One of the reasons that I claim to be a Calvinists is because on at least four points it’s totally Biblical. If you don’t believe me see the references here. Now before I am stoned or kicked out of the house by my Arminian friends and husband, let me clarify. I believe Arminianism is totally Biblical too. Don’t believe me? See the references here. The funny thing about the adjective “biblical”, as Rachel Held Evans so eloquently demonstrated in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, is that it just means that something is in the Bible. Loving your neighbor as yourself is biblical. Sacrificing your daughter to thank God for a war victory is biblical. Not getting tattoos is biblical. Piercing your nose is biblical.
Something being biblical does not mean that it is moral or that it is important to daily life or even that we should do it. I would never tell someone that they need to pierce their nose and I would say that it reprehensible and abhorrent to sacrifice your daughter. That is not to say that the Bible doesn’t have moral teachings. It obviously does. It also has a lot of things to say about God. The story of the Bible, the thread woven through the stories, the laws, the poems, and the prophets is a story of God reaching down to fallen humans and redeeming us with his love. Calvinism, Arminianism, and a lot of theological beliefs seek to more clearly and logically explain who God is and God’s relationship to us and what God wants from us in return. Here in lies the problem with both Calvinism and Arminianism and a lot of other theologies out there. They were created by looking at the scripture and interpreting it with logic. The church has done this throughout its history, but during the Reformation with its emphasis on both the freedom and responsibility for each Christian to read and interpret scripture for themselves, a plethora of different interpretations and theologies sprung from each person’s lens of how they viewed Scripture and how they viewed the world. Calvin emphasized God’s sovereignty. Arminius emphasized God’s grace which gave humans free will. Menno Simons emphasized adult baptism and peace. All use conflicting logic to interpret the same Scripture in different ways.
I would argue that different interpretations or emphasizes are not problematic in themselves, just as different denominations, or different worship preferences are not a problem. For example, one of my major weaknesses is fear. My sympathetic nervous system seems to constantly be in high gear. I avoid scary movies, roller coasters, and my husband’s driving. As a child, I was plagued by fear of my parents dying, the end times, losing my salvation, and in general screwing up my life. When I was taught about God’s sovereignty through a college class that emphasized the theology of Calvinism, I suddenly was able to put on a lens that enabled me to see God and the world in a way that allowed me to begin to work on obeying one of the most often stated commandments in the Bible “fear not”. Instead of going through life frozen with fear, I was able to make decisions and life choices. It’s a process of course. I still don’t watch movies about the end times and I still don’t ride rollercoaster’s, but my decision to believe in God’s sovereignty has benefited both my relationship with God and other people.
Conversely, often times I hear survivors of abuse say that they cannot believe in a God who stood by and did nothing while they were abused. For them, perhaps the lens of Arminianism is more helpful. The focus on man’s free will to do wrong or right to each other, puts the responsibility of the abuse where it belongs, on the abuser, and frees the survivor to have a relationship with God who allows us to choose so that we can love. Some of the best advice I have ever had regarding ethical dilemmas was from a pastor who told me to ask myself this question: Will this decision make your relationship with God and people better? This is just a different way of looking at the greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor. If looking at the world through the lens of Calvinism, or Arminianism, makes your relationship with God and people better due to your personality or your life experiences, you should probably do that.
It could be argued that this is just relativism, that there is no absolute truth and that people can just believe what they want. First , I would say that all the theologies mentioned above are based in scripture. I strongly believe that there is truth, and scripture is truth, but truth it is bigger than we can know in this life. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I Corinthians 13:12. Just as God created time, She created human’s ability to use logic and just as God is not confined to time, He is not limited by the bounds of our logic. God is bigger than that. What I believe is dangerous to our relationships with others and possibly their relationship to God is when we insist that God must follow our logic and therefore conform God to characteristics that are not scriptural. For example, Scripture says that God is love. Some Calvinists agree with that statement but then define God’s love as angry, abusive, finicky, totalitarian and that God kills people and throws people into eternal hell just because he can. But Scripture already defines what love is. I Corinthians 13 is an extremely familiar passage defining love. To paraphrase, it says that love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not become angry, it does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not rejoice at unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, it bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If our view of God is that his love is spiteful, angry, hurling natural disasters, making us guess at his will, and just waiting for us to fail, then we are not viewing a God of Love. While we know that God’s love is bigger, purer, more powerful, and prevalent than we could ever imagine, it is still love. The definition didn’t change because we are speaking about God rather than people.
On the other hand, as an Arminian, if you are thinking you are better, smarter, or more spiritual because you figured out the truth, you should probably re-read Romans 3:10-12 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is on one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” and I Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand then, because they are spiritually discerned.
As a body of believers, we were created each in the image of God to be diverse and unique. We each have a different perspective and way of seeing the world and seeing God. Some of it is skewed by our sin natures, our humanness, our weaknesses but I think each of us has a little bit of the truth. God is bigger than each of us, that’s why we need each other to hold each other up, present our unique viewpoints, and challenge our views when they don’t point us to loving God or each other more.