MANY CHRISTIANS TACKLE THE SOTERIOLOGICAL DEBATE
I do not find myself as an island, having gone through a journey of soteriology. I’ve investigated and read up on the dominating Protestant theories on the matter. The fact that books are even out there, and pastors talk about these things all the time, suggests that I’ve never been the only one.
One interesting idea that I’ve come across expressed by many, are people who claim middle ground. I still remember the pastor who told me, “When I preach a passage that sounds Calvinist, that’s how I preach it. When I preach a passage that sounds Arminian, that’s how I preach it.” I give kudos for the sentiment, wanting to preach whatever the Bible says – but how far can that argument go? What does each of these theories ultimately suggest? The pastor is basically saying, “In some passages, God is a Sovereign, Meticulously, Fatalistic, Puppeteer who has written the script for robots, and other passages God is a Sovereign, Loving, Father who knows all things and has invited everyone to be Adopted into His Family.”
I don’t blame people, whether it be out of surrender to the vastness of who God is, out of a desire to be peacemaker, or for whatever reason, have stated, “I don’t know, I’m undecided, I’m Calminian, I’m Arminist.”
HOWEVER, CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM ARE NOT OPPOSITES
I don’t know who made this up. Maybe the Calvinists at the Synod of Dort, I don’t know. But it is a popular myth that Calvinism and Arminianism are opposites. Take TULIP for example; true Arminians are not simply the opposite of TULIP.
Total Depravity – Really, both Calvinists and Arminians agree whole-heartedly that the human race is 100% incapable of good, or desiring God apart from God’s grace. That’s a fact. (The point?: Calvinists and Arminians don’t oppose here).
Unconditional Election – You could say Calvinists believe God unconditionally elected to save some people, while Arminians believe that God unconditionally elected to provide the opportunity of salvation to all people. This isn’t a matter of opposition, but merely a matter of who’s capable of getting bread (to use a John 6 metaphor).
Limited Atonement – Arminians and Calvinists merely disagree on what’s limited concerning the atonement (that is: what the sacrifice of Jesus accomplishes). Calvinists infamously limit the scope of who is effected by it (in other words, Jesus died only for the elect, He spilled no blood for anyone in hell, because those destined to hell had no opportunity of heaven, period, why would God waste blood?). Arminians limit the atonement in terms of its effect, while we believe that blood is capable of saving all people, this grace is accessed by faith (to quote Paul, Romans 5:2), and Arminians believe that faith is a gift of God too (See previous blog post here).
Irresistible Grace – Okay, Calvinists and Arminians have opposing ideas when it comes to this. Arminians believe in resistible grace. That’s what the religious people did to the Holy Spirit, according to Stephen in Acts 7:51. I should say here, that this in no way downgrades the Arminian belief in the power of grace. I can write on this more in another blog post, but here is one that I’ve written already on an Arminian view of grace.
Perseverance of the Saints – This, again, is not a matter of opposition, but a matter of definition really. Arminians believe in the perseverance of the saint, and the saint, according to the Bible, is a believer. When a believer stops believing or departs from the living God (to quote the author of Hebrews 3:12), he is no longer a saint, therefore this doctrine doesn’t apply to him. No Arminian I know would suggest that one accidentally loses their salvation. It is willful negligence. It is not that anyone plucks believers from the hand of God, but it is the believer themselves outright yelling at God, “REMOVE YOUR GRIP!” I pray to God that my sons will always love me, but should one disown me, no matter who I tell that I still love him, it’ll ultimately be he who has to make that decision to either accept the fact that I’m his dad, or not.
In these five core doctrines of Calvinism, I hope it is evident to see that only one can truly be stated as complete opposites. (Irresistible Grace / Resistible Grace). In all other cases, there are subtle shifts concerning said doctrines.
WHAT MOST PEOPLE MEAN TO SAY, WHEN THEY’RE PLAYING “I’M IN THE MIDDLE”
Is that they believe there is room in the Bible for strong, meticulous sovereignty, and hints at human freedom. Guess what? That’s Arminianism. And even some Calvinists, who voice it in a different way, call it Calvinism! Could it be that both Calvinists and Arminians just love the Bible, and make room for both possibilities?
The problem is, is a misrepresentation of Arminianism. Arminianism has been wrongfully called semi, if not outright Pelagianism. Pelagianism is the belief that I work myself to salvation. As if I wake up some day, and decide, “You know, I want to be saved,” and then I go out looking for God, and say, “Hey, save me.” And God’s like, “Drat, He found me. Okay.”
