What Calvinism and Pelagianism Have In Common

Derek Ouellette —  April 22, 2012

I want to put aside for a moment the question of the validity of Calvinism. There are many Calvinists I respect – none of which I would consider to be in the same camp as the neo-reformed. Mike Bird, Michael Patton, Denny Burk, to name a few. But rather than argue against the validity of Calvinism, I want to zero in on one tiny but enormous point Calvinists would rather seekers just not know.

Often when people convert from one intra-Christian tradition to another, it’s usually for reasons other than doctrinal validity as the book Journey’s of Faith reveals clearly enough. People convert for many reasons, not least because they have a sense of incompleteness. They feel that another tradition offers something that their current tradition lacks. Whether it be a worship style and attitude, freedom or liturgical structure, perhaps sacraments, people are always moving back and forth between traditions in search for a sense of something.

In the case of Calvinism, I believe the number one feature which draws people to it is the doctrine of the preservation of the saints. They want to feel eternally secure. Exhibit A: I have grown up with people personally who have become Calvinists because of the attractiveness of this very doctrine. I knew one man whose brother, a Pentecostal minister, was decidedly Pelagian when he taught. As a result my friend, who had difficulty managing those things he desired most – women, alcohol and popularity – wanted to find eternal security. Obviously his brothers Pelagian tendencies, and the insecurity that comes with it, lended itself to my friends decision to become a Calvinist. Of course there were other complex factors involved, but escaping a perceived Pentecostal Pelagian insecurity seemed to be a vital one.

Exhibit B: I am a member of an online Arminian group where a few months back another member had stated that his views on the preservation of the saints had changed. He had hoped that holding to a doctrine of once saved always saved will help make his Arminian soteriology more palatable to his Baptist Calvinist brethren. The general response among the Arminian group was to cheer and applaud this move, acknowledging that less people would convert to Calvinsim if more Arminians embraced once saved always saved. Or, to put that backwards as the very idea suggests, many Baptists Calvinists are Calvinists primarily because of the doctrine of the preservation of the saints. People want to feel secure and Arminianism doesn’t offer that (supposedly).

Exhibit C: On the progressive scholarly front, Michael Bird embraces this view as a part of the package of his Calvinist soteriology. Scot McKnight rejects the Calvinist soteriology at preciously this point. Since Hebrews teaches that someone can abandon their faith, the Calvinist soteriology must be wrong. N.T. Wright chimes in, coming up the middle between these views since it seems he doesn’t embrace a Calvinist soteriology wholesale, but he also pushes back a bit on McKnight by saying of Hebrews, “that’s not the right question.” (But I think if it’s not the question Hebrews is asking, it is at the very least precisely the issue Hebrews takes up.)

But no matter where you land on this issue, whether you believe in the perseverance of the saints or you believe that it is possible for an individual to abandon the faith to which they once clung, one thing is certain: the idea that God elects some to salvation and “passes over” most others is not the most difficult idea that Calvinism has to offer. No. The most difficult idea Calvinism has to offer is that there is no way in this life that you can know if you have been passed over or not. No way to know if you are one of the elect!

I feel like repeating that last three sentences. Read it again.

The most terrifying part of Calvinism’ soteriology (and it’s best kept secret) is that there is no way to know if you are one of the elect. None. Read on.

While documenting the rise of the so-called new Calvinism, Collin Hanson interviews many young Piper cubs who admit that the most difficult part to accept while journeying towards Calvinism was the idea that God elects to salvation some and passes over others. This is Exhibit D that many people who convert to Calvinism have not thought through it’s doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Because surely I would think the most difficult part to accept while journeying to Calvinism wouldn’t be that God passes over others, but that God may have passed over you! And there’s no way to know.

Let me say this another way – and yes, I am hammering home this point until you get it! – Calvinism offers about as much security to the believer as full blown Pelagianism!

Let me explain how by making three points about Calvinism:

1. Calvinism fits squarely within the holiness tradition (as does Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism). That some people run around claiming to teach that someone can make a sincere confession of faith and then live their life nilly-willy any way they wish and still get to heaven is patently not Calvinism. Whatever it is – and yes, I have people like Charles Stanley in mind – it is not Calvinism.

