What’s the difference, 
in a nutshell?

Calvinism is about discovering that one is “of the elect,” and then aggressively promoting the idea to other Christians. When asked whether, at any time, they were in any real danger of Hell, Calvinists smile and point to the Calvinist doctrine of eternal, Unconditional Election. On the other hand, Arminianism is a redemption-story, for people who really were in danger of Hell, and that a conscious decision on their part, to accept Gods free offer of the Gospel, literally changed the course of their eternal destination. To a Calvinist, though, this would amount to “Decisionalism” and thus is rejected. However, Arminians contend that such an offer is fundamental to the nature of the Gospel itself, in terms of having a choice, and making a choice. To a Calvinist, though, the choice is made by God alone, whether to give someone (who happens to be “of the elect”) an Irresistible Grace, in order to make a positive choice for God, or to deny one from having any portion in the Savior’s atonement at Calvary. To an Arminian, such a proposition by Calvinists would make the Bible into a charade, and which is also why Calvinists have a myriad of theological terms in order to extricate themselves from difficult positions (both biblical and logical), but which also often ends in a mystery.” Part of the problem is that Calvinists suffer from a condition known as Confirmation Bias. Since they are bias to whaUnconditional Election offers them, they place less weight on those set of facts which might otherwise contradict it. In a sense, Calvinists suffer from spiritual greed, since what they like about Calvinism, blinds them to the evidence which may otherwise refute it.

Of course, Calvinists will also insist that their theology is about redemption too, but this is only true on a superficial level, since Calvinists affirm that they are eternally-elect-to-salvation, even while “lost,” and Calvinists even frankly admit that Jesus didn’t die on the cross because of their “desperate need” for salvation, but rather, to fulfill God’s prior electing purposes for them, in being elect from eternity past:

One Calvinist explains: “Do Calvinists secretly believe that God chose them for some reason other than their need for salvation? Would I, as a Christian, believe that God chose me for some other reason than my need for salvation? Yes, I do. God chose me for His glory, for His pleasure, for His purposes. Sure I had a need for salvation. But that is not why He saved me primarily. ... In the Bible, God does not say He chose us because of our desperate need. He chose us before our need ever arose.”

Calvinist, James White: “Jesus begins where Christian salvation begins (and ends!), with the FatherThe Father gives a particular people to the Son.” (Debating Calvinism, p.118, emphasis mine)

James White: “I just also believe the undisputed and unrefuted fact that I come to Christ daily because the Father, on the sole basis of His mercy and grace, gave me to the Son in eternity past.”  (Debating Calvinism, p.306, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, John MacArthur: “We are chosen unto salvation. We are chosen to belong to Him. When you look at your salvation, then thank God. Thank God! Because you are a Christian because He chose you. I don’t understand the mystery of that. That’s just what the word of God teaches. That is the most humbling doctrine in all of Scripture. I take no credit, not even credit for my faith. It all came from Him. He chose me. He selected people to be made holy in order to be with Him forever. Why he selected me, I will never know. I’m no better than anyone else. I’m worse than many. But He chose me.”  (Understanding Election, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “This way of speaking, however, may seem to be different from many passages of Scripture which attribute to Christ the first foundation of God’s love for us and show that outside Christ we are detested by God. But we ought to remember, as I have already said, that the Heavenly Father’s secret love which embraced us is the first love given to us.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, pp.76, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “I answer briefly that Christ was so ordained for the salvation of the whole world that He might save those who are given to Him by the Father, that He might be their life whose Head He is, and that He might receive those into participation of His benefits whom God by His gratuitous good pleasure adopted as heirs for Himself.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.102-103, emphasis mine)

Its hard to speak of lost-ness, while one is eternally elect, and Calvinism is a story of self-discovery, in coming to terms with such knowledge. Arminianism, on the other hand, is a story of redemption, in terms of people being literally plucked from the flames. No Calvinist could ever say that they were plucked from the flames, since that was never their eternal destiny. According to Calvinism, God marked out a time in which to administer an Irresistible Grace, in order to ratify a prior election. This is one aspect of the “predestination” of Calvinism, which is actually more accurately termed the “election” of Calvinism, since Calvinisms predestination is really a concept of Determinism, in which, according to Calvinism, God predetermined, scripted, ordained and decreed whatsoever comes to pass.

