Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, explains the Arminian view of the Atonement: “Historic Arminianism embraces particularism: not all people are saved, only a particular number of them. That particular group of people who are saved are those who respond to the offer of the gospel with faith. Only those who believe appropriate the benefits of the saving atonement in Christ.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.165)

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Whitefield called the doctrine of universal atonement, as taught by Arminians, blasphemy and the ‘highest reproach upon the dignity of the Son of God and the merit of his blood.’” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.184, emphasis mine)

Lutzer continues: “Luther saw this as a cheapening of grace. Even admitting that man can merit grace by exercising freedom of choice diminishes the grace of God.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.165-166, emphasis mine)

It’s difficult to see how trusting in someone else’s goodness to save you, namely Christ’s, merits anything in the one doing the trusting, but that’s the Calvinist argument. There is also another aspect to how Calvinists feel that the Arminian doctrine of an Unlimited Atonement devalues Calvary:

Lutzer writes: “The phrase ‘limited atonement’ is unfortunate since it gives the impression that Christ’s death was not as effective as generally believed. But actually, those who believe in this doctrine of  ‘particular redemption’ or ‘definite atonement’ as it is better called, affirm that it is the Arminians that limit the value of the cross.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.185, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Loraine Boettner, explains: “The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist. The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons...while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody. The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively. For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge that goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across. (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p.153, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, James White, writes:The evangelical who thinks he is honoring the atonement by making it universal in scope needs to realize the cost of his position. If Christ died in the place of every man and woman in all history (universal scope and intention), the atonement must be limited in its power and efficacy, for it does not actually result in the salvation of many of those God intended it to save.” (Debating Calvinism, p.171, emphasis mine)

Calvinists caution Arminians from finger-pointing on the matter of a Limited Atonement since both sides limit the Atonement to one degree or another, namely, that whereas Calvinism would limit its scope, Arminianism limits its effect. This raises another interesting issue. Calvinists believe that the Atonement saves without faith. Of course, Calvinists refuse to accept that inference, but that’s what it necessarily boils down to:

Lutzer explains 5-Point Calvinistic Atonement: “If it is true that Christ died to redeem a specific number of people, namely those whom the Father had given him, it follows that all believers were redeemed at the cross two thousand years ago. They were cleared of all charges then, for God accepted the ransom payment. The certificate of our canceled debt was then given to us when we trusted in Christ. Paul said that the reason no one can bring a charge against the elect is that Christ has died for them (Rom. 8:24).” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.185, emphasis mine)

Speaking of Arminians, Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, writes: “The say, ‘No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if’--and then follow certain conditions of salvation.” (Particular Redemption, emphasis mine)

However, according to John 3:16, the “conditions” is actually just one condition, and that is “whoever believes in Him”? Nevertheless, the Calvinist charge is that grace is cheapened through diminished efficacy if it is not directly applied to the account of the Calvinistically elect prior to believing in Christ.

In an interesting twist, consider the following:

John Calvin comments on Romans 5:15:Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.”  (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.117-118, emphasis mine)

Calvin writes: “That Christ, the redeemer of the whole world, commands the Gospel to be preached promiscuously to all does not seem congruent with special Election. ... But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.102, 103, emphasis mine)

If few are comparatively saved (i.e. wide road vs. narrow path), and a person can only be saved by an Irresistible Grace, then does it not follow that God prefers to save less, and in some way, is being stingy with grace? Thats the glaring implication, as well as another:

Former Calvinist, Steven Hitchcock, explains: “We ought to stop and question a gospel that proclaims, ‘The wonder is not that He withholds mercy from some, but that He should be gracious to any.’ It sounds so spiritual, so humble, so weighty, and awesome, and yet it is a lie. Because of Calvinism we have actually come to think that God’s great willingness to be gracious is more unlikely than likely.” (Recanting Calvinism, pp.xxvi-xxvii, emphasis mine)

For more on this point, see here. So how do Calvinists account for this?

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Similarly, he desires that all men be saved. Yet, on the other hand, he allows the greater part of humanity to perish. We simply do not know why he has chosen to forego his desire to see all men saved. We can be quite sure, however, that there is some ultimate purpose, for the Scripture says, ‘The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil’ (Prov. 16:4).” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.197, emphasis mine)

But that merely reinforces the alleged unwillingness of God to be gracious. Hebrews 2:3 states: How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Logically speaking, how can you neglect something that God was allegedly not gracious enough to give you in the first place? Jesus had to have died for everyone, in order for anyone, to have something to neglect. Furthermore, you cannot legitimately offer salvation to anyone (as Calvin describes the offer) unless salvation was procured for everyone via an unlimited scope atonement. Otherwise, what exactly would you be indiscriminately offering? Again, for the offer of salvation to be valid, Jesus’ sacrifice would have to include everyone. Thats the reality of it, which merely confirms what we already know from John 3:14 and Numbers 21:6-9.

