Thesis: Calvinists have  a corner on theologically-themed conferences. Arminians have apologetically-themed conferences.

Calvinists Dominate Theology

Think about the major conferences out there that are theological in nature: Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and Ligonier Ministries. All of them fill churches and arenas with thousands of people. Passion fills the air as speakers talk about theological issues in the church. John Piper, Don Carson, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Tim Keller, and the like are invited to speak. Diversity runs deep in these theology conferences. Dispensationalist and Covenant Theologians, paedobaptists and credo baptists, charismatics and non-charismatics, and premillenialists and amillenialists are all represented. However, it is hard to find an Arminian invited to (much less putting together) such engagements. Why? I don’t know, but I suspect that it is because Arminianism, as a theological distinctive, just does not preach. Don’t get me wrong. I did not say that Arminians can’tpreach. They most certainly can. And I did not say that Arminianism is not true (this is not the question on the table). It is simply that the distinctives of Arminianism do not ignite passions in such settings. Evangelicals love to hear about the sovereignty of God, the glory of God in suffering, the security of God’s grace, the providence of God over missions, and yes, even the utter depravity of man. This stuff preaches. This stuff sells tickets.

For the Arminian to put together a distinctive conference, things would be a bit less provocative. Things like “The Responsibility of Man in Suffering,” “Man’s Role in Salvation,” or “The Insecurity of Salvation” won’t preach too well. Think about how hard it is for a Calvinist to try to plug in a token Arminian at a general theology conference. On what subject do you let them speak? “Roger Olson, I would like you to come to our conference and speak on . . . (papers ruffling) . . . ummm  . . . (papers ruffling more) . . . Do you do anything in apologetics (except suffering)?”

Of course, there was the John 3:16 conference, which was Arminian (2008, 2013). But that was not a general theology conference. It was a specific conference which amounted to a polemic against Calvinism. During these conferences, the speakers simply countered all five points of Calvinism. This is symptomatic of so much of the Arminian distinctives with regard to their message. Much of the time Arminianism is simply seen as “Against Calvinism,” whereas Calvinism is more affirmatively focused on the sovereignty of God. Even the latest books published on the subject betray such a reality: For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson.  I think one can find this same general approach in the theological blogosphere. Calvinists have something they are for, while Arminians are always on the defensive, fighting what they are against

Arminians Dominate Apologetics

Now, apologetics seems to be a different story. Not only to do you have Arminians filling the pulpit when it comes to defending the faith, they seem to dominate. William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Sean McDowell, and Gary Habermas are all on the roster. It is “Team Biola.” This is not to say that Calvinists don’t do apologetics.  However, they normally do so in a less “evidentialist” style that just doesn’t sell. Have you ever tried to teach people to defend the faith using presuppositional and transcendental arguments? Enough said. The simple observation I am making is that apologetics is heavily dominated by Arminians today. However, I don’t think there is anything distinctive about Arminianism which would make them more equipped to hold apologetics conferences. Perhaps, the focus on the free will of man makes the whole apologetics enterprise more necessary and effective in Arminianism.  Theoretically, Calvinists, because of their compatibleness (holding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in tension), could teach evidentiary apologetics just as truly as an Arminian. “Did Christ Rise from the Grave?”, “Who is Jesus?”, “Is God a Moral Monster?”, or “Responding to the New Atheists” are all topics on which Calvinists and Arminians could teach together without sacrificing their theological integrity. There may be some distinction with a topic such as “If God is Real, Why is There Evil?” But that is the only apologetic issue which I think could be an exception in this group of topics.

That said, these observations are not timeless. They are what I see today. I think they represent the resurgence of Calvinism in the pews today. My hypothesis is that Calvinism preaches better than Arminianism. In a confused world of suffering and pain, we want to know that God has it under control, not man. Calvinism instigates more of a dramatic change in theology than does Arminianism. We are more naturally inclined toward the Arminian idea of free will and God’s sovereignty. People normally don’t “become” Arminians. But nearly all Calvinists can tell of a passionate “conversion” experience as to how Calvinism dramatically changed their way of thinking about God. This creates incredible passion. Therefore, Calvinists are the only ones invited to these theology conferences (even when the organization, itself, claims to be more broadly Evangelical). And people leave with a full heart. On the other hand, when we want to fight against the New Atheists and sell the Gospel to a skeptical world, we invite Arminians.

