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.

14 comments:

wbmccarty said...

Arminius described total depravity as the natural state of man. I can see that and I presume that Dr. Packer sees that. But, if I understand correctly, prevenient grace is both universal and irresistible. To my way of thinking, this makes total depravity merely hypothetical since, at the moment of decision, no one is actually depraved.

In making this claim, how do I distort the classical Arminian position?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Deidre Richardson said...

WbMccarty,
Thanks so much for submitting your thoughts here.
Prevenient grace is universal, given to all. Here's what R.C. Sproul has to say about prevenient grace:

"For Arminius prevent grace seems to be irresistible to the degree that it effectively liberates the sinner from his moral bondage or impotency...after receiving this grace, the sinner is able to do what he was previously unable to do. In this sense, prevenient grace is monergistic and irresistible" (R.C. Sproul, "Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will." Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 131).

If by "irresistible" you mean that man cannot reject this grace to free his will, the answer is yes, prevenient grace is irresistible. But this prevenient grace must come if there is to be a genuine response to the gospel. Without it, no man could be saved; and without it, no man could possess responsibility over his acceptance or refusal of salvation.

Regarding total depravity as hypothetical: total depravity has never been seen as a hypothetical thing; in fact, prevenient grace, though freeing the will to choose or reject Christ, does not actually "force" a person to accept Him. Rather, prevenient grace frees the will so that the person has the ability to choose the good (that is, to receive Christ).

Within Calvinist theology, it is regeneration that limits depravity in some way; for, when a person is regenerated by God, he can only sin small sins...he cannot sin so as to fall away from the Gospel. Classic Arminians, on the other hand, argue that even after salvation, a person can sin so as to toss away their faith in Christ and fall away from the Gospel (2 Peter 2:20-22; Matt. 13:21; Luke 8:13; Mark 4:17; Heb. 6:4-6). Arminians therefore, still hold to depravity: at the moment of decision, a person can choose, in their depravity, to reject Christ; and throughout life in Christ, a person can choose to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and "insult the Spirit of Grace" (Heb. 10) and can even become worse than an unbeliever (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

wbmccarty said...

Thanks, Deidre, for your response. What I'm getting at is, what is the distribution and timing of operation of prevenient grace in the theology of Arminius?

For instance, suppose that it's made available at birth to all people. If so, no one living would actually be totally depraved. In that case, total depravity would seem to me merely hypothetical.

The theology of some modern Wesleyan Arminians seems to me to be subject to this problem. Does Arminius work around the issue somehow?

Thanks for your time!

P.S. I should be up front in stating that I am a Calvinist--but that's a classical rather than contemporary Calvinist :) My reason for posing this question is that I'd like to better understand classical Arminianism in contrast to its children and stepchildren, so to speak.

Deidre Richardson said...

WbMccarty,

Thanks again for writing back.

It pleases me greatly to read that you are aware of a distinction between Classical Arminianism and her "descendants." Wesleyan Arminians are most known for their Doctrine of Perfection, which argues that men can achieve sinless perfection on earth during mortal life. While it might not always be probable in their theology, sinless perfection, to them, is "possible." Classical Arminians do not hold to this in any shape, form, or fashion. Because Arminius was a former five-point Classical Calvinist (as yourself), he would never have held to this view of humanity. But, sadly enough, I think Wesleyan Arminianism has become the most favored brand of Arminianism out there today. We Classical Arminians are few and far between...

With regards to your question: the distribution and timing of prevenient grace in Arminius's theology is in the context of the preaching of the Word. In his Disputation XLIV, titled "On Faith in God and Christ," Arminius writes:

"Evangelical faith is an assent of the mind, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, in sinners, who through the law know and acknowledge their sins, and are penitent on account of them" (Arminius,"Works," II:400).

For Arminius, the Spirit works in the preaching of the Gospel to bring about conviction and confession of sins. In the same Disputation, Arminius goes on to say the following:

"The Author of faith is the Holy Spirit, whom the Son sends from the Father, as his Advocate and Substitute, who may manage his cause in the world and against it. The Instrument is the Gospel, or the word of faith, containing the meaning concerning God and Christ which the Spirit proposes to the understanding, and of which He there works a persuasion" ("Works," II:401).