Arminius, and true representatives of his thinking believe in a strong, meticulous sovereignty, in which God seeks out sinners, awakens their hearts to His grace, and draws people, often unwilling as they are, nevertheless to Himself out of grace and saves them. To put it as James Arminius himself states:
Faith is the mere gift of the gracious mercy of God; and that unbelief is partly to be attributed to the fault and wickedness of men, and partly to the just vengeance of God, which deserts, blinds and hardens sinners.
ARMINIUS, JAMES. “WORKS OF ARMINIUS – DIVINE PREDESTINATION.” ARMINIUS’ WORKS – DIVINE PREDESTINATION, GODRULES.NET, HTTP://WWW.GODRULES.NET/LIBRARY/ARMINIUS/ARMINIUS154.HTM.
BIG GOD THEOLOGY
I can only speak from personal experience, as to why I was drawn into Calvinism, two words: Big God. The quintessential, everyday evangelical church evangelizes by appealing to emotions, “getting right with God,” and “avoid hell,” and “seek to be forgiven of sins,” and ambiguous stuff. Hardcore Calvinist preachers that got a hold of my heart showed me less of me, and a big God. They didn’t preach so much about the benefits of my being saved, as they preached about the amazing reality of who God is, how He’s out to save the world, and He’s come to my house to do just that.
When I ate the forbidden fruit – according to Calvinists – and started reading actual Arminians (and not 21st century people who call themselves that by virtue of disagreeing with Calvinists on one particular issue), I found that actual Arminians were in love with this big God too, and not just in love with one measly little disagreement about the human will.
And, I saw how an even bigger God lives in Arminianism! Why, He can still accomplish He desired will, and do so in spite of, or in congruence with freely-chosen decisions by people.
Twenty-first century Arminians who claim to be Arminian simply because they’re not Calvinist, if you’re reading this: listen to a Calvinist talk about God. Listen to passion about who He is. Learn from that. May your sermons, your rhetoric, and your Bible-reading all be theo-centric, and not me-centric.
I PROPOSE THAT ARMINIANISM IS “CALMINIANISM”
For you folks who have bought, hook-line-and-sinker the idea that Calvinists propose, that Arminianism is Pelagianism, and so you’re more Cal-minian, I tell you here that Calvinists are (a) uninformed, and so misleading you, or (b) concealing the truth. I’m going to go with A, because I’d rather not believe the latter about fellow brothers in Christ. Perhaps for the Calvinist who can say they’ve done their research, have pulled out their two sentences to twist and say, “See, they’re Pelagian,” I don’t know.
Do me a favor and read Arminius on his views concerning predestination. That’ll get to the heart, and the sources of the matter.
Read John Wesley, an Arminian, in his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” especially the last two paragraphs, consider such:
For he that cometh unto God by this faith, must fix his eye singly on his own wickedness, on his guilt and helplessness, without having the least regard to any supposed good in himself, to any virtue or righteousness whatsoever. He must come as a “mere sinner,” inwardly and outwardly, self-destroyed and self-condemned, bringing nothing to God but ungodliness only, pleading nothing of his own but sin and misery. Thus it is, and thus alone, when his “mouth is stopped,” and he stands utterly “guilty before” God, that he can “look unto Jesus,” as the whole and sole “Propitiation for his sins.” Thus only can he be “found in him,” and receive the “righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Thou ungodly one, who hearest or readest these words! thou vile, helpless, miserable sinner! I charge thee before God, the Judge of all, go straight unto him, with all thy ungodliness. Take heed thou destroy not thy own soul by pleading thy righteousness, more or less. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and thou shalt then find favour in his sight, and know that he justifieth the ungodly. As such thou shalt be brought unto the “blood of sprinkling,” as an undone, helpless, damned sinner. Thus “look unto Jesus!” There is “the Lamb of God,” who “taketh away thy sins!” Plead thou no works, no righteousness of thine own! no humility, contrition, sincerity! In nowise.
The point being, if you believe in a God who is strongly Sovereign, whose love has compelled Him to lay down His life and die with particular, unstoppable love to save His elect… and if you believe in a humanity whose sins have marred the image of God so deeply, that truly – save but the grace of God – they are blinded and incapable of even remotely desiring to take one breath of acknowledgement of His existence… So far, you are in agreement with both Calvinists and Arminians. So you have not departed any of those theologies thus far.
It comes down to the character of God, and the definition of love. Is God good, and is love not coerced, but proposed for acceptance or rejection? That’s Arminian. Is God good yet with a secretive will to damn some, and is love actually coerced? Well.
I guess you’re not Arminian.