Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Divine Prerogative: A Look At Unconditional Election

I’ve spent quite a significant amount of energy diving into Romans 9 and how it is used regarding the issue of election (whether conditional or unconditional). I’ve made the case that Romans 9 shows the “divine prerogative,” God’s decision to select one and not another. This is right after Paul writes that not all who are of ethnic Israel are of spiritual Israel (Rom. 9:6). Romans 9 shows us that God has the right to select one and not another for His purposes. As a Classical Arminian, I would agree with this. God has the right to do what He pleases.

However---and this is where I must draw the line---God did what He pleased when He sent His Son and proclaimed that faith in Christ would lead to eternal life (John 3:16). And Amyraldians (those who hold to four points of “TULIP” minus “L” for “Limited Atonement”) and Molinists (three-point Calvinists with the exception of “limited atonement” and “irresistible grace”) would affirm this. In the flow of thought with Romans 9-11, we see that faith explains why the Gentiles obtain righteousness and the Jews had not at the time of Paul’s letter (Romans 9:30ff). Confession and belief is the process by which a person would be saved (Rom. 10:9).

Nevertheless, there are times when I get the impression (even from Molinists) that “faith is a work.” I’ve done some posting on Molina and his own comments regarding why he believed foreseen faith could not be the ground of election (see “Molinism” and “middle knowledge” sections on the right). And what was his reason for so thinking? Because he believed the famous verse of Romans 9 regarding the “purpose of election” not being “by works” but by the Lord who calls (Rom. 9:11) implied that faith was a work (so faith couldn’t be the ground of election).

And yet, contemporary Molinists don’t see faith as a work. Ken Keathley writes:

“As Geisler points out, all works are actions, but not all actions are works. Faith is an action in the sense that it involves an act of the will, but IT IS NOT A WORK. We exercise faith to receive redemption for the precise reason that we cannot do anything to earn salvation. FAITH IS NOT A MERITORIOUS DEED. How does receiving a gift make the gift less gracious? The challenge for Calvinists is to demonstrate from Scripture that receiving grace equates to deserving grace” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010, pages 108-109).

In addition, Keathley supplies biblical evidence for his view:

“In a number of places Paul equates ‘by faith’ with ‘by grace.’ For example, in Rom. 4:16 he says ‘the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace.’ Then in Rom. 11:6 he states that if salvation is ‘by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.’ At other times he juxtaposes works-righteousness with the righteousness that is received by faith (Phil. 3:9). In Rom. 10:3-6, Paul contrasts the righteousness that comes through the works of the law with the righteousness obtained by faith. He makes a similar claim in Gal. 2:16, where he says that justification is by faith and not by works. In short, the biblical authors understood faith and works as mutually exclusive opposites” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 109).

Dr. Keathley tells us that faith is not a work, that Calvinists are wrong to make that claim. The biblical evidence goes against it. But if this is the case, then why hold on to unconditional election? The answer is found somewhere in Keathley’s critique of Arminianism:

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation BY PRESENTING GOD’S DECISION CONCERNING INDIVIDUALS AS SOMETHING ENTIRELY PASSIVE. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” pages 141-42).

For those who desire to see my response to this, click on “January” and the title of the post is “Human choices approved.”

All I will say concerning this is the following: Keathley seems to believe that since Arminians argue conditional election, they make God passive in salvation. But we do not; Keathley just has a different idea in mind of God’s active role in salvation than we do. He believes that God has a “sovereign, unconditional manner” (pg. 142) of election, but in what sense is he using the word “unconditional”??? As Robert E. Picirilli notes,

“Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe GOD COULD NOT SOVEREIGNLY ESTABLISH ANY CONDITION HE CHOSE (OR NO CONDITION AT ALL, DID HE SO CHOOSE) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it ONLY ON THE CONDITION, WHICH HE HAS BEEN PLEASED TO IMPOSE’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, and Free Will---Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House, 2002, page 57).

The issue Keathley has with Arminian theology is, “What is meant by the word ‘unconditional’?” If by “unconditional,” Keathley means that God was under no obligation to save anyone, then Classical Arminians agree; if, however, “unconditional” means that God picks and chooses whom He will save (while leaving others to their damnation), then Classical Arminians stand against Molinist theology.

But Keathley himself has argued, as I’ve shown in this post, that faith is not a work (while at the same time stating that faith is a condition for salvation). So, in the end, I think Keathley’s tenet of “Sovereign Election” fits in the Classical Arminian system---God is sovereign, is not bound to save anyone, but does so on faith. Sounds like potential Classical Arminian theology to me...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Necessity of Conditional Perseverance

“Does the means-of-salvation view inadvertently abandon the traditional Reformed understanding of divine sovereignty and instead hold a Molinist position? William Lane Craig believes that it does. He argues that the means-of-salvation position implicitly employs middle knowledge. Craig asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all? And if the warnings themselves bring about perseverance, does this mean that the believer is capable of apostasy, even if he does not apostatize? HYPOTHETICALLY, AT LEAST, THE ELECT CAN FALL AWAY, BUT GOD, USING MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE, HAS CHOSEN TO ACTUALIZE A WORLD IN WHICH SCRIPTURAL WARNINGS WILL OPERATE AS MEANS TO KEEP HIS CHILDREN FROM APOSTASY” (Kenneth Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.” Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010, page 183).

Craig’s position above is one that Calvinists think is too serious and Arminians think is too spiritually complacent. But in today’s post, I desire to show why Craig’s analysis doesn’t go far enough. The warnings are more than just “hypotheticals,” since they are a portion of the Word of God and should be treated as infallible and authoritative for the Christian life.

First, note that Craig views the warnings as “hypothetical,” while stating that God has chosen a world where believers will not fall away. This poses problems according to Scripture:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, FOR REPROOF, FOR CORRECTION, FOR INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).

When we see the words “all Scripture,” we know that this phrase is referring to every word of Scripture, not just chapters, verses, and concepts. Each and every word of Scripture we believe to be intended by God for our edification in godliness. If all Scripture, EVERY WORD, serves a purpose for our lives, then we cannot look at the warnings and assert that they are not as serious as they sound. And this is where I disagree with Craig. If the warnings are merely “hypothetical” and believers cannot fall away, then why are they even included in the Bible? Don’t you think that the Lord would tell us the truth in His Word, since He claims to be truth (John 17:17)? So if the Lord tells us something in His Word, then it pays to listen and heed the warnings rather than consider them to be “hypothetical.”

Next, to consider the warnings as hypothetical poses problems in other Scriptural texts. Consider 1 Samuel 23, regarded as a significant text for middle knowledge. In this passage, we find God telling David, “He [Saul] will come down...They [the men of Keilah] will deliver you” (1 Sam. 23:11,12), although neither event happened. What do we do with this passage? According to Craig, we should just treat God’s words about Saul and the men of Keilah as just mere “hypotheticals,” despite the fact that “Saul halted the expedition” (v.13). Saul’s halting the trip demonstrates that Saul was very much in the process of heading to Keilah to capture David, so the possibility of David being handed over was not hypothetical at all!!!

