Wednesday, June 3, 2009

True Investigation

“A common myth about Arminianism is that it promotes an OPTIMISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY. And yet even some Reformed critics of Arminianism admit that they share significant common ground with it. ‘Arminians and Calvinists alike believe in total depravity: because of the fall, EVERY ASPECT of human nature is tainted by sin.’
In his ‘Public Disputations’ the founder of Arminianism declared unequivocally that because of Adam’s fall all humanity has come under the dominion of sin and that
‘IN this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened [attenuatun]; but it is also IMPRISONED [captivatum], 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.’
This Arminian statement alone should put to rest the all-too-common misconception that Arminius and Arminians believe human free will SURVIVED THE FALL INTACT” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology,” pp. 55-56).

Olson’s work on Arminian Theology is all about providing myth-busters: doing away with wrong preconceived notions about Arminius and his doctrine. And one of the claims that has been made about Arminianism is that it is man-centered.
I have been tutoring a friend for a few days now, and she is the product of a Calvinist upbringing. What stumps her the most in Arminianism is, “How can God have sovereignty and yet, humans have power in free will?” She also doesn’t like to use the words “free will” and struggles to see how both God’s sovereignty and man’s choice exist at the same time.

I choose, however, to see the concept this way. It’s very similar to the parable told by Jesus of the servants and the talents.

14 "For it is just like a man going on a journey. (D) He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; [c] to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. (E (Matt. 25:14-15, HCSB)

In this parable, a man is going away for a while, so he turns over his possessions to his servants. Evidently, the man is going to be gone for a long while, so he entrusts his servants with his things until he gets back.

The fact that the servants receive their Master’s possessions does not overrule the ownership of those possessions. The Master STILL OWNS THEM, even if he gives them to the servants. His ownership over the possessions is the reason why he is able to reward the faithful servants and condemn the lazy one when he returns (vv.19-30).
It’s the same way with an owner of a store, who entrusts the care of the store to the manager. The manager may have a lot of power, but he doesn’t have as much as the owner. The manager, then, is an assistant to the owner. He is a helper, one who is in charge of overseeing all that happens in the store. If the manager allows things to get out of control, then he will have to answer to the owner. Despite the manager’s control, the owner still has sovereignty, or rule, over the store. Why? Because it’s simple: if he doesn’t like the manager, he can fire him today and get somebody new tomorrow.

So, even though God is in control over ALL the universe, He has given man control over THE EARTH! (Gen. 1:26-28) As a result, man now has control over the earth—but God still controls all of creation, including the galaxies, planets, and time and space. When we sit back and think about it, we only get to “manage” one small piece of God’s creation. Beyond our universe, there is SO MUCH MORE to see that remains in the hands of God.

Looking to Arminius, we find that he, like Calvin, believed in the total depravity of man. Man’s every ability was affected by the Fall, such that man cannot in any way choose God of his own will—unless that will be assisted, or helped, by God’s grace. So grace is needed to “free” man’s will so that he is able to choose God. In the words of Arminius:

‘IN this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened [attenuatun]; but it is also IMPRISONED [captivatum], 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.’

After Adam and Eve sin in Genesis 3, man’s will becomes bent towards all kinds of evil. We see this with Cain:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you FURIOUS? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do right, SIN IS CROUCHING AT THE DOOR. ITS DESIRE IS FOR YOU, BUT YOU MUST MASTER IT” (Gen. 4:6-7, HCSB).

Notice that now, sin has become a powerful force in the human heart, such that God has to warn Cain about the consequences of his jealous thoughts. We know Cain is upset because the Lord asks him why he is furious. Next, he tells us of the power of sin: “Sin is crouching at the door.”

When I think of someone “crouching” at the door, I think of a frog preparing to jump on someone, or a little kid “hunched down” to surprise his father and sneak up on his back before the father knows what happened. The same image is there for sin. Sin literally was waiting to overtake Cain. However, God told Cain, “Its desire is for you, but YOU MUST MASTER IT.” Although Cain had wrong feelings in his heart, God let him know that he could control his response to those feelings—by not preparing to do what was already in his heart.

