On the 12th of June, Cru held a webinar on “Covid-19 Conversations: I’ve Always Wondered (Part One)”, the sixth in its ongoing series of special webinars with distinguished speakers to provide a platform to ask questions, receive counsel and be discipled during an unprecedented time of our lives.
If you’re anything like me, your brain shuts off a little bit when you hear people talking about Calvinism or Arminianism.
Sure, I’d heard it being talked about in Christian circles, but I never saw how it really had any relevance to my spiritual life. To be honest, it confused me, so I chose to stay in blissful ignorance.
That was why I was looking forward to Cru’s webinar on “I’ve Always Wondered...”, to hear from Dr Raymond Go, East Asia School of Theology's Lecturer of Theological & Historical Studies, on how we can make sense of these big ideas.
He explained it as such:
Romans 8:29 tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” This is the very basis of our salvation: that God, before the beginning of created time, chose us and called us to faith in Christ. This is what it means to be predestined.
The question then remains: how – on what basis – did God chose us to be His? This is the question at the very heart of the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.
Calvinism, named for French theologian and pastor John Calvin, is the teaching of unconditional election. It posits that mankind is totally depraved and therefore unable to turn away from sin and choose God. Therefore, we are chosen on the basis of God’s sovereign, irresistible grace.
Arminianism, on the other hand, named for Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, is the teaching of conditional election. It proposes that man does have the capacity to choose, and that God, in His foreknowledge of the universe, knew that we would choose to believe in Him, and elected us.
TRAINS VS TAXIS
To help us understand these concepts, Dr Raymond used the analogy: predestination is like taking a train or a taxi. Whichever you mode take, you have a clear starting point and end destination. Either way would bring me from Tampines to Bukit Panjang. Likewise, we all start out dead in our sins and transgressions, and end up needing salvation by choosing to have faith in Jesus Christ.
On one hand, Calvinism is like riding a train. Even if I would prefer the train to go straight from Jalan Besar to Rochor, it does not matter – the train will take the set, predetermined route.
Calvinists believe that whether or not we choose God does not matter in His choosing of us, because we are completely unable to choose Him in our sinful state. It is completely by His sovereign, irresistible grace that we cannot but have faith in Him; once God has shined the light of the gospel into our lives, there is no way we could turn it down.
Arminianism, on the other hand, is like taking a taxi. Along the way, the driver may ask if I prefer to take one route over the other. If I tell the driver to take a completely wrong route, I will not end up at my destination.
Arminianists believe that our choice to choose Him does matter in His election of us. God, in His foreknowledge of the universe, sees that we would respond to His gospel by choosing to have faith in Christ, and therefore chooses us.
ALL BY GRACE
In the end, Dr Raymond did not give a definitive answer to which is right, but reminded us that both should and do acknowledge that salvation is a free gift of God, and not a work done by man.
Whatever we believe, both views agree that there is no salvation without the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Neither view suggests that our salvation into the Kingdom of God is because of something that we can do, but entirely rests on what Jesus has done. As Paul says in Romans 5,
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:8)
I’m aware that of all of this is far from a detailed analysis of these issues; I have merely dipped my toe in the deep waters of the Calvinism vs Arminianism debate. To really understand these great theological matters would take much effort.
Yet, pondering this issue has caused me to think and dwell more on the Person and work of Christ Jesus, deeply reflecting on the nature of the life-changing Saviour of the world when I might otherwise be thinking of some movie or TV news or some banal Youtube video.
So, then, whether finding out more leads me to Calvinism or Arminianism, how could I not?
This article is about one of three issues dealt with - the other articles can be found here.
Timothy is a young adult (and occasional poet) passionate about inspiring in people a deeper interest in God’s Word, and discovering the divine in the ordinary. He is a graduate of Tung Ling Bible School (School of Ministry) and an undergraduate of NUS. He also enjoys musicals, crosswords and a good game of chess.
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