Posts Tagged ‘Arminianism Defined’
People often base their views of others based on preconceived opinions about them. Consider politics. If I say Republican what do you think of: white people, all for corporate America, lower taxes. If I say Democrat what do you think of: pro-abortion, liberals, welfare party. I know I just wrote those based on my own preconceived thoughts about those two political parties neither of which I am a member by the way.
The same is true theologically. If I could ask Arminians to describe Calvinists what would many say: sovereignty of God, God hates the non-elect, decrees all things and causes all things, wrathful, unfair, arrogant. I know that some of them are wrong and some are right but you see my point. We view each other through our lenses, our theology. The same is true of Arminianism. If I could ask say the angry Calvinists I have met (at times) on Twitter or other social media places, how would they describe Arminians: hates the sovereignty of God, free will, human centered, exalts the love of God above the holiness of God, denies the grace of God, denies unconditional election, foreknowledge, open theism. Again, some of those are correct and most of them are wrong.
Let me deal with some of the misconceptions I often encounter about Arminianism.
1. Arminianism is Man-Centered Theology.
I am not sure where this comes from other than Calvinists who would either A) have not read any works of Arminius or other Arminian theologians, or B) don’t really know Arminians. All the Arminians I know would clearly seek to avoid making human beings the center of our theology. Our passion should rightly be the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the center of all true biblical theology. There is no doubt that we do teach two truths about humanity that would differ with Calvinism. First, Arminianism does teach that Jesus died for all people. Secondly, Arminianism does teach that God does allow the person that hears the gospel the will, through grace, to either reject the gospel or accept the gospel. We believe God’s grace frees the will to believe. Where we stand with our Calvinist brethren is that we believe that all people are bound in sin and cannot earn their salvation apart from the grace of God. Like Calvinists, we believe that sinners are bound in their sins and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, they will not believe.
However, I would deny that Arminianism is man-centered. Arminius wrote:
The Object of our Theology being clothed in this manner, so abundantly fills the mind and satisfies the desire, that the apostle openly declares, he was determined “to know nothing among the Corinthians save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. ii, 2.) To the Phillipians he says, that he “counted all things but lost for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus; for whom he had suffered the loss of all things, and he counted them but dung that he might know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.” (Phil. iii, 8, 10.) Nay, in the knowledge of the object of our theology, modified in this manner, all true glorying and just boasting consist, as the passage which we before quoted from Jeremiah, and the purpose to which St. Paul has accommodated it, most plainly evince. This is the manner in which it is expressed: “Let him. that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth.” (Jer. ix, 24.) When you hear any mention of mercy, your thoughts ought necessarily to revert to Christ, out of whom “God is a consuming fire” to destroy the sinners of the earth. (Deut. iv, 24; Heb. xii, 29) The way in which St. Paul has accommodated it, is this: “Christ Jesus is made unto us by God, wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!”(1 Cor. i, 30, 31.) Nor is it wonderful, that the mind should desire to “know nothing save Jesus Christ,” or that its otherwise insatiable desire of knowledge should repose itself in him, since in him and in his gospel “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom, and knowledge.” (Col. ii, 3, 9.)
Arminius wrote further about the study of God:
In God, who is the primary object of the Christian religion, three things come in order under our consideration:
(1.) The nature of God, of which the excellence and goodness is such that religion can honourably and usefully be performed to it.
(2.) The acts of God, on account of which religion ought to be performed to him.
(3.) The will of God, by which he wills religion to be performed to himself, and that he who performs it be rewarded; and, on the contrary, that the neglecter of it be punished.
So God is the object of true theology.
2. Arminianism Focuses on Free Will.
How often have I heard that Arminians champion free will. In fact, this may be what we are most known for. The reality is that free will only comes into play concerning the nature of the gospel and whether sinners can reject the free offer of the gospel. Otherwise, Arminians hold that the will of mankind is bound in sin. Notice this from an often quoted section of Arminius:
In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.
