Should a Calvinist Marry an Arminian?

I received an email last night asking me a very good question. The sender is a Calvinist who is interested in a girl who is an Arminian. He asks, “Would it be wrong for me to date her and perhaps someday marry her, even though she is most likely an Arminian and I am a Calvinist?”

Here is my answer:

Dear Calvinist,

First, let me make a brief statement of consent that needs to be understood before addressing the particular issue. Be careful about trying to be too compatible. This can be very deceptive. I have seen those out there who make attempts to make sure all their relational compatibility ducks are in a row before they will consider marriage. The problem is that once you get married, there are going to be gaping holes in your compatibility boat. If your marriage floats on the assumption of compatibility, it is sure to sink. Be ready to be incompatible in ways that you could not have prepared for beforehand. Upon this consent, you need to decide if you are going to be able to commit with a certain degree of blindness. I am not saying to not concern yourself with the equal yoking, but just to be aware that there is only so much you can do and expect.

I believe that as long as both are Christians following the Lord and prioritizing the issues of their faith correctly, one can move forward in a relationship, even if there is disagreement on the Calvinist/Arminian issue. Being Christian and seeking the Lord are the two foundational components, not lining up every particular of your Evangelical theology. If you were a Protestant and she was a Catholic, I would caution against the union.

However, were both of your respective beliefs about Calvinism and Arminianism to remain as they are in the coming years of marriage, I would not be so naïve as to think that the issues raised will not be the cause of some conflict from time to time. There will be times when decisions made and attitudes adopted will affect your relationship.

Let me give an example. Over fifty-percent of Evangelical marriages end in divorce. This is a statistic we should fear and not ever think we are above. Marriages do go bad for a variety of reasons, even among those who love the Lord and desire to follow him.

On the negative side of each theology:

Calvinists could adopt a more laissez-faire attitude toward the marriage, accepting it as God’s will and desire no matter what. If problems arise, it is your “cup of suffering” that God has allotted to you. You will be more disposed to allow the suffering to exist without change which can eventually turn your marriage complacently sour.

The Arminian, on the other hand, may think in terms of personal mistakes which led to the difficulties, possibly even second-guessing their decision, believing that the marriage was not in God’s will. Therefore, there may be the tendency to cut your losses and move on.

On the positive side:

The Calvinist may have the tendency to be committed to the marriage because of a firm belief that it is God’s will. This will produce a security in the marriage that the relationship needs.

The Arminian will be committed to working to make the marriage better because they believe it is their responsibility to make the marriage “work.” There can be a balance here that is good for you both.

Idealistically, I would that all people were Calvinists and that couples were as equally yoked in their beliefs as possible. However, I have learned not to be an idealist with regard to marriage. I have also learned how God uses differences and can prosper the marriage because of differences, so long as we are ready to appreciate them. Having said that, I do believe that this attitude is more possible when one is a Calvinist!

The most important elements that I do think that we should have on our checklist:

1. Is the person a Christian? If so, were they one before you met or have the become one since your relationship started? If the latter…red flag. Big red flag. I have lived with three sisters who are all beautiful. I have seen too many “conversions of passion” to count. I don’t trust it when some becomes a passionate follower of Christ post-facto (after dating has begun). Check their background.

2. Is the person following Christ? This asks the question about the direction that they are heading under the yoke. If they are just wearing the yoke and not moving forward, this is an unequal yoking. In other words, you need to make sure that they are believers who are engaged in the Christian life. This does not require perfection (or none of us is qualified), but it does require them to be in the battle. You don’t want to be in it alone.

3. Does this person have any non-essential practical or theological hang-ups? For example, I would that you would marry an Arminian who is balanced in their theology than a Calvinist who believes that the only thing that matters is Calvinism. The same thing could be said for the Arminian who is too passionate about Arminianism. Don’t marry a KJV Only person. Don’t marry a date-setter. Don’t marry someone who is a legalist. Don’t marry someone whose goal in life is to make sure people don’t watch Harry Potter. Above all, don’t marry someone that lacks grace and forgiveness. Those are the key.