What does Cain do, instead? He kills Abel and is banished from his family. He ends up living as a fugitive until he dies, although he is allowed to have a family (Gen. 4:8-17).

By Genesis 6, we see that sin has spread through all of mankind. Violence and iniquity are so great on the earth that God decrees the Flood:

“Then the Lord said, ‘I will wipe off the face of the earth: man, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I regret that I made them” (Gen. 6:7, HCSB).

Why does God decide to wipe man off the face of the earth?


As the text shows us, evil had increased to such an alarming rate that every thought of man was evil. This is in stark contrast to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and 2, who are able to walk in the Garden with the Creator and enjoy a state of perfection.
Sounds like Arminius had a biblical view of the effects of the Fall on the human will.

But, what about the need for grace, you ask? Arminius’s answer is biblical, as well:
“We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the natural man does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, HCSB).

So the natural man cannot understand the things of God, the spiritual things. In order to understand them, he must have grace given in order to hear the gospel and believe on Christ’s name.

“And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. WE TOO all previously lived among them in our FLESHLY desires, CARRYING OUT THE INCLINATIONS OF OUR FLESH AND THOUGHTS, and by nature we were children under wrath…But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, MADE US ALIVE with the Messiah EVEN THOUGH WE WERE DEAD IN TRESPASSES” (Eph. 2:1-5, HCSB).

Look at the Ephesians passage above. When we were “dead” in our sins, we lived out “the inclinations of our flesh,” meaning that we did what the flesh was INCLINED, or BENT, to do. Remember Cain from Genesis 4? Well, after Adam and Eve sinned, ALL OF US became inclined to sin, not just Cain. Sin not only crouched at the door of his heart, but ALL OF US.

So then, if man was dead in his sins and was made alive through Christ, how did his “resurrection” come about? “For by grace you are saved THROUGH FAITH, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8).

So, in order for man to even be able to reach out to God, God had to give him grace and faith. So the process by which man is saved is such that God gives man EVERYTHING he needs to be saved. All God asks man to do is RESPOND with what He has given him. In the same way the Master gave each servant some money to work with when he went away, the Lord expects us to make the most of the grace and faith He has given us. There won’t be any excuse when He returns.

From Arminius’s statement about the human will, it seems that he himself was quite orthodox and Reformed… But sometime, it’s not what the originals say that gets listened to—it’s what the followers say that gets heeded! This happened in Arminius’s case: after he died, a follower of his by the name of Phillip Limborch deviated from the teaching of Arminius:

“For Arminius man is deprived of the ACTUAL ABILITY TO WILL THE GOOD, but for Limborch man is only deprived of the KNOWLEDGE WHICH INFORMS THE INTELLECT, but the will is FULLY CAPABLE within itself…” (John Mark Hicks, quoted by Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology, 57).

Arminius believed the ability was gone, while Limborch only believed the KNOWLEDGE was gone. For Limborch, which the knowledge would come a renewed ability for the human being before God.

But this is Semi-Pelagianism at its best! And yet, Limborch affirmed the OPPOSITE of what his predecessor, Arminius, affirmed.
And it is Limborch’s view that is followed today:

“Unfortunately, so it seems, many Calvinist critics of Arminianism know only of Limborch’s and Finney’s ideas and are totally unaware of Arminius’s own affirmation of total depravity” (57).

And what Roger Olson seems to be getting at throughout his entire book is the failure of Calvinists to ADEQUATELY UNDERSTAND Arminian theology. Calvinists simply don’t take time to investigate Arminian beliefs; for whatever reason, they simply pick extremist Arminians like Limborch and run with them. And this is why Arminianism is called “Man-centered” theology: because, those outside the Arminian camp equate Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism.

All Roger Olson asks for is a true investigation of the facts; and that’s all I’m asking for from the Calvinists—a true investigation of the facts.

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