Eric Landstrom, A Response to Phillip Tachin’s Characterization of Arminianism

, posted by Eric Landstrom

For his part, Calvinist Phillip Tachin has attempted to harmonize synergism and monergism within the confines of Calvinism. While interest in the symmetry between monergism and synergism has continued to broaden due to increasing theological inquiry over the last decade, due to Tachin’s publishing date (September 2013) there were fewer online searchable articles with which to interact with, and humbly your’s truly had already published through the Society of Evangelical Arminians website a stackable series of discussions discussing the “who” and “how” God saves [1] setting the stage for Tachin to interact somewhat with my thoughts as representative of the Arminian position. [2] What I like about Tachin is that he thinks logically and allows the reader insight into his presuppositions. Tachin is eager to find a symmetry between monergism and synergism while remaining true to his Calvinistic theological underpinnings. In order to compare and contrast the Arminian view with his Calvinistic view, Tachin sets up the order of Arminian soteriology in the following order, writing:

The Arminian view may be in a set of the following propositions.

1. The sinner is dead in sin and is unable to save himself.
2. God wants to save the sinner.
3. The purpose of divine grace is to save the sinner.
4. God gives the sinner grace to respond to his call.
5. The sinner rejects God’s call to salvation.
6. God’s purpose is defeated. [3]

Tachin then explains that the flaw with the Arminian order of soteriology as presented is that “it is inherently weak and inconsistent,” [4] and this Tachin presumes is due to the low-value Arminian theology assigns to our being dead to God by sin. [5] At first gloss, as an Arminian, and for the purposes of the current discussion, I an not opposed to Tachin’s order of Arminian soteriology—however, I must also assert at the same time that the order, as Tachin has presented, gives no mention to an underlying assumption within the overarching Arminian doctrines of grace which is, as I noted in my article “God, Evil, and Grace in Calvinist and Arminian Theology”:

That, come the Judgment Seat, the grace that God gives to all persons either glorifies the Lord through the good deeds, thoughts, and actions that are reflective of his image and reveal that he is the source of all that is good or reveals his constant love and mercy toward those who ignored and rejected his ministry of grace throughout their lifetimes.

As such, at the Judgment Seat, the grace the Lord rained upon all persons ultimately either glorifies the Lord in and through a people whose thoughts and actions reflect the image of God; or, the grace that was given upholds the justice and righteousness of condemnation where the condemned stand self-convicted of the fact that the Lord continually reached out to them to draw them unto himself but they rejected all of his servants and even rejected his continual inward witness to the bitter end.

This to say that in Arminian theology grace that is rejected and not embodied and acted upon by the recipient will go on to powerfully uphold God as a consistent, loving caregiver who through the course of every person’s life constantly sought to reconcile every individual through Christ and upon the judgment, then serves to uphold God consistency internal character and nature as a Holy, loving, merciful, just and righteous One True God of the multi-verse.

Tachin, still interested in expressing that symmetry between synergism and monergism exists within Calvinism goes on to state a Calvinistic soteriology in a near identical form as his earlier Arminian ordering with one key difference: Tachin argues his presupposition of non-resistible grace as the only consistent soteriological ordering where God’s purpose is realized, claiming:

A logically consistent soteriology would be as follows.

1. The sinner is dead in sin and is incapable of saving himself.
2. The invincible purpose of divine grace is to save the sinner.
3. God wants to save the sinner.
4. God gives the sinner grace to respond to his call.
5. The sinner accepts God’s call to salvation.
6. God’s purpose is realized. [6]

While resolving the antithesis between synergism and monergism is the purview of Tachin’s article and not debating the merits of Arminianism and Calvinism, I find Tachin inadvertently picking a fight with Arminian theology via his omission to discuss whether or not grace is resistible as well as the omission that in the Arminian view rejected grace serves to judge each person as well as uphold the character of God and the consistency of his love and mercy toward each person. As I noted in my article “What Are Those Arminians Thinking?”: [7]

To the Arminian mind there is an inner ambiguity within [Calvinist] thought that says, in effect, there are different kinds of grace. Some kinds of grace are resistible and some kinds are not. This is clearly illustrated when we consider that the elect may not resist saving grace, but for some reason, they can resist sanctifying grace. Herein we have two different kinds of grace within the same individual…. Ultimately, Arminian thinkers hold that [Calvinist] apologists need to first build an argument of differing kinds of grace from the discipline of biblical theology before assuming differing kinds of grace that operate differently depending upon the situation and they need to do this as an a priori before basing other arguments upon it—especially so when [Calvinist] apologists seek to prove other points supported by this premise to Arminians who will, in turn, reject these arguments because of the unproven premise. [8]

