Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I-B (2): Clark Pinnock and Process Theology

In my last post, I focused on Pinnock’s view that God has a conditional essence and nature. I ended the post by saying that Pinnock’s denial of Philo’s definition of the divine essence places him in the camp of Process Theism and Process Theology.

Read these words from Process Theologians John Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin:

“Process theism is sometimes called ‘dipolar theism,’ in contrast to traditional theism with its doctrine of divine simplicity. For Charles Hartshorne, the two ‘poles’ or aspects of God are the abstract essence of God, on the one hand, and God’s concrete actuality on the other. The abstract essence is eternal, absolute, independent, unchangeable. It includes those abstract attributes of deity which characterize the divine existence at every moment. For example, TO SAY THAT GOD IS OMNISCIENT MEANS THAT IN EVERY MOMENT OF THE DIVINE LIFE GOD KNOWS EVERYTHING WHICH IS KNOWABLE AT THAT TIME. The concrete actuality is temporal, relative, dependent, and constantly changing. IN EACH MOMENT OF GOD’S LIFE THERE ARE NEW, UNFORESEEN HAPPENINGS IN THE WORLD WHICH ONLY THEN HAVE BECOME KNOWABLE. Hence, God’s concrete knowledge is dependent upon the decisions made by the worldly actualities” (John B. Cobb, Jr., David Ray Griffin, “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition.” Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976, page 47).

God is “dipolar” in that there are two “components” to God: there is a component that is “unchangeable,” but this is met with a part that “is temporal, relative, dependent, and constantly changing.” Take the example of God’s knowledge: God knows “everything which is knowable at that time.” What does this mean exactly? Doesn’t God know everything that will ever occur at ANY time? Not with process theology. In its system, God only knows what is necessary at that moment. In this sense, God’s knowledge is “unchangeable.” However, because of “new, unforeseen happenings” that occur “in each moment of God’s life,” God gains knowledge from moment #1 to moment #2. God’s knowledge is unchanging in moment #1; between moments 1 and 2, God’s knowledge changes; once moment 2 is reached, God’s knowledge becomes “unchanging” once more.

Jay Wesley Richards sums up the “dipolar theism” of process theology nicely:

“So for Hartshorne there are two divine aspects or poles, which is why his doctrine of God is often called dipolar, in contrast to classical theism, which is monopolar. With this distinction, Hartshorne can attribute to God categorical contraries (not contradictories), while arguing that classical theism erred in attributing to God only one side of such contraries. So, for example, God as absolute, independent, externally related, atemporal, potential, necessary, infinite, simple and generic refers to God in his primordial nature. But this is only God in the abstract. In God’s consequent nature, HE IS RELATIVE (has relations), EXPERIENCING, AFFECTED, BECOMING, TEMPORAL, ACTUAL, CONTINGENT, FINITE, COMPLEX, AND INDIVIDUAL...since God is the total reality of both natures, God as a concrete actuality is always contingent because A CONJUNCTION OF A NECESSARY AND A CONTINGENT PROPOSITION IS ALWAYS CONTINGENT” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity and Immutability.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003, page 167).

While there is a nature of God that is unchanging, there is a nature that is “becoming, temporal, finite”---and this second nature (or aspect) shows that there is change in the very nature of God. As Clark Pinnock wrote in his book, “God’s essence cannot be involved in real relationships with a changing world, LEST IT CHANGE TOO” (“Most Moved Mover,” page 6).

As a last statement regarding process theology and Pinnock’s view in this post, let me state that the view Pinnock advocates (as well as Process Theology states) shows a close connection in thought between the views of process theology and open theism. Jay Wesley Richards writes:

“Hartshorne, by contrast, develops an intriguing ‘dipolar theism,’ which perhaps has not received the attention it deserves from either mainstream theologians or Christian philosophers. The recent movement within evangelical Christian circles called OPEN THEISM HAS SIGNIFICANT AFFINITIES WITH HARTSHORNE” (Richards, “The Untamed God,” page 20).

Yet and still, Clark Pinnock attempts to distance himself from Process Theology in his book:

“IN CONTRAST TO PROCESS THEOLOGY, God creates unnecessarily out of his love and out of his desire to share life with creatures. God does not need a world in order to love, because his very nature is social and relational” (“Most Moved Mover,” page 29).

Here, Pinnock states that God “unnecessarily” creates the world out of nothing; but, if God is “becoming,” and his very essence is (as process theology states it) “finite” and “changing,” then God creating the world was “a step up” for God because God “becomes more of a God” when He creates the world, then when He didn’t. Why? because God, by “becoming,” is “adding” something to Himself that didn’t exist before. Creating the world “added” something to God that being God prior to creation didn’t have. So how can Pinnock argue that God didn’t need to create, but then argue process theology and change in the essence of God?

It seems that Pinnock and open theists desire to distance themselves from process theologians. I understand the desire to wanna distance oneself from views that one assumes are theologically troubling. Here at the Center for Theological Studies, I constantly try to show that Classical Arminians are not Open Theist. However, I don’t see how Pinnock’s view of God’s changing essence is any different than process theology. Process theology argues change, even in God; and it also argues for theistic evolution as well. Evolution by basic definition is “change”; and when one affirms that everything “evolves” to what it is, how can the Creator God remain left out? Consistency in such a system requires that God “evolve” as well. I desire that Open Theists show me why and how, fundamentally, they are different from Process Theologians. If they expect to contend theologically, this is the homework that they cannot run away from.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I-B: The Conditional God

“God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions. God establishes the project and elicits our collaboration in it. Hence THERE IS CONDITIONALITY IN GOD, in that he truly responds to what we do” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 5).

The words “unconditional” and “conditional” are interesting words used in the study of theology. The first time I encountered these rather “philosophical” terms was when I began to study Calvinism and Arminianism. Now, whenever someone mentions that they believe in “unconditional” election, I am always quick to ask, “What do you mean by ‘unconditional’?” Chances are, the word will be defined in one of two ways: (1) the word means that God has “no conditions” imposed on Him. In other words, God is free to do whatever He pleases. (2) the word means that God requires nothing from the person in regards to salvation. Calvinists are often quick to use the second definition; in the context of election, Calvinists are quick to say that God chooses persons for salvation without any regard to the persons themselves.

Here is how Calvinist James White defines unconditional election:

“Unconditional election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that God is free in the matter of salvation. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of ‘the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:5). There is nothing in the creature that merits, earns, or attracts His favor. His election is ‘unconditional’ in that it is based solely on His purpose and His pleasure and not in anything whatsoever in the creature” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, pages 91-92).

For White, “unconditional” tells us that God is free to do anything He desires to do in the world. Nothing can “force His hand” or command Him to do anything. Nothing forces itself on Him from the outside; rather, He does what He wants because of His own will from within God Himself.

Here is what Edwin Palmer had to say about “unconditional”:

“But, amazing as it may seem, divine election is always an unconditional election. GOD NEVER BASES HIS CHOICE ON WHAT MAN THINKS, SAYS, DOES, OR IS” (Edwin H. Palmer, “The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide, The Enlarged Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 26).

Loraine Boettner quotes from the Westminster Confession:

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere grace and love, WITHOUT ANY FORESIGHT OF FAITH OR GOOD WORKS, OR PERSEVERANCE IN EITHER OF THEM, OR ANY OTHER THING IN THE CREATURE, AS CONDITIONS, OR CAUSES MOVING HIM THEREUNTO; and all to the praise of His glorious grace” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1932, page 84).

According to Boettner, God chooses some persons for salvation and glory without considering whether or not these persons will believe. Without going into too much detail, let me say that the Westminster Confession is responsible for why so many laypersons in the church believe that they can confess Christ and live like children of the devil: because their faith, or good works in the faith have nothing to do with their salvation. They were not saved because of faith (according to the Calvinist view), and they were not saved to do good works. They don’t need to do anything but trust in the fact that they are a part of the elect...and they are guaranteed salvation, regardless of their immoral lifestyles.

Here is how authors David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn define the term:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. GOD COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE ALL MEN (FOR HE HAD THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO DO SO) OR HE COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE NONE (FOR HE WAS UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO SHOW MERCY TO ANY)---but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do, but resulted entirely from God’s self-determined purpose” (David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition.” Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2004, page 27).

What I like about Steele, Thomas, and Quinn’s definition is that they argue that God does not have to do anything: God has freedom in everything that He does! And every choice that God makes is not a choice He was bound to make! God makes no choice out of necessity, but out of freedom.

Now, how does Pinnock’s quote fit into the discussion? Let’s see it again:

“God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions. God establishes the project and elicits our collaboration in it. HENCE THERE IS CONDITIONALITY IN GOD, in that he truly responds to what we do” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 5).

Pinnock states it here in so many words: “there is conditionality in God.” In God’s essence, there is conditionality. If the definition of “unconditional,” referring to God’s essence, means that He never changes or is ever bound to do anything by any creature, then what does “conditionality in God” look like? I’ll tell you the answer: God’s essence becomes conditional and subject to change; in addition, God is now forced to do what He does because of creatures outside of Him. God is no longer “independent” and free to do what He wants, but “obligated” or “forced” to do what He does because of His creation. To say it bluntly, God is “dependent” upon the creature!!!

One element of conditionality within God refers to a state of change in His essence. Pinnock goes on to discuss this on the page right after he makes the above statement:

“While the creatures can be relational, God’s essence cannot be involved in real relationships with a changing world, LEST IT CHANGE TOO” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 6).

