Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who Wants To Be An Arminian? The Dividing Fifth Point (Perseverance)

Today’s post is a small break in the D.A. Carson series I’ve been working on, titled “Exegetical Fallacies in D.A. Carson’s ‘Exegetical Fallacies’.” I have a different desire on my heart today: that is, I desire to talk to my fellow Arminian brothers and sisters about the fifth tenet: that is, the tenet of Arminian theology concerning perseverance.
Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, Director of The Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, along with the other writers of “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism” (eds. David Allen, Steve Lemke, writers Drs. Paige Patterson, Ken Keathley, Bruce Little, et al, published an article titled “Neither Calvinists nor Arminians But Baptists” this past September 2010. (You can find this article on the top right of the CTS main page.) The purpose of this article was to explain why many Baptists align themselves with neither Calvinism nor Arminianism. I read the group’s critique of Calvinism and agreed wholeheartedly. In particular, I thought that Dr. Bruce Little’s argument against John Piper’s view of God and His “Spectacular Sins” (a book title of Piper’s) was a phenomenal critique indeed. I highly suggest you read the book because of Dr. Little’s chapter, if for no other reason. I think the problem of evil is a problem indeed if the Calvinist notion of sovereignty prevails.
What about the critique of Arminianism? There were two main reasons why the writers and editors disagreed with Arminianism: (1) “the tendency of some Arminians to fall into the trap of Open Theism” (“Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians But Baptists,” page 6), and (2) “Our understanding from the five Arminian articles of 1610 is that classical Arminians are unsure as to whether Christians may lose their salvation” (“Neither Calvinists nor Arminians but Baptists,” page 6).
First, let me say that I do think some Arminians fall into Open Theism, but I think it’s a huge overgeneralization to leap from “some Arminians fall into Open Theism” to “therefore, we don’t desire to be Arminians because this is what Arminians think.” There are many Arminian scholars out there, namely, Robert Picirilli, J. Matthew Pinson, I.Howard Marshall, Ben Witherington III, Roger Olson, Grant Osborne, etc., who are not Open Theists. To be Arminian does not necessitate that one will automatically become Open Theist. I could make a similar statement about Baptists--- that is, that I don’t desire to be in the category of “merely Baptist” because not aligning with a group leads to the idea that Baptists do not have a theology and do not study the Scriptures. Sadly enough, as a Baptist, I’ve met quite a few people in my life who fit that description...but I don’t believe that such a view characterizes all Baptists adequately.
Some merely decide not to align with a group because they don’t understand “what all the fuss is about.” Some Baptists remain undecided about the two camps because they want believers to get along and stop finding things to fight about. And so, they think that, by adhering to peace (and a non-fighting stance), they are living by the Word of “The Prince of Peace.” I respect that, but I still think one has to decide where he or she stands on the five points, whether they want to or not. To fail to know what the Bible teaches on these points is to fail to show oneself approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15). If we Baptists can agree that there is one God in three persons, that Christ is the only way to be saved (there is “no other name,” see John 14:6, Book of Acts), and, for example, that God made man and woman to be in union (the Scriptures do not endorse homosexual marriage), then we can come to understand what the Scriptures teach on the five points of depravity, election, atonement, grace, and perseverance.
There is, however, the other point in the article that is worth mentioning:
Our understanding from the five Arminian articles of 1610 is that classical Arminians are unsure as to whether Christians may lose their salvation. As the Remonstrants’ fifth article states, they did not reach a conclusion regarding the perseverance of the saints “cum plerophoria animi nostri”, with full assurance in their minds (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, III, 549). On the other hand, unlike classical Arminians, we are absolutely sure that Scripture teaches that a born-again Christian will be saved. This is why our Baptist Faith and Message affirms, without equivocation, “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end” (art. V, “God’s Purpose of Grace”) (pg. 6).
As damaging as this quote is to Arminians, I must be objective and discuss it. The writers of this article make a very true claim: if Arminians cannot struggle with their doctrine of perseverance and come to agree on where they stand, then statements such as the quote above will always be effective in persuading many to remain “out of the ring” between Calvinism and Arminianism.
In regards to Arminius, the claim made in the article written by the “Whosoever Will” writers states that Arminians did not make up their minds about whether or not a person can lose salvation. However, this is what Arminius himself had to say:
“My sentiments respecting the Perseverance of the Saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh...yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, Whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ...and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual” (James Arminius, “Works” I: 665-666).
Many believe that this means that Arminians do not have a formulated doctrine regarding perseverance. While some Arminians hold to eternal security and others conditional security (believers can fall away), Arminius himself left the question open-ended. He never once expresses that he doubts his followers can come to a stance on the issue; rather, he simply states that it is important that those who hold to his theology convene and reason on the doctrine of perseverance.
Although Arminius only lived a short life (died around age 49), Classical Arminianism today is still divided on this issue. Throughout the last two years, I’ve talked with many Arminians who seem to desire protesting against the Calvinist, but clearly have no stance when it comes to this issue. Some hold to eternal security and use Arminius’s note on “diligent inquiry” to assert that they can be Arminians whether or not eternal security is consistent or inconsistent with the other four tenets in their system (depravity, election, atonement, and grace). Others hold to conditional security and are either considered heretics, unbiblical, or outright dogmatic. Some Arminians accuse fellow brothers and sisters of going beyond Arminius in their claims to conditional security (while going beyond Arminius themselves in their claims to eternal security). But this divide is the exact reason why many do not desire to have anything to do with Classic Arminianism.
The nay-saying about us, fellow Arminians, is right: we do not have a stance. What we have done over the years is put up plexiglass around our notion of security in Christ, instead of subjecting it to the Scriptures and the critiques of others who are respected in the field. We refuse to talk about it, and would rather unite in the other four points that we all can hold to. I am all for unity; however, we cannot unify around a doctrine upon which we take no particular stance. We cannot say that there is “one” God, “one” faith, “one” truth, and “one” path to God...and then, arrive at the Scriptures (the revelation of God) and state that “many positions on this point [perseverance] can be right.” If there is one revelation of God (the Scriptures, the Word) given to us, and we can formulate “one” unified stance on the other four doctrines of depravity, election, atonement, and grace, then we can unify around a particular stance on perseverance. Failure to come to a unified agreement on perseverance in Classic Arminian theology will frustrate our efforts as we seek to advance the cause of Christ.
I realize that this post may be upsetting to some of my Arminian brothers and sisters...but it’s been a long time coming. I believe that theologians should be honest, even about their own views. As a result, I love Classic Arminian theology, the heart and writings of Arminius, and all those who agree with me. At the same time, “open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Proverbs 27:5, NKJV). I desire to openly rebuke my Arminian brethren so as to make us better. We need to desperately search the Scriptures and come to a conclusion on this one point. The only persons holding Arminians back are Arminians themselves. Arminius has passed the torch down to us; now it’s time for us to run with it.


