Philosophy and Theology
The cry of the Reformation has long been sola scriptura or “Scripture alone” as the final authority for the disciple of Jesus. We don’t believe that Scripture + Tradition = Christianity but rather Scripture + Nothing = Christianity. This flows from the Roman Catholic idea that the Scriptures, the Church, and the Pope all can speak for God. We reject the idea that God speaks through any other thing in finality other than the Bible. The Bible is the final, inerrant, infallible guide for the Church of Jesus Christ. We don’t need a pope. We don’t need a prophet. We have the Bible and we need to read, study, and exegete the Scriptures in light of Scripture. Scripture must interpret Scripture.
Yet how often do we actually rely on philosophy instead of the Bible to define our beliefs. A case in point is the Calvinist doctrines of the sovereignty of God and limited atonement. To me, both doctrines are not based clearly on sound exegesis of Scripture. Instead, the Calvinist insists that in order for God to be God then He must be in complete control and cause of all things. As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebel molecule then God is not sovereign.” Sproul insists that unless God determines all things that come to pass (including evil) to the point that He renders them certain whatsoever comes to pass then He is not sovereign and not God. Sproul argues that only the Calvinist understanding of God’s meticulous control of all things is the only biblical view and any other view leads to atheism. This leads to the Calvinist view that since God is sovereign and causes all things then He surely predestined all things that come to pass whether good or evil and this includes salvation and damnation. If God knew all who would believe then it logically follows that He sent His Son not to die for all but only for the elect that He predestined and enables to believe.
Now all that I have said above is not based on Scripture. Certainly there are some appeals to Scripture but even those Scriptures are interpreted in light of a preconceived philosophical bent. In this case, passages that speak of God controlling all things are seen as God also causing all things such as in Genesis 50:20 or Ephesians 1:11. Passages of Scripture that speak of the universal atonement of Jesus Christ such as John 3:16 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 or 2 Peter 3:9 are all interpreted in light of the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election based on the divine deterministic view of the sovereignty of God. Surely John 3:16 can’t mean what it says. It must mean something else since God cannot be God unless He causes all things including the sinner’s own condemnation.
Now please don’t misunderstand me and think that I don’t believe that we Arminians don’t appeal to logic. We do. For example, we believe that the Scriptures teach us that God is loving and because He is loving we logically believe that He truly does love all people and desire their salvation so He sent His Son to die for their sins to prove His love (Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:14). We do believe that God was glorified in Jesus Christ and that Jesus came to show us God (John 14:9). We believe that Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1:14) and that all that Jesus did was for the glory of the Father and this includes dying for the sins of the world (John 1:29). We do appeal to both Scripture and logic.
But the difference for us Arminians, I believe, is that we are basing our views on sound exegesis of the key passages. For instance, we Arminians do not deny the sovereignty of God. We believe that God was sovereign in creating the world in the way that He did. We believe God grants free will to His creation so that true love can be manifested and yet we believe that God has sovereignly shaped history to glorify His name. Certainly God foreknows all things but this doesn’t mean that He is the direct cause of all things and nor must He be to be God. So when the Arminians reads the Bible and reads passages of Scripture about God’s sovereign rule, we do rejoice in them! We take joy in knowing that our God reigns. Yet we don’t see in those passages that God is sinful nor that He must not just permit sin but also lead the sinner to do what is sinful for the glory of God. We see no Scriptural basis for such a view (James 1:12-15).
For more on the Arminian view of God’s sovereignty as opposed to R.C. Sproul’s view, I recommend the book God’s Strategy in Human History.