Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why A "Calminian" Theology Will Not Work: The Principle of Excluded Middle and Soteriological Systems

The Principle of Excluded Middle, according to, is “the principle that one (and one only) of two contradictory propositions must be true.” The Principle of Excluded Middle (PEM)is one I learned coming to seminary, but it’s a principle that just makes sense when applied to all of life. For example, as I was instructed in my theology classes, a light bulb is “either on or off; it cannot be both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time, in the same way.” This leads to a contradiction (where both “on” and “off,” two logical opposites, coexist at the same time in the same way).

One can easily apply this to genders: for the evangelical community, an “androgynous” gender (one that integrates both male and female traits) is impossible, simply because there are two genders in the world---male and female. Scripture itself confirms the PEM on this one; Genesis tells us that God made only two genders. “Male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27, NKJV). There is no transgender, asexual sex.

When it comes to soteriological systems, particularly the theologies of 1) Calvinism, 2) Arminianism, and 3) Molinism, or 4) some “Calminian” combination of 4 points Arminian and 1 pt. Calvinist, or 4 pts. Calvinist, 1 pt. Arminian, etc., the principle of excluded middle can apply. If two things are contradictory and only one can be right (because to affirm both leads to contradiction), then both cannot be right at the same time in the same way.
Let’s start with the soteriological systems of Calvinism and Arminianism. Are Calvinism and Arminianism soteriological opposites? Yes they are. Before I go on, let me demonstrate that both systems oppose each other. We can see this by comparing the five points of each system.

First, let’s see the Calvinist “TULIP”:

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irresistible Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

Now, on to the five points of Arminianism (“FACTS”):

Freed by Grace (to believe)

Atonement for All

Conditional Election

Total Depravity

Security in Christ

Both Calvinism’s “TULIP” and Arminianism’s “FACTS” hold to Total Depravity. The other points, however, are where the two camps differ. While Arminianism says that election is “conditional,” Calvinism says that election is “unconditional.” The “un” prefix in unconditional is a negation of “conditional” (it means “not conditional”). Therefore, “conditional” and “unconditional” election are opposites, contradictions of each other. Since these two types of election are opposites, they are “mutually exclusive” opposites...and therefore, cannot be integrated to find a middle ground. Mutually exclusive systems have, by default, an “excluded middle”; in other words, there is no middle ground between conditional and unconditional election.

What about “Limited Atonement” (Calvinism) and “Atonement for All” (Arminianism)? Can these two mix? On the surface, both are direct opposites: Atonement cannot be for a select few (limited) and for all persons at the same time. These can work together if one qualifies them...but the qualification of both terms demonstrates that there is a surface contradiction to both terms together. Once again, the principle of excluded middle applies.

As for grace in both systems? Calvinism holds to “irresistible” grace (the “ir” prefix meaning “not”; the term meaning “not resistible”). Arminianism holds to “freed by grace to believe,” or “resistible grace.” One cannot say that grace cannot be resisted and grace can be resisted at the same time. This leads to a contradiction.

The last point remaining to discuss is security in Christ. Calvinism holds to “perseverance of the saints,” or “unconditional security,” while Arminians hold to “security in Christ” (in this case, conditional security). “Unconditional” security is the direct opposite of “conditional” security. Thus, to affirm these two is to affirm a contradiction. Once again, as with all the others, where there is a contradiction (two opposing terms), the principle of excluded middle (PEM) applies. By virtue of the above opposing concepts being “mutually exclusive” views, there is no middle ground between them. Where two terms are both exclusive, there can be no hybrid of the two.

All this is to say that the two systems themselves, by virtue of being direct opposites of each other (Calvinism and Arminianism), cannot be combined to create a hybrid theology. And how can we know this for certain?

Let’s take the so-called “hybrid” theology, Molinism, for our test example. Molinism holds to “Sovereign” election, a code name for “unconditional election” (Calvinism); in its view of the atonement, Molinism holds to “singular redemption,” which qualifies the terms “limited” and “unlimited.” The atonement is “limited” (in this view) in that only those who believe appropriate Christ’s redemption; it is “unlimited” in that Jesus died for all. On these qualifications, Molinism is Arminian because it holds to the universal love of God while positing the Arminian condition of faith by which one becomes a believer. So far, we have one point of the system as Calvinist and the other point as Arminian.

Next on the list is “overcoming grace,” the “O” in the Molinism acronym “ROSES.” Overcoming grace posits that one can initially resist the grace of God; however, God will eventually win out and that person will find God’s grace to be “irresistible” and be drawn to come to Jesus. In this sense, Molinism holds to “ultimately irresistible grace,” thus identifying with the Calvinist camp. Molinism, so far, is two points Calvinist, one point Arminian.

Last but not least is “E” in the Molinist system for “eternal life.” This is where Molinism, once again, conforms to Calvinism: it too, holds to the unconditional security of the believer and the eternal security of the saints. The final score of where Molinism stacks up as the hybrid theology? Three points Calvinist, one point Arminian. Total depravity (“R” for “Radical Depravity” in Molinism), is a neutral point; however, Molinism does agree with Arminianism in this regard.

 In the final score, is Molinism a true hybrid of the two? No, not at all: it is (not counting radical depravity) three points Calvinist, one point Arminian. Is this a genuine hybrid of the two theologies? No. If it were, Molinism would not be overwhelmingly Calvinist in its theology. Half of four points is two points. Molinism has three points attributed to Calvinism, so it is beyond the half of the two theologies combined.

 As a result, there can be no hybrid achieved between these two mutually exclusive systems. In the debate, one will either come down Calvinist or Arminian. I suggest that the Principle of Excluded Middle (PEM) is far more underestimated in theology than it ought to be. This calls for a resurrection of PEM in contemporary theology.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is God Limited? A Blog Response to The John Piper Fallacy, Pt. 4

Before I get started today, I’d like to lift up two books that I have been quoting from in this post-response miniseries: (1) F. Leroy Forlines’s Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation and (2) John Wagner’s Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God. John Wagner is a fellow theology friend of mine who has done a marvelous job in compiling the most important writings and arguments of James Arminius so as to help readers who may seem overwhelmed (that’s a good word) by the three-volume set of Arminius’s Works. I own a three-volume set of Arminius and I can tell can be hectic at times. Having said that, this is a source that every believer needs to buy, whether Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist. One cannot claim to know what James Arminius said if he or she is not willing to pay a few bucks to read the actual statements Arminius made. Even theologians with great arguments have no arguments against Classical (Reformed) Arminianism if they do not read Arminius’s actual sayings and writings. There are usually two sides to every story: alongside the Calvinist story is the Arminian story. What a pity that so few people actually read the other side! Maybe that’s what’s caused the Arminian bias seen today in the evangelical world.