In the book Why I Am Not An Arminian the co-authors – both Calvinists – Robert Peterson and Michael Williams write:

“Easy believism, the view that persons are to be regarded as Christians who have made professions of faith but whose lives are unchanged, is incompatible with biblical teaching. On this point Arminians and Calvinists agree.” (p.81, emphasis mine)

2. Calvinism teaches that if God has elected someone for salvation, that person will be saved by the grace of God. There is no chance that they will not be saved. No one can snatch them from the Fathers’ hand (John 10:28).

3. If someone who was among God’s people walks away, this is clear evidence that this person was never really saved in the first place (1 John 2:19). Peterson and Williams write again:

“If they don’t believe to the end, they have not come to share in Christ. This indicates not a loss of salvation but a demonstration that the professed Christians had not really been united to Christ in the first place.” (p.80, emphasis mine)

So far this is pretty standard stuff. Calvinism does not shy away from teaching that if someone “falls away” it is clear proof that they were never saved in the first place. But there’s a catch. An emphasis that is never brought up either by Calvinists, Arminians or otherwise.

Its easy to judge a person who walks away as being someone who was never saved after the fact. But what about before they walk away?

The person comes to church week after week, singing with all sincerity of heart. Perhaps preaching or teaching your children in Sunday School. Perhaps they lead your Churches mission and evangelistic programs. Or maybe they were your worship leader. And how did they get to those positions unless others around them also saw “fruit” of their salvation. Are we to say that through all of those years they were just pretending? Perhaps for some small portion of them that is true, but it is beyond reason to suggest that every person who has shown clear fruit of a life devoted to Christ was just faking all along. No. Rather these people – at the time – where as sincere a follower of Jesus are you are today. But for whatever reason – perhaps church abuse, tragedy in their lives or any number of other reasons – they then abandoned the faith. What do we make of those situations?

Calvinism’ teaching is clear enough. If they do not hold firm to the end, it is proof that they were never saved in the first place.

But then what were they, if not genuine Christians?

Or perhaps, the more pressing question is, if they were as sure in their salvation then as you are now, how can you be certain that you are really saved?

How does Calvinism answer these question? Have you read any books by Calvinists where the doctrine of the preservation of the saints is dug into deep enough to acknowledge this dilemma and offer some type of answer?

Because the unspeakable answer seems clear enough. It’s terrifying really. The Calvinist John Frame, in his book against Open Theism titled No Other God, does reveal Calvinism’s answer to this question, albeit in a footnote:

“There are also cases where God chooses someone for a task and for a limited kind of fellowship with him, without the intention of giving him the full benefits of salvation.” (p.117, n.9, emphasis mine)

Read that answer again.

How do you know that does not describe you? How do you know that you have been given the “full benefits of salvation” and not just a “limited kind of fellowship with him”?


For those who convert to Calvinism because in it they think will have obtained a teaching of eternal security that offers them assurance in their faith, answer that question:

How can you know?

You can’t.

In Calvinism you may have been chosen for a limited fellowship with God, a specific task of – say – a missionary or pastor or evangelist, and not for the “full benefits of salvation”.

And for Arminians who think that we need to adopt a doctrine of eternal security to make Arminianism more palatable, I suggest you think again.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Jordan Legg

    The danger of identifying oneself as a Calvinist or an Arminian is, I think, that it tends to lead one to be more devoted to a theological framework than what the Bible actually says. That doesn’t mean let’s drop both frameworks, but let’s make sure that our allegiance is first to Jesus, and second (if at all) to Calvin or whoever else. I have certainly found this to be a serious risk in my own life, especially over the last year. I guess I’m something of a Calvinist, as in, I agree with the five points as I understand them, although I haven’t actually read the Institutes and don’t particularly want to label myself as a Calvinist to someone who probably has.

    I know for me, what attracted me most about Calvinism was what I saw about predestination in relation to the gospel in the Biblical text, the idea of unconditional election and being “chosen by God” and, as you mentioned, the preservation of the saints. All three of those had about equal weight for me.

    I don’t know if you’ve defined what we mean when we say “fruit” to my satisfaction. I think there are two equally valid ways of defining it: first, in the change that the new believer undergoes from the “old creation” to the “new creation”, and second, in what that “new creation” does with his or her newness. It goes beyond doing things like leading worship or being nice, it’s a demonstrable transition from being me-centred to being Jesus-centred.

