[15/30] Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?

At the beginning of this month, I posted 15 reflections on turning 30. That’s one for every two years. I figure that if you can learn something every two years, you’re not dying. Heh heh. Anyway, it behooved me to gradually expound on all fifteen reflections, so today I will naturally begin with number one:

  • I want to be known by what I’m for, not by what I am against.

[This was a January post on my old blog that never got recovered. Not only do I want it archived, but it bears repeating. The Calvinist vs. Arminian debate is the poster-child for my first point. I couldn’t resist using it. I will be writing fresh material for the next 14]

Am I a Calvinist or an Arminian?

Spoiler alert: I’m neither.

Since the first century, followers of Christ have taken on the derogatory title of Christian, and that works for me…

And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch [Acts 11:26].

Now many of you who have heard me speak, know that I adhere strongly to doctrines like the sovereignty of God, election, radical depravity, and an effectual view of God’s grace. These are all characteristics of Calvinism. So why not adopt the title?

I have a few reasons for this…

  • Hermeneutic. While I hold to many similar doctrines as my Calvinist brother, I also disagree with a lot of his/her views too (simultaneously, I would side with Arminians on many issues, like God’s desire to save all humanity, the workings of the Spirit of God, prayer changing God’s mind, etc…).
  • Unity. I am more concerned with church unity than church titles, and the fact is, there are many Christians who do not adhere to views I agree with (like the Calvinist doctrine of election) that are far more godly than I am. I want to know and be around these people and am not about to let a label get in my way.
  • Application. While many of its doctrines are biblical, Calvinism as a system of belief was established as a reaction to the doctrines set forth by the Synod of Dort in the 1600’s. I don’t want my theology to be reactionary or characterized by what I am against, but what I am for.

Concerning things we are for, I certainly resonate with how the Reformers set out to emphasize this with their Five Solas:

  1. We are for the authority of Scripture alone
  2. We are for the use of faith alone
  3. We are for salvation by grace alone
  4. We are for the finished work of Christ alone
  5. We are for the glory of God alone

This is theology I can live with and stand by! If I had to adopt a label, I would rather have this one over the previous one (Calvinism). Do you see how similar, yet subtly different these systems are? One is an action based on who God is, and the other is reaction to what people have done. Same beliefs, but different ways of expressing them. I want the glory of God to be the foundation by which I start to think theologically, not the weapon I use in a battle of differences. But I digress…

And I’m still not adopting any labels.

You see, there are also God-fearing Arminians like John Wesley et al, who have lit a great fire in my soul for God, and have given me countless gems about obedience, mission, sanctification, and the work of the Spirit. In doing so, they have opened my eyes to see God’s glory! Yet, so also, the Reformers have shaped my view of God’s glorious grace for the better! Oh how I have learned to enjoy God because of men like Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and John Piper! But they do not have a monopoly on God’s sovereignty (anymore than Charismatics have exclusive rights to the Holy Spirit); rather, both have differing ways of seeing these things manifested than the other. Now, I am more inclined to adhere to the Reformed perspective on God’s sovereignty than say, the view of a Charismatic, BUT…I also cherish many of the views about the renewed identity of the Christian by the Holy Spirit that my Charismatic brothers hold, and have learned from them greatly over the years. Wow…there is a tremendous beauty in their childlike, passionate ability to chase after God in affectionate worship! Cannot the Reformed crowd learn from the Charismatics in this, too? Here’s my point: Arminians, Charismatics, and Reformers are Christians!

So I do not see fit to adopt one of these various labels or stigmas, when I can simply adopt “Christian” and be in open arms with all of them.

This is purely a personal reason, but I have never seen labels accomplish anything in the body of Christ except to create factions and clubs. The fact is, both Charismatics and Calvinists are my blood-bought family in Christ Jesus. But if you are one of these, don’t feel shame for carrying a title—again, this is only my own conviction, and I don’t care what others choose to call themselves.

Know instead, that if you and I can agree on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and by the Father, then I personally do not see you under any of these labels.

I love you, and what I call you is beloved Christian.

So…what do you think about these types of debates? Important?

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the value of our union with Christ in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on June 1, 2011, in personal, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Right on, Lazo. This is exactly how the discussion ought to proceed.

    Labels are for food!

  2. I love this post. And I agree, the labels are not necessary… But I think the debate is! Not even necessarily to find “the answer”, and certainly not to create division. But as we search God’s Word for these truths, we discover the richest gems of our salvation and the real depth of the gospel. I do not label myself, but it was this issue that drove me further into God’s Word, coming out with some of the richest treasures. In our home, we painted this:
    Jesus knows me. This I love.
    Oh! Not to be Calvinist, or Arminian, but to be known by Christ!!

    • we discover the richest gems of our salvation and the real depth of the gospel

      So good, and so true. I’ve found that keeping as many labels off of me as possible allows me freedom to discover, as well. Thanks for that insight Lisa.

  3. I’m Canadian.

  4. Brilliant post! Thank you for articulating this in the way you did. What you wrote here sums up virtually my own thoughts on the matter. I fear that sometimes I am intimidated by those pressing for labels, and what you wrote here certainly encouraged me.

  5. CJ, that’s awesome man. Thanks for the comment. I’m mutually encouraged :-)

  6. Chris,

    Thanks for posting that. You put it eloquently, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

  7. I had this very conversation with a young man who kept excitedly referring to me as a Calvinist, at which I corrected him every time saying, “I prefer this title, Follower of Jesus”. That’s all I want to be known as!

    I do understand however, that some sincere followers of Jesus find it helpful to identify their theological position (especially regarding the doctrines of sovereign grace and total depravity)with a label in order to help the discussion stay on track.

    Thanks for your clarity on what matters bro. May we extend the grace of the gospel, that we cherish so much, to one another; especially when we disagree!

    • I do understand however, that some sincere followers of Jesus find it helpful to identify their theological position (especially regarding the doctrines of sovereign grace and total depravity)with a label in order to help the discussion stay on track.

      That’s something that keeps me on the verge of changing my mind on occasion, haha… niche.

      You’re right, I think there should be some room for a “tribal” sense of belonging even within the broader body. Thanks Vince :-)


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