Last but not least, for those of you who’ve been reading, yes, F. Leroy Forlines’s book is one of the best Arminian Systematic Theologies one will buy in this century. I’ve read Forlines’s work from cover to cover, and I am amazed that so much could be placed in a volume of its size. Forlines’s emphasis on man made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28) is a theme Forlines traces through his entire work. By the time one gets to Chapter 8 on Sanctification, Forlines will “hit” you with the reality that being made in the divine image and likeness makes us more than “depraved” human beings and “puppets.” Those who argue that man is nothing more than depraved and not worth anything are those who have (implicitly) bought into the idea that the image of God has been completely destroyed in man. Man is totally depraved;  but is the image of God destroyed? Genesis 9, after the Flood, shows the Lord validating man’s possession of the divine image with regard to murder...and God promising to punish a guilty man with the taking of the guilty man’s own life (Gen. 9:6). If the image of God means that much to God, how much should it mean to us??? My answer: It should mean a lot more than the logical implications of Calvinism.

On to today’s post...Philip McGoo has been introduced to the readership here for the last few days. I am very thankful to Philip for the opportunity he has provided me to be able to defend the Reformed Arminianism I love so dear. In addition, I wanted to share with the readers that your comments (provided they are inquisitive and kind) really do mean a lot to me. I value good, quality comments and want you to know that you are being read. So don’t be ashamed to send in honest questions or comments...I am always reading and desire that Calvinists would come to understand that Arminianism is not Open Theism, or “semi-Pelagianism,” or “Pelagianism,” or a theology that denies God’s sovereignty, etc. (any insult made, you can throw in here). We Reformed Arminians do hold to the grace of God in salvation...and we want theologians of other persuasions (Calvinists, Molinists, etc.) to stop “caricaturizing” us and our theology. We hold to divine grace and the divine initiative in salvation.

Philip’s quote from yesterday pertains to the “necessary consequences of conditional election.” I tackled the idea that conditional election leads to “partial depravity.” Arminius always argued total depravity, as deeply as any Calvinist. In today’s post, I will tackle the next so-called “necessary consequence” of conditional election---that is, “limitations of God’s sovereignty.”

Philip’s Calvinism leads him to think that Reformed Arminians argue limitation on divine sovereignty. Did Arminius think this way? I ask this because, if we’re gonna posit that Arminians hold to something, we need to start with the one who is to be credited for Arminian theology---James Arminius himself (not John Wesley, as most assume). From Arminius’s Works we can know for sure whether or not Arminius held to the sovereignty of God...and by so doing, we can know whether or not he was “Reformed” in any sense (despite the Calvinist monopoly on this label, “Reformed” refers to the principles of the Protestant Reformation. Classic Arminians would hold to “sola fide” as much as any Calvinist, placing them within the “Reformed” camp).

So what did Arminius say about divine sovereignty? Arminius had this to say in Disputation XXII of his Works, titled “On the Power or Capability of God”:

“It [power of God] is a faculty of the Divine life, by which, (subsequently to the understanding of God that shews and directs, and to his will that commands,) He is capable of operating externally what things soever He can freely will, and by which He does operate whatever He freely wills” (James Arminius, Works II: 352).

God’s power (sovereignty) allows Him to do “whatever He freely wills.” Arminius acknowledges that, between God and man, God is the most free of the two parties. God is above man and can do an infinite amount of things that man cannot do. There is no compromise of divine sovereignty here.

At the end of Disputation XXII, Arminius had this to say about divine sovereignty:

“But [potentia] the Capability of God is infinite; and this not only because it can do all things possible, which indeed are innumerable, so that as many cannot be enumerated as it is capable of doing, [or after all that can be numbered, it is capable of doing still more], nor can such great things [ponderari] be calculated without its being able to produce far greater; but likewise because nothing can resist it. For all created things depend upon Him as upon the efficient principle, both in their being and in their preservation: Hence omnipotence is justly ascribed to Him” (James Arminius, Works II: 353).

Arminius wrote that God “can do all things possible, which indeed are innumerable.” The word “innumerable” means “without number”---that is, God can do an infinity of acts! Does this sound like Arminius limits God’s sovereignty? Not at all. If someone posits that God can do “an infinite” number of things, where is this limiting God’s sovereignty?

But this is where one finds irony in Calvinism. Calvinism posits that God cannot do “everything.” Why? Because, in their opinion, God cannot save according to conditional election. But is that the case? The only things that God does not do are those things that Arminius marks as “insanity”:

“Those things are impossible to God which involve a contradiction,---as, to make another God, to be mutable, to sin, to lie, to cause something at once to be and not to be, to have been and not to have been, &c., that this thing should be and not be, that it and its contrary should be, that an accident should be without its subject...these things partly belong [impotentia] to a want of power to be capable of doing them, and partly to insanity to will to do them” (James Arminius, Works II: 353).

If God cannot create contradiction, then how does conditional election (as Philip posits) get ruled out of the eternal decrees? Why must God only “unconditionally elect”? Interestingly enough, if you look under the comments section of my earlier post on “Unconditional Election: The John Piper Fallacy in Romans 9,” you will find that Philip himself doesn’t believe that Romans 9 actually argues for unconditional election. Philip wrote:

“I would agree that Romans 9 isn’t enough by itself to fully justify unconditional election.”

Dr. Piper, if you’re out there take note of the fact that there are Calvinists who don’t think Romans 9 convinces us as much as you think it does!