As far as particular doctrines, the more the merrier. Essentials (the person and work of Jesus Christ) are a must. A strong belief in the sovereignty of God is certainly something to look for. But one can be an Arminian and believe in God’s sovereignty. What you ultimately want is someone who is going to join with you in an ultimate trust and sell-out to God and his control over all things. That way, when the difficulties come (and they will) you both are handling them in a way that is more inclined to rest in him, not yourselves and you will build a legacy in this direction.

29 Responses to “Should a Calvinist Marry an Arminian?”

  1. Surely the Calvinist simply either is or is not predestined to marry the Arminian? :-)

  2. James-You got to easy joke before I could. Props to you! On a more serious note, there’s a couple of quibbles I have with this post:

    1. It is simply untrue that 50% of evangelical marriages end in divorce. That is statistical sleight-of-hand. The real number is far, far less, somewhere around 28-30%, AT MOST. The 50% stat is derived by looking at the number of marriages in a given year versus the number of divorces that occurred in that same year. But marriage, funny enough, is usually a longer term proposition, with many more people having gotten married and staying married before the year we’re counting divorces for. To derive a real number, you need to do a statistical sampling of the same couples over time. Another thing that also drives up the number of divorces is the number of multiple-divorced people. One person divorced from three different people looks makes the marriage situation, on average look a lot worse for everybody than it really is. So in reality, the average Evangelical has a lot better than 50/50 shot at having their marriage end in death rather than divorce. Think about it: If this were true, wouldn’t the number of divorced people in our churches be a lot closer to 50%? My church has nothing like that percentage, and I’ll bet yours doesn’t either.

    2. I find that single people are wonderfully mystic, but not that wise. I mean, how exactly is Calvinist dude expecting to find God’s will here? A dove alighting on the girl’s shoulder? A voice from heaven? Michael, you’ve given the clear Scriptural boundaries- a growing, committed believer of the opposite sex. Other than that, the big question is “Do you like her?” and it’s associated question, “Can you see yourself committing for a lifetime to this person?” Those are the biggies about continuing to date someone after they’ve cleared the hurdle with reference to being a committed believer.

    3. I think sometimes we focus more on “finding God’s will for MY life” than simply obeying God’s will. God’s will is clearly revealed in Scripture: “Marry whom you wish, but in the Lord.” So if you like the girl, and she’s a committed believer, date her and marry her if it comes to it. If she’s not, or you don’t, then find a way to kindly free yourself from that relationship with all due speed.

  3. Thank you, Joe. To treat a marriage as a theological matter is a recipe for disaster. If the man cannot imagine living the rest of his life without her, then he should marry her (a little premature here but ultimately the case). Sure, if she is a danger to his faith, avoid her. Otherwise just enjoy getting to know each other and see where it goes. How knows, she may correct his views and turn him to Arminianism. Quelle horror! :)

  4. Thanks for a very thoughtful post, Michael. This is another example of your irenic approach to these kinds of issues, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I hope it’s contagious (to both Calvinists and Arminians!). It’s so easy for us to get distracted from what is of primary significance. Not that we shouldn’t work toward consensus on the rest—I love to discuss these beliefs with those who disagree with me, and I’m sure you do as well. But we need to be careful to not reject sincere followers of Christ—legitimate evangelicals—because we have differing viewpoints on how God exercises His sovereignty.

  5. I have been married for nearly 20 years. My wife and I are both Arminian, but I can’t think of one single time where we might have had conflict over that issue if one of us differed.

    I would be more concerned about egalitarians and complimentarians!

  6. The real concern is whether or not they should pro-create. Calminians…. oh perish the thought!

  7. Arminians are better lovers, but Calvinists make better salary.

  8. Great post and wise council… with one exception ;-)

    If you were a Protestant and she was a Catholic, I would caution against the union.

    Auch ! Were you coming after me CMP ;-) Probably too much honor, but that’s my case. And happily married for almost 11 years now too !

    However… truthfully and in hindsight we were a bit of an exception. Although there’s at least 3 other couples at our Church with the same exception.

    Caution< is the right word.

    Depending on your position on some basic fundamentals, to wit:
    1) who can be a believer (don’t use the word “Saved” with a European RC. They’ll think you’re from Kolob ;-)),
    2) your stance on who God, Christ and the Spirit is,
    3) the meaning of baptism, communion, etc..

    you may have a shared foundation to build from. The Church you will need to find is a more difficult task, which took us a while. But God lead us to a solid body (Calvinist anyone ?).

