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 question...so 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?