The Graciousness of Arminians

And if I am being honest, I normally would rather hang with my friends who are Arminian apologists than with those who I align with theologically on the doctrines of grace (yes, I am a Calvinist). Why? Because, generally speaking, (and pardon my french) so many Calvinists are theological asses. So often, they are overly prideful and bigoted due to their beliefs in the doctrines of grace (how ironic is that?). Now, there are exceptions (and, here, I am only talking about people I am friends with) such as close friends Ed Komoszewski, Clint Roberts, Tim Kimberley, Carrie Hunter, Rob Bowman, and Dan Wallace, and more distant friends, Justin Taylor, Doug Groothius, Greg Koukl, Darrel Bock, Matt Smethurst, and Collin Hansen (sorry if I left anyone out). But with Arminian apologists, they are, by and large, so much more laid back, caring more about the essence of the Gospel than the particular theological distinctives. I think of friends such as Paul Copan, Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, Craig Keener, Thomas Oden, and J.P. Moreland. These men are among the most gracious and kind men I have ever known. I had more Arminians come and speak at the Credo House than I did Calvinists. Why? Again, they often represent a humility not often found in Calvinism and they are more (truly) evangelical than most Calvinists.

In the end, while Calvinism has the corner on theology and passion, Arminianism has the corner on apologetics and gracious attitude. This of course, is very observational and opinionated. So take it for what it is worth.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    27 replies to "Why Arminianism Won’t Preach (And Calvinism Won’t Sell)"

    • Todd

      Ha ha. Having been to a few of these conferences, pretty good article–meaning there is some truth in there I’ve never thought about. I’m going to be a Calvinist Classical Apologist Mother Teresa now.

    • Missy M

      Geisler and many others do not identify as Arminian. They simply are not Calvinists. I’m not sure where you were taught the idea that to not be a Calvinist is to be an Arminianist but they misled you. Sloppy.

      • C Michael Patton

        Geisler are Semi-Pelagian. This is not a slur, but a truth by definition. He believes that people retain a natural moral ability to come to God. Read Chosen But Free. He even goes so far as to call himself a true Calvinist. Of course he redefines it to such a degree that us Calvinism finds no modern Calvinist adherents but him!

        • D. Randall

          Actually Geisler is not semi-Pelagian, nor was Arminius for that matter. Arminians and Semi-Pelagians both affirm a role for free will. However, Semi-Pelagians denied total depravity and any need for prevenient grace. Arminians and Calvinists both affirm depravity and prevenient grace, however Arminians affirm that grace makes faith possible, while Calvinists insist that it makes faith necessary. Some modern “Arminians” deny the preservation of the saints and some also hold to governmental atonement theory. Arminius himself was uncertain on the security of the believer, I believe that Geisler and “moderate Calvinists” are basically conservative true Arminians who (unlike Arminius) are more certain with regard to the believer’s security.

          Geisler is not a Calvinist, but he agrees with Calvin on two points where a Semi-Pelagian would definitely not. On the atonement, election, and grace there are some overlaps between Geisler’s (and Arminius’) view and Calvin’s, but virtually none with the Semi-Pelagians.

    • Tom Fillinger

      Missy – Theological positions are determined by an objective exegetical examination of the position promulgated, not, by the mere declaration of those embracing a given position. A theological position is what it is, not, what any given individual may declare it tobe.

    • Tom Fillinger

      There is another VERY SIGNIFICANT FACTOR in this deliberation on Apologetics. I am endeavoring to establish a National Apologetics Forum to be held in Cincinnati OH (N KY).

      The issue I raise is this. Norman Geisler, Steve Gaines, and others who embrace a non-calvinistic theological posture have refused to engage in a Forum in which the text is examined using Diagrammatic Analysis, Systematic Theology, and line upon line, precept upon precept exegesis. They have stated – ‘if you disagree with my position I do not want to discuss it’ or words to that affect.