In addition, notice that, if David being captured was not a possibility (but a mere hypothetical), then God lies to David (because, as a hypothetical, it wouldn’t be an actual possibility). However, this too, contradicts Scripture (Romans 3:4), for God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).


First, Craig says that the warnings are “hypothetical”; but secondly, he states that “God, using middle knowledge,” has created a world where the elect will not fall away. This poses problems for theology. Craig, in his book “The Only Wise God,” argues against “theological fatalism,” or the idea that everything in life is determined. However, when it gets to his idea of salvation, Craig’s view emphasizes determinism. In his belief, God has chosen a world where the elect will “infallibly persevere,” as he notes it. Unfortunately, Craig has not thought about the implications of his view upon the issue of reprobation; for, if the believers will INFALLIBLY PERSEVERE in godliness because God has so determined the world, then what about the unbeliever? Logic must follow here, so now, the unbeliever is “determined” to INFALLIBLY PERSEVERE in his damnation. And I don’t think Craig or any Molinist for that matter, argues necessity. Molinists emphasize “possibility,” or “contingency,” so Craig has to incorporate that in regards to the world in which we find ourselves. But if God has so determined the world, then there is no contingency (which explains why Calvinists like Terrance Tiessen have given up middle knowledge in their Calvinist theologies---see posts on middle knowledge).

Last but not least, Scripture itself shows us how serious the warnings really are---in the words of Paul. In Romans 11, we find Paul writing to the Gentiles in the Roman congregation:

“You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF THEY WERE BROKEN OFF, AND YOU STAND BY FAITH. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: ON THOSE WHO FELL, SEVERITY; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF.

And they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in, FOR GOD IS ABLE TO GRAFT THEM IN AGAIN” (Romans 11:19-23, NKJV).

These words from the apostle Paul show us that, although the Jews had been “cut off” as branches are cut from the vine, God could still bring them back. The Jews were not permanently cast off from God---but they were unless they ceased with their unbelief (Rom. 11:23).

But what about the Gentiles? If the Jews were not “guaranteed” to remain in the vine, what about the Gentiles? The Gentiles were not guaranteed to remain, either: “consider the goodness of God...toward you...if you continue in His goodness. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Rom. 11:22).

Whoa! Wait a minute! The common perception is that, once the branches are grafted in the vine, they can never be removed; but that’s not what Paul states here. He says that the “natural branches,” being the Jews, were “broken off” because of unbelief. And that, if the Gentiles lose their faith, they too, will be “cut off” and broken. It doesn’t sound like God has “determined” that either Jew or Gentile “infallibly persevere,” does it? Evidently not. If that had been the case, then Paul would have never mourned the state of Israel (Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1-3), or given such a stern warning to the Gentile. Remember Keathley’s words about William Lane Craig:

“Craig asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all?”

I agree with Craig’s thought here. The problem with his Molinist belief, however, is that he then turns around and says that God has chosen a world where the elect will infallibly persevere. And that nullifies what he said just before, about God giving the warnings. Why does God even need to give them if the believer can never fall away in the present world? And I anxiously await the day when Molinists can provide an adequate response.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Noble Arminian

“Strong Calvinism cornered the market on monergism as entailing irresistible grace, but Cross’s model offers an account of monergism and resistible grace. In doing so, it overcomes many of the concerns traditionally ascribed to synergism. If the only contribution humans make in salvation is negative, then this contribution can hardly be considered an act worthy of praise--- in fact, it hinders God’s activity to bring humans to a right relationship with Him. Instead, believers receive no personal credit, for in and through the work of God, the persons come to repentance and faith” (Dr. Jeremy A. Evans, “Reflections on Determinism and Human Freedom,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism” by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke, editors. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010, page 261).

I know the title of the post (“The Noble Arminian”) will probably get some weird expressions from my readers. You’re probably thinking right now, “Okay, she’s biased towards Classical Arminianism, and that’s bad enough...but now, she’s gotta brag about the Classical Arminian on her blog?” The truth is, however, that I am not bragging at all. I titled the post what I did because I wanna deal with a key issue in the Calvinist-Arminian debate: the idea that “faith is a virtue” (so titled by Dr. Ken Keathley in his “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” page 124).

Classical Arminians are convinced that man must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved. Well, according to Calvinist argumentation, if a person must believed to be saved, he is more “noble” than the person who refuses to believe. In their minds, the one who believes is “more virtuous” than another, and faith then becomes a virtue.

Look at Dr. Jeremy Evans’ quote above: according to the salvation models Richard Cross proposes, Cross advocates a model where salvation is monergistic and resistible.

What is “monergism”? Dr. Ken Keathley explains:

“Monergism (‘mono’---‘one’; ‘ergon’---‘work’) is a term that means God is the only worker in salvation” (Dr. Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2010, page 103).

Keathley provides a footnote at the bottom of the page, providing us with further detail about monergism:

“Monergism is the view that God’s grace alone is the efficient cause of our salvation; that salvation is the work of God from beginning to end. Synergism argues that our cooperation is also necessary” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 103).

Notice Evans’ response regarding synergism? “If the only contribution humans make in salvation is negative, then this contribution can hardly be considered an act worthy of praise.”

Believers desire greatly to give God His due in our salvation. I don’t think that most believers desire to take away God’s glory for their salvation in their theologies. However, I think Calvinist belief at times tends to downplay God’s expectations of man. And this is one of those times. Why is it that faith is considered an act of virtue---when it is really ONLY A GIFT from God? After all, let’s look at what Paul wrote about faith:

“For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH, and THAT NOT OF YOURSELVES; it is the gift of God, NOT OF WORKS, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV).

Paul himself said that “that,” being “grace and faith” (salvation), is “not of works.” What more do we need to read? We believed, and even our faith (paired with God’s grace) was NONE of ours, but given to us as a gift by God. How then, can faith be a “virtue”?

Ephesians 2:8 tells us that our salvation is “not of ourselves,” which means that salvation is the Lord’s. Verse 9 states that salvation is “not of works,” which means that we didn’t “merit” salvation.

I looked up the word “virtue” in The Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus, and this was the definition supplied:

“moral excellence; goodness. Good quality...honor, righteousness, nobility, CREDIT, MERIT, ADVANTAGE, asset” [“The Oxford American Dictionary and Thesaurus.” New York: Berkeley Books, July 2001, page 942 (“virtue”)].

So to be virtuous is to have “moral excellence” or “goodness.” And yet, Paul tells us that there is no moral goodness within ourselves:

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, NOT BY WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH WE HAVE DONE, but according to His mercy He saved us...”(Titus 3:4-5, NKJV)

And, prior to this, Paul stripped himself of any moral excellence:

“For I know that in me (that is, IN MY FLESH) NOTHING GOOD DWELLS; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18).

