Am I a Calvinist or an Arminian? I knew that would get your attention! Because I do emphasize the sovereignty of God and the presuppositions that build my thinking, I’ve had some people say I must be a Calvinist. Then I’ve had others say I must not be a Calvinist because I challenge people to commit their lives to the Lord. Some have told me I confuse them, and they can’t figure out if I’m a Calvinist or an Arminian. So, what am I?
Well, first, what do these terms mean? Well, people define them in various ways. But some define Calvinism as “the Protestant theological system of John Calvin and his successors,” and Arminianism as “doctrines of Jacobus Arminius . . . a Dutch Protestant theologian who rejected the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.” I heard someone tell the difference between a Calvinist and Arminian this way:
A Calvinist and Arminian were riding through the woods when a tree branch knocked them both off their horses. The Arminian said, “What a fool I was not to duck in time, so I got knocked off by that branch.” The Calvinist said, “I’m glad that’s over and done with.”
So which am I? Well, I’m both Calvinist and Arminian, and I’m neither Calvinist nor Arminian. Does that confuse you? If you are confused . . . then that’s good! You see, I personally don’t like man-made labels such as Calvinist or Arminian in regard to a Christian’s position on Scripture (that’s why I prefer “biblical creationist” to “young-earth creationist”). When I say I’m both, it’s because, in many ways, I agree with both. When I say I’m neither, I’m saying I’m not one or the other. My point is that I want to be a biblical Christian, and that’s the emphasis I want to bring.
To the best of our ability, we need build our way of thinking on God’s Word without bringing our own ideas to Scripture.go
To the best of our ability, we need build our way of thinking on God’s Word without bringing our own ideas to Scripture. I realize that’s hard and many times we don’t recognize our own biases that we do bring to Scripture because of the way we have been impacted by others. I also want to say that as fallible, finite humans who know next door to nothing compared to what God knows (he is infinite in wisdom and knowledge as Colossians 2:2–3 says), we have to understand our own limitations and the fact there are things we just won’t be able to explain. And we do have to be careful about defining things in human terms when we are dealing with a sovereign, infinite God.
For instance, can we really understand that Jesus was fully man and fully God? He became the God-man, 100% human and 100% God. I can’t, and never will, understand this. I have to accept it on faith because I am a finite human being. In other words, I know it’s true—not because I can logically and fully wrap my mind around it, but rather because God’s Word tells me so.
Remember, God spoke to Job and used many illustrations to help Job learn the lesson that he knew nothing compared to God, and finally Job exclaimed,
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2–6)
What I see all the way through Scripture is that man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty work hand in hand. I can’t explain how it works, but it does because God is the infinite Creator and he brings them together.
For instance, when it comes to salvation, there’s man’s responsibility:
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14–15)Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
There are, of course, many other verses we could point to. But then we consider God’s sovereignty. We know that non-Christians are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and no human being can raise a dead person to life.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)God opens people’s heart to the truth.
Again, there are many other verses we could use for this. But here we have man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in salvation. God brings them together. I can’t explain it. But I know I need to be faithful to do all I can to preach God’s Word, to convince people of the truth, and to give them answers to their skeptical questions—knowing I don’t do the convincing: God does. God opens people’s heart to the truth. God also hardens the hearts of people who harden their hearts, as we see from the example of the pharaoh of Exodus.
But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. (Exodus 8:32)But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. (Exodus 9:12)
I’ve had people over the years tell me they feel like a failure in regard to witnessing. They will tell me they’ve tried so hard to witness to a family member or friend, but they just don’t seem to get anywhere. I tell them that, provided they’ve done their best to proclaim God’s Word and the gospel and answered questions and defended the faith to the best of their ability, they then must understand it is God who does the saving, not us. Yes, we need to pray for these lost people and do all we can to convince them of the truth of God’s Word and the gospel while knowing we don’t do the convincing, but God does. We can’t raise a dead person to life; only God can. When you understand this, I believe you’ll actually find it relaxing, knowing that as long as you are diligent to study God’s Word, learn the answers to skeptical questions, honor his Word and his Son, defend the Christian faith to the very best of your ability and knowledge, and point people to the gospel, then you can leave the saving of the souls to God!
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20)But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
Let’s make sure we are biblical Christians, understanding we won’t be able to define and explain how responsibility and sovereignty work together, but we can rest in knowing that God does.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.