What Is the Difference Between Arminianism and Calvinism?

Whether it is us who chooses for ourselves to be saved as Arminians believe or God chooses us, and he loves us whether we are worthy or not as Calvinists believe, the most important thing is that we love God and praise Him, alone.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Published Jul 26, 2021
What Is the Difference Between Arminianism and Calvinism?

Arminianism and Calvinism are two prominent views that are often compared and contrasted because of their similarities and differences. These two views talk about God’s grace and salvation but are somehow different in their schools of thought.

Which of these interpretations of God’s grace and salvation is biblical, and how do we differentiate the two views? Before we try to examine these two views in terms of their difference in beliefs, let us first review the historical context of these two similar yet different schools of thought.

Understanding Arminianism Vs. Calvinism

Calvinism and Arminianism are actually reforms of Christianity that arose around the 16th and 17th centuries. Theologian John Calvin and his followers developed Calvinism. They developed doctrines and practices to reform the Christian church during this time.

Arminianism was a response to Calvinism during the 17th century. It was a liberal theological movement that opposed the Calvinist theology of predestination. Jacob Arminus was one of the most prominent proponents of this movement. The followers believe that God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom are in agreement.

The distinction of the two views can actually be summed up into five points. These are views on how we face depravity, how we are chosen, how we are atoned, how we are rebirth, and how we should persevere.

1. Facing Depravity

One of the major differences between the two views is how each one faces depravity. In other words, how man faces human rebellion or corruption. Both of these thoughts have the same belief that man is depraved, corrupted, and rebellious but they differ in how to face them.

According to Arminians, man has a decisive ability to trust God and ask God for assistance. It is a man who decides that he is depraved and therefore needs God for this matter. On the other hand, Calvinism says there are other ways.

According to Calvinism, God is the only one who can change man’s heart, especially when he is depraved, corrupted, and rebellious. There is no way for man to be able to decide for himself, rather, entrust everything to God that God may give man grace to change man’s ways.

While both views may seem similar, the difference to it is at the center of decision making. Calvinism puts God at the center of the decision while Arminianism allows man to decide for themselves.

2. A Chosen People

Another difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is the act of election. Both of these thoughts agree that God has chosen people but differ in how they are selected. Arminians believe being chosen is about deciding for oneself.

Yes, God has chosen us, and so we must decide to be with Him. On the other hand, Calvinism says we are a chosen people, and whether we choose or not, God will always have the upper hand in loving us. He has the ultimate choice of whether to save us.

3. Atoning our Sins

Another difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is the Salvation of Christ. Both believe in salvation, but they differ in the focus of who atones it. According to Arminians, the cross is humanity’s means to ask for forgiveness.

We were not saved by the act of Christ’s death on the cross, and instead, by knowing that Christ sacrificed Himself, we have the chance to be redeemed if we decide to understand, know, and accept Christ in our hearts.

Calvinism says otherwise. Instead, the grace of salvation is a gift from God according to Calvinism. We do have the capacity to decide whether to be saved or not because that dwells on the decision of God.

It has already been chosen by God for us by giving His only begotten Son to die for us, as stated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

4. Rebirth

New birth or rebirth is also another point where Calvinists and Arminians differ. Calvinist believe that faith saves while Arminians believe that works and not faith alone save us.

This is one of the most prominent differences between the two. Does faith alone really save us, or do we have to work for it? This is the question most Christians always think about when they are still young in faith.

5. Perseverance

Lastly, they also differ in the idea of perseverance wherein Calvinists believe that being chosen and saved will never be lost, as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Arminians, on the other hand, believe we could lose our way again and fall into destruction, and that is why we have to work hard for us to be chosen back or born again after we fall.

What Does This Mean?

The distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism may not be that apparent if we think superficially. Still, if we go into detail on these five points, we can understand that the two schools of thought are very different.

Depravity, election, atonement, rebirth, and perseverance make these two different. Generally speaking, all of these aspects differ because of one thing, and that is who is at the center of our faith? Who commands grace, and who looks for it?

Arminianism puts too much emphasis on man having the decisive power to choose for himself whether he should be saved or not, while Calvinism puts the trust in God, the ever supreme and the center of our Christian lives.

Despite the difference between the two schools of thought, they have many similarities, and that is the fact that they believe in God and that God saves us.

Whether it is us who chooses for ourselves to be saved as Arminians believe or God chooses us, and he loves us whether we are worthy or not as Calvinists believe, the most important thing is that we love God and praise Him, alone.

For further reading:

What Is Calvinism? — Understanding the History and Denominational Doctrine

How Can I Know If I am One of the Elect?

Did Jesus Die for Everyone?

What Is Limited Atonement?

How and to Whom Did Jesus Pay Our Ransom?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Daniele Franchi

Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.


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