As can be seen here, Paul shows us that there is no good in the human flesh. So, the only good that we can do is that which we perform by way of the Spirit who works within us. For the unbeliever, it is the Spirit of grace who convicts them of sin and bestows upon them the gifts of grace and faith, that they can even desire to make one move towards God. God’s goodness to man gives credit to God, NOT to us. So, just because I believe and someone else does not is not a reason for me to boast or say, “I am more noble” than them. Why? because, as Ephesians 2 says, “salvation is not of myself.” Salvation is the gift of God; and not of my works, in order that I should not boast. I couldn’t save myself; if I could, I wouldn’t have needed grace and faith from God to begin with (which is a Pelagian notion, that the will doesn’t need the grace of God or faith to believe...but can generate its own resources to come to salvation). But because God supplied everything I needed, and all I could do was “confess and believe” (Romans 10:9), then I cannot boast or glory in myself.

A good biblical passage will make the case. The passage comes from Luke 17:

“And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’?
Does he thank that servant because HE DID THE THINGS THAT WERE COMMANDED HIM? I THINK NOT.

So likewise you, WHEN YOU HAVE DONE ALL THOSE THINGS WHICH YOU ARE COMMANDED, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. WE HAVE DONE WHAT WAS OUR DUTY TO DO’” (Luke 17:5-10, NKJV).

The disciples wanted their faith increased, thinking that they needed “more faith,” a greater quantity of faith, in order to do great things. But Jesus’ answer surprised them: they didn’t need MORE faith; they just needed FAITH ITSELF! Even if their faith was “the faith of a mustard seed,” a small, tiny faith, as faith, it would still remove the mulberry tree and cast it into the ocean.

The Lord Jesus then tells the parable of the master and the servant: after the servant has done what he was supposed to do, the master doesn’t commend him...but instead, gives him more work to do.

Jesus was telling the disciples this to make it clear that the issue of “increased faith” was wrong on two accounts: first, because they thought the greatness of faith was its QUANTITY instead of its QUALITY; and second, because they thought it would lead to greater reward and merit in the kingdom. However, Jesus disappointed them: no matter how great a faith and how much their faith accomplished, in the end, the credit didn’t go to them---they only believed BECAUSE THEY WERE COMMANDED TO DO SO.

Only when we understand that to believe (to have faith) is to obey (Rom. 1:5 refers to “the obedience of faith”), do we understand that faith is a duty. We are charged to “confess and believe” in Jesus (Rom. 10:9), so exercising our God-given faith does not make us more virtuous than the unbeliever. Why? because to believe is to “obey” the Lord Jesus. To believe on His name is what we are commanded (required) to do. It is our duty...and duties (obligations) are not rewarded (for they are not merit).

With that being said, let me state that I don’t believe synergism poses problems at all in theology. I think that believers have to stop getting hung up over man believing (and making man’s belief out to be a work, a merit). The Scriptures tell us that man’s belief is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9), and because of it, we cannot boast. If the Scriptures tell me that “no boasting is allowed,” and I intend to submit to Scripture, then I am charged to obey Scripture in everything...even this.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Intermission: Molina, Election, and Romans 9

I’m back to place an intermission in our series on Classical Arminianism as the mediate theology between Calvinism and Pelagianism.

Today though, I’m gonna take time to investigate the concept of election in the Molinist system, as advocated by Molina himself. I do this because it is my belief that Molinism is a worthwhile system to investigate, and there are some things that even Classical Arminians can learn from Molinism. Arminius himself certainly thought so---after all, he actually read Molina, had his students read Molina while he was professor at the University of Leiden, and borrowed middle knowledge from Molina’s theology (see Richard Muller’s “God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius”). I am extremely sympathetic to Molinism because it affirms that man has genuine responsibility, that he is responsible for his actions. So, there it is---I’ve made it no secret here at the Center for Theological Studies that I tend to have a certain liking to Molinist theology.

But today, I will treat Molinist theology no different than the other systems (which shows that my “liking” of Molinist theology has no bearing on my evaluation of it). Because I critically examine systems, whether or not I like them in no way effects how I judge them. So Molina’s view of election will be presented without preference or partiality. I wanted to take time to examine Molinist theology in its own right without having to place this unique view of Molina’s in a competing position with Calvinism (in my last post on Arminius, Calvin, and Beza on election).

Now, on to the task. Kirk R. MacGregor gives us Molina’s view of unconditional election:

“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. Thus Molina deduces that God elects people ‘with his holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus.’
Likewise, the reprobate person ‘is not reprobated because of foreseen sins, and truly he has neither the cause nor the ground of reprobation within him.’ Molina insists that such constitutes the natural reading of Romans 9: ‘Behold in what way Paul teaches concerning Jacob that it was not on account of his works or his merits that he was beloved and predestined by God, so likewise he affirms concerning Esau that it was not on account of his works that he was hated and reprobated.’ For Molina, therefore, THE CAUSE AND GROUND OF ANY PERSONS’S ELECTION OR REPROBATION IS GOD’S SOVEREIGN WILL: ‘The total effect of predestination...depends only on the free will of God,’ such that God could have predestined any ‘of the elect to have truly been reprobate’ and any ‘of the reprobate to have truly been elect.’ Molina proof-texts Romans 9:15-18 to substantiate this conclusion...”
(Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham: University Press of America, 2007, pages 66-67).

Molina argued that election to salvation was unconditional, which means that God elected to salvation those He desired to save...and reprobated the rest of humanity. Notice above that Molina uses Romans 9:11-13 to explain why he believed that foreseen faith could not be why some were saved and others were not. Romans 9:11-13 states that the twins, Jacob and Esau, had not “done anything good or bad”; Molina took this idea of no work, therefore, to mean that ANYTHING, INCLUDING FAITH, would count as a work. If God elected Jacob to salvation on the basis of foreseen faith, then in Molina’s mind, God would have elected “according to works,” thus nullifying Romans 9 (and the rest of Scripture).

The problem with Molina’s interpretation, however, is that he assumes what most John Calvin assumed, and what most Calvinists assume today: that is, that “faith is a work.” In the minds of Molina, Calvin, and contemporary Molinists and Calvinists, if man is elected on the basis of his faith, then “he has done something to receive salvation,” and therefore, he has merited (or earned) his salvation. The end of Romans 9 shows us what the meaning of the “works” mentioned really is: “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, but as it were, BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Rom.9:31-32, NKJV).

So the “works” referred to in Romans 9 cannot refer to faith, for faith is not a work. Here we see that faith is in contrast to works. And if Molina had also read Romans 4, he would discover that Paul clearly distinguished faith and works:

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, his faith is accounted for righteousness...does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, THAT HE MIGHT BE THE FATHER OF ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also...for the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed THROUGH THE LAW, but THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH” (Rom. 4:4-5,9-11,13).

