A Response to an A/C “Primer” from A&O ministries

, posted by Martin Glynn

I was going to write a second post on corporate election, but I am postponing it to look at something which Alan Kurschner has recently put out on Dr. James White’s blog. He calls it a primer though it is more like propaganda. A primer for a debate should lay out both positions simply in the way in which the respective parties would approve. SEA has attempted to do just that with our own primer. However, Kurschner has absolutely failed in this regard. Indeed, I would suspect that this is simply supposed to poison the well for anyone new to the debate. So I am going to examine this primer to see how it really holds up to scrutiny:

The “Calvinist vs. Arminian” debate is substantially a debate between what is called “synergism” and “monergism.” There is no third option (unless one is willing to affirm Pelagianism). For those who are new to the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the following is a primer on the two perennial branches of theological systems in Christianity. Or to put it another way, there are two very different ways for believers to view how their salvation was brought about.

Right away it is already apparent that Kurschner and I are starting in different places. First of all, I consider Pelagianism to be a form of monergism. It is merely the opposite extreme as the Calvinist position. I define the terms historically, looking back at the original Pelagius/Augustine debate where their positions both were monergistic, and the two beliefs that followed, Semipelagianism and Semiaugustinianism, were synergistic. I view the synergist theologies to be middle ground positions, while the monergist positions were the extreme positions (or the more pure positions, depending on how you want to spin it).

This is problematic given Kurschner’s uses of the terms. Ignoring the differences in our definitions of “monergism”, considering his is more commonly used than mine, his framing the debate as monergism vs. synergistic erroneously conflates Semipelagianism and Semiaugustinianism.

It is equally erroneous to attempt to say that the A&C debate encompasses the two perennial branches of Christian theology. What about Catholics? Or the EOC? What about Pentecostalism vs. Cessetionism which divides Christians along a different line? There are others as well. What about the Piest tradition? The Baptist tradition? It is true that the Augustinian and Semiaugustinianism positions represent the two trains of thought on soteriology within Christian orthodoxy, but while it is likely that this is what he meant, it is suspicious for someone of Kurschner ‘s credentials to make such a reduction within a work which is supposed to be introductory.

In general, the first type (the Arminian-Synergist) affirms what is called “synergism.” Synergists believe that two forces in the universe are necessary to bring about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, the two forces at work (cooperation) that are necessary to bring about regeneration, or spiritual life, is the will of man and the Holy Spirit (grace).

First of all, this definition of synergism is quite flawed. While I fully admit that, given my historically based definition of the word, Arminians are synergist, we are not given this definition. First of all, Arminians at least do not believe that humanity’s role in salvation is “necessary” (note how he even takes the time to italicize this word). Indeed, one of our main points is that God’s plan for salvation is not necessary. It shocks me that Kurschner would be either this ignorant or malevolent enough to suggest this (as those are really the only options). Heck, historically Arminians have often referred to Calvinists as necessitarians precisely because we reject the notion that things are necessary. It is Calvinists who view things as necessary, not us.

Second, he is clearly intentionally implying that we view the human will as a force which rivals God, which is also clearly wrong. The power of the human will only exists and only continues to exist by the will of God.

To put it another way, the work of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the creature’s will, hence, “synergism” (working together). Synergists will sincerely say, “I believe in grace alone.” But in reality, they believe that grace is not alone (sufficient), but that man’s will is necessary for regeneration to be effective.

Again, gross misunderstanding. The human will is autonomous, but in order to do good it is dependant on the Holy Spirit. This is simply putting the cart before the horse. Imagine a wounded soldier who can barely stand. A lieutenant comes over and lifts him up, puts the soldier’s right arm across his shoulders, and supports him as they walk across the field. Apparently Kurschner would view the lieutenant as the dependant one in this scene.

Additionally, man’s will is not necessary for regeneration to be effective, but that God chooses to only regenerate the faithful. Man cannot even be faithful without grace! It is by grace through faith that we are saved, and apparently Kurschner forgets that Sola Fide is just as important as Sola Gratia.

It could be said that synergists are “functional” Arminians because even though some will deny the label, their theology functions synergistically (thus, how they identify themselves is inconsistent with what they teach and believe).

As I said before, I am comfortable with the label, though I reject Kurschner ‘s definition. The reason why many Arminians reject the label is because of Calvinist straw men like this one that Calvinists use the label for.