You’ll notice that Arminius clearly held that humans are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). Humans are not running around with their free will and doing what they like and then coming to Christ for salvation when they want to come. No! We all need the divine aid of God. We need His grace to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). None can come to Christ apart from the drawing power of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44). Yet we teach that if the gospel is preached, the Spirit of God works through the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior (John 12:32). We believe the gospel draws the lost (Romans 10:17). We would differ with our Calvinist brethren over the issue of irresistible grace. Calvinists would say that once God has sovereignty chosen a person to be saved (unconditional election) then that person will come and be saved once God graciously calls them (effectual calling). We deny this. Yet we equally deny the Pelagian view that man is born innocent and can freely come to God by their own free will powers when they so desire.
Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil, in a due mode and from a due end and cause. The subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence. “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” (Matt. vii, 18.) “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (xii, 34.) The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the gospel: “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him.” (John vi, 44.) As do likewise the following words of the Apostle: “The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” (Rom. viii, 7;). Therefore, that man over whom it has dominion, cannot perform what the law commands. The same Apostle says, “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins wrought in us,” or flourished energetically. (vii, 5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and “taken captive by the Devil.” (Rom. vi, 20; 2 Tim. ii, 26.)
3. Arminianism Denies the Sovereignty of God in Salvation.
For a while there I was being sent one YouTube video after another from various Calvinists featuring sermons from Calvinist preachers on the issue of the sovereignty of God in relation to salvation. These clips were meant to show that Calvinism truly exalts the sovereignty of God in salvation while Arminians deny this. Yet that is not accurate. Like our Calvinist brethren, we are monergists in salvation and synergists in sanctification. We believe that the work of regeneration is done by God (John 3:3). God is the one who must give new life to a sinner (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5-7). The sinner does not contribute to salvation. The work of salvation is accomplished sorely through Christ alone (Romans 4:5).
Arminius said that the vocation of God to salvation comes through the preaching of the Word of God:
The external cause, which outwardly moves God, is Jesus Christ by his obedience and intercession. (2 Tim. i, 9.) But the instrumental cause is the word of God, administered by means of men, either through preaching or writing, which is the ordinary method; (1 Cor. xii, 28-30; 2 Thess. ii, 14;) or without human assistance, when the word is immediately proposed by God inwardly to the mind and the will, which is extraordinary. And this is in fact both the word of the law and that of the Gospel, which are subordinate in the operations apportioned to each other.
And here humans can resist the Word of God by their sins:
The accidental result of vocation, and that which is not of itself intended by God, is the rejection of the word of grace, the contemning of the divine counsel, the resistance offered to the Holy Spirit. The proper and per se cause of this result is, the malice and hardness of the human heart. But this result is, not seldom, succeeded by another, the just judgment of God, avenging the contempt shewn to his word and call, and the injury done to his Holy Spirit; and from this judgment arise the blinding of the mind, the hardening of the heart, “the giving over to a reprobate mind,” and “the delivering unto the power of Satan.” (Acts xiii, 46; Luke vii, 30; Acts vii, 51; 2 Thess. iii, 2; 2 Cor. iv, 4; Psalm lxxxi, 11-14; Isa. lxiii, 10; vi, 9, 10; John xii, 37-40.)
Yet those who hear the gospel and believe the gospel do so because of God’s sovereignty:
But, because “known unto our God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” (Acts xv, 18,) and as God does nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do, this vocation is likewise instituted and administered according to God’s eternal decree. So that what man soever is called in time, was from all eternity predestinated to be called, and to be called in that state, time, place, mode, and with that efficacy, in and with which he was predestinated. Otherwise, the execution will vary from the decree; which charge of mutability and change cannot be preferred against God without producing mischievous effects. (Ephes. iii, 5, 6, 9-11; James i, 17, 18; 2 Tim. i, 9.)