But if Philip doesn’t think Romans 9 makes the case, then what he is doing is drawing an “inference” from Scripture. But if he is drawing an “inference,” and I am drawing an inference,” then what makes his inference “possible” and mine “impossible”? The only thing that would give this declaration is the Calvinist presupposition. One cannot consider conditional election (in this case) because one is a Calvinist, and both natures of election cannot be right (for the co-existence of both would lead to a Scriptural contradiction).

As has been shown in this post, Arminius does not do away with divine sovereignty by arguing for conditional election. He greatly held to the providence and sovereignty of God, and he does not limit God in his words. While Philip’s claim (the Calvinist claim) is presuppositional, Arminius simply argues otherwise and contradicts Philip’s claim. This post provides another win for Reformed Arminianism. I will respond to more of Philip’s comment in the days to come. God bless.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Rich Toward God": In Memory of My Mother, Teressa A. Richardson (June 28, 1956--Feb. 3, 2009)

“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: the ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21, NKJV).

 Today at the Center for Theological Studies as well as Men and Women in the Church, I give tribute to the woman who gave birth to me back on August 21, 1984, at a hospital in Durham, North Carolina. I pay tribute to a woman who loved me from the first moment she laid eyes on me, and gave me a Christian upbringing, with all the love, encouragement, prayers, and shoulder to cry on she could ever have given me. This same woman raised me to be godly, to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind...and to let nothing come between me and my God. She taught my Sunday school class when my twin sister (Danielle) and I were younger, cooked Sunday meals, worked 40-60 hours a week, managed the church finances, sung in the choir, and worked hard, as they say, to “bring home the bacon.” She was a loving and wonderful daughter to her parents, a great sister, and an amazing friend to me and all those who knew her. Yes, folks---this woman is still the queen of my heart after all this time. Her name is Teressa A. Richardson.

On February 3, 2009, mom went home to be with the Lord after having battled breast cancer, lung cancer, and brain cancer for a span of three years. I have cried so many tears since she left me; and I’ve cried a lot of them lately. For those who may not know, I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC on May 20, 2011, where I received my Master of Divinity degree in Christian Apologetics...and I missed her so much that day. I cried all during the service, and I’ve been crying every day since.

Today at the blog is set aside to honor this amazing woman of God, a warrior who has fought the good fight, finished her course, and kept the faith. As I began to think on what I would say about mom, I remembered a favorite passage of hers that she always discussed with her children, parents, and church members. That passage today will be the above quoted passage: Luke 12:16-21.

The context of the passage involves the story of two brothers, one who wanted the Lord to make the other divide the inheritance with him. Jesus tells them that life is about more than possessions. And the parable quoted above fits in at this ideal moment.

There was a rich man who had so much wealth that he just didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it’s no secret that he was blessed. The text tells us that his “ground” (or field) “yielded plentifully.” This means that everything grew. All of his crops that he planted prospered. For most farmers, to have everything sprout and grow would be a miracle indeed, considering the weather that we’ve been having in North Carolina all summer so far! The rich man had “the Midas touch”; everything he planted prospered. As mom used to say about her parents (my grandparents), “they have green thumbs.” The rich man had a “green thumb.” Nothing but prosperity, wealth, and blessing was in sight.

Now, you would think that at this moment, the man would decide to perform some act of kindness, some act of consideration for someone else other than himself. I’ve read this passage and stopped at this point to say, “Come on, rich man; stop and think. Think about all the poor people that needed food, clothing, shelter, etc. Think about those that needed some wood to warm the fire, or some food to carry them over until their next paycheck, or someone who needed a place to stay.” If his crops were doing that well, then surely, he had money to provide necessities for those who were less fortunate without asking for anything in return. Since the Lord had blessed his crops, you would think that the rich man would’ve gone and blessed someone else.

Mom, when teaching Sunday school, would say, “I just get tired of driving down the road every day, to and from work, and seeing all these beautiful two-story homes with nobody to live in them. Does it make sense to buy a two-story home if you’re the only person living in it? And what about the homeless who walk the streets everyday with no clothes, shoes, or food? Why is it that they have to walk by the rich person’s house everyday and see a reminder that the rich person has so much, but gives so little?” She always thought about helping others. When mom died, my twin and I discovered that she had been donating money to St. Jude children’s hospital to help them find cures for child illnesses. She never told us she was doing it; we never talked about it all that much. She just had St. Jude’s receive a portion of her check every month, automatic draft. The money would go to the less fortunate, and she didn’t mind it. She was blessed to have a Batchelor of Arts degree in Accounting and Economics from Duke University (class of 1978), and she was a senior accountant at the corporate plant she worked for. Mom had a job with great benefits and great pay. She wasn’t concerned about the money that was leaving. It was a small price to pay to be a blessing to children who really needed it more than Danielle and me.

But the rich man did not think about it. For him, any amount was too high to pay to bless someone else. He was only concerned about blessing himself. Do you know that so many church members do the same thing today, when they refuse to tithe a percentage of their earnings to the Lord, when they refuse to give God the firstfruits of their financial increase? Do you realize that, when we do not give to God’s church, we are robbing God? Do you not understand that, when we refuse to give financially, we are starving the poor, making the naked go without clothing, the sick children without medicine, the homeless without a home, etc.? Do you understand that, when we refuse to give financially (not just to the church but to the needy and less fortunate), we are acting just like the rich man---as if we could care less?

Well, he couldn’t care less, he decided to do what all greedy people do: instead of thinking “go smaller,” he decided, “I know what I’ll do; I’ll do it bigger this time!” So he decided to tear down the barns he had (which were overflowing) and build bigger ones. I think that he should’ve looked at the bigger barns and gotten the hint. But greediness clouds sound judgment...and when someone is greedy through and through, there’s nothing anyone can do to turn them around.

But little did he know that, although he would plan to build those bigger barns, he would not get to enjoy them. The very night he intended to lay down, eat, drink, and be merry, the Lord required him to stand before Him and be judged for what he had done with his life. Isn’t that interesting? Instead of spending his last moments making a difference, he decided to spend his last moments on earth thinking about himself. He had studied “ME-ology” way too much!!!