The second group of believers (the Calvinist-Monergist) affirm what is called “monergism.” Monergists believe that there is only one force in the universe (grace alone) that brings about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, because of the deadness of man’s spiritual state, his moral inability, the Holy Spirit performs the miracle of spiritual resurrection (regeneration) in that person, hence, “monergism” (one work). Grace is sufficient to be effective, and does not depend on some action of man.

I don’t have any issues with how monergism is defined here, other than comparative implications, but I’ve already talked about where he states those implications explicitly, so I won’t belabor the point.

In other words, the Holy Spirit does not merely whisper in the hardened sinner’s ear, hoping that the rebel sinner will “cooperate”; rather, while the sinner is in a state of hardness and rebellion, the Holy Spirit penetrates in the will of man and performs the miracle of spiritual life (regeneration). That is grace alone. Faith does not precede regeneration, regeneration precedes faith.

OK, let me explain a few things. First, Arminians don’t claim that the Holy Spirit “merely whispers in the hardened sinner’s ear”, but instead we claim that the Holy Spirit irresistibly quickens the will of the hardened sinner enabling them to have faith. However, He does not irresistibly cause them to have faith itself. This is standard Arminianism.

Second, the Protestant concept of Grace Alone is that salvation cannot be earned by good works, pursued through sacraments, or bought by way of venerated objects, and that humans cannot take the initiative. Arminians affirm this. The Calvinist idea that grace alone must require no human reaction to grace is extreme and unnecessary.

Third, Faith precedes regeneration.

He quotes three verses and for the purposes of this analysis I will only discuss them very briefly. Ephesians 2:4-5 is discussed in the link above, and also I have briefly treated the verses myself here.

John 1:12-13 is odd to me since it explicitly says that regeneration comes to those who believed in His name. Thus to me, it seems to support faith preceding regeneration. When one focuses on the highlighted section, we see that Kurschner is taking the concept of “not by human decision” to mean “not faith”. However, faith doesn’t cause regeneration, so I don’t think his interpretation even applies. However, I don’t think his interpretation is accurate either since it is clear to me that John is using synonymous parallelism (a common Hebraic figure of speech) to compare spiritual birth with physical birth. This is a main theme in the book of John.

Another main theme of the book of John is that only those Jews who were truly loyal to God could recognize Jesus as the Messiah. John 8:47 addresses this theme. Those not understanding Jesus failed to understand him because of a prior lack of commitment to God, not because of a lack of sufficient grace. This is similar to what is going on in John 6.

Arminians cannot affirm monergism (grace alone); they must always have the creature’s will as the final determiner of their destiny, not God. Inconsistently, Arminians pray (without knowingly) Calvinisticly, “God, change my unbelieving relative’s heart.” I have never heard them pray, “God, only whisper in my relative’s ear, but don’t change their heart unless you’ve been given permission.” In contrast, the Calvinist prays and affirms biblical truth consistently.

First, as previously demonstrated “grace alone” does not equate monergism. Second, Arminians don’t pray Calvinisticly because we affirm the fact that God does affect the hearts of humans, verses Calvinists whose prayers don’t make any sense at all (since what’s going to happen is going to happen regardless of whether they pray or not).

Finally, I always found this “final determiner” rhetoric to be odd. It admits that God is part of the process of determining one’s fate. Otherwise the human will would be the “only determiner” not the “final determiner” (some Calvinists also say “only determiner”, but that’s clearly fallacious). However, if God is a determining factor, and the human is a determining factor, how does one identify the final determining factor? I would assume it would be the last factor which acts. But that would be God. After all, regeneration comes after faith. Therefore, clearly, God is the final determiner. The only way to claim otherwise is to view God’s actions as automatic, as if He couldn’t do otherwise once a person has faith. But Arminians don’t view it this way. We trust that God will save us if we have faith because He has promised it, not because He will be compelled to in some manner. However, since Calvinists often see God as compelled by His own nature, I guess I can understand why they would assume this. But if this is the reason then they are importing Calvinist presuppositions onto Arminian thoughts and, unsurprisingly, it merely causes them to misunderstand.

The one thing that this “primer” really shows is Kurschner’s complete inability to properly assess anyone’s perspective other than his own. While he is good at explaining his own position, he seems to be incapable of thinking outside of it. The biggest shame is that some people will read his material and actually believe his descriptions of Arminianism.

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