Saturday, May 8, 2010

Four-Point Arminianism and the Doctrine of Eternal Security

I would like to dedicate this post to my fellow Arminians, those who hold to four of the five points of Classical Arminianism. I do realize that five-point Arminians and four-point Arminians have had their share of disagreement over the years, since the one point of contention between both camps has been the perseverance of the saints (conditional/unconditional).

I’ve stated it here at the site that one of the key issues of theology is consistency: that is, how all the five points of the theological system(s) hold together. If one point does not flow from the other four, then the system needs to be abandoned in favor of a more coherent and consistent one. The characteristic of coherency and consistency is important, especially when one considers that theological systems point to the “theos,” God Himself---and there is no inconsistency or incoherency in God. There is nothing about the character of God that is inconsistent or contradictory (2 Tim. 2:13).

With the idea of consistency and coherency at the helm, we will now approach the theological systems I’ve discussed in great detail at the site. Let’s take Calvinism, for example. Those who hold to all five points, “TULIP,” are the ONLY consistent Calvinists. How can this be true? It is so because if one argues the Calvinist conception of “Total Depravity,” then one will also see that God must “unconditionally elect” (because God does not enable the will to choose Christ); once God decides whom He will “pick and choose” for salvation, He then decides to die for only those He selected (Limited Atonement); to get these people to come to Himself (despite their depravity), God draws them by His “Irresistible Grace,” and then “Unconditionally Perseveres” them to the end, and they are saved. In the Calvinist system, those whom God selects are “guaranteed” salvation.

All the other “Calvinist” systems, such as Amyraldianism (four-point Calvinism), or Molinism (three-point Calvinism), are inconsistent. Why? Let’s take Molinism, for example. Molinism holds to the Calvinist tenets of Depravity (Radical), Election (Sovereign Election), and Perseverance (Eternal Life). Molinism differs only in its views of Grace (Overcoming, not Irresistible) and Singular Redemption (instead of Limited Atonement). Within the Molinist system, there is a conflict with Sovereign Election (Unconditional in nature) and Singular Redemption (conditional in nature, since only those who believe receive Jesus’ atonement). The question becomes, then, how can Jesus truly offer His atonement to “all who believe” IF He actually picked those who would receive His atonement? If He picked them from the beginning, then “those who believe” is a problematic statement. Here’s where I agree with Calvinism: If God has picked those who will be saved (and I’m assuming this for argument’s sake), then they don’t need to believe. God will simply regenerate the chosen before they believe. What need is there to have a qualification (belief) for those whom God has already decided of His own will would be saved by His blood? And if God has picked those He will save before time began, then how can the others be responsible for not believing? I’m sure that Molinists have an answer for this one, but the only way responsibility can be ensured on the part of the unbeliever and believer alike is if God’s call is not efficacious, does not force some to believe, does not involve irresistible grace. In other words, God’s call requires a genuine human response. Responses are not genuine if God predetermined them before they occur in time. Rather, we are just “sock puppets” living out God’s predetermined decrees (we are just fulfilling “The Divine Script”).

So, to be consistent, one must hold to either all five points of Calvinism, or...that’s right: ALL FIVE POINTS OF ARMINIANISM! This is why I wanted to write this post: to make a point for five-point Arminianism.

I’ve been doing a lot of work on the Doctrine of Eternal Security here at CTS, and I’ve made it clear that the doctrine itself presupposes divine guarantee of perseverance: those whom Christ chose will infallibly persevere to the end and be saved (see posts on Total Depravity). But divine guarantees are only allowed to exist within a NECESSARY kind of system---in other words, a predetermined one. Between Calvinism and Arminianism, Calvinism is the only deterministic system; it alone has the right to presuppose eternal security. Read the words of Herbert Lockeyer:

“The doctrine of eternal security, sometimes associated with the perseverance of the saints, IS REFERRED TO AS A CALVINISTIC DOCTRINE. John Calvin taught that this doctrine stands proven, not only by ITS ASSOCATION WITH OTHER DOCTRINES like those of ELECTION, ATONEMENT, the intercession and mediatorial dominion of Christ, imputed righteousness and regeneration...” (Herbert Lockeyer, “All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

First, Lockeyer calls doctrine of eternal security a “Calvinistic doctrine.” This means that it is a teaching of Calvinism. Next, this doctrine aligns with others such as “election” and “atonement.” In the case of Calvinism, this would be “unconditional election” and “limited atonement.” So for Arminians who desire to hold to eternal security, they will be forced to abandon the other four points of Arminianism and hold to all five points of Calvinism. OSAS Arminians (Once-Saved-Always-Saved Arminians), for example, are inconsistent in holding to the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security while arguing grace-enabled responsibility in the other four points of Classical Arminianism.