It was once stated that the early Church didnt have a chance to deal with the matter of Predestination until the 3rd Century (when it was finally addressed by a man named Augustine), since the early Church was otherwise preoccupied by so many other things. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Before you had Predestination vs. Free Will, it was already a raging debate amongst the schools of philosophy called Determinism vs. Free Will, and the Gnostics were on the side of Determinism, while the early Church spoke with virtually one unified voice in support of liberty...until Augustine. It should be pointed out that Augustine was a Gnostic for nearly a decade before his conversion to Catholicism. Eventually, Augustinian Predestination came to be called Calvinism,” because it was so ardently defended by a 16th century leader of Geneva, John Calvin. Calvinisms most famous opponent, Jacob Arminius, was an Ex-Calvinist, and who came to symbolize the opposition and hence: Arminianism.

While Calvinism is often identified with such labels as PredestinationElection, the Sovereignty of GodReformed Theology and the Doctrines of GraceArminianism is often linked with Free Will. Obviously, Arminianism also teaches Predestination, Election, Foreknowledge, Grace and the Sovereignty of God, though from a different perspective, just as Calvinism also teaches Free Will, though from a different perspective, sometimes referred to as “Compatibilism.”

​Calvinism in a nutshell:  It is a theology of order, in which God does not play dice with the cosmos. God, from all eternity, wrote a script, and all life follows that script, whether it realizes it or not. That is called Determinism. As such, Calvinism often battles with the charge of Fatalism, but another ugly comparison can be made with Hinduism, which features a caste system of the have’s and the have-not’s, in which Calvinism similarly has a caste system of the “elect” and the “non-elect.” To a Calvinist, however, it is simply a matter of God being allowed to be God, and that the mystery of life is that created beings exist to glorify God, whether to be examples of His mercy, or to be examples of His wrath.

​Calvinist, James White: “Is he saying that man’s actions 
determine the future and that God merely knows what will 
happen? So it just ‘happened’ to turn out for the best? Did 
God merely cast the cosmic dice and roll snake eyes?” 
(Debating Calvinism, p.57, emphasis mine)

Calvinism creates a dichotomy where either God controls 
everything, or controls nothing.

Yes, man’s actions determine his future and God knows what will happen, which is self-determinism, just as God’s actions determine His future interaction with man, and God knows what man will do, and what He will do in response. This is why God can prophesy (and in perfect detail), everything that will transpire in the Book of Revelation. See Revelation 20:7-10.

No, life on earth has not happened to “turn out for the best,” since God’s will is not being done on earth, as it is in Heaven, but one day it will be. Nevertheless, God is still able to accomplish His will, despite the foreknown, self-determined actions of man, with a perfect example being Calvary itself: “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:23)

Calvinist, Pleasant Valley Community Church’s 60-page confession of faith: “From before the foundation of the world, in order to display His glory, God freely and unchangeably ordained all things that would come to pass. From the casting of the lot, to the bird falling from the sky, to the activities of the nations, to the plans of politicians, to the secret acts of individuals, to what will happen to us tomorrow, to scheduling the very day that we will die, God has written our stories and the stories of the entire universe.”

So either you have meticulous, providential control over the universe by a truly “sovereign” God, scripting whatsoever comes to pass, or God is an uninvolved bystander, observing everything but involved in nothing, in which creation is filled with “senseless, purposeless, gratuitous evil and suffering. This is the price of libertarian freedom.” (Debating Calvinism, p.192) In other words, there is no middle ground. But is this a false dichotomy? Is there any reason to believe that God cannot competently rule over a creation with free-will? Ultimately, after everything that man has said and done, God still gets the last word, as every knee shall bow, according to Philippians 2:10-11.

Now there is a second matter. The first was the deterministic aspect of Calvinism. The second issue involves a Hindu-like upper caste and lower caste, in which you secretly have a two-caste creation. The upper caste is the elect group of the have’s vs. the lower caste of the have-not’s, whom God has chosen to create without favor, and in fact, disfavor, sacrificed for the purpose of displaying divine attributes.

​At stake in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate: Who God is, and how He works.

