Monday, September 14, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part II: "Free To Come, Determined To Stay"

In Part II of the Ashby defense of the Reformed Arminian View, we find Ashby challenging the work of Norman Geisler, advocate of the “Moderate Calvinist” view. Ashby writes:

“In his Chosen But Free, Norman Geisler seeks to show that his view is Calvinistic (he gives a brief, point-by-point explanation on each of the first four points of the TULIP). However, he redefines the meaning so as to empty the system of its classical intent. He is actually a one-point Calvinist—THE LAST. According to his measure, Reformed Arminians can also be called Calvinists. I also hold to one point of the TULIP—THE FIRST. (As I argued earlier, Reformed Arminians hold to the doctrine of totally depravity as strenuously as does any Calvinist.) Geisler, by contrast, has defined away both the Classical Calvinist and the classical Arminian understanding of depravity, replacing it instead with a sort of semi-Pelagian notion of natural human ability. It seems to me that HIS LOGICAL MIND PRESSES HIM TOWARD AN UNCONSCIOUS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT HIS BRAND OF CALVINISM IS IN ACTUALITY A ONE-POINT CALVINISM. For without giving careful argumentation for his redefinitions of the system, he simply jumps into a several-page ‘Defense of Eternal Security,’ citing and explaining fifteen proof texts.
Geisler should have made clear how he justifies the sea change that he asserts. He argues that the sinner’s will is free to act in alternative ways, so as to choose God, or conversely, to resist God. HE HAS NOT ATTEMPTED TO EXPLAIN, HOWEVER, WHY OR HOW A PERSON WHO IS FREE BEFORE SALVATION IS NO LONGER FREE AFTER SALVATION. If the character of God’s grace is that it is resistible before salvation, acting persuasively in accordance with one’s will, then why should God’s grace be viewed as irresistible after one is saved, compelling the individual, though his or her will might turn against God and his grace?”
(Stephen M. Ashby, “Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 157-58).

One night in my apartment, Byron Morris Gillory III (the creator of this blog, the Center for Theological Studies) came to me and wanted to discuss the issue of eternal security and perseverance. He asked me, “What would you say about a person who came to Christ, accepted Him as Lord and Savior, walked with Him for some time, and then decided to turn and walk away? How would you classify such a person?”
I took a minute to think about it and then I said, “Well, that person, if they turn and walk away from Christ, they were NEVER SAVED TO BEGIN WITH” (the all-famous phrase is in bold caps).

He said, “Well, I’m not sure that the situation is THAT easy to dismiss. Do you believe a person is free to come to Christ?”

“Yes I do.”

“Well, if you believe a person is free to come to Christ, then what makes you think a person is not free to walk away?”

“Ahhh, I see…if a person is free to come, then they are free to go.”


“The other train of thought, then, is that a person is FREE TO COME, but DETERMINED TO STAY.”

Byron turned to me and laughed. He and I continued to discuss the thought later that night, and it hit me—my theology had been wrong on this point, all along!

Byron had spent some time studying this issue Biblically, before he came to me and presented his findings. I didn’t realize until that night, that I had been “Calminian” (Calvinist + Arminian) in my theology from the start!

I tell this story for two reasons. First, I tell this story to let my readership know that I don’t have all the answers—and I’ve NEVER held all the correct ones! I’ve had moments in my life when my thinking has been dead wrong, when I’ve held to various theological views because of what I had always been taught. I have had to spend some significant time studying the Calvinism-Arminianism debate before presenting the evidence in a biblical fashion. The last three months have been that time of investigation. Before you say it, NO, I’m NOT a genius! I just sat down one day and read some books. It’s so easy that “a caveman can do it” :-)!!

In all seriousness, life as a student of the Word is all about examining and re-examining one’s own theological views. I believe that I am charged by God to please Him with all of my strength (which includes mental activity). Therefore, if I am to please God with my mind, I am to study His Word and present His truth contained therein. And if there are views I hold to that are unbiblical, it is my job to find them, erase them from my views, and replace them with biblical truth. That is the job of not just me, a Seminarian, but ALL of those who call themselves believers, those who “name the name of Christ.”

The other reason I tell this story is because, like Geisler in Ashby’s quote, I found myself trapped in a philosophical blunder and a theological mistake: I hadn’t thought about the inconsistency of my view; all I thought about was the “ideal” standard a believer should hold to. I spent time assessing what I believed a believer SHOULD BE, instead of seeing that, by the believer CHOOSING to stay, he was EXERCISING HIS HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY to do so!!

I told Byron the little phrase “Free to Come, Determined to Stay,” and he shared it with Billy Birch, creator of the blog “Classical Arminianism” here at

Bill laughed quite a bit, and we’ve decided that one of these days, one of us has to write a book by that title: "Free to Come, Determined to Stay"!!

The underlying thought behind this funny phrase is that it doesn’t make sense: if, as Ashby states, we have freedom when we come to Christ, why don’t we have freedom to walk away from Christ? Now, I’m not asking this question to give any human license to walk away from Christ; for Hebrews 6 tells us that if Christ’s sacrifice is rejected, no other solution for sin is available. I am asking this question because it makes sense in light of the latter New Testament letters that warn the believer against apostasy.

What happens when the believer comes to Christ? Does he “give up” his freedom? In a sense, yes; he “chooses” not to even do the things he did as a sinner (forfeits his choice to sin, while exercising his choice to do that which is good); however, in another sense, he does NOT trade in his freedom; for, whenever temptation comes, there are times when he will yield to it. His choice to come to Christ is just that—a CHOICE; but his choice to commit sin is a choice as well—and the believer doesn’t lose the choice to sin when he comes to Christ, despite the fact that he has been given the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Christ’s words about the one who comes to Him in Luke show us the difficulty of discipleship:

23 Then He said to [them] all, "If anyone wants to come with [a] Me, he must deny himself, (A) take up his cross daily, [b] and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Notice that Christ says the one who follows Him must “take up his cross DAILY,” which means that the believer must wrestle against his sinful nature every day. Clearly, then, a choice is at stake EVERY DAY—the believer must choose in each new day whether to “walk after the flesh” or “after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

With Geisler’s belief in eternal security, he can only argue “eternal security” in the case of the person who CHOOSES to stay with Christ, who REMAINS in Christ, the one who ENDURES to the end (Matthew 24). However, there are those who choose not to remain and endure—and these CHOOSE to go back to the world and face their own eschatological judgment (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

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