When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. See John Wesley, Budding Calvinist, Naughty Arminian.
I use excerpts from Ephesians 2:1-10 to illustrate the contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism:
[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…(Ephesians 2:8 ESV)(Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV).
Here is a table of the contrasting interpretations:
|[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. … But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ||“Dead” does NOT mean that the mind/heart/will is so darkened that it has no desire to choose “good,” namely, the Good News (the Gospel).“Made alive” means made our spirit alive, not our wills. Our wills were always intact, that is, the Fall didn’t affect our ability to choose God/Christ.||Dead DOES mean that the mind/heart/will is so darkened that it has no desire to choose “good,” namely, the Good News (the Gospel)“Made alive” means made our spirit alive, where “spirit” subsumes the will.|
| For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,||God’s shines enough light (prevenient grace – the offer of salvation) into a corner of our darkened mind/heart. We can choose to follow the source of that light or to retreat into another dark corner of our mind/heart. Faith means “follow.” We have faith in God’s offer, and in that act of faith we are saved through God’s “saving grace,” which is the grace that follows prevenient grace “Faith” is something we (our wills) do. The “this” in And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” refers only to grace, because “faith” is your own doing (willing); and thus NOT a gift of God.” The gift of God is salvation – if you exercise your faith||God regerates/makes alive the dead soul; in other words, he shines His light into the darkened a soul/spirit. That is what it means to be born again. “Prevenient grace” is a figment to those who have been brought back from the dead. The grace that is involved in salvation is “venient” (it comes) at God’s convenient time, and is efficient and sufficient to save. In the Greek original, “this” is in the neuter form, which means that in “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” the “this” refers to BOTH grace AND “faith.”|
See John Owen for a comprehensive description of the differences between “Scripture” (Calvinism) and Arminianism.
In general, one usually can distinguish an Arminian from a Calvinist. Many people, however, exhibit a bit of both Arminianism and Calvinism, leaning more towards one or to the other to produce either an Arminian-Calvinist or a Calvinist-Arminian – sandwich.
In the Calvinist-Arminian sandwich, the bread is Calvinism, and the much more substantial tasty middle is Arminianism. In the Arminian-Calvinist sandwich, the bread is Arminianism, and the much more substantial and tasty middle is Calvinism. What I’d like to do is to describe an Calvinist-Arminian sandwich, not because it is to my taste, but because it may help someone think more about what he puts into the mouth of his mind. Here is a picture of a Calvinist-Arminian sandwich.
Over the years, I have taken up the habit of writing down the sermons I’ve listened to in the different churches I attended. I came across a series of sermons on the beatitudes. Throughout the series of sermons – sometimes within the same sermon – we find: bottom slice of bread (beginning of sermon)– Calvinism; filling (bulk of the sermon) – Arminianism; top slice of bread (end of sermon) – Calvinism (which is often a recap of the beginning of the sermon).
In his first sermon in the series, the preacher made the – very Calvinistic, and biblical, therefore useful – observation that the term “blessed” in the beatitudes does not mean that salvation is conditional on whether one is poor in spirit, or merciful or pure in heart. Blessed” in the beatitudes (the preacher acknowledges Spurgeon as the source) means “fortunate are the poor in spirit,” where the preacher stresses that those whom Christ has previously saved/regenerated have received His character (righteousness). To use our sandwich analogy, the preacher has placed the first Calvinist slice of bread on the plate of his sermon.
Let’s home in one on one of the sermons, which is on the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). In the beginning of this sermon, the preacher goes straight to the Arminian fillng, but that’s ok, because if his listeners were observant they would’ve noticed that in his first sermon of the series he had placed the bottom slice of bread on the plate (recall the discussion on “Fortunate are the poor in spirit” of Spurgeon mentioned above).
Here are a few layers of the Arminian topping in the preacher’s own words with my comments in brackets:
“How are we to be saved from our sins?” The answer, said the preacher is “Matthew 5:8.”
“What must I do to be saved? I must have a pure heart.”
(This is the opposite of what the preacher said at the beginning of the series, namely, salvation produces a pure heart – not fully pure, of course).
“Only the pure in heart will be saved.”
(The cause and the effect is the reverse of what the Bible says. The biblical – Calvinst – position is that when God saves you, He gives you a new (pure) heart. Cause – salvation; effect – pure heart).
“God is looking for people who are pure.”
(No; God is looking for sinners whom he wants to make pure through the new birth. That’s the Bible; that’s Calvinism).
“Before you can see God, there has to be a total change.”
(The Calvinist agrees but insists that it is God who brings about the total change, not you. “Total” has two meanings: 1. born again and 2. growing in holiness, which follows after God had given you a new nature, that is, after He has given you a “totally” new nature).
“This beatitude is the process of salvation.”
(As long as does not make this beatitude a condition for God regenerating you and ultimately being brought into his heavenly kingdom.The are four senses of salvation in the Greek text: you will be saved (will bee born again through grace and faith) you have been saved (born again), you are being saved (sanctification) you will be saved (heaven).