How many times have we heard of stories of individuals doing the same things? How many times have we heard of people making plans to do much of nothing...and then, dying the very night the plans are made? One of my mother’s coworkers had planned to move to the company headquarters. He and his wife had gotten the UHaul, packed it, and were driving to Indiana where he was scheduled to get a bigger job with better benefits. He was not saved though, and all that week leading up to his departure, the Lord sent men and women to witness to him about the Lord, His gospel, and the need for this man to be saved and turn from sin to salvation. The man would listen to the pleas, but he did not respond. The last day at work, the women in the finance department (where my mother worked) witnessed to him again, but no response. Finally, it was after he and his wife got to Indiana that he died. He stepped out of the truck, pulled down the back of the truck to begin unpacking, and fell dead right on the grass with a heart attack. He had been planning to enjoy the new job, new promotion, and new home...but he did not get one hour to enjoy it!!

And this is what happens to folks when they are rich in material possessions, and not rich where it counts---toward God. Mom was rich toward God. She loved the Lord with all her heart, served Him with all of her strength, and put Him before everyone else in her life. I sure hate that each and every one of you never got the chance to know her here. She had a relationship with the Lord that just made you envy her walk with God. I’ve been around a lot of people in my life...but very few have ever made me jealous of their walk with the Lord. Mom was one of those people.

If she could talk to us today, if she could speak a word to those who are reading, she would say, “Be rich toward God. Store up treasure in heaven, not on earth. Be busy doing the work of the Lord. Serve Him fervently, and put Him before all things. Acknowledge His goodness and share His gospel with the lost of the world. And one day, when the Lord returns for you, you will hear the words, ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant.’” My prayer for us all is that we will be busy doing the Lord’s work, always abounding in the work of the this way our labor will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). God bless.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Is the Nature of Predestination? A Lesson in Hermeneutics

The Doctrine of Predestination is one of the most controversial doctrines in the contemporary church. 

But in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, the term itself (Grk. proorizo) is often tossed two and fro between the two camps, Calvinists using it to affirm unconditional predestination, Arminians using it to confirm conditional predestination. In this post, however, I desire to temporarily silence both camps; a good word study on proorizo will clear the air and help both camps come to see that, stripped of all presuppositions, proorizo is a neutral term used in the Scriptures. Those of both the Calvinist and Arminian persuasion must admit that they make theological and philosophical inferences regarding the nature of predestination when coming to their convictions about unconditional/conditional predestination.

The first verse discussed regarding predestination is Romans 8:29:

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29, NKJV).

Notice that the goal of predestination is sanctification (“to be conformed to the image of His Son”). The believers, those God foreknew from eternity, He predestined (predetermined) that these would grow in sanctification. And verse 30 tells us that the end of the road is glorification. This passage states that the path of the believer is predestined. But where does it ever tell us that He predestined some individuals to believe? Rather, context states that those He foreknew (who would love God, Rom. 8:28) are predestined to sanctification (and glorification). This verse says nothing about God predestining certain ones to believe. God makes the initiative in salvation, and the Spirit draws individuals to Himself (John 6:44)...but individuals must respond in faith to the call of God (Rom. 10:9; John 3:16). God is not going to “force” anyone to believe. From this verse at least, it seems as if sanctification and glorification are predestined, not the faith of the individual.

Next, Ephesians 1:5---

“having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

Who is the “us” of Ephesians 1:5? The answer? “The saints who are in Ephesus” (Eph. 1:1). The “us” of Ephesians 1:5 refers to the saints, the believers, the church.

Next, what are believers predestined “to”? What is the goal of predestination for the believer? “adoption as sons by Jesus Christ.” Adoption only comes “by, in, through” (Greek preposition en) Christ. Christ, then, is what makes adoption possible. The logical inference from this, then, is that, if Christ makes adoption possible, then, without Christ, adoption to sonship would not be possible.

The last verse studied on the subject will be Ephesians 1:11---

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

How have believers obtained an inheritance? “In Him.” How does one join himself or herself to Christ? By faith (Romans 5:18; 10:9). The passage of Ephesians 1 is Christocentric: Paul describes the saints as faithful “in Christ Jesus” (v.1); believers have been given every spiritual blessing “in Christ” (v.3); believers were made elect “in Christ” from eternity past (v.4); believes were predestined to sonship “by Jesus Christ”(v.5); God made us accepted “in the Beloved,” referring to Christ (v.6); we have redemption and forgiveness of sins “in Him” (v.7); and “in Him” we have inherited eternal life (v.11). The emphasis of this passage has been thrown on the words “chosen...before the foundation of the world”; but the real emphasis should be placed on the words “in Him,” “in Christ Jesus,” “by Jesus Christ,” “in the Beloved,” etc. Christ is the center and focus of Ephesians 1, not certain individuals selected (as sinners) before time on the basis of unconditional election.

From the three texts we have seen, the Doctrine of Predestination is biblical indeed; but the term itself is directly neutral when used in the Scriptures. From the few texts above, however, particularly in Ephesians, one can note that predestination is tied to believers instead of unbelievers selected in eternity. While the Scriptures do not directly define the nature of predestination, there is good scriptural evidence to confirm that predestination is conditioned upon 1) The Lord’s foreknowledge of man’s sin, 2) the decree to bestow faith and salvation upon those who would believe (John 3:16-18; Eph. 2:8-9), 3) and divine foreknowledge of which specific individuals would believe and which would not.

This is what James Arminius had to say regarding specific predestined individuals:

“We circumscribe the Persons within the limits of the word ‘believers,’ which presupposes sin: for no one believes on Christ except a sinner, and the man who acknowledges himself to be that sinner. (Matt. 9:13; 11:28)...But we give the name of ‘believers,’ not to those who would be such by their own merits or strength, but to those who by the gratuitous and peculiar kindness of God would believe in Christ (Rom. 9:32; Gal 2:20; Matt. 11:25; 13:11; John 6:44; Phil. 1:29)” (James Arminius, quoted by John Wagner, Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011, pages 9-10).

In other words, those who “believe” must acknowledge that they are a sinner prior to salvation (Rom. 6:23; John 8:34-36), and that only faith in Jesus Christ can save them (John 3:16). Therefore, the following syllogism can be created:

Premise #1: Those who are saved are predestined.

Premise #2: Salvation is conditioned upon faith in Jesus (John 3:16).

