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:
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.