It is the context of the preached Gospel that the Spirit works upon the minds and hearts of men. The Spirit of Grace, who imparts grace and faith to the hearers of the Word, does so when the Word of God is preached. The Apostle Paul himself refers to the context of the Gospel when he wrote, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

I hope this helps. Please feel free to write back if you have any other questions.

wbmccarty said...

Thanks again, Deidre. So, if I understand correctly, I see a key distinction between the theology of Arminius and that of the Wesleyans, in particular; namely, Armininus in coupling prevenient grace with the preaching of the Word would seem not to insist that prevenient grace be universal. That does, I think, handle my objection that the Arminian concept of total depravity, at least as taught by Arminius, is entirely hypothetical since not every person receives that form of prevenient grace that is communicated by the preached Word.

Oddly, my objection arose when reading Arminian Theology by Roger Olson, who characterizes himself as a classical Arminian well acquainted with those writings of Armininus that are available in English translation. Do you suppose that I misunderstand Olson on the scope of prevenient grace, wrongly thinking he considers it to be universal? Or, is there a difference on this point among those who consider themselves Classical Arminians?

Deidre Richardson said...

Wbmccarty,

Can you provide for me a quote from Olsen as to what confused you about his chapter? I possess a copy of Olsen's work and would like to be able to read it for myself.

Just now, I went back to my "Arminian Theology" and read through Olsen's chapter on grace. I found him frequently referring to the grace of God in the context of the calling of God (and he provides the same quote of Arminius that I provided earlier; see Olsen, page 163).

Here's what Olsen says on page 144 of his "Arminian Theology":

"And for Arminius this prevenient grace...is supernatural and not merely the common grace universally spread abroad within creation to hold back the power of sin and evil" (144).

If you look on page 148, Olsen describes Phillip Limborch, who deviated from Arminius's theology. As Olsen notes, "Limborch also confused common grace and prevenient grace so that the latter does not need to be supernatural" (148). Limborch, then, would make total depravity a hypothetical concept. I think your question regarding depravity is a good one for anyone who agrees with Limborch...but Arminius would argue for total depravity.

Write me back if you have any other questions. I am quite overjoyed that you've read Olsen's "Arminian Theology." And I think it's great that you wanna know more about Classical Arminianism. Having read some 80 books on Calvinism and Arminianism, I respect your efforts to learn more about other positions. May God bless you in your pursuit of truth...

wbmccarty said...

Deidre, thanks again for your time in responding. Unfortunately, I don't recall exactly how I arrived at my conclusion on the classical Arminian doctrine of total depravity other than to say it came about while reading Olson. Here is one point that I was able to quickly reconstruct.

Olson cites Pope as a "classical Arminian" [Olson, p. 172]. And, I grant that the citations from Pope provided by Olson seem consistent with this claim. But I don't find the citations to be complete.

For instance, Olson on p. 152 cites Pope's description of original sin as the "utter powerlessness to good: it is in itself a hard and absolute captivity." In Pope, the immediately following sentence reads: "But it is not left to itself. When the Apostle says that no Gentiles have the law written in their hearts, and in conscience measure their conduct by that standard, and may do by nature the things contained in the law, he teaches us plainly that in the inmost recesses of nature there is the secret mystery of grace which, if not resisted and quenched, prompts the soul to feel after God, and gives it those secret, inexplicable beginnings of the movement towards good which fuller grace lays on. In fact, the very capacity of salvation proves that the inborn sinfulness of man has been in some degree restrained; that its tendency to absolute evil has been checked; and that natural ability and moral ability--to use the language of controvery--are one through the mysterious grace behind all human evil" [see http://books.google.com/books?id=w9s4AAAAMAAJ, p. 60].

Pope's position seems to me not to affirm total depravity as I understand it. In particular, it seems to affirm the universality of some form of prevenient grace.