4. Arminians Believe in Works-Righteousness.
I once had a talk with a Calvinist on the Internet and he continued, despite my saying no, to say that I held to works-righteousness. I would respond with Scripture such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 and he would come back and say, “You still hold to works-righteousness.” And why? Because I was not a Calvinist. He honestly believes that only Calvinism holds to true salvation by grace through faith (though I would argue that he holds to salvation by grace unto faith).
I have been saved for over 20 years and I have never met a person who was truly saved who held that we are saved by grace but kept by works. I have had long discussions with people who believed we had to keep the commandments to remain saved and I have had to clarify that teaching but I have never met anyone who was truly in love with Jesus Christ who would teach that Jesus saves us but we keep ourselves. It doesn’t take a theologian to read the New Testament and see that Jesus is our salvation. Period. Salvation is found only in Christ and kept only in Christ. We don’t keep ourselves. We didn’t earn our salvation and nor can we keep it by our flesh. We must look to Christ alone to keep us forever.
Now Jesus did say that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:1-4) and Jesus did say that we are to hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27-29) which requires we read and study His Word (John 8:31-32). Jesus did say that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood which means that He is our total life (John 6:56). Paul called Jesus our life in Colossians 3:4. Jesus must be our love, our passion, our Savior, our God, our Lord. He is our everything (Galatians 2:20).
The vocation or calling to the communion of Christ and its benefits, is the gracious act of God, by which, through the word and His Spirit, he calls forth sinful men, subject to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of natural life, and out of the defilements and corruptions of this world, to obtain a supernatural life in Christ through repentance and faith, that they may be united in him, as their head destined and ordained by God, and may enjoy the participation of his benefits, to the glory of God and to their own salvation.
How then can we sinful people love God? Arminius wrote:
The principal cause is the Holy Spirit, who infuses into man, by the act of regeneration, the affections of love, fear, trust, and honour; by exciting grace, excites, moves and incites him to second acts, and by co-operating grace, concurs with man himself to produce such second acts.
Through the Holy Spirit we are enabled to love God, fear God, and humbly obey Him as Lord. In my flesh, I will not love God nor obey Him (Romans 3:10-18) but through His Spirit, I can love God and obey Him. I am not perfect at this but the Spirit of God convicts and sanctifies me in this life.
I know this is just a little of the many misunderstandings about Arminianism and I know that I left much unsaid. I am sure that my critics could find holes in my reasoning and theology. However, I simply ask to be heard. I do love Christ. I love Jesus above Arminius or above Wesley. I am not saved by grace through faith in man but in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Christ alone is the One who stands before the Father for me (Hebrews 7:25). Christ alone is the One who saved me by His own blood on the cross (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:14). I know that I don’t deserve His grace. I deserve His wrath but praise God for Romans 5:8-11:
8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
For more information on Arminianism please see my page for recommended reading.
Both Arminianism and Calvinism hold that they believe in salvation by God’s grace. Grace is not merely taught as an abstract concept of theology. Both systems affirm that grace is more than just “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” but is the actual empowering presence of God in the life of the individual wherein the person is empowered by grace to be saved. The presence of the Spirit of God is absolutely necessary for regeneration to occur (Titus 3:5-7). Without the work of the Spirit, none of us could be saved (John 3:1-7; Romans 8:9-11).
Yet both systems argue over the nature of God’s grace on humanity in general. Calvinism, for example, teaches common grace. Common grace means that God does not pour out His just wrath upon all of humanity but instead, because of His love and mercy, allows people to live their lives in their sin. God could wipe us all out but instead He has chosen a remnant of grace (Romans 11:5-6). This remnant has been predestined by God for salvation by God’s saving grace. Saving grace is different from common grace. Common grace gives people the knowledge of God, the knowledge of their sin even but it does not save them but only condemns them so that they go to hell because of their own sins. Yet God does not extend His saving grace to all but only those whom He elected before time. Common grace is given to all. Saving grace is given only to the elect.
