Historically, Arminianism has appeared as a reaction against the Calvinism of Beza and the Synod of Dort, affirming, in the words of W. R. Bagnall, “conditional in opposition to absolute predestination, and general in opposition to particular redemption.”  This verbal antithesis is not, in fact, as simple and clear as it looks, for changing the adjective involves redefining the noun.  What Bagnall should have said is that Calvinism affirms a concept of predestination from which conditionality is excluded and a concept of redemption to which particularity is essential, and Arminianism denies both.

The difference is this.  To Calvinism, predestination is essentially God’s unconditional decision about the destiny of individuals.  To Arminianism, it is essentially God’s unconditional decision to provide means of grace, decisions about individuals’ destiny being secondary, conditional, and consequent upon foresight of how they will use those means of grace.  To Calvinism, predestination of individuals means the foreordaining of both their doings (including their response to the gospel) and their consequent destinies.  To Arminianism, it means a foreordaining of destinies based on doings foreseen but not foreordained.  Arminianism affirms that God predestined Christ to be man’s Savior, repentance and faith to be the way of salvation, and the gift of universal sufficient inward grace to make saving response to God possible for all men everywhere, but it denies that any individual is predestined to believe.  On the Calvinist view, election, which is a predestinating act on God’s part, means the efficacious choice of particular sinners to be saved by Jesus Christ through faith, and redemption, the first step in working out God’s electing purpose, is an achievement which actually secures certain salvation – calling, pardon, adoption, preservation, final glory – for all the elect.

From: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer: Volume 4: Honoring the People of God by J. I. Packer (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999), pp. 280-281.


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