Moreover, here's an explanation by Pope that was not cited by Olson: "But the slavery [of original sin] is not absolute. It is conscious slavery and not submitted to without reluctance. It is not so much a fetter on the will itself, as the ascendency of a sinful bias over the motives that actuate the conduct by governing the will: the feelings and desires of the affection, and the thoughts of the mind. The will is not bound; but the understanding which guides it is darkened. . . . Now here comes in the doctrine of Prevenient Grace. It is not needed to restore to the faculty of the will its power of originating action: that has never been lost. But it is needed to suggest to the intellect the truth on which religion rests, and to sway the affections of hope and fear by enlisting the heart on the side of that truth" [ibid, p. 364].

Pope seems to understand depravity non-extensively as affecting the mind but not the will. Thus proclamation of truth is sufficient to overcome depravity as Pope understands it.

Let me be forthright in saying that I have not read Pope comprehensively. So, it may be that I mistake his position. And, even if I do not, Olson may be incorrect in classifying Pope as a classical Arminian. But, I trust that you can see how I came in good faith to the conclusion that classical Arminians treat total depravity somewhat casually, notwithstanding Olson's insistence to the contrary.

To further my own inquiry, I plan to read the Arminian Confession of 1621 and the Canons of Dort. I think it's best to work from primary sources because my casual vetting of Olson's citations has cast doubt, at least in my mind, on the soundness of his work and conclusions.

Deidre Richardson said...

Wbmccarty,

Reading the Arminian Confession as well as the Canons of Dort is a good idea. I'm all for checking out the primary sources as much as possible...

And with that said, let me address the issue of William Burton Pope's words. I haven't read any of the Systematic Theologies that Olsen recommends in his book. The only person I've read for my theological beliefs is James Arminius. But, in a sense, Arminius is the one credited with Classical Arminianism, is he not? Therefore, if we ever wanna know what Classical Arminianism really is, we always need to go back to Arminius.

The William Burton Pope quote that you provide (the one you say Olsen does not mention) is interesting, indeed. It sounds a bit like the British monk Pelagius, maybe even Phillip Limborch. And it is problematic for Pope's designation as a Classical Arminian. Having said that, though, let me say that it is always good to check Arminius's descendants with Arminius. As a Classical Calvinist, I'm sure you want people to know John Calvin's "Institutes," to be pretty familiar with his ideas; and interested readers should. They should not seek to know Calvin from anyone else but the mouth of Calvin himself. And the same goes for Arminius. When you check Pope's quote you provide against Arminius, it does not sound like the total depravity of which Arminius writes, which does bring Pope's designation as Classical Arminian into question.

Continue to read and study with a keen eye. These sorts of things can easily happen in research. But one person that cannot be skewed is James Arminius himself. Checking every "Classical Arminian descendant" against him would prevent those who stray from his thought as being labeled those who embrace it.

Contact me further if you have any other questions. Thanks so much for providing me the opportunity to aid you here at the Center for Theological Studies.

wbmccarty said...

Deidre, I certainly agree that study of the work of Arminius is valuable. And, comparing his teaching with what Calvinists have written about Arminians is particularly interesting and valuable.

But, I rather suspect that Arminius's theological descendants, the Remonstrants, may have departed from his teaching on significant points. And, the Synod of Dort, which was the fountain from which current confessional Calvinism flows, directly addressed only the doctrine of the Remonstrants, not that of Arminius himself. So, I myself think that the more relevant comparison for my own purposes is that between the views of the Calvinists and the Remonstrants. And, I think that the 1621 Arminian Confession, which dates subsequent to the Canons of the Synod of Dort, is the proper primary source for that comparison. Moreover, the Confession presents a more concise target for study than the relatively large body of work authored by Arminius.

Of course, one could argue that the work of Arminius provides context important to a full understanding of the Confession. But it was the apparent intention of the Remonstrants to write a confession that could be adequately understood on its own. And, I don't have a lifetime to devote to this study. So, it seems appropriate for me to focus on the Confession and the Canons.