Righteousness comes by faith, not by “the works of the law.”

And why is it of faith? “Therefore it is of faith that IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham...” (Rom. 4:16)

So faith is the condition, but it is given on account of the fact that grace is given as well (see Eph. 2). This does away with the idea that faith is a work, and it is a shame that so many believers and theologians don’t read “works” in the context of Paul’s argument throughout Romans (both before and after Romans 9) before they conclude that faith is a work.

MacGregor then points out the following:

“Thus Molina deduces that God elects people ‘with his holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus’” (“Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 66).

As I quoted above from Romans 4, we see that “It is of faith THAT IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE” (Rom. 4:16). This tells us, then, that it is because of God’s grace (and faith given to us, Ephesians 2:8) that we were called by God. We were not called by our works, but by faith; and we had to confess and believe (Rom. 10:9) in order to be saved. Since faith is not a work (Rom. 4; 9:30ff), and salvation is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), it is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:9). Man cannot boast of his salvation because he didn’t produce the grace OR the faith to believe...he simply exercised the gracious gift of faith that had been given to him (along with prevenient grace).

What does Arminius have to say about election? I’ll get to it in my next post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Somewhere In The Middle," Part III-C: "C" Is For "Conditional" Election (Section 1)

I have tackled the “T” of the Classical Arminian system. In yesterday’s post, I showed how Arminius really believed that the will of man was “maimed, infirm, imprisoned, bent” from the fall and that only the grace of God could free the will. The will then, in the Classical Arminian system, is not seen as “free” will so much as “freed” will (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology”).

In today’s post, I will tackle the issue of election. How does someone become “elect in Christ”? Does God pick certain individuals to be saved---or does He require everyone to repent and believe, and save on the condition of faith? How is it that you are saved, but your next-door neighbor may never be?

This is what Arminius had to say about election:

“Creation in the upright state of original righteousness is not a means for executing the decree of predestination, or of election, or of reprobation. It is horrid to affirm, that ‘the way of reprobation is creation in the upright state of original righteousness:’...and in this very assertion are propounded two contrary volitions of God concerning one and the same thing” (Arminius, “Works,” 2:710).

What Arminius means by the above quote concerning creation and reprobation is that creation was made by God to be good (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Since God made everything to be good, He could not have made reprobation as an intrinsic part of creation (since reprobation is damnation, not blessing, as God made His creation to be). To assert that creation was made to be good, but reprobation (something evil) was an original, intrinsic part of creation would be to assert that God created BOTH good and evil in the beginning. And that contradicts God seeing that everything in His creation was “good,” as well as His own nature (which is goodness).

Now, Arminius speaks against Calvinism:

“It is a horrible affirmation, that ‘God has predestinated whatsoever men He pleased not only to damnation, but likewise to the causes of damnation” (Beza, Vol. 1, fol. 417)...
It is a horrible affirmation, that ‘men are predestinated to eternal death by the naked will or choice of God, without any demerit [proprium] on their part.’---(Calvin’s Inst. L.1, c.2, 3.)
This is also a horrible affirmation, ‘Some among men have been created unto life eternal, and others unto death eternal’”
(Arminius, “Work,” 2:710).

Here we find that Arminius simply disagrees with Calvin and Beza (both of whom he quotes here). I don’t have to print what they’ve said anywhere else, because Arminius gives us their thoughts in a nutshell. He argues against unconditional election, which states that some have been reprobated by the will of God Himself, without the cause of reprobation being the creature (the cause is God).

I want to be fair, however, and print Molina’s thoughts here. This is what Molina has to say about unconditional election:

“As a result, there is no room left for divine predestination or reprobation, if all things still to come in the future are so uncertain to God that it is in light of the part of the contradiction that is going to be actualized by free choice that He is even now going to bring it about that from eternity He foreknew that this or that human being would do this or that, and on this basis bring it about that this or that person was predestinate or reprobate...if this is so, then why, when he came to the section on predestination AND TO THE ELECTION OF SOME, GIVEN THAT OTHERS HAD NOT BEEN SO ELECTED, did Paul exclaim in Romans 11:33, ‘O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God; HOW INCOMPREHENSIBLE ARE HIS JUDGMENTS and inscrutable His ways!” [Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV (Concordia),” Disputation 51, Sec. 20]

Notice that Molina strongly argues that the nature of predestination and reprobation consists of “the election of some, given that others had not been so elected,” and quotes from Romans 11. Molina makes it clear here that he disagrees with the idea that “all things still to come in the future are so uncertain to God” that the election or reprobation would be “actualized by free choice” of the individual.

Kirk R. MacGregor confirms Molina’s view of unconditional election:

“In book seven of the ‘Concordia,’ Molina queries ‘whether the cause 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” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham: University Press of America, 2007, pages 66-67).

This is what Molina had to say in his “Concordia” about the destiny of the elect and the reprobate, according to MacGregor:

“The total effect of predestination...depends only on the free will of God, such that God could have predestined any ‘of the elect to have truly been reprobate’ and any ‘of the reprobate to have truly been elect’” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia,” 7.23.4-5.1; quoted by Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 67).

In other words, being elect or reprobate is not based on faith, but on the arbitrary whim of God. Now Molina tries to soften this blow in his “Concordia”:

“Augustine says in ‘De Libero Arbitrio III, chap. 3, ‘Since God foreknows our will, that which He foreknows is going to be. Therefore, our will is going to be, because He foreknows the will. Nor can the will be if it does not have power; therefore, He foreknows its power, too. Hence, IT IS NOT THE CASE THAT BECAUSE OF HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE MY POWER IS TAKEN AWAY; MY POWER IS MORE CERTAINLY PRESENT BECAUSE OF IT, since He whose foreknowledge does not err foreknew that my power was going to be with me’” (Molina, “Concordia,” Disputation 51, Sec. 20).

He attempts to say that even though God’s free will decides whether one is elect and the other is reprobate, free will still exists, that God does not take away my free will because He chooses one and not the other. The problem with Molina’s theology, however, is that, because God chooses some and damns others, that person’s free will is a will that is determined by God. If God determines that person’s destiny, what does it matter if they got to “freely choose what God had predetermined”? If God foreordained their election or reprobation, and what He foreordains will necessarily happen, then such persons never had a free will, and never had a choice in the matter. And this is the problem with Molina---he wants to “have his cake and eat it too.” On one hand, he wants to affirm unconditional election; on the other hand, he wants to affirm responsibility. He uses Romans 9 as part of his argument, according to MacGregor (“Molinist-Anabaptist,” page 67), but what Molina missed (as did Calvin) is that Israel was in the situation she found herself in because she tried to receive God’s salvation by her own merit instead of by faith (Rom. 9:30; 10:1-3, 11-13).

