Is Arminianism a Neo-Manichaeanism?

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[THIS HAS BEEN EDITED. ALL REFERENCES TO THE ORIGINAL CALVINIST AUTHOR BEING RESPONDED TO HAVE BEEN REMOVED.]

Bhagwan, Ishvara, Maheshvara, Parameshvara, Paramatman, Para Brahman, Adi Purusha, Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Ek Onkar, Satnam, Nirankar, Shoghi Effendi, Shangdi, Shen, Apollo, Ceres, Diana, Juno, Jupiter, Minerva, Vesta, Zeus, Hermes, Allah, Ra, Osiris, Isis, Ma’at, Amun, these are just some of the names of thousands of various gods from various religions worshiped throughout history.

Intentionally ommitted from this list is the Christian God, the true and living God (John 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 2:8, 5:20; Rev. 19:11), Yahweh (YHWH, Exodus 3:14, the I Am). One cannot place the one true God in the same categorical list of false gods, who do not truly exist (cf. 1 Cor. 10:19).

Notice that the Christian God, Yahweh, is not what some call the Calvinist God or the Arminian God. Why is this? Both Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God of the Bible. Their contention is not about whether or not the God of the Bible is the true and living God ~ the One who has revealed himself to the prophets, in the Son, as recorded in his Word (cf. Heb. 1:1-3). Nothing is quite as asinine, irrational, and irresponsible as Calvinists who claim that Arminians do not believe in the God of the Bible simply because he or she does not approve of the Calvinist’s sinuous definition of sovereignty.

Let us focus for the moment on a recent post which stated that Arminianism is tantamount to neo-Manichaeanism. In one Calvinist’s opinion, “All the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants on three basic worldviews: Calvinism, Atheism, and Manichaeism.” How did this person compose the “three basic worldviews”? Well, they came from his imagination. Since, however, Calvinism proper can only be traced back to John Calvin (1509-1564), then Calvinism could not have been one of the “three basic worldviews” upon which “all the various religions and philosophies past and present” are variants. That would then leave us with Atheism and Manichaeanism.

Manichaeanism was not taught systematically until the third century AD. That would, then, leave us with Atheism as the basic worldview upon which all the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants, since atheism is the oldest view of the three mentioned. But what of the four thousand years prior to the advent of Christ? How is it that the author neglected to mention so many other worldviews upon which all other religions are variants?

Moreover, his equating Manichaeanism with Arminianism only serves to divulge his incomprehension of Classical Arminian theology. Nothing ruins one’s credibility quicker than the inadequacy to expound one’s theological opponent accurately.

We know about Manichaeanism in part from Augustine, who followed its teachings prior to his conversion. Manichaeanism, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, as “the theory of two eternal principles, good and evil, is predominant in this fusion of ideas and gives color to the whole; Manichaeanism is classified as a form of religious Dualism.” There is an eternal struggle between good and evil. The system is also fatalistic, which places it much, much closer to Calvinism than it does Arminianism by far.

The Calvinist author claims: “For example, freewill theism in its various forms (e.g. Arminianism, Open Theism) is a variant on the Zoroastrian or Manichean outlook on life. Representatives of this viewpoint include Zoroaster, Mani, Arminius, Wesley, Roger Olson, Clark Pinnock, and Gregory Boyd ~ to name a few.”

Now, according to the Calvinist author, James Arminius, John Wesley, and Roger Olson represent a Manichaean (dualistic) worldview. This, as it appears from the rest of the author’s post, is due to the Arminian’s notion that God’s sovereignty is not all-controlling (e.g. God allows people a measure of free will ~ human beings are rational and responsible, not robots at God’s behest). Any notion of freedom, for this author and other Calvinists, derogates the sovereignty of God. Note, however, that Adam and Eve expressed freedom in the Garden, and this did not detract from the sovereignty of God. But I digress.