      The Scripture NEVER contradicts itself. The Law of Non-Contradiction applies to Theology and Special Revelation as it does in all aspects of life. The Forum insists on Irenic & Gracious conduct. The Holy Spirit equips all participants to honor the LORD and discover the one and only one correct interpretation of the text. Difficult yet very important as we are being challenged on every front as it relates to Christian Theism. Speaking with one voice enhances our place in the Marketplace of Ideas.

    • C Michael Patton

      Did I mention Geisler?

      I hang with a lot of these apologists and talk to them about it. Most of them outright reject the idea of unconditional election, more identifying with some sort of conditional election.

      Oden is the only non-apologist I mentioned and he says he is Weslyan, not Arminian. Typical of Weslyans! However, they are just a branch of Arminian. Some of the other apologists say that they don’t know what they are but they definitely reject unconditional election.

      While I believe they are Arminian when they reject unconditional election, I don’t need to die on a hill of labels for my observations to be valid.

    • C Michael Patton

      Btw: the comments don’t work for most people, especially for certain browsers.

    • Missy M

      You sure did mention him, 4th paragraph. How is it I know that and you don’t yet you’re the one thst wrote the post, not me?

    • C Michael Patton

      So I did. He cerianly should not have been mentioned as he does not fit the characteristics I meant to illustrate. Although, he is to the left of Arminians.

      • D. Randall

        Did you edit the post? I find no mention of Geisler in it.

        And exactly what does it mean to be to the left of Arminius? Does it mean closer to Calvinism or further away?

    • David P. Craig

      Michael – Interesting points. I am currently teaching on the biblical doctrine of Election in an Adult Elective at the Church where I pastor. I made a chart for my class of the five points of Arminianism and the five points of Calvinism. And as a committed “Calvinist” I have observed that Arminians have a tendency to look at things more from the nature of man or philosophically (they tend to be philosophers and apologists) and the finest theologians tend to be Calvinists (they tend to see things from the vantage point of God-centered lenses). I also agree, that I’d rather be around many evangelistic Arminians than “ivory tower” Calvinists any day. However, I find that the Scriptures substantiate Calvinism much better than the Arminian position as was determined by the Council of Dort in the 1600’s. Hopefully Calvinists are becoming more warm, hospitable, and gracious as we seek to be more like Jesus!

      THOSE WHO HAVE IDENTIFIED WITH ARMINIANISM: Pelagius (Pre-Arminius), Jocobus Arminius, Erasmus, Philip Melancthon, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery, Clark Pinnock, I.H. Marshall, J.P. Moreland, Dave Hunt, Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Jerry L. Walls, Jack W. Cottrell, Roger E. Olson, Billy Graham, Chuck Smith, John Maxwell, Grant Osborn, H. Orton Wiley, H. Ray Dunning, John Miley, William Hasker, W.L. Craig

      THOSE WHO HAVE IDENTIFIED WITH CALVINISM: Augustine and Aquinas (Pre-Calvin), Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Francis Schaeffer, F.F. Bruce, John R.W. Stott, James Boice, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, John Feinberg, Erwin Lutzer, Steven J. Lawson, Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, James White, Albert Mohler, John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Horton, D.A. Carson

      In His grip of grace, Dr. David P. Craig

    • Robert Eaglestone

      In general I get that vibe too. Perhaps when you’re focused on the responsibilities of every Christian, you tend to remember your weaknesses better? I dunno. Perhaps it’s a symptom of something in the modern preaching and teaching done by many calvinists.

    • Bnonn Tennant

      Re attitude, maybe you’re hanging around the wrong Calvinists? Or maybe you haven’t tried hanging out with the kinds of Arminians who spend their time on Roger Olson and Jerry Walls’ blogs?

      Here’s something of a counterpoint:

    • Michael Strawn

      Maybe I am peculiar in the sense that once I grasped the tenets of Calvinism, I was humbled as never before and continue to be so humbled. That a gracious God would reveal Himself and call me when I know my unworthiness is incomprehensible. I have nothing to boast in but everything to be humble for.

