Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part I-B: The Power to Will

“Of course, the Calvinist rejoinder is surely that if one says that the call of God goes out to all and that the grace of God comes to all, then one cannot believe in total depravity. But this is not so, for the Calvinist is once again reading in a priori his or her particularistic mindset. Reformed Arminians agree with Calvinists on the problem. Fallen humanity is ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ Human beings are unable to perform the least spiritual good on their own. We do not disagree on the problem. OUR DISAGREEMENT IS ON HOW GOD HAS SOVEREIGNLY CHOSEN TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT. Calvinists argue that the only way God can be sovereign and gracious is IF HE UNCONDITIONALLY ELECTS CERTAIN ONES TO SALVATION and then effects their salvation by acting on them with grace that cannot be resisted. Reformed Arminians, along with other Arminians, respectfully demur from this understanding of God’s sovereignty. Once again, we believe that caution is required when considering the eternal counsels of God. Calvinists have generally warned that, when considering God’s decrees as relating to the ordo salutis, we should keep in mind that we are talking about a LOGICAL, not a CHRONOLOGICAL, order. If indeed that is so, then what should follow therefrom? The obvious implication is that we are considering a LOGICAL QUESTION concerning how God would sovereignly choose to effect salvation for humanity. When Calvinists look at fallen individuals, they see them ‘dead in sins’ and ‘unable to do any spiritual good.’ Hence, Calvinism teaches that God acts on people in a cause-and-effect relationship with ‘irresistible grace,’ thus bringing about their salvation.

Yet, if we are talking about logic here, then God could have sovereignly chosen to remedy humanity’s situation differently than by the particularistic, cause-and-effect means proposed by Calvinism. In other words, when God saw his fallen human race in as bad a condition as it could possibly be in—‘dead in sins’ and ‘unable to do the least spiritual good’—LOGICALLY, NOTHING WOULD HAVE PRECLUDED HIM FROM SOVEREIGNLY CHOOSING TO REACH OUT TO ALL PEOPLE WITH ENABLING GRACE (often referred to as prevenient grace). In fact, the apostle Paul has said that ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (Titus 2:11)”
(Stephen M. Ashby, “A Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 145-46).

Dr. Stephen M. Ashby’s chapter on the Reformed Arminian view presents an interesting argument here. Ashby says that if, as the Calvinists say it, there is a LOGICAL and not CHRONOLOGICAL order to the issue of God’s election, then God did not necessarily have to “pull” or “drag” the sinner towards Himself, but could use grace, dispensed by the Spirit of Grace, as a way of bringing conviction to all men first, then allowing them to choose Christ second. God could very well “will” Himself to allow men and women to accept or reject His offer of salvation.

What I am so amazed at in regards to this debate is that Calvinists are often the ones attacking Arminians, stating that if God is “in control,” then God MUST have His way—men and women MUST come to Him; but, if God is in control, doesn’t it seem as if MAKING God choose ONE WAY to save His people is a means of DEGRADING Christ, a means of WEAKENING Him, instead of showing His power? After all, if He is the God of the Universe, can’t He do WHATEVER HE WANTS with ANYTHING, including His power? If so, then He is not forced or bound to only save people by force.

This is the same God we’re talking about that sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world. God clearly had it in His power to force man to die for his sins—and live in eternal torment; however, because of His power (and love) He CHOSE to send His Son to redeem mankind unto Himself. He did it because it “pleased Him” to bruise His Son (Isaiah 53).

Ashby’s verse to support his conclusion is one of my favorite verses. In fact, to show how special this verse is, I will place it in the Greek, translate the verse, and then show how the verse fits within the context.

‘Epephane gar he xaris tou theou soterios pasin anthropois'

Translation as words appear: “Appeared for the grace of God bringing salvation to all men”

Smoother translation: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men…”

Now, let’s place the verse within its own context.
In Titus 2:1-10, Paul has just instructed Titus to teach the older men, older women, young men, and slaves how to live godly in everyday life. And then, Paul delivers this verse to Titus.

What does this verse mean? This verse does have a universal offer of salvation included—salvation is AVAILABLE for all men, but it is not APPROPRIATED to all men, since there are those who reject the offer of salvation. This is why Jesus says in John 3:17 that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him MIGHT BE SAVED.” The word “might” implies potentiality—everyone has an opportunity to be saved, but few will receive it.

But if this grace is effectual and overwhelming, why is it that Paul writes this next verse?

“instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous and godly way in the present age…” (Titus 2:12, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Why would the grace of God “instruct” us in anything if God effectually calls people to Himself? If God’s grace, dispensed only to those He desires to be saved (as Calvinists claim) calls them to Himself and they persevere because of such grace, why is it that the grace of God must “instruct” believers? To instruct gives the idea of a child learning. It gives the idea of discipline as well, which is why the words of Hebrews are fitting here:

“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:
‘My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.’
Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—WHICH ALL RECEIVE—THEN YOU ARE ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN AND NOT SONS. Furthermore, we have had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, SO THAT WE CAN SHARE HIS HOLINESS. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11, HCSB).

Instruction involves not only praise and commendation, but also rebuke. In fact, Paul wrote Timothy and told him that this is what the Word does as well:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, FOR REBUKING, for correcting, for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HCSB).

The purpose of the Word is to convict believers of things in their lives that still need to be uprooted from their walk day to day.

But if, as the Calvinist states it, we are “pulled by grace,” then why do we need instruction in righteousness? After all, if God is the One doing it all, why do we need to “know” HOW things will be done (if we’re not doing anything at all)?
The grace of God (by means of the Word) is instructive to us because we are easy to forget God’s Law, His expectations, His righteous and holy standard.

As we’ve seen, God has the power to do whatever He wants to do, which includes the power to will that faith serve as the CONDITION for salvation. Faith is the message of all of Scripture, from beginning to end: even from Abraham, “who believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

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