Archive for the ‘Arminianism Defended’ Category
In my previous post on Romans 9, I noted that Dr. Jack Cottrell believes the primary emphasis is upon the faithfulness of God. Is God faithful to His promises to Israel? Did God fail to bring about His promises to Israel? Paul’s answer in Romans 9-11 is a clear no! God is faithful!
Dr. Cottrell writes,
The real focus of these chapters is not upon predestination as such, justification as such, or Israel as such. The focus is rather upon God himself (see Wright, Climax, 235). Specifically, the theme is the faithfulness of God. True, Israel figures heavily in this discussion. In fact, it is God’s dealings with Israel that give rise to the question of his faithfulness. Has God been faithful to his chosen people? Has he kept his promises to them (9:6a)? Has he been fair to them? Because of Israel’s involvement here one could probably say, as does Dunn, that “the true theme of chaps. 9–11 is God and Israel” (2:520). More specifically, though, it is God himself; and more specifically still, his faithfulness. As Piper says (Justification, 19), “What is at stake ultimately in these chapters is not the fate of Israel . . . . Ultimately God’s own trustworthiness is at stake.” Cranfield entitles this section, “The Unbelief of Men and the Faithfulness of God” (2:445).
What, specifically, has raised this issue? Two things: The Jews’ rejection of the gospel, and God’s consequent rejection of the Jews. First, it was a simple historical fact that most of the nation of Israel did not accept Jesus as the expected Messiah; they rejected the gospel of grace. Stott declares that in 9–11 “the dominant theme is Jewish unbelief, together with the problems which it raised” (262). I disagree that it is the dominant theme, but I agree that it helped to raise the problem that does dominate this section.
Second, it was also a fact that God rejected his people (9:3), the nation of Israel as a whole, when they rejected him. That is, he rejected them with respect to salvation. This fact in particular raised the issue of God’s faithfulness. After all, God himself had chosen the Jews and showered them with covenant promises and covenant blessings. Is he now going back on his word? Piper speaks of “the tension between God’s word and the fate of Israel” (Justification, 19). This indeed is a “key tension” (Moo, 548), and it raises what Godet calls “the greatest enigma in history: the rejection of the elect people” (336). “How, at a given point in time, can God reject those whom He has elected?” (337).
So how has God shown Himself faithful to the Jews? Paul shows us in Romans 9 that God has shown Himself faithful through His divine choosing of the Jews to service and to salvation. I will cover these in the next post.
Here is a great article written by Dr. James Leonard on the subject of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the penal substitutionary view. Some Calvinists contend that not only is the penal view the only view of the atonement that is truly biblically based but also one cannot hold to the penal view and not hold to definite atonement (or limited atonement). I know this has confused some Arminians to the point that they now reject the penal view in favor of the moral governmental view.
Dr. Leonard’s piece is well written and draws upon Arminianism to show that an Arminian can safely hold to the penal view while rejecting limited atonement.
Romans 9 has been a tipping point for many Calvinists. I know of two Calvinists who both were once Arminians. In fact, one was an Arminian evangelist who preached against Calvinism for many years. Both, however, are now converted Calvinists. Both speak of becoming a Calvinist as if they are just now born again. Both speak of God opening their eyes to the doctrines of grace. One of these men says that he was converted because of the doctrine of total depravity for if mankind is indeed sinful then only God can rescue us in our sins and deadness. The other was converted after reading and then re-reading Romans 9. He said that he could not escape from the issue of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation and election in Romans 9. Like R.C. Sproul before him, he surrendered his head but not his heart but today he too is a full-blown five point Calvinist. Both men now claim to be Reformed Baptists (and both are charismatics).
Romans 9 is a bed rock chapter for Calvinism. As I have written before, I know of some Calvinists who read Romans 9 on a regular basis because it gives them strength to see Calvinism in the Bible. To Calvinists, Romans 9 is a powerful chapter that demonstrates Calvinism. Yes they will argue that from Genesis to Revelation, election is seen in the Bible but if you ask for specific verses about election, Romans 9 is one of the hallmark texts.
Arminians must answer this challenge. It is, of course, foolish to suppose that Arminians do not have an exegetical reason for rejecting Calvinism. I reject Calvinism not because I “hate the sovereignty of God” nor “to exalt free will as my idol” but rather I reject Calvinism because I see it rejected in Scripture.
