“Bait and Switch”
“Why are you a Christian and your friends aren’t? … Is it because you are smarter than your friend?” (The Pelagian Captivity of the Church, R.C. Sproul)
…I believe it can be demonstrated with finality that prevenient grace merely begs the question and that under such influences the final decision to believe the gospel still does come from a persons’ “natural capacity” and innate “moral ability”. (typical mischaracterization from John Hendryx)
It’s been pointed out more than once that Calvinist theologians, in general, do not even remotely understand Arminian theology. In response, many of them appear to be in quite the rush to prove such an assertion to be absolutely correct. Many times it seems their arguments are based not upon actual study of Arminian beliefs, but on sources that heavily misrepresent it or just miss the point entirely. Calvinism’s promoters try very hard to squeeze Arminianism (and really, all Synergistic theology) into their own mold of ‘merit-based’ salvation. Often when they write on the subject, they’ll fling around terms like ‘inherent ability’ in an attempt to frame Arminian soteriology as a system based upon human merit or some inherent ability.
One of the worst offenders I’ve seen thus far is an essay by Nate Harlan, in which he argues that due to a belief in salvation by an inherent ability, Arminianism must be heresy. Similar to Hendryx’s “why does one choose and not another” fallacy, Harlan puts forth the similarities between 2 sinners (one who accepts Christ and another who doesn’t):
“1.) Both possess a free will
2.) Therefore, both are equally capable of coming to Christ
3.) Both are lost in sin
4.) Therefore, both are in need of Christ
5.) Both were convicted by the Spirit via hearing the Word
6.) Therefore, both are aware of their need for Christ”
Then lists the differences in their reactions (along with an ill-conceived attempt at a syllogistic conclusion),
“1.) Joe trusted in Christ
2.) Bob rejected Christ
3.) Therefore, Joe’s smarter than Bob (?)”
He poses the dilemma in mathematical terms,
“Contained within the synergist’s recipe for salvation is a secret ingredient that must be ‘added’ for salvation to occur. Let’s look at it from an algebraic perspective: hearing the Word + conviction of the Spirit + X = a response of faith in Christ.
Joe possessed this trait “X” while Bob did not.”
“Clearly, within the framework of Arminian theology, we must conclude that those who do trust in Christ possess within themselves a trait (not endowed by God) that enables them to trust in Christ; those who reject Christ, although they hear the Word and are convicted by the Spirit, do not possess this trait and thus remain dead in sin.
The first two parts of the recipe are common to all men, while only those who are saved possess the third and final ingredient.
Yet, it is not inherent within all individuals, for not all trust in Christ. So, only some people possess this special trait. This is a problem. Why? Because it ultimately leads to merit-based salvation: the work of Christ is rendered powerless to save until the individual adds to the mix the mysterious, inherent trait X, completing the recipe for salvation….”
Problems With This Logic
To solve his ‘equation,’ the short answer is: X = ‘receiving the word of God (Mark 4:20) and not resisting the work of the Spirit (Acts 7:51).’ Notice that these constitute freely performed action or lack thereof, not traits or attributes as Mr. Harlan incorrectly concludes. In the libertarian view of free will, a person doesn’t need to be possessed of different traits (such as greater intelligence, wisdom, strength, charisma, dexterity, mana, armor class, etc.) to make a decision different from another. If such a choice were necessarily produced by some set of inherent traits or attributes, then one placing trust in Christ would not be free in the libertarian sense at all, but predetermined by one’s nature.
Additionally, Mr. Harlan’s conclusion contradicts his original premise.
2.) Therefore, both are equally capable of coming to Christ
Clearly, within the framework of Arminian theology, we must conclude that those who do trust in Christ possess within themselves a trait (not endowed by God) that enables them to trust in Christ; those who reject Christ, although they hear the Word and are convicted by the Spirit, do not possess this trait and thus remain dead in sin. [emphasis mine]
Notice that he states that this trait ‘enables’ one to trust in Christ. It can then be logically inferred that if the one who rejects Christ didn’t possess this mystical trait which is so vital to salvation in Mr. Harlan’s imaginary view of Arminian soteriology, then he or she would be utterly incapable of coming to Christ at all, which contradicts his second premise that both the repentant and unrepentant were capable of coming to Christ.
This is a classic bait-and-switch tactic, he frames both people as equally capable of coming to Christ (the libertarian view), then effectively asserts that one is in fact incapable because he lacks a certain trait (a determinist conceit). The fact that he goes on to frame this rather ridiculous strawman as properly representing Arminian theology is beyond absurd.
Actual Arminian soteriology teaches that men are by nature in bondage to sin, but God calls men to repentance and faith in Christ by His grace, by which men are able to believe.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace…. (Galatians 1:15)
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
Faith in Christ doesn’t require being smart or wise, but does require that sinners incline their ears at His gracious call and humble themselves under the Spirit’s conviction. Besides being fairly obvious, these realities of Arminian theology are public knowledge and well-defended by many scholars and writers. Yet for some inexplicable reason, Calvinistic apologists persist in their wildly accusatory claims that Arminians must believe they possess more of some innate ability than those who don’t believe. Apparently thinking themselves the Dungeon Masters of divinity, they continue weaving this ‘salvation by enough stat points’ fantasy about Arminian theology that has no more basis in reality than dual-scimitar-wielding drow elves.
[Link to original post and comments at the Arminian Perspectives blog. This post is part of a 14-part series that was previously posted here on our website, but is being republished. The old posts are being replaced by updated versions (though the content is the same) to bring extra attention to this excellent series.]