The Arminian’s Doctrine of Divine Concurrence

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Concurrence is the cooperation of agents or causes ~ a combined action or effort. When we speak of the doctrine of concurrence, we mean the cooperation of God and a person in a combined effort to produce an action. (Classical, Reformed Arminians believe that the Holy Spirit works monergistically in the act of regeneration, and He does so when a person trusts in Christ Jesus the Lord: faith does not cause regeneration, nor can one effect his or her own regeneration.)

The doctrine of concurrence is of vital significance in Classical Arminian theology as much as it is in Calvinism. Inherent in the Arminian’s doctrine of concurrence is a denial of exhaustive determinism, however. This has caused many Calvinists to conclude that Arminians deny the sovereignty of God. Roger Olson writes: “If we begin by defining sovereignty deterministically, the issue is already settled; in that case, Arminians do not believe in divine sovereignty. However, who is to say that sovereignty necessarily includes absolute control or meticulous governance to the exclusion of real contingency and free will?”1

There is no direct definition of sovereignty to which one can point in Scripture. What must be collected is evidence from various scriptures in order to rightly define the word or concept. But as was discovered in the post, Calvinism’s Exhaustive Determinism and Old Testament Scriptures, the Calvinist’s definition of sovereignty is completely unwarranted.

Does God exercise His sovereignty? Yes, He absolutely does, moment by moment. Does this imply that God must control, via His foreordained decree of all things, every word one speaks, every action one takes, every decision one makes? We believe not. But how does our doctrine of concurrence agree with our doctrine of God’s sovereignty? Roger Olson highlights Arminius’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty, providence, and concurrence:

Arminius’s own theology clearly teaches that God has the right and the power to dispose of his creation, including his creatures, in any way he sees fit. The Dutch theologian allowed no inherent limitation of God by creation but only by God’s own character, which is love and justice. “God can indeed do what He wills with His own; but He cannot will to do with His own what He cannot rightfully do, for His will is circumscribed within the bounds of justice.”2

Arminius believed that God’s love for justice (or righteousness) was primary, and His love for creatures was secondary. William den Boer explains:

Arminius identifies the twofold love of God as the foundation of religion in general, and of the Christian religion in particular. The first and most important love is that for justice, the second and subordinate love is for humankind. The latter is subordinate because there is one thing that limits it: God’s love for justice. In other words, God can love a person only when his justice has been satisfied with respect to that person. And when that is indeed the case, God will also certainly love that man or woman. Arminius goes so far as to argue that any and every form of religion is impossible if it does not maintain God’s twofold love, in that order, and with that mutual relationship.3

Briefly stated are Arminius’s own words:

But the CHRISTIAN RELIGION also has its superstructure built upon this two-fold love as a foundation. This love, however, is to be considered in a manner somewhat different, in consequence of the change in the condition of man, who, when he had been created after the image of God and in His favour, became by his own fault a sinner and an enemy of God.

(1) God’s love of righteousness [or justice] on which the Christian Religion rests, is, First, that righteousness which he declared only once, which was in Christ; because it was His will that sin should not be expiated in any other way than by the blood and death of His Son, and that Christ should not be admitted before Him as an Advocate, Deprecator, and Intercessor, except when sprinkled by His own blood.

But this love of righteousness is, Secondly, that which He daily manifests in the preaching of the gospel, in which He declares it to be His will to grant a communication of Christ and His benefits to no man, except to him who becomes converted and believes in Christ.4

God loves His creatures, whom He created in His image, in a just manner not merely because He loves justice and righteousness but also because He is just and righteous (Psalm 145:17). Because of His love for justice and righteousness (to say nothing of His hatred of sin, cf. Prov. 6:16-19), God is incapable of effecting evil in and of Himself. And yet God is still sovereign. He gives life or breath to every living creature (Acts 17:28). Arminius affirms (as does Classical Arminianism) God’s sovereignty. Again, Olson explains:

    Arminius’s account of God’s providence could hardly be higher or stronger without being identical with Calvinism’s divine determinism. For him, God is intimately involved in everything that happens without being the author of sin and evil, or without infringing on the moral liberty of human beings. . . .