I take time here to show Molina’s theology because I think most people believe Molinism to be a completely separate system in its theology. Now obviously, “Molinism” is so named because it is distinct from “Calvinism” and “Arminianism.” However, Molinism bears some resemblance to both Calvinism and Arminianism. Some people tend to prefer this system because they think it is the “middle-road” theology they have longed to find; however, Roger Olson disagrees:

“On several crucial issues related to soteriology, then, no middle ground or hybrid between Calvinism and Arminianism is logically possible. Calminianism can only be held in defiance of reason; ultimately EVERY CALMINIAN TURNS OUT EITHER TO BE A DISGUISED FORM OF CALVINISM OR ARMINIANISM, or it slides inexorably into one or the other. Many people claim to be ‘four-point Calvinists,’ by which they usually mean they agree with total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints but rejected limited atonement. When pressed, however, such four-point Calvinists often turn out to have misunderstood the Calvinist idea of limited atonement, and when it is explained to them correctly...they embrace it...Some Arminians call themselves ‘two-point Calvinists,’ especially if they live, work, or worship in contexts where Reformed theology is considered the norm for evangelicalism. By this they usually mean that they affirm total depravity and perseverance of the saints.(This is especially common among Baptists.)” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 76-77)

Molinism faces problems when it comes down to its own theology. The reason? Because it claims that one can “be chosen” and “choose” at the same time in the same way. God chooses from before the foundation of the world...and we choose after the foundation has been laid. The problem with this is that, if God “picks” in eternity past, what does it matter that I choose on earth? God determined what would be before I was even conceived, so, in reality, God has already chosen my eternal destination. My choice on earth, then, is “part of the Divine script.” I’m just “playing my role” on the world stage, awaiting my fixed fate.

To say the least, I agree with Olson. I think that one’s theology comes down to two choices: either Calvinism or Arminianism. And Molinism knows this too, which is why Alvin Plantinga, for example, is a “Molinist Calvinist”...and William Lane Craig, for example, is a “Molinist Arminian.” Even taking on the label “Molinist” doesn’t free a person from the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.

In my next post, I will continue with Arminius’s view of predestination and reprobation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Somewhere In The Middle," Part III-B: "T" is for "Total Depravity"

In my last post, I stated that there is no “middle” theology between Calvinism and Arminianism...but that there is one between Calvinism and Pelagianism---which is called Classical Arminianism. I also stated in my last post that Calvinism and Pelagianism are the two extreme theologies, and that Classical Arminianism is not an extreme theology. It is not man-centered (that would belong to Pelagianism); and, contrary to misconceptions about Classical Arminianism, it affirms that man’s will is imprisoned, infirm, maimed, and bent as a result of the fall...and that, without grace, the will cannot make ONE TINY STEP toward God!!! Arminius (as I quoted from Olson’s work “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”) did not agree with Pelagius and actually separates himself from Pelagian theology. This should dispel of the notion that Classical Arminianism is man-centered and heretical. Chances are, most people who make such claims are ill-informed of Classical Arminianism itself; and I would say to such people, “Shame on you for bashing a view you know nothing about”...

In today’s post, I will begin to cover the details of Arminius’s five-point Classical Arminian theology. I will address the tenets in the order of Calvinist theology, since “TULIP” remains the most beloved five-point acrostic between Calvinist and Arminian theologies (although Arminians rely on the “FACTS” acrostic---see Billy Birch’s blog site “Classical Arminianism” for more information).
First, I will begin with “T” for “Total Depravity.” Regarding the will, Arminius wrote:

“...having turned away from the light of his own mind and his Chief Good, which is God...he transgressed the command given to him for life. By thus foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is under the dominion of this state, the free will of man towards the True Good is not only WOUNDED, MAIMED, INFIRM, BENT, and WEAKENED; but 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’” (Arminius, “Works,” 2:192).

Arminius makes it clear here that man MUST have God’s grace, or else he will never believe. He writes about the depravity of man:

“The mind of man, in this state (the dominion of sin), 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” (2:193).

Arminius uses 1 Cor. 2:14 as proof of his statement. The verse itself in Scripture tells us that “the natural man” cannot “receive” or “know” the spiritual things “because they are spiritually discerned.” In other words, the natural man does not possess the Spirit, and, thus, cannot know the things of the Spirit.
Arminius cites other texts as well: “Rom. i. 21, 22; Ephes. iv, 17, 18; Titus iii, 3; Ephes. v, 8)”(2:193).

Ephesians 5:8 says, “for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (NKJV). Ephesians 4 states, “you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their minds, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart...” Paul tells us that the understanding of the sinner is darkened because of sin. Notice he says that these Gentiles “have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:18). These Gentiles (unbelievers) have “given themselves over,” turned themselves over to all manner of sin. There is no limit to just how much sin these sinners will commit. The phrase “given themselves over” is reminiscent of Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 1:

“because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools...therefore GOD ALSO GAVE THEM UP to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves...for this reason GOD GAVE THEM UP to vile passions...And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, GOD GAVE THEN OVER TO A DEBASED MIND, to do those things which are not fitting” (Rom. 1:21, 22, 24, 26,28).

Mankind willingly fell into sin; and, from that day forward, man has continued to sin. Notice in Romans 1 above that man comes to desire sin so much that he “did not like to retain God in...knowledge” (Rom. 1:28). Men’s minds, then, are truly “darkened.” This is the result of man turning against God and attempting to make himself “God.” In the same way that Nebuchadnezzar became an animal the moment he glorified himself above God (Daniel 4:29-33), so also do we become “animals” when we attempt to live without God. For it is God who “enlightens” our minds and hearts and gives us rationality and righteousness.

Those who desire to read more on the depravity of man should consult Billy Birch’s blog on Classical Arminianism ( as well as “The Works of Arminius” section at the top of the CTS blog page, on the right. Click on “Works of Arminius” to the right under the contributors section. As an aside, Billy Birch also has a blog devoted to James Arminius and his theology. Check that out at his sight.

My refusal to remain so long on the issue of total depravity stems from the fact that all camps involved (Calvinist, Arminian, and Molinist) all affirm that man is unable to accept Christ without grace and faith being given (all groups accept this minus Pelagianism).

In my next post, I will tackle the issue of election (that being the “U” in the Calvinist system for “Unconditional Election,” “S” in the Molinist system for “Sovereign Election,” and “C” in the Classical Arminian system for “Conditional Election”).

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Somewhere In The Middle," Part III-A: Classical Arminianism, The Middle-Of-The-Road Theology

In the last two parts of this mini-series, I have been showing how a “Calminian” theology cannot work (because Calvinism and Arminianism are mutually exclusive systems), and how Classical Arminianism is NOT Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism. Roger Olson distinguished between Pelagianism and Arminianism (see Part II of the series), so Chuck Smith and others who seek to misrepresent Arminianism should be corrected. It is my hope that you, the readership, will aim to correct false claims about Classical Arminianism whenever the claims should arise. It’s one thing to disagree with a theological system; but it’s another thing entirely to expound it incorrectly.