The “it” of the end of Pinnock’s statement refers to “God’s essence” mentioned right before it. In other words, God’s essence has to change in order for God to have real relationship with His creatures. Pinnock gets more graphic about God’s “change in essence” when he writes the following:

“Philo defined the divine essence as ‘that which is’. THIS IS A NON-RELATIONAL TERM THAT DISPLACES THE PERSONAL GOD OF THE BIBLICAL REVELATION and causes God’s attributes to acquire meanings they would not otherwise have had” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 69).

If God’s essence is not “that which is,” then God cannot be “I am that I am”; rather, God is simply “becoming.” And this is in line with Process Theology. What does Process Theology say? I will reveal Process thought and more of Pinnock’s extremely disturbing words in my next post.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I: Aquinas in Reverse

“God is not dead, but some of the ways we have presented God are dead. By distancing God so far from the world and from human affairs, theology has prepared the way for secularism and atheism. Of course, the living God is not dead. He is the God of the Bible, the one who is genuinely related to the world, whose nature is the power of love and whose relationship with the world is that of a most moved, not unmoved, Mover” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 3).

This post will start a new series here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS). For those of you who may not know, Dr. Clark H. Pinnock, Open Theist theologian from McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, died August 15, 2010 at the age of 73 from alzheimer’s disease. I learned about Dr. Pinnock while taking an introduction to Christian Theology under Dr. Ken Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.”

Dr. Pinnock was formerly a five-point Calvinist, conservative Southern Baptist, and former professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was once mentor to the “bulldog” of Southern Baptist life and leader in the Conservative Resurgence, Dr. Paige Patterson. Pinnock later abandoned five-point Calvinism, left Southern Baptist life, and advocated openness theology. My desire to read Pinnock’s work these days is due to a desire I’ve always had to study Openness Theology (Open Theism). While most evangelicals (me included) believe that Open Theism hinges (if not swims) in heresy, I still believe that Openness Theology should be read, examined, and given a fair hearing. For those who wanna read more on Clark Pinnock’s life, see his own “Grace of God, Will of Man” as well as his other books. According to the cover of the book I will discuss for the next several posts, Pinnock “has authored, edited, or coauthored fifteen books.” Google searches can even be done to discover more about the man himself.

Starting with this post, I will discuss Clark Pinnock’s book, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” This post will serve as an introduction to the series. In other words, I hope to show via the three most important words of the title, “Most Moved Mover,” what the readership can expect from Pinnock’s work.

The title “Most Moved Mover” (for those of you who may not know) is a reference to Aquinas’s labeling of God in his work, “Summa Contra Gentiles.” We find Aquinas’s classification of God in Book One (“God”) of the Summa Contra. Aquinas writes as follows:

“Everything that is moved is moved by another. That some things are in motion---for example, the sun---is evident from sense. Therefore, it is moved by something else that moves it. This mover is itself either moved or not moved. If it is not, we have reached our conclusion---namely, that we must posit SOME UNMOVED MOVER. THIS WE CALL GOD. If it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover” (Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God.” Translated by Anton C. Pegis. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 86).

Aquinas’s words show us that everything that moves is moved by something else. Why, for example, does a ball roll? It rolls because someone “pushed” the ball and set it into physical motion. The ball did not possess the ability within itself to set itself into motion. If the object must be acted upon before it can move, then it cannot move itself. Only self-moveable objects are able to both stand still and move themselves into motion.

So, what do we do with a chain of motion, ball #1 rolling into ball #2, ball #2 then rolling into ball #3, #3 then rolling into #4...etc? Usually, we desire to find the origin or cause of the motion. We must then retrace our steps: how did ball #4 come into motion? Because of ball #3; #3 was pushed into motion by #2, and #2 was pushed by ball #1. But what pushed ball #1 into motion? The person. Someone had to push the first ball into motion, before the other balls (2, 3, 4) even started to roll. Therefore, the person is the cause of the motion. Since the person pushed the other balls into motion, the person becomes the “mover” of the rolling balls...and, since he or she was not pushed into motion, the person becomes the “unmoved mover.”

What Aquinas was getting at is the idea of the origin of life. Everything on earth that we see was brought into motion by something or someone. Whatever that “something” or “someone” is, it cannot be identical to the creation itself. In some sense, the origin of life itself must be superior to, and separate from, the creation. In Aquinas’s theology, we call this “Unmoved Mover” GOD!

But notice the title of Pinnock’s work: “Most Moved Mover.” The question now becomes, what are the implications of Pinnock’s title in relation to God? Aquinas labeled God the “Unmoved Mover,” referring to the fact that God sets things into motion (“mover”), while not being moved by anything Himself (“Unmoved”). What does Pinnock mean by his labeling of God as the “Most Moved Mover”? First, God sets things into motion (“mover”), but GOD HIMSELF IS SET INTO MOTION (“moved”); and finally, to make matters worse, GOD IS SET INTO MOTION BY THINGS THAT ARE ALSO SET INTO MOTION. In short, God is the most inferior of all objects set into motion. Two other objects are superior to Him (which is why He is “most moved”). As a result, the Creator now becomes “a most inferior creation” instead of “a most superior Creator.” In other words, we have the exact reversal of Thomas Aquinas! WOW! Lord, have mercy on us all...

In case my critique of Pinnock does not seem fair, read his words regarding Aquinas:

“The parable (Lk. 15:11-32) dramatizes the truth of the open view of God: he is a loving person who seeks freely chosen relationships of love with his creatures; HE IS NOT A PILLAR AROUND WHICH EVERYTHING MOVES (THOMAS AQUINAS)...” (Clark Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 4).

In another place, Pinnock critiques Thomism (philosophical and theological system of Thomas Aquinas) as a whole:

“Conventional theism is not a single model but comes in different versions. Thomism, for example, places emphasis on God’s immutability AND MUST BE CRITICIZED FOR THREATENING REAL RELATIONSHIPS...” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 8)

Now, I must admit: there is a problem with some of the implications of Thomist philosophy that have entered evangelicalism today; however, the philosophy itself just makes plain sense. God cannot be the “most moved mover,” even if that means God is less “relational” than you or I would like Him to be. If God really is what Pinnock calls Him (“Most Moved Mover”), then He is ANYTHING but the God of the Bible. Pinnock’s God, in such a case, would be inferior to Aquinas’s God because, at the very least, Aquinas does not have to eradicate God’s sovereignty to make room for the kind of divine-human relationships that Openness Theology demands.

For those who prepare to read this book, I wanna warn you: proceed with caution. Nevertheless, the book will mention quite a few issues that openness theology has with Classical Arminianism. Still, though, at the end of the day, I think Classical Arminians are more orthodox in their theology. The day that we convert to Open Theism, Lord have mercy on us all...Lord, have mercy, on us all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Syncretism Theology: The Modern Church's Molinist View of Perseverance

Syncretism is defined in the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary as “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” In this definition, we see the phrase “different forms,” which tells us that these ideas that are newly combined were not combined originally. Before their combination, such ideas were separate and distinct.

Ideas such as the points of Calvinism and Arminianism made the two systems separate and distinct. Within Calvinism, one can choose to be a Classical Calvinist (five-point Calvinist), an Amyraldian (four-point Calvinist), or a Molinist (three-point Calvinist). Within Arminianism, a person can be a Classical Arminian (five-point), a four-point Arminian, and even a three-point Arminian; the four-point Arminians and three-point Arminians can be labeled “Molinists.” In any case, Calvinism and Arminianism were distinct systems with their distinct views on the five points of depravity, election, atonement, grace, and perseverance.

But today’s Calvinists and Arminians (and even some Molinists) have embraced views within their systems that are foreign to the systems themselves; in other words, they have begun to syncretize their theologies with ideas from opposing theologies, such that the systems themselves hardly look distinct anymore. Take for example, the beliefs of William Lane Craig. Craig is a phenomenal apologist for the Christian faith, and his book “Reasonable Faith” is one of the best apologetics works out there in academia today. However, Craig calls himself a Molinist, while claiming to hold to “conditional election.” The problem with this is that Molina himself never held to conditional election. As Kirk MacGregor notes in his “Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,”

“In book seven of the ‘Concordia,’ Molina queries ‘whether the cause of predestination may be ascribed to the part of the predestinate’ and ‘whether the cause of reprobation may be ascribed to the part of the reprobate.’ Contra those who follow ‘the errors of Origen and Pelagius,’ he answers both questions decidedly in the negative. On the basis of the Pauline statement, ‘Before the twins were born or had done anything good or evil...not by works but by him who calls...[God said,] Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ (Rom. 9:11-13), Molina declares that ‘foreseen faith cannot be the ground of justification or predestination,’ as affirming otherwise would undermine the prima facie implication that God’s decree to elect Jacob and reprobate Esau did not take into account their future good or evil works” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia,” 7.23.4—5.1, 5.2, 5.4; Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007, pages 66-67).

Molina, then, held to “unconditional” election; why then, does Craig hold to “conditional election,” while still calling himself a Molinist? No one knows.
But Craig is not alone in his syncretism of theological ideas; much of the modern-day church could join him. Most Calvinists, although holding to Calvin’s theology, actually advocate a view of perseverance that does not fit within Calvinism itself.
John Calvin, the founder of what is known as “Calvinism” (named after him), explained the rocky soil in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8, Mark 4, Matthew 13) as that soil to which God only gave temporary faith. In his commentary on Hebrews 6:4, Calvin writes,

“But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14;) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.” (http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol44/htm/xii.ii.htm)

Calvin’s words above make it clear that he believed God even gives “temporal” or “temporary” faith to some of the reprobate, such that they become the “temporary elect.” In Calvin’s thought, there were two types of elect: the eternally elect and the temporary elect...and everyone who is “elect” isn’t necessarily the eternally elect. But what is the view of today’s Calvinists? David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn write:

“The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not maintain that all who profess the Christian faith are certain of heaven...many who profess to believe fall away, but THEY DO NOT FALL FROM GRACE, FOR THEY WERE NEVER IN GRACE” (David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented,” Second Edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 64).