Premise #3: If predestination is tied to salvation, and salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9), then predestination is tied to believers (that is, those who believe).

Now, this is making an indirect logical inference about the Scriptures. But it is not unfounded. The term is directly neutral in Scripture. One will never find “conditional predestination” or “unconditional predestination” in the New Testament; nevertheless, one can make an inference based on what Scripture provides. Inferences in general are not bad; rather, it is how inferences are formed that determines whether or not they are bad. God bless.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hermeneutics and Word Study: Helkuo in the Gospel of John

As a student of Greek for the first time back in August of 2006, I realized the first day of class that I had a lot of growing up to do! Greek was hard work. Though it was a good language and fun to learn, I had much to learn: word meanings, syntax, exegesis (did not know what “exegesis” was!), etc. I was a babe in all words Greek. Today, however, the days of Greek 1 are far behind me; I’ve learned much about Greek (and sound hermeneutics and exegesis) since then...but the fundamental lessons I’ve learned have stuck with me all through these last five years---and they’ve not steered me wrong yet.

In today’s post, I am tackling the Calvinist prooftext of John 6. No matter what you read in Calvinist literature, John 6 (like Romans 9) is another passage that the Calvinist has unfortunately taken out of context. And it all revolves around one word: the Greek word helkuo, which can mean either “draw” or “drag.”

Forlines summarizes the claim of Robert W. Yarbrough:

“According to Yarbrough, the word helkuo describes an irresistible drawing. He explains that the word appears only one place outside of John’s gospel, in Acts 16:19 (‘they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace,’ [NASB]. The Gospel of John uses helkuo, Yarbrough argues, ‘to speak of persons being drawn to Christ (12:32), a sword being drawn (18:10), and a net full of fish being hauled or dragged to shore (21:6, 11).’ Furthermore, Yarbrough argues, helko, a related word, ‘appears in Acts 21:30 (‘they dragged him from the temple’) and James 2:6 (‘Are thy not the ones who are dragging you into court?’). It is hard to avoid the impression that John 6:44 refers to a “forceful attraction” in bringing sinners to the Son’” (Robert W. Yarbrough, quoted by F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 159).

The word helkuo is found in John 6:44, so John 6 becomes the context of the word and the verse itself.

In the context of John 6, we find Jesus emphasizing again and again that He is the One the Father has sent, and that the Jews must believe in Him to have eternal life. In verse 27, Jesus tells the Jews that “God the Father has set His seal on Him” (NKJV), referring to Himself. The Father has given His “seal of approval” to Jesus, and we see this at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). They ask Jesus what they could do to do the right works and He responds, “Believe on Him whom He has sent” (Jn. 6:29). They listen to Jesus’ teaching that He is the Bread of Life, better than the bread the Jews ate in the wilderness (vv.32-35), but they still reject Him because He is “the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know” (v. 42). Jesus then tells them that the only way one can come to receive Him is if “the Spirit draws him” (v. 44); He then proceeds to continue emphasizing that He is the Bread of Life (vv. 48-51). In verse 52, the Jews still do not understand Jesus’ teaching that He is the Bread of Life, and that He would give His flesh for the world (atonement via crucifixion). Next, He tells them that one must “eat His flesh and drink His blood” in order to have life (a reference to “partake” of His very life via faith).

In verse 60, they stop murmuring and ask, “Who can understand it [Jesus’ teaching]?” At this point, Jesus addresses the crowd: “there are some of you who do not believe” (v.64). This is the reason He emphasizes that “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted by My Father” (v.65).

Verse 44 (which is the Calvinist prooftext verse) and verse 65 confirm that it is the “Father” grants individuals to come to the Son. Robert Yarbrough above points to John 6:44 and argues that it affirms the Calvinist notion of irresistible grace. But this cannot be true for two reasons: first, if it is true, then it contradicts Acts 7:51, which argues that one can “resist the grace of God” (in Acts 7, it is the Jews who hear Stephen’s sermon that resist). If the Scriptures contain both resistible and irresistible grace (it’s exact opposite), then the Scriptures affirm a contradiction. And yet, the Word is not contradiction, but “truth” (John 17:17).

Since the Scriptures cannot contradict, there has to be some other meaning of the word “helkuo” that will not allow it to mean “irresistible drawing.” Not only must it refer to a “resistible drawing” or else the Scriptures contradict, but it must also affirm a “resistible drawing” because of the context.

With Jesus’ statements that one cannot come unless the Father draws him (v.44) and that one cannot come unless the Father grants it (v.65), Jesus is saying that one cannot, of his or her own intellect and ability, come to Christ without divine aid. In verse 36, Jesus indicts the Jews for not believing in Him: “you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” Does this imply irresistible grace? I think not. Clearly, the truth has been revealed to them and yet, they still seem to murmur against Jesus’ teaching and deem it hard to understand (Jn. 6:41-42, 52, 60). What this shows them is that they cannot believe without divine aid. One cannot understand the teachings of Jesus (or the Scriptures in their fullest sense) without the Holy Spirit.

But once again, this does not imply irresistible grace. If those who did not believe needed clarification, they could have asked the Lord to further explain Himself. Instead, John tells us that after Jesus’ spoke about Himself, “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (v.66). And then, as if Jesus was eliminating the idea of irresistible grace, He asked His chosen disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (v.67)

One could easily think that those who did not believe left and walked away because “they were never saved to begin with”; however, what does one do with Jesus’ own chosen disciples? The fact that Jesus asks them about departing from Him demonstrates that grace was not irresistible. Why would Jesus ask them a question of such a serious nature (regarding faith and salvation) if the goal was to ask them about something they could not do? If Calvinism is right, then Jesus’ question about departing from union with Him was rhetorical and not meant to give an answer...and yet, Simon Peter responds:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also, we have come to believe and know that you are Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69).

Why is it that Peter and the others refuse to depart from Jesus? Because they have found Him to be the Messiah, the One the Old Testament Scriptures foretold, the One whom all of Israel anticipated to come. They did not need to depart because they found what they were looking for in Jesus Christ Himself.

