Why I Ditched Calvinism and Arminianism and What I Embraced Instead

Saturday, April 29, 2017

“After searching for answers for many years, I finally headed to my local Christian bookstore and looked for a book on predestination. One of the employees there set me up with some spectacular resources and now I finally see the light on these issues! Let me tell you ladies about Calvinism!” The Bible study leader’s voice boomed with enthusiasm. She proceeded to launch into a long discussion about just why John Calvin’s views could fix so many issues. I joined in to the conversation and mentioned that Calvin cannot and did not solve everything: only Jesus can do that.

On my ten minute drive home, my mind was conflicted; was it really true that I had to get under the banner of Arminius or Calvin? This leader seemed to suggest that if I didn’t get my thoughts “straightened out” on this (in other words, become a Calvinist) then how could I actually be saved?

Being my strong-willed and determined self, I got home and researched Calvin’s “opposite:” Arminianism. “Well, this seems to be missing some important things too…” I thought to myself, as I leaned against the kitchen counter. I Googled “Calvinism versus Arminianism,” and to my shock, there appeared to be some followers of both who had seemingly forgotten about Jesus. And instead of clinging to the Cross, they were clinging to their certain views on predestination, election, and free will.

What a total tragedy it is when the followers of Jesus leave Him behind for a bunny trail. And, yes, I dare call both Calvinism and Arminianism “bunny trails” whenever they take our eyes off of the Author of Salvation! Such a statement sounds like foolishness to many; this is the point where the long time information-oriented theologian clicks the “X” button in the top right corner of the web page. This article is not for the Christian satisfied with mere head knowledge about Jesus Christ; these thoughts have been churned out onto paper for the Christian hungry for Jesus Himself. You will not be satisfied with anything further I have to say if you do not desire to intimately know Jesus every day.

The Real Problem with Calvinism and Arminianism

What would you say is the defining characteristic of Christianity? God’s Word boldly exposes to us that it is not about any person or thing apart from God Himself. In other words, if your belief in Jesus is built upon anything apart from Him, you are standing on a faulty foundation, and eventually you will run dry. In John 4 Jesus talks with the woman at the well; He shows us that He is the only One who can truly satisfy our souls: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’”(4:13-14 ESV, emphasis added).

Is this said of you? “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2a NASB).

Or do you thirst simply for intellectual knowledge that will one day fade?

We absolutely should face questions about predestination, election, and more! Instead of running to a “18 Ways Arminius's View Clears Things Up” book, what if every single one of us, as followers of Jesus, ran to the foot of the cross with each puzzling thought? Here’s a startling revelation most theologians would shush me for saying: Jesus already has every single answer to each facet of these deep concepts. God is wiser than Calvin and Arminius! What a devastating mistake we make if we lean trustingly upon the shoulder of a man in a way that we should only look to Jesus. Let’s be women who always turn first to Jesus with every question of the day! I call out every individual who calls themself a believer to ask this of Jesus: “Lord, I want you to teach me whatever you see fit for me to know on predestination, election, and every other argument. I ask for my understanding of this issue to reflect a heart ever gazing up, into the eyes of my Savior.”

A.W. Tozer makes a very important statement that often helps me to bring perspective to these discussions: “Every belief that is not firmly rooted in the cross of Christ will lead others astray.” If your belief about anything comes into conflict with God’s Word, who wins? You or God? Calvin or God? Arminias or God?

“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever” (Isaiah 40:8 HCSB).

“There are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:7b-10 NASB).

I do not necessarily consider these varying theological views to be fully contrary to the Gospel; rather I notice the fact that embracing these movements often puts our eyes on ourselves and what we can do rather than on Him. The Christian life is not all about me or you; it's about Jesus Christ! As Ian Thomas as so eloquently put it: “The Christian life can be explained only in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you--your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice, or your anything--then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it.”

Digging Deeper

An author I greatly respect has said: “Important as it is that we recognize God working in us, I would yet warn against a too-great preoccupation with the thought. It is a sure road to sterile passivity. God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, ‘O Lord, Thou knowest.’ Those things belong to the deep and mysterious profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.” [1]

Are you consumed with side issues or the main Character? Jesus didn’t die so we could all debate and discuss little intricacies; He shows us plainly in His Word: “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10 HCSB). We were created for His honor, glory, and praise.

