We prefer the term compatibilist in discussion of salvation. Because the terms Calvinist and Arminian are often imprecisely used, and cause misunderstandings, we would prefer the term compatibilist, to define our position which emphasises our understanding that sovereign election and human responsibility are compatible.
The debate between Calvinism and Arminianism needs to be understood in terms of what it is and is not.
It is not:
– A discussion of the Gospel itself. Moderates on both sides hold to justification by faith alone.
– A debate over free will. Moderates on both sides believe that humans are free agents who are responsible for their own decisions (though they define freedom differently)
– A debate over God’s love. Moderates on both sides believe that God loves all men and desires them to live and not be destroyed.
– A debate over God’s sovereignty. Moderates on both sides believe God is in sovereign control over all things.
It is a debate over how grace operates in saving sinners. The kind of grace needed, how it operates, its basis, and its effects make up the real debate between Arminians and Calvinists.
I. The need for grace.
a. How deeply has sin affected us? Has sin partly disabled us, or ruined us? Pelagius was a monk who argued that we can come back to God and live in a holy fashion without God. Grace is a marvelous assistant, but man could come back to God on his own. Pelagianism is a true heresy.
b. Calvinists and Arminians both believe that man is depraved in every part of his being, and needs grace to enable the right choices.
II. The operation of grace.
a. There is no question of grace being compulsive or coercive. Grace can only be persuasive.
b. The question is, given man’s depravity, how does grace have to operate? Is the grace that persuades a man to come to salvation passive and reactive, or active and decisive? Does God’s grace remain inert until man fulfills some conditions, or does God’s grace work on rebels who are not coming to God at all?
c. Arminians believe that the depravity has not been so extensive as to warp a man’s free choices, and given a certain amount of prevenient grace, sinners will choose for or against God.
d. Calvinists believe that depravity has been so extensive that nothing except the effectual grace of God will bring a man to God. (Ephesians 2:13-, Eph 4:17-19, Rom 3:10-12, 1:211-22) A man has free choice, but apart from intervention, he will always choose a form of rebellion to God.
e. Scriptures such as John 6:37, 44-45, 64-65, make it plain that apart from the operation of grace, a person cannot come, and with the grace operating, a person will inevitably come. This leads us to believe there is such a thing as effectual grace.
f. However, this is to be balanced with the truth that a person can resist God’s grace (Acts 7). If a person comes, then God’s grace brought him all the way; if he does not, then he chose to reject and resist. In other words, believing is all of grace, rejecting and resisting is all of man.
The effectual call deals with the result, not the means. It simply means that grace efectually draws someone all the way to saving faith and does not fail. How this happens is not part of the doctrine.
God calls and draws all men, pleading with them to believe. This call can be rejected. If it is not rejected, this grace infallibly and permanently brings the person to salvation. It is completely effectual.
III. The basis of grace
a. If God’s grace is effectual upon some, the inevitable conclusion is that God’s grace is in some form, selective. God gives it to some to come (John 6). God chooses some for salvation (2 Thes 2:13). This is election.
b. The basis for God granting this grace to some (election) is foreknowledge (1 Pet 1:2, Rom 8:28-30)
c. Foreknowledge must either be God’s foreknowledge of people’s choices to choose Him, or foreknowledge of something outside of us. If foreknowledge of people’s choices is the basis of election, we are thrown back to asking, how can a totally depraved sinner make a good choice apart from grace? Only if God’s active, operative grace works on someone, does a man come, and if this happens, God has chosen to do that, not responded to his choice. If man does not meet a condition for God to elect him, then the election is unconditional.
d. Whatever God foreknew, it was in accordance with His love, grace, mercy, and wisdom.
This is not to say that the effectual call is only done to the elect, it is only effective in the elect.
God knows it will be effective in the elect. This is the sense in which he has given them to the Son, and given it to them to believe. God knows all that is (all worlds), all that could be (possible worlds) and what will be (this world). He chooses to bring into existence this world, in which the elect will infallibly believe. This may be because some people are unpersuadable in all worlds. It may be that those who would be persuadable in one world would lead to many others being unpersuaded. We do not know. God knows who would repent under what circumstances, and gives them the world in which, presumably, they had enough chance. He gives the elect the world in which the call is effectual. Note this is God’s decision driving the selection, not man’s decision driving God’s. However, God’s foreknowledge certainly comprehends all possible human decisions.
The sovereign choice of God, and man’s choice to believe are compatible. No one’s freedom is violated. God’s freedom is not violated, in that no one thwarts His plan. Man’s freedom is not resisted in that everyone who wants to reject God, gets his own way. On the other hand, those whose hearts and minds are changed by grace, get what they want: a relationship with God.
IV. The effects of grace
a. If grace is sovereign in choice, and effectual in operation, we can expect that it will not fail (John 6 :39, 10:27-29)
b. The saints of God will persevere in their faith (Hebrew 3:14, Jude 24, Phil 1:6), being kept by the power of God, and are eternally secure.
c. However, we realise that believers may be disciplined unto death (I Cor 11:30) Therefore, the godliness of the professing believer’s life, while certainly an expected and necessary fruit of true conversion (2 Pet 1:10), may not be as evident as we might hope at death. What is clear is that a true believer will not deny the name of Christ in life or death (2 Tim 2:12).