Let us put the author’s remarks to the test. Let us investigate Arminius and Olson and see whether or not his assessment is accurate. The author is under the impression that Arminians believe that all good things come from God and all bad things come from Satan, hence the dualistic Manichaeanism. Job, when confronted by his wife to curse God for all of the bad things that had come upon him, declared, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10 NRSV)

What? Is this verse not found in the Arminian’s Bible? Surely Arminians should have torn out that portion of holy writ! And what of the following? When David and Uriah’s wife committed adultery, the LORD pronounced judgment upon their sin: “The LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill” (2 Samuel 12:15 NRSV). But this cannot be! What shall the Arminian do with such verses? How do these statements not undermine his or her dualistic, Manichaean worldview? Concerning God’s providence, Arminius writes:

      And it may be defined, The solicitous, everywhere powerful, and continued [

intuitus

      ] inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, and over each of the creatures and their actions and passions, in a manner that is befitting himself and suitable for his creatures, for their benefit, especially for that of pious men [Ps. 37:23], and for a declaration of the divine perfection.

1

First, notice that God is said not to control the actions and passions of his creatures (as is explicitly admitted by Calvinists), but that he governs such. The difference is paramount for a faithful, appropriate, and correct understanding of God as revealed throughout the tenor of Scripture. However, merely because Calvinists have misunderstood this point does not necessitate that they are worshiping a different God. They worship the same God as does the Arminian. They have simply misunderstood aspects of the God of the Bible: it is not who God is but how he acts in time and eternity that they have misinterpreted.

Second, notice that all things have an “inspection and oversight” of God, and that this is “everywhere powerful” at all times. It is not as though God does all of the good stuff, while the devil (equal in power) does all the bad stuff per se. Arminians have historically never believed that Satan was in any way equal with God, such as a Manichaean worldview would demand. Satan is a created being, created by God, not for evil, though he fell from his original state of goodness. Arminius continues:

      The power of God serves universally and at all times to execute these acts, with the exception of permission; specially and sometimes these acts are executed by the creatures themselves: Hence an act of providence is called either

immediate

      or

mediate

      . When it employs [the agency of] the creatures, then it permits them [

agere

      ] to conduct their motions agreeably to their own nature, unless it be his pleasure to do any thing [

praeter ordinem

      ] out of the ordinary way.

Then, those acts which are performed according to some certain [tenorem] course of nature or of grace, are called ordinary: Those which are employed either beyond, above, or also contrary to this order are styled extraordinary. Yet they are always concluded by the terms . . . due fitness and suitableness, of which we have treated in the definition.2

Above, note that Arminius grants that God permits some things to happen. Calvin would have nothing to with God permitting anything: everything which happens does so at the direct, proactive will and behest of God. However, for Arminius (and Arminianism), in this “divine permission,” it is still God who remains sovereign, for an event can only happen which God has allowed.

To what end or goal do the expressions of God’s providence and sovereignty serve? Arminius confesses:

      The end of providence and of all its acts is the declaration of the divine perfections of Wisdom, Goodness, Justice, Severity and Power ~ and the good of the whole, especially of those men who are chosen or elected.

But since God does nothing, or permits it to be done in time, which he has not decreed from all eternity to do or to permit, that decree therefore is placed before providence and its acts as an internal act is before one that is external.3

In a very real sense it can be admitted that Arminians believe in God’s foreordination just as fervently as do Calvinists, with the caveat that the former do not attribute every event to the biddance of God, as do the latter. And for this reason Calvinists insist that Arminians do not believe in the sovereignty of God. Roger Olson responds: “Of course, when Calvinists say that Arminians do not believe in God’s sovereignty, they undoubtedly are working with an a priori notion of sovereignty such that no concept but their own can possibly pass muster.”4

One must, however, be suspect of anyone who refuses to contextualize the views of another when presenting those views. Hence Calvinists cannot construct a definition of what sovereign means and then deduce that whoever does not hold to their definition does not believe in the sovereignty of God.

