Christian theology is rich with intra-faith debates one of the most significant of which is the debate between Arminians and Calvinists. Arminians trace their lineage to Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) a Dutch theologian during the Protestant Reformation and professor at the University of Leiden. John Wesley (1703-91) who founded the Methodist movement embraced Arminianism and became its most prominent proponent. Calvinists trace their lineage to John Calvin (1509-1564) a French theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation and other post-Reformation theologians.
Yesterday I heard a defence of Arminianism against Calvinism by a well known local pastor. It was reflective and well argued, to which I'd like to respond with my reflections. Let me state unequivocally that this intra-faith debate is more like a robust family discussion than a quarrel. I have deep respect for both Arminianism and Calvinism and regard both paradigms as sincere efforts by sincere disciples of Christ to seek understanding from faith. Our human efforts to comprehend God and His ways will always be limited on this side of heaven. This applies to both Arminians and Calvinists. With that spirit in mind, let me share my thoughts.
From what I heard, a core argument for Arminianism goes something like this, which I present in the form of a syllogism at risk of oversimplification:
1. God sovereignly delimits His own sovereignty to give humanity free choice.
2. Human free choice is determinative in salvation.
3. Hence, when humans freely choose God, they are saved.
Premises 1 and 2 leads to conclusion 3. I will now show that premise 1 is erroneous and thus premises 1 and 2 are mutually contradictory. As a result, the conclusion does not hold. I do this from the angle of philosophical reasoning by unpacking the logical foundations of the syllogism.
Take premise 1: God sovereignly delimits His own sovereignty to give humanity free choice. This premise looks fine on the surface but is in fact logically incoherent. The intent of this premise is to show that God's sovereignty is delimited to the extent that humanity is now able to exercise free determinative choice viz-a-viz salvation. And the Arminian logical move here is to say that God delimited His sovereignty by His own sovereign will. So far so good. But herein lies the Achilles heel: if God sovereignly constrains His own sovereign power, this only serves to demonstrate God's immutable sovereignty! In other words, God does not become less than sovereign but remains just as sovereign before his supposed act of delimitation. If so, how then can humanity have free choice that is truly determinative?
Take premise 2: Human free choice is determinative in salvation. From my refutation of premise 1 above, it follows that human free choice is not truly free and thus not determinative of salvation. That is, human free choice does not determine whether they are saved by God or not. Why? Because God is sovereign and remains so immutably. If God is sovereign, salvation must ultimately come from Him alone.
Taken together, refutation of premises 1 and 2 above destroys the conclusion that when humans freely choose God, they are saved. This conclusion cannot hold because God's sovereignty entails God's overarching and immutable control over humanity's salvation. This means that human free choice does not determine their salvation. Only by God's sovereign grace alone is human salvation effected. Does this mean there is no human choice and will at all in this schema of salvation? No, not at all.
Human choice and will can definitely be present. This is an empirical fact. But what is asserted here is that such human choice and will is not determinative of salvation but an experiential response to the sovereign effectual grace of God. Thus, for Calvinists like me, salvation is a monergistic act (dependent on God alone) and not synergistic (dependent on both God and humanity). For apart from the grace of God, humanity is utterly incapable of generating faith in God from its own side. This is the tragic reality of the effects of the Fall.
By inserting the notion of prevenient grace (a pre-salvific grace that either negates or diminishes human corruption so we can respond in faith to God) as the Arminians do, it only confounds the salvation schema rather than unveils its simple elegance. The philosophical principle of Ockham's razor states that all things being equal, the simplest solution suffices. For me, the Calvinist model is simplest and most elegant without oversimplifying the process of salvation, while maintaining a high view of God without theological additives like the idea of prevenient grace. I do appreciate the intellectual smarts of the notion of prevenient grace, but in the final analysis I find that it cannot stand in light of biblical evidence and the test of the proverbial Ockham's razor.
Much more can be said and debated to and fro but I rest my case, for now.