Calvinism and Arminianism: 
Myths & Realities

Calvinism may not subscribe to a belief in the fates, but there are some common elements, such as Determinism, in which God (as described by Calvinism) has predetermined the fate or destiny of all men by an immutable decree, such that from eternity past, every man’s lot in life has been fixed and determined by the arbitrary power of God. [1]

The allegation against Augustinian Predestination as being too close to Stoic Fatalism is nothing new, as Augustinian himself had complained about it, and John Calvin also complained about it, and the comparison is still protested by Calvinists to this day, but can an honest case be made to fully deny it?

The case to reject the comparison of Calvinism to Fatalism is based upon the fact that Calvinism does not involve materialistic fatalism, naturalistic determinism, the motion of the stars, or involve the mythological Greek gods [2], which is fairly evident, though the counter-criticism is the allegation that Calvinism’s immutable decree has the same effect as Theistic Fatalism.

Calvinist, Rodger Tutt: “Theologically, we are absolute determinists. We believe in theistic fatalismHumanistic fatalism believes that everything happens no matter what. Theistic fatalism believes that God is in intimate sovereign control over everything that happens so that everything that happens occurs due to His causality....” (Latest posts of: rodgertutt, emphasis mine)

Arminians appreciate the honesty.

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer: “Even if, as Arminians believe, foreknowledge does not cause anything to happen, still the future will unfold as God knows it will. Yes, even for Arminians, whatever will be, will be. (The Doctrines That Divide, p.216, emphasis mine)

But, the whatever will be” for the Arminian is what is self-determined by all parties involved in the future, and that’s a difference that Erwin Lutzer does not recognize.

James White: “Is he saying that man’s actions determine the future and that God merely knows what will happen?” (Debating Calvinism, p.57, emphasis mine)

Close. If the future is comprised of BOTH God’s self-determinations, AND man’s self-determinations, and God (being timeless and eternal) is able to know it, and then for the Arminian, “what will be” is a conglomeration of everyone’s self-determinations, BOTH God and man, in which God engages in a participatory relationship with mankind, and thus representing a completely different view than the “pox on both of our houses” approach by Erwin Luzter. So what harms the Calvinist, does NOT necessarily harm the Arminian, at least in this case.

Calvinist, Richard Mouw: “There is no denying that a belief that we are predestined to eternal life can lead to a deterministic, even fatalistic, understanding of the Christian life. If it is God who does the choosing, then we may be tempted to think that our own choosing, our own responding to God, is a charade. It is all preprogrammed. But Calvinist theologians go out of their way to deny this implication.” (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, p.66, emphasis mine)

Yes, Calvinists absolutely do go out of their way to avoid the label.

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul recalls his conversion to Calvinism: I no longer feared the demons of fatalism or the ugly thought that I was being reduced to a puppet. Now I rejoiced in a gracious Savior who alone was immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” (Chosen By God, p.13, emphasis mine)

But it is still fatalism. Calvinists, nonetheless, by and large, reject the label, which I argue is a product of “Special Pleading,” as suggested below:

Laurence Vance: “Although Calvinists go out of their way to distance themselves from fatalism, they are in essence teaching the same thing. When a philosopher believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called determinism. When a Stoic believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called fate. When a Muslim believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called fatalism. But when a Calvinist believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called predestination. The only way the Calvinist gets away with it is by saying that predestination alone is a Bible doctrine. (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.278, emphasis mine)

With terms of Reformed” and Doctrines of Grace,” Calvinists are very conscious of marketing, and Fatalism goes against the grain of positive marketing, which is why the term Fatalism” is so vehemently rejected.

John Calvin: “Those who want to discredit this doctrine disparage it by comparing it with the Stoic dogma of Fate. The same charge was brought against Augustine. We dont want to argue about words, but we do not allow the term ‘Fate’, both because it is among those that Paul teaches us to avoid as heathen innovations and also because the obnoxious terms in an attempt to attach stigma to God’s truth. (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Section 8, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “But because the necessity of Stoicism seems to be established by what is said, the dogma is hateful to many who, and Augustine complains that he was frequently charged with it falsely. But it ought now to be regarded as obsolete. It is certainly unworthy of honest and wise men, if only they be properly instructed. The nature of the Stoics supposition is known. They weave their fate out of a Gordian complex of causes. In this they involve God Himself, making golden chains, as in the fable, with which to bind Him, so that He becomes subject to inferior causes. The astrologers of today imitate the Stoics, for they hold that an absolute necessity for all things originates from the position of the stars. Let the Stoics have their fate; for us, the free will of God disposes all things. Yet is seems absurd to remove contingency from the world. I omit to mention the distinctions employed in the schools. What I hold is, in my judgment, simple, and needs no force to accommodate it usefully to life. What necessarily happens is what God decrees, and is therefore not exactly or of itself necessary by nature.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.169-170, emphasis mine) 

In other words, as opposed to nature or the stars, Calvinism is rather, the unchangeable decree of God that determines the fate of all, in which God’s decrees cause all things to happen as they do. Thus, the difference between Stoicism and Calvinism is Naturalistic Fatalism vs. Theistic Fatalism. Nevertheless, in the end, it is still fatalism, albeit a Christianized form of Fatalism.

Ultimately, Calvinists simply define Fatalism as “X,” and then just reject that they believe in “X.” However, you merely need to ask the Calvinist, “Do you believe that God predetermines the fate of all, and that no one can do anything apart from that predetermination?” If so, then you believe in Fatalism, and all of the fancy sleight of hand tricks, aren’t going to change that. People have been linking Calvinism to Fatalism for hundreds of years, and for obvious reasons. Calvinists are not unaware of it. What Calvinists are very concerned about is the perception that it gives them, and they don’t like it. 