Yarbrough’s claim that helkuo refers to an irresistible drawing because all the other references to the word do in the New Testament may seem like a persuasive argument to some; but anyone who knows proper language syntax also knows that word meaning is dictated by context. The context of John 6 indicts the Jewish audience for not believing in Jesus, and argues that the misunderstanding of the Jews regarding Jesus’ teaching proves that one cannot come unless the Spirit draws him. This explains why many leave Jesus: they do so not because they were offended at His message of “irresistible grace”; instead, some of the other disciples leave Jesus because His answers do not appeal to them. They came to Jesus wanting to know “what works of God” they could do in order to be saved (Jn. 6:29); but instead of Jesus giving them a list of good deeds they could perform, He told them of faith. What could they do to be saved? Nothing but believe in the Son of God. They were turned off because Jesus’ message was not one of works-salvation, but faith-salvation. And the natural man cannot understand the things of God, unless the Spirit is with him (1 Cor. 2:10-12).

If helkuo does not refer to irresistible grace, then it must confirm the rest of Scripture on resistible grace (Acts 7:51). In addition, Calvinism as a soteriological system is damaged by John 6:44, and Reformed Arminianism (the soteriological system to which I ascribe) remains intact. Reformed Arminianism posits that no one can come to Jesus unless drawn to Christ by the Spirit. In addition, we would affirm that grace is resistible and that one can either accept or reject the gospel of Christ. At least on this one point (not to mention all the others), Reformed Arminianism has it right...

Friday, June 24, 2011

"The Cutoff Date": The Exclusivist Response to the Inclusivist Confusion

Some time ago, I read a post from an inclusivist who attempted to defeat the exclusivist argument by creating confusion and complexity. The argument went something like this (my paraphrase):

 “Exclusivists often say that one needs to believe in Jesus in order to be saved. But if this is true, what about those who believed in Yahweh who were also alive at the coming of Christ? Where’s the cut-off date whereby someone could be saved through faith in Yahweh versus salvation through faith in Jesus?”

This response was designed to knock-out the exclusivist view of salvation. The argument’s purpose was to say, “If you take the path of exclusivism, things get too complicated; so here’s an easier path.” What was the easier path? Inclusivism!

I had read the argument from several inclusivists before, and had read the same argument from some inclusivists since then; but I did not know at the time how to answer the question. For me, it was beside the point: the question is, “Can one place faith in someone else except Jesus and be saved by Jesus?” For me, the answer was “no,” so I didn’t need to bother with the question. I just believed that the question was another inclusivist ploy designed to knock down the exclusivist argument. No worries.

But while reading F. Leroy Forlines’s Reformed Arminian systematic theology this week, I discovered the answer to the question that the blog post provided. It might have taken me some time to get my mind around the question, but the Lord has graced me to do it...and now, I’m back to answer the question, “Where’s the Cutoff Date?”.

So, what about those who believed in Yahweh who were still alive in Jesus’ day? F. Leroy Forlines writes:

“Another thing that we must keep in mind is that some of the Jews who heard Jesus had been saved as Old Testament saints, and were saved prior to the time that they met Jesus. These people would have believed in Jesus when they were confronted with His miracles and His teachings. They became His followers” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 153).

In another place, Forlines reiterates:

“...many who were living when Jesus came were already saved. Their heart was right with God. They were submissive to God. When they met Jesus, saw His miracles, and heard His teachings, they believed in Him. It was this kind of people that Jesus had in mind when He said in John 7:17, ‘If any man is willing to do His [the Father’s] will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak of myself’ (NASB)” (Forlines, Classical Arminianism, page 162).

Forlines has a point here that is worth noting. Scripture itself indicates such “Yahweh” believers who awaited the time of the Messiah. One such example is Simeon. According to Luke’s Gospel, Simeon was one who was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel,” Jesus Christ (Luke 2:25, NKJV). John’s Gospel provides another powerful example. The Samaritan woman was waiting for Jesus, too. In her conversation with Jesus, the Samaritan woman confided, “I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things” (John 4:25). Last but never least, we cannot forget John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ. John told the people he preached to in the wilderness that One was coming after him, who was indeed the Christ, and would baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire (Luke 3:15). Back to the temple scene, days after Jesus’ circumcision, Anna the prophetess “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). It appears that many were believers in “Yahweh” who were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Messiah to earth. These individuals would serve as examples of those who were members of the “threshold” generation---that is, those who believed in Yahweh, but would now need to place their faith in the fullest revelation of Yahweh God, that being Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself on earth spoke of this threshold group. In John 6:37, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Calvinists use this verse to refer to unconditional election and the Calvinism/Arminianism debate; but this verse could also be used with regards to the subject at hand---that is, the threshold generation of Yahweh believers. These Yahweh believers, Jesus states here, would come to Him (Jesus), and He would never throw them out of His kingdom. Why would the Father give a people to Jesus? Because these individuals first came to Yahweh. That is, in the pre-Christ era, many believed in Yahweh, for Yahweh was the fullest expression of salvation they had known. Hearing about Jesus and reading about Jesus in their version of the Scriptures made them all the more anxious to meet God’s fullest revelation when He was born in that “little town of Bethlehem.”

Jesus spoke of the threshold generation that the Father gave to Him: “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). In this verse alone, Jesus cites Isaiah 54:13 to show the Jews that their Hebrew Scriptures foretold of His coming. Since Jesus Himself was God’s fullest revelation, they could not learn from the Father without coming to Him. In other words, by using Isaiah 54, Jesus was claiming to be divine deity. If they learned from Yahweh, they would come to Jesus. Why? Because their Scriptures testified to Jesus as being divine and proceeding from God. John would later write in 1 John 5 that “he who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10). There was nothing complicated about the matter to the threshold generation: they always knew that Messiah was coming. God’s revelation (even in their Old Testament Scriptures) was unambiguously clear concerning the arrival and birth of Jesus Christ.