    In my experience, when I have looked back at my knowledge of someone I have seen fall away from the faith, I have not been surprised, and have found it obvious, even apart from my theology, that they were never saved in the first place. Beyond that, I think, it’s really impossible to measure what differs from the levels of devotion I have in comparison to that of a “former believer”, because, after all, the only mind and heart I can live in, is my own. What I do know is that the more I turn back to the Bible, the deeper my love has grown for the Jesus described there, and that seems the best guarantee of salvation I can see.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Jordan, I made no attempt to define “fruit” in the post and I certainly don’t try to define it as doing things like lead worship. Read that portion again. The point I made is that people who are promoted to those positions are done so usually because others have seen fruit in their lives (defined as Gal. 5:22-25).

      Also, note the opening of the article: “I want to put aside for a moment the question of the validity of Calvinism”. I made no attempt to debunk Calvinism in this article. I simply wanted to point out that Calvinism does not – can not – offer the believer an assurance of salvation.

      I’m glad that the more you turn to the Bible the deeper your love for Jesus goes. That’s the way it should be. But considering the example I gave and John Frames explanation, how do you answer the question? The dilemma remains. As clearly explained, before the person “fell away” (proving that they were never saved in the first place), they too loved Jesus more and more as they turned to the scriptures. That was there guarantee too.

      Please note: I’m not saying a believer cannot have an assurance of Salvation. I’m merely pointing out that Calvinism, with it’s 5-points, is not the paradigm that can deliver on a sense of that assurance.

  • Brian MacArevey

    I agree completely Derek. Having formerly been a part of the neo-Reformed movement, and in my experience with people in that movement, I can say without question that Calvinists of this stripe struggle with the assurance of God’s love and grace towards them more than any other Christian group.

  • http://nailtothedoor.com Dan Martin

    I could not agree more. I’ve raised this very point with Calvinists in the past, and they steadfastly ignore the question and insist against their own evidence that they can, in fact, have “assurance of salvation…” that somehow they know they’re among the elect. The fact that the now-apostate former believer also had assurance does not change their opinion.

    It’s kind of like the way Calvinists can argue that God creating some people that he sovereignly determined at their creation would burn in hell for ever, and yet turn around and say this is just because God is just. If they shout it loud enough and often enough, it must be true.

    Of course a similar approach is visible in their politics and cosmology…

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      “they steadfastly ignore the question…” that is disconcerting. I wish they wouldn’t ostridge the problem, but it is a big and terrifying problem and I wonder if I was in their shoes if I would do the same.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Grant

    Derek with all respect, from where I’m standing it looks like you are confusing a biblical understanding of assurance with our experience of that assurance. I also get the feeling that unless we can be certain of our assurance beyond the shadow of a doubt then we should reject the doctrine. I hold to more or less a Calvinistic theology of salvation. Yet there are times when I doubt God’s love for me, and I doubt that I have the Holy Spirit. There are times when I even wonder if the whole thing isn’t just a scam and I’m deluding myself.
    Yet when my doubts and fears are at their worst that is when I start to feel God’s presence more and more. My heart is stilled, my fears vanish and my doubts pale in comparison to the light of Christ through the witness of the Spirit. I have never been able to walk away from Christ, not even with my most serious doubts. It’s like God follows me around wherever I go.

    I still cannot understand how someone can meet Jesus, experience the life changing power of the Holy Spirit, accept his offer of forgiveness, move from death to life and become a new creation in Christ and then walk away. To me it makes perfect sense that the person was never saved in the first place :)

    But I guess we can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Grant, just because you don’t understand doesn’t give you the right to judge others and then smile about it.

      I haven’t confused a biblical understanding of assurance with our experience of assurance. I deliberately made that distinction. The Bible tells us that we can know, and thats the problem for Calvinists that this post has pointed out. Calvinism says, those whom God has chosen to have the full benefits of salvation will be saved. But YOU cannot know at all if you are one of them and thus YOU cannot in this life experience that assurance because, as the post explained quite clearly, YOU may have been elected for a limited kind of fellowship with God (the kind that makes you indistinguishable from any of the true elect in this world), of which YOU won’t know until you breathe your last. Think man, think. Reason out your scheme. You know the Bible says you can know for sure and as you grow in Christ you grow in confidence that you are one of the elect. <-- and that fact should cause tension in your Calvinist convictions (for reasons, again, clearly explained in the post). This has nothing to do with whether or not we doubt God or sometimes struggle with our faith. We all do. This is something completely different than that. This is Calvinisms systematic scheme telling those who adhere to it that there is no way to know if you are going to spend eternity with God or apart from him, until you die. Before many fell away, they had the same assurance as you, the same passion for God and Christ and his word as you, they exhibited the same fruit as you. Calvinism says they were never saved and that God only called them to a task, "a limited kind of fellowship" with him, which, being a Calvinist yourself, should terrify you.