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “God sovereignly brings to pass the salvation of his elect and only of his elect.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.145, emphasis mine)

Sproul adds: “God made a choice--he chose some individuals to be saved unto everlasting blessedness in heaven, and he chose others to pass over, allowing them to suffer the consequences of theirs sins, eternal punishment in hell.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.141, emphasis mine)

Actually, “allowing” is actually a poor choice of words to describe the Calvinist doctrine of Preterition, since the Calvinist also teaches that God scripted whatsoever comes to pass. Thus, the concept of ‘permission’ and a ‘script’ are incompatible. The real issue involving Calvinism, as Sproul did indicate, is that God has an eternal flock of sheep, who alone will become saved. This is the root Calvinism.

Bob Brewer: “The Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election in my opinion is the root upon which the whole TULIP acronym stands. Some Calvinists would argue that it is the total depravity of man that necessitates the other four doctrines and so it could rightly be called the root, but since many other non-Calvinist camps embrace the doctrine of total depravity it hardly follows that total depravity of man requires the rest of the Calvinist TULIP. The doctrine of unconditional election makes the rest of the system irresistibly logical.” (The Dark Side of Unconditional Election, emphasis mine)

Agreed. Calvinists often do present the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity as their foundation, which it is not. What it actually is, is a selling point. Arminians readily admit to the depravity of man, but add that God is able (without having to resort to Irresistible Grace, the “I” in TULIP), to enable the totally depraved, lost, unregenerate person to receive His free gift of grace. Calvinists disagree, and insist that fallen man is too far gone, even for God to be able to reach him, apart from the use of Irresistible Grace. 
Calvinists add that the only reason why anyone is saved, is because God rescues “certain” people from among the mass of fallen humanity (who are previously hand-picked for salvation), while others are left behind, and that gets to the real theological distinction, that is, the elect who are rescued and the non-elect who are left behind. According to Calvinism, some people are eternally SPECIAL. Some people are hand-picked to become Christians. Some people are in the eternal good graces of God. These are called “the elect.” However, the Bible paints a much different picture of Election. The elect One, is none other than Jesus Himself, and we as Christians are elect, purely on account of our position in Him. In other words, we are not elect FOR Jesus, but we are elect BECAUSE of Jesus, IN Jesus and THROUGH Jesus. We are not elect, and on that account, given to become Christians, but we are all non-elect as unbelievers, and become elect on account of our identification with THE elect One, as believers in Him. The eternal purpose of God, before the foundation of the world, it was established that we as believers would share in Christs Election by virtue of our place in Him.

​Arminianism in a nutshell:  God desires everyone to be saved, not that everyone will be saved, but that God, for His part, is willing, by graciously reaching out to the the lost and enabling them to receive the eternal life that He offers through His Son Jesus Christ.

Adrian Rogers: “God did not say that some people can be saved and other people cannot be saved, that some are in a select group. No! There is no respect of persons with God. None whatsoever. The Lord is not willing that any should perish. If you go to hell, a broken-hearted God will watch you drop into hell. It is not God’s plan that you die and go to hell. The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (The Christ of the New Testament: Acts 10:43, emphasis mine)

Adrian Rogers: “Some people submit to the will of God, some people do not. All are called, but not all respond. Those who do not say to God, ‘Not my will, but thine,’ will one day in hell hear God say to them, ‘Not My will, but thine be done.’ What a terrible way to end, resisting God.”  (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol.II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, p.94)

Where the two collide: The primary difference between both theologies is essentially over fatalism, that is, Theistic Fatalism. To a Calvinist, everything that happens, whether kindness or murder, love or hate, happens according to the secret purpose of God, working for His ultimate glory, or else God could not be sovereign. However, to the Arminian, making God the author of everything, inevitably makes God the author of sin.

Knowing what each side teaches, we are in a better position to examine their fundamental distinctions:

John Calvin: “But it is madness not to say that those who are naturally dead in Adam are unable to be restored to life unless a divine remedy be applied.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.150, emphasis mine) 

Both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm the fallen state of man, and that God must intervene if anyone is going to repent, believe and be saved. Exactly what God does to intervene, is the nature of the debate:

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer: “Remember that both classical Arminianism and Calvinism teach that God influences the human will. The dispute is over the extent of that influence.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.218, emphasis mine) 

Exactly! So what is the Calvinist proposal on how God influences the human will?

