Intro to Calvinism vs. Arminianism

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The One Degree Podcast



Digital library of theological trainings with guided notes

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Monthly Theology Couch Chat discussing a theological hot topic


Welcome back, One Degree Fam! We’re diving into a hot-button issue for evangelicals in this podcast episode: Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

One of the hottest topic theological questions for modern-day evangelicals is “Are you an Arminian, or are you a Calvinist.” These are essentially two theological schools of thought loosely named after John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. We don’t want to give a history lesson but both ideas go back much farther than these two men. When we were in college this was always a hot topic.

Quick Intro to Calvinism and Arminianism

This question boils down to the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. How much freedom do humans have within their relationship with God? In our fallen minds, we struggle with this relationship and see a tension between them in Scripture.

Calvinism typically says that humans are free, but because of their sinful nature, they will always choose to reject God and God must be the one to initiate faith within them.

Arminians will typically argue that yes, humans are tainted by sin, but God enables them with something called prevenient grace which allows them to freely accept or reject the gospel. 

Of course, this is extremely simplified, and even within Calvinism and Arminianism, there is a whole host of differing views. The purpose of this episode is to briefly give you the general framework of what they each believe and why. We won’t go into all the nuances. 

Third-Tier Issue

Also, this is a third-tier issue (at most a second-tier issue). Too often, we can get so caught up in this debate that we view people on the other side as lesser Christians. This has happened all throughout history. Often times Christians can get bogged down in the issue when people are dying and going to hell. Calvinists are not the enemy. Arminians are not the enemy. This is an important issue to study, and it’s important to know where you lean, but it should not break fellowship between Christians.

In this episode, we are going to work through topics such as sin, depravity, election, atonement, regeneration, and eternal security. We will quickly define each of these terms and explain how each side views them and why. By the end of it, hopefully, you will have a good understanding of Calvinism vs. Arminianism and are equipped to dive in further for yourself! 

1. Calvinism and Arminianism on Sin

Before we break down Calvinism and Arminianism we have to start with the foundation of sin.

You may be wondering why we are starting here. We can easily get caught up in the debate of how God could do something (especially when it comes to election), but when we have a proper understanding of sin and our depravity, we are amazed that He would choose to save even a single person. 

God created us, yet we continually disobey Him, we continually reject Him, we spurn Him, we spit in His face. This is the God of the universe who is worthy of praise, worship, and obedience. We deserve a fate of eternity in hell. 

This is why we start with sin. If God chose to save only one single person, that would be merciful of Him. 

So, with that foundation, let’s jump into what Calvinism and Arminianism have to say about sin 

God Desires All to Be Saved

Let’s start with this idea of God desiring people to be saved.

Scripture is clear that God desires all people to be saved:

  • 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • Ezekiel 18:23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
  • Ezekiel 18:31-32 “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

But, not all people are saved. Why? Either there is a power greater than God or God desires something greater than the salvation of all people. This point is where Calvinism and Arminianism differ.


Calvinism states that God’s glory, displayed by his sovereign freedom to do as he chooses, is what is most important.

If you are not a Calvinist don’t just dismiss this out of hand, there is a lot of biblical support. Also, Calvinists are not heartless monsters. 


Arminianism states that man’s freedom to accept or reject God is what is most important.

If you are not an Arminian, don’t just think this is liberal theology. There is lots of biblical support and a ton of historical support. I (Nathaniel) find that Calvinists often view Arminians as inferior theologians (people like Roger Olsen, John Wesley, and Arminius himself are phenomenal theologians). 

Other Core Beliefs

Now we are going to evaluate some of the core beliefs of each side surrounding the topics of depravity, election, atonement, regeneration, and eternal security.

Again, this is just an introduction. We want this to be a starting place for you. 

We are going to give you the definition, what Calvinists and Arminians believe about each, and where each group goes for biblical support.

If you want to go deeper into each of these, we have a Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) course in the Theologian Haus, our theology membership, where we break all this stuff down

2. Calvinism and Arminianism on Depravity

Depravity is the idea that humans are completely tainted by sin and unable to choose God. They are dead in their sins, following the prince of the power of the air


Man is completely touched/affected by sin in all that he is (in his nature he is completely fallen)… Furthermore, this total depravity means that the unregenerate will not, of their own sinful free will, choose to receive Christ.

Romans 3:10-12 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Because of depravity, God must initiate the process, or else nobody would be saved. 


There is a big misunderstanding among Calvinists who think that Arminians do not believe in the depravity of humans. This is wrong. They believe that humans are in a state of depravity, which prevents them from responding to God. But, God offers something called prevenient grace. This is the idea that God initiates and gives this grace to allow humans to freely accept or reject the gospel.

