Setting the Record Straight: The Current State of Modern Reformation Arminianism (Part One of Three Parts)

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Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), in his The Defense of the Faith writes, “since the whole debate between the Christian and the non-Christian positions revolves about the question of the relation of the eternal to the temporal or of God to man, it will be apparent that we must hold that Arminianism can offer no effective apologetic for Christianity.”1

Apologetics is the defense of one’s faith. What might one suppose was the cause of Van Til’s conclusion? He continued, “It is up to the Arminian to show, if he can, that his view offers a better apologetic for Christianity than that offered by the Calvinist.”2 His reason will be discussed below.

Why does he (as do so many Calvinists) suppose that Calvinism be granted a free pass in apologetics? Why is it that the Calvinist is not the one who must “show, if he can, that his view offers a better apologetic for Christianity than that offered by the” Arminian? Why does Calvinism stand unquestioned? What we have evidenced here is the height of theological arrogance.

Logically, Van Til has backed himself into a very difficult corner (as do all Calvinists who make such claims). For it is he who must prove his position, that the Arminian can “offer no effective apologetic for Christianity.” The burden of proof is in his lap to prove his thesis. And if he is not up to the challenge, then his thesis fails (and we believe it has failed miserably).

Rather than proving his thesis, however, his main focus in Defense was to champion the cause of Calvinism. He wrote, “A Reformed method of apologetics must seek to vindicate the Reformed life-and-world view as Christianity come to its own. It has already become plain that this implies a refusal to grant that any area or aspect of reality, any fact or any law of nature or of history, can be correctly interpreted except it be seen in the light of the main doctrines of Christianity [by which he means Calvinism].

“But if this be true, it becomes quite impossible for the apologist to do what Roman Catholics and Arminians must do on the basis of their view of Christianity, namely, agree with the non-Christian in his principles of methodology to see whether or not Christian theism be true”3 (emphasis mine).

In all fairness to Van Til, the Arminianism of his day was likely no more than the modern semi-Pelagianism which so dominates many pulpits in America, a quasi-semi-Pelagianism sprinkled with Charles Finney’s teachings. In this we, too, grieve along with all Calvinists. Semi-Pelagianism needs to be corrected.

Van Til noted that the Arminians of his day were using the same approach to the knowledge of God as was the atheist. As one commentator suggested, “Van Til argues against those who would adopt a supposedly neutral stance towards the ‘brute facts,’ or raw data of experience and then try [to] use the laws of logic to arrive at God’s existence. In doing so he says [that] one has adopted an unbelieving stance in relation to God and the world from the outset. He states [that] the Arminian does this and thus cannot mount an attack against any Catholic or unbeliever as that is their stance as well.”

Times have ceratinly changed. The current state of Reformed Arminianism as is being promoted by us today is in no wise semi-Pelagian. But let us get to the matter at hand. Can the current strain of Reformed Arminians “offer an effective apologetic for Christianity”? Have they anything viable and orthdox to say about the Christian faith? Let us take a brief shot at apologetics.

The Christian faith acknowledges that humanity is depraved. There is simply no denying it. God created man and woman upright, but they fell from that gracious position by their own choice. This immersed their posterity into the realm of sin. After all, Paul stated that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

God, out of His grace and love for the creatures which He created in His own image (John 3:16; Ezek. 33:11; Gen. 1:26), chose to save those fallen creatures through faith in His Son (1 Cor. 1:21; Rom. 3:21-26), the only Righteous One, who atoned for the sin of the world (John 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:2), in order to reconcile a fallen universe back to God (Rom. 8:20-21; 2 Cor. 5:19). These and these alone will have their sins atoned for and be granted the right to become a child of God (John 1:12; Eph. 1:5), who will share in the Eternal State (Matt. 25:34-40) with God.

Due to humankind’s depravity, however, no one naturally desires or would choose Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. God, therefore, graces humanity (Eph. 2:5, 8), when the gospel is presented (Rom. 1:16; 10:14), to respond to the conviction of His Spirit (John 16:8-11), as He frees them from their bondage to sin (John 6:44, 64; 8:32, 36; 12:32) to freely choose Christ Jesus. Those who believe into Christ Jesus and continue to remain in Him will be saved (John 15:1-7).

What has been presented in these last three paragraphs is not merely Arminianism or Calvinism, it is the Gospel. All that has been presented here are statements upon which both Calvinists and Arminians can agree. So, how is it that Arminianism can “offer no effective apologetic for Christianity” when Arminians agree wholeheartedly with all that Calvinists affirm here?

Van Til’s methodology is nothing more than an attempt at scare tactics. He promotes Calvinism best by misrepresenting Arminianism in the effort to make Calvinism seem as the only viable form for Christian doctrine. And his methods are being imitated the world over by modern Calvinists in the West such as J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, John Piper, and others. If Arminianism can “offer no effective apologetic for Christianity,” then neither can Calvinism, seeing as it agrees with Arminianism on the core aspects of the Christian faith.

To be continued . . .

1 Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2008), 41.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 118-119.