      • Grant

        Hi Derek, I think we’re closer in agreement than you think. I would say of course you cannot know whether you are one of the elect, but only in an absolutely certain way. No system can give you absolute certainty. In fact only God has absolute certainty about anything.
        You can’t make assurance dependent on my knowledge of that assurance. Let alone any knowledge with absolute certainty on my part. Sure there is always the possibility that God has chosen me for some side purpose instead of Salvation. Yet possible is not the same probable. It is also possible that God doesn’t exist and we’re all deluded, but to me those two possibilities are about equally small.

        Better wording of your reply would be:

        “But YOU cannot know WITH CERTAINTY if you are one of them and thus YOU cannot in this life experience that ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN assurance because, as the post explained quite clearly, YOU may (interesting use of may) have been elected for a limited kind of fellowship with God (the kind that makes you indistinguishable from any of the true elect in this world), of which YOU won’t know WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINLY until you breathe your last.”

        If that’s what you meant I have no issue with your statement.

        I also find that you’re making a huge assumption about other peoples experiences and “fruit”. How do you know they are the same? How do you know they had assurance? How do you know they weren’t just going along with the flow and got caught up in emotionalism? I think you’re presupposing a privileged position into peoples hearts and minds.

        Lastly, my point about not understanding was not meant to judge others, but rather it was a statement of my disbelief. From my experience of salvation, I cannot understand how someone could meet Jesus and then walk away. It seems ludicrous. Here the Lord of Universe presents himself to someone, the Holy Spirit moves in and takes up residence in their body, they are sealed by the Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing their inheritance until the last day, yet somehow they walk away. How on earth do they do that? My experience with those who have fallen away is that many of them return later, with the same experience I have of God following them around and not letting up for a minute. I’ve often been guilty of writing people off as heathens, only to have to eat my words when they return. We’d do well not to write them off as unsaved before the final day.

  • http://www.faithunderfire.cc Johanna Koskinen

    I agree with you on all of these points, but moreso on the point made by John Frame, whom you’ve quoted as saying:
    “There are also cases where God chooses someone for a task and for a limited kind of fellowship with him, without the intention of giving him the full benefits of salvation.” (p.117, n.9, emphasis mine)
    The Old Testament is filled with limited fellowships between God and particular people. Just a few months ago, I began reading the bible -no jumping from OT to NT, and then to Psalms and Proverbs. I’m reading from beginning to end, for the sole purpose of getting the “FULL PICTURE” of God’s sovereignty and plan for this world. I’m doing this now, because the crisis of faith that drove me to “Covenant Theology (I don’t consider myself, nor care for the term “Calvinist”), only increased as with the instruction of calvinistic principles, which I now see as the truth concerning salvation and the role of Christ in gathering his people. As I find myself on the other side of what I referred to six years ago as the “dark night of the soul,” I find myself with a most sobering thought of great importance that neither you, or others (theologians, pastors, people who write on this subject for a living) have yet to address, which I think will one day become a huge question for the Christian:

    How excited would “you” be if in God’s sovereignty you weren’t “chosen?” Could you still worship, love and revere him, knowing for sure that your fellowship with him was limited to fulfilling his overall purpose in the world, and that you were not to benefit from it (eternal life)?

    If we really do believe in God, in God’s sovereignty; that his plan and will is ultimately for “his” glory, pleasure and our good (Taking note that are benefit is secondary), then faith as we live it is due a ‘shift’ away from the joy of ” eternal benefit,” to a prayerful and reverent pause in understanding what it means when reading scriptures that point out God as the “Potter” and us as the “clay.”
    Christians have so long walked in a “false light” of redemption, based not on what God has actually done or said, but on passages of scripture emphasized as “good news” for the sinner, that we are blinded from the fullness of the text, that illustrates the intentions of the Father and the son. This has always been part and parcel of the Armenian position, guaranteeing filled churches and major book sales, but in truth, there are a lot of dead bones, both in the pews and at the pulpit, and while the worship leader stands there proclaiming he could sing of his love forever, I get the feeling that maybe that’s not so true.
    I learned of Christ’s love in a Foursquare Church, hung out on Saturday nights with the Chuck Smith crowd of Calvary Chapel, and have participated in enough potlucks at Assembly of God churches to know the routine. The same spiel, the same promise, the same emptiness, and in all three cases, those of us who left with the void, found fullness in the Covenant/Calvinist faith. Now, granted, some may be thinking this is finally the ticket in, and they can now relax. I’m not sure how to pray for them, except to ask the Lord to reveal “his” plan so that they can recognize that they’re still building on an Armenian foundation of untruth. For me, I know I need to recognize the full character of the Creator, and that even as I “don’t know” for certain if I am one of the elect, it is most important that I never forget that “He is my Creator” and as horribly dark as it sounds, even if I fall face down on the mercy of Jesus Christ, receiving his grace every single moment of every day that I’m alive in this world, I have to do this with the understanding of who he is, and not for what he has offered me because of who he is.