John Piper sees Romans 9 as teaching God’s unconditional election. He penned a book entitled, The Justification of God, in which Piper argues that the point of Romans 9:1-23 (he shouldn’t have stopped with verse 23 because his book might not have been penned) is that God is just in His divine choosing in election. Piper argues that unconditional election of people to salvation is clearly the theme of Romans 9:1-23. Had Piper completed his exegesis down to Romans 9:30-33 he would have to admit that the point is clearly God’s choosing of national Israel and a remnant of grace that has accepted His gospel by grace.
Ironically, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
“for anyone to exalt predestination as the main theme in this section is almost to be guilty of blasphemy.”
Dr. Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book on Romans, states that Romans 9-11 has seven major themes attached to it. This is what makes our job difficult with regard to an exegesis of Romans 9. These seven themes, according to Cottrell, are:
a) The Nation of Israel. From beginning to end this section is dominated by references to ethnic or physical Israel, the Jews as a nation, those whom Paul calls “my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (9:3-4). Paul makes several points about their role in God’s plan (9:4-5,22-23; 11:11-15,25-32), their historical destiny (11:1,11-15,25-32), and their salvation (9:30–10:3; 10:16-21; 11:7-32).
b) God’s Faithfulness. Another subject introduced near the beginning of this section is the faithfulness of God, specifically, whether God has been faithful to his word concerning his people Israel (9:6a). Has he kept his promises to them? Has he been and is he being fair in his dealings with them? “Is God unjust?” (9:14). See also 9:19; 11:29.
c) The Remnant. Another key subject is the distinction between Israel as a whole and remnant Israel: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6b). Membership in the former is determined by physical birth, but the latter is defined in spiritual terms as determined by God. See 9:23-29; 11:2-7. A key idea is stated in 9:27: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” This is the “remnant chosen by grace” (11:5).
d) God’s Sovereignty in Election. “God’s purpose in election” is another important theme (9:11), especially his sovereignty in making the choices that he does. “For who resists his will?” (9:19). He has the same sort of sovereign authority that a potter has over his clay (9:21). See also 9:15-23; 11:5-10,28-29.
e) The Gentiles. Paul also raises the question of the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles. God’s elect, he says, are drawn “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” (9:24). See 9:24-31. How the two are related dominates chapter 11 (vv. 11-32).
f) Law and Grace. We are not surprised that the main subject in chs. 1–8, law and grace, comes to the surface again in 9:30-31 as the key to the question of why God saves some and rejects others. A major part of ch. 10 (vv. 3-17) is the point that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by law or works of law. See also 11:6,20,23.
g) The Church. A final theme, discussed in 11:17-24, is the church. Though the word “church” itself is not used, this is clearly the point. The specific issue in this section is the relation between the church and Israel.
Romans 9 is not to be lifted up out of the context of the book of Romans. The key verse for Romans is found in 1:16-17 where Paul writes,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The righteous shall live by faith. Paul defends this view throughout the book of Romans by showing that our salvation is by grace through faith. Paul contrasts salvation by works with salvation by faith in Romans 4. He shows us that we are justified before God by faith (Romans 5:1). This salvation produces sanctification by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4). As we live by the Spirit, the Spirit helps us toward glorification (Romans 8:29-30). As we abide in Christ through faith, we have the assurance of our salvation and our entire sanctification (Romans 8:37-39). Paul now turns to the issue of the Jews since he knows that the Jews will argue that they are saved by being a Jew. This had been an issue even with John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-10) and with the Lord Jesus (John 8:31-47). The Jews believed themselves to be the special people of God which they were as Paul the Apostle shows in Romans 9:1-5 (though Piper struggles to show that salvation is included in these promises and blessings). The Jews were indeed the chosen people of God (Genesis 25:22-23; Deuteronomy 7:6) but this does not mean that all the Jews were saved by virtue of being Jewish. Paul is going to show that God has the right to choose to save the Gentiles just as He saves the believing Jews based on faith (Romans 3:25-31). Paul will even prove that God has always had a remnant even among the disobedient Jews (Romans 11:1-5). Paul will argue that it is indeed God’s sovereignty that allows Him to do this but it is not based on the hidden mystery of Calvinistic election but upon the grace of God in salvation that is free to all, both Jews and Gentiles.
Cottrell then makes an excellent case in his commentary on Romans that the main purpose of Romans 9 is the faithfulness of God. This will be the theme I will take up next, to show that God is faithful to His promises despite the unbelief of many of the Jews.