If Herbert Lockeyer isn’t convincing enough, here are the words of staunch five-point Calvinist James White:

“Those who limit God’s freedom through asserting some form of libertarian free will are COMPLETELY INCONSISTENT in claiming that once a person ‘accepts Christ,’ HE SOMEHOW LOSES THE FREE WILL THAT GOT HIM TO THAT POSITION IN THE FIRST PLACE and is now ‘secure’ from falling. If Christ’s work of salvation is dependent upon our cooperation to be effective, THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE IT IS ETERNALLY SECURE AT ANY POINT” (James White (Dave Hunt), “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 401).

Let’s examine White’s quote. First, he states that free will “limits God’s freedom.” I think White needs to define what he means by this. In Classical Arminianism, God “limits Himself” (if for no other better phrase) on account of His character. For instance, when God told Noah, “I will never flood the earth again with water” (Genesis 9:15), and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign (Gen. 9:16), the Lord was holding Himself to His own word. Because He promised Noah He would never flood the earth again, the world itself cannot be destroyed by water (since that would contradict what God Himself said). In the Classical Arminian sense, God “limits” Himself to be who He is. He is a man of His word: God does not make and break promises at whim (2 Peter 3:9) and is true to Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). The fact that man can make decisions demonstrates his likeness to His Creator, and magnifies the sovereignty of God (as well as His freedom).

Despite my initial disagreement with White, though, I agree with what he says from the moment (after the above phrase) forward. White claims that if God bases salvation on the choice of the individual, then it would be “completely inconsistent” for God to take that back and eternally secure a person. If free will places one in salvation, it can also take one out of salvation. If one can believe on His name, then one can also “stop believing.”

Think about it like this: if grace is resistible in the Classical Arminian system, then how is grace IRRESISTIBLE in perseverance? Four-point Arminians who hold to this view of grace entertain BOTH resistible and irresistible grace at the same time, in the same way (which is a theological and philosophical contradiction). By the way, Molinism holds to a view of “Overcoming Grace,” which argues that man can resist grace but that ultimately, grace will win out. Four-point Arminians then who hold to eternal security are inconsistent, but Molinist (and as I’ve said, Molinism as a system is inconsistent).

Calvinists Herbert Lockeyer and James White are not the only ones to discuss consistency; so does non-Calvinist Dave Hunt:

“Once I had thought that I agreed with at least one Calvinist point, the perseverance of the saints. I learned, however, that THIS FIFTH POINT OF TULIP OFFERS AN UNBIBLICAL BASIS FOR ETERNAL SECURITY; THAT OF BEING ONE OF THE ELECT. Piper and his pastoral staff write, ‘We believe in...the ETERNAL SECURITY OF THE ELECT’ (“TULIP: What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.” Minneapolis, Minn.: Desiring God Ministries, 1997, page 24). Such security, however, brings comfort only to one who is certain that he is in that select group. Yet how to be certain has troubled many” [Dave Hunt (James White), “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 392].

Dave Hunt is neither Calvinist nor Arminian; and yet, even he can recognize that eternal security is a Calvinist doctrine! Hunt also quotes Joseph Dillow:

“the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints...IS NOT ONLY ABSENT FROM SCRIPTURE but could, if not carefully stated, COMPROMISE THE FREENESS OF THE GRACE OF GOD” (Joseph C. Dillow, “The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man.” Schoettle., 1993, page 14).

Dillow notes that eternal security is a Calvinist doctrine, like Dave Hunt and James White. He states that it is unbiblical, while also claiming that it “compromises the freeness of the grace of God.” Calvinism grants grace only to the elect. God is “forced” to give this grace to a few (since Calvinists never consider that grace and faith could be given to everyone).

As a result of this post, some readers may say, “Well, I think it’s biblical to place eternal security alongside of my other Arminian beliefs. And I’m not willing to give up this doctrine for the sake of a consistent theology.” My reaction to this response will appear in my next post.

No comments: