CALVIN AND ARMINIUS -- Predestination AND Free Will

The age old debate of Arminian vs. Calvinist continues.  It divides
and causes quarrels and it breaks my heart.  I consider myself neither
Arminian nor Calvinist.  Yet, I do believe in free will, but
neither a pure free will perspective nor a pure predestination
perspective is correct in my understanding.  Sorry Arminius.  Sorry
Calvin.  I embrace those saved by Jesus Christ alone (Calvinist
or not!) as my brethren in Christ.  Free will is not the Way to God.
Calvinism is not the Way to God.  Jesus Christ is the Way to God
(See John 14:6).

I will share my thoughts about the debate, however.


Like Calvinism, I believe that God is sovereign.  He knows all, sees
all and history is but a moment to Him.  He engineered this universe
knowing all that would happen.  Further, all glory goes to Him and
our works and merits are virtually nothing.  Yet, even as that is
true, that does not mean that free will does not exist.  Where I
greatly differ from many Calvinists is choice. God knows the
choices (by my free will) I would make, both those influenced by a
Holy Spirit empowered spirit and those influenced by an enemy
corrupted flesh.  God knew all the choices I would make before I was
born and while I indeed do make those choices, the choices that I
do make are choices that God has already Himself foreknown.  Yet, it
is not as if God made the choices for me.  He simply knows. God
revealed Himself to me and I responded.  A pure Calvinist might say
that I did not choose God, but God chose me.  I believe both
occurred.  I do not find it fruitful to separate the two as God
initiated versus I chose. It (my salvation) occurred.


I also agree with Calvin that no one is good.  This is supported
in the Bible in Psalm 53:3 and Romans 3:23 to name a couple of the
many verses.  Yet, Calvin goes extreme in my opinion in saying,

"Let it stand, therefore, as an indubitable truth, which no engines
can shake, that the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the 
righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design any 
thing but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous;
that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin that it can breathe
out nothing but corruption and rottenness; that if some men
occasionally make a show of goodness, their mind is ever interwoven
with hypocrisy and deceit, their soul inwardly bound with the fetters
of wickedness."

I agree that mankind is sinful, but what about the changes made by
the Holy Spirit and transformation via the renewing of the mind
(Romans 12:1) when one is saved and subsequently in process of
sanctification?  What about the spirit versus the sinful nature?  What 
about the empowerment of the spirit in that battle by the Holy Spirit?
This is all the work of God, but it is IN US, not separate from US
as if we don't matter.  In practicality, sure, we may mean nothing in
what we can do, but God loves us and includes us.

Where is the person's participation in God's redeeming work?  TRUE,
our work may not mean anything as far as gaining salvation but our
participation is part of our transformation after salvation and our
transformation does not come without our choices made during our
temptation!  This choosing (empowered by the Holy Spirit) in
transformation is part of sanctification.

Calvin seems in his statement above to separate man from God and
leave man there.  Yes, man is separated from God, but when Christ
is in the heart of man then that gap of separation is bridged by
Jesus Christ via the cross.


I am not saved by works as some would try to accuse me of saying.
Jesus did all of the work on the cross and in His life.  I am
justified by Christ alone.  When I responded to the Holy Spirit
tugging at my heart, it is only because He offered an option.  I
did work some changes in my life afterwards, but He empowered and
began to change me.  God always works and I, now included in His
flock, work (and am empowered by Him).  In doing this, He did not
abolish my free will.  Jesus gives me freedom to choose daily!  When 
I choose to sin, I choose to not live life abundantly as Christ offers in 
John 10:10.  I make choices based on the battle between spirit and 
sinful nature,  and He knows what choices I will make and works 
them out  according to His purpose whether that be to witness to 
another or to learn a lesson myself or to be disciplined or something 
far beyond my understanding.  He sees the "big picture." I do not. I 
only see glimpses -- divine revelation.

Choose this day whom you will serve (Refer to Joshua 24:14-15).
When faced with temptation I DECIDE which way I go, but as a
Not by my power do I overcome, but by His.  Grace is a gift and gifts
can be refused, but once taken, grace is for good.  


