Graceless, Humanist Theology

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The apostle Paul wrote that his prayer was that Christians would know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1.19-20).

Many Calvinists insist that Arminianism is a graceless theology. God has been cast aside in favor of honoring man. Humanism reigns supreme. This is due, mostly, to the Calvinists’ doctrine which mistakenly equates God’s grace with regeneration.

Hyper-Calvinist John Gill wrote, “Since the apostle, in these words [Eph. 1.19-20], plainly intimates, that the work of grace upon the hearts of believers is to be ascribed not only to the power of God, but to the greatness, yea, the exceeding greatness of his power, and which is represented as equal to that which was put forth in raising Christ from the dead; we think we have good reason to conclude, that this work is a work of almighty, irresistible, and insuperable power, and in which men, in the first production of it, are purely passive.”1

If the Calvinist is convinced of this, then, it is rather easy to support the notion that Arminianism is a graceless theology. Notice Gill’s statement, “we think we have good reason to conclude . . .” Good reason? Interesting words coming from the camp whose supposed main purpose is supreme exegesis alone.

Walls and Dongell comment, “Calvinists commonly charge that the sweeping transformation of American Protestant Christianity from being mostly Calvinist during the founding stages of our nation’s history to being mostly Arminian during the present era has been caused by a turning away from the hard, clear teaching of Scripture toward the smooth and easy heresy of humanism.

“While the Reformers and their true offspring recovered a gloriously God-centered universe with a God-centered story of salvation, Arminians and their allies have steadily diluted the scriptural message with their feel-good theology and have thereby produced a tasty but deadly mixture.

“According to the Calvinist analysis, Arminianized Christianity has pushed God to the edge of the stage and has shoved the human being to the center. In this revolution, human beings have now assumed the role of judging truth by their own reason, conscience or personal taste. Humans have assumed the role of determining their own destinies by making autonomous choices, and they have thereby assumed the right of overriding God’s will by rejecting God’s salvation plan.

“The marginalized God can now only hope for the best resolution to the drama of redemption; he occasionally negotiates or intervenes in the play but is unable to overcome the foundational principle of all reality — human autonomy.”2

One would have to agree with that notion if it clearly represented Arminianism in the slightest; but happily, that remains a caricature of the system. I. Howard Marshall comments, “We have found nothing in the Pastorals that requires that we assume the existence of a ‘hidden agenda,’ a secret plan of God to save only the elect, in the light of which the statements of universal grace and unlimited atonement must be given something other than their obvious meaning.”3

Despite the fact that Arminius himself never tired from declaring, “It is not our wish to do the least injury to Divine Grace, by taking from it any thing that belongs to it,”4 still, Calvinists make unreasonable charges against Arminianism, that it does not preach grace but free will.

Even nineteenth-century Arminians such as Richard Watson never tired of emphasizing the grace of God, which is needed for salvation. Roger Olson notes that “Watson averred that the consequence of the Fall is not merely an infusion of evil (misfortune, misery) but a loss of spiritual life. The only remedy for this is Christ’s atoning sacrifice and prevenient grace, which is the renewing and life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit.”5

Rather than admit that most of humanity will not be saved because God withheld His grace from their lives (a logical conclusion to the Calvinist’s “doctrines of grace”), Arminians choose to take a more biblical route and confess what Jesus taught, that, the responsibility for the destinies of all human beings lies in their choice to either accept or reject Him (John 1.10-13; 3.16-18), to take the wide road which leads to destruction, or take the narrow road which leads to true life (Matt. 7.13-14).

Again, Marshall concludes that “God has provided in Christ a Savior who is the incarnation of his saving will and purpose for all mankind, and that we can proclaim the offer of salvation to all mankind; those who believe will be saved, and those who do not believe will be lost. But if we ask why some believe and others do not, we can say no more than that this is part of the mystery of evil to which the Pastorals, like the rest of Scripture, can offer no answer.”6

Thus when a person is gloriously saved, he or she has received God’s grace of salvation by faith, as Paul stated (Rom. 5.2). And when a person rejects the gospel, he or she has nullified God’s grace (Gal. 2.21; cf. 2Cor. 6.1). This corresponds with God’s desire that all genuinely be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim. 2.4). Otherwise, there would be conflict within the Godhead.

1 John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth (Paris: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 1855), 105.

2 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 44.

3 I. Howard Marshall, “Universal Grace and Atonement in the Pastoral Epistles,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 69.

4 James Arminius, “Apology Against Thirty-One Theological Articles,” The Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 52.

5 Roger Olson, Aminian Theology(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 170-171.

6 Marshall, Ibid.