Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. II: The Gift of Faith in Classical Arminian Theology

“From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him...hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following...(4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift)...” (J.I. Packer, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4)

The quote above is just a portion of what I quoted yesterday regarding J.I. Packer’s comments regarding Arminianism. I’ve been reading a new book lately, called “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609” by Keith Stanglin, PhD. In it, Stanglin has a section on Arminius’s theology of faith. This section got me to thinking about Packer’s comments regarding Arminians and how they view faith (and thus, interpret the Scriptures).

Before I disagree with Packer, I desire to understand his comments above. According to Packer’s own words, Arminians do not believe that faith is a gift (“there is no such gift [of faith]”) and that faith is not given by God or brought about by Him (“since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God...”).

Now, having gotten Packer’s words precisely, I intend to refute his statements regarding Classical Arminianism. To approach this subject, I will quote the words of Arminius himself. By so doing, I hope to show that all who claim to be “Classical Arminian” will embrace the theology of James Arminius in its entirety---including his theology of faith.

Keith Stanglin writes:

“Arminius underscored that saving faith is the gift of God to humanity...he went on to say, ‘It is a supernatural, not natural, work and gift.’...Arminius insisted that although predestination is based on and in a sense posterior to foreseen faith, nevertheless IT IS GOD’S GRACE THAT CAUSES THIS FAITH, for ‘SALVATION AND FAITH ARE GOD’S GIFTS’” (Keith Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609.” Leiden, Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007, page 96; Arminius, “Works,” I:750).

In this quoted statement of Arminius by Stanglin, we see that Arminius refutes two points: first, he states that faith is a gift; secondly, he states that “It is God’s grace that causes this faith,” which means that the origin of faith is God, not man. This is why “it [faith] is a supernatural, not natural, work and gift.”

Arminius was accused of what J.I. Packer above accuses contemporary Arminians of: denying that faith is the gift of God. Arminius himself had this response to the charges he faced:

“A rich man gives a poor and famishing beggar (egeno) alms by which he may be able to sustain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure, undiluted gift (donum purum putum) because this beggar extends his hand for receiving (accipiendum)? Can it be said with propriety (commode) that the alms depended partly on the liberality of the one giving and partly on the liberty of the one receiving, though THE LATTER WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THE ALMS UNLESS HE HAD RECEIVED IT BY EXTENDING THE HAND? Can it be rightly said, because the beggar is always prepared for receiving, that he can by [any] mode will (velit) to have the alms or not have it? If these cannot be truly said, how much less about the gift of faith, for whose receiving many more acts of divine grace are required” (Arminius, “Works,” 2:52).

Arminius, through this example, compares the one who believes to the poor beggar who receives alms (money) from a rich man. The poor beggar had to receive the money, otherwise, he would not have it; but the credit goes to the rich man who gave the alms to the needy beggar out of his own good heart. In the same way, the sinner must “receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17, HCSB) in order to be saved; but how does the needy sinner’s “receiving” Christ translate to, “he MERITED salvation by accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior”? It doesn’t. Receiving salvation is a response to the gospel call itself; but IT IS THE LORD WHO CALLS! And it is the Lord who has purchased our salvation, who has earned our allegiance and love---because He went to the Cross and took our place, served as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. All of the Father’s wrath was placed on the Son for our sin. He bore our punishment, took our place, and gave us His righteousness; and for that, all the credit in the world goes to Him and not us.

Arminius asks further:

“Who has merited that the blessing be offered to himself; WHO HAS MERITED THAT ANY GRACE WHATSOEVER BE CONFERRED ON HIMSELF FOR EMBRACING (amplectendum) THAT [BLESSING]? ARE NOT ALL THOSE THINGS OF GRATUITIOUS DIVINE FAVOR? And if they are, is not God to be celebrated on account of those things with perpetual praises by those who, being made participants of this grace, have received (acceperunt) the blessing of God?” (James Arminius, “Works,” 3:445)

No one can merit the favor they have received, because grace is “gratuitious divine favor,” or, as we like to call it, “UNMERITED favor.” If something is “unmerited,” then this means that we cannot work for it or earn it. This is where Paul’s argument in Romans 4 about grace in contrast to wages comes in: wages are something someone earns, someone is due; grace, however, is something that someone is simply given by choice of the Giver. Grace is not something that someone can earn, no matter how great the human attempt.