Calvinist, James White: “Do we believe to become born again, or must we first be born again before we can exercise true, saving faith? Can the natural man do what is pleasing to God? Can the dead choose to allow themselves to be raised to life?” (Debating Calvinism, p.198, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “That the election of God may stand, those formerly blind are illuminated into faith; and by faith they receive the righteousness of Christ; and by faith they are kept to the end.”  (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.155, emphasis mine)

Therefore, here is the proposal of Calvinism: God secretly, unilaterally, involuntarily, unconsciously and irresistibly makes certain people, preemptively Born Again (regenerated) so that they are willing and able to repent, believe and be saved, and that such people, termed “the elect,” were eternally pre-selected by God for salvation while the rest of humanity was eternally predestined for the Lake of Fire (whether directly by Unconditional Reprobation or indirectly through Preterition).

In contrast, Arminianism argues that Jesus died on the cross for everyone (1st John 2:2), and that God sincerely desires that none perish and all come to repentance (2nd Peter 3:9), and all become saved (1st Timothy 2:4), provided that they believe in His Son. (John 3:16) But how can they, since man is a fallen creature? Arminianism points out that Jesus doesn’t stand idle, but rather seeks the lost (Luke 19:10), draws the lost (John 12:32), knocks upon the heart’s door of the lost (Revelation 3:20), with the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16) which is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) so that anyone who hears Christ preached is able to receive faith (Romans 10:17) to repent, believe and be saved. But that’s not enough, since the Holy Spirit must also be involved, which Arminianism fully affirms:

Adrian Rogers: Spiritual blindness makes beggars of us all. ... The blind need more than light in order to see. ... I used to think, as a young preacher, that what you had to do to get people saved is just to tell them how to be saved. Just turn on the light. But it doesn’t matter how much light there is, or the person is blind because he cannot see it. It takes  more than lightit takes sight. And a person who is blind cannot see the light, no matter how strong the light is or how pure the light is. It takes more than preaching to get people saved. That’s the reason I frequently say to you, I can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth. That is the reason why we must be a praying church. That’s the reason you must be a spirit filled soul winner. That is the reason that we must have the anointing, because we are dependent upon God to open blinded eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes more than light, it takes takes sight. We need to understand that nobody can be argued into the kingdom of heaven. Nobody can be educated into the kingdom of heaven. I’m not against letting the light shine. You must let the let shine. You must preach. But remember, there is another dimension. (Jesus is God’s Answer to Man’s Darkness: John 20:30, emphasis mine)

In order for a man to receive the light of the Gospel, he must receive sight from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of its sin (John 16:8), pricks the heart of the lost (Acts 26:14), pierces the heart of the lost (Acts 2:37) and opens the heart of the lost so that they can respond to the Gospel. (Acts 16:14) This is neither irresistible, nor fully regenerative. It’s not the new birth. It’s spiritual sight so that the lost may see the light in order to receive Jesus into their heart. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new birth comes after a person believes in Jesus. Ephesians 1:13 states: In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. Supernatural Sight is the working of the Holy Spirit, through the supernatural Light of the faith-producing Gospel that enables a man to repent, believe and be saved. Adrian Rogers explains that this is why Christians need to pray for the lost, that God may touch their hearts in order to receive sight, that they might respond to the light. Though it is not irresistible, God, for His part, iwilling that you become in Christ, and share in all that which God the Father has sovereignly bestowed in His Son, who stands knocking on the door of your heart. (Revelation 3:20)

Calvinism charges that such a view ultimately robs God of His sovereign right to determine who He wants to believe, and who He wants to rebel against Him, and that the Arminian perspective exalts the sovereign creature man, and makes him, not God, the final arbiter over man’s destiny. Calvinism argues that Arminianism denies the free Election of God, the Call of God and the predestined Decree of God. Arminians argue that Calvinism misunderstands the Election of God, the Call of God and the predestined Decree of God. 

To the Calvinist, Calvinism is the very Gospel itself! To the Arminian, it is an affront to the Gospel.

The Calvinist charges: The Sovereignty of God! 

The Arminian charges back: The Integrity of God!

As an Arminian, I present to you, the Arminian answer to Calvinism, verse by verse. 

Enjoy it, and remember, first and foremost, before we are Calvinists and Arminians, we are Christians.

By the way, regarding TULIP Calvinism, what happens when you remove the T and the P? What is left in the middle?

Question:    In a nutshell, what is the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism?

Answer:  Calvinism is about Self-Discovery, while Arminianism is a story of Redemption.