According to Dr. Ken Keathley, even Wayne Grudem holds to what is called the “Evidence of Genuineness” position (see Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 178). Here is a classic quote from Wayne Grudem’s chapter, titled “Perseverance of the Saints: A Case Study from the Warning Passages in Hebrews”:

“Therefore, confining our attention to the Book of Hebrews itself, and examining 6:4-6 in its immediate and broader context within the book, leads us to the conclusion that the people in this passage who experienced many blessings and then fell away HAD NEVER TRULY BEEN SAVED IN THE FIRST PLACE” (Wayne Grudem, “Perseverance of the Saints: A Case Study from the Warning Passages in Hebrews”; from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace” by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, pages 172-173).

Loraine Boettner echoes this sentiment:

“Some fall away from a profession of faith, but NONE FALL AWAY FROM THE SAVING GRACE OF GOD. Those who do fall have never known the latter. THEY ARE THE STONY-GROUND HEARERS, WHO HAVE NO ROOT IN THEMSELVES, BUT WHO ENDURE FOR A WHILE; AND WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISES, STRAIGHTWAY THEY STUMBLE. THEY ARE THEN SAID TO HAVE GIVEN UP OR TO HAVE MADE SHIPWRECK OF THAT FAITH WHICH THEY NEVER POSSESSED EXCEPT IN APPEARANCE. Some of these become sufficiently enlightened in the scheme of the doctrines of the Gospel that they are able to preach or to teach them to others, and yet are themselves entirely destitute of real saving grace. WHEN SUCH FALL AWAY THEY ARE NO PROOFS NOR INSTANCES OF THE FINAL APOSTASY OF REAL SAINTS” (“The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” by Loraine Boettner. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1932, page 191).

David Steele, Curtis Thomas, S. Lance Quinn, Wayne Grudem, and Loraine Boettner, all Calvinists, do not hold to Calvin’s view of faith as being eternal and temporary; rather, those who do not endure to the end, in their opinion, never had faith at all. This is a departure from Calvin’s thought regarding apostasy. But it does, however, fit the Molinist view of perseverance. Ken Keathley writes:

“The Evidence-of-Genuiness position, traditionally understood as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, agrees with the Once-Saved-Always-Saved view that the believer’s salvation is eternally secure. They also agree that good works are not necessary to procure salvation. However, unlike those who advocate the doctrine of eternal security, the advocates of the Evidence-of-Genuineness position contend that the fruits of salvation will necessarily and eventually manifest themselves in the life of a believer” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010, page 177).

In Keathley’s definition of the Molinist view on perseverance, we see elements like the Calvinist view, and elements that are foreign (not native) to the Calvinist view. The Molinist position agrees with Calvinism in that “the believer’s salvation is eternally secure.” Having said this, Keathley makes it clear that Molinists hold to eternal security. This is a Calvinist belief. In contrast, though, Keathley does differ from the Calvinist perspective when he states that “the fruits of salvation will necessarily and eventually manifest themselves in the life of a believer.” The Calvinist position does not argue for works as being necessary in the life of the believer; rather, a person is eternally secure by trusting that he or she will receive eternal life because God promises it to those who believe. In the words of Keathley,

“According to this view [Once Saved, Always Saved], assurance of salvation comes only by trusting the promises of the Word of God. The believer should manifest the fruit of salvation, but there is no guarantee that he will. At best, works provide a secondary, confirmatory function” (Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 176).

In the Calvinist system, fruit of salvation may or may not exist, but what matters most is the promise of God to grant salvation to all who believe. In the Molinist system, while there is that decree of “unconditional election,” and the guarantee of eternal life, there is still a need for the fruit (evidence) of salvation. Hence, we see the Calvinist idea of guarantee and unconditional election coupled with the Arminian view of the necessity of good works in the life of the believer.

And Dr. Keathley’s view is the view I hear most about today. Even those who label themselves Calvinists (not just Calvinist theologians, but laypersons) espouse a Molinist view on perseverance without even knowing it. While this does wonders to push people towards the Molinist view, it begins to blur the lines of distinction between the theologies of Calvin and Molina. But these two men had two different theologies; and failure to preserve theological distinctions will lead to the destruction of Calvinism as a theological system. And for Arminians, failure to adhere to five-point Arminianism will lead to a destruction of the Arminian system as well.

Despite attempts to push a Calvinist resurgence, the modern-day church still has a little Arminianism within its veins. Truth be told, I think there is a little Arminianism in all of us...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pouring on the Rhetoric, Pt. III: The Logical Ordering of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation

“I often ask my Arminian friends why they are Christians and other people are not. They say it is because they believe in Christ while others do not. Then I inquire why they believe and others do not? ‘Is it because you are more righteous than the person who abides in unbelief?’ They are quick to say no. ‘Is it because you are more intelligent?’ Again the reply is negative. They say that God is gracious enough to offer salvation to all who believe and that one cannot be saved without that grace. But this grace is cooperative grace. Man in his fallen state must reach out and grasp this grace by an act of the will, which is free to accept or reject this grace. Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed. He has ‘in effect’ merited the merit of Christ, which differs only slightly from the view of Rome” (R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will,” Fifth Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 26).

I’ve dealt with the Calvinist idea that “faith is a meritorious work” here at the Center for Theological Studies. In this post, however, where I will differ from most posts that contain a quote similar to R.C. Sproul’s above is that I will spend far less time on defending faith as a response to the merit of Christ, and more time on the concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility and their roles in salvation. The concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both affirmed by the Scriptures; and a sound theology will properly incorporate both into its system without negating, diminishing, or nullifying the other.

From the outset, Sproul’s belief that faith is “to merit the merit of Christ” shows his view of the relationship between the concepts of sovereignty and responsibility: that is, that sovereignty brings about salvation, while responsibility acts post-salvation to confirm new life in Christ (regeneration). In other words, divine sovereignty is SOLELY responsible for a person’s salvation: one is either saved or unsaved because of the choice of God. God saves some and damns others, and He does so because of His own choosing. One’s responsibility does not “kick in” until a person is regenerated.

There is a problem here, though: what do we do with the person who does not believe? If a person does not gain responsibility for accepting Christ until “after” they are already saved, does the unsaved person bear any responsibility? To affirm Sproul’s scheme above would mean that those who are unsaved find themselves in unbelief because of God’s sovereignty. God then becomes guilty of unconditional reprobation (which is something that moderate Calvinists shy away from), and the sinner has no responsibility.

Next, the idea of being saved (regenerated) before belief is contrary to the
Scriptures themselves. What about Romans 10:9, for example? The verse does not read, “if one is first saved, then one shall confess and believe”; rather, the verse says, “If one shall confess and believe, then one shall be saved.” To affirm regeneration before faith would “put the cart before the horse” in salvation, so to speak.

Last but not least, to affirm Sproul’s view that regeneration (salvation) precedes faith would mean that divine sovereignty and human responsibility do not work together, but apart; that is, that God requires nothing of the individual to be saved. But what about Paul’s words in Romans 4 that “Abraham believed God”? What about Jesus’ distinction that the one who believes is saved but the one who does not believe is condemned (John 3:16-18)? Surely, God requires the individual to profess faith! If God does not, then the Bible is nothing more than a book of mass deceit.

Let’s explore Sproul’s view of regeneration before faith a little more. Were Adam and Eve responsible in the Garden to obey God’s commands? Yes; and the fact that they did not is what forced them to flee the Garden and guaranteed for them spiritual and physical death. Did man ever lose his responsibility to his Maker after the fall in the Garden (Gen. 3)? No. Despite the fact that man fell from the grace of God, he still had the human responsibility to obey God...even though he could not obey God without the aid of divine grace. So, up until the moment of salvation, man still has human responsibility. If human responsibility exists before regeneration (which it does), then Sproul’s scheme cannot fit: for how can responsibility (professing faith) come after salvation, if human responsibility already exists “before” salvation? Responsibility cannot come into existence before and after salvation simultaneously. One must win: either responsibility exists before salvation, and man is responsible for professing faith...or, responsibility is absent until salvation, and the unsaved man is not responsible for his unbelief. Calvinists cannot have it both ways. Here is a simple syllogism:

#1) Regeneration brings the responsibility of professing faith (Calvinism)

#2) the unsaved are those who are not regenerated

#3) then the unsaved do not have the responsibility of professing faith

As a result, the unsaved bear no responsibility whatsoever for their unbelief and thus, lack of salvation. They are unsaved because of God: God is responsible for their eternal damnation. But why then, does Jesus say that “he that believes not is condemned already” (John 3:18), if what He really meant was “he that is not regenerated to believe is condemned already”? That’s a question that Calvinists cannot shy away from.

Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are two biblically-cherished concepts. The Bible does not nullify or exclude either concept. But I fear that Calvinism does nullify and eliminate human responsibility...and replaces human responsibility with “divine responsibility.” But the Bible never tells me that God “makes” me believe. Rather, what it tells me is that the Spirit draws me (John 6:44) to the truth of the Gospel and that I believe because I exercise the grace and faith that are given to me by God (Eph. 1:13; 2:8-9). I’ll leave it to you to decide which camp (Calvinism or Arminianism) is most faithful to Scripture.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pouring on the Rhetoric, Pt. II: The Nature of Modern Arminianism

I promised you, my readership, two days ago that I would discuss what R.C. Sproul had to say about Classical Arminianism. In the last post, I talked about Sproul’s introduction and how he divides all existing theologies into three categories: (1) Calvinism, (2) Pelagianism, and (3) Semi-Pelagianism. I also mentioned the idea that Sproul’s labeling of a possible theological ground as “semi-Pelagianism” shows his disdain for any middle ground whatsoever. To him, one is either Calvinist or Pelagian, even if he or she holds a middle-of-the-road theology (such as Classical Arminianism and Molinism).

Today I’m back to discuss R.C. Sproul’s comments regarding James Arminius and Arminian theology. He seems to do a rather decent job of Arminius and his theology. However, what most disturbs me is his section titled “Modern Arminianism.” Sproul begins the section as thus:

“The Synod of Dort did not destroy the Arminian movement. It spread throughout the Continent and later into Colonial America. It survives to this day and currently enjoys a strong resurgence. IN 1989 CLARK H. PINNOCK EDITED ‘THE GRACE OF GOD, THE WILL OF MAN,’ A VOLUME DESIGNED TO MAKE THE CASE FOR ARMINIANISM” (R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, Fifth Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 140).

Clark Pinnock is the name mentioned with contemporary Arminianism. But what gripped me the most in reading Sproul is that he seems to only discuss Clark Pinnock in this section. Here’s the proof:

“In his own essay, in which he chronicles his personal pilgrimage from Calvinism to Arminianism, Pinnock observes...” (140)

“Pinnock indicates that one purpose of ‘The Grace of God, the Will of Man’ is to ‘give a louder voice to the silent majority of Arminian evangelicals’” (141).

“In his own pilgrimage Pinnock came to question God’s omniscience and foreknowledge” (141).

In Sproul’s section on “Modern Arminianism,” he provides seven quotes (SEVEN) of Clark Pinnock and gives no other quotes from other Arminian theologians. What does this tell us? This tells us that in Sproul’s mind at least, Pinnock is the icon of modern Arminianism. But in so doing, Sproul also betrays himself. Read the following quote:

“It is important to note that Pinnock’s new view of God’s foreknowledge GOES BEYOND THAT OF MOST ARMINIANS, AS HE INDICATES. It appears to go well beyond the views espoused in the middle-knowledge concept developed by the Spanish Jesuit Luis Molina” (142).

Sproul provides an entire modern Arminian section devoted to expounding and exposing the views of Clark Pinnock; but if Clark Pinnock is the icon of modern Arminianism, why then, does Sproul note that his views “go beyond that of most Arminians”? If his views surpass the majority of Arminianism (and all of Molinism), then how can Pinnock accurately be singled out as the Arminian target? How can Clark Pinnock be lifted up to us as the “typical” Arminian?

What’s so tragic about the nature of his presentation on modern Arminianism is that, by singling out Pinnock, Sproul does away with a number of other Arminians who do argue for divine omniscience. Among these would be theologians such as Roger Olson. I took the time to look up the printing year of Sproul’s book. Sproul’s book “Willing to Believe” came out in July 1997. It has been through five printings since then, and the fifth printing came out in 2007. Roger Olson’s work, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” appeared in print in 2006. This means that, for Sproul’s latest printing of his book, he had one year to incorporate Olson’s material into his own work...and yet, he did not. Here’s what Roger Olson says regarding omniscience and divine foreknowledge:

“Open Theists jump on the problem of reconciling divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will by suggesting that the two cannot be reconciled, so God must not know the future exhaustively and infallibly...Arminius did seem to view the future and God as in some sense open. At the same time, though, HE BELIEVED IN GOD’S EXHAUSTIVE AND INFALLIBLE FOREKNOWLEDGE...open theists argue that their view is consistent Arminianism...but at what cost? Most Arminians have not jumped on the open theist bandwagon because THEY ARE COMMITTED TO THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION! Now, there is an irony! Calvinists accuse classical Arminians of not believing in predestination, but MOST CLASSICAL ARMINIANS REJECT OPEN THEISM PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IN PREDESTINATION” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 197-198).

Classical Arminians believe in the exhaustive divine foreknowledge of God, such that they are not willing to turn to Open Theism as a valid theological position. Predestination, as the Bible teaches, tells us that God already “foreknows” things that later come about. Olson goes on to say:

“Classical Arminianism bases a great deal on Romans 8:29, which seems to refer not to classes or groups but to individuals. God does not justify and glorify groups, but individuals. Classical Arminian theology includes corporate election AND individual (conditional) election based on God’s foreknowledge of future faith (or lack thereof). Open Theism has to reduce predestination (election and reprobation) to its indefinite, corporate dimension; predestination of individuals gets lost...few Arminians are willing to denounce their open theist brothers and sisters as heretics, but MOST ARE UNWILLING AT PRESENT TO GIVE UP BELIEF IN ABSOLUTE DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE, BECAUSE THE BIBLE SEEMS TO ASSUME IT EVERYWHERE” (Olson, 198).

Classical Arminians hold to exhaustive divine foreknowledge and omniscience because “the Bible seems to assume it everywhere.” In other words, Classical Arminians hold to Scripture in their philosophical assessment. In their minds, they do not have to abandon free will in order to assert God’s omniscience. In addition, Arminians do not abandon free will because the Scriptures seem to affirm this concept as well.

All the quotes on Classical Arminianism and divine omniscience are to make the case that Classical Arminians hold to divine omniscience, a concept that Clark Pinnock does not hold to. How then, can R.C. Sproul label Pinnock the icon of modern Arminianism, then turn around and note that Pinnock departs from the traditional Arminian view, while still using him as a valid source of Arminianism? This is a boggling question, indeed.

I think the above questions are good ones to answer because we all know that theological presuppositions can slant one’s understanding of other theological systems. That’s what we find with R.C. Sproul’s section on modern Arminianism: a Calvinist attack of a system that, to him, seems at least “semi-Pelagian.” But the truth is that, according to Classical Arminians, Pinnock (Open Theist) departs from Classic Arminian thought and should not be labeled as the typical Arminian. In the end, all theological systems should be given a fair presentation. We don’t need to caricaturize systems in order to refute them. If we “play fair” in our assessments of theological systems and leave it to the readers to decide what is truth from what is error, then we will not only do justice to the masses...but we will also conduct ourselves as sound theologians in the fear of God. This is my prayer for all theologians who name the name of Christ Jesus.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Happy Birthday...to Me!!!

Dear Readership,

I am writing to announce that today, August 21, 2010, is my twenty-sixth birthday!!!

I won't write much, but I just wanted to give a hearty "thanks" to all of my readership for making the success of this blog possible. Next, I'd like to thank all of my friends (and brothers) who encouraged me along the way...who continued to remind me that the world desires to read and know my ideas and thoughts. Then, I'd like to thank my family, who has supported me in all my endeavors. A special thanks goes out to a dear professor and friend, Dr. Ken Keathley, who has always believed in me and has patiently (daily) read my work here at the Center for Theological Studies. Dr. Keathley, I am so grateful to God for you that it goes beyond words. First and foremost, I want to give all the glory and honor to God, without whom none of this would be possible. What grace I have been given...and I hope to share that grace with others.

Once again, thanks to my readership for all of your support (whether hidden or known). Continue to read and pray for my work here at the blog. May all that is said and done here bring the utmost glory to God!!

Soli Deo Gloria, Deidre Richardson

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pouring on the Rhetoric: R.C. Sproul and the False Dilemma

Most people think that after some time has been invested in studying a certain topic or debate, the surprises die down. After a year or so submerged in research, what one reads is not surprising. But this belief, for me at least, is trumped by what I read daily. Even after all the time I’ve spent in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate, I’m still getting surprised by what I read and the things I see.

For me, the current “surprise” comes from a book titled “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will” by Robert Charles (R.C.) Sproul. Let me just say from the outset that I’ve never read a more degrading and humiliating introduction such as Sproul’s study of theology in all of my near twenty-six years of existence. Let me quote just a few lines from Sproul so that you can understand what I mean.

First, Sproul describes the modern-day church as living in what he calls a “Babylonian Captivity”:

“The cultural ‘Babylon’ of our day is often described by evangelical Christians as the worldview espoused by so-called secular humanism” (R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will,” fifth edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 16).

I would agree: secular humanism is a problem in the thinking of many in our world who simply believe that human nature is inherently good. I agree wholeheartedly. How does this secular humanism work out, though? Sproul writes:

“What would Luther [Martin] think of the modern heirs of the Reformation? My guess is that he would write on THE MODERN CHURCH’S CAPTIVITY TO PELAGIANISM. I think he would see an unholy alliance between Christianity and humanism that reflects MORE OF A PELAGIAN VIEW OF MAN THAN THE BIBLICAL VIEW” (Sproul, 21).

So now we we see the words “Pelagian” and “the biblical view” in contrast to each other. For the evangelical Christians I know (me included), we would also wholeheartedly agree with Sproul: that the Bible presents man as fallen and in need of God’s grace if he is to ever come to faith. Pelagianism simply describes man as ignorant; but he is more than ignorant---his entire being has been stained in sin.

