:15

  10. MegLogan says:

    Chris, Are you saying that Calvinists are on the side of “perfect, soveriegn, acceptable, and holy wioll,” while Arminianists are on the side of “our finite and rebellious will”? Could you explain a bit more along these lines? I have not gotten to your scripture references just yet, but I will.

    And thank you for your words of encouragement.


  11. Chris P. says:

    First of all, you’re welcome.
    I was just trying to articulate what I see the real isssue to be. I am not saying Calvinism is the right way and Arminianism isn’t. Truth be told, I am not what is classicly defined as a calvinist; never even belonged to a reformed fellowship. I do have great respect for their adherence to Scripture and the exaltation of God as sovereign. In fact I see that most of the problems in the arminian/calvinist debates stem from the fact that the Church has lost sight of God as totally sovereign in every way. I am a student and lover of the Word of God, and as such I am always seeking the truth of what He is saying through His Word.
    Peacer and Grace to you!

  12. rev-ed says:

    Here is my two cents. Since God is sovereign (I think we all agree on that), and God does as He chooses in accordance with His nature (again, I think we all agree here), then why couldn’t God choose to allow us the choice. In other words, what would prevent God from allowing resistable grace?

    In my view, God is so sovereign that His sovereignty is not compromised by allowing us free will to choose or reject Him. If we continue to reject Him, God may well harden our hearts toward Him, a la Pharaoh. But we would have certainly had the opportunity to accept salvation prior to that time.

    Like Meg, I don’t think this is an issue to divide over, as I think it’s one of those things we can’t fully comprehend in our humanity.

  13. ambiance says:

    Sometimes it is hard to teach Calvinism to Calvins.

  14. MegLogan says:

    Thank you Rev-Ed.

    Ambiance… what a strange statement, care to explicate?


  15. Sal says:

    This is a great post.

    I wish I could take your class. I came out of the Catholic traditions four years ago to a non-denom church. I think we lean armenian, but do not really teach “we’re armenians.” I really didn’t understand there was such a dramatic difference between the Protestants for a few years. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been trying to understand more of Calvinism and the “whys” – not because I really question where I am at, but just to be able to be like Paul – all things to all when I’m in the midst of other Christians.

    So, thanks for this post. I hope to hear more about your class.


  16. Robert says:

    I do not think that Calvinism and Arminianism ought to be a dividing line in the Body.

    Maybe and maybe not – but I’ve only ever heard Arminians say this.

    Calvinism speaks to the very nature of the gospel. It speaks to our need for salvation, God’s purposes in salvation, the extent of God’s work in salvation, what Jesus actually did on the cross, and the certainty of our future salvation. If _that_ doesn’t matter, what does?

    why couldn?t God choose to allow us the choice

    Could He? Maybe. The question is, _does_ He? And the Bible unambiguously answers this question.

    it?s one of those things we can?t fully comprehend in our humanity.

    You are correct that we can’t fully comprehend God’s sovereignty. No Calvinist would dispute that. Luther tacitly acknowledge it in his Bondage of the Will.

    But you are incorrect if you are suggesting that we can’t understand what the Bible teaches here. We can know what God has said without understanding everything there is to know.

  17. rev-ed says:

    But you are incorrect if you are suggesting that we can?t understand what the Bible teaches here. We can know what God has said without understanding everything there is to know.

    And yet each of our positions can be supported by Scripture. . .

  18. Robert says:

    And yet each of our positions can be supported by Scripture. . .

    I don’t know of too many positions on anything that are without some kind of scriptural support. But I think if we look at the whole of Scripture, it supports the Calvinist position.

  19. ilona says:

    sorry so slow to return….
    There is no question that God is Sovereign, in all that that means. It is God’s sovereignty that gives the strong boundaries to man’s free moral agency. We are truly free to choose.
    I think that is the same reason that prayer has such importance, we are truly free to enter into God’s Will being done, to beseech on behalf of contrary men, and to ask for more grace for all of us. It is a real exchange between God and man.
    I believe this too is part of the plan where God withholds judgement to a certain place and time under the person of Christ. His Will will be done, but we have time to respond to our place in that.

    I think what is hard for people, those who subscribe to Calvinism, as well, is that God will not abrogate the freedom He has given man. He will not use anything that forces man into a position, and man with even the smallest response is given grace to go forward, because God isn’t willing for, nor takes any pleasure in the death or destruction of His creation.
    I think that the fact that man is made in the image of God explains the desire within man to respond to God… I don’t think there is any big convolution of God giving grace to some and not to others and some seeming to be part and not being part of the body of Christ. As long as we breathe on the earth we can go forward or backward and make our choice concerning our relationship to God.

    This is what makes it a living thing. It is not static…there is no fatalism. The place where life can no longer spring- God knows where that place is, and that is where we have fear of God… fear to ever come to the place where His grace cannot reach.

    I’m probably getting into some other topic on that, tho’

  20. Marcy says:

    Sorry to bring this up from the past… but I noticed that you haven’t yet given the Calvinist answer to this question:

    “So, Calvinist or Arminian, we have to ask ?Why doesn?t God save everyone, since that is His desire??
    Posted by Robert at April 20, 2005 12:20 PM

    because, people choose not to accept His salvation? what is your answer?
    Posted by MegLogan at April 20, 2005 02:34 PM

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