Does Arminian scholar Roger Olson believe in dualistic Manichaeanism or in the sovereignty of the God revealed in the Bible? Olson writes:

      God’s sustaining sovereignty is his providential upholding of the created order; even natural laws such as gravity are regarded by Christians as expressions of general divine providence. If God should withdraw his sustaining power, nature itself would run down and stop; chaos would replace order in creation. Deists may say that this exhausts God’s providence, but classical Christian orthodoxy, whether Eastern, Roman Catholic or Protestant, confesses further senses of God’s providential sovereignty in relation to the world. Arminians, together with Calvinists and other Christians, affirm and embrace God’s special providence, in which he not only sustains the natural order but also acts in special ways in relation to history, including salvation history. God’s concurrence is his consent to and cooperation with creaturely decisions and actions. No creature could decide or act without God’s concurring power.

5

Will this previous statement satisfy most Calvinists where God’s sovereignty and providence are concerned? No, it will not even satisfy moderate, four-point Calvinists such as Bruce Ware, let alone strict, supralapsarian Calvinists such as Paul Helm et al. For example, moderate Calvinist Bruce Ware writes:

      Calvinists hold the view they do for the simple reason that they are convinced that Scripture teaches its doctrines of God’s comprehensive and meticulous sovereignty, the unconditional election of the sinners whom God graciously and from eternity chose to save, the effectual and ultimately irresistible grace of God that surely will bring all the elect to saving faith, and a notion of true and genuine freedom in which God’s full sovereignty is seen as compatible with the moral responsibility attaching to choices and actions of the will.

6

How this “moderate” version of Calvinism differs from strict, supralapsarian Calvinism is admittedly difficult to determine. Such “moderate” claims about Calvinism makes supralapsarian Calvinism look like hyper-Calvinism; which makes hyper-Calvinism something entirely different. Olson responds to Ware’s perspective on God thus:

      Arminians are in total agreement with the affirmation that “the God of the Bible actively seeks intimate relationship with those he has made. His love for the world is unconditional and inexhaustible” [stated in Ware’s chapter in the

Perspectives

      book, pp. 76-120].

The only problem is that we are not sure how that belief is consistent with Bruce’s claims about God’s meticulous providential control of evil . . . If God’s love for the whole world is unconditional and inexhaustible, why would he render certain the eternal suffering of some significant portion of humanity in hell?7

In his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, Olson asks: “Does God govern by meticulously determining the entire course of every life, including moral choices and actions? Or does God allow humans a realm of freedom of choice and then responds by drawing them into his perfect plan for history’s consummation?”8 To suggest that God has predetermined merely by decree what a person should say, or how a person should act, by bringing those words and actions to pass by his irresistible compulsion, and at the same time maintain that the person in question said words and performed actions freely is to admit insanity. It is to say that black is white, when a thing is clearly black. An irresistible free will action is as contradictory as a round square. But instead of calling moderate Calvinism’s compatibilism a contradiction, Calvinists prefer to reference such as antinomy.

But lest I diverge too far from our topic, no doubt the reader clearly understands that Olson betrays Manichaeanism boldly. God is in control, governing his universe. There is no dueling good vs. evil between a good being and an equally powerful, evil being. God is sovereign. This truth only begs the question, Why do many Calvinists today not represent their theological opponent’s views adequately? From what I have noticed of late from men like John MacArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James White et al., such is becoming the norm. I am getting quite used to having Classical Arminianism misrepresented by Calvinists.

The more I dialogue with people, however, about what Classical Arminian theology really is (once the caricatures of Calvinists have been demolished), many of those people admit that they are much closer in their theology with Arminianism than they are with Calvinism; though before our conversation they would have considered themselves Calvinists. This is especially important given the revival of Calvinism that we are now experiencing. If things persist in this manner, then this revival will be short-lived.

1 James Arminius, “Disputation XXVIII. On the Providence of God,” in The Works of Arminius, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 367.

2 Ibid., 367-68.

3 Ibid., 368.

4 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 116.

5 Ibid., 117.

6 Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce A. Ware (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2008), 189.

7 Ibid., 130.

8 Olson, 117.