Now granted, there is something called predestination out there since
it is in the Bible, but I do not define or understand it the same way
my Calvinist brothers and sisters do. Predestination intertwines with 
foreknowledge -- God's knowing of my destiny (-destination) before
(pre-) it happens.  This is what makes this debate almost a moot
point.  If God preordains it OR He works out things so that in the
long run my choices fit into His purpose, then isn't the same thing
ultimately going to happen?  Ok, I know most, if not all, of my
Calvinist friends will say that foreknowledge is not predestination.
Foreknowledge does not fully capture what predestination is.  I heard
an interesting twist on predestination one time, and I think there is
something to be said for it:  When one is saved, he or she is
predestined to Heaven and eternal life (That is once one is saved, he
or she is forever saved and destined to go to Heaven even though he
or she is before -- pre -- the point of having passed from this
earthly life and into the life to come). Many Calvinists extend
predestination to a predeterministic view of all humanity.  This
almost says to me that if Joe Schmoe is shared the gospel and says
he chooses it that he still may be predestined for condemnation.
Ludicrous!  I know personally some Calvinist brothers and sisters
who share tracks and the 4 Spritual Laws with others where it is set
up for the reader to make a CHOICE.  If these brothers and sisters
believe in pure Calvinism, then besides Matthew 28:18-20, why do they
bother offering people a choice if Joe Schmoe might be destined for
condemnation? Maybe they would say because they don't know how he is
pre-ordained. Well, if they don't know, they could still just sit
back and let God's pre-ordained stuff just happen. No! God knows, but
we act, too. Even if we just sat there, and we all do that too often,
then we are still exercising free will though in an ungodly way.  Yet,
to go against God's will is not to undermine His plan.  Reflecting
back on that insightful twist to predestination, one could say that
foreknowledge applies to all, but predestination is for those who
become saved WHEN they become saved.  Does not God want ALL to come
to repentance and not perish as 2 Peter 3:9 suggests? Yet, people
choose against God and He knows that they will choose against Him.
Humanity does not do what God intended most of the time, but God
knows all, sees all.  He is not surprised, but we are not stuck in a
predetermined program. It begins to go beyond trying to understand
at this point.


While the Bible mentions predestination, it is also quite clear that
we have a free will, also.  I believe that free will is part of Imago
Dei (The image of God).  True love and fellowship cannot exist without
free will.  The tree in the garden of Eden was what I call the "free
will element." Why else would God put the tree there?  He wanted true
love and fellowship with Adam and Eve, not a forced predeterministic
fellowship which would not be true fellowship. God told Jonah what to
do and he CHOSE to run.  God wants all to come to repentance and not
perish (2 Peter 3:8-9), but Jesus also said that narrow is the gate
to Heaven and wide are the ways to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
That means that somehow, people go against God's will.  That means
people choose against God.  A requirement for true love and
fellowship and being in God's image is free will, and it happens that
they are of great cost!  Our choosing against God cost Him Jesus on
the cross! Yet, this is what God foreknew and how it is the Greatest
Example of God working things out to the good.  The crucifixion and
resurrection are the climaxes of all existence and history fulfilling
prophecy and saving the lost and giving the believer hope for eternal
life! I do not deny the power of the Holy Spirit and His influence in
the lives of people, but God is not in the clouds with a remote and
we a bunch of robots.  God knows my decisions and their outcomes, but
I don't sit and let all the preordained stuff just happen around me.
That is a predeterministic view that I reject, a view pragmatically
synonymous with atheistic behavioralism or evolution.  But in saying
all of this, I am also not saying that God sits around and lets
things just happen as a distant an impersonal deity.  He knows each
and every choice -- good or bad -- that is going to happen and He
knows how it will all fit together for His ultimate purpose. There


I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone for if He
had not done the act of grace on the cross, there would be no option
except Hell. Yet His freeing act on the cross gives us freedoms to
choose His will, choosing He foreknew and choosing empowered by His
Holy Spirit.