I don't write this to quibble with your own focus, which I strongly affirm. But if you have any counterarguments, I'd love to hear them before I plan my own study. :-)

Just between us, I have a speculative suspicion that the views of Arminius himself might compare rather more favorably with Calvinism than the views of the Remonstrants. Wouldn't that be an interesting study?

Thanks again,

Deidre Richardson said...

Wbmccarty,

Thanks for writing back.

Regarding your thoughts that Arminius could be closer to Calvinist thought, let me say that your hunch seems to be the statement of the day. According to editors David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke of "Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism," Arminius and the Remonstrants were labeled as "Calvinists":

"...the Remonstrants, who were themselves Dutch Reformed Calvinists" (page 3).

"In fact, this statement (of total depravity) is a quote from Articles III and IV of the issues raised by the Remonstrants. Such a strong affirmation of human depravity and the complete inability of humans to save themselves means the Remonstrants cannot responsibly be called Pelagians or even semi-Pelagians. Pelagians and semi-Pelagians affirm that natural human beings can initiate or respond to God completely independent of grace. Nothing could could be more foreign to the beliefs of these Arminian Remonstrants than the notion that sinful humans could initiate, much less earn, their own salvation" ("Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism" by David L. Allen, Steve W. Lemke, eds. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010, page 4).

This goes to show that even in modern scholarship amongst most Calvinists, Arminius and the Remonstrants (Arminius's direct disciples) were not semi-Pelagian in any shape or form. According to the above quotes, they were Calvinist in their theology. Today, I stand in the same camp as Arminius.

It is saddening to see how many of Arminius's "theological descendants" deviated from his original words and teaching. But it is not my concern to represent them. What I desire to do most upon finishing my Master of Divinity degree and pursuing a PhD in historical theology is to write and bring Arminians back to the helplessness of man upon the grace of God. While I am not responsible for the damage that has been done in Arminian theology, I am responsible for what I do from this point forward. And that responsibility I gladly bear upon my shoulders.

wbmccarty said...

Deidre, if I understand correctly, I think that you mistake Allen and Lemke's claim that the Remonstrants were Calvinists. That the Remonstrants considered themselves to be Calvinists and were considered by others to be Calvinists before publication of the Canons of the Synod of Dort is without dispute. I think that this is all that Allen and Lemke intend.

On a more conciliatory note, I will offer my personal opinion, running counter to much but not all Calvinistic scholarship [Roger Olson cites Michael Horton as now holding the same view as I do], that the Arminian position, when carefully articulated, is not semi-Pelagian. The charge fails, in my view, because Arminians rightly recognize God as the initiator of salvation whereas semi-Pelagians hold the heresy that man can, and does, initiate his own savation.

I see a certain symmetry in this that is apparently not appreciated by many fellow Calvinsts. such as R.C. Sproul. Please consider that both semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism are synergistic whereas both Pelagianism and Calvinism (which might better be called "Augustinianism" in this context, owing to the historical development of these distinctions) are monergistic. Based on this analysis, I prefer to consider Arminianism as semi-Augustinian. In my opinion, to conflate Arminianism with either semi-Pelagianism or Calvinism would be to confuse the issue.

On a more personal note, based on your attendance at Southeastern, I infer that we may share denominational affiliation. I have been in an SBC church (of the Calvinistic persuasion, of course) for a bit over one year and love it. I hope that the current dialog on Calvinism within the SBC becomes ever more mutually respectful and constructive and that the denomination reaps corresponding benefits for itself and the Church at large. And, I wish you the best in your studies and in your ongoing research and ministry.

Deidre Richardson said...

Wbmccarty,

Regarding the Remonstrants, I made the statement that I did to show you that at least the followers of Arminius were considered to be Reformed in their own right.

Now, as for Arminius himself, the story that everyone seems to write on regarding him is that he was a pupil of Theodore Beza, the son-in-law of John Calvin. In addition, Arminius was a five-point supralapsarian Calvinist before changing his ideas about theology upon his investigation of the other side of the debate. It was in the process of defending supralapsarianism that he abandoned Calvinism altogether.

