Calvinism and Arminianism: History of the Debate Brief History from Dort to today

Brief History from Dort to Today

The synod condemned Arminianism. The Calvinists insisted that supralapsarianism did not represent all of Calvinism, yet the Arminians had continually treated the two as virtually the same thing.[1] The political and religious condition of the 17th Century was already in a lot of conflict and struggle, as wars and battles, (including the Thirty-year war which was still occurring at the time), due to religious tension. Therefore, the Synod temporarily put the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism on hold. The Calvinists are in the winning seat as Reformed Protestants (Calvinists and Arminians alike) go to war against the Catholics. On a whole the war did not affect this theological issue. The Protestants winning the war was more important than this theological issue, because both Calvinists and Arminians wanted freedom from the Catholic Church. Although it is interesting to note that some of the banished Arminians were promoted by Kings (both James and Charles) because they supported the king’s efforts to prevent war and work for peace. While Calvinists on the other hand were the first to carry the sword and fight. Therefore, more conflicts and wars were created simply because of this theological difference, some Arminians were working for the Catholic King.

After the war, Charles the Third and James the Second both supported the Anglican Church. It was difficult to be any other kind of protestant in Europe until the Great Awakening. There were many people who left England and Europe for America and religious freedom from the Anglican Church. Finally though a group of Puritans within the Anglican church rose up out of the church and began a movement for freedom. They were called Methodists. They were in a “holy club” which encouraged prayer and bible study. Their goal was sanctification and holiness. They lead revivals from 1730–1755. Many of the pastors and leader of this movement were Arminians including The Wesley Brothers. During the Great Awakening and afterwards, when the Methodists and off-shoots of Methodism were the most popular denominations in America, Arminianism rose in popularity again. Although some Calvinists joined the movement such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, despite the differences in theology, these men put aside their differences for the common goal of revival.

To this day, Methodism and its offshoots (Pentecostals, the Holiness denominations, Charismatics and Third Wave Charismatics) along with General Baptists usually subscribe to Arminianism, while Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, Particular Baptists, and others subscribe to Calvinism. Largely because of its origins in Germany and Scandinavia rather than the British Isles, Lutheranism was uninvolved in the dispute, and official Lutheran doctrine (as well as, coincidentally enough, Primitive Baptist belief) does not fully support either group, preferring instead its own peculiar doctrinal formulations about the relation of human freedom to divine sovereignty. Post-reformation Roman Catholicism, and even more so Eastern Orthodoxy, has remained outside the debate.

More recently, the debate has been much milder than it was in the 17th and 18th Centuries but yet it has remained a topic that gets people passionate. There are a lot more positions, a lot more room for grace and middle ground., although there is also unique problems. The first according to Chamber is sin. “Following Great Awakening, Puritanism in New England underwent a radical reformation. Fueling this reformation was the replacement of the traditional Christian value structure that was defined by the seven deadly sins…[2]” America has took a turn away from being God-centered and is now less focused on good theology.

The academics in America have developed some odd theology that gives a new option in the debate: Open Theism. “The debate, however, has been reinvigorated in recent years with the entry of the "Open Theist" into the conversation.[3]” An interesting point by Michael Patton is that there are four truths from the Bible that need to hold true to any theological grid regarding soteriology. They are: 1. God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. 2. God created all people. 3. God loves all people. 4. Many people are going to end up in an eternal place of torment for rejecting God.[4] Open Theism denies the first point that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. An extreme position of Arminianism (admittedly not many people follow) Universalism denies the fourth point because no one is going to Hell for rejecting God. While hyper-Calvinism (or High Calvinism) denies the third point of God’s love for all. It is best that we do not go to an extreme and leave behind both high Calvinism and extreme Arminianism. According to pollsters, there is a slight rise in Calvinism currently, as there is a rise in the number of Calvinistic professors at many Seminary nationwide.[5] [6][7][8]

Another point of recent study is that no matter which theological grid one chooses to “fit” into, there are always problems when trying to interpret all Scriptures according to that one grid. It is not a good idea to take the principles of one soteriological position and then try to apply these principles to all aspects of Scripture. When one’s thinking is dominated by these principles, one takes other Scriptures out of context and interprets passages that have nothing to do with soteriology and make them as if they are, not only soteriology but also make them (the Scripture passages) fit into a particular soteriological view!

A good passage that is commonly interpreted based on Calvinism or Arminianism is Romans 9. Glen Shellrude points out that there are problems with both approaches. Therefore it is better to focus on Scriptures instead of one of these soteriological positions. [9] It is clear that the primary function of the election language in the Bible is to stress that God takes the initiative in salvation and that his purpose is to create a people who will attain to that salvation. But it is never said that this means either that there is a non-elect section of humanity who cannot attain to salvation or that there is a fixed group of previously chosen “elect” who will be called, justified and glorified in some automatic fashion.’[10] Moderation is key.

[1] Michael D Williams,”THE FIVE POINTS OF ARMINIANISM,” 25.

[2] Ava Chamberlain. “The Theology of Cruelty: A New Look at the Rise of Arminianism in Eighteenth-Century New England” (HARVARDTHEOLOGICALREVIEW HTR 85:3 1992), 355.

[3] Jay T. Smith. “Review of several books,” JOURNAL OF THE NABPR


[4] Michael Patton.

[5]Douglas Weaver and Nathan Finn. “Youth for Calvin: Reformed Theology and Baptist Collegians.” Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2004.Accessed on July 10, 2009, pg. 40.

[6] Ken Walker, "TULIP Blooming," Christianity Today 52, no. 2. (February 2008): 19-19. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost(accessed August 2, 2009).pg. 19.

[7] Collin Hansen. "Young, restless, reformed,” Christianity Today Sep 2006. (September 01, 2006). Christian Periodical Index, EBSCOhost (accessed August 1, 2009).pg. 37.

[8] This is another topic I have written an entire research paper on.

[9] Glen Shellrude,. “The Freedom of God in Mercy and Judgment: A Liberrarian Reading of Romans 9:6-29” (Evangelical Quarterly EQ, Paternoster Periodicals), 318.

[10] Ibid