The Real Difference On Election

I was thinking recently about the doctrine of election, and I asked myself what really constitutes the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism on this doctrine? Does it really consist in Calvinism’s fixed number of elect, and Arminianism’s unfixed number? This cannot be, logically speaking. Arminianism must believe in a fixed number of saved people. How else can they posit that God only elected those He foresaw would have faith? Would they really want to say that God foresaw incorrectly or could foresee incorrectly, and that some of those God thought would come to faith did not, in fact, come to faith? Of course, open theists would hold this position, but not your average Arminian.

I had been used to attacking the problem from a different angle. I had seen Reformed authors use this argument: if God foresaw who would come to faith, then isn’t a given person’s final destiny somehow fixed, and if so, then by whom or what?

Now, however, I see the issue a bit differently. If God can actually foresee who will be saved, then even in the Arminian position, the number of the saved is fixed, ultimately speaking, even if people can lose their salvation in the Arminian system. The Arminian cannot say that God would be mistaken in His foreknowledge, unless they are willing to go whole hog into the open theist position. So, if the number of saved people is fixed, then that cannot be the ultimate point of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. The point of difference must lie elsewhere.

The previous paragraph makes it plain that Arminians also believe in limited atonement. They also believe that Christ’s death will not save all people from condemnation. Of course, their version of it is still different from the Reformed view (they believe, typically, that Christ’s death doesn’t actually save anyone, just makes salvation possible, and they also believe that this limited efficacy is applicable to everyone. What they go on to believe implicitly, it seems in most cases, is that salvation only does ever come to some, and not to others, so even in whatever saving efficacy they hold Christ’s death to have, it is still limited).

When we consider the five points of Calvinism, it becomes clear that unconditional election is the ultimate point of difference. To put it in a very vernacular way, does God love me because He loves me, or does He love me because I am so lovable? Is the cause of salvation to be found in us or in God? Arminians believe that the ultimate tipping point is our faith, especially because they believe God’s grace is resistible. And yet, as many Reformed have pointed out, they are (happily!) inconsistent on this point, since they pray to God for salvation for themselves and for others. Why pray to God if we are the ones who ultimately determine our own destiny? What can God do about it? Arminians really are aware in their heart of hearts that salvation comes from the Lord.