    For me it’s most sobering, to think that I or anyone who has served the Lord for any length of time (of course, I’m talking about those who are “on” the course) would find themselves being cast into the lake of fire, with the full understanding that this was the will of God. It’s almost like saying that those assigned to that fate go with a smile on their face, saying, “Oh well. You’re God, and I’m not, so I guess I’ll be going along now.” I don’t know how this works, but I personally will be disappointed, especially since I am so depending on the Grace of Jesus to finish what he’s started in me. Granted, we who have been called, can say without question that we love him because he loved us first. But we’re now called to take that truth and recognize that he is our Creator, and has a plan, and that if he chose us, it is to fulfill it first and foremost. In “his” sovereignty” he will choose whom he will and will not have mercy on, and we should live each day with the willingness to being called to help fulfill his purpose – even if we don’t get to live the promise.
    He still IS God and he still IS God, so to base my reverence and awe on the benefit offered because of my faith in him, suggests that I would/could walk away if it was no longer available to me. In fact, I think this truth is pointed out in the NT.
    I’m in the book of Ezra now, and after reading the lives of Saul, David, Solomon, etc., moving onto 1st and 2nd Kings and then Chronicles 1 and 2, I see God working in both good and evil men, and sometimes making decisions that have left me scratching my head, but I always come back to the same point that started me on this journey.
    God, I want to know you. I want to know your truth. What is going on? Where do I fit? Do I fit?

    All this being said, – and I apologize for the length of this ramble – for me, it’s no longer about “my” salvation, though I embrace the day that the Lord made himself known to me, six years ago after entering the reformed faith.
    My salvation at this point makes me usable for God’s will. His salvation turns me into a vessel that can further his purposes. I can pray that this salvation will see me through to the throne room, and that Christ will be there, justifying me. But until that time, should it happen, I will live for the Lord, trusting that he will get me through this life, and pray he will invite me into participate in the next, according to his word for those whom the Father has chosen.

    • http://www.faithunderfire.cc Johanna Koskinen

      So, I guess my point was too long, or not in keeping with the topic?

  • LexCro

    Excellent work here, Derek (as usual). I’ve raised this over and over again with Calvinists, and I have not yet been met with a reasonable response. Most Calvinists I’ve met simply duck the question. At least Frame is honest enough to own up to this, and I admire him for doing so. So we’re left with three kinds of folks in Calvinism: (1) Those unconditionally elect to damnation; (2) those unconditionally elect to salvation; (3) those who God unconditionally elects to damnation, BUT on the way to their damnation He has opted for them to experience what APPEARS TO BE SALVATION, only to pull the rug out from under them (and those TRULY ELECT folks who fell for their superficial election as well) by showing them to have been ultimately reprobate from the get-go. Huh? What possible purpose could God have for electing some folks to superficial salvation???? I mean, doesn’t this make Him the Lord of illusion? In the Scriptures, God is highly offended by apostates. In fact, apostates–because they should have known better–are under stricter judgment than are those who never believed! So why would God grieve Himself by appointing persons to apostasy? Also, why would God grieve the truly elect in such a way? Think of all the dissonance that Christians endure when their fellow believers turn away from the faith and live counter to God’s purposes? For example, the occasion for the elder/apostle John’s First Letter is that a community of believers has been ravaged by ravenous wolves from the inside whose heresy caused all kinds of discord in the community. John is helping this community to put the pieces back together. If Calvinism is true, we would have to believe that God ordained these heretics to appear to believe and then subsequently show their true colors–all to the confusion and detriment of the believing community! In this schema, one’s only hope is that the eternal decree alarm clock doesn’t go off, revealing you to be the reprobate that you were always ordained to be. What kind of “security” (I really dislike that term) is this? Biblical assurance is rooted in ongoing conformity to Christ’s person and work, not an impossibility of loss.