There are a number of books to read on this issue. The significant ones are probably Keith D. Stanglin's "Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation," and others such as Jerry Wall's and Joseph Dongell's work titled "Why I Am Not a Calvinist." Five-point Calvinist Richard Muller addresses it in his work, "God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius," but he tends to think that the story has little credibility to it. In any case, the majority of modern-day research sees the story as being real and genuine.

It was never my intention to argue that Arminius was a Calvinist to the end...rather, it was my intention using the quotes from that book to state (and I think this was the intention of the writers) that Arminius and his direct disciples (the Remonstrants) were Dutch Reformed in their thought. They believed in the principles of the Reformation as did Calvinists that day. While they differed from Calvinists on important doctrines of theology, they shared the common principles of salvation being by "the grace of God alone through faith alone in God's Word alone for the glory of God alone." In this, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Calvinists of their day.

I was responding to your claim about Arminius. Read him and you will find that he is so centered on grace that at times, it may seem hard to actually believe he's not Calvinist (he isn't). All that I've said above was to make the case that Arminius was more Reformed than he is believed to have been. His "Works" tell a story of their own...

Classical Arminianism believes that the grace of God in salvation (grace and faith, Eph. 2:8) does not cancel out the God-given human responsibility of man to repent and believe the Gospel (Eph. 1:13). If that makes us synergistic, then that is the label we will wear. Even R.C. Sproul writes in his "Willing to Believe" that "God does not believe for us." While there are some Arminians who argue that we must produce our own faith, I do not stand in such a belief. I argue, like Arminius, that faith is a grace gift from God.

Thanks again for all your comments here. I want you to understand that no modern-day Arminian would even want to wear the Calvinist label. Calvinist theology affirms some things that I find very troubling about the nature and character of God...so you have no need to worry about sharing your label. Every modern-day Classic Arminian I know would proudly let you have it, all to yourself. We intend to hold up the gracious and good character of God; therefore, we will stick with our own label. It'll do just fine.

wbmccarty said...

Thanks for the clarification, Deidre. I apologize for having mistaken your point.

We can probably agree on one issue: I can readily understand why supralapsarianism might prompt someone to move as far from Calvinism as his/her biblical tether might permit. If that's what motivated Arminius--and I think there's good reason to suppose it was--Arminius has my sympathy even if not my entire agreement with his resulting theology.

My concern over the label "Calvinist," by the way, is not a matter of jealously guarding a prerogative. It's simply a concern to foster good communication by using terms in the same way they've been used for centuries. Not a few theologians, among them Norman Geisler, have recently begun redefining the terms "Calvinism" and "Calvinist." I recently argued the matter with someone who spoke glibly of "two-point Calvinists" as Calvinists.

BTW, do you know of a modern systematic theology that adequately presents--not necessarily advocates--the classical Arminian view? Roger Olson has recommended Oden's Transforming Power of Grace. But Oden is a sacramentalist who refers to the "saving grace" conferred by water baptism. So, the reader must somehow distinguish Oden's theological idionsyncracies from his classical Arminian views. As doing so is pretty much impossible without reading two or more additional works, Oden's work doesn't seem to me to suffice as a single, definitive source.

wbmccarty said...

Well, it seems that in reading The Arminian Confession of 1621, I've already found one surprise and must contradict what I have just written. A footnote there led me to a reprint of the 6th. (1877) edition of Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, where I read:

"They [the Arminian Remonstrants] reject the doctrine of a limited atonement, which is connected with the supralapsarian view of predestination, but is disowned by moderate Calvinists [italics added], who differ from the Arminians in all other points. Calvin himself says that Christ died sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis" [Philip Schaff. Creeds of Christendom (David S. Schaff, 1919), 1:469].

Now, Schaff is wrong about the relationship between supralapsarianism and limited atonement. And, contrary to Schaff's implication, Calvin's statement is far from definitive in settling the question of his view on the extent of the atonement. But, it seems that Geisler and others are following Schaff's view. So, they may be wrong. But, they may also have gotten their information from what is widely considered a quite authoritative source. So, I must apologize for, and retract, my statement that the "moderate Calvinist" label is recent, as I had read in other sources that I now perceive to be quite wrong.