Arminianism differs with Calvinism over this. Arminians affirm common grace but we go one step further and teach that God’s common grace has been given so that people will heed the gospel. Certainly we agree that salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8-9) but we believe that God’s prevenient grace comes from this common grace. The condemnation of the unjust comes through their own sinfulness and rebellion against God who has demonstrated His desire to save them through His Son (John 3:17-18). Prevenient grace is not foreign to Calvinism and both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that prevenient grace is necessary for salvation. Prevenient grace is simply enabling grace. Because of the nature of our utter depravity before God concerning His perfect righteousness (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23), none of us are capable of saving ourselves. We need God’s aid, His work to save us. John 6:44 is absolutely correct, that none of us, in our own power, can come to God. We are sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:3) and our hearts are far from God (Jeremiah 17:9). We need the work of the Spirit to save us. This is the work of the Spirit, to enable us to believe the gospel and so be saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).
We differ, however, over whether prevenient grace is resistible. Calvinism says no. Arminians say yes. I would point to the examples of Scripture of people resisting God. Israel is a case in point as Paul points out in Romans 11:7. The elect are those who receive His grace as Paul points out in Romans 11:17-24. In fact, Paul says in Romans 11:32 that He will have mercy upon all. And yet not all are saved. There remains those who resist His will and resist His gospel. Many Jews to this day continue to resist the gospel. Israel, writes Paul in Romans 9:30-33, has pursued God by works and not by faith. This has led to their demise. It was their own sinful choosing.
Prevenient grace, however, does not make humans savable in the sense that the grace of God now allows for us, by our own human efforts, to please God and be saved. I don’t want you to believe this common mistake. Humans are saved by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s grace does open our eyes to our sin, does expose our rebellion and our hardness to His gospel but this does not mean that we are then able to save ourselves. Salvation is the work of God. God saves sinners by His own grace and power (John 1:12-13). This is not the grace of God giving us the ability to now help God along the way of salvation. God’s grace enables us to believe the gospel and be born again but not by works on our part but upon the sovereign grace of God (Romans 4:5). Prevenient grace is not assisting us to believe but the grace of God is the totality of our salvation from beginning to end.
On the next post I will discuss the issue of prevenient grace as it relates to Romans 9:19-24.
Some people often wonder about me. I had someone recently e-mail me from an Amazon.com review that I did for a Calvinist book in which they said, “You sound so much like a Calvinist but its shocking to learn that you are not.” I might sound much like a Calvinist because we Arminians and Calvinists actually agree on many issues. We agree, for example, on salvation being by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We disagree over the issue of whether this salvation is conditional or unconditional based on the sovereign decree of God. We Arminians and Calvinists agree that God is sovereign but we disagree over whether this sovereignty means divine determinism or His causation of all things. We Arminians and Calvinists agree over the five solaes of the Reformation and we Arminians are very comfortable calling ourselves Protestants along with our Calvinist brethren. As an Arminian, I ascribe all glory to God in His saving me and I acknowledge that it was by His grace alone that saved me. He chose me. I didn’t choose Him first (1 John 4:10).
That said, why then am I not a Calvinist? How is it that I can read and love my Calvinist brothers and sisters and yet reject Calvinism? How is it that I love Calvinist preachers and teachers such as John MacArthur or Joseph Pipa or Albert Mohler but reject Calvinism? You would think that their Calvinism would have influenced me by now since I have spent years reading, studying, and listening to Calvinist teachers. How is it that I can speak so highly of the grace of God in salvation or that the sovereignty of God is fully involved with the salvation of the sinner yet reject “the doctrines of grace?”
So why am I not a Calvinist? Let me not beat around the bush and get right to the issues. Let me narrow this down to three reasons why I am not Calvinist.