That’s the end of the Arminian topping. The preacher then tops up the sandwich with this Calvinist slice.
The Lord “opens our eyes” and “then gives us the pure heart of Christ.”
(The Lord “opens our eyes.” This is a reversal of the Arminian doctrine that a person’s eyes must be open, that is, he must be able to see/understand that God is making him an offer of salvation, and it is up to him – his open eyes – to accept the offer. I must add, though, that many Arminians believe, as do Calvinists, in the doctrine of “total depravity” (radical corruption), which means that man needs God’s grace to enable him to come to Him (to believe in Him). The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist is that the former believes in prevenient (“comes before” making a free choice) grace whereas the latter asserts that there is no such idea in the Bible.The Arminian’s prevenient grace is the grace that lifts man’s corrupt will to a neutral state, which enables him to decide whether He wants Christ to “quicken” him (make him alive) or prefers to remain dead (see Ephesians 2:1-10) to Christ.
Recall also that the preacher said previously “Only the pure in heart will be saved.” and “God is looking for people who are pure,” which is pure Arminianism. Having said that, it is indeed biblical that God opens our eyes and gives us the pure heart of Christ, but I don’t think there is a chronological sequence (as in “then gives us”). The two acts of God are simultaneous. Here is another example of this simultaneity:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
Towards the end of the sermon, the preacher describes the five marks of a pure heart:
- Hunger for greater holiness.
- Hatred of sin.
- Love of others.
- Increased desire to know the Lord.
Arminians and Calvinists agree on that.
The sermon ends with Psalm 51:1 “Create in me a clean heart…”
From a Calvinist view, if one asks God to create in you a clean heart, he has already done it. What you should be asking God, if one understands that salvation is 100% of the Lord (that is, there is no human cooperation, no human contribution to your salvation) is: “Create in me a purer heart/increase the purity of the pure heart you have given me at the new birth.”
After the sermon I asked one of the church members which of these was the sermon about?
- If you have a pure heart you will be saved.
- If you are saved, God will give you a pure heart.
He said 1.
In this final section, I want to show that the Calvinist-Arminian preacher (whose stronger inclination, as I have described, is Arminianism) is in good company. Many, including myself, struggle with the difficulty of reconciling God’s predestination of His elect with man’s will. A prime example of this conflict is the “naughty Arminian,” John Wesley (see below). Another example is the naughty Calvinist, J.I Packer.
In his lecture series “The attributes of God,” J.I. Packer, in several places refers approvingly to C.S. Lewis’ theology. For example, in his “Immutibility and Impassibility” (21 minutes into the lecture), Packer refers to Lewis’ view of the reason why God rejects those who spurn Him, which, Packer says, is also what the Bible says in many places. Lewis’ view (in Packer’s words) is this: “God’s rejection of sinners is simply His ratifying their prior rejection of Him…Lewis went on to say that such rejection is God’s last act of respect to the self-determining free agency, Lewis says simply ‘free will,’ of the human creatures that He makes.”
Lewis is the perfect English gentleman: “God’s last act of respect to the self-determining free agency – man’s ‘free will'” I can’t see, however, where God’s “last act of respect” to man’s “free wil”l is – or can be inferred from – the Bible.
I wrote elsewhere that John Wesley’s Calvinist leanings threatened to turn him into “naughty Arminian.” Well, Packer’s commendation of Lewis’ Arminian view that God respects man’s “free will” – where the implication is that man is free to choose God or reject Him – makes Packer, who says he is a Calvinist, a naughty Calvinist, because in Calvinism man’s will is inwardly determined by his own radically corrupt heart, which is to reject God. The biblical reason why man isn’t a robot is not because he is able to choose God in his natural state; the reason is that man’s will is in bondage to his own heart. He, of course, thinks his will is autonomous (neutral) because he is following his own independent inner determinations, which are to reject God (the God of the Bible). Notice that Lewis doesn’t seem to believe in prevenient grace, that is, he believes that the Fall didn’t affect man’s will, and so, it has retained its neutral (autonomous) quality. That puts Lewis closer to Pelagianism than Arminianism, where the latter believes that man’s will is corrupt and needs Gods (prevenient) grace to bring it back to the neutral (autonomous) position.
Many are confused about Packer’s “Calvinism. Here is an example:
“I am a bit confused. I respect J.I. Packer immensely. He states he is a Calvinist, but also says he believes what CS Lewis has stated about life being a series of choices which either lead us to Christ or away from Christ; that each of us by our own actions either chooses what we know to be right or choose what seems to benefit us in the moment. When asked if each person controls their own destiny he answers “I think it is a true statement, but we don’t always know what we are choosing.” (from the youtube video:Does Each Person Choose Their Own Destiny? J.I. Packer ) This seems to line up better with Arminian thought. Could someone please explain.”
So, is Packer a Calvinist Arminian or an Arminian Calvinist. From what I know of Packer, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s a kosherish Calvinist sandwiched between two slices of Arminian bread – he’s an Arminian Calvinist.