Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

However, as one member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians points out: “It seems to me that a will that is utterly selfish and corrupt as ours is, would naturally turn to God, as it is massively in our own self-interest to do so.”

Classical Arminianism affirms the fallen state of man and God’s intervening grace, otherwise known as Prevenient Grace. However, Calvinism argues that fallen-man is so depraved, that any such Prevenient Grace would simply not cut it, and that God is literally up against a wall, and simply has no other choice except to use an Irresistible Grace, namely for Calvinism’s elect, because man is just that fallen, and although God is powerful, trying to enable an unregenerate sinner, without an anything irresistible, would be akin to being a rock so big that not even God could lift. (Okay, there is a little sarcasm there, but you get the point.)

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “The corruption of sin extends to his mind as well as his will; consequently, no one seeks God. Because man is dead in trespasses and sins, God must regenerate him and even grant him the faith to believe.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.179-180, emphasis mine)

To say that “God must,” is an assumption made by Calvinists, which will be dealt with more fully. However, what Lutzer means by “regenerate” is a Calvinist buzz-word for Preemptive Regeneration, insomuch that man is so depraved, that God must allegedly make a person preemptively Born Again in order to be placed in a position to be able to receive the Gospel, and by such preemptive New Birth, to receive the Gospel irresistibly.

While you could argue that there are things that God cannot do, such as making a square circle, or making a rock so big that even He cannot lift, these are merely a logic puzzles, rather than true inability. Furthermore, you could also argue that God cannot sin, but that’s not because Jesus lacked the ability to sin. Rather, He lacked the desire to sin, due to preference, stemming from the holiness of His character. Thus, to say that God cannot successfully utilize a hypothetical Prevenient Grace, would be a type of inability that is neither a logic puzzle, nor preference, but true inability. Therefore, it would have been better if Calvinists argued that God could theoretically utilize a Prevenient Grace, had He so chosen to do so, but God has ultimately elected a different course of action. At least this argument would avoid making God small, though with the drawback to Calvinists of ultimately acknowledging a logical potential for Arminianism, which if true, would completely unravel Calvinism.

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes:Arminianism said man was sick; Calvinism said man was dead. If he is only sick, common grace might help him to recover by enabling him to make a right choice. But if he is spiritually dead, he needs the Give of Life to make the choice for him….” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.180, emphasis mine)

Lutzer answers: “Needless to say, God does not coerce a person to believe. There is no such thing as a person who doesn’t want to be saved and God saves him anyway because he is elect.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.191, emphasis mine)

Wait! So God will “make the choice for him” though “God does not coerce a person to believe.” How exactly is this not Double-Talk? Even Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, admits: Determinism means that we are forced or coerced to do things by external forces.” (Chosen By God, p.59, emphasis mine)

Lutzer explains: “Now (and here it gets tricky) Calvinism goes on to say that God grants the inclination and ability to choose Christ to some, namely, the elect. God does not coerce anyone, if that means he saves a man against his will.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.191, emphasis mine)

Of course it gets “tricky” because it’s Double-Talk.

Make that one subtle alteration, and that is Calvinism, and that’s precisely why Lutzer is not being straight-forward in his statements. The essence of Calvinism is that since man’s will stands in opposition to God, and therefore God must secretly, unconsciously, unilaterally and involuntarily make a man preemptively Born Again in order to repent, believe and be saved, and not just any man, but only those of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father.

One Calvinist explains: “Arminianism denies the Biblical teaching that man is ‘dead in sin.’ (Ephesians 2:1) According to Arminianism, man is merely sin-sick, not dead. Arminianism needs to present a valid explanation as to how ‘dead in sin’ is meaningful, but has no effect on man’s ability to choose God.”

First of all, man is “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1) in terms of separation from God, rather than unconsciousness, in the same way that the Prodigal Son was “dead” to his father. Luke 15:22-24 states: “‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Second, the assertion that unregenerate man’s state of spiritual death has “no effect” upon his ability to receive Christ is a straw man argument since Arminianism affirms that God must intervene if man is ever going to repent,  believe and be saved. However, just how God intervenes is the nature of the debate. Arminianism teaches that Jesus seeks the lost (Luke 19:10), draws the lost (John 12:32), knocks upon the heart’s door of the lost (Revelation 3:20), while the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of the lost (John 16:8), pierces the heart of the lost (Acts 2:37), pricks the heart of the lost (Acts 26:14), and opens the heart of the lost in order to respond to the Gospel. (Acts 16:14) That’s an active, not passive involvement of God in the evangelization of the lost. This is accomplished through the “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), faith-producing Gospel (Romans 10:17) through which man is made “born again.” (1st Peter 1:23)

Lutzer concludes: “The bottom line, however, is that the will of man is not free, but responsive to either the wickedness of the heart or the sovereign work of God, which grants to some the ability to believe the gospel.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.173, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Thus the doctrine of total depravity leads directly to that of unconditional election--a dead man cannot respond to the gospel’s appeal.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.181, emphasis mine)

Wouldn’t such a suggestion make the Law of Total Depravity more powerful than the law of the living and active Gospel? (Hebrews 4:12) When Calvinists insist that man is spiritually dead, remind them that the Gospel is spiritually alive and active, and dispenses faith to its hearers. (Romans 10:17)

Calvinist, James White, asks:Can the dead choose to allow themselves to be raised to life?”  (Debating Calvinism, p.198, emphasis mine)

If you insist that “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1) means the cessation of life, rather than separation, as in being “lost,” then No, the lifeless are inanimate and cannot allow anything at all. However, even Calvin admits that fallen man is not inanimate:

