Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Peterson, Robert A. and Michael D. Williams. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, IL.:InterVarsity Press, 2004.

I must confess my own bias before previewing this book. I do not believe God predestines individuals before they are born to either heaven or hell. On the other hand, I do not believe that God predestines individuals based on foreknowledge if they will accept him or not. Both of these positions I do not accept. I can see the arguments for both Calvinism and Arminianism, but I am not really in either camp.

Calvinism is often represented by the Tulip acronym:

T- Total Depravity
U- Unlimited Election
L- Limited Atonement
I- Irresistible Grace
P- Perseverance of the Saints

Many Calvinists identify themselves with this acronym.  The authors of this book do not seem to argue for this acronym. I do not remember them even mentioning it. It is just not a part of this book. Peterson and Williams seem to be fair to the Arminian side in presenting their arguments. I do not know if anyone will be converted to the other side by reading books like this. In many ways, this book is engaging in a conversation with Arminians. As far as I can tell, they are respectful to the other side. The authors even affirm where Calvinists and Arminians agree with each other, and they do not assert that Arminianism is heretical. I think one could actually begin affirming  Arminian beliefs while reading this book.

One thing that is strange is that James Arminius was in the Reformed camp. He had other Reformed pastors that supported his teaching. It seems that even today James Arminius is closer to the Reformed camp than he is to his Arminian descendants.

Why I am not an Arminian is divided into nine chapters, including an introduction. In the introduction, Peterson and Williams assert that both Calvinists and Arminians "are brothers in Christ" (13). They affirm the idea that Christians can disagree doctrinally "yet affirm one another as fellow believers' (14). The authors of this text believe that Calvinist beliefs are more biblical than Arminian beliefs.

Chapter one of the book compares Augustine and Pelagius. They do a good job in comparing their theological beliefs. Unlike some Calvinists, these authors do not identify Arminians with Pelagius. Other chapters discuss predestination, perseverance, free will, irresistible grace or overcoming grace, and the atonement. There is also a chapter on "Arminius and the Synod of Dort."

The authors argue that salvation is all of Grace. That God is completely responsible for our salvation. That even faith is a gift of God. They disagree with the Arminians that individuals have an autonomous will. There is only one sovereign, and He is God. They argue for a compatibilist free will.

Why I am not an Arminian makes a strong case for the Calvinist position. It also deals respectfully with the contrary arguments of Arminians. He also fairly exegetes scriptures on different interpretations by Arminians and Calvinists. This book is recommended for those interested in these issues. Peterson and Williams are good models on handling doctrinal issues that divide us.

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