“Why are you an Arminian?” Seems like a straight forward question. A friend posted this to me recently and I wanted to provide a clear, calm answer as to why I am an Arminian. By the way, my friend is not a Calvinist. He is probably an Arminian but he wants to be one of those who call themselves “just a Christian” or worst, “Calminian.” In reality, he is an Arminian but he wants to avoid debates so he avoids the tag. I did this for years before just admitting that I am an Arminian though I don’t always agree with Arminius on every issue.
My calm reply to the question of why I am an Arminian would be because I believe that God is love (1 John 4:8). The love of God for humans is what drives me to reject Calvinism the most. Yes I see Arminianism in Scripture but I see the love of God manifested most in His Son. I see the Lord Jesus giving His life for all people (John 3:16) and all who come to Him can be saved (John 1:12-13; 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:40; 7:38; 8:51; 20:31). Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 1:29; 4:42; 1 John 2:2; 4:14). God has demonstrated His own love toward people by sending His Son to die for our sins (Romans 5:8) and all who are in Christ Jesus are forgiven and redeemed (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus shed His blood so that all can be saved through faith in Him but only those who appropriate His sacrifice are saved (Romans 3:21-26).
This overwhelming theme in Scripture, that God is love, is what drives me to preach the gospel. The love of God is what motivates me to prayer. The love of God is what drives me to study theology. I want to know this God. I want to love this God in return. I want to point others to the cross so that they too can repent of their sins and be baptized into Christ for their eternal salvation.
When I calmly consider Calvinism, I don’t see this theme. I see the issue for Calvinism being the sovereignty of God. I affirm the sovereignty of God but I believe that God created a world in which people are made in His image and given freedom to either choose to worship and love God or reject Him. Adam and Eve rejected God why their own free will. Calvinism pictures God as loving His elect only. I know that some Calvinist theologians have wrestled with how God loves the world and they seem to try to teach that God does love the world in some sense but He doesn’t really love the world. He more or less tolerates the world. As part of God’s absolute sovereignty, He has created all people as either elect or non-elect. The non-elect have no choice in their election. They were created for the wrath of God (Romans 9:21-24; a fact that R.C. Sproul affirms though he admits he does not like it). So before time began, God looked down through eternity and He chose to create, to send His Son for the elect, He chose the elect, and in time, Christ Jesus died for the elect and only for the elect. How do you know if you are elect? None really knows. Some reason that if you believe in Christ, you are elect but if you turn from following Christ, you were never elected to begin with. Some, such as Jonathan Edwards, reason that some are given a temporary assurance of their salvation though they are not elect. Either way, if you fail to persevere (which I agree with), you are not elect.
Arminianism, on the other hand, presents a God who loves and He gives genuine freedom to people. He created Adam and Eve with the freedom to be tempted and to fall into sin because He creates people who willing choose to love Him. He does not force people to love Him (or as R.C. Sproul teaches from John 6:44, that God drags them to salvation). He gives us the gospel, teaches us through His Word how to come to Him for salvation, and then He tells His Church to preach this gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47). I am elected because I am in Christ. Christ, and not my election, are the basis for my eternal salvation (Colossians 3:1-4). Christ is the chosen one (Ephesians 1:3-4) and in Him, we are His chosen (1 Timothy 4:10; Revelation 17:14).
In conclusion, the reality is that I am an Arminian not because I reject the sovereignty of God nor is it the issue of the freedom of the will. It is the love of God. God’s love was so manifested in His Son (Luke 19:10) and Paul the Apostle tells us in Colossians 1:15 that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that Jesus came to make peace by His own blood (Colossians 1:20). I am thankful for this truth, that Jesus saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and I am a sinner in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23). Jesus came to save me.
Having just read Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher tells the story of his being asked by a non-Calvinist friend if the doctrine of unconditional election bothers him. Dutcher was honest to his friend and said, “It does.” Nonetheless, Dutcher feels that he must surrender to the authority of Scripture and affirm the doctrine despite his acknowledgement that the doctrine does bother him. He writes that Calvinists should be honest about their feelings toward their doctrinal views without fear. He said his friend believed that Calvinists had no feelings toward people and just viewed them as robots or pawns in a divine chess game. Dutcher writes that his honesty was a good starting point to discuss Calvinism with his friend.
I appreciate that about Dutcher. Like R.C. Sproul before him, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t like everything about Calvinism while accepting it as true.
