What Arminians Find Offensive About the “Doctrines of Grace”
written by SEA member Roy Ingle
Very often I read or hear Calvinism referred to as “the doctrines of grace.” I am not sure when or why the history of Calvinism began to be described that way, but I can assure you that we Arminians find it offensive to have Calvinism be referred to as the “doctrines of grace.” Why you ask?
1. It Implies Only Calvinism Embraces Grace
This is certainly not true. In fact, even Pelagius embraced a form of God’s grace. Arminius clearly embraced grace. Even Alexander Campbell and the Restoration Movement theologians embrace grace. To call your system of theology “the doctrines of grace” sounds as if your system alone embraces grace. Calvinists hold that since they believe that God is sovereign in salvation and that He does it all, the saving, the cleansing, the sanctifying, the glorification, etc. then they are holding to God’s grace alone as the basis for our salvation. The problem is that Arminians believe the same. In fact, both Arminians and Calvinists believe in Ephesians 2:8-9 and we both believe that God does not believe for us but rather people are responsible to believe the gospel. Only the hyper-Calvinist would hold that God believes for a person.
Arminius wrote this about grace:
In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, etc.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.
In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.
That Arminius held strongly to the grace of God is not in question. That he taught that salvation was all of grace is also not in question. Clearly he did. To affirm Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” then would be to ignore what Arminius taught about salvation by grace.
2. It Implies that Calvinism is All About Grace
Neither Arminianism nor Calvinism is strictly about grace. Both believe in grace but both branch off into other areas of theology as well. For instance, I would argue that Calvinism is much more about the sovereignty of God than about grace. I would argue that Arminianism is much more about the love of God than about grace. Grace flows in both streams but it does not dominate either thinking. Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is by grace. The key fundamental difference here is whether that election is conditioned. Arminians affirm that election is conditioned upon faith where as Calvinists believe that election is unconditional and based simply on the sovereign will of God. For the Arminian, the atonement shows the great love of God for all people so that all can be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). For the Calvinist, the atonement shows the great love of God manifested in His sovereign choice in the giving of His Son for the elect.
So thus I would argue that to refer to Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” is misleading. Grace has a part but it does not dominate the Calvinist system like God’s sovereign and unconditional choosing does in unconditional election. I am sure that Calvinist theologians would argue that this sovereign choice is by God’s grace alone. Perhaps but the sovereign will of God would still be the major factor here and not grace.
3. It Denies the Place of Grace Among Arminians
When Calvinism is referred to as “the doctrines of grace”, I believe this view fails to understand the importance of grace in Arminianism. Consider the atonement of Christ for a moment. We Arminians believe that Jesus’ blood is so powerful that He died for all. After all, Jesus is God and His blood certainly can wash away all sinners sins. We believe this not because we hold to a high view of mankind for we believe man is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) but we hold to this view because we affirm what Scripture says about the atonement being for all (John 1:29; 3:16-18; 4:42; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). We believe this “all” refers to “all” in the context. To read into “all” and see only “few” is not allowing the text to speak for itself. We believe that Jesus died for all that all may come and be saved for this is the will of God (Luke 19:10; Acts 2:38-39; 5:31-32; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 2 Peter 3:9). Those who come to Christ in saving faith come because of the work of the Spirit in drawing them to salvation (John 1:12-13; 6:44; Acts 16:14-15) and because the blood of Jesus is sufficient to wash away all their sins (Hebrews 9:22, 27-28; 10:14). This salvation is completely based on the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation (John 6:29; Acts 15:11; Romans 3:22-29; 4:24-5:11; Titus 3:5-7).
Thus we Arminians affirm that God’s grace is so mighty, so radical, so big that it is certainly able to save the lowest sinner who comes to Christ in saving faith and the grace of God is able to keep us (Hebrews 7:25). The sinner will not be able to stand before God and claim that it was sovereign hardening that left them in their sins. It was their own rebellion against a holy God (John 3:19-21). That is grace. That is all-powerful, all-loving grace that enables sinners to come to Christ for salvation (John 6:37-45).
I do not affirm Calvinism. I know many godly men and women who do. I know that they are well-meaning when they refer to Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” and for many of them, they simply repeat this without considering what they mean. For us Arminians, we find it offensive that Calvinism refers to itself as the “doctrines of grace.” As I pointed out above, Arminians clearly affirm with Arminius the grace of God in salvation and we even go further than Calvinists in exalting the grace of God in the salvation of all who come to the Savior in true faith. All of salvation is by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not one reformed Arminian would ever teach that salvation is any thing other than by God’s grace given in Christ Jesus.
For the original post and comments, go to: http://arminiantoday.com/2012/11/03/what-arminians-find-offensive-about-the-doctrines-of-grace/