In the "great debate" between Arminian and Calvinist views you will typically find lots and lots of nuances. "I'm a four-point Calvinist." "I'm a hardcore Arminian." That sort of thing. More often what you'll find is "I'm not a Calvinist or an Arminian" and typically that's premised on "I don't follow the teachings of men."
All of this misses the point. With exceptions, of course, there are essentially no Arminians or Calvinists. That is, those who would be classified as either "Arminian" or "Calvinist" would not be so classified because "I follow the teachings of Jacob Arminius" or "Not me! I follow the teachings of John Calvin!" or the like. No, the question at hand is not "Which name do you follow?" but (and always) "What does the Bible teach?" I am classified in most circles as a Calvinist, but I've read very little Calvin (or Augustine). I like to say, "I'm not a Calvinist; I'm a biblicist. I'm just pleased that John Calvin and I agreed so often on what the Bible teaches." So set aside for just a moment the names. You see, what's in view here are certain principles upon which some genuine Christians differ from other genuine Christians. If, on these primary points, you fall on one side, you are labelled as a matter of shorthand an "Arminian" and if you fall on the other you are labelled as a matter of shorthand a "Calvinist". Neither means you follow the teachings of a man.
What, then, are the issues at hand? Back in the 17th century a Dutch professor at the University of Leiden raised some disagreements with a few of the standard theological positions of the day. Some of his students formed the Remonstrants who, after his death, submitted five key complaints (called "the five articles of remonstrants") against the theology. In response, the church called a meeting where delegates from all over Europe attended to discuss these issues. The result was that this group, known as the Synod of Dort, decided that Scripture sided with the current views on these five issues and denied that the Remonstrants had a proper biblical argument. Five issues; got it? Yes, these became known as "the five points of Calvinism" and today are painfully represented in the TULIP acrostic intended to help remember them.
Now, here's the point. Your position on these five points will classify you as an Arminian or as a Calvinist. That's because these two classifications are about these five points, not the names associated with them. (Note, in fact, that neither Jacob Arminius or John Calvin were involved in these proceedings.) In order to know, then, what is intended by such classifications, you need to understand the two perspectives. And it's an "either/or" answer. That is, you agree with the Synod of Dort or not. If not, you are an "Arminian". If so, you are a "Calvinist". Simple as that. So, what are these points and their positions?
|Total Depravity||Human nature was seriously affected by the Fall, but Man is not actually spiritually dead. He still retains the Free Will to choose Christ and gain salvation. God provides the calling, but the sinner provides the faith.||Because of the Fall, Man is dead in sin. The sin nature makes him blind and deaf to God, corrupt at the core. He is incapable on his own of doing good or pleasing God. He can contribute nothing to his own salvation|
|Unconditional Election||Since Man is not spiritually dead dead and has the ability to choose Christ without any additional divine influence, God's election of who will be saved is based on who chooses Christ. That is, election is predicated on Man's Free Will choice.||Since Man is spiritually dead, blind, hostile to God, he has nothing in him to commend him to God. God chooses, then, before the foundation of the world whom He will save without regard to any merit in the Man.|
|Limited Atonement||Christ's redeeming work on the Cross paid for all sin for all men for all time. Christ's intention on the Cross was to accomplish the salvation of all. The appropriation of that payment is contingent on the individual's faith, so the success of Christ's intent is limited by Man's Free Will||Christ's atonement was intended to accomplish the salvation of those whom He had chosen for salvation. On the Cross He actually accomplished this intention, paying for all sin of all the elect. The Atonement is sufficient to cover all sin for all men but efficient only for those who He draws to Himself.|
|Irresistible Grace||The Spirit calls everyone. Not everyone is saved. Since Man is not dead in sin and possesses sufficient ability to choose Christ on his own, it is clear that all who are not saved do so by resisting the Holy Spirit.||The Holy Spirit can be and frequently is resisted. However, at the point that God decides in the lives of those for whom God has decided -- given the "dead in sin" condition of Man -- the Holy Spirit can and will effectively regenerate and bring the elect to faith. When the Holy Spirit is acting in this manner, He cannot be resisted.|
|Perseverance of the Saints||Since Man's Free Will is his contribution to his salvation, Man's Free Will is necessary to retain that salvation. The synergy of the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the believer is required to keep the believer from falling from grace and losing his salvation. Salvation can be lost.||Since it is God's work to elect, to pay for the sin of the elect, and to regenerate the elect, it is God's work to retain the elect. His work is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer certainly bringing him further into sanctification. While a believer may fall into sin, he cannot remain there and will ultimately and certainly be saved.|
I don't know if you followed all that well enough, but if you did I think you can see that very little of it is potentially pieced out. If you believe that Man is dead in sin, for instance, then you cannot believe that God's election is based on Man's ability to choose. Contradictory. On the other hand, if you believe that Man is "sin sick" but not actually dead, then clearly the idea that God chooses based on Himself rather than on their choice would be manifestly irrational. In other words, each position follows from the others. Of course, there are many who would argue the "Remonstrants" side for the first four and the "Synod" side for the last (as an example) or (more often) the "Remonstrants" side for the question of the Atonement and the "Synod" side for the rest, but for the most part these are a package deal.
The question, then, is not "Am I an Arminian or am I a Calvinist?" To that I say, "Irrelevant!" The question is "What does the Bible teach about ... Man's sin nature, God's election, the purpose of the Atonement, the ability of God to save, and the ability of God to keep that which He has saved?" Forget about "Arminian" or "Calvinist". Beside the point. Let the labels lie where they will. What does the Bible teach? That is the point.