The passages from Ezekiel, 2 Peter 3, and 1 Timothy 2 that we shared above are where they would point to for biblical support. If God truly wants all people to be saved, He must restore the ability for them to accept or reject salvation for themselves. 

3. Calvinism and Arminianism on Election

Election is the idea that before the foundation of the world, God chose who would be saved. He elected some people to salvation.

This is biblical. We can’t just deny the fact that it is presented to us numerous times in Scripture, regardless of where our soteriology lands.

  • Ephesians 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
  • Mark 13:20 “And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.”

The question is, what was His election based upon?


God elects a person based upon nothing in that person because there is nothing in them that would make them worthy of being chosen; rather, God’s election is based on what is in God. God chose us, the elect because he decided to bestow his love and grace upon us, not because we are worthy, in and of ourselves, of being saved.

Romans 9:11-12 “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”


Election to salvation is conditioned upon God’s foreseen faith in the person. God is all-knowing and knew before the foundation of the world who would accept Him and who would reject Him.

They point to Romans 8:29 – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” So, Romans 9 must be interpreted within the greater framework of Romans 8-11. It’s not referring to individual salvation, but to the Gentiles being grafted into the family of God with the Jews.

They continue to argue from Jeremiah 18:6-10. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,  and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,  and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

Calvinists are quick to point out the potter and clay in Romans 9 to make a point that the clay cannot find fault with the potter. But they really like to ignore Jeremiah 18… 

4. Calvinism and Arminianism on Atonement

Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on our behalf. His perfect life, death, and resurrection atoned for sin. The issue of Calvinism/Arminianism revolves around the scope of this atonement. “For whom did Christ die?” Did He die to atone for the sins of all human beings who will ever live, or did He die to atone only for the sins of a particular people, namely, His people — the elect?


Argue for limited or particular atonement. God did not send His Son to make it possible, or even probable, that some would be saved. Instead, His plan guaranteed the salvation of His elect. Christ died for the sins of His people alone. He gave His life only for His sheep

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”


Jesus bore the sin of all people, the elect and the non-elect. Jesus’ death was sufficient for all but only efficient for some.

Romans 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

5. Calvinism and Arminianism on Regeneration

This is when you are made alive in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. You no longer have a heart of stone, you are no longer dead in your sins, you are regenerated. You are alive in Christ! Calvinists and Arminians agree that God works to regenerate a person. They disagree on whether or not God working in a believer is resistible or not.


The act of God makes the person willing to receive him. God’s grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags people kicking and screaming to Christ against their will. The Holy Spirit changes the inclination and disposition of our wills, so that whereas we were previously unwilling to embrace Christ, now we are willing, and even more than willing.

Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”


Due to the prevenient grace that we talked about earlier, humans can freely accept or reject God. Humans can successfully resist the grace of God and not be regenerated even when God convicts that person.

Hebrews 3:7-8 “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.”

6. Calvinism and Arminianism on Eternal Security

Once you are saved, can you lose your salvation? This is probably the biggest question that comes up during this debate.


Calvinists believe in the perseverance of the saints. We are so secure in Christ that we cannot fall away.

John 10:25-28 “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Once saved, always saved.


It is possible to fall away from the faith and lose one’s salvation. There are warnings in Scripture against falling away, so they argue that this means it is possible.

Hebrews 3:12 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

Or, take the parable of the sower! Jesus says the rocky soil is when people receive the gospel message with joy but fall away when trouble or persecution comes. So they receive it with joy, they grow for a little bit, and they fall away.

Also, the fact that there are so many warning passages not to fall away makes it seem as if it is indeed possible to fall away. 


That was a super quick overview of the basic beliefs of Calvinism and Arminianism, but you can go so much deeper. For now, let’s talk about some of the dangers for each side.

Dangers for Calvinists

  • Can easily become lackadaisical in evangelism
  • Can become arrogant (theologically or personally)
  • Doubting if they were ever saved 

Danger for Arminians

  • Can take on a God complex with salvation (“it is my responsibility to convert someone”)
  • Vacillate between being saved and not saved 

Additional Resources

Remember this is an intro! Dive in, read more, and search the Scriptures! 

Here are helpful resources if you want to do some additional reading (two for Arminianism and two for Calvinism). 

Alright, you probably feel dizzy. That was a rapid-fire intro to Calvinism vs Arminianism!

One degree shift

Shameless plug: Theologian Haus will have this with video, slides, and notes so that you can internalize it more.

But truly, dive deeper into this issue. Read people that you may not agree with. I (Nathaniel) am certainly not a five-point Calvinist, but I love reading Piper. Whatever side of the fence you find yourself on, engage with the other side! They are brothers and sisters in Christ and certainly are not your enemy!

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