I would add another approach to this though and that would be to just admit that the doctrine is wrong. The doctrine of unconditional election is not based on the clear reading of the Bible but upon taking the TULIP and forcing it upon the text. That is my approach to this issue. I agree with Dutcher that it bothers me that God has not chosen to save many, many, many people and in fact He has chosen to damn them for eternity all while holding them responsible for a gospel that they could never have accepted in the first place. That bothers me too. It bothers me that someone could read the “all” passages such as John 3:16 or Romans 11:32 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 or 1 Timothy 4:10 or Revelation 22:17 and says that the “all” there is simply the unconditional elect that God has chosen before time began. It bothers me that God would grant Adam and Eve free will to fall into sin but then He, in His sovereignty, chooses to save only a few for His glory when He could save all for His glory and make the foundation of that election faith in His Son. That does bother me.
So I choose, from my free will, to reject the teaching of unconditional election. I don’t do so blindly. I do so because I don’t see it in Scripture. I see God choosing people for His own purposes such as Abraham or Moses or Jeremiah or Paul. I see God choosing nations such as Israel or Egypt. I see Jesus choosing His disciples (John 15:16). But I don’t see these as guaranteeing salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Romans 9 is clear about this with regard to Israel. Only those who place their faith in Jesus become His elect that He foreknew (Romans 9:30-33; 10:9-17; 11:2). Through God’s foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2), God knows those who will freely believe the gospel and be saved.
I choose instead to affirm a conditional election. I believe in the sovereignty of God. I believe that God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to send His Son to be the elected one who will die for our sins. Jesus shed His blood for all men but only those who appropriate His sacrifice are those accepted in the beloved (1 Timothy 4:10). Romans 3:21-26 are powerful verses on this point. It reads:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
We are justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith. At what point are we then saved? In Calvinism, God’s election of the person means that Jesus shed His blood for that elected person. When Jesus died on the cross (in Calvinism), He died to save the elect that God had ordained before the world began. Thus Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation. Now when were the elect justified? Where they justified before time began when God ordained that Jesus would be the Lamb of God for the elect (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8)? If this is the case, are the elect eternally justified? Most Calvinists will answer no to these questions. Calvinists, like Arminians, will acknowledge that the elect are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But if Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation, are what point are they saved? When Jesus died or when they place their faith in Him? Further, are the elect born regenerated since regeneration must occur before faith because dead men cannot place their faith in the living Christ?
I believe that we are saved when we place our faith in Christ. Most of my Calvinist brethren do too. While some of them will say that we are regenerated before faith in Christ, they all acknowledge that they are saved by grace through faith. I am thankful for that. We agree on that. But I wonder, are they, the elect, born without sin? If Christ died for their sins on the cross (and none of His blood was spilled in vain according to this view), then the sins of the elect were atoned for when Jesus died. Thus the elect are born sinless? Correct? So how can an elect person then need to be justified through faith if in fact Jesus already shed His blood for their sins even before time began?
Perhaps I am wondering here a bit but my point is that the unconditional election view leads to other issues. I am not asking for them to be resolved here. I don’t mind that we all appeal to a bit of uncertainty when it comes to some theological issues (the Trinity is a tough one to grasp and though I try, I have not been able to but I don’t reject the doctrine because I do see it in Scripture). But when it comes to unconditional election, I do reject it and not just because of where it logical leads (to reprobation of sinners by God’s sovereign choice and makes God guilty of sin and favoritism which He is not in any way) but also because I see the best alternative in Scripture, conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge. This view, to me, not only is based on the sacrifice of the Messiah but also the doctrine of God Himself wherein He has revealed Himself as loving, good, and just. The focus of election, in the works of Arminius, is based on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the focus of election. He is the elected One and not only that but He is the foundation for our election. I was just reading from Ephesians 1:3-14 and it is amazing to me how much “He” and “Him” appear in the text (I was reading it from the NASB). ”He” and not “me” is the focus of election.
I pray that I have not misunderstood Calvinism as this point. I know many godly Calvinists who are active in evangelism despite their agreement with unconditional election and I am grateful for that. I don’t mean to cast Calvinists as being ignorant of God’s Word in the least bit. Many of them are far greater thinkers than I am but I do acknowledge that I am not comfortable, as Dutcher has above, with the doctrine of unconditional election and my rejection of it is, in my mind, based on both Scripture and logic.