Tonight though, I want us to focus on the words of Roger Olson from pages 61-62 of his “Arminian Theology”:

“It is not unusual in evangelical circles to hear sincere and well-intentioned Christians declare themselves ‘Calminians,’ a combination of Calvinist and Arminian. I have encountered this claim numerous times when presenting Calvinism and Arminianism to classes in colleges, seminaries or churches. Often students ask, ‘Why can’t there be a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?’ To which someone replies, ‘There is---it’s called “Calminianism!” A sincere desire to bridge the gulf that has caused so much conflict underlies this misconception. By no means should the desire for unity be belittled; it is admirable even though its fulfillment is, in this case, impossible” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pp. 61-62).

As I mentioned above, Calvinist and Arminian theology CANNOT coexist in the same system because the two are opposites. For instance, if God determines who will be saved (and consequently, who will be damned), then man cannot choose to receive Christ. In such a system, therefore, no responsibility exists. Following logically the train of thought, then, Molinism (with its equal emphasis on both philosophical determinism and theological indeterminism) cannot exist. For those who wonder why, I’ll say it here: Molinism holds that God “chose” one of infinitely many possible worlds (hence, philosophical determinism) where He knows the choices of man (hence, theological indeterminism), that man will legitimately choose. Hence, the statement “we freely choose that which God has predetermined.” There is no such thing as “predetermined choice,” unless the choice itself is “self-determined” (that is, determined by the person making the choice). If the choice is determined by God, then that person does not get to determine their own choice.

I’ve made the case that Calvinism and Arminianism cannot be merged into a “Calminian” theology. However, I did not say that there was not a “middle-of-the-road theology.” While there is no middle theology between Calvinism and Arminianism, there is such a road between Calvinism and Pelagianism: and that is, Classical Arminianism.

To see that Classical Arminianism is a “middle-road” theology, we first have to understand that Calvinism and Pelagianism are two extreme theologies. Pelagianism states (as Olson tells us---see Part II) that man’s will was not affected by the fall and that man can choose, without any grace or divine aid, to accept Christ. Pelagianism then, only focuses on man in its theology.

But Calvinism, on the other hand, is the other extreme. Calvinism states that God is the one who actively ordains some to salvation (while leaving the others in damnation). God can choose some and leave others because God is sovereign, and, as Calvinists like to quote, “He does whatsoever He pleases.” Therefore, God is the one who makes man believe: He first regenerates man, then man professes faith. Faith, then, is not a condition for salvation, but a RESULT of regeneration. One professes faith because he has been “born again” (to use a biblical phrase from John 3), not because he believes on Christ’s name and must believe in order to be saved.

Calvinism, expounded in this manner, becomes the DIRECTLY OPPOSING theology to Pelagianism (which is not a bad thing at all). This may sound weird for me to say, but if Pelagianism and Calvinism were the only existing theologies, I would be Calvinist too!!!!

However, these are two extreme theologies: one emphasizes “all God” and no man, while the other emphasizes “all man” and no God!!! The truth, though, as I’ve often heard it said, lies “somewhere in the middle.” In this case, if some emphasize “God” in their theology, and others emphasizes “man,” then the truth must involve both God and man in regards to salvation. If divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both biblical affirmations of Scripture, then we cannot embrace Calvinism because it endorses the sovereignty of God (while leaving no room for human responsibility); and, secondly, we cannot embrace Pelagianism because it stresses human responsibility while denying divine sovereignty (the work of God in salvation). I make the remark about Calvinism not affirming human responsibility, because, although Calvinists give lip service to the idea, a “pre-deterministic” theology leaves no room for individual, “self-deterministic” responsibility. If God has chosen what I will choose, how can I actually choose with any measure of freedom at all? If God chooses for me before the foundation of the world, then what appears to be my choice is really an illusion. It’s almost as if, in the Calvinist scheme, humans are just actors and actresses fulfilling the Divine Script: I cry because God determined I would cry, I sin because God determined I would sin, I walk away from God because God determined it, etc.

But Classical Arminianism truly is the “middle-of-the-road” theology that everyone is looking for!!! It not only affirms the need for grace and faith in salvation (divine sovereignty), but also affirms the need for man to repent and believe the gospel (human responsibility). God gives the grace and faith needed to believe, and man acts in response to God’s work of salvation on the cross by confessing with his mouth and believing in his heart that Jesus died and rose for his sins (Rom. 10:9).

I’ll let this be enough to absorb for now. I will explore the five points of Classical Arminianism in my next post.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Somewhere In the Middle," Part II: Clearing Up The Misconception About Classical Arminianism

I was once online performing a google search, and I came across Chuck Smith and His statement about Calvinism and Arminianism from Calvary Chapel.


View the file above if possible. Some of the critiques of Chuck Smith’s remarks will be made in this post, and I want you, the reader, to look at the misconceptions Chuck Smith has regarding Arminius and Arminian theology. I want to do this so as to present my post as theologically honest (which is what I always aim for when presenting problems with opposing arguments).

Chuck Smith presents what he believes to be the theological systems of Calvinism and Arminianism.I read over his presentation of Calvinism, and I would say that he gets Calvinism right---down to all five tenets of it! When it gets to Arminianism, however, he makes his biggest mistakes.

Look at his version of “free will” in the Arminian system:

“Arminius believed that THE FALL OF MAN WAS NOT TOTAL, maintaining that there was enough good left in man for him to will to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation.”

Now the above statement is shocking. Having read Arminius’s works, I’ve come to understand that Arminius NOT ONCE ever said what Chuck Smith accuses him of. This is a gross misinterpretation of what Arminius said.

To show the absurdity of Chuck Smith’s comment, let’s read Arminius’s actual words:

“In his lapsed and sinful state, MAN IS NOT CAPABLE, OF AND BY HIMSELF, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ though the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing, and doing that which is good, but yet NOT WITHOUT THE CONTINUED AIDS OF DIVINE GRACE” (Arminius, “A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius,” Works of Arminius, 1:659-60).

Regarding Arminius, Roger Olson writes:

“He [Arminius] was optimistic about grace, not about human nature! Because of his belief in the fallen human condition of spiritual helplessness and bondage of the will Arminius attributed everything salvation to grace” (Olson, “Arminian Theology,” page 143).

This is what Arminius had to say about free will:

“Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace. That I MAY NOT BE SAID, LIKE PELAGIUS, to practice delusion with regard to the word ‘Grace,’ I mean by it that which is the Grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration...I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, THAT HIS WILL IS STUBBORN AND DISOBEDIENT, and that THE MAN HIMSELF IS DEAD IN SINS” (Arminius, “A Letter Addressed to Hippolytus A Collibus,” Works of Arminius, 2:700-701).