  • http://thetwocities.com John Anthony Dunne

    I do not hold to Calvinism because of the version of existentialism that you are critiquing. I hold to it because I believe that scripture teaches it. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re secure or not. Election, in the Calvinist strain, is understood to be an objective reality and therefore the veracity of one’s election is not dependent on the contingency of feelings (and the point swings the other way too). Over at TheTwo Cities we’re posting on ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ later this week (the writer is a strong Calvinist). I just felt like this post caricatured Calvinists.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      John, this post certainly does not caricature Calvinism. I accurately depict Calvinism in relation to this subject (1. Calvinism is a holiness tradition, 2. Calvinism teaches that those whom God has elected will not be lost, 3. if someone walks away, it’s proof they were never saved). All I did was take these (very not caricatured) points and connected the dots.

      Also, the post does not set about to debunk Calvinism. When you say, “I hold to it because I believe that scripture teaches it. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re secure or not”, I say “amen”. That’s my point. Not that I agree with Calvinism, that’s besides the point. My simple point was, believe Calvinism is biblical if you want, just know that as a Calvinist you cannot know in this life if you are one of the elect or not.

      • http://thetwocities.com John Anthony Dunne

        The caricature that I have in mind is the premise that this post is based on: Calvinists believe in Calvinism for existential benefits. That’s what I was critiquing.

  • Bert

    G’day Derek,

    I had a read through what you had to say earlier (Nate E. passed on the link), and came back just to drop a note on a couple observations that stuck with me (yep, I’m a convinced Calvinist :-) ).

    The first has to do only with your frame of reference–that you feel people convert theological views for reasons “other than doctrinal validity.” This really seems to be a red herring to the entire discussion (I don’t see its relevance), so take it for what you will, but in my own experience, the psychology was the opposite. The “comforts” of Calvinism came long after I was convinced of Calvinism & Calvinistic convictions came more as a result of feeling “constrained” by the testimony of Scripture.

    The second is that I gain the impression you are expecting Calvinism to support a kind of personal absolutism in assurance. I will fully agree that no Calvinist can be infallibly sure he has formed the right assessment of his own heart (2. Cor. 13:5, 2 Pet. 1:10), and you can drive this wedge as deep as you like, but you’ve put the wedge in the wrong place. The issue is not about us being convinced that we are perfectly reliable in our assessment of ourselves (no Biblical system can provide that), but of us being convinced that God is perfectly reliable in His sovereignty (1 John 3:20).

    Dunno if that helps some, but those were my two main observations.
    Wishing you every blessing,

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Bert, regarding what you think is a “red herring”, take it or leave it: your experience does not make up the majority. In any case, the post does not stand or fall on that point. As a Calvinist – that is, based on the theological constructs that you are convinced of – you can have no assurance, but you can hope for the best. :) God’s reliable sovereignty may have reliably called you for a “limited kind of fellowship” with him.

      Regarding your second point I say, your objection does not satisfy the dilemma presented in the post. Good try though. Read my comments to the other Calvinists for further explanations.

      P.S. Who is “Nate E”?

      • Bert

        Hey Derek,
        Thanks for your reply. Nate E is Nate Eshelman–I take it he’s a friend of yours :-), either way, wishing you all the best,

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Well, that’s it for me folks. I can’t spend any more time engaging in comments. I’ve mostly been responding to people by rehashing the main point of the article anyways.

    But go ahead and continue to leave comments, vent at where you think I’ve gone wrong and chat back in forth.


  • Troy Crider

    Even Calvin made a similar deduction from his experience with people who seemingly were saved, yet fell away:

    There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word–even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death [cf. 2 Cor. 2:16], and as the occasion of severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believer alone, which by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes that preached Word to dwell in their hearts. Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with even greater blindness.[ John Calvin, institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. Joh T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 3.24.8]

    I have no idea how an educated Calvinist Pastor is able to distinguish between people of the special call mentioned in the second sentence from people of the temporal call mentioned in the third sentence.

