Thursday, February 11, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, Opening Post

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

Opening Statement

I’d like to open my statement with a thanks to Robert for accepting my invitation to formally debate whether or not the Calvinistic doctrines entailed in the “TULIP” acrostic are biblical. My intention throughout this debate will be to simply present a concise and accurate explanation of Calvinism as well as some helpful tips that may expedite discussion. In this opening post, I will simply lay out several relevant definitions and forewarn Robert against the general use of several common yet fallacious objections to Calvinism. So doing, I believe that this post will be mutually beneficial, if only because it should function as a clear ground upon which the rest of the debate can proceed.


“T”otal Depravity: the doctrine that all men in Adam are fallen and thus inheritors of a nature incapable of submitting to God’s precepts. In order for one to have the capacity to come to God, then, he must first be given a new nature via regeneration.

“U”nconditional Election: the doctrine that God chose from eternity to save certain men from their sins irrespective of the will of man. God decreed all the means and thus secured all the conditions by which one comes to and remains in the Redeemer, Christ Jesus.

“L”imited Atonement: the doctrine that the intention of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to secure propitiation for the elect alone. While it is counter-factually true that “if the Father desired to save all men without exception, Christ’s sacrifice was such that all men without exception could have been saved,” it is in fact the case that the Father does not desire to save all men without exception; hence, the atonement is hypothetically sufficient for all, but actually efficient only for the elect.

“I”rresistible Grace: the doctrine that regeneration, gifted to God’s elect at a time of His choosing, immediately and effectually moves one to come to saving faith.

“P”erseverance of the Saints: the doctrine that those whom God has chosen to redeem will never forfeit their salvation.

Furthermore, as I anticipate that “sola gratia,” “free will,” and “God’s sovereignty” are phrases which will occur with some frequency, I will state the meaning I will associate to each concept.

Sola gratia: the doctrine that God’s grace is the sole, decisive factor which determines why one man believes in Christ and another does not.

Free will: the doctrine that man’s will is not externally determined; equivalently, man is said to be capable of actuating one of two or more possible courses of action.

God’s sovereignty: the doctrine that God determines all things in accordance with the good pleasure of His will.


For the reader’s consideration, I think it will be helpful to list various types of common fallacies for which he should look throughout the discussion: straw men, guilt-by-association, emotive argumentation, begging-the-question, false dichotomies, ad hominem fallacies, ad populum arguments, tu quoque fallacies, genetic fallacies, arguments from silence, red herrings, hasty generalizations, slippery slopes, false analogies, etymological fallacies, induction, correlative fallacies, and other non sequiturs.

Anticipated Objections

Space does not afford me the opportunity to address other likely objections one may have, but the following are sufficiently representative of the often shallow and a-contextual argumentation against Calvinism:

Puppet analogy: it is sometimes alleged that unless one possesses a free will, one is a puppet with God as his puppeteer. In rejoinder, Scripture teaches that men, in relation to God, are mere pots, axes, and other instruments God uses as He pleases. What, then, is the underlying objection? Mere emotion. Furthermore, the analogy breaks down in comparison to Calvinism. God is much more sovereign over mankind than a puppeteer is over his puppet. God controls everything we do, whereas a puppeteer is confined by strings and joints – ponder the fact that God made us as we are. Finally, puppets do not have minds, wills, emotions, intellects, feelings, &c. Calvinists are quick to point out that men are not “forced” to will; that is a contradiction in terms. Rather, insofar as man always chooses in accordance with his most strongest desire, and insofar as God determines our desires (directly or indirectly), our will is determined and yet voluntary. It is certainly we who choose, feel, think, and act – and yet it is all in accordance with God’s determinative purpose.

Responsibility presupposes freedom: A fallback objection I have sometimes faced is that “even if the above argument is invalid, man cannot be faulted for his choosing that which he was predetermined to choose.” This is an example of the fallacy of begging-the-question. There is no self-evident reason that one who has broken a law (i.e. sin, by definition; cf. 1 John 3:4) is excused from law-breaking because he was unable to do otherwise. In fact, Romans 9, in which Paul’s chief purpose is to vindicate God’s complete sovereignty, defends the contrary proposal: it is in fact God’s sovereignty which responsibility presupposes. The fact that we are subject to God’s law despite how He has made us should not be surprising, for it the fact that He made us for His own ends functions as the very means by which Paul substantiates his claim that God is sovereign and man is responsible.


Robert’s opening post and rebuttals will dictate the specific way in which I proceed, but here is an outline of the argument upon which I plan to elaborate and substantiate with logical argumentation and exegesis in coming posts:

P1. “TULIP,” “sola gratia,” and “God’s sovereignty” are biblical and logically cohesive.

P2. Free will is, as defined above, incompatible with these doctrines.

P3. Arminianistic theology hinges upon the doctrine of free will.

C. Arminianistic theology is unbiblical.

Obviously, this is simplistic, but even given the room for nuance within both Arminianism and Calvinism, I believe that the essence of the disagreement between the two parties lies in the nature of man’s will in relation to God’s will. Coinciding with my rebuttals to come, then, I plan to give this subject the highest emphasis and precedence.

(Word count: 1,000)


Caleb said...

Where do I read the opposing argument?

Ryan said...

For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. I will add this to the top section of each blog post.