For his part, Tachin is writing to a Calvinist audience and as such he may feel comfortable leveraging existing and solely Calvinistic presuppositions that God’s will cannot be thwarted and that Calvinistic effectual grace cannot be resisted in order to assert that synergy can reside comfortably with monergism within Calvinism. However, I take issue with building theology upon unproven assumptions—and especially so when the line of division is frankly Calvinism against every other orthodox Christian soteriology wherein it has been assumed by everyone, everywhere, and at every time that grace is in point of fact, resistible. While I’m pouring in all three major branches of Christianity as sharing if not an identical soteriology, for the purposes of this article, a soteriology that allows for the same presupposition that grace is resistible, let us narrow our comparison to strictly the Arminian and Calvinist views as to how grace works. As I asserted over a decade ago in my article “What Are Those Arminians Thinking?” [9] Calvinist apologists must begin to discuss whether or not grace can or cannot be resisted before leveraging arguments based on the premise against Arminian theology. Toward beginning a discussion between the Arminian and Calvinist theological communities on the subject of the irresistibility or resistibility of grace and quoting again from my own “God, Evil and Grace in Calvinist and Arminian Theology” which has been available since December 1st, 2010, without any internal argument [10], and without any type of response or retort from the Calvinist community, the Arminian argument on the importance of the resistibility of grace strikes at the very character of our Lord in heaven.

Consider if you will that the Arminian view can take the following form:

God gives grace prior to any human response.
As such, people are already lifted up higher by grace before they respond.
As such, people don’t lift themselves up, God does.
As such, when people respond negatively, they jump off of the higher place God had lifted them to.
Hence, God does the lifting and people do the sinning.

Now consider the Calvinist alternative if grace isn’t resistible:

God gives grace prior to any positive response and this grace is not resistible.
As such, people are already lifted up higher by grace before they respond positively.
As such, people don’t lift themselves up, God does.
As such, when people sin, they sin because God withheld the grace they needed to resist temptation.
Hence, God does the lifting and also brings to fruition the sin he hates. [11]

While I’m encouraged that the Calvinist community is beginning to question its own hardened stance against synergism, I’m discouraged that at least one path has sought to do so through the truncation and omission of Arminian doctrines that are broadly accepted and well understood within the Wesleyan and Arminian theological community. While the Calvinist community appears to be driving forward toward a new understanding on the subject of the framework of monergism and synergism, again I ask those Calvinist authors who attempt to interact with Arminian theology to do so buy first justifying the premises they hold as true by interacting with Arminian thinkers and theology. In this way, iron sharpens iron and the Spirit of our Lord can be found within our midst.

May we reside always within our Lord with the hope of the days to come in faith hope and love,

Eric Landstrom

[1] Two articles of mine are specifically referenced by Tachin I.e. (Eric Landstrom, “The False Antithesis Between Monergism and Synergism: A Lesson from Historical Theology.” http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-false-antithesis-between-monergism-and-synergism-a-lesson-from-historical-theology/ cited on March 23, 2012. Landstrom argues that labeling Arminians and Wesleyans semi-Pelagians is an insult because while Pelagianism is heresy, their own positions are not heretical (see “Semi-Pelagian or Semi-Augustinian?” Society of Evangelical Christians, posted on June 18, 2008 at http://evangelicalarminians.org/semi-pelagian-or-semi-augustinian/ and cited on July 9, 2013), however, it seems to me that Tachin has been influenced by at least one more article of mine, notably “The Reciprocal Dynamic of Grace” (available: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-reciprocal-dynamic-of-grace/ ).

[2] Surveying the notes, I believe that I’m the only contemporary Arminian cited in Tachin’s paper.

[3] Phillip Tachin’s journal article, “The Logic of Monergism and Synergism in Francis Turretin’s Soteriology” Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theology [K:JNWTS 28/2 (September 2013): 33-47] (available: http://www.kerux.com/doc/2802A7.asp ).

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Ibidem. Here Tachin’s Calvinist presuppositions give rise in two ways. The first is that Tachin assumes that God’s will cannot be thwarted, citing as evidence to back this assumption by quoting and referencing without any discussion Job 42:2: “no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (see also Ps. 138:8; 57:2; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:10; 55:11) and in the face of the near limitless times God’s will playing out in our spatial timeline has been thwarted (cf. Deut. 30:15). As Augustine noted, sinners are not compelled to grace but offered grace as a gift to be received (Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 81-84, available: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1503.htm ). While preeminent Methodist Thomas Oden observes that “Since the fall, God has been overseeing a plan for the redemption of fallen freedom. The plan pivots around Christ’s coming and is to be consummated in Christ’s final return. Nothing will finally thwart this divine purpose” (Isa. 11:1; Chrysostom, Comm. on Dan. 7.7)” and “the Spirit wishes to draw and persuade, not force, the human will; to convince, not coerce, in order to enable the deepest possible experience of God’s saving action. God is not willing that any should perish but that all should willingly come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9)” (Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology). Tachin’s second presupposition is that grace rejected serves no purpose, a discussion I will take up within the meat of this article.

[6] Phillip Tachin’s journal article, “The Logic of Monergism and Synergism in Francis Turretin’s Soteriology” Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theology [K:JNWTS 28/2 (September 2013): 33-47] (available: http://www.kerux.com/doc/2802A7.asp ).

[7] “What Are Those Arminians Thinking?” (available: http://evangelicalarminians.org/what-are-those-arminians-thinking/ ).

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] Without any internal argument is to state my claim that the arguments and premises contained within my paper are generally accepted within the heart of the Arminian and Wesleyan theological communities.

[11] “God, Evil and Grace in Calvinist and Arminian Theology,”(available: http://evangelicalarminians.org/god-evil-and-grace-in-calvinist-and-arminian-theology/ ).