Arminius was puzzled about the accusation that he held corrupt opinions respecting the providence of God, because he went out of his way to affirm it. He even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God’s cooperation! This is simply part of divine concurrence, and Arminius was not willing to regard God as a spectator. His only two exceptions to God’s providential control were stated in his letter to Hippolytus A Collibus ~ that God does not cause sin, and that human liberty (to commit sin freely) not be abridged.5

If God “cooperates with” a sinner, as Arminius stated, when he or she freely sins (not via necessitarian divine fiat but by genuine freedom of choice), how is He not considered a sinner also? Olson, quoted at length, explains:

    That Arminius held a high view of God’s sovereignty and did not fall into a deistic mode of thinking about providence is proven by his account of divine concurrence. According to this, God does not permit sin as a spectator; God is never in the spectator mode. Rather, God not only allows sin and evil designedly and willingly, although not approvingly or efficaciously, but he cooperates with the creature in sinning without being stained by the guilt of sin.

God both permits and effects a sinful act, such as the rebellion of Adam, because no creature can act apart from God’s help. In several of his writings Arminius carefully explained divine concurrence, which is without doubt the most subtle aspect of his doctrine of sovereignty and providence. For him God is the first cause of whatever happens; even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause, because creatures have no ability to act without their Creator, who is their supreme cause for existence. . . .

Arminius argued that when God has permitted an act, God never denies concurrence to a rational and free creature for that would be contradictory. In other words, once God decides to permit an act, even a sinful one, he cannot consistently withhold the power to commit it. However, in the case of sinful or evil acts, whereas the same event is produced by both God and the human being, the guilt of the sin is not transferred to God, because God is the effecter of the act but only the permitter of the sin itself.

This is why Scripture sometimes attributes evil deeds to God; because God concurs with them. God cooperates with the sinners who commit them. But that does not mean God is the efficacious cause of them or wills them, except according to his “consequent will.” God allows them and cooperates with them unwillingly in order to preserve the sinners’ liberty, without which sinners would not be responsible and repentant persons would not enter into a truly personal and loving relationship with God.6

This differs significantly from the Calvinist’s notion of God’s sovereignty. Wayne Grudem, in his doctrine of divine concurrence, stated: “God influences the desires and decisions of people, for he looks down ‘on all the inhabitants of the earth’ and ‘fashions the hearts of them all’ (Ps. 33:14-15).”7 Grudem goes farther than the Classical Arminian is willing to go. Yes, God does look down on the inhabitants of the earth. Yes, God does “fashion” the hearts of all people. But what does that latter notion mean? Does it mean that God “fashions” some hearts to be more wicked than others? Does it mean that God has foreordained everything that a person will say, think, do, and choose merely by a decree?

Rather than being a statement that the LORD has “fashioned” each person to say, think, do, and choose what God has foreordained, the Psalmist is merely stating that the LORD is the Creator of all human souls ~ nothing more, nothing less. The NET Bible notes: “The point seems to be that the LORD is the creator of every human being.”8 Grudem, however, teaches that the word refers to the LORD’s influencing the desires and decisions of all people. We disagree with his conclusion exegetically and philosophically. Such a conception taints the holy nature and character of God. And we believe that Calvinism’s rationale of God’s sovereignty accomplishes the same.

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

2 Ibid., 119-20.

3 William den Boer, “Jacobus Arminius: Theologian of God’s Twofold Love,” in Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe, eds. Th. Marius van Leeuwen, Keith D. Stanglin and Marijke Tolsma (Leiden: Brill Publishing, 2009), 40.

4 James Arminius, “The Declaration of Sentiments,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 1:636.

5 Olson, 121.

6 Ibid., 122-23.

7 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146.

8 The NET Bible, eds. W. Hall Harris III, Michael H. Burer, Robert B. Chisholm, and Daniel B. Wallace (, Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2005), 944.