Archive for the ‘Calvinism Defined’ Category
“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.
Here is a short but excellent article on the subject of John Owen and the idea of double payment in the atonement. The writer points out the flaws of Owen’s logic on the double payment theory.
You can find the article here.
Here is a quick comparison of the three major order of God’s decrees. This comes from the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall. This is an excellent book.
God decrees to:
- Predestine; that is, elect some individuals (though not yet considered as created or fallen) to eternal life with God and reprobate others;
- Create (in some versions, this decree comes before predestination);
- Ordain or permit the fall, with ensuing guilt, corruption, and total inability;
- Appoint Christ as the foundation of salvation to redeem the elect;
- Provide the means of salvation: Holy Spirit to save, regenerate, and preserve the redeemed.
- Permit the fall, with ensuing guilt, corruption, and total inability;
- Predestine; that is, elect some created and fallen individuals to eternal life with God, and reprobate, or pass by, the rest of the sinners;
- Appoint Christ as foundation of salvation to redeem the elect;
- Provide the means of salvation: Holy Spirit to save, regenerate, and preserve the redeemed.
- Permit the fall;
- Appoint Christ as foundation of election to redeem;
- Save, in Christ, (the class of) penitent believers, and condemn unbelievers;
- Provide means (grace) for repentance and faith;
- Save or condemn single, specific individuals foreknown to believe or not believe.
Both Arminianism and Calvinism believe that sinners are saved by the grace of God. Both attribute our salvation to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. We agree that the sinner is passive in salvation and that the Lord is the One who saves (Jonah 2:9). We further agree that the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to salvation (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Humans cannot earn their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) nor are we capable, because of sin, to even seek God apart from His drawing power (Romans 3:10-18, 23).
So then what is the key difference between the Arminian teaching of prevenient grace versus the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace? Both believe that it is God who must open the sinners eyes to His gospel for them to be saved (2 Corinthians 4:3-5). Both affirm that the sinner is incapable of saving themselves and that is the grace of God that must intervene for them to be saved.
The Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace teaches that those for whom Jesus died will be saved (unconditional election) and that the elect of God are drawn by His love and His grace to salvation that Jesus accomplished for them. Once God draws the elect sinner to Himself, the sinner will be drawn by the inward call of the Spirit (effectual calling). While most Calvinists insist that all need to hear the gospel (Mark 16:15), all true Calvinists hold that the elect will hear the special inward call of grace to salvation. The non-elect do not respond to the gospel in a saving way though some may believe for a while but prove their lack of election by not remaining in the Church (2 Peter 1:10-11).
The Arminian viewpoint is that God sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2) but only those who appropriate His blood are the saved or the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10). There is some truth to the fact that God loves all people (John 3:16) and He desires for them to repent (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9). The gospel, as with the Calvinist above, is to go forth into all nations (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47). Those who believe the gospel are saved (Romans 10:9-17). The election of people then is based on conditions that in this case are set by God Himself. As Jesus said in John 6:47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” Whoever believes can be saved.
What then does the Arminian do with the utter sinfulness of humanity? The answer is prevenient grace. By the way, Calvinists will often say that the term does not appear in the Bible. I would agree but would argue that many of our theological terms in Christianity are not found in the Bible. Consider even the Calvinist acronym TULIP. None of it appears in the Bible though the Calvinist would say that it is based on biblical concepts and the overall teachings of Scripture. Likewise the Arminian sees the teaching of prevenient grace in the Bible. In fact, the Arminian will appeal to the same passages that the Calvinist would for irresistible grace such as John 6:44 or Acts 16:14-15. The difference would be in the nature of God’s covenant regarding salvation: is it conditional or unconditional? I believe that salvation is conditional based upon faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus. Those who believe and are truly saved by grace do so because of the work of the Spirit. Jesus said about the ministry of the Spirit in John 16:8-11 that He would convict the world and not merely the elect only. Jesus could have used the word “elect” here and the Arminian would have to submit to Scripture but He does not and He merely says that the Holy Spirit’s work will be to convict the world.
How does the Spirit convict the world? I hold that He does this by the preaching of the gospel. The gospel brings both the blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17) and the just condemnation of the sinners who reject the gospel (Acts 13:46-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). In this way, the Spirit both convicts the world and He also condemns the world. Yet where the gospel is preached, the Spirit works through the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior and He regenerates those who believe the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:1). There is no salvation without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7; cf. John 3:1-7). Arminius noted that the external means to salvation for mankind is the preaching of the Word of God and the internal means to salvation is the work of the work of the Spirit. Arminius wrote:
This vocation is both external and internal. The external vocation is by the ministry of men propounding the word. The internal vocation is through the operation of the Holy Spirit illuminating and affecting the heart, that attention may be paid to those things which are spoken, and that credence may be given to the word. From the concurrence of both these, arises the efficacy of vocation.
One final point. In the book of Acts we don’t often see the ministry of the Holy Spirit directly just as Jesus said about Him in John 15:26-27; 16:13-14. A case of this is Acts 2 where Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon. In Acts 2:37 the hearers are cut to the heart and cry out what must they do to be saved. Peter preaches Acts 2:38-39. Those who believe are baptized in Acts 2:41 to fulfill Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16. Yet the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace teaches that man is so utterly depraved that they must first be regenerated by the Spirit to even believe the gospel. The Spirit must give new life to the sinner for the sinner to repent and believe the gospel. However, we see none of this in Acts 2. We hear Peter preaching the gospel and we see sinners crying out for salvation but Peter insists in Acts 2:38 that they have not yet received the gift of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14). This would seem odd if in fact the sinners could not believe apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit in the first place. On the other hand, the Arminian view is that the Spirit was working through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation in Christ (Acts 2:21) and all who repented and believed were saved and added to the Church (Acts 2:47).
Dr. Michael Brown is not shy about debates. He recently did a special call-in program on his program, The Line of Fire, in which he asked only for Calvinists to call in. It is an interesting program and caught the attention of Calvinist apologist (and personal friend of Dr. Brown), Dr. James White on his program, The Dividing Line.
You can listen to the program here.