1. The Character of God.
Dr. Roger Olson in his book, Against Calvinism, states that the issue for the Arminian is not the issue of free will or the issue of eternal security but the issue is the character of God. How has God chosen to reveal Himself? Does the Bible present a sovereign God who ignores the free will decisions of His creatures? Does the Bible present a God who chooses to save people by His own sovereign will while sending the vast majority to eternal hell simply because He wanted to reprobate them? The core issue for the Arminian is that we hold that the Bible does present a sovereign God but it also presents a loving and good God who does not cause people to sin nor is He tempted by sin (James 1:12-15). The Bible presents a God who loves humanity and sends His Son for their sins so that through faith in His Son, the world might be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The Bible presents God as love (1 John 4:7) and a God who demonstrates His love through the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9). Certainly God hates sin but He equally loves people and has sent His Son so that they can repent and live (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
2. Unlimited Atonement.
Most Calvinist scholars admit that there are many passages concerning the nature of the atonement that seem to suggest that the atonement is unlimited in nature. Even J.I. Packer has admitted this. The problem is that the Calvinist theologian must then take their own presuppositions and force them upon Scripture. I have often laughed at Calvinist theologians who seek to take a text like John 3:16 or 1 John 2:2 and seek to turn the text into teaching Calvinism. The bias of universal atonement texts is another strong reason I reject Calvinism. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 is a hard passage for a Calvinist to read through since the text says three times the word “all” (ESV). Verse 1, verse 4, and verse 6. All here means “all” and to ignore this would have to because you simply don’t want the text to say all. I will not ignore the all texts. I will embrace them and preach them. Jesus can save all (1 Timothy 4:10) and I believe that, based on the love of God, He desires to save all who call upon His name (Romans 10:13).
3. Conditional Election.
I reject the concept of unconditional election. I have read many works from Calvinists on passages such as Romans 9-11 and have heard sermons on the texts but am not convinced. I have read Calvinist scholars works on texts such as John 6 or Acts 13:48 or Ephesians 1:4-13 and am still not convinced. Why? First, because of the character of God that I see in Scripture, that He is loving and good. Unconditional election is not loving and good. It is harsh and unfair. I can hear my Calvinist readers saying now, “You don’t want fairness with God.” But think about it. God looks at humanity before the Fall (depending on your Calvinism) and picks these few in comparison to the vast majority. He does this before man sins, before he is even created. Mankind is given no choice whatsoever and yet we are to believe that mankind is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27)? We are told that this is a good and loving God, that He would choose to even save one from the likes of sinful humanity. Further, God even says over and over again that He desires to save all who call upon Him (Acts 2:21), that He gave His Son for all (John 3:16), for the world (John 1:29) and He calls the nations to repent (Acts 17:30-31) but in reality, He desires to save only those whom He predestined to be saved before time began. Would that not mean that God is not truthful in His desire to save the lost? I believe that the character of God shows us that He is willing to save all who come to Him through Christ (John 6:44-45; 12:32; Romans 11:32).
So there you have it. Sweet and to the point. I love my Calvinist brethren while rejecting their Calvinism. I can gladly read, pray, worship, evangelize, and fellowship with my Calvinist brethren because Calvinism (nor Arminianism) saves sinners. Only Christ does. Further, I admit that I am but a man and my knowledge is very limited. I, like Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13:12, see through a mirror dimly. I admit that I bring my own presuppositions to the Bible. Perhaps when I die, I will find that Calvinism was more biblically than Arminianism but I suppose that none of that will matter in eternity since Jesus will be Lord of all and He will exalted above all flesh (Revelation 5:9-10).
In Exodus 3:18-22 we read what Yahweh tells Moses concerning Pharaoh and the plunder of the Egyptians. God tells that Moses that He is going to set His people free from the bondage under the Egyptians (vv. 7-8). He then tells Moses in verse 18 to go and tell Pharaoh that the Jews were to go into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD yet Yahweh tells Moses in verse 19 that He knows that Pharaoh will not let them go unless compelled by a mighty hand and so in verse 20 Yahweh tells Moses that He will strike Egypt with wonders and then Pharaoh will let them go. God even promises in verses 21-22 that He will give the Jews favor with the Egyptians so that the Jews will plunder them.
