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.

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