So, again, “Where’s the cutoff date?” The cutoff date consisted with those who were alive at the time of Christ’s coming. That generation that believed in Yahweh, knew their Scriptures and knew that the Messiah was soon to come, mark the dividing line between those who only believed in “Yahweh” versus those who would now have to transfer faith from Yahweh to Jesus. Scripture itself does not complicate the matter. Scripture is not too complex for comprehension. As my final note, though, let me say that regarding those who died believing in Yahweh and those who transferred faith to Jesus...God was not unfair in allowing one to die with less revelation than another. The emphasis is not on the amount of revelation, but what is done with the revelation given. At the same time, let me be clear about our contemporary world: God once overlooked the lack of revelation; now that Christ is come, God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). One day, Christ will return to judge the world, and it is this just judge every man, woman, boy, and girl will have to stand before to give an account of the deeds they have done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

I sympathize with the inclusivist argument; I too, desire that people not be damned to hell for not believing in God when they could not; however, at the same time, I do not believe these individuals will be able to say, “I didn’t know.” The Lord is the Lord of all creation, and He can manifest Himself to those who do not have the necessary resources. Did Christ not die for them? Does Christ not love them? We can emphasize Christ’s love for those who may be spiritually handicapped (without a human messenger and Bible) without denying the necessity of the gospel and faith for salvation. I would rather leave it to God to take the gospel where humans cannot travel, than to deny and erase the gospel in order to widen the umbrella of the saved. Which is stronger: the free will of man, or the sovereignty of God??

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Responding to the Objections: A Blog Response to the John Piper Fallacy Post, Pt. 3

All of the John Piper frenzy here at The Center for Theological Studies started with my post titled “Unconditional Election: The John Piper Fallacy in Romans 9.” For the last four days, there have been some estimated near 250 visits to the site. Who knew the outcome of just one post?

Since then, I have spent some three days or so responding to comments made by a “Philip McGoo,” a gentleman who was quite proud to tell me he was a Calvinist...and yet, he had the humility to desire correspondence with me in the comments section of that post. Please visit that post and see the 6 comments or so posted there.

I’ve been showing (with Philip as the example) that so few Calvinists really know what Classical or Reformed Arminianism really is. Most have never even heard of the words “Reformed” and “Arminian” put together, and there are some that even think the label is a contradiction or a misnomer. This does nothing to degrade the soteriological system of James Arminius; rather, what it shows is that very few Calvinists (if any at all) read anything but Calvin’s Institutes and books written by contemporary Calvinists (such as John Piper, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, etc.). But is this not a biased approach to studying theology? Is Calvinism the only theology available today? No. Rather, it is one of a few theologies that, like the others, must be subjected to Scripture. This places Calvinism on the same level as the other soteriological systems.

In this post, however, I’m gonna talk about the remainder of Philip’s comment on the John Piper post: that is, his remaining words regarding the texts of John 6 and Romans 8:

“You speak of conditional and unconditional election as if they were two paths, and it is just as easy to take one as the other. I just wonder if you've thought of the necessary consequences of conditional election, ie. partial depravity, limitations of God's sovereignty, possibility of losing salvation (which I think Romans 8 and John 6 make a fairly strong case against).”

I’ve already refuted the notion that Reformed Arminianism leads to “partial depravity.” I’ve also done away with the critique that the Arminian system leads to “limitations of God’s sovereignty.” In this post, I will deal with the “possibility of losing salvation”---what the Scriptures refer to as “falling away” or “apostasy.”

The biblical text, unfortunately for Philip, does not provide the assumptions he confidently assumes the text does. When one looks in John 6, for example, it is true that there were those with Jesus who did not believe (Jn. 6:64); however, this is not the only group Jesus addresses. In verse 67, Jesus asks His own disciples, “Do you also want to go away?”

The question before us is this: were Jesus’ words in John 6:67 true or not? Could the disciples leave following Christ or not? There is no question that the disciples believed on Him, for Peter gives the answer for the group (vv.68-69); the question is, “Was it possible for the disciples to turn back from following Christ?” 

It is at this moment that some may say, “But you can’t lose your salvation.” But why is this merely “assumed”? Philip seems to think it is. But in his comment to me, he doesn’t explain why Jesus was not asking a real question of real possibility to the disciples. Instead, he sweeps everything together and says, “John 6 argues against your view.” This is called “the fallacy of cavalier dismissal,” where someone says “You’re wrong” and proceeds to continue on as if they’ve proven their point. But Philip did not prove his point. What one has to prove is that Jesus asks a hypothetical question in John 6:67. It seems that he doesn’t, for Peter then answers the question. Evidently, Peter didn’t think it was hypothetical, or a trick what gives us believers the right to believe this in the current day? Philip is not alone. Calvinists have simply assumed such questions were hypothetical without answering the Arminian questions. Why is this so? How can one be right because “one thinks he’s right”? Where’s the logic in that, exactly?

Now, on to Romans 8. Philip believes that this text, too, argues in favor of the Calvinist view. But does it? The famous verse I’ve heard quoted by professors and students alike is Romans 8:35-39, where Paul says that he is convinced that “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NKJV). But how does this translate into an argument in favor of eternal security? If Romans 8:35-39 argues for eternal security, then there is a major problem indeed: for in Jude, Jude tells the church to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20-21). So, if Romans 8 says I’m eternally secure, then how can one reconcile Jude 20-21 with eternal security? If God is going to keep me in His love (as many interpret Romans 8), then why do I have to “keep myself in the love of God”?

Calvinists have never provided an answer to these questions. In fact, the majority of believers simply posit that “you cannot lose your salvation because God doesn’t take it away from you.” Little do they know that no Reformed Arminian (at least) makes that argument. Some refer to the Wesleyan notion of the loss of salvation and say, “You can’t lose your salvation from day to day because of sin.” No Reformed Arminian (not even the founder, James Arminius) would ever hold to that notion of apostasy (falling away). Rather, the question is not first, “can one lose their salvation?”, but rather, “can one lose faith?” For Arminius, if one could fall away from faith, that individual would (as a consequence) fall away from salvation, since faith was the condition for salvation. Read Arminius’s own words:

“I subjoin that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1) ‘it is possible for believers to decline from the faith’ and (2) it is possible for believers to decline from salvation.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted, it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which He has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue as unbelievers” (James Arminius, quoted by John Wagner. Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011, pages 307-308).

Those who believe cannot fall away from salvation “as long as they remain believers”---that is, they hold on to their faith. The reason why those who are “currently” believing are secure is because “that power of God” is...”employed” to save believers. The sovereignty of God is directly linked to security in Christ. If there is no security at all, God is not sovereign.

