Posts Tagged ‘Arminianism Defined’
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.
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.
One of the arguments against the Arminian view regarding the atonement is that both Arminians and Calvinists limit the atonement. The Calvinist limits the atonement to the elect whereas Arminians limit the atonement to those who believe the gospel and become the elect but both limit the atonement in some way. Only the universalist can claim that they hold to an unlimited atonement since in fact they see nothing to limit the atonement of Christ.
I would agree with this. In fact, I agree that we Arminians limit the atonement. We reject the idea that Jesus saves everyone by virtue of His death on the cross. But I would disagree with the Calvinist by asserting that Jesus’ death saves no one on the cross. It is faith in the finished work of Christ that saves us. This is point of Romans 3:23-26:
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.
That Jesus died does not save. That Jesus shed His blood for the sins of the world does not save (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). The gospel must be preached and believed on by faith in order to save the sinner (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; 17:30-31; Romans 10:11-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14). The person who merely hears the gospel but rejects the gospel is not saved. They can claim all day to believe in Jesus or that Jesus died for them but if they have not been truly born again (John 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:18-25; 1 John 5:1-2), they are not saved (James 2:19). If faith does not save us then Romans 5:1 should read that we are justified unto faith but instead it says that we are justified through faith. Ephesians 2:8 is likewise clear that it is faith that saves us. To merely say that Jesus died without calling people to faith and repentance does not save.
The atonement is then unlimited in its power to save (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21) but it is only appropriated by faith (1 Timothy 4:10). Thus the question that arises, “Did Jesus die for people in hell” is pointless since only those who appropriate His shed blood are saved. Those who are in hell are there because of their willful rebellion against God and refusal of His Son (Romans 2:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10) and not because of arbitrary choosing on God’s part. We can thus preach to the world that Jesus shed His blood for our sins (Matthew 26:28) but only those who repent are saved from the power of sin (Luke 13:1-5; 24:47; John 6:40; Romans 5:8-9). All can come and be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14-18, 36) but only those who repent of their sins are truly baptized into His death and His resurrection (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21-22).
The Calvinist approach is one of completely limited atonement. Jesus shed His blood only for the elect (who still must believe the gospel to have the blood of Jesus wash their sins away unless one teaches eternal justification or the idea that the elect were justified in Christ before time began and in the sovereign mind of God, the elect have always been the elect and have always been His children) and only the elect can be saved (and will be saved). The atonement is not to be preached as vicarious for all people but only for the elect otherwise one is not being consistent with their soteriology views.
I can safely preach to the lost that Jesus shed His blood that they might repent and be saved because of my firm conviction that Jesus did in fact shed His blood for all people (1 Timothy 2:4). I can preach that Jesus is calling the person to repentance and forgiveness of their sins because of my firm conviction from Scripture that He is (Luke 19:10; Acts 13:38-39). I can preach that God has demonstrated His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NIV). I can preach that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21). I do this all because I believe that Jesus Christ shed His blood and was raised to life for our salvation (Romans 4:24-25) and all who have saving faith in Him can be saved (John 20:31; 1 John 4:14-15).
Here is a video that answers questions about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and how this relates to predestination.