The Electrum


Those who are beginning to study the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism tend to entertain two related but mistaken assumptions. The first is that the debate involves only two primary positions. The second is that the more extremely one implements either position, the more distant one must be from the other position. The first of these assumptions is simply untrue. The second is true, but only to a point.

Like visible light, positions in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism form a continuous spectrum. Every Christian who has an opinion on the issues can be located somewhere along that spectrum. The issues that define the positions, however, are not necessarily those that one might expect.

Participants in this debate will be found arguing about divine sovereignty versus human freedom, about the ordo salutis, about the extent of human depravity, about the role of prevenient grace, and about whether election is unconditional, conditional, or corporate. To be sure, all of these questions are important, but they eventually lead to one critical problem. That problem is the definition of divine foreknowledge.

Divine foreknowledge is the hinge upon which all the other debates turn. One’s definition of foreknowledge will determine whether one ends on the Arminian or Calvinistic side of the debate—and everyone who expresses an opinion is on one side or the other.

Arminians see God’s foreknowledge as His foresight. God looks ahead through the corridors of time and sees what free people will choose. For Arminians, divine foreknowledge is essentially reactive.

For their part, Calvinists see God’s foreknowledge as causative. God’s foreknowledge does not passively observe the future, but rather shapes it. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen. According to Calvinists, foreknowledge is not so much God’s foresight as it is His forethought.

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'Nuff Said

NickOfTimeJoel Carpenter is the Provost of Calvin Seminary. He is also the author of Revive Us Again, an excellent volume detailing the history of the “middle years” of fundamentalism, the period from the 1930s to the 1960s. Carpenter grew up as a fundamentalist, and he understands something about the way that fundamentalists do business. At one point in his history, Carpenter offers a long quotation from a sermon by John R. Rice. The temper of the sermon (or at least that part of it) was pugilistic and bellicose. The content was an expression of Rice’s prejudices, some of which were more correct than others, but none of which was firmly grounded in the text of Scripture. Carpenter points out that one of the major problems with fundamentalism was its inability to deal with such idiosyncratic and aggressive leadership.

Several years ago, I discussed this problem with Carpenter. I pointed out that he had placed fundamentalists in a pretty difficult position. If we did not challenge leadership such as that of Rice, then we were too complacent. If we did challenge it, however, and a fight ensued, then Carpenter was ready to spank us for being schismatic. I suggested that this was a no-win situation.

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