Civility and theological differences: How can Calvinists and Arminians coexist?
I’ve said before that I have no interest in the Calvinism debate. I have lots of interest, however, in how everyone involved can get along and act like brothers in Christ.
Christians hold countless theological positions, and too many become fodder for vicious fighting. We can disagree – if truth matters to us, we must – but we can do it in a Christ-like way.
These are my thoughts on how to keep theological debates from descending into fights. This should cover any theological debate, but I’ll use Calvinism as an example when one is needed.
Don’t question integrity
Don’t suggest you’re more godly than those who take other positions. Don’t suggest that someone holds a position because of a secret sin. Don’t suggest that if your opponent just loved the Lord as much as you (or simply “more”) they’d see your side.
I think this includes suggesting Arminians hold their position due to pride. (This isn’t necessarily the same as suggesting your opponent is smug; just don’t suggest the smugness is why he holds that position.)
Don’t question intelligence
Some of the finest minds on the planet have been Calvinists. Some of the finest minds on the planet have been Arminians. Ditto for Protestants and Roman Catholics, credobaptists and paedobaptists, inerrantists and, well, errantists.
Sometimes things go beyond facts, but many times it is simply a matter of how one weights one fact versus another. The other's differing interpretation is not a sign of low intelligence.
However you might phrase it, if the words coming out of your mouth can be retranslated as “you friggin’ moron,” you’re stepping out of bounds.
Don’t question commitment to Scripture
Similar to the above, godly people who love and respect the scriptures, even inerrantists, can differ on how one passage should be weighed against another. Few deny that Romans 8:29 talks about election (among others); the problem is how to square it with 1 Tim 2:4 (among others).
Don’t argue against straw men
Please understand the other position before you argue against it. You might feel comfortable calling yourself a Calvinist having only read books by Calvinists, but you shouldn’t argue against (or preach about) Arminianism without having read a couple of Arminians and vice versa.
I don’t recommend learning about Arminianism solely from John Piper just as I don’t recommend learning about Roman Catholicism solely from James White. Do some more homework.
By the way, suggesting that people reject Calvinism for emotional reasons is a straw man unless your opponent mentions emotional reasons. Which leads me to my next point.
Don’t assume you know what their argument is going to be. Listen carefully. Ask questions about their points – not just the standard questions.
Be prepared to learn something new.
Don’t expect to win
Sorry, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to “convert” anyone to your side. People who will argue a theological point either are emotionally committed to it or have thought their position through and come to this conclusion carefully. Neither is likely to have his mind changed.
Yes, people do switch to Calvinism every day, but how many are Arminians versus being in the uninformed, undecided mushy middle?
In summary, assume your opponent is a godly, thoughtful person who loves the Lord and the Bible. You can disagree, even vehemently, without disparaging your brother or sullying the name of Christ.
We’ve covered the generic theological debate. Next time I want to look more specifically at sharing a church with those of another persuasion. In the mean time, please tell me what I’ve missed – or disagree vehemently but kindly.