But “Pelagianism” is not the only thing discussed in Sproul’s introduction. Sproul zooms in even more on his target audience with this quote from J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston’s introduction to Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will”:

“What is the modern reader to make of ‘The Bondage of the Will’? That it is a brilliant and exhilarating performance, a masterpiece of the controversialist’s difficult art, he will no doubt readily admit; but now comes the question, IS LUTHER’S CASE ANY PART OF GOD’S TRUTH? And, if so, has it a message for Christians to-day? No doubt the reader will find the way by which Luther leads him to be a strange new road, an approach which in all probability he has never considered, A LINE OF THOUGHT WHICH HE WOULD NORMALLY LABEL ‘CALVINISTIC’ AND HASTILY PASS BY...and the present-day Evangelical Christian (WHO HAS SEMI-PELAGIANISM IN HIS BLOOD) will be inclined to do the same, BUT BOTH HISTORY AND SCRIPTURE, IF ALLOWED TO SPEAK, COUNSEL OTHERWISE” (quoted by R.C. Sproul, page 22).

Here is where J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (and R.C. Sproul, the one providing the quotation) take a turn for the worse. Notice that up until this point, we’ve seen the words “secular humanism” and “Pelagianism” as something bad, something that we should avoid, something against the Scriptures. But here in this quote we now read that “the present-day evangelical Christian will be inclined” to pass by “a line of thought which he would normally label CALVINISTIC.” The last word, “Calvinistic,” brings a new label into the picture. Now, we can only choose between “Pelagianism” and “Calvinistic” theology. There are no others (at least in Sproul’s eyes).

If that isn’t an attention-grabber, we also have Sproul’s words above that “the present-day evangelical Christian...who has SEMI-PELAGIANISM in his blood.” Do you see what’s happening here? If one is considering a theology, Sproul would say, “There are three types of theology: Calvinistic, Pelagian, and semi-Pelagian.” Even a possible middle ground is shunned by Sproul as “semi-Pelagian,” that is, as being an offshoot of Pelagianism and Pelagian theology. No one wants to be labeled Pelagian; after all, Pelagianism espouses that man does not need God’s grace and can will himself to salvation. The only thing that man lost in the fall was knowledge of the truth. In Pelagius’s eyes, man is only ignorant of his true potential (not unable to be what he should). To argue human inability is to argue against Pelagian theology. But what about “semi-Pelagianism”? The fact that Sproul labels the middle ground as connected to Pelagianism (“semi” means “kind of” or “similar to”), demonstrates his disdain for any middle ground of any sort. One must either be Calvinistic or Pelagian.

See the last sentence in the above quote by Packer and Johnston? The “Calvinistic” theology that the modern-day evangelical Christian would disdain is what “both history and the Scriptures” testify to. In other words, Sproul is making it known here that in his mind, as well as the minds of Packer and Johnston, Calvinism is what history and the Scriptures attest. Calvinism, in other words, is being made the biblical view here: the Bible teaches (according to Sproul, Packer, and Johnston) that Calvinism “is the way, the truth, and the life”!

Sproul then goes on to quote Packer and Johnston again:

“To the Reformers, the crucial question was not simply, whether God justifies believers without works of law. It was the broader question, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether GOD IS TO BE THOUGHT OF AS SAVING THEM BY FREE, UNCONDITIONAL, INVINCIBLE GRACE, not only justifying them for Christ’s sake when they come to faith, but also raising them from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith...whether, in the last analysis, Christianity is a religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, OR OF SELF-RELIANCE AND SELF-EFFORT” (quoted by R.C. Sproul, page 23).

The last statement Sproul makes testifies to his false dilemma in theology: that one must either affirm “utter reliance on God for salvation,” which Sproul has already labeled Calvinism, or “self-reliance and self-effort,” which is termed “semi-Pelagianism” and “Pelagianism.” To Sproul, there are only two theologies (“semi-Pelagianism” and “Pelagianism” are one and the same in Sproul’s mind); what’s so disappointing about such writing is that Sproul writes an entire book on theologians such as Pelagius all the way up to Augustine, Arminius, John Cassian, etc. Now, I can admit that there is a semi-Pelagian view out there; but Sproul even lumps Arminianism into the camp of “semi-Pelagianism.”

For those who wanna see Sproul’s labeling of Classical Arminianism...you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Christ: The Ground of Election

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places IN CHRIST, just as HE CHOSE US IN HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, HAVING PREDESTINATED US to adoption as sons BY JESUS CHRIST to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which HE MADE US ACCEPTED IN THE BELOVED” (Ephesians 1:3-6, New King James Version).

“In the Arminian order of the decrees the election of individuals presupposed the election of Christ. The Dort deputations were anxious to point out that the Arminian designation of Christ as ‘fundamentum electionis’ (foundation of election) was acceptable only if it meant that without Christ the decree of election could not be executed” (G. Michael Thomas, “The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675).” Carlisle & Cumbria: Paternoster, 1997, page 143).

I picked up G. Michael Thomas’s book again, a book that I hadn’t read out of in a while. For those who may have read his book (and those who have not), Thomas has a section devoted to the Synod of Dort (or Dortrecht), the Synod that deposed of Arminius’s followers, the Remonstrants, and removed them for their professorships at the University of Leiden. It was at the Synod of Dort that Arminius’s theology was declared heresy, and that Calvinism was affirmed. It was also at this Synod that the “Five Points of Calvinism” were created, a reactionary response to the “Five Points of Arminianism.” To say the least, the Synod of Dort is quite important in the history of the church and historical theology itself.

There were several topics discussed at this Synod...among them, the issue of election. One of the big questions posed was, “What is the grounds of election? How are certain individuals elected and given to Christ?” For the Calvinists at Dort, the ground of election was God’s will---God picks certain ones and passes over certain others because He wants to.

Franciscus Gomarus, a supralapsarian, had this to say about Christ and election:

“The giving of Christ is A MEANS SUBORDINATE to the election of men to salvation” (“The Extent of the Atonement,” page 143).

The Swiss had responded in this manner:

“We abhor with serious and true detestation that which is said, that God predestined Christ to be mediator before having any will or intention to save anyone by name” (144).

Gomarus, the Swiss, and other parties present intended to make it clear that first, God picks those whom He will save, and then sends Christ to atone for those certain individuals.

But this creates a problem of enormous magnitude, according to Keith Stanglin:

“First, the Reformed position has God loving some sinners and saving them logically BEFORE he had given satisfaction to his own righteousness, thus inverting the twofold love by subordinating his love for righteousness to his love for sinners. Second, God wills to damn some sinners without regard to whether the sinner would continue impenitent, thereby abolishing his love for sinners EVEN WHEN SATISFACTION HAS BEEN MADE” (Keith D. Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609.” Leiden& Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007, page 229).

Two problems are created by the Calvinist placement of the decree of election before the decree of Christ: first, such persons are elected LOGICALLY BEFORE the sin of man is satisfied; secondly, even though satisfaction for sin would be made, God would still punish the sinner for the abolished sin. In short, the sinner would be punished twice without an opportunity to accept or reject the atonement that has been made for his or her sin.

Let’s deal with the first of these problems. If Calvinists place the decree of election before the decree of Christ’s atonement, then this means that certain sinners are elected to Christ BEFORE sin is done away with---which means that people are not elect “in Christ,” but “apart from Christ.” What is the significance of this, you may ask? The significance is that, if people are elect or reprobate before the atonement, then the atonement merely pardons the elect sinners; in other words, the governmental theory of atonement becomes the right one!

What is the governmental theory of the atonement? Roger Olson writes:

“In other words, according to those Arminians who do hold to the governmental theory, God inflicted pain on Christ for the sins of the world in order to uphold his justice and holiness. Christ’s suffering was equivalent to any sinner’s deserved punishment so that God could forgive while at the same time being wholly just and holy. But CHRIST DID NOT TAKE THE ACTUAL PUNISHMENT DESERVED BY EVERY PERSON” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 224).

In the governmental theory, “Christ’s suffering was EQUIVALENT to any sinner’s deserved punishment,” not the punishment that every single son and daughter of Adam deserved. Now someone may say, “Why do you connect the governmental theory with the Calvinist decrees? I do so because, if God picked certain individuals without regard to their specific sins, then all the elect sinners needed was someone to pay “a debt” for sin. Once God picked those He desired to save, He only needed someone to offer up “a debt” for the sins of the elect, and He could proceed with His plans. Jesus then, did not have to “die” for the sins of mankind. In other words, the penalty of death was merely optional for God...God could have dealt with sin in other ways.

Such thought is ABSOLUTELY ABSURD! As a Classical Arminian, I believe that Christ had to die on the cross for the sins of mankind because the penalty was death. The fact that man sinned in the Garden despite the warning (“the day you eat thereof you will die”) warranted the penalty of death. God told them that the suffering for sin was death, and death is what God decreed when they sinned.

Think about it, though: if all sinned in Adam (Romans 5), and the penalty was death, then someone needed to come and die for the entire human race. Every son and daughter of Adam and Eve had the sentence of death hanging over their heads. In this deserved bracket of death for Adamic sin, no one is placed above another. The so-called “elect” of the Calvinist system, then, would have been no more deserving or elite than the rest of humanity. And this is why Calvinists desire to place God’s decree of the atonement AFTER election, and not before. If God were to deal with sin BEFORE choosing the elect, He would then have made atonement for every single individual because all individuals would be made clean by His sacrifice. And then the question becomes, “Why, after making one sacrifice for all persons, would Christ pick a few out of which to grant the atonement to?” And, as you know...at that point, Calvinists would shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery, and we can’t comprehend all that lies in the mind of God.” And this is simply no answer at all for such important questions regarding sinners and salvation.