Anyone who knows the book of Exodus and the history of the Israelites knows that all this comes to pass. Moses goes before Pharaoh and sure to God’s word, Pharaoh denies that the Israelites can go free. God does wonders that amazes both the Egyptians and the Israelites and finally, after the striking down of the first-born in all of Egypt, Pharaoh calls Moses to him and tells him to leave (Exodus 12:31-32). The Israelites even plunder the Egyptians as God promised (Exodus 12:36).
What amazes me about Exodus 3:18-22 is that Yahweh clearly foresees all the free will decisions that will come to pass. In His complete omniscience He knows what Pharaoh will do and say and even what the Egyptians will do for the Israelites after God’s judgment upon them. Romans 9:14-18 gives us insight into God’s choosing of Pharaoh for His own purpose. Romans 9:14-18 is not salvation in nature. The point of Romans 9:14-18 is that God is sovereign to choose whomever He desires for His own purpose without saving them in the process. Pharaoh could have been saved if he had repented of his sins but he continued in his unbelief and hardened his heart toward Yahweh. The parallel between John 15:16 and Romans 9:17 are similar. Jesus’ choice of His Apostles in John 15:16 was to service and not entirely to salvation (as the case of Judas shows). This is true of Pharaoh as well. He was chosen by God for God’s own purpose: to show His glory and wonders to the Israelites.
What is amazing though is that God knows the free will choices that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would make. God does not force these decisions but He knows them just as He knows your thoughts before you even utter them (Psalm 139:4). Jesus knew the thoughts of many in the Gospels. In Mark 2:8 we read that Jesus perceived the thoughts of the people questioning His words in their hearts. In John 2:25 we read that Jesus knew what was in man. In John 6:64 Jesus even knew who did not believe about the disciples spoken of in verse 66 and about Judas (verse 71). On a side note, Adam Clarke makes the point that could it be that Jesus was reaching out to Judas trying to call him to repent of his wickedness beforehand? I know this is speculation on Clarke’s part but I do see the love of Jesus even for a Judas.
I write all this because some accuse us Arminians of rejecting the omniscience of God. They believe that we hold to open theism, that God does not know all future actions of free will creatures. I certainly reject this notion. I believe from passages such as Exodus 3:18-22 that God does indeed know all things. He knows even the free will decision of people. He foreknows even those who will believe the gospel of Christ (Romans 8:29). While this knowledge is not unconditional in that salvation is based on conditions that God has set including belief, He does know those who will believe. This mystery is beyond me. I cannot fathom knowing all things including decisions others are going to make. God does. God knows all things. He foreknows all events. He has chosen in His sovereignty to allow for free will from His creatures so that none can accuse Him of evil and say on the day of judgment that they were only doing what God had caused them to do. Calvinists believe that God renders certain whatsoever comes to pass including sin. How does this not make God the author of sin? If God is going to render certain all things that come to pass then this means that He causes them to come to pass. In essence, this makes God the one who caused the event (even sinful) to be rendered certain.
The Arminian view is that God simply knows. That is it. God knew the free will actions of Pharaoh and the Egyptians before it happened because He knows. God knew when you would believe. God knew that I would write this post. That God knows is not the same as God caused. God foreknows all things including the free will decisions of people. He controls all things but He does not cause all things. He knew the free will actions that would be taken toward His Son (Isaiah 53:4-6) but He allowed those free will choices to be made and for Jesus’ death to come to pass (Acts 2:23 notice that Peter says that those Jews were guilty of Jesus’ death through the hands of lawless men). God allowed people to make free will choices to crucify His Son but He knew those choices would be made even if He didn’t make that choice for them.
There are some who take comfort in a fatalistic view of God’s omniscience. I have even known some who would abide in sin believing that God knew and rendered certain their sin so why fight it? I have seen some find comfort in their struggles of life by believing that God caused their troubles to come upon them by His own sovereign choice. I have seen women mourn over their dead baby only to bless God for killing the child. They find comfort that God causes all things to come to pass even if they don’t understand God’s ways. They read the book of Job and see the hand of God crushing Job as proof that we should expect the same in this life.
