Can Calvinism and Arminianism Coexist?

Apr 26


Bruce McLaughlin

Bruce McLaughlin

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Exploring the potential for coexistence between Calvinism and Arminianism within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), this article delves into the theological tensions and the quest for unity amidst doctrinal differences. The challenge lies in reconciling deeply rooted beliefs about predestination, free will, and the nature of God's sovereignty.


Theological Foundations and Current Tensions

Calvinism and Arminianism represent two major theological streams within Christianity,Can Calvinism and Arminianism Coexist? Articles each with distinct views on salvation, divine predestination, and human free will. These differences have historically influenced various denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which has seen a rise in Calvinistic theology in recent decades.

Key Doctrinal Differences

  1. Predestination and Election

    • Calvinism: Teaches that God has predestined certain individuals for salvation (unconditional election) and that His will in this regard cannot be thwarted.
    • Arminianism: Believes that God’s predestination is conditional upon foreknowledge of human free will choices, allowing for the possibility that God's will can be resisted.
  2. Nature of Atonement

    • Calvinism: Advocates for limited atonement, meaning that Christ died specifically for the elect.
    • Arminianism: Supports unlimited atonement, positing that Christ died for all, but only those who accept Him are saved.
  3. Free Will and Grace

    • Calvinism: Emphasizes irresistible grace, where the elect cannot resist God’s call to salvation.
    • Arminianism: Argues for prevenient grace, which precedes human decision, enabling but not ensuring the acceptance of salvation.

Statistical Insights

According to a survey by Lifeway Research, as of 2017, approximately 30% of SBC pastors identify as Calvinists, which marks a significant increase from 10% in a 2007 survey. This rise illustrates the growing influence of Calvinistic theology within the denomination (Lifeway Research).

Challenges to Coexistence

The integration of these two theological perspectives within a single denomination poses significant challenges. The core of the issue lies not merely in differing opinions but in fundamentally opposed views on the character and workings of God.

Historical Attempts at Reconciliation

Efforts to find a middle ground, such as the "Consensus Accord," have historically fallen short. Theological reconciliation has been elusive, as both sides hold views that are seen as essential to the nature of God and the gospel.

Practical Implications in Church Dynamics

The presence of both Calvinist and Arminian beliefs in a single congregation can lead to divisions, particularly when leadership and the majority of the congregation hold differing views. This has sometimes resulted in church splits, a phenomenon noted within the SBC where churches have divided over the direction of theological teaching and preaching.

Looking Forward: Pathways to Unity

Despite these challenges, there are potential pathways to coexistence that involve dialogue and mutual respect:

  1. Educational Initiatives: Increasing awareness and understanding of both theological perspectives among church leaders and congregations.
  2. Focused Dialogue: Encouraging open discussions that allow for theological expressions in a non-confrontational setting.
  3. Shared Missional Goals: Uniting around common goals such as evangelism and community service can help bridge doctrinal differences.


The question of whether Calvinism and Arminianism can coexist within the SBC is complex and layered with historical, theological, and practical challenges. While complete doctrinal agreement may not be feasible, a commitment to mutual respect and understanding can foster a more harmonious coexistence. As the SBC continues to navigate these waters, the broader Christian community will be watching, perhaps learning lessons on managing doctrinal diversity within a single body.