Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

Calvinist, George Whitefield, explains: “And so it is, but not his saving mercy. God is loving to every man: he sends his rain upon the evil and upon the good.” (A Letter from George Whitefield to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley, emphasis mine)

Rain was not superficial, but absolutely necessary for farming and sustenance. So if God would be so moved by their earthly needs, why would He be less interested in their eternal needs?

Calvinist, James White, writes: “Surely it is part of modern evangelical tradition to say, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ but providing a meaningful biblical basis for this assertion is significantly more difficult.” (Debating Calvinism, p.265, emphasis mine)

White adds:Everyone knows John 3:16, and that’s the problem. So many are familiar with the verse that very few stop to consider the traditions that have been packed very carefully into its constant and often acontextual citation.” (Debating Calvinism, p.376, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Jay Adams, cautions: “As a Reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died. But the counselor’s task is to explain the gospel and to say very plainly that God commands all men to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ.”  (Competent to Counsel, p.70, emphasis mine) 

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains:I agree with this idea that you are proposing of focusing on the doctrines of the goodness of God. One of the key things that I have constantly pushed in my discussions with Calvinists is that Arminians center their theological distinctives on the righteousness of God, whereas Calvinists center their distinctives on God’s sovereignty. It is not that one precludes the other, but that the center of discussion will ultimately be revealed as one or the other. I believe this is one of the reasons why Calvinists ultimately gravitate to Romans 9:20 when challenged about how their doctrine depicts Gods righteousness. Their interpretation of that verse has provided an escape for them by their implicit suggestion that we are not allowed to examine the righteousness of God in salvation. We must just accept it. Arminians (and other non-Calvinists) begin at the goodness/righteousness of God and move outward from there. (SEA, emphasis mine)

I believe that an emphasis on the goodness of God, will have a net effect upon Calvinists as charging back with Universalism, even though neither party advocates it, as both parties fully agree that God is too good not to punish wickedness. So any such response would be more of a knee-jerk reaction. Again, as emphasized by Michael Brown, Arminians are not suggesting that Calvinists reject the goodness of God, but rather that their theology of Preterition invariably degrades it, especially when you view it in light of the casual indifference of the pass-by theology of the priest and the Levite of Luke 10:30-31.

Arminian, Roger Olson, writes: “True glory, the best glory, the right glory, worthy of worship and honor and devotion, necessarily includes goodness. Power without goodness is not truly glorious, even if it is called that. What makes someone or something worthy of veneration is not sheer might, but goodness. Who is more worthy of imitation and even veneration: Mother Teresa or Adolph Hitler? The latter conquered most of Europe. The former had little power outside of her example, and yet most people would say that Mother Teresa was more glorious than Adolph Hitler. God is glorious because He is both great and good, and His goodness, like His greatness, must have some resonance with our best and highest notions of goodness, or else it is meaningless. All that is to say that Arminianism’s critics are the proverbial people casting stones while living in glass houses. They talk endlessly about God’s glory, and about God-centeredness, while sucking the goodness out of God, and thus divesting Him of real glory. Their theology may be God-centered, but the God at its center is unworthy of being at the center. Better a man-centered theology, than one that revolves around a Being hardly distinguishable from the devil. In spite of objections to the contrary, I will argue that classical Arminian theology is just as God-centered as Calvinism, if not more so, that God at its center, whose glory, to the contrary of critic’s claims, is the chief end or purpose of everything, is not morally ambiguous, which is the main point of Arminianism.”  (Roger Olson: What is God Centered Theology?, 8:06-10:05)

Roger Olson adds: “According to Arminius, Calvinism implies that God really sins, because according to that doctrine, He moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to His own purpose and primary intention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit in man. Also, from the same position, we might also infer that God is the only sinner, Arminius said. For man, who is impelled by an irresistible force to commit sin, that is, to perpetrate some deed that is prohibited, cannot be said to sin himself. Finally, Arminius said, as a legitimate consequence, it also follows that sin is not sin, since whatever that be, which God does, it neither can be sin, nor ought any of His acts to receive that appellation.” (Roger Olson: What is God Centered Theology?, 11:15-12:05)

Michael Brown explains: “I’m fully aware that ‘the doctrines of grace’ is a terminus technicus (albeit a popular one) for Calvinism, and I know that some of you use it here without the slightest condescension on your part, but as a non-Calvinist, I find the term offensive.

I revel in God’s grace as much as any Calvinist I have ever met or ever read, and every Arminian I have ever met who sang Amazing Grace did so with amazement and astonishment. I fervently hold to the doctrines of grace!

To help balance the discussion, then, I propose here that Arminians consistently say that we hold to the DOCTRINE OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD. This will do two things: 1) It will convey to our Calvinistic friends that, in our eyes, they diminish God’s goodness by their doctrine (just as they believe we diminish God’s grace); and 2) It will make them realize how their use of terms like ‘the doctrines of grace’ (as opposed to the Reformed Faith) and ‘orthodoxy’ make Arminians immediately protest, ‘But I too hold to the doctrines of grace and I too am orthodox!’

I know that we sometimes describe our beliefs in this way, but let’s do it consistently to level the playing field with the hope that, over time, Calvinists would no longer describe their belief as ‘the doctrines of grace’ without saying, ‘And, of course, we know that Arminians also hold to the doctrines of grace.’ Should they say to us, ‘But you don’t!,’ then we could say, ‘Neither do you hold to the doctrine of the goodness of God,’ thus driving home to the point. (I could make similar points about those, like my friend Dr. White, who like to frame things in terms of monergism vs. synergism.)

Shall we do it? For me, I am NOT saying that a Calvinist doesn’t hold to the goodness of God but rather that their emphasis diminishes the presentation of His goodness.” (Line of Fire Blog, March 25, 2010, Finding Common Ground, edited, emphasis mine)
Arminian Charge:  Calvinism diminishes the goodness of God.

Myth or Reality:  If a parent loved only some of their children, and hated the others, would you say that they are a loving parent?
Calvinism: God is good in spite of the fact that He decreed a world filled with sin, evil, wickedness, witchcraft and demonism, and exactly how it is so, is a mystery.

Arminianism: God is good, who would never decree such things, but can and will use whatever means necessary to bring good out of evil, in order to defeat evil, and there is no mystery in that whatsoever.

Calvinism seems to cast a shadow over God’s goodness.