Notice here in this quote that Arminius separates himself from Pelagius. And I think so many people (like Chuck Smith above), confuse Arminius with Pelagius. Smith’s quote above matches Pelagius, according to Roger Olson:

“In A.D. 431 Pelagianism was condemned in Ephesus by the third ecumenical council of Christianity because it affirmed NATURAL AND MORAL HUMAN ABILITY TO DO GOD’S WILL APART FROM THE SPECIAL OPERATION OF DIVINE GRACE. Arminius rejected this teaching, and so do all of his faithful followers” (“Arminian Theology,” 81).

Olson had this to say about semi-Pelagianism:

“Semi-Pelagianism was condemned by the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529 because IT AFFIRMED HUMAN ABILITY TO EXERCISE A GOOD WILL TOWARD GOD APART FROM SPECIAL ASSISTANCE OF DIVINE GRACE; IT PLACES THE INITIATIVE IN SALVATION ON THE HUMAN SIDE, but Scripture places it on the divine side. Arminius also rejected semi-Pelagianism, as have all of his faithful followers. Arminians consider both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism heresies” (“Arminian Theology,” 81).

“The natural and moral human ability to do God’s will apart from grace” is the teaching of Pelagius, NOT Arminius! Therefore, when Chuck Smith quotes what he believes to be Arminianism above (“Arminius believed that THE FALL OF MAN WAS NOT TOTAL, maintaining that there was enough good left in man for him to will to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation”), he is, in actuality, quoting Pelagianism (“natural and moral human ability to do God’s will apart from the special operation of divine grace”).

And what’s so saddening is that so many people just gullibly believe whatever they are told from pastors, church members, theologians, etc., without studying such material for themselves. And chances are, members of Calvary Chapel (no matter where), have read this statement and said, “my theology is just somewhere in the middle.” What they didn’t understand was that Chuck Smith got Arminianism wrong! He claimed something about Arminianism that shows he has failed to read one single article of Arminius’s “Works.” And the impression he gives in his article is one that most Calvinists (and lay people) seem to believe: that Arminianism and Pelagianism are synonyms.

Why is there this need to make Arminianism look ugly? And why did writers David Allen and Steve Lemke feel the need to assert the fact that none of the contributors to the work “Whosoever Will” are Arminian? Arminianism has been mistreated, abused, and misrepresented in the name of those who seek to win many people to Calvinist theology.

Most people have listened to the misrepresentations and said, “Well if that’s Arminianism, then I’d rather be Calvinist.” And I don’t blame them: if I had to choose between Pelagianism and Calvinism, I would be Calvinist, too. However, there’s a problem: Pelagianism is not the only option outside of Calvinism---Classical Arminianism is...and I deem it to be the “middle ground” (for lack of a better term) or the “mediator” of the two extreme theologies (Calvinism and Pelagianism). And along those lines, I will talk about how Classical Arminianism lines up among top theologies in my next post.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Somewhere In The Middle," Part I: The Need for Consistent Theology

I went in the LifeWay store at my institution today, and took a look around at the new books there. Normally, I wait until about 2 weeks after my last visit to make a new appearance in the bookstore. Believe it or not, there are always new books coming in...and every time I visit, there is at least one book that I start to covet and have to fight the urge to buy...

So today’s book that stood out to me, among quite a few, was the new book “Whosoever Will,” which is a book out of the “John 3:16” conference. Dr. Ken Keathley, as well as Dr. Paige Patterson (now president of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas), as well as Dr. Richard Land, Jimmy Vines, Jeremy Evans and Dr. Bruce Little (both professors at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC), and a few others.
This book is titled (in full), “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique Of Five-Point Calvinism,” by the authors David Allen and Steve Lemke. The book has not made it out to yet or any of the other stores, but it is present in the LifeWay here...and probably in the other Southern Baptist seminaries across the country. To say the least, it’s moments like these that make me so thankful to be at Southeastern!!!

I’m in LifeWay, I see that the book is finally out (I knew about it in advance), so I pick it up---and the first thing I did (as I do with all new books that intrigue me) is I read the table of contents. I discovered that some Southeastern professors had contributed to the volume (that always excites me). Then, I read through some of the introduction.

There were two things that stood out to me. First, what surprised me the most (and made my heart glad) was to discover that David Allen and Steve Lemke properly categorized Arminianism, and placed it within its proper historical camp. The writers make it clear that Arminius and the Remonstrants (his followers) were Reformed in their theology---that they were “Calvinists,” which is the term they used. I don’t know if I agree with the label; but the point that Allen and Lemke were getting at is that Arminian theology, flowing from Arminius and his followers, was as Reformed as Calvinist theology. And to that, I say, “AMEN”!!!!

I was so relieved (that’s the word) to discover that these men knew how to rightly categorize Arminius and his theology. Praise the Lord for these men and their work!
But then, they said something else that quite naturally affected me: while these men don’t agree with five-point Calvinism, they also don’t agree with Arminian theology, either!!!

Now, let me say this before I get attacked: I am not one of these “theological crazies” that gets flustered if people don’t agree with my theology. I am not the first (nor last) authority, nor ANY authority whatsoever, when it comes to sound theology. I write and say the things that I do because of the reading and research I have done...not because I think I am a voice in the world.

So it’s fine if they do not accept Arminian theology. But what bothers me is that they accept “none” of Arminian theology, but “some” of Calvinist theology. The writers stated that they remain in the middle when it comes to the two theologies. The opinion of the writers is that, while they accept some Calvinist theology, they cannot accept all five tenets of Calvinism.

But this is inconsistent. The five points of Calvinism all connect into one coherent system. If one affirms the Calvinist definition of total depravity [T] (as being “dead,” unable to do any good whatsoever), then God must “unconditionally” elect (“U” for “unconditional election”) whoever will be saved. If God chooses the number of the saved, then He will only die for those He chose (hence, “L” for “Limited Atonement”). In order to get these specific persons to Himself, God will “irresistibly” win them over by “Irresistible Grace” (“I”). The “P,” which stands for “Perseverance of the Saints,” states that the elect will infallibly persevere, since God elected them. If God elected these persons, then they cannot completely go astray in their salvation. God will not allow them to because He has “fixed” the outcome---and such persons will endure to the end because God has declared it to be so.

But, the moment that you start tampering with, for example, “Limited Atonement,” and declare that “Jesus died for all,” then you’ve ruined the Calvinist system. If Jesus died for all, then everyone must receive an equal opportunity to be saved. How could Jesus have died for people who will never get an opportunity to accept Him? If Jesus died for all, then all must have access to the atoning blood of Christ---which means then, that God cannot “unconditionally elect” certain persons, or use “irresistible grace” (since not everyone accepts the work of Christ). In addition, even those who are now in Christ rejected the grace of God at numerous times in their lives (me included). This truth of experience testifies to the fact that God’s grace is NOT irresistible. God’s grace can be (and often is) resisted.

