Why I Am an Arminian, Part 2 of 2

, posted by SEA

This is the second half of a paper, the first half of which attempted to make a positive case for Arminianism. This second half deals with objections that Calvinists have traditionally made to Arminianism, and offers answers to those objections from the Arminian point of view.

Objections from Reformed Theology
The above outline [in part 1] of the Arminian position purposely makes its case without reference to the Calvinistic objections that have been made to the various points. A summary of these follows. (It should go without saying that this section does not pretend to give an orderly or complete presentation of the Calvinist position. It merely responds point by point to the Arminian position represented above.) Letters in parentheses refer to the acronym TULIP, and thus to the various points of “five point” Calvinism.

I. The Justice of God
The Calvinistic point of view rests primarily upon an emphasis on God’s justice.

A. Logically prior to mercy

God’s justice is universal, as opposed to His mercy, which is granted specifically and only to the elect. Justice is logically prior to mercy, since mercy deals with amelioration of the effects of justice. Thus God’s expressions of His mercy are addressed specifically and only to His covenant people, but His justice is applicable to all.

B. Desires that God does not act upon

While certain scriptures indicate that God desires the repentance of the wicked, God in fact refuses to offer saving grace to many of them. If God truly wished for all to be saved, all would indeed be saved, since God is sovereign and nothing can frustrate His will. Therefore, God evidently does not ultimately wish the salvation of all, and the desire for the wicked to be saved that these scriptures indicate must simply be a desire He does not act upon.

II. The Scope and Sufficiency of the Atonement (L)
Although Jesus’ death is potentially sufficient to save everyone, God has chosen to limit the efficacy of the atonement to the elect.

A. Atonement limited by election, based on God’s sovereignty (U)
God’s sovereignty implies that He is under no obligation to save anyone. He has chosen to glorify Himself in His mercy by saving some, and to glorify Himself in His justice by allowing some to be condemned in their sin. The atonement is therefore limited to those whom He has chosen, or elected, to save.

B. Total depravity and the rightness of justice (T)
Human beings are thoroughly and completely corrupted by sin (Rom. 3.10-18), and thus are justly under the sentence of divine condemnation. God is therefore under no obligation to save anyone, and those who remain under His judgment are there solely because of their own sin and rebellion against God. God’s justice could not have been impugned even if He had chosen never to save anyone and to allow the entire human race to go to hell.

III. The Role of Faith

A. Faith as a Gift
Those who are described as “believers” are only able to believe because God has regenerated them and given them faith (Eph. 2.8-9). Thus, all the scriptures describing God’s elect with terms relating to pistis merely reaffirm the regeneration that God has effected in them.

B. Faith Contrasted with Works
If the Arminian view were correct, it would be possible to construe exercising faith as a work meriting salvation. Since scripture excludes salvation by works categorically, such a view of faith is excluded as well. If this were not the case, then those who responded in faith would have something to boast in as compared with others who did not, and this is prohibited by God (Rom. 3.27).

C. Grace as Irresistible (I)
Since God is sovereign, His plan of salvation must be accomplished without fail. Therefore, when He regenerates those whom He has elected and calls them to salvation, they will be irresistibly drawn to His grace and will inevitably come to saving faith and justification.

IV. The Order of Salvation
The Reformed point of view requires a different understanding of the order of salvation. The order is: regeneration, effectual calling, conversion (repentance and faith), and justification.

A. Human inability
Because of the total depravity of man, human beings are utterly unable to please God in themselves, or even to reach out to God for help. God therefore does not require faith on the part of the unregenerate person, because that person is completely unable to exercise saving faith.

B. Regeneration necessary to faith and repentance
Since the unregenerate person cannot exercise faith, God must first regenerate the person, who will then necessarily and unfailingly exercise faith and repentance. Hence, regeneration is prior to conversion.

C. Necessary separation of regeneration and justification
Since regeneration is logically prior to conversion, and conversion is necessary to justification there is in the Calvinist system a necessary separation between regeneration and justification. The Calvinist order of salvation is thus: election, regeneration, conversion, justification.

V. The Role of Election

A. Unconditional election required by God’s sovereignty (U)
God is sovereign over all things; therefore, His will is not contingent upon anything else. Therefore, when the Bible describes the election of believers, it must be unconditional–conditioned, that is, solely upon the sovereign, unchangeable will of God.

1. Reformed understanding of foreknowledge
An unconditional election raises the question of why the Bible specifically relates election to foreknowledge, since foreseen merit or foreseen faith are excluded as criteria for salvation. Calvinism sees “foreknow” as meaning “forelove” (to “know” being an intimate form of knowledge; cf. Gen. 4.1); therefore, it was those whom God “foreloved” that he predestined.

B. Unconditional election necessary for assurance
If salvation is in any sense synergistic, then part of one’s salvation is contingent upon maintaining the proper human response. Scriptures relating assurance to election would therefore be meaningless unless election were unconditional. If salvation is all of God, then assurance of security is also all of God.

VI. Perseverance (P)

A. A corollary to unconditional election and irresistible grace
If election is unconditional and grace is given irresistibly, then it follows that the elect person cannot ever fall out of grace. If it is God’s will that someone will be saved, then that person will be saved and will never lose that salvation. This does not negate the possibility that a person who is elect and regenerated can fall into grievous sin temporarily, or that a person who outwardly appears to be a true believer may in fact demonstrate that he is not by falling away and rejecting the faith entirely.

B. The promise of perseverance
In addition to the above logical requirement of perseverance, scripture also promises that believers will in fact persevere to the end: e.g., Romans 8.17, 38-39; Ephesians 1.13-14; Philippians 1.6.

The Arminian Response to Calvinistic Objections

I. The Justice of God

A. Relationship to mercy
Although mercy must be predicated upon justice–one must be adjudged guilty of a sin before one may be forgiven for it–that does not mean that mercy is less important, or less extensively offered. To the Calvinist’s contention that God is not required to save anyone, it may be responded that it is in God’s merciful nature, as revealed by the scriptures, to offer salvation to human beings. The question is not, “What is God obligated to do”; it is rather, “What is it in God’s nature to do?” The Arminian believer holds that it is in God’s nature to reach out in love and save.

B. Desires that God does not act upon
Although it is contended that God’s desire for all to be saved is simply one He does not act upon, one must ask why He does not act upon it. The scriptures that deal with this matter are uniform in their answer: it is because the wicked person refuses to repent (e.g., Ezek. 33.17-19; 2 Pet. 3.9). Not one scripture suggests that God ever refuses to offer grace to anyone, which is why election’s negative corollary–reprobation–cannot find scriptural support and is why even most Calvinists attempt to repudiate or modify it.

II. The Scope and Sufficiency of the Atonement

A. Atonement limited by election, based on God’s sovereignty
The fact that God is sovereign does not in itself negate the possibility of human freedom. God may in fact will that a portion of His creation have some genuine autonomy. Suggesting that God’s sovereignty precludes any human autonomy does not enhance, but actually diminishes His omnipotence; is God not free to create agents of free moral choice? Scripture seems to be clear that God accomplishes His will despite human freedom and sinfulness, not by negating it. Therefore, it is at least theoretically possible –it is consistent with