Which did God deal with first in regards to man: the sentence of death or the election of individuals? If we say that election came first, God picks people without regard to their Adamic sin. In other words, God begins to “smile on sin,” something that I shutter to think is true. But, if Scripture is right, then the atonement was not just about love alone, but justice and love working together. Here are the words of James Arminius:

“There remains with God His right entire to impart those benefits---which are His by nature, which He desired from compassion to communicate to sinful men, but, JUSTICE WITHSTANDING, COULD NOT CARRY INTO EFFECT, and which, now that Hus justice is pacified by the blood and death of Christ, He can actually bestow---to whom He thinks fit, and under those conditions which He shall prescribe; because He, as the injured party, could prescribe the mode of reconciliation, which also He did prescribe, consisting in the death and obedience of His own Son; and because He Himself gave to us Him who was to perform the functions of a Mediator for us” (James Arminius, “Works,” III:331).

The same God who abandoned Christ on the cross due to the sins of the world (Matt. 27:46) is the same God who cannot smile on sinners who have yet to receive the atonement of Christ for their sins. If Calvinists are right, God favors electing sinners and not believers...and this is contrary to the nature and character of a holy God, for “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13, NKJV).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. V-B: The Divine Pleasure

“Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4; quoted by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 3).

In yesterday’s post, I focused on Arminius’s words regarding the call of man to salvation. I showed in that post that God is the one who gets the praise for man’s salvation, from beginning to end; that, although man must receive the gift of salvation in order to be saved, Arminius never credits man with the work of salvation but instead gives glory to God. Before I get started again today, let me just say that I am surprised that J.I. Packer and other Calvinists are able to make such comments like the quote above in print for folks all over the world to see. And what’s so sad is that Calvinists are completely misguided when it comes to Classical Arminian theology...and most of the world just seems to focus on “foreseen faith” as the reason why they choose not to be Arminian, instead of reading Arminius for themselves and finding out whether or not he speaks truth. If you’ve ever picked up a copy of Arminius’s “Works” and thumbed through them long enough, you could not make the statement above that Packer makes; you would not be able to claim that Arminians hold to their theology because of “philosophical commitments”. Rather, we hold to the philosophy we do because of the Scriptures themselves. Our theology determines our philosophy, not the other way around.

In today’s post, I wanna talk on the topic of “The Divine Pleasure”: that is, What pleases God? What is God pleased to do in the world? If “God does whatever He pleases,” as the Calvinists say, then what pleases God? If we can look at the Scriptures and see what God does, then we can resolve within ourselves that God does what He does because it is pleasing to Him. After all, God is not bound by anyone or anything outside of Himself to do what He does; He is free to do as He so chooses (this is where Classical Arminians DO agree with our Calvinist brethren). In this sense, Classical Arminians, like Calvinists, hold to a form of “unconditional” election---that being, that God did not have to save anyone. He was not obligated to save us, since we are responsible for our sin in Adam (Rom. 5).

I’m gonna stick around Arminius’s words on “The Vocation of Men to Salvation” (Disputation XVI), which is where I came from yesterday. Regarding the way salvation is dispensed, Arminius writes the following:

“The Disposing Cause is the wisdom and justice of God; by which HE KNOWS HOW IT IS PROPER FOR THIS VOCATION TO BE ADMINISTERED, and wills it to be dispensed as it is lawful and befitting; and from which is formed the Decree of his will concerning the administration and its mode. (1 Cor. i,17,18.)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:232).

Why is salvation dispensed as a gift received by faith? Because this pleases God; the way salvation is granted to sinners is the way God saw fit to do things. If He had wanted to grant salvation another way, then He would have been free and right to do it another way. The fact that salvation comes the way it does testifies to the freedom of God, by which He is just in His doings.

In their description of “Unconditional Election,” Steele, Thomas,and Quinn write the following:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. GOD COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE ALL MEN (FOR HE HAD THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO DO SO) OR HE COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE NONE (FOR HE WAS UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO SHOW MERCY TO ANY)---but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, ELECTION WAS NOT DETERMINED BY, OR CONDITIONED UPON, ANYTHING THAT MEN WOULD DO, BUT RESULTED ENTIRELY FROM GOD’S SELF-DETERMINED PURPOSE” (“The Five Points of Calvinism,” page 27).

It is no secret that David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn are all Calvinist (at least Molinist) in their theology, since they argue for unconditional election. However (and this might shock most who read this), Classical Arminians ACTUALLY AGREE WITH THE ABOVE STATEMENT IN BOLD CAPS! We do not argue in our theology that God “had” to save us, nor do we argue that God “could not have done it any other way.” We believe that God could have left all of us drowning in sin, destined for Hell, and God would have been just in so doing. The Lord didn’t “owe” us salvation in any shape, form or fashion. This is the “Reformed” side of my theology on display.

BUT...and this is where my “Arminian” side comes out, we believe, contra Calvinists, that God decided to save man by the exercise of his God-given faith! While it certainly was a possibility of God’s to save certain persons, we don’t believe that God chose certain individuals and passed by others; rather, God decided to save or damn on the basis of faith. The classic passage of all time, John 3:16-18, tells us of the plan of God and His way of salvation: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV). Those who follow in the theology of James Arminius himself cannot say that God was obligated to save every single individual. This would be like saying that God was obligated to save every single Jew because of their ethnicity (Rom. 9), which is a ludicrous statement to make! God did not have to come for every person, but He did because this fit “the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:9,11).

God administers salvation the way He does because “He knows how it is proper for this Vocation to be administered.” God saves on the basis of exercised faith because it seemed right to Him to do so. At this point, I’m going to be more nuanced in my view of election than most have ever presented election: while choosing us is “unconditional” on the part of God, who was not forced to save or choose any, election is “conditional” on the part of the individual, who can only be elect by faith in Christ. While Calvinists focus on the earlier verses of Ephesians 1 which say, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (v.4), they neglect latter verses in the same chapter such as Eph. 1:13---“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” How does salvation come? First, a person hears the gospel (“after you heard the word of truth, the gospel”); then the person believes the gospel (“you also trusted...the gospel of your salvation”); last but not least, the person is sealed with the Holy Spirit (“having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”).

Salvation is never recorded in the Scriptures as coming to us by some predetermined decree from eternity past that had certain names on a list that were labeled
“elect.” Salvation comes when one hears the word, understands it, and, grace going before (prevenient grace), exercises the faith the Spirit of Grace imparts to him or her to believe the gospel message. If God wanted it to be “already predetermined,” then what need would there even be for a gospel message? If God has already “singled out” the few He wants and damned the rest, who needs to believe any sort of gospel?

And this is where Calvinism is seen for the horrid theology it really is. Here is once more, what authors David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn had to say about unconditional election:

“His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation WAS NOT BASED UPON ANY FORESEEN ACT OR RESPONSE ON THE PART OF THOSE SELECTED, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will” (“The Five Points,” page 27).

Notice the phrase in caps? Certain individuals were chosen, according to the writers, without regard to faith. But if this is true, then why is it that, according to Ephesians, that one must hear the word, believe, and THEN receive the Holy Spirit?

“In Him you trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).

Why must any of this occur if God chose to save “unconditionally”? To save “unconditionally” means to save without regard to anything within the creature, including the faith that God provides. So, if Calvinists like J.I. Packer wanna state that faith is a gift (which I too, believe), but God only provides faith to the elect ones, why then, must God provide faith? If God intends to regenerate sinners before they exercise God-given faith, then what is the faith needed for at all?

I suspect that Calvinists have spent too much time focusing on the “pre-creation decrees” of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism...and not enough on the context of Ephesians chapter 1. Maybe it’s high time they do that...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. V-A: Soli Deo Gloria

“Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4; quoted by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 3).

Throughout this series of “Getting the Story Straight,” I’ve demonstrated that J.I. Packer is grossly incorrect in his analysis of Arminianism---that is, Arminians are not Pelagian in their theology. Here today, I return to correct another false statement Packer makes about Arminians: that is, that Classical Arminians fail to attribute glory to God...that we attempt to give glory to man for our salvation.

In his Disputation XVI, titled “On the Vocation of Men to Salvation,” Arminius wrote the following:

“We define vocation, A GRACIOUS ACT OF GOD IN CHRIST, by which, through his word and Spirit, He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of the animal life, and from the pollutions and corruptions of this world, (2 Tim. i,9; Matt. xi, 28; 1 Pet. ii,9,10; Gal. i,4; 2 Pet. ii, 20; Romans x, 13-15; 1 Pet. iii,19; Gen. vi,3,) unto ‘the fellowship of Jesus Christ,’ and of his kingdom and its benefits; that, being united unto Him as their Head, they may derive from Him life, sensation, motion, and a plenitude of every spiritual blessing, TO THE GLORY OF GOD and their own salvation. (1 Cor. i,9; Gal. ii,20; Ephes. i,3,6; 2 Thess. ii,13,14)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:231-232).

Arminius deems the call to salvation (vocation) as “a gracious act of God in Christ”; here, we find that it is God’s kindness that brings this about. And this is where Classical Arminians agree with Calvinists: there is nothing outside of God that dictates His actions. God does what He pleases...and He is pleased to call men and women to faith, to grant them life everlasting. Without this benevolence from God, no man or woman could, or would be, saved. Secondly, note that Arminius labels man as unworthy of this call to salvation: “He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin.” The words “sinful men,” “liable to condemnation,” and “under the dominion of sin” tell us what man is and what he deserves---nothing short of Hell itself. So if any man or woman goes to Heaven, it is of nothing they deserve, but of what God has graciously given. This is “Soli Deo Gloria,” a praise to God because only God deserves praise for man’s blessings and eternal bliss with Christ.