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, asks: What would have happened to the work of Christ if nobody believed in it? That had to be a theoretical possibility. In this case Christ would have died in vain. (What is Reformed Theology, p.167, emphasis mine)

That’s not a realistic question, since by the time of Calvary, you still had Abraham’s Bosom filled with the Old Testament saints, besides all who believed in that present day.

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, asks: If God planned to redeem all men, did his plan fail? (What is Reformed Theology, p.168, emphasis mine)

The question contains an erroneous premise. God never said that He was going to unconditionally spare all mankind. Instead, God decreed to redeem all who believed in His Son, as per John 3:16, and provided His redemption for all mankind.

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, warns of Double Jeopardy:If this was a payment for the sins of the whole world, then the unbelief of the ungodly was also included in the sacrifice. No one should be expected to pay for his sins in hell. If the treachery of Judas was included in Christ’s ransom, which the Father accepted, why should he be required to suffer for his sins?” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.184, emphasis mine)

Jesus described the Gospel as an invitation, and invitations can be refused, and that’s essentially the issue with Judas.

Lutzer offers an analogy: “Suppose I were to owe you a thousand dollars but was unable to pay my debt. But a kind friend intervenes and pays you what I owe. But you still elicit a payment from me, asking that I pay ever last cent. Would that be just? I think not. If my friend paid my debt, justice requires that I be free. The analogy is clear: if Christ’s sacrifice was for all men, then either all men will be saved or God will be unfairly demanding from sinners what has already been paid. If Christ died for people who will be in hell, his justice is in jeopardy. How could a righteous God demand a double payment for the same debt? ‘But,’ we protest, ‘the payment is no good unless it is accepted.’ Calvinists point out that the important point is that God has already accepted Christ’s payment on the cross.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.183-184, emphasis mine)

The “kind friend” in this analogy is representative of Jesus, who bought out your sin-debt, and He expects to be paid for whatever He now demands, and that demand is faith in Him, which if you refuse, then you still owe Him the debt of a “thousand dollars.” Jesus has purchased our debt, and the devil is cast out. Moreover, the Law is still in effect: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) Jesus offers two methods of payment: 1) You can perfectly keep the Law, without one spot or blemish, or 2) You can place your trust in Him, and He will forgive you of your sin-debt: “‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’--then He said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, pick up your bed and go home.’” (Matthew 9:6) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) Five-point Calvinists, like Lutzer, mistakenly believe that they simply got a free thousand dollars with no strings attached. Consider the analogy of a home mortgage. If the mortgage on your home is ever purchased by another lender, tell the new lender that since you are a Five-point Calvinist, that you believe that you are no longer obligated to make any further monthly payments since they have already, kindly paid off the mortgage for you, and that having paid it for you, any additional payments would constitute a “double payment.” What you’ll find in response is a legal foreclosure. The old lender is satisfied (1st John 2:2), but the new lender expects to be paid! God accepted Christ’s substitutionary payment at Calvary in order to become the new owner of your soul. For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1st Corinthians 6:20) The benefit of Christ as the new mortgagee of your soul is that He offers the free gift of the full forgiveness of your sin-debt, if you simply ask Him. However, if you fail to act on this offer, there is still payment option number 1: The Law.

Here is a Blog discussion on this point.

That’s a fair representation of Arminianism by R.C. Sproul. If there is one illustration of the atonement that Arminians point to, more so than any other, it would have to be Jesus’ explanation of the Cross at John 3:14 as He points back to the example of Numbers 21:6-9. Arminians often point to verses that state that Jesus has come to take upon Himself, the sins of the world (John 1:29), and that through Calvary, He has tasted death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9) Romans 5:15 and 1st John 2:2 are also often cited as proof-texts as well, and for good reason.
Calvinist Charge:  Arminianism cheapens grace.

Myth or Reality:  You would normally think that the opposite is the case, given the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement. Moreover, if the only way that any person could be saved is through an alleged Irresistible Grace, and given that so few, comparatively, are believers, the natural implication, then, is that God’s grace is more unlikely than likely, which would have the effect of making it appear as though God was stingy or cheap in giving grace, but the gist of the Calvinist argument is that grace is cheapened if one must do something, that is, believe in Christ, in order to receive it, as if God’s grace was somehow accessible by a person’s choice.