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.

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