God and mankind are both active; but only God foreknew what
occurred, is occurring, and what will occur. However, the real
issue is "Where do you stand?"  Certainly how salvation occurs
is worth exploring, but division over how is rediculous.  I am
exploring it and I hope that this document can unify as opposed
to divide brethren in Christ.  The free will aspect of my perspective
is not to the degree that I am saved by works and is not one to the
degree where I deny God's sovereignty. I believe in God's working
in the lives of people but not at the expense of people becoming
mindless (and not being able to think and make choices, thus
unable to love and fellowship truly).

To try to ultimately pin this down is unfruitful in my opinion.
More accurately, pinning this down is impossible (to be mentioned).
Ok, maybe I am in my folly to type all of this but I do this to
dilute some of the "stuff" that separates the Body of Christ and
to get at the heart of the matter. Is Christ in your heart?  Are
you saved?  Are good works coming out of your faith instead of
trying to save you?  These are the questions that must be asked,
even though others are asked above.  "Are you Calvinist or
Arminian?" is NOT the question that needs to be asked.  Jesus
asked, "Who do you say I AM?" (Mark 8:29).  


I have revisited this topic (and this document) many times. I
fluctuate between Arminian and Calvin, neither accepting both nor
rejecting both.  Neither Arminianism alone nor Calvinism alone is
fruitful. Phil Smuland, a dispensationalist pastor and Calvinist
himself stated, "Extreme Calvinism is unhealthy" and in a later
message reminded the congregation to remember when they first came
to Christ before they were "theologized, Calvinized, galvanized,
and homogenized." God is a God of justice and grace. Both justice
and grace are attributes of God. Just as neither justice alone nor
grace alone is healthy for a Christian lifestyle (as grace alone
is abused as a license for sin when without justice, and justice
alone is abused as Pharisaic legalism when without grace), free
will and predestination also co-exist.  It was so eloquently put 
in words paraphrasing Charles Spurgeon in a Bible study I 
attended in February 1999 that free will and predestination are two
lines that are both co-existing principles in truth; these two lines
converge in eternity. I am a free moral agent, but God is omniscient. 
I can make choices, but the Holy Spirit inspires righteous choices.  
I can go against God's will, but God can use it in the "big picture" for 
good.  How I want to reconcile this in my mind!  It is like a cruise ship.  
People choose whether they dance, go to the restaurant, the show, 
lounge, swim, or whatever, but the ship is set on its course.  All those
choices are part of the functioning of the cruise ship and the cruise 
ship will reach the destination.  The universe is like the cruise ship.
Or as one quote went from J. Nehru states, "Life is like a game of 
cards.  The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way 
you play it is free will." Humanity can freely make its choices, but 
the book of Revelation shall unfold. Still, this document may raise 
questions and tensions in both free will and Calvinist camps.  It raises 
tensions and questions within me.  I read through it and think, "That 
sounds Calvinist" or "That sounds Arminian."  Am I repeatedly
contradicting myself? A wise sister in Christ named Rebecca Breindel
once said that part of this debate is reflective of God's divinity.
I pondered her statement. How true that is!  We can make choices 
and even go against God's will, but God is still God and He is still
sovereign. The lack of reconciliation is mind-boggling, but the
tensions stand. Free will and predestination co-exist in some
mysterious way, a way that seems tense, but in my finite mind, I see
that I will never fully comprehend this aspect of God's divinity.
It surpsasses the mere three-dimensional world I perceive in my
finite mind.  This goes beyond the finite and into the eternal. 
I just must go in faith knowing that these seemingly irreconcilable
ideas co-exist and I must trust that as I make choices, God is also


If there are any comments, please feel free to e-mail me at

I think I have been fair to my Arminian brothers and sisters.

To be fair to my Calvinist brothers and sisters, go to

in order to learn more about Calvinism.

Blessings in the Name of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

                        James A. Johnson

For this and other documents, refer to

Originally written March 1998.  Revisited and updated 7 September 1998
and 20 February 1999.

Special thanks to Bill Johnson, Phil Smuland, Rebecca Breindel, and Lee
Dunbar whose reflections have both challenged and enriched what I have
written by my choosing and with God's help :)