    I remember when we started dating that my wife asked me “Whether I believed in God and had accepted Christ as my savior”. Lol… the first part was “Yes”. The second part took me about 5 months of reading to even figure out what it meant. Now I’m glad to say “Yes” as well, except it’s more like “LORD and Savior”. The first piece is omitted too frequently.

    I agree with CMP that it is wise council to make sure they hash out those theological fundamentals before engaging in a relationship. But as long as The main thing remains the main thing and as long as there is a true and bi-directional commitment to the relationship, may God bless their union ;-)

    Good post once again.
    In Him

  9. In 20-plus years of doing marital therapy with Christians, I have never had a couple come into my office and say that their problems stemmed from one being an Arminian and the other a Calvinist. I’ve never even heard a client bring it up and never did I think it was an issue in therapy.

    Now, one might consider it less-than wise to marry an Arminian if they were about to become ordained in the PCA, but even then it is within God’s moral will for us and a very good thing. A blessing, I believe the psalmist calls it.

    As for,

    “Don’t marry a KJV Only person. Don’t marry a date-setter. Don’t marry someone who is a legalist. Don’t marry someone whose goal in life is to make sure people don’t watch Harry Potter.”

    I don’t know what that’s about. If I’m a date-setter or KJO, wouldn’t it be a good idea for me to marry the same? We could go through life happily and compatibly arrogant, no?

    Theological issues are rarely, if ever, the cause of marital problems. They may be a symptom of or a mask for deeper issues, but not the cause.

    To paraphrase Crash Davis, “Besides, I don’t believe in theology when it comes to matters of the heart.”

  10. Wow, did everyone decide to comment through the Facebook route?

  11. I wondered too about the Catholic/Protestant warning. Isn’t it possible that an Anglican (high church) and a Catholic would see more eye-to-eye than, let’s say, a very low-key Baptist and a Charismatic type of Protestant? Just wondering.

  12. My Arminian self is wishing more Calvinists were like CMP.

  13. I’m glad you separated question 1. and 2. – a helpful distinction that, thanks to Luther’s reading of Paul, Christians aren’t necessarily followers.

  14. One thing to consider is which church you will end up going to after you get married.

    It was a little stressful finding a church when your wife is an Arminian but you are a Calvinist.

  15. Michael offers much good advice here, but I agree that there’s an overemphasis on doctrine. Ksmac hits a point that needs to be more urgently considered. Also, what will the children be taught? Believe it or not, there are churches that gracefully straddle or even ignore the Calvinist/Arminian ditch. A marriage can easily do the same.

  16. Raynor – love the description of Calvinist vs. Arminian as a ditch!

  17. … Perhaps that is not what you meant but i like the image anyways

  18. I wonder how egalitarian/complementarian views play here. There seems to be some correlation between the two and Calvinism and Arminianism. Generally speaking (although not always) Calvinists are more complementarian and Arminians are more egalitarian.

    Given that, it one might see different rates of marriage success based on which spouse is which. For example a Calvinist husband would seem more likely to butt heads with his Arminain wife than would an Arminian husband with a Calvinist wife.

  19. Kevin,

    I wonder beyond the Calvinism/Arminianism, Complementarian/Egalitarian..I’m not sure how you arrived at the Calvinist husband would be more likely to butt heads..I wonder about the male ego in a situation like this regardless of Calvinism or Arminianism, Complementarian or Egalitarian. It would take a different fellow, that could have his wife disagree with him on something of this importance, hopefully important, and not take it personally. I can’t personally set my sites on one male , in my minds eye, that I have real life experience with, that would be okay in the long run with that type of “disapproval” from his wife. I’m not knocking it or him, just calling it like I see it. Love is strange :)

  20. If the Calvinist wants to marry the Arminian, he should admit he is wrong and become an Arminian! :-)

  21. I think a more important issue for potential couples is the issue of Halloween.

    When I was growing up, we had halloween parties IN OUR CHURCH. My parents helped dress us up and my Sunday school teachers presided. Then, sometime between the time I left childhood (well actually when I got too big to pass myself off as elementary school age) and when I got my own kids, some wacko branch of evangelicalism took over.

