Calvin vs. Arminius
At the risk of being labeled a semi-Pelagian again, I thought I would post some thoughts from an email I sent earlier today. An individual contacted us wanting to know where we stand on the issues of Calvinism/Arminianism, foreknowledge, and election. Personally, I wish people were contacting us to find out how many people we were baptizing, how much money we were giving to missions, and how we were helping people become fully-devoted followers of Christ.
Before the comments come pouring in, I understand that our views on the aforementioned doctrines affect how we carry out those missions. But let's face it. People have been debating these issues for two thousand years, and we are still finding a Biblical basis for each. I'm not saying they aren't important. They are very important. What I am saying is that I can become so wrapped up in trying to unravel the mysteries of those doctrines that I neglect the commands that Jesus clearly and unarguably gave me to go make disciples, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to release the spiritually captive, etc.
By the way, I'd highly recommend the book Across the Spectrum by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy. It examines some of the doctrinal tensions present in evangelical Christianity, and I've really enjoyed reading it.
Anyway, here are some of the thoughts that I shared with the emailer:
For starters, I would point you towards our church’s statement of beliefs here. As we’ve printed at the top of the belief statement, we really do embrace “In the essentials we need unity, in the non-essentials we need freedom; but in all things we need love.” In this statement, we set forth the things we view as “essential” to the faith (those things on which all orthodox Christians will agree) and those things that are non-essential but distinctive to our community (those things that we hold to be Biblical but do not affect our ability to identify with and fellowship with those of other doctrinal persuasions. For example, our practice of believer’s baptism by immersion and our view of the Holy Spirit’s active presentation of all spiritual gifts throughout the church age.)
National Community Church is non-denominational in make-up, and we have members from a wide array of backgrounds- Catholic, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. We are affiliated with two networks of churches. The first is the Assemblies of God, which serves as our theological connection. The second is the Willow Creek Association, which serves as our methodological connection.
On the issue of Calvinism/Arminianism and the detailed doctrines that flow from that (such as election and foreknowledge), we do not take a hard stand one way or the other. At NCC, you will find people who lean more Arminian and people who lean more Reformed/Calvinist. There are certainly extreme positions of both of these views that we would reject as a church, but in general, we land in the middle of the tension we see in Scripture; there are multitudes of verses that seem to validate both views. I believe that both views have much to teach us and that an understanding of both leads us to a more balanced perspective of the grace of God and the salvation he offers us. We believe that God elects us unconditionally, through absolutely no merit of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9), but that he extends to us a choice that we must make (Romans 10:13).
Did he choose us or did we choose him? Based on reading both Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and John 15:16, I acknowledge a tension that leads me to answer, “yes.” He chose us and we chose him. Personally, I believe the most Biblical position is discovered when properly understanding both positions and acknowledging the Scriptural truths found in each. The Calvinist rightly emphasizes God's sovereignty and divine prerogative, while the Arminian rightly emphasizes man's free will and responsibility. When considered together, we stand in awe at the mystery of our salvation.
The questions of foreknowledge and election often stem from a cause-effect understanding of how things work. Did God elect us because he foreknew? Or did he foreknow us because he elected us? Because God exists outside of time, it’s very difficult to assign a cause-effect relationship to these things. In many ways, it remains a mystery. Scripture clearly states “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” We believe in foreknowledge and election. The questions and debate surrounding the doctrine of election revolve around how election works, when it occurs, and on what basis it occurs. Again, you would find people at NCC on both sides of that debate.
I guess the bottom line is that we really try to focus on the essentials here at NCC. We are diligent to discover the truths of Scripture and teach them. In fact, we just talked a length about election, foreknowledge, and the Calvin/Arminian debate at my Theology 101 small group last week. However, we know that these debates have been going on for two thousand years now and we will probably never have our theology worked out 100% on this side of heaven.