Monday, August 23, 2010

Pouring on the Rhetoric, Pt. II: The Nature of Modern Arminianism

I promised you, my readership, two days ago that I would discuss what R.C. Sproul had to say about Classical Arminianism. In the last post, I talked about Sproul’s introduction and how he divides all existing theologies into three categories: (1) Calvinism, (2) Pelagianism, and (3) Semi-Pelagianism. I also mentioned the idea that Sproul’s labeling of a possible theological ground as “semi-Pelagianism” shows his disdain for any middle ground whatsoever. To him, one is either Calvinist or Pelagian, even if he or she holds a middle-of-the-road theology (such as Classical Arminianism and Molinism).

Today I’m back to discuss R.C. Sproul’s comments regarding James Arminius and Arminian theology. He seems to do a rather decent job of Arminius and his theology. However, what most disturbs me is his section titled “Modern Arminianism.” Sproul begins the section as thus:

“The Synod of Dort did not destroy the Arminian movement. It spread throughout the Continent and later into Colonial America. It survives to this day and currently enjoys a strong resurgence. IN 1989 CLARK H. PINNOCK EDITED ‘THE GRACE OF GOD, THE WILL OF MAN,’ A VOLUME DESIGNED TO MAKE THE CASE FOR ARMINIANISM” (R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, Fifth Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 140).

Clark Pinnock is the name mentioned with contemporary Arminianism. But what gripped me the most in reading Sproul is that he seems to only discuss Clark Pinnock in this section. Here’s the proof:

“In his own essay, in which he chronicles his personal pilgrimage from Calvinism to Arminianism, Pinnock observes...” (140)

“Pinnock indicates that one purpose of ‘The Grace of God, the Will of Man’ is to ‘give a louder voice to the silent majority of Arminian evangelicals’” (141).

“In his own pilgrimage Pinnock came to question God’s omniscience and foreknowledge” (141).

In Sproul’s section on “Modern Arminianism,” he provides seven quotes (SEVEN) of Clark Pinnock and gives no other quotes from other Arminian theologians. What does this tell us? This tells us that in Sproul’s mind at least, Pinnock is the icon of modern Arminianism. But in so doing, Sproul also betrays himself. Read the following quote:

“It is important to note that Pinnock’s new view of God’s foreknowledge GOES BEYOND THAT OF MOST ARMINIANS, AS HE INDICATES. It appears to go well beyond the views espoused in the middle-knowledge concept developed by the Spanish Jesuit Luis Molina” (142).

Sproul provides an entire modern Arminian section devoted to expounding and exposing the views of Clark Pinnock; but if Clark Pinnock is the icon of modern Arminianism, why then, does Sproul note that his views “go beyond that of most Arminians”? If his views surpass the majority of Arminianism (and all of Molinism), then how can Pinnock accurately be singled out as the Arminian target? How can Clark Pinnock be lifted up to us as the “typical” Arminian?

What’s so tragic about the nature of his presentation on modern Arminianism is that, by singling out Pinnock, Sproul does away with a number of other Arminians who do argue for divine omniscience. Among these would be theologians such as Roger Olson. I took the time to look up the printing year of Sproul’s book. Sproul’s book “Willing to Believe” came out in July 1997. It has been through five printings since then, and the fifth printing came out in 2007. Roger Olson’s work, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” appeared in print in 2006. This means that, for Sproul’s latest printing of his book, he had one year to incorporate Olson’s material into his own work...and yet, he did not. Here’s what Roger Olson says regarding omniscience and divine foreknowledge:

“Open Theists jump on the problem of reconciling divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will by suggesting that the two cannot be reconciled, so God must not know the future exhaustively and infallibly...Arminius did seem to view the future and God as in some sense open. At the same time, though, HE BELIEVED IN GOD’S EXHAUSTIVE AND INFALLIBLE theists argue that their view is consistent Arminianism...but at what cost? Most Arminians have not jumped on the open theist bandwagon because THEY ARE COMMITTED TO THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION! Now, there is an irony! Calvinists accuse classical Arminians of not believing in predestination, but MOST CLASSICAL ARMINIANS REJECT OPEN THEISM PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IN PREDESTINATION” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 197-198).

Classical Arminians believe in the exhaustive divine foreknowledge of God, such that they are not willing to turn to Open Theism as a valid theological position. Predestination, as the Bible teaches, tells us that God already “foreknows” things that later come about. Olson goes on to say:

“Classical Arminianism bases a great deal on Romans 8:29, which seems to refer not to classes or groups but to individuals. God does not justify and glorify groups, but individuals. Classical Arminian theology includes corporate election AND individual (conditional) election based on God’s foreknowledge of future faith (or lack thereof). Open Theism has to reduce predestination (election and reprobation) to its indefinite, corporate dimension; predestination of individuals gets lost...few Arminians are willing to denounce their open theist brothers and sisters as heretics, but MOST ARE UNWILLING AT PRESENT TO GIVE UP BELIEF IN ABSOLUTE DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE, BECAUSE THE BIBLE SEEMS TO ASSUME IT EVERYWHERE” (Olson, 198).

Classical Arminians hold to exhaustive divine foreknowledge and omniscience because “the Bible seems to assume it everywhere.” In other words, Classical Arminians hold to Scripture in their philosophical assessment. In their minds, they do not have to abandon free will in order to assert God’s omniscience. In addition, Arminians do not abandon free will because the Scriptures seem to affirm this concept as well.

All the quotes on Classical Arminianism and divine omniscience are to make the case that Classical Arminians hold to divine omniscience, a concept that Clark Pinnock does not hold to. How then, can R.C. Sproul label Pinnock the icon of modern Arminianism, then turn around and note that Pinnock departs from the traditional Arminian view, while still using him as a valid source of Arminianism? This is a boggling question, indeed.

I think the above questions are good ones to answer because we all know that theological presuppositions can slant one’s understanding of other theological systems. That’s what we find with R.C. Sproul’s section on modern Arminianism: a Calvinist attack of a system that, to him, seems at least “semi-Pelagian.” But the truth is that, according to Classical Arminians, Pinnock (Open Theist) departs from Classic Arminian thought and should not be labeled as the typical Arminian. In the end, all theological systems should be given a fair presentation. We don’t need to caricaturize systems in order to refute them. If we “play fair” in our assessments of theological systems and leave it to the readers to decide what is truth from what is error, then we will not only do justice to the masses...but we will also conduct ourselves as sound theologians in the fear of God. This is my prayer for all theologians who name the name of Christ Jesus.

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