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Did I Choose Freely to Write This?

December 15, 2016

Yesterday one of my colleagues in ministry challenged my assertion that Arminianism was in the Bible; so we started a Twitter discussion (as one does). Unfortunately you can’t really explore deep theological issues in 140 character tweets, so I decided to state my position in a more cohesive format – more specifically, in the shape of four thoughts.

But first let me point out that there is good biblical support for both positions, which is of course why evangelicals continue to disagree. Personally I sat on the fence for many years, but it was 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9, Heb 6:4-6 and the impossibility of God willing anyone to sin that eventually made me come down on the Reformed Arminian side of the fence.

First thought:

The difference between Calvinists and Arminians isn’t anywhere near as great as Calvinists often assume. This is how I see it:

Imagine an orphan child living in a slum, dressed in rags, with little food, dirty water and no toys. On the other side of town, there’s a great palace surrounded by a wonderful park with toys and pools and cute animals, plenty of food and a rich family that wants to save children from the slum and adopt them as their own.

CALVINISM: they have decided how many children they want to adopt.
ARMINIANISM: they want to adopt as many children as possible.

One day, a car stops by the muddy puddle where the child is gathering water. A stranger steps out and

CALVINISM: tells the child they will give them a new and better life, and whisks them off to the palace and park.
ARMINIANISM: tells the child all about the palace, the park and all the other children that have already been adopted by the family. They ask the child if they would like to join those children and the loving family that will give them a new and better life. When the child says “Oh yes please!”, they whisk them off to the palace and park.

The outcome is the same, and I would suggest that the Arminian version does not in any way detract from the glory of God in salvation. The child has not caused their own adoption, the whole operation was prepared without their help and only revealed to them by their rescuers; they have only accepted a wonderful, free offer of a new life. I don’t believe for a second that the second child will be any less grateful than the first, or that they would ever dream of boasting about their role in being adopted…

Calvinists often accuse us of downplaying the saving grace of God, as if we think we contributed to our salvation. Of course we didn’t; we simply saw what God was offering, and realised it was an offer we couldn’t possibly refuse… Arminians do not congratulate themselves on being saved; we are just as grateful to God as any Calvinist, and we gladly preach the saving grace of God as the only source of our salvation (And Can It Be is a great example of that).

Second thought:

When people ask “why did God put that tree in the garden of Eden?”, our answer always goes something like this: God didn’t want robots but human beings who could genuinely love, obey and worship their Creator. In order for this to be the case, they had to have the possibility of disobeying; there had to be a free choice involved. The Calvinist position seems to demolish this answer: if we don’t actually have free (if limited) will, if we can’t genuinely choose to willingly trust God or rebel against him, then God did create robots after all. In that case the “tree test” was unnecessary, at least from the point of view of the most common explanation of its existence…

Third thought:

Calvinists often pitch God’s sovereignty against God’s love, and presume that God’s sovereignty is somehow more important to God and his honour than his love is. I don’t believe that is the case. The Bible often states that God is sovereign – that is a necessary attribute of divinity – but it emphasises his love much more than his sovereignty.

And if God voluntarily chose, by his own sovereign decree, to limit his sovereignty in order to create humans with a unique ability to love and make moral judgments – in short, created in the image of God – I don’t see how that detracts from God’s glory and his sovereignty. If anything, Arminians ascribe greater sovereignty to God, since we believe he sovereignly chose not to exercise full sovereignty over his creation. Calvinists seem to give him no choice in the matter…

Fourth thought:

If God has indeed willed and decreed everything that we say, think and do, then he has sovereignly decreed that a good number of Christians should believe untruths about him. I fail to see how that gives glory to the God of truth…


There are obviously many other questions that could be asked, but most of them have already been asked and answered many times. This is simply my attempt at explaining why I am not a Calvinist. Illuminating comments are always welcome; just be aware that I have read quite a bit on the subject and am probably familiar with most arguments on either side…

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