    In fact, the well know Johnathan Edwards, who was a pastor, made note that fear of not knowing which of the two calls they had been called with special vs temporal, was quite common:

    But the greater part, as they sometimes fall into dead frames of spirit, are frequently exercised with scruples and fears concerning their condition. They generally have an awful apprehension of the dreadful nature of a false hope; and there has been observable in most a great caution, lest in giving an account of their experiences, they should say too much, and use too strong terms. Many, after they have related their experiences, have been greatly afflicted with fears, lest they have played the hypocrite, and used stronger terms than their case would fairly allow of; and yet could not find how they could correct themselves. [Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, pg. 34]

    I do not have that work of Edwards near me, but would like to know how he pastored and consoled these people under his care.

    • LexCro

      @ Troy:

      Great points here, and wonderful, contextualized quotes. I encountered the same material from Calvin and Edwards, and I don’t see any way out of it.

  • http://www.arminiantoday.com The Seeking Disciple

    Great post. I fear that far too many embrace “once saved, always saved” to live in sin. I had a friend of mine who struggled with lust. He ultimately gave up the fight and instead embraced OSAS so that he could have the best of both worlds. This has not helped him at all. He still struggles and he knows that in his heart he is wrong.

    • Grant

      Interesting point. Of course some people embrace doctrines to justify current behavior. Yet does that mean we should wholesale reject the doctrine? By no means! That logic could justify an end to preaching Christ crucified because some people do it out of envy or for selfish gain (Phil 1:15-18). Let’s turn it around. Should we reject the doctrine that “once saved people can fall away and be lost” because some people use it as a tool of oppression? Using it to keep people in line? By no means! While it can be misused it can still be biblical. The selfishness of people does not undermine the biblical support for the doctrine.

      My point is not to compare eternal security / perseverance of the saints with the Gospel, but rather to show that the logic is flawed.

  • Aaron

    Strong work Derek! I could almost feel your passion and hear your tone of voice as I read!

  • Jared Hanley

    I am a five point Calvinist and also a Pentecostal (long story) and I teach an adult Sunday school class at my church.

    I have discussed this very matter at length on a particular forum. I don’t see how Wesleyan-Arminianism offers any more assurance. It seems to me that the only belief that gives perfect assurance is easy believism. If you can lose your salvation, how are you to know whether you have or not?

    I recently heard a preacher say that God is the only boss Who will fire you and let you keep working for Him. That’ll preach. It makes sense if you’re a Calvinist or a Wesleyan-Arminian but not if you believe in once saved always saved.

    We can know that we’re saved. But our faith is our assurance. If we believe that we’re the righteousness of God by faith in Christ, we will have assurance of our salvation. As a young Christian I often questioned my salvation until God gave me that powerful revelation. I haven’t questioned my salvation since then and that was eight years ago.

  • Jared Hanley

    The real issue for me however is which one is taught in scripture. And, I think the one taught in scripture will leave room for assurance of our salvation. Personally, I happen to think that monergism is what scripture teaches. I think it makes the most sense of the most scriptures. It answers a lot of questions while leaving ample room for mystery. That’s what I find so attractive about it.

  • THEOparadox


    That is well put. I couldn’t agree more. My own roots are in Pentecostalism, although I have become a full bore historic/moderate Calvinist over the last 5 years.

    You make the right point in saying that our assurance is rooted in faith and in knowing Christ. However, I can also understand how impossible it will be for Mr. Ouellette to and those who agree with him to see it our way. For all of us, the presuppositions just aren’t compatible enough to lend any sense to the other side’s explanations.

    Nevertheless, I also agree with your assessment that the ultimate issue is what Scripture most clearly teaches. And despite the objections that are likely to be raised, Scripture’s teaching on this question is clear enough.

    Derek Ashton

  • http://atdcross.blogspot.com/ Nelson Banuchi

    I haven’t read the comments here and I haven’t noticed it mentioned in Derek’s article so I’m not sure this point was mentioned.

    Unless I am interpreting it wrong, John Calvin taught someting to the effect that some persons, although elected for damnation, are granted saving grace , a grace where all the genuine marks of being saved are evident enough to cause a deception as to the true state of their divine election,

    However, this saving grace is granted only temporarily. God then removes this grace from them. Consequently, they revert back to their original and true eternal destiny as divinely ordained, that is, they are finally eternally damned according to their divine election. As such, the idea of assurance is a moot point.

    Unfortunately, I do not have the actual reference where Calvin mentions this in front of me at this time.

    In any case, notions of “assurance fo salvation” is double-think for the reasons Derek points out and especially on the basis of John Calvin’s teaching, as mentioned here, in partciular.