As if to drive home his point about faith as a gift of God, Arminius states that “God destines these means [to salvation] to no one because of or according to his own merits, BUT FROM PURE, UNDILUTED (PURA PUTA) GRACE” (Arminius, “Disputationes Privatae XLI.x). Last but not least, “To say that a person is saved through the gift of faith is not to acknowledge salvation by any merits, for ‘faith and merit are opposed in the Scriptures’” (Keith Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation,” page 98; Arminius, “Works,” 3:583).

We see this point latent in two texts. First, there is the text of Ephesians 2:8-9---

“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” (Ephesians 2:8-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

In this text, we find that the “it” which is characterized as “God’s gift” is “salvation” in the direct passage. However, since faith is a component of salvation, and salvation is a gift, faith must be a gift as well.

The next passage is Romans 12:

“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as GOD HAS DISTRIBUTED A MEASURE OF FAITH TO EACH ONE” (Romans 12:3, HCSB).

“A measure of faith,” a certain amount of faith, has been given to each believer (for the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit).

I wanted to take time to deal with Arminius’s thoughts on faith in his theology to show J.I. Packer and Calvinists everywhere that Classical Arminians do believe faith to be a gift from God, and they find faith to be “caused” by God in the sense that God gives faith to undeserving sinners. But when Calvinists wrongly espouse Classical Arminian theology, it makes me wonder if Calvinists “strike first” in their mischaracterizations of Arminian theology in order to hide the holes in their own.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Great thoughts. Keep up the good posting.

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


Thanks so much for your comments once more.

I highly recommend the book titled "Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation" by Keith D. Stanglin. The quotes as you can see, were drawn from that book and I think that they adequately demonstrate that Arminius was rather reformed in his thoughts on faith. He argues against Pelagius in his "Works".

It is my prayer that one day, Calvinists such as J.I. Packer and others will see that Classical Arminianism really is the middle ground between the Calvinist and Arminian camps. The goal to stain Classical Arminianism is the reason why professors such as Bruce Ware at Southern Seminary attempt to refute Classical Arminianism in their literature (to see Bruce Ware's attempt, read "God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism").

The Seeking Disciple said...

I will try to get that book. And BTW, I agree with you that Packer and Ware (and other Calvinists) often misunderstand reformation Arminianism and paint a picture of Arminius and his teachings in a way that he never taught them. Thanks!

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


As you know, Ware and Packer are not the only ones. Just recently, I uploaded a video from Youtube done by a guy with the username "bberchin." I recommend you check the uploaded video out. He uses the words of David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn from "The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented" to support Classical Calvinism.

The problem with the book itself is that, honestly, the book is full of really bad arguments for Calvinism. I mean, Packer's words are in the beginning pages of the book. And, as we've seen here, what a terrible start to that book!

Surprisingly though, many Calvinists seem to think that the book is a masterpiece! I am thinking right now of a friend's father, a former youth pastor, who loves the book we're discussing here that contains the J.I. Packer quote. He recommended it to this friend of mine and she recommended it to me. I bought it thinking that it was "THE" (and I use caps for emphasis) book on Calvinism, the definitive work that would end all Arminian rants. It turns out that it's really just a bunch of scriptural references. The book is handy if you wanna get the gist of Calvinist argument; it's just a bad source, however, when you consider that the authors of the work list certain scriptural passages without providing an interpretation. There's always more to interpretation than just theology...

Thanks so much again for all your comments here. You continue to bless me...and when I find you commenting here at the site, it provides me with positive motivation to continue what I've started.