    Now even my mother has sent me a little book on the evils of halloween and warned me that nothing makes the “other team” happier than all those kids going door to door collecting O’Henry bars and bags of chips. Even my brother’s wife got my bro to cave in and ban halloween! (homeschooler, go figure). What! have we all become JWs?

    Since when did evangelicals decide that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and that dressing up inevitably leads to cross-dressing and satanic rituals and sacrifices behind the school gym after 3:30? If I had a nickel for every demon that invaded my house because of my jack-o-lanterns on the front porch I’d be rich.

    And what’s with all the new evangelical halloween experts? That alone is reason to pull the plug on the internet and google. Old wives’ tales on the internet, who says culture can’t keep up with technology.

    Since when did our lives become chapters in a Frank Peretti novel? Do people actually think that stuff is true? That Bob Larson was an authority? It really bothers me that evangelicals have turned an evening of fun into a salvation risk. It’s so true, I’m currently a backslidden Christian satanist because I dressed up as Spiderman when I was 10. The next day I was drawing pentagrams with melted chocolate and divining the future by throwing packets of “Rockets” on the floor.

    I just want my kids (and my nephews and nieces) to dress up in cute outfits, trick or treat with their friends, and meet their neighbours without having my pastor and elders come to my house for an exorcism and cleansing.

    And please, stop with the “alternate parties”. How lame. Ranks right up their with New Years Eve watchnight services. Not only would I be embarrassed to go (and properly so), but it constitutes the sort of cruelty to children that rates having them taken away by the local Child and Family Services.

    Evangelicals ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us (well, “us” excluding “me”, I wouldn’t call myself an evangelical anymore even if someone paid me).

    #John (a.k.a. Satan’s tool for taking kids out of the “Kingdom” and into the night).

  22. I would highly not recommend that a Calvinist should marry an Arminian. They both worship two different gods. Just like the Mormon god is not the same god of a baptist. To the person that said if a ” Calvinist wants to marry an Arminian he should say he is wrong” I would disagree with that statement, if the Calvinist is willing to say, I am wrong then he should say scripture is wrong. Third a Calvinist marrying a Arminian is like marrying some one who’s belief system is heading back to Rome Catholicism. Might as well marry a Roman Catholic. It’s true that no marriage is going to be perfect but why add to the problem. Especially on which god to worship. The Calvinist Jesus is a way different Jesus from the Arminian Jesus. The Jesus of mormonism is another Jesus, the Jesus of Islam is another Jesus, the Jesus of oness Pentecostal is another Jesus. The Jesus of Calvinism does not lose not 1 of his sheep, the Jesus of Arminianism fails to keep his sheep.

  23. The Jesus of Arminianism promises salvation if you preserver.
    The Jesus of Calvinism promises Preserverance because you are saved.
    I as a former Arminian now by the grace of God hold on to the doctrine of Grace as it is the gospel. Would not date or Marry someone who does not worship and have admiration for the Christ revealed in scripture. There is no good news ( Gospel) in the so called gospel of Arminianism. I could marry a dispensationist or a credo- baptist but when it comes to the gospel there is where I draw the line. The Calvinist gospel and Arminian gospel are not the same.

  24. In reply to Jospeh:
    If you are to comapre the Jesus’ of Calvinism and Arminianism, it is only fair that you compare them under the same scope. The flock of sheep should represent all of humanity. Instead, you allowed the Calvinist Jesus’ flock to reflect only the “Elect” (in which case your statement is true, he does not lose His sheep since they are all elect) but allowed the Arminian Jesus to have humanity.

    The analogy should go like this:
    The Jesus of Calvinism only chose a portion of the flock to save, allowing the rest to wonder off and perish.
    The Jesus of Arminianism did everything in His power to keep the sheep safe; those that trusted Him followed Him and were saved, those that repeatedly ignored Him were lost and perished.

  25. The god of Calvinism picks and chooses which people will be able to repent and come to him so it is his fault when people burn in Hell for eternity.
    The god of Arminianism fails to reveal himself to people in order to save them. Thus, it is his fault that people choose not to believe in him.
    Both gods are equally false.

  26. I (a Calvinist), married an Armenianist just over 20 years ago, 2 children and decades later we’re still together, still love each other, served in 3 churches,, still argue about it when the subject comes up, but that’s not the focus of our lives; serving God , our family and the church is.


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