Examine the passages Arminius notes at the end of the above quote. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, it is God “by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord” (NKJV); in Galatians 2:20, it is Christ whom, as Paul says, “loved me and gave Himself for me.” In Ephesians 1:3, it is God the Father “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” And who gets the praise for salvation and all its benefits? “to the praise of the glory of HIS GRACE, by which HE made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). And in 2 Thess. 2:13-14, it is God who “from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” It is God who gets the glory for the salvation of man. Arminius’s references to these verses demonstrates his great desire to give God glory for his salvation. Once again, this is “soli deo Gloria,” for the glory of God alone. Contra Packer, Classical Arminians do not give themselves glory for their salvation. I don’t know if Packer has ever read Arminius, but he and all other Calvinists would do well to read him. They might be surprised that he never once sounds like a Pelagian (and don’t let me mention the fact that he actually refutes Pelagius in his “Works”!).

Arminius then goes into the efficient, inward-moving, and external causes of this vocation to salvation:

“THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THIS VOCATION IS GOD THE FATHER IN THE SON. The Son himself, as appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the King of his church, calls men by the Holy Spirit; as He is the Spirit of God given to the Mediator...but THIS VOCATION IS SO ADMINISTERED BY THE SPIRIT, THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS HIMSELF ITS EFFECTOR: for He appoints Bishops, sends forth teachers, endues them with gifts, grants them his assistance, and obtains authority for the word and bestows efficacy upon it (Hebrews iii,7; Acts xiii,2; xx,28; 1 Cor. xii,4,7,9,11; Heb. ii,4.)” (II:232).

Who brings about salvation? God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, all three persons of the Trinity play a role in our salvation. With these words, how could anyone say that “Arminians attribute their salvation to themselves?” Do Calvinists not know that we, like they, believe the Scriptures when they teach that “it is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no man may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9)? I don’t see Arminius attributing salvation to man (“soli homo gloria”), but rather “Soli Deo Gloria,” the glory of God.

What is the inward-moving cause of our salvation?


Once again, I don’t see man being given glory in this statement at all. Rather, it is God who “is inclined to relieve the misery of sinful man.” God is the one who is stirred to take man out of his tragic state; God is the one who, like the Good Samaritan, sees man in a state of helplessness and picks him up, cares for his wounds, and nurses him back to spiritual health (Luke 10:30-37). Arminius cites 2 Tim. 1:9-10, which states that God called us “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9). How can Packer look at Classical Arminianism and falsely accuse Classic Arminians of attributing salvation to man?

I will continue to show Arminius’s thought regarding salvation in further posts. For now, let me end by using the words of Roger Olson:

“The common tendency is to impute to Arminianism every false belief...if the same method were used on Calvinism (as some Arminians have), Calvinists would howl in protest. We could argue that the Calvinist God, who predestines some people unconditionally to hell (EVEN IF ONLY BY DECREEING TO PASS OVER THEM IN ELECTION), is not a God of love but an arbitrary, capricious supreme being concerned only with displaying his own glory---even at the cost of the eternal destruction of souls he created. One principle that ought to be observed by all parties to this debate is BEFORE YOU DISAGREE MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND. In other words, we must make sure that we can describe another’s theological position as he or she would describe it before we criticize or condemn. Another guiding principle should be DO NOT IMPUTE TO OTHERS BELIEFS YOU REGARD AS LOGICALLY ENTAILED BY THEIR BELIEFS BUT THAT THEY EXPLICITLY DENY” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 41).

Both Calvinists and Arminians would do well to heed Roger Olson’s words.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. IV: Keeping the Faith

“From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching... (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4).

I think that of all the points Packer provides above regarding Arminians, I think number five is probably the most attacked tenet of Arminian theology. In this post, however, my goal is to show biblically why J.I. Packer should conform to Arminian theology and not make fun of it.

First, the concept of “keeping the faith” is vital to the life of the Apostle Paul. In 2 Timothy 4 he writes,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have KEPT THE FAITH” (2 Tim. 4:7, New King James Version).

Paul evidently felt the Holy Spirit move him to write the words “kept the faith” in his ending words to Timothy about his walk on earth and the reward of eternal life that awaited him. For Calvinists to look at this passage and deny that keeping the faith is important is problematic when one considers that these words, like all the words of Scripture, are “God-breathed” (theopneustos).

What about the words of Revelation 14?

“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who KEEP the commandments of God and the FAITH OF JESUS” (NKJV).

Here we see that the saints “keep the commandments of God” and “keep the faith of Jesus.” Once again, the saints of the Revelation days will be those who hold onto their faith and endure much suffering, including imprisonment and death (Rev. 13:10). So, if keeping faith is important in the days of great tribulation, why wouldn’t keeping the faith be important now?

Packer’s words regarding tenet #5 above mention “it rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith...” Many Christians today often quote the verses of Romans 8:38-39 regarding the fact that “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God” and say, “See, nothing we do can take us out of our salvation.” However, what about the verse in Jude that states, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21)? Why is it that Calvinists see Romans 8:38-39, but not Jude 21? And why is Romans 8:38-39 deemed more important to Calvinists than Jude 21? Shouldn’t “all” of Scripture be as equally valid and important? What about John 17, the famous High Priestly Prayer of Christ? Calvinists use John 17 to advance their theological agenda all the time...but what about John’s words in his epistles, which state that the godly person “purifies Himself” (1 John 3:3)? It seems then, that God provides preservation power, but I am commanded to persevere.

God is not responsible for “persevering” me in the faith; He has given me all I need to endure in the faith. If I don’t, then it’s my own fault.

What does it mean to “keep yourselves in the love of God”? John provides the answer in 1 John 5:

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

To “keep ourselves in the love of God” means “to keep His commandments.”

What these verses teach is that believers themselves must “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
This issue of “keeping oneself in a state of grace” applies to every Christian
believer. What are we to do with Paul’s words to the Galatians?

“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

What about this issue of “falling from grace”? This phrase becomes significant only after we discover to WHOM Paul is speaking. We are given clues of the nature of the congregants throughout the Galatian letter itself:

“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:9)

The phrase “you have known God” and “are known by God” tell us all we need to know---that the congregation to which Paul writes is a believing congregation of Christians. Should the believers turn to the works of the law now and deny the grace they have been given, they will be labeled as “having fallen from grace.” Keeping oneself in a state of grace, therefore, involves keeping the faith. A simple syllogism will help:

#1. Salvation consists of grace and faith (Eph. 2:8)

#2 we have access by faith into the grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:2)

#3. To give up one’s faith is to deny oneself access to grace (based on Romans 5:2)

#4. Therefore, to fail to keep the faith is to fail to continue in grace

#5. Since salvation consists of grace and faith, to fail to keep faith and continue in God’s grace is to fall from salvation.

There are a ton of verses I could use to support the above syllogism. For example, I could use Acts 13:43 where Paul and Barnabas urged the congregation to “continue in the grace of God.” I could also use Hebrews 12:28, where the writer states that “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). The word for “let us have” is “exomen,” which means “let us hold onto grace” or “let us keep grace” (laparola.net/greco). This then, refers to keeping oneself in a state of grace, contrary to what J.I. Packer claims.

Next in Packer’s attack is the phrase “keeping up their faith.” I’ve already shown above that Paul evaluates his own walk with God from beginning to end with the words “I have finished the race, I have KEPT THE FAITH” (2 Tim. 4:7). But there are other passages of Scripture as well that indicate to the reader that to continue believing is the key to obtaining final salvation. For example, let’s look at John’s words:

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you MAY CONTINUE TO BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13, NKJV).

John is encouraging them to “remain believing.” Why is this, if one does not have to keep the faith? And this does not take into account Jesus’ words in the Gospels (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) regarding the Parable of the Sower and the seed that fell on stony/rocky soil. If you compare the three Gospel passages just mentioned, you will find that Matthew 13:21 states that the seed “endures for a while”---which is in contrast to Luke 8:13, where the seed on rocky soil “believes for a while.” An interesting question to ask is, “Why do Matthew and Luke use ‘endure’ and ‘believe’ interchangeably in this parable? If endurance has nothing to do with “keeping the faith” (which goes against what Paul believed, 2 Tim. 4), why then, do the writers replace one word (“faith”) with another (“endurance”), or vice versa? Why is the Hebrew congregation told not to throw away their “full assurance of faith”, because they need endurance (Heb. 10:35-36)? What about the fact that “faith and perseverance of the saints” is a good phrase in Revelation (13:10; 14:12)? Not only do we find faith and perseverance linked in Revelation, but even the famous chapter of Romans 8 does the same: while it tells us of the hope of our salvation, it also states that we wait for our faith to become sight “with perseverance” (Rom. 8:25).

I could go on, but I will digress here. My point is this: with all the evidence I’ve provided, how can J.I. Packer be correct in his claims? He isn’t. Instead, he denies keeping ourselves in the grace of God (“continuing in the grace of God”) as well as keeping the faith (2 Tim. 4) and so forth. It seems to me that what Packer is really saying in all this is that a person doesn’t even need faith to be saved. This, however, contradicts so much of Scripture, particularly Hebrews 11:6. My final question to you is, “Do you believe Scripture or Packer?” The choice is yours.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. III: Total Depravity

“...from these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions; first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him...” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” in “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4)

For the last two posts, I’ve been combating J.I. Packer’s ideas regarding Classical Arminian theology. Today, I’m back to do this once again---this time, through discussion of the biblical notion of depravity.

Packer claims that Arminians believe that man is not completely corrupted by sin; however, this is not true at all. For my defense, I provide the words of Arminius:

“...having turned away from the light of his own mind and his Chief Good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that Chief Good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is UNDER THE DOMINION OF SIN...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’” (James Arminius, “Works,” II:192).