I don’t know. I don’t find much comfort in that thought. I do believe that God is sovereign. I do believe that God foreknows all things. I do believe that God controls all things. I reject that God causes all things. Did God cause Adam to sin? Did God cause Judas to betray Jesus? Did God cause Hitler to murder over 6 million Jews? Did God cause the rapist to rape a little girl? What kind of God is this? Despite the picture that Scripture presents of Him being loving and good, I would find this fatalistic view of God as appalling.
I am not sure if either Arminianism or Calvinism has the answer to the problem of evil. The Calvinist views the sovereignty of God as meaning that He must cause all things to come to pass for His glory even the hardening of sinner’s hearts. The Arminian views the sovereignty of God as God allowing free will decisions to be made that He does know but does not cause. The open theist view is that God allows the future to partly open so that free will decisions are completely unknown to Him before they take place in time and then God reacts to those free will decisions. I believe that all three may have problems but I accept the Arminian view as I believe from cases such as Exodus 3:18-22 that God does know all things including the future free will choices that others will make and He is able to make prophetic statements in that regard.
I saw on Twitter the other night a tweet by a well known Calvinist boasting of the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. He tweeted concerning John 17:9 which says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” (NKJV). He boasted that John 17:9 teaches both unconditional election and limited atonement at the same time. Of course I believe his exegesis of John 17:9 is terrible. The passage in context is Jesus praying for His own Apostles whom He had personally chosen (John 15:16). Jesus is praying before the Father, at this time in John 17:9, for His Apostles as John 17:12 makes clear. The entirety of John 17 is focused mainly on the Apostles and not the unconditional elect as in this Calvinist’s mindset.
Yet who would want to boast in a limited atonement? Calvinists often point out that the atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to potentially save all but of course it does not. This statement seems absurd to me even on a surface level. The begging question then is why would God send His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 1:29) but then only save a few if in fact He could save all who come to Him in faith (John 6:37). This leads to prayers such as from Charles Spurgeon, “Oh God save the elect and then elect some more!” We Arminians would gladly agree. But we go a step further in Arminianism and actually do believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ was for the saving of all people. Because some reject this salvation doesn’t limit God’s work or His glory (John 5:39-40). People in hell are there not because of Calvin’s “terrible decree” as he called it but because they refuse the Son of God and die in their sins (Romans 1:18-32). Their sinful rebellion against God is the act of free choice people choosing as Adam and Eve did, to rebel against a holy God and ignore His commandments and His salvation that He has wrought in His Son (Romans 3:10-25).
I know that for some Calvinists, they prefer to call the doctrine of limited atonement by another name such as “particular redemption” but this doesn’t elevate the doctrine anymore than where it is. Richard Mouw, in his book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport talks about the doctrine of unlimited atonement and he talks about how the doctrine is one of those “shelf doctrines” that he doesn’t really like. He believes it because it fits in his system though he finds little biblical support for the doctrine. He doesn’t talk about it much and doesn’t think about it much either. Newer Calvinists heroes such as John Piper or R.C. Sproul are defending the doctrine not just as important to Calvinism but as almost heretical to teach any other doctrine. I heard a prominent Calvinist teaching from 2 Thessalonians 1:11 the other day and he found limited atonement in that verse that he was teaching on prayer from.