John Calvin admits:Some kind of life, I acknowledge, does remain in us, while we are still strangers to Christ; for unbelief does not extinguish every sense, or the will, or the other faculties of the soul. But what has this to do with the Kingdom of God? What has it to do with the blessed life, when everything we think and wish is death? Let this, then, stand fast, that the union of our soul with God is the true and only life; and that outside Christ we are altogether dead, because sin, the cause of death, reigns in us.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.139, emphasis mine)

To the Calvinist, the Arminian perspective of the Holy Spirit’s efforts in evangelism would be “in vain” if not for Irresistible Grace (i.e. Regenerative Grace in making certain people preemptively Born Again in order to irresistibly repent), because Calvinists believe in the alleged, Total Inability of God to save unregenerate sinners by their own free will:

John Calvin explains: “For as in His creation of the world God has poured forth upon us the brightness of the sun and has also given us eyes with which to receive it, so in our redemption He shines forth upon us in the person of His Son by His Gospel, but that would be in vain, since we are blind, unless He were also to illuminate our minds by His Spirit. Thus his meaning is that God has opened the eyes of our understanding by His Spirit to make us able to receive the light of His Gospel.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: II Corinthians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.57, emphasis mine)

So in other words, the Gospel is “living and active” only to those who are preemptively regenerated. Nevertheless, Calvin uses “blindness” to explain man’s depravity, which is interesting in lieu of John 12:46 where Jesus stated: “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” How does one escape the darkness? Preemptive Regeneration or believing in Christ? Jesus states: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21) Therefore, it’s not a matter of unrepentant-man being blind to the Light and unable to see the Light, or laying dormant and unable to realize that there is such a thing as Light, but rather, unrepentant-man sees the Light and scurries away from it like a rat, leaving Jesus outside knocking, and that is exactly why unrepentant-man will be held accountable for his sin. The Light came, and many ran away from it, and on that basis, God will judge them.

Arminian, Troy Brooks, states: “Destroy total depravity, destroy Calvinism. Everything else is mute.”

I think that Prevenient Grace does exactly that, because when God intervenes, and makes it possible for someone to repent, then by God’s intervention alone, any kind of Total Depravity or Total Inability, is rendered mute. The Calvinist must argue that God is totally unable to reach the “unregenerate” heart, and therefore must unilaterally transform the person into being “regenerate,” in order to effectually reach them. All that the doctrine of “Total Inability” does is neuters the power of the Gospel, and the power of God to enable lost sinners to receive Him. Frequently, the way that Calvinists describe this, is by saying that “man is so depraved, that God must….” Well, why is it that “God must”? Why is anyone or anything, forcing God’s hand? If God cannot save someone, apart from an Irresistible Grace, then it is the Calvinists, not the Arminians, who make God small.

Question:  How would man be “dead” according to Ephesians 2:1?

Answer:  Being spiritually dead, cut off from the Holy Spirit, and standing judicially condemned under the penalty of the Law.
Question:  How would man’s state of spiritual death impact his ability to choose Christ?

Answer:  Due to the persuasion of sin, he would need the persuasion of the divine intervention of God. Exactly how God intervenes, is the nature of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism.
Question:  Where does the Bible say that faith comes from?

Answer:  Romans 10:17 states: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Does God’s “living and active” Word dispense faith only to some? Does Jesus knock on the hearts door of only some? Does the Holy Spirit convict the hearts of only some or “the world”? (John 16:8)
Question:  Make the choice for him”? How is that not brainwashing?
Question:  According to Calvinism, do those with Total Depravity in any way “want to be saved”? Does God unilaterally save them anyway simply because they are elect?
Question:  Would Lutzer prefer this statement instead: “There is no such thing as a person who doesn’t want to be saved and God [regenerates] him anyway because he is elect”?
Question:  Some kind of life or “altogether dead”...which is it?

Answer:  Calvinists often attempt to blur the distinction between physical and spiritual death in order to create the illusion that unregenerate man cannot respond when Christ comes knocking (i.e. Total Inability), and hence the need for a Calvinistic grace of irresistibility for a chosen few.
Question:  Hypothetically speaking, would you agree that God is incapable of persuading unregenerate, fallen man to receive His grace, apart from an irresistible grace?

Answer:  Saying God must do something naturally begs the question of why? To simply say that man is otherwise too depraved for any other option besides an Irresistible Grace, speaks not only of man’s plight, but also of God’s resulting inability to successfully achieve otherwise, and thats a problem.
Question:  Where in the Bible is such a Prevenient Grace ever taught?

Answer:  At Isaiah 65:2, God states: I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.” The concept of God’s outspread hands indicates something that God does, which makes Him feel indignant when such grace is rejected. Additionally, Jesus told unregenerate Saul: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14) What was this goading? What is the Holy Spirit doing? Furthermore, according to Revelation 3:20, Jesus knocks. Also, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of its sin, according to John 16:8, while the power of the faith-producing Gospel is “living and active.” (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:12) However, if the Gospel does nothing to stimulate the unregenerate heart, then it is instead, dead and inactive, rather than living and active. So the common complaint against Calvinism is that it neutralizes the dynamite power of the Gospel in the absence of an Irresistible Grace. Logically speaking, the real power of the Gospel, according to Calvinism, would be in the irresistible grace that precedes it. In contrast, Prevenient Grace would be the power of the living and active, faith-producing Gospel, in the hands of the Holy Spirit who kicks, pricks, convicts and opens hearts to receive Him.
Calvinist Charge:  Arminianism denies the depravity of man.

Myth or Reality:  The charge is that any denial of Irresistible Grace, means that man is not entirely spiritually dead, and not totally depraved, but is good enough, or at least possesses enough goodness, with which to choose Christ.