      • Peggy Gianesin

        That is EXACTLY what happened to me. And I still am so humbled to think that he chose a wretch like me. I still don’t understand it. I truly embraced the depravity of man. And that’s where I see the issue between the two sides. Arminians cannot fathom unconditional election. But Calvinists know that because we are so depraved…none does good. No. Not. One….that God reaching down and even dragging… in Paul and Silas….that His work is the only way to redemption.

    • Keith Thomas

      This is a very interesting article. I would, however, disagree that there are only two “camps” among believers. Having been educated in a strong Calvinistic college as well as a moderate Calvinistic seminary, I believe that it is a bit disingenuous to categorize into two camps when we know full well that there is a sliding scale among Calvinists. While some Calvinists are 5+ pointers we also know that there are others who may be 2 or 3 (although some the 5+ side would disagree that they are even believers). It is also equally true of Arminians, sliding scale on the 5 pts. There is also a rising group of people who identify as “Traditionalist” who do not hold to tenants of either Calvinism or Arminianism. Further, it needs to be pointed out that the “audience” of most Calvinists are among those who are believers as opposed to unbelievers – thus the reason why it would garnish a larger “crowd” of believers. Let’s face it, It is hard to be a totally honest Calvinist when preaching to unbelievers! Sadly, I find the resurgence of Calvinism to be tragic in many respects because it creates an internal rivalry that does not produce Godly fruits of the spirit nor does it foster the kind of love Jesus said was absolutely necessary John 13:34-35, John 15:17.

    • David Reich

      I am sympathetic with the author’s main point and always wondered shy this dichotomy existed. I confess (great movie by the way) that I am a reformed Calvinist of the Francis Schaeffer/RC Sproul variety, but have an MA from Biola in Apologetics! I went to Biola because I firmly believe there is a role for evidence and reason in the apologetic enterprise that might give a non-believer pause to think through whether or not their presuppositions make sense, particularly if they won’t listen to scriptural claims about sin and the atonement. As Nancy Pearcey argues, atheists steal from the Bible to make moral claims, so our job is to expose that hypocrisy. I also believe that only by the power of the Holy Spirit is one regenerated and comes to faith and yes, I do believe that God has from the foundations of eternity past who will be saved and who won’t be os I reject the molinism of a W.L. Craig. However, that does not excuse us from the mandate to share what we know to be true. On my return flight from a Ligonier conference a few years ago, I spoke with an OPC pastor who had also attended but for the most part rejected the conference speakers except for Sinclair Ferguson making the case that the rest of them are wrong because they all start wrong. He said apologetics can only be done using scripture and by starting from any other place is using human reason and evidence which by themselves don’t convict. Sure, they may not convict, and no one can be “argued” or “evidenced” into the kingdom, but I have come to the view that the apologetic method one employs ought to be determined by the presuppositions of the person who are speaking to. If they are willing to examine scripture, use the OPC pastor’s pre-suppositional method and Will Metzger “Tell the Truth” evangelism…If not, the pre-evangelism use of evidence for the resurrection or classical arguments maybe the right place to start as Paul did on Mars Hill. If God has called that person to be born again, he can use any of us and different means he gave us to use.

    • D. Randall

      Whether Arminianism preaches or not is a good question. But the conferences you refer to are not as diverse as you make out. They are organized by Calvinists, the speakers are Calvinists, and the intended audience is Calvinist. So why wonder why Roger is not invited. Other conferences, such as those put on by the ETS are truly generally theological in nature and do include Arminians and Wesleyans.

    • Robert

      I’m feeling pulled towards Reformed theology, the doctrine itself made me scream and wrestle but with the revealed nature of God it is starting to appear logical to me. Coming to accept TULIP even tentatively, and with the different terminology that RC Sproul uses, has filled me with a stronger conviction and passion for Christ then I have ever felt before. Though I’m terrified of ‘coming out’ as someone leaning towards Calvinism because I go to a Wesleyan university where Calvinism is the butt of many jokes and there seems to be a strong reaction against it, this is among the student body by the way not the facility. So with all of this rambling I guess I’m just asking for some advice on how to proceed and things to read.