“It is a tragedy when Jesus Christ becomes an academic subject… You could study the Truth, but if you don’t study the Truth as if it is in fact a Person, named Jesus, you are doing more harm than good. God always has an answer. Always!! If you have a question about Scriptural Truth, the remedy is to trust, with childlike faith, that God planted that question in your heart and mind and He desires to answer it. Stay focused on Jesus. No matter how intriguing or how factual your study may be, if it leads you away from a simple abiding trust and fellowship with Jesus Christ, don’t follow the bait. Sit at Christ’s feet and you can be certain that as you study His Word, with Christ at the center of your studies, you will never fail for lack of knowledge or understanding on any matter.” (Eric Ludy). [2]

Returning to Childlike Faith
Picture this: You’re standing in the middle of a world-renowned seminary and are being given a tour by the president, himself. As you walk through the brick lined hallway, you glance up at the large picture frames containing photos of some of the most well known theologians and Christian leaders of our time, who have graduated from this very school. You suddenly feel very small in the light of all their accomplishments. Suddenly, the president turns to you and abruptly says: “We would like to offer you one class on campus for free. Who would you like to study under?”

All at once your little sister innocently looks up and says, “Well, I want to learn from Jesus!”

Trying to regain your composure, you sternly look into the face of your sister with one command: “Shhh!” Doesn’t she know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity?! Jesus is always with me! These professors are not; how dare I pass up this chance to learn from someone greatly knowledgeable in deep things. To think, many of these people have studied for over ten years on their individual field!

Sadly, so often in my own life, I find myself to resemble the older sister. Trying to be put together and professional sounding, when the life God has called us to has a very different set of credentials. Paul had something to say to the church at Corinth while they were distracted:

“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (11:2-3 NASB, emph. added).

How many of us have become so wrapped up in our own questions that we actually distance ourselves from Jesus, thinking that we have somehow arrived in our own way? Have we lost our sense of childlike wonder and awe that ardently worships the King of kings?

“And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4 NASB).

We are called to look to our Jesus for everything, much like a child looks to their parents to meet their needs. What words quickly flow from the lips of a hungry two-year-old? “Daddy, food!” Do we go that freely to the throne of grace for the answers?

What about spiritual maturity?
Perhaps you have come to the conclusion that I am condoning the stupidity form of simplicity. Maybe your thoughts are: “Now, Cassidy’s goal is for believers to stay baby Christians forever! She just doesn’t like the hard subjects!” If we are living in obedience to Jesus Christ, we cannot stay as babies. He has called us to childlike faith that matures while still having a glowing child-wonder. As Arthur T. Pierson has said: “The disciple’s maturest manhood is only the perfection of his childhood.” [3]

Anytime we examine a movement - be that Calvinism, Arminianism or anything else - we must look at it through the lens of His Word. I know too many people who use Scripture to prop up their own points. Have you made God’s Word your ultimate authority? May we ever be the people who can say, “What Jesus says goes!”

Calvinism cannot save you, nor can Arminianism. If you’ve been building your life on the five points of Calvinism, I urge you to stop. If you have been desperately building Arminian philosophy into your life, I call you too to stop. If you must have five points, let them be: (1) Jesus (2) Jesus (3) Jesus (4) Jesus (5) Jesus. As I have already stated several times, this does not mean you will never examine predestination and the other issues these two views discuss; what is different is that your starting point is Jesus and your ending point is Jesus. This means you run to His feet and pour out your heart before Him long before you jog up to other teachers and ask for their opinions.  People are excessively flawed; Jesus doesn’t have even one flaw. Who would you rather go to? The Perfect One or a regular Joe with a bucket full of theories?

May our lives ever be built around Jesus Christ, who knows far better than any theologian on every controversial issue. Come and learn from the Master; He’s known all this a lot longer than even the most experienced pastors and teachers. Having doctrine that lines up with God's Word is of great importance! We see that clearly in several places in the Bible: "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 ESV). "Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 1:9 ESV). We need to test every word and thought to His Word. When others are teaching us, we need to dig into God's Word for ourselves and see if what they've said is true. Sound doctrine is of undeniable importance; the question I have been asking is this: who do you look to for the answers? Do you search the Scriptures for the answer and earnestly pray? Or do you believe what you believe simply because "so and so" said it?

Jesus is enough for me. Is He enough for you?

  1. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2006), 74
  2. Arthur T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol, 43 [as quoted in the sermon listed above].