Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

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

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, explains: “What is important to understand is that Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology that cannot be harmonized. Either God made the choice as to who will be saved and then grants man the ability to believe, or the choice is made by man. Either the elect are being saved, or God is saving as many as he can but failing in his purposes. Either God has ordained whatever comes to pass, or, because of man’s free will, the best he can do now is adjust himself to evil as it occurs.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.220, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, James White, writes: “…the Father can seek the salvation of each individual, the Son can die to secure it, and the Spirit come to bring conviction of sin, and yet the entire desire and work of the triune God collapse because of the unwillingness of the sovereign creature, man?” (Debating Calvinism, p.332, emphasis mine)

So the first step is to establish that God is sovereign if His plan comes to pass, regardless of whatever that plan is. God could do things the Calvinist way. God could do things the Arminian way. God has chosen one way over another. If God sets a precondition for eternal life, then that was His sovereign choice to do things that way. He is not a failure if He is doing things the way that He wants to. God may be broken-hearted over a sinner perishing, but ultimately He chose that system over the alternative.

Luke Liechty writes: “From your vantage point, if God DECREED who would come to Him and then one of the DECREED did not, then you could have a frustrated/impotent God. But that is not the point from which I am arguing. If I believe the Scriptures teach that God decreed that all who come to Him in Christ Jesus will be saved, then those who do not, though salvation was actually provided for them, do not frustrate Gods plan or God Himself. God derives no pleasure in the death of the wicked, yet He will not live in eternal torment because some rejected Him.”

Luke Liechty writes: “Why would God be considered a failure if He makes salvation available to all but only some receive it. Jesus told the story of those bidden to come to the feast. Did that make the host a failure because some made excuses not to come? I don’t think so. Does the cross of Christ become a failure if not all believe though salvation was made possible for all? I do not understand how that is so.” (The Atonement of Christ: A Prelude to Dialog, emphasis mine)

The host of the feast would only be a “failure” if He tried to use irresistible force, but was unsuccessful. It is apparent from the parable that it was merely an invitation.

Dave Hunt responds: “Only Calvinists would say that if His love is rejected, God fails.” (Debating Calvinism, p.332)

Let’s put this into practice, especially in relation to Matthew 23:37 when Jesus lamented: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  (Matthew 23:37) Is Jesus a “failure” since the love of what He “often” wanted to give was thwarted by the fact that they were “unwilling” to receive Him? No, because His plan was not to unconditionally gather them, but to gather them only if they would receive Him. (A) God wanted to gather them, yes, but not without their consent. The same argument can be raised on the basis of what God had said at Isaiah 65:2: “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, a people who continually provoke Me to My face.” To put it plainly, Arminians do not believe that God’s will is always done on earth “as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) God’s ways are not our ways, and He allows people to reject His will for their life. Yet, Calvinists continue to believe that the Arminian perspective portrays God as impotent, in that He struggles along with humanity to save as many as He can, but by and large fails at His purpose to save humanity. To a Calvinist, that cannot be indicative of the true Sovereign God of the universe:

Calvinist, Alan Kurschner, writes: “God desires that his sheep are saved. God desires that his people are saved. He does not desire that every single individual who has ever lived, live in glory with him forever. If that were the case, we have an incompetent, unhappy, and impotent God.” (The Calvinist Gadfly, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Matthew McMahon, writes:I reject anything which makes God a cosmic bell-hop tending to the commands and demands of sinful men as another gospel. I reject anything which removes God’s sovereignty to place man as the Sovereign as another gospel. I reject anything which denies the sovereign decrees of God and His electing grace to put salvation into the hands of sinful men as another gospel. I reject anything which denies man’s total depravity and exalts his fictitious free will as another gospel. I reject anything which places the perseverance of man to glory in the incapable hands of a sinful man as another gospel. I reject anything which endeavors to treat God as the great Grandfather in the sky beckoning and pleading with man to be saved as changing the true God into a pitiable wimp.”  (Why I am a Calvinist, emphasis mine)

This is also why we should also keep in mind that God says: ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8) Thus, we need to have a healthy mistrust of ourselves, and abandon our own feelings, in terms of what might appeal to us, and submit solely to what the word of God says, because that is truth. However, Calvinists all too often project their own ideals on to God, and then vilify anyone who disagrees with their perspective of how they feel that God should rule and reign. Calvinists ought not force the Bible to agree with Calvinism, and instead for Calvinism to have to agree with the Bible. Nevertheless, despite of all of the sovereignty arguments, the fact remains that on Judgment Day, every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:10), as God gets the last word. That’s sovereignty.

Question:  Is God sovereign in the plan of salvation? 

Answer:  Regardless of whatever the plan of salvation is, if its Gods plan, and its being carried out, then yes, He is sovereign over it.
Illustration:  For God so loved the world that it shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

If God said that, and someone did perish, then you would have a logical basis to conclude that God had failed. But God never said that. Read the whole verse: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God would only be a failure if someone believed in Jesus, as God defines believing, and yet still perished.
One Calvinist asks:  “Are you agreeing that God loses to Man, that His ultimate will is not accomplished, that God fails to accomplish what He intended to accomplish?

To the Calvinist, I ask:  “Will you allow God such sovereignty?”

The Calvinist responds:  “Then, yes, you are agreeing that God has failed to accomplish what He intended to accomplish.”

To the Calvinist, I respond:  “Then, no, you do not approve of God being sovereign.”
One Calvinist argues:  “If one ultimately agrees that God does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), then one cannot but conclude that those who are not included in salvation are not included by God’s good plan and, therefore, ultimately, His good pleasure. Moreover, how is it possible that a Sovereign God, about whom Scripture plainly says He does what ‘He pleases’ (Psalm 115:3), would fail to save those whom He wants to save?

Response to the Calvinist: God wants to save all, but He never said that He wants to save all unconditionally (B). If God decided that He would provide salvation for all people, but that He would save only those who choose to trust in Him (A), then by saving these alone, God has not failed, but achieved, His purpose in A.
Illustration:  If God desires A, is He a failure if B should not occur?

No. He would only be a failure if A should not occur. But, yet, the Calvinist argument is that God would be a failure if B does not occur. But God never promised B.
Calvinist Charge:  Arminianism would make God into a failure.

Myth or Reality:  Calvinism teaches that if God genuinely desired that all men be saved, and some were lost, then God would have failed in His goals. But Gods desire is not that all men be unconditionally saved. If that was the case, and if some perished, then the Calvinists would have a good argument, but the premise is wrong. God genuinely desires that all men be saved by meeting His sovereignly established condition of faith in His Son. God not only wills this of all men, but paid for it through His Son, and enables it through His Spirit. The failure argument is itself a failure due to an erroneous premise.
Question:  Did God plan to redeem all men?

Answer:  God planned to provide redemption to all men, and its acceptance or rejection is what serves as the basis for judgment. (Any question about this can easily be resolved by simply comparing with John 3:14 and Numbers 21:6-9. God’s plan was not simply to heal them all, but to make a provision for their healing, and with salvation being on condition of looking upon it. That sounds like a great analogy to the Gospel.)