      • Edward

        I’m with you on this. Mainly the high view of scripture and truth rather than emotion.

    • Steve

      Thank you. Enjoyed the article and the comments. From the Reformed Arminian position, there are a tremendous amount of authors to glean from.

    • drwayman

      While the author is trying to be fair…he makes a common mistake about Arminianism in equating it with free will, “the focus on the free will of man makes the whole apologetics enterprise more necessary and effective in Arminianism.” Arminianism does not focus on the free will of man but the character of God.

      Additionally, he makes an error, “the sovereignty of God, the glory of God in suffering, the security of God’s grace, the providence of God over missions, and yes, even the utter depravity of man.” that these topics are exclusively Calvinisitic, when Arminians definitely preach these and believe these.

      I do agree that Arminianism has the corner on apologetics and gracious attitude.

      And I agree that Arminianism is default Christianity, “People normally don’t “become” Arminians. But nearly all Calvinists can tell of a passionate “conversion” experience as to how Calvinism dramatically changed their way of thinking about God.” However, I disagree about passionate conversions not being Arminian. He needs to attend some good holiness churches and hear some great Arminian preaching…talk about passion!! Some of the best soul-winners I’ve known are solidly Arminian.

      • Matthew Birchfield

        I agree with you that the argument in favor of free will is often dismissed as a “free will of man” issue rather than a “Character of God” issue. One of my least favorite arguments from my Reformed brothers is that I have somehow failed to study the bible or to read Romans 9. Strictly speaking I am not an Arminian or Calvinist, I am a Molinist. Regardless though that’s not an idea I or any other honest bible studying believer arrived at from just reading without studying. However just as I’ve told my reformed brethren when I get to Heaven if calvinism turns out to be true then I’d never say God is somehow unjust. Likewise if the free will perspective is true we would be remiss to say God is weak. In the end we need to preach the Gospel and say exactly what the text says that Jesus is calling sinners, our job is to preach that Gospel to the World and Jesus will do the saving. These arguments over who’s right on election will not win us anymore favor in the eyes of the Lord. Our whole job is simply tell them about Jesus.

    • JRHarris

      Pentecostals are mostly Wesleyan Arminian in doctrine and are accused of being emotional in conversion (and pretty much everything else). Very few though use apologetics as a means of evangelism. The focus of Pentecostals is the power of the gospel to save, the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and draw, and the power of prayer to beseech God for souls. There is a lot of passion for the word and doctrine with pentecostals (though few believe this). I agree with one of the responses that there are differing degrees of thought within the Arminian and Calvinistic families. The author paints in too broad of strokes but he has some good thoughts.

    • Mica Vanderwarf

      I think one possible reasons apologetics is dominated by Arminians is this. Calvinist theology teaches that the elect will come to and stay in the faith no matter what. On that basis it makes sense not to put as much effort into reasoning with people about the truth of Christianity but to spend more time working out doctrine. Arminian theology teachs that people are not predetermined to believe and that they believe on Jesus because they are convinced of the truth of Christianity. Therefore it makes sense to focus on convincing people of the truth of the gospels.

    • Craig Verdi

      I believe that the differences can be explained more by personality traits than theology. It is what makes you gravitate to one side or the other. I think it is just humans looking at a reality, “I was blind and now I see,” and trying to figure out “how that works.”

      I am not a Calvinist. If they are great theologians, why don’t they teach on limited atonement from the pulpit? Someone will declare that they do. I spent two years in a Calvinist church and never heard the appeal to take the free gift that Jesus offers. I am concerned the Calvinists I know remain insecure about their salvation for they believe it was bestowed but they didn’t receive it..Then to affirm them “knowing” they are chosen they do two works, baptism and repentance. They can’t point to a time they were broken beyond repair and cried out to God. They say it’s proven by fruit. So, I see them trying to act out how much fruit they have for others to see. It is a stressful way to live. I have never heard the answer as to why receiving a gift is “works.” It is not by definition. You didn’t do anything. Your neighbor shows up with gift and you accept it. What did you do to earn that gift?

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