So to say like the writers that, “We hold to some of the five tenets but not all” is really to say, “we don’t hold to any of them.” The reason is that, if you deny one tenet, you’ve denied them all. As offensive as this may sound to Baptists and Calvinists everywhere, this is the truth. I am just this bold when it comes to my fellow four-point Arminians. I believe that those who hold to four-point Arminianism (but argue unconditional eternal security) are inconsistent in their theology. And I still don’t understand how Israel could forfeit their residence in the Promised Land, but we can’t forfeit the eternal inheritance!

So I’m not just calling out Calvinists on that one; I’m also calling out fellow Arminians who want to claim that they cannot hold to the fifth tenet of Arminian theology. I may upset some of my fellow Arminians with that one, but this is a risk I am willing to take.

So, if “four-point,” “three-point,” “two-point,” and “one-point Calvinism” will not work, then neither will “four-point Arminianism.” It’s either all five points of Calvin, or all five points of Arminius. As Roger Olson states:

“It is not unusual in evangelical circles to hear sincere and well-intentioned Christians declare themselves ‘Calminians,’ a combination of Calvinist and Arminian. I have encountered this claim numerous times when presenting Calvinism and Arminianism to classes in colleges, seminaries or churches. Often students ask, ‘Why can’t there be a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?’ To which someone replies, ‘There is---it’s called “Calminianism!” A sincere desire to bridge the gulf that has caused so much conflict underlies this misconception. By no means should the desire for unity be belittled; it is admirable even though its fulfillment is, in this case, impossible” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pp. 61-62).

Many of the above called out systems (one-point, two-point, three-point, and four-point four-point Arminianism) all attempt to create some form of “Calminian” theology. If both Calvinist and Arminian systems are mutually exclusive, then only one of them can be right; and no “mosaic” forms of “hodge-podge theology” will suffice.

I will continue this mini-series with an often-quoted misconception in my next post.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Moderate" or "Modified" Calvinism? John Calvin and the Doctrine of Temporary Faith

“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no strong testimony to assure them of their adoption. I answer, that though THERE IS A GREAT RESEMBLANCE AND AFFINITY BETWEEN THE ELECT OF GOD AND THOSE WHO ARE IMPRESSED FOR A TIME WITH A FADING FAITH, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, ‘Abba,’ “Father.” Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only forever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion, “ Book 3, Chap. 2, Sec. 11. Pg. 362).

I learned as a child that I should aim for honesty in all things. And that is no different with the Center for Theological Studies. I pray that I have been honest in my presentations of theologies with which I disagree, as much as I am honest with my own theology.

As a result, I believe in bringing out the truth, even if it is cold, hard, and ugly. So today, my readers will get to see a side of Calvinism that few people, if any, are aware of. Today, we will be exploring Calvin’s “Doctrine of Temporary Faith.”

Regarding this doctrine, Keith Stanglin writes:

“The doctrine of temporary faith explains the fact that some people who seem to possess saving faith and presently demonstrate the signs of being a faithful person, occasionally end up demonstrating that they were really reprobate all along” (“Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609” by Keith D. Stanglin, PhD. Leiden & Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2007, page 183.)

In other words, some are given faith for a while...but this was never intended to be forever (hence, “temporary faith”).

Going back to Calvin’s quote, let’s first note his statement regarding experience:

“...for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT...”

So the reprobate actually feel an assurance of faith for a time! Now, even the reprobate can have some sort of assurance of faith. But of course, the assurance the reprobate has is not the same as the assurance of the elect. Calvin makes it clear here that our experiences can deceive us into thinking that some are elect---when in reality, they are more reprobate than we can imagine. In fact, the experiences can be so similar at times that humans cannot tell the difference between the elect and the reprobate.

Let’s go further:

“Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them.”

Here is the doctrine of temporary faith in its fullness. The reprobate receive two things: first, “a taste of the heavenly gifts”; and, secondly, “a temporary faith BY CHRIST HIMSELF.” Notice that Christ is the one who gives the temporary faith.

And this is what is quite troubling to me: the idea that Calvin does not blame the person for their lapse in spiritual things, but Christ. Christ gives it to them, according to Calvin, “for a limited time only.” Christ gives faith to them, knowing that He never elected them to salvation, but let’s them enjoy the “crumbs” of salvation for a time. And, need I remind you that in Calvin’s doctrine, CHRIST is the one responsible!!! This does not sound like today's Calvinism, where Calvinists claim that man is responsible. If they desire to be consistent, like Calvin, they too must say "Christ gave them temporary faith"...and I don't think they can morally commit to that idea.

Not only does Christ give them a “temporary” faith (a defective faith), but He also gives them “a taste of heavenly gifts.” Calvin’s reference here shows us that, unlike most Calvinists today, he believed in incorporating Hebrews 6:4-6 into his theology. The question is, what happens to those who “fall away”? Do they fall away because Christ only gives them a “temporary faith”? Or do they fall away because they choose to walk away from Christ? Calvin chose the former; but I choose the latter.

Finally, the last shocking comment of Calvin in the above quote is thus:

“But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY.”

The last sentence of Calvin’s quote here is the most striking: “He [God] only gives them a manifestation of His PRESENT MERCY.” To John Calvin, God showed mercy to these reprobate---but it was never meant to be “eternal.” It was always meant to be “an inferior operation of the Spirit”...and yet, I could never blaspheme the Spirit and accuse Him of doing “an inferior operation” within the hearts of individuals...

What does all of this have to do with “moderate” Calvinism, as the title of the post suggests? Well, I’ve said what I’ve said regarding the doctrine of temporary faith because most Calvinists today would not agree with Calvin’s take on Hebrews 6; instead, they would just say, “Well, those persons were never saved to begin with,” and leave it at that. The only problem with the modern Calvinist response is that, if a person intends to identify themselves with John Calvin’s theology, then that person must assent to all that Calvin said about the elect and the reprobate---which INCLUDES the doctrine of temporary faith. So, when a modern Calvinist says, “That person was never saved to begin with,” they are disagreeing with Calvin’s theology; what they should say is, “Well, God only gave them a temporary faith,” if they desire to be theologically consistent.

Most Calvinists today label themselves as “moderate” Calvinists; but, in reality, they are really “MODIFIED” Calvinists---for, while holding to many tenets of Calvin’s own theology, they differ from him in some areas (one of them being the doctrine of temporary faith, as shown above). And what “modified” Calvinism shows us is that Calvinism, as John Calvin designed it, has major moral and theological problems. What today’s infralapsarians, Amyraldians, Molinists (and even hyper-Calvinists) have shown us is that Calvinism needs some major revisions. But, for those who choose to remain in the tradition...well, they’ll just have to continue to agree and disagree with John Calvin, all at the same time.