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: Greek fatalism didnt die out. It was just renamed Augustinianism, and then Calvinism. It is very much alive.”

​​(1) The 1st problem of Fatalism is that it ignores our everyday experience of being conscious and making choices.

(2) The 2nd problem of fatalism is disassociation. We become disassociated from our actions. Our actions become someone else’s actions. Our sins become someone else’s sins, from which we have no control, since we do not have autonomous free will, and our actions are fixed, in which we are not “really free” in the matter.

(3) The 3rd problem is that Fatalism causes humans to think that “change” is outside of their capacity. The idea develops that “what’s the point of doing anything” if everything is fixed and unchangeable, and I had no say in what got fixed?

So whether you are a materialist (who believes that mankind are entirely automatic machines subject to materialistic fatalism), or whether you are a Calvinist (who believes that “man is not really free”), either side still suffers from the same three dilemmas of toxic fatalism.

​Question: Do Calvinists acknowledge the label, Theistic Fatalism?

Answer: Rarely. I found only one quote.

​Question: So what can Calvinists do to stave off the Fatalism comparison?

Answer: One tactic is to use the “pox on both of our houses” approach, in which the Arminian is advised that what is bad for Calvinists is bad for Arminians, too. That way, Arminians will be discouraged from criticizing Calvinism in that regard.


[1] Here are the quotes which identify Determinism in Calvinism:

John Calvin: “First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “There are some, too, who allege that God is greatly dishonored if such arbitrary power is bestowed on Him. But does their distaste make them better theologians than Paul, who has laid it down as the rule of humility for the believers, that they should look up to the sovereignty of God and not evaluate it by their own judgment?” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.209-210, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “Everything is controlled by God’s secret purpose, and nothing can happen except by his knowledge and will.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Part 4: God’s Providence, Chapter 16, Section 3, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “…the reason why God elects some and rejects others is to be found in His purpose alone. … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God. … the salvation or the destruction of men depends on His free election.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.203, emphasis mine)

John Calvin on God’s eternal Decree: “We also note that we should consider the creation of the world so that we may realize that everything is subject to God and ruled by his will and that when the world has done what it may, nothing happens other than what God decrees.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “God had no doubt decreed before the foundation of the world what He would do with every one of us and had assigned to everyone by His secret counsel his part in life.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.20, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred tthe will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “But here he runs full sail against God for determining some from their very creation to destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.78, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “...the secret counsel of God whereby He chooses some to salvation and destines others for eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “...why God delivers one man and not another are matters constituting His inscrutable judgments and His univestigatible ways. Again, if it be examined and enquired how anyone is worthy, there are some who will say: By their human will. But we say: By grace or divine predestination..”  (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.64, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “...God has chosen to salvation those whom He pleased, and has rejected the otherswithout our knowing why, except that its reason is hidden in His eternal counsel. (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53, emphasis mine) 

The Calvinistic, Westminster Confession of Faith: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III. Of God’s Eternal Decree, emphasis mine) 

WCF: “III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.”  (Westminster Confession of Faith, III. Of God’s Eternal Decree, emphasis mine)

WCF: “VII. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unreachable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power  over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III. Of God’s Eternal Decree, emphasis mine) 

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: This statement refers to God’s eternal and immutable decretive will. It applies to everything that happens. Does this mean that everything that happens is the will of God? Yes.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.172, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: Predestination seems to cast a shadow on the very heart of human freedom. If God has decided our destinies from all eternity, that strongly suggests that our free choices are but charades, empty exercises in predetermined playacting. It is as though God wrote the script for us in concrete and we are merely carrying out his scenario.” (Chosen by God, p.51, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, James White: “If you think about it, if God really knows what man’s going to do, is man really free?, and that’s why the Open Theists go the direction that they do.” (Arminianism: It Robs the Gospel of its Personal Nature)

So for James White, free will is just an illusion, as your future is “fixed,” and you’re not “really free.

[2] Calvinists defend against Calvinism being “Fatalism by rejecting “Materialistic Fatalism but while ignoring the obvious relationship to “Theistic Fatalism.

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon: Now, there may be Calvinists who are fatalists, but Calvinism and fatalism are two distinct things. Do not most Christians hold the doctrine of the providence of God? Do not all Christians, do not all believers in a God hold the doctrine of his foreknowledge? All the difficulties which are laid against the doctrine of predestination might, with equal force, be laid against that of Divine foreknowledge. We believe that God hath predestinated all things from the beginning, but there is a difference between the predestination of an intelligent, all-wise, all-bounteous God, and that blind fatalism which simply says, ‘It is because it is to be.’” (Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace, 1861, emphasis mine)

Granted, Calvinism is not materialistic Fatalism. No one is accusing Calvinism of being materialistic Fatalism. The accusation is that it is “Theistic Fatalism,” and thus very much a part of a class of Fatalism.

Calvinist, Colin Maxwell: “Calvinists are not fatalists. All things are ordained, not by blind random chance, but by the sovereign decree of Him who works all things after his own will (Ephesians 1:11)” (A Word to those who take it upon themselves to write against Calvinism, emphasis mine)

Granted, although Calvinism is not the blind fatalism of nature, of the variety of materialistic fatalism, it nevertheless does not follow that since “we are not Materialistic fatalists” therefore “we are not Theistic fatalists.”

Arminian Charge:  Calvinism is essentially Theistic Fatalism.

Myth or Reality:  According to, fatalism is the doctrine whereby all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable. It is the acceptance of the belief that all events are predetermined and inevitable.