Within the churches of the Reformation, the terms “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” are traditionally used as a pair, expressing an antithesis, like black and white, or Whig and Tory, or Roman and Protestant. The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other. Among evangelicals, this issue, though now 350 years old (if not, indeed 1900 years old), remains live and sometimes explosive. “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” are still spat out by some as anathematizing swear-words (like “fundamentalism” on the lips of a liberal), and there are still places where you forfeit both fellowship and respect by professing either. There remain Presbyterian churches which ordain only Calvinists, and Methodist and Nazarene bodies which ordain only Arminians, and the division between “general” or “free-will” (Arminian) and “particular” or “Reformed” (Calvinistic) still splits the Baptist community on both sides of the Atlantic. In evangelism, cooperation between evangelicals is sometimes hindered by disagreement and mistrust over this matter, just as in the eighteenth century the Calvinistic evangelicals and John Wesley’s party found it hard on occasion to work together. Nor is it any wonder that tension should exist, when each position sees the other as misrepresenting the saving love of God. The wonder is, rather, that so many Christians who profess a serious concern for theology should treat this debate as one in which they have no stakes, and need not get involved.
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