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.


Kaitiaki said...

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate response but let's try it here anyway.

Paul and James seem to be in disagreement with each other. Paul says (Romans 3:28) we are saved "by faith apart from works" and James says (James 2:24) "man is justified by works and not by faith alone." And they both cite Genesis 15:6. "And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."

Paul says (Romans 4:2): "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God." While James says James 2:21): "Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he offered up Isaac, his son, on the altar?" I believe a resolution is possible but it does take careful evaluation.

Could it be that the Arminian and the Calvinist are a little like James and Paul - using their terms differently because their concerns are different?

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Regarding Calvinism and Arminianism, I think you may be right. In my discussions with Calvinists, I have found that advocates of both theologies use terms differently at times. For instance, let's look at the word "unconditional." Calvinists use this to say that God "picks" certain people to be saved. The Classical Arminian, however, defines "unconditional" as God not being bound by anyone or anything outside of Himself to do anything. He is not forced or obligated to anyone to do anything. So, in a sense, Classical Arminians argue unconditional election in the sense that God elects based on His own decisions. Classical Arminians (CA) argue God's free decision to select the process of salvation based on Romans 9. In this sense, we agree with the Calvinist...however, CAs disagree with Calvinists when it comes to Romans 10. For the Arminian, Romans 10 confirms the process of salvation: by faith (Romans 10:9). The Calvinist incorporates Romans 10 as an afterthought. For him, the Calvinist believes God picks and chooses people; but when it gets to Romans 10, the Calvinist says that God regenerates the person, and then they practice faith in God.

You stated that the Arminian and Calvinist have different emphases: I agree that it could be very possible. But I think that Classical Arminianism explains both emphases: it emphasizes both prevenient grace (and faith as gifts-- divine sovereignty), as well as the responsibility of man to believe on His name.