Steve Lemke said...

As a person who is neither Arminian nor Calvinist (smile), let me suggest to my Arminian friends what I suggest to Calvinists, or to the "moderates" in the SBC who align with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship -- DISTINGUISH YOURSELVES. Calvinists whine when they are confused with hyper-Calvinists. Fine. Want to fix it? Make it clear to everybody that you're not a hyper-Calvinist! Criticize hyper-Calvinism. Don't invite hyper-Calvinists to your meetings. Take a clear doctrinal stand against hyper-Calvinists. Then you won't be confused for a hyper-Calvinist.

I give the same advice to my CBF friends who cringe at the "liberal" label. You don't want to be called liberal? Fine. What to fix that? Make it clear that you don't embrace homosexuality as a valid Christian option. Don't invite homosexual advocates to your meetings. Take a clear doctrinal stance against homosexuality (and other classic liberal issues). Then you won't be confused for a liberal.

So now, for my Arminian friends. Don't want to be associated with openness of God (as I was in a recent Founders Journal caricature)? Fine. Make it clear you're not openness. Don't invite openness advocates to speak at your meetings. Take a clear doctrinal stance against openness theology. Then nobody will confuse you with an openness theologian. (It's free advice -- take it for the price tag).

It's always tempting to compromise with someone who is basically on your side, but goes to an extreme with which you feel uncomfortable. My advice it, don't do it. Draw the line in the sand. Distinguish yourself. If you don't distinguish yourself clearly, you'll be associated with them in perception.

Now, about the Richardsonian Synod? I dunno. I thought and had taught on the basis of Remonstrance 5 that ambivalence was the official policy. Someone showed me a quote from Arminius recently (I can't seem to find it immediately) which suggested he was fairly firm in believing on apostasy, and I believe that all Arminian denominations affirm that one's salvation can be lost. Clearly, this tenet of the five, more than anything else, distinguishes Arminianism in the minds of non-Arminians.

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

Dr. Lemke,

Thanks for responding. I have had conversations with Arminian Baptists as of late whose churches actually affirm eternal security. I was raised a 4-pt. Arminian who held very strongly to eternal security. When my mother was alive, we talked about losing salvation. Mom did not agree with the idea and neither did I (at the time). It was when I realized that I was holding to Calvin's notion of "temporary faith" in regards to the issue that I then considered that, if the idea of apostasy was defined differently, I could hold to it. This, not to mention the strong warnings, is what moved me to affirm conditional perseverance.

In regards to Arminius himself, he did hold to apostasy. For instance, in his article XXII titled "The Assurance of Salvation," Arminius wrote:

"The persuasion by which any believer assuredly persuades himself, that it is impossible for him to decline from the faith, or that, at least, he will not decline from the faith, does not conduce so much to consolation against despair or against the doubting that is adverse to faith and hope, as it contributes to engender security, a thing directly opposed to that most salutary fear with which we are commanded to work out our salvation, and which is exceedingly necessary in this scene of temptations...

He who is of the opinion that it is possible for him to decline from the faith, and who therefore, is afraid lest he should decline...suffices to inspire consolation and to exclude anxiety, when he knows that he will decline from the faith through no force of Satan, of sin, or of the world...unless he willingly and of his own accord yield to temptation, and neglect to work out his salvation in a conscientious manner" (James Arminius, Article XXII, "On the Assurance of Salvation," Works II: 726).

It has been my discussions with Arminians as of late that led to this post. There are many Arminians today who desire to wear the label but also desire to hold to eternal security. In my mind at least, someone who holds to eternal security is more so-called "Arminians" are really Molinists. I just want Arminians to clearly define where they are in terms of theology...and stop dabbling into a little of Calvinism, a little of Molinism, a little of Open Theism. Thanks for responding and I pray your comment is read by quite a few readers here.