However, Arminius does clarify even further: if one falls away from “faith” (the condition for salvation) and becomes an unbeliever, his decline from “faith” results in an automatic decline from “salvation.” If 1) faith is the condition for salvation, and 2) someone declines from faith, then 3) that individual has also declined from salvation. This is Arminius’s syllogism from his above quote and this position seems rather logical.

All of this is to say that yes, Philip, I have considered the consequences of conditional election. But I would like to ask: “Philip, have you considered the consequences of not studying systems other than your own? Have you considered how narrow-minded and biased such an approach is, that you would consume your time with Calvin’s Institutes but not read Arminius’s Works?” Those questions I pose not only to Philip, but to all Calvinists. If Calvinism really is the correct soteriological system, then what do Calvinists have to lose by studying Reformed Arminianism? The only individuals who choose not to study all sides of a story are those who want to believe what they do despite the evidence. Could this be true with Calvinists?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Responding to the Objections: A Blog Response to the John Piper Fallacy Post, Pt. 2


  Today, I’m back again to tackle another portion of Philip McGoo’s response to my post titled “Unconditional Election: The John Piper Fallacy in Romans 9” that I posted a few days ago. Before I get started, let me state some rules about posting that maybe I’ve not made known at the site. I will, however, create an official rules post for those who desire to know what I will and will not allow on the site for comments. I will not allow posts on the site such as snide remarks. I recently received one of those about a day or so ago...and it will not be tolerated at the site. I don’t want things like, “you Arminians argue works-salvation,” etc. Instead, I want comments regarding the content of the post itself. If you are visiting the site to simply throw out insults, it’s probably better not to comment. Since Calvinists often believe in the sovereignty of God to elect some and not others (I believe in God’s sovereignty, just not the way they do), then know that I will bear sovereignty over my site and I will not post comments containing snide, rude remarks. If you’re genuinely seeking dialogue, like Philip, I am more than happy to answer questions you have. If you’re seeking to be angry and assert that “John Piper is haven’t written the books he has, you haven’t sold as many books as he has, you don’t pastor a church like he does,” etc., I simply will not post such comments. So before you waste a few minutes of your time, let me tell you that your comments will go unnoticed. No one will read them, and I will not respond to them. It will be as though you never wrote them at all. Since I bear sovereignty over The Center for Theological Studies, I will select some comments to post and not others. How’s that “Calvinism-in-practice” for a Reformed Arminian???

Enough time on, on to today’s post. Today’s post involves what Philip McGoo calls “the necessary consequences of conditional election”:

“You speak of conditional and unconditional election as if they were two paths, and it is just as easy to take one as the other. I just wonder if you’ve thought of the necessary consequences of conditional election, ie., partial depravity, limitations of God’s sovereignty, possibility of losing salvation (which I think Romans 8 and John 6 make a fairly strong case against).”

First off, contra Philip, I do not argue that “it is just as easy to take one as the other.” I actually believe that both the words “unconditional” and “conditional” are both philosophical terms in and of themselves, and only a biblical, consistent theology can lead one to either conditional election or unconditional election. Before reading Scripture, however, neither should be ruled out. And this is often what Calvinists do to Arminians: they rule out our proposition before seeing whether or not the text supports our view. Isn’t it far better to be open-minded and consider that either view “could be” right, before studying the text itself? All I ask for from my Calvinist brothers and sisters is a little consideration of opposing views and the humility to admit that, at least in theory, Calvinism “could be” the wrong theology to uphold. We Arminians have certainly had our share of consideration that our own view could be wrong; after all, Calvinists bash us all the time...

Next, Philip asks me to consider the consequences of my view. First off, let me applaud Philip for holding to “logical consistency.” There is much talk (at least in Baptist life today) that one does not have to hold to logically consistent systems. Many theologians on the question of theological systems have lost what I call “the principle of the excluded middle”: that is, when two mutually-exclusive systems are on display, there can be no middle ground. And yet, it seems that “middle-ground,” inconsistent theologies are the talk of the day. Do you know why this is so? Because we have lost the meaning of logical consistency. When one simply assumes that logical consistency is man-made, he will create his own theology; but when one views consistency as describing the nature and character of the God he or she talks about, then their theology will come to reflect the nature and character of the God of Scripture.

Still, though, Philip accuses conditional election of leading to “partial depravity.” As stated in my last response to Philip, he has never read the works of James Arminius on total depravity. Here’s what Arminius had to say in his works:

“This is my opinion concerning the free will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good” (James Arminius, VII, “The Free Will of Man.” Quoted by John Wagner, Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God.” Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011, page 68).

From the above underline words, one can see that Arminius held to total depravity: man can do nothing on his own; he must have the Holy Spirit give him grace before he can do anything that is good and God-glorifying. Arminius went on to say, “For without these gracious gifts [faith, hope, charity, etc.], man is not sufficient to think, will, or do anything that is good” (James Arminius, VIII. “The Grace of God,” quoted by John Wagner, Arminius Speaks, page 68).

Reformed Arminians (Arminians who hold to Reformation theology, while disagreeing at various points with Luther, Calvin, etc.), have often been labeled “semi-Pelagian,” “Pelagian,” “Open Theist,” etc. The problem with all of these labels is that they do not accurately fit (in any fashion) Reformed Arminian theology. James Arminius, after providing his words above on the will of man and grace, responded to the criticism of the theologians of his day. I post this as a response to Calvinist claims that Reformed Arminianism is man-centered and holds to “partial depravity” (Philip’s claim):

“From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, ‘Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’ That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did), but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered” (James Arminius, quoted by John Wagner, Arminius Speaks, page 69).

Arminius does not neglect grace in his theology; rather, he argues that grace, while prevenient (going before faith), does not irresistibly make someone receive the gospel and trust Christ for salvation.

As I said earlier, Arminius never held to “partial depravity.” He argued in his Works that man could do nothing at all without grace. He also states in his work that the free will of man is “lost” without divine grace. Does this sound like a semi-Pelagian to you? Does this sound like someone who holds to “partial depravity”? You be the judge...

I will respond to more of Philip’s quote above in coming days. God bless.