Ben Witherington and Keith Stanglin, Jacob Arminius, Theologian of Grace – Part Nine

, posted by SEA

BEN: One of the things that is not clear to me from reading your book is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and prevenient grace in the thought of Arminius. Does by grace Arminius simply mean the divine influence of the Holy Spirit in convicting, convincing, and converting people, or does he have a more abstract and even sacramental view of grace?

KEITH: There is an intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit and grace. The operation of grace is the divine work of the Holy Spirit, who influences by persuasion. Arminius calls prevenient and efficacious grace the “internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit” (p. 154). As I also note in the book, the Holy Spirit is never a “passive observer” who bestows some grace and then waits to see what happens; rather, the Spirit remains active in the process of conversion from beginning to end (p. 155). Arminius calls the Holy Spirit the “author of faith.” The Spirit draws sinners to God for justification and bears fruit in their lives for sanctification.

BEN: Arminius seems to have made at least one rather large mistake in his interpretation of Rom. 3-4, namely he assumed with many Reformed thinkers that Paul is talking about the righteousness of Christ being imputed to the sinner who embraces Christ. I find this surprising since Arminius seems to be a good exegete of Romans, and am puzzled that he could admit Paul’s clear statement that it is the Abraham’s faith which is credited or reckoned as righteousness/right standing with God and yet still hold on to the notion of imputed righteousness (i.e. p. 168 of your book is confusing). Nothing is said about Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the one who embraces Christ through faith as a substitute for the righteousness of the believer. Even when Paul speaks in Philippians of ‘not having a righteousness of my own but one that comes from Christ’ he is talking about an imparted righteousness, not merely an imputed one. Can you help us understand why Arminius makes the theological moves he does on this issue? While it is true to say that Christ’s obedience even unto death on the cross is the cause of the sinner being offered right standing with God, nothing is said in Paul about Christ’s obedience active or passive being the substitute for the necessity of the believer’s obedience after conversion. Indeed, the phrase ‘the obedience of faith’ may even suggest that a positive response to grace in faith is the beginning of obedience in the Christian life. Help us unpack Arminius’ theology of justification and imputed righteousness and how it differs from the Reformed divines. What does Arminius think Paul means when he say that we must become the righteousness of God in 2 Cor. 5.21?

KEITH: The key text here is Rom. 4:5, which says that “faith is reckoned [or imputed] for righteousness” (cf. Rom. 4:3). Just to be clear, the Greek word used throughout Romans 4 is logizomai, which simply means to “reckon” or “count” or “impute.” Latin translations of these Scriptures (including those of Erasmus and Calvin) commonly rendered this Greek word with a form of the Latin verb imputare. The question has to do with what is imputed for righteousness, what it means for the believer, and the like.

The debate on this issue became somewhat technical, making it a challenge to explain Arminius’ position. But I’ll try! For the Reformed, it presented a difficulty to say, as Paul does in Rom. 4:5, that “faith” is reckoned as righteousness, because faith is an instrumental cause on our part, and it sounds as though a believer somehow earns salvation through faith. So the Reformed tended to gloss “faith” with “Christ’s righteousness,” with the result that “Christ’s righteousness” is reckoned as righteousness. Arminius replied that righteousness need not be reckoned as righteousness, since it already is righteousness. Instead, he read the verse straightforwardly to say that our faith is imputed for righteousness. For his interpretation, Arminius was, and still is, accused of an anthropocentric or semi-Pelagian soteriology. But since he insisted with equal vigor that faith is a pure gift from God, it is a stretch for Reformed opponents (then and now) to make faith into a work.

[Link to original post at Ben Witherington’s blog]

[** Editor’s note: The original series at Ben Witherington’s blog mistakenly repeated part 7 of the interview as part 8. Therefore, we don’t have a part 8 on SEA’s website, but have moved directly to part 9 from part 7.]