Adam’s sin was imputed to all of the human race, in such a way that our will to choose the good is imprisoned to sin and evil...and, without grace, we would never choose the good, never accept Christ, never submit to His Lordship. Arminius even went so far as to say, “It [free will of man] has no powers whatever except such as are excited by divine grace.” It is the grace of God that “makes alive” the will, not man himself.

Arminius goes into greater detail regarding the depravity of man. He starts with the mind of man:

“The mind of man, in this state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God: For ‘the animal man has no perception of the things of the Spirit of God;’ (1 Cor. ii, 14;) in which passage man is called ‘animal,’ not from the animal body, but from ‘anima,’ the soul itself, which is the most noble part of man, but which is so encompassed about with the clouds of ignorance, as to be distinguished by the epithets of ‘vain’ and ‘foolish’; and men themselves, thus darkened in their minds, are denominated ‘mad’ or foolish, ‘fools,’ and even ‘darkness’ itself. (Rom. I, 21, 22; Ephes. iv, 17, 18; Titus iii, 3; Ephes. v, 8) This is true, not only when...it [the mind] is preparing to form conclusions by the understanding; BUT LIKEWISE WHEN, BY SIMPLE APPREHENSION, IT WOULD RECEIVE THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL EXTERNALLY OFFERED TO IT: for the human mind judges that to be ‘foolishness’ which is the most excellent ‘Wisdom’ of God (1 Cor. i,18,24)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:193).

Man is so depraved that, not only is his thinking about ordinary life skewed (for instance, man cannot escape his presuppositions), but he can’t even receive the Gospel naturally on his own. To receive the Gospel, man must be granted grace by the Spirit of Grace Himself. And why? because of 1 Corinthians 1, a passage Arminius quotes as to say that “the human mind judges that to be ‘foolishness’ which is the most excellent ‘Wisdom’ of God.” In addition, Arminius cites other passages in his quote, such as Romans 1, Ephesians 4 and 5, etc. to show that he believes man is naturally born with a darkened mind, a mind that desperately needs to be illuminated and enlightened by the Lord Himself if the son or daughter of Adam and Eve will ever come to faith.

Next, the affections and heart are affected by sin:

“it [the heart] hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words: ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Rom. viii, 7). For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony;’(Jer. xiii, 10; xvii,9; Ezek. xxxvi, 26:) Its imagination is said to be ‘only evil from his very youth;’ (Gen. vi, 5; viii, 21;) and ‘out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, &c. (Matt. xv,19.)” (Works II:193).

Arminius quotes from Romans 8:7 to show that those who are not saved cannot please God. He also shows that the heart is deceitful and wicked, and that man’s every thought is evil, according to the words of the Lord Himself in Genesis 6. Arminius’ work here shows us that he very much held to Reformed theology, as biblical a view on depravity (at least) as any follower of John Calvin.

J.I. Packer notes in his quote above that Arminians don’t believe in the total inability of man. Well, let’s try out Arminius’ words on the helplessness of the human condition:

“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...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:)...the Apostle says, ‘when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin wrought in us,’ or flourished energetically (Rom. 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.)” (“Works,” II:194).

In Arminius’s description of human inability, he notes the favorite verse used by Calvinists in their assessment of depravity: John 6:44. Yes, as surprising as it may seem, Arminians DO believe in the depravity of man!!!

What I’ve provided here should be enough. The point of Arminius citations here is to say to Packer and the Calvinist clan that we, like them, believe in human depravity and human inability. We do not argue some “semi-Pelagian” or “Pelagian” notion of man where the only thing man lost was his knowledge in the Garden of Eden; rather, we argue that man lost his power to will the spiritual Good that day...and that, without God’s awakening, enabling, and sustaining grace, man cannot place himself, and will not be placed, on the path that leads to glory. In man’s natural state, he is drowning in the ocean of life, and desperately needs the Lord Jesus Christ to throw him a lifeline. Without it, man only has the second death to look forward to.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. II: The Gift of Faith in Classical Arminian Theology

“From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him...hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following...(4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift)...” (J.I. Packer, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4)

The quote above is just a portion of what I quoted yesterday regarding J.I. Packer’s comments regarding Arminianism. I’ve been reading a new book lately, called “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609” by Keith Stanglin, PhD. In it, Stanglin has a section on Arminius’s theology of faith. This section got me to thinking about Packer’s comments regarding Arminians and how they view faith (and thus, interpret the Scriptures).

Before I disagree with Packer, I desire to understand his comments above. According to Packer’s own words, Arminians do not believe that faith is a gift (“there is no such gift [of faith]”) and that faith is not given by God or brought about by Him (“since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God...”).

Now, having gotten Packer’s words precisely, I intend to refute his statements regarding Classical Arminianism. To approach this subject, I will quote the words of Arminius himself. By so doing, I hope to show that all who claim to be “Classical Arminian” will embrace the theology of James Arminius in its entirety---including his theology of faith.

Keith Stanglin writes:

“Arminius underscored that saving faith is the gift of God to humanity...he went on to say, ‘It is a supernatural, not natural, work and gift.’...Arminius insisted that although predestination is based on and in a sense posterior to foreseen faith, nevertheless IT IS GOD’S GRACE THAT CAUSES THIS FAITH, for ‘SALVATION AND FAITH ARE GOD’S GIFTS’” (Keith Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609.” Leiden, Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007, page 96; Arminius, “Works,” I:750).

In this quoted statement of Arminius by Stanglin, we see that Arminius refutes two points: first, he states that faith is a gift; secondly, he states that “It is God’s grace that causes this faith,” which means that the origin of faith is God, not man. This is why “it [faith] is a supernatural, not natural, work and gift.”

Arminius was accused of what J.I. Packer above accuses contemporary Arminians of: denying that faith is the gift of God. Arminius himself had this response to the charges he faced:

“A rich man gives a poor and famishing beggar (egeno) alms by which he may be able to sustain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure, undiluted gift (donum purum putum) because this beggar extends his hand for receiving (accipiendum)? Can it be said with propriety (commode) that the alms depended partly on the liberality of the one giving and partly on the liberty of the one receiving, though THE LATTER WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THE ALMS UNLESS HE HAD RECEIVED IT BY EXTENDING THE HAND? Can it be rightly said, because the beggar is always prepared for receiving, that he can by [any] mode will (velit) to have the alms or not have it? If these cannot be truly said, how much less about the gift of faith, for whose receiving many more acts of divine grace are required” (Arminius, “Works,” 2:52).

Arminius, through this example, compares the one who believes to the poor beggar who receives alms (money) from a rich man. The poor beggar had to receive the money, otherwise, he would not have it; but the credit goes to the rich man who gave the alms to the needy beggar out of his own good heart. In the same way, the sinner must “receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17, HCSB) in order to be saved; but how does the needy sinner’s “receiving” Christ translate to, “he MERITED salvation by accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior”? It doesn’t. Receiving salvation is a response to the gospel call itself; but IT IS THE LORD WHO CALLS! And it is the Lord who has purchased our salvation, who has earned our allegiance and love---because He went to the Cross and took our place, served as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. All of the Father’s wrath was placed on the Son for our sin. He bore our punishment, took our place, and gave us His righteousness; and for that, all the credit in the world goes to Him and not us.

Arminius asks further:

“Who has merited that the blessing be offered to himself; WHO HAS MERITED THAT ANY GRACE WHATSOEVER BE CONFERRED ON HIMSELF FOR EMBRACING (amplectendum) THAT [BLESSING]? ARE NOT ALL THOSE THINGS OF GRATUITIOUS DIVINE FAVOR? And if they are, is not God to be celebrated on account of those things with perpetual praises by those who, being made participants of this grace, have received (acceperunt) the blessing of God?” (James Arminius, “Works,” 3:445)

No one can merit the favor they have received, because grace is “gratuitious divine favor,” or, as we like to call it, “UNMERITED favor.” If something is “unmerited,” then this means that we cannot work for it or earn it. This is where Paul’s argument in Romans 4 about grace in contrast to wages comes in: wages are something someone earns, someone is due; grace, however, is something that someone is simply given by choice of the Giver. Grace is not something that someone can earn, no matter how great the human attempt.

As if to drive home his point about faith as a gift of God, Arminius states that “God destines these means [to salvation] to no one because of or according to his own merits, BUT FROM PURE, UNDILUTED (PURA PUTA) GRACE” (Arminius, “Disputationes Privatae XLI.x). Last but not least, “To say that a person is saved through the gift of faith is not to acknowledge salvation by any merits, for ‘faith and merit are opposed in the Scriptures’” (Keith Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation,” page 98; Arminius, “Works,” 3:583).

We see this point latent in two texts. First, there is the text of Ephesians 2:8-9---

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift---not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

In this text, we find that the “it” which is characterized as “God’s gift” is “salvation” in the direct passage. However, since faith is a component of salvation, and salvation is a gift, faith must be a gift as well.

The next passage is Romans 12:

“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as GOD HAS DISTRIBUTED A MEASURE OF FAITH TO EACH ONE” (Romans 12:3, HCSB).

“A measure of faith,” a certain amount of faith, has been given to each believer (for the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit).

I wanted to take time to deal with Arminius’s thoughts on faith in his theology to show J.I. Packer and Calvinists everywhere that Classical Arminians do believe faith to be a gift from God, and they find faith to be “caused” by God in the sense that God gives faith to undeserving sinners. But when Calvinists wrongly espouse Classical Arminian theology, it makes me wonder if Calvinists “strike first” in their mischaracterizations of Arminian theology in order to hide the holes in their own.