Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting the Story Straight, Pt. V-B: The Divine Pleasure

“Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4; quoted by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 3).

In yesterday’s post, I focused on Arminius’s words regarding the call of man to salvation. I showed in that post that God is the one who gets the praise for man’s salvation, from beginning to end; that, although man must receive the gift of salvation in order to be saved, Arminius never credits man with the work of salvation but instead gives glory to God. Before I get started again today, let me just say that I am surprised that J.I. Packer and other Calvinists are able to make such comments like the quote above in print for folks all over the world to see. And what’s so sad is that Calvinists are completely misguided when it comes to Classical Arminian theology...and most of the world just seems to focus on “foreseen faith” as the reason why they choose not to be Arminian, instead of reading Arminius for themselves and finding out whether or not he speaks truth. If you’ve ever picked up a copy of Arminius’s “Works” and thumbed through them long enough, you could not make the statement above that Packer makes; you would not be able to claim that Arminians hold to their theology because of “philosophical commitments”. Rather, we hold to the philosophy we do because of the Scriptures themselves. Our theology determines our philosophy, not the other way around.

In today’s post, I wanna talk on the topic of “The Divine Pleasure”: that is, What pleases God? What is God pleased to do in the world? If “God does whatever He pleases,” as the Calvinists say, then what pleases God? If we can look at the Scriptures and see what God does, then we can resolve within ourselves that God does what He does because it is pleasing to Him. After all, God is not bound by anyone or anything outside of Himself to do what He does; He is free to do as He so chooses (this is where Classical Arminians DO agree with our Calvinist brethren). In this sense, Classical Arminians, like Calvinists, hold to a form of “unconditional” election---that being, that God did not have to save anyone. He was not obligated to save us, since we are responsible for our sin in Adam (Rom. 5).

I’m gonna stick around Arminius’s words on “The Vocation of Men to Salvation” (Disputation XVI), which is where I came from yesterday. Regarding the way salvation is dispensed, Arminius writes the following:

“The Disposing Cause is the wisdom and justice of God; by which HE KNOWS HOW IT IS PROPER FOR THIS VOCATION TO BE ADMINISTERED, and wills it to be dispensed as it is lawful and befitting; and from which is formed the Decree of his will concerning the administration and its mode. (1 Cor. i,17,18.)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:232).

Why is salvation dispensed as a gift received by faith? Because this pleases God; the way salvation is granted to sinners is the way God saw fit to do things. If He had wanted to grant salvation another way, then He would have been free and right to do it another way. The fact that salvation comes the way it does testifies to the freedom of God, by which He is just in His doings.

In their description of “Unconditional Election,” Steele, Thomas,and Quinn write the following:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. GOD COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE ALL MEN (FOR HE HAD THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO DO SO) OR HE COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE NONE (FOR HE WAS UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO SHOW MERCY TO ANY)---but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, ELECTION WAS NOT DETERMINED BY, OR CONDITIONED UPON, ANYTHING THAT MEN WOULD DO, BUT RESULTED ENTIRELY FROM GOD’S SELF-DETERMINED PURPOSE” (“The Five Points of Calvinism,” page 27).

It is no secret that David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn are all Calvinist (at least Molinist) in their theology, since they argue for unconditional election. However (and this might shock most who read this), Classical Arminians ACTUALLY AGREE WITH THE ABOVE STATEMENT IN BOLD CAPS! We do not argue in our theology that God “had” to save us, nor do we argue that God “could not have done it any other way.” We believe that God could have left all of us drowning in sin, destined for Hell, and God would have been just in so doing. The Lord didn’t “owe” us salvation in any shape, form or fashion. This is the “Reformed” side of my theology on display.

BUT...and this is where my “Arminian” side comes out, we believe, contra Calvinists, that God decided to save man by the exercise of his God-given faith! While it certainly was a possibility of God’s to save certain persons, we don’t believe that God chose certain individuals and passed by others; rather, God decided to save or damn on the basis of faith. The classic passage of all time, John 3:16-18, tells us of the plan of God and His way of salvation: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV). Those who follow in the theology of James Arminius himself cannot say that God was obligated to save every single individual. This would be like saying that God was obligated to save every single Jew because of their ethnicity (Rom. 9), which is a ludicrous statement to make! God did not have to come for every person, but He did because this fit “the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:9,11).

God administers salvation the way He does because “He knows how it is proper for this Vocation to be administered.” God saves on the basis of exercised faith because it seemed right to Him to do so. At this point, I’m going to be more nuanced in my view of election than most have ever presented election: while choosing us is “unconditional” on the part of God, who was not forced to save or choose any, election is “conditional” on the part of the individual, who can only be elect by faith in Christ. While Calvinists focus on the earlier verses of Ephesians 1 which say, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (v.4), they neglect latter verses in the same chapter such as Eph. 1:13---“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” How does salvation come? First, a person hears the gospel (“after you heard the word of truth, the gospel”); then the person believes the gospel (“you also trusted...the gospel of your salvation”); last but not least, the person is sealed with the Holy Spirit (“having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”).

Salvation is never recorded in the Scriptures as coming to us by some predetermined decree from eternity past that had certain names on a list that were labeled
“elect.” Salvation comes when one hears the word, understands it, and, grace going before (prevenient grace), exercises the faith the Spirit of Grace imparts to him or her to believe the gospel message. If God wanted it to be “already predetermined,” then what need would there even be for a gospel message? If God has already “singled out” the few He wants and damned the rest, who needs to believe any sort of gospel?

And this is where Calvinism is seen for the horrid theology it really is. Here is once more, what authors David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn had to say about unconditional election:

“His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation WAS NOT BASED UPON ANY FORESEEN ACT OR RESPONSE ON THE PART OF THOSE SELECTED, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will” (“The Five Points,” page 27).

Notice the phrase in caps? Certain individuals were chosen, according to the writers, without regard to faith. But if this is true, then why is it that, according to Ephesians, that one must hear the word, believe, and THEN receive the Holy Spirit?

“In Him you trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).

Why must any of this occur if God chose to save “unconditionally”? To save “unconditionally” means to save without regard to anything within the creature, including the faith that God provides. So, if Calvinists like J.I. Packer wanna state that faith is a gift (which I too, believe), but God only provides faith to the elect ones, why then, must God provide faith? If God intends to regenerate sinners before they exercise God-given faith, then what is the faith needed for at all?

I suspect that Calvinists have spent too much time focusing on the “pre-creation decrees” of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism...and not enough on the context of Ephesians chapter 1. Maybe it’s high time they do that...

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