The complete phrase actually goes: “Calvinists have big fat brain with a small heart, and Arminians have a huge strong heart with a small brain”.
I can’t quite recall where I heard this phrase initially, but it has taught me a valuable lesson which still is firmly placed within my heart to this day.
Just a short footnote for those of you who have no idea who Calvinists and Arminians are: to put it extremely simply, they are two different camps of evangelicals who believe in two different types of theology regarding how a person gets saved; i.e., doctrines of salvation.
Not going into the details of the theological differences between the two camps, it should suffice to say that in this phrase the former is supposed to represent those types of Christians who are very theological yet lack religious zeal, and the latter those who are very zealous and spiritual but who lack much theological understanding.
Both parties are offended
I’m sure both Calvinists and Arminians would disagree with the phrase with an utmost passion. “What? I don’t have a small heart!”, “Ridiculous! I don’t have a small brain!”.
I have personally seen many good Calvinists who are full of passion and zeal for the Lord, not just when they are diving into their books, but also in their personal spiritual life and also in evangelism.
Likewise, I have seen plenty of godly Arminians who are not only zealous for the Lord, but also are very theologically sophisticated and biblically well founded.
So then, is the statement wrong? What then is the lesson that is trying to be taught through it?
All of us have certain tendencies when it comes to our spiritual life. For the sake of explanation, I will use different types of denominations as an analogy.
General stereotyping here:
You might notice that Pentecostal churches tend to have much lively and cheerful ambient, whilst Presbyterian churches tend to be much more reserved with a sense of austerity. This hypothetical Pentecostal church might have great fellowships and be really active in community outreaches, but the preaching in the pulpit might not be as deep as it could be.
On the other hand, a hypothetical Presbyterian church might be rock solid in the pulpit yet the fellowships and local outreaches might not be as wholesome as it could be.
I am sure you might have experienced such differing churches yourself once in your lifetime. It is the different tendencies and points of stresses in their ministries that has led to such contrasting ministerial discrepancies.
Likewise, individuals can have such spiritual tendencies and that is precisely what the phrase “Calvinists have no heart, and Arminans have no brain” means.
Do not judge, take out the log in your own eye first
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” – Matthew chapter 7, verses 1 to 3.
We have a natural sinful disposition to judge others who are different to us. A “Calvinist” might judge the “Arminian” for their shallow knowledge of the word, and the “Arminian” against the “Calvinist” for their lack of religious zeal and good works.
As the scripture above points out, I believe the immediate focus should be on yourself. Rather than judging the other person’s spiritual weakness that arises from their spiritual tendencies, you ought first to examine yourself, take the log out of your own eye, and only after doing so carefully extract the speck in your brother’s eye.
Be careful to always remember that God has made all of us uniquely different from one another.
Richard Kwon is from Auckland, a regular lay person who just loves the Lord.