Yet the doctrine, to this Arminian, is largely based on logic than Scripture. To those who hold to the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), the Calvinist teaching of unconditional election logically flows from the teaching of total depravity and in turn leads to a limited atonement. For if mankind is totally depraved (Ephesians 2:1-3) and if God has unconditionally elected some to salvation and others to damnation then it logically follows that He sent His Son to die not for the sins of those whom He predestined to damnation but for those whom He chose to salvation. This is logical. But it’s not biblical. I would agree that the Bible teaches depravity (though not in the Calvinist usage) and I would agree that the Bible teaches election (conditional and not all to salvation in the Scriptures such as in Romans 9:4-5 or Romans 9:13) but the overwhelming passages present the atonement as for the world (John 3:16 is a prime example). I know that Calvinists such as John Piper see the use of the word “world” as meaning “those in the world that God has sovereignly chosen” or “all kinds of people” but this is not doing proper exegesis to the texts. This is taking the doctrines of Calvinism and presupposing them upon the Bible. It’s taking the doctrine of limited atonement and making the assumption that the Bible must teach the doctrine lest Calvinism be untrue and therefore all the passages such as John 1:29 or John 3:16 or Romans 1:16-17 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 or 1 John 2:1-2 or 1 John 4:14 or Revelation 17:14 are thus interpreted in light of Calvinism and not the clear teaching of Scripture. By far the doctrine of limited atonement is the weakest of the five points of Calvinism (though some such as Dr. Roger Olson believe irresistible grace is the poorest based on Scripture).
Frankly, you have the New Testament writers boasting of the power of the cross. The cross was powerful enough to save one person (Galatians 2:20) to dying for His sheep (John 10:15) to His Church (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:23-26) to “many” (Matthew 20:28). As Isaac Watts wrote in his classic hymn, “Joy To The World”,
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far s the curse is found.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing
But if Jesus did die for all then surely He died for our unbelief as well, so the Calvinist logically concludes. If this is the case then how could people go to hell if in fact Jesus died for their sins. Analogies could serve here such as the emancipation proclamation by President Lincoln that said that slaves in the rebellious states (Confederacy) were now free but few knew this when Lincoln declared it and many remained slaves even after the Civil War ended because they didn’t believe that what Lincoln wrote was true. Their unbelief led them to their slavery. The same is true for the atonement of Jesus Christ (John 3:18).
We also see an example of Jesus’ atonement in Numbers 21:8-9 which Jesus used in John 3:14-15 about Himself. In Numbers 21:8-9 Moses prepared a serpent on a poll that whoever looked to the poll were healed of their snake bites. Whoever did not look was killed. Jesus used this reference to Himself in John 3:14-15. All who come to Him can be saved in Him but whoever refuses to come to Him will be lost in their sins (Ezekiel 18:4).
In Romans 5:8-9 we see the power of Jesus’ atonement and unbelief as well. In Romans 5:8 we see God’s provision for us in the death of His Son. In Romans 5:9 we see the application of the atonement which is given to those who believe. The same is true in Romans 3:24-25.
The case for an unlimited atonement indeed is very strong. I once heard a missionary say that he saw missions on nearly every page of the Bible. I see the same when I think of the doctrine of an unlimited atonement. I see it on every page. I see the grace of God, the power of God, the mercy of God, and the great love of God in the giving of His Son for our sins. I see that when people stand before God the Father in judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28) they will die in their sins not because of Calvin’s “horrible decree” but because they refused to believe the truth and be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10 and notice that their refusal of the truth leads to 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 not because of God’s horrible decree but because of their unbelief).
Thank God for the blood of Jesus that saves sinners such as I (Matthew 26:28)!
Interesting note from Daniel Whedon’s commentary on John 6:40.
So long as he [the believer] performs the condition, so long is he heir of the salvation. When he ceases to be a believer he loses all claim to the divine promise, and all interest in eternal life. That he has once believed no longer secures him heaven, any more than the fact that he has once disbelieved secures eternal death.
Notice that Whedon makes a good argument for conditional security when he says that the logic that once a believer has eternal life they always have eternal life, Whedon notes that if this logic were true then a disbeliever always has eternal death. Eternal life is found not arbitrarily but by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-25). Notice the words of Jesus in John 5:24 which are all in the present active sense,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
And then also notice the words of Jesus in John 8:51 which are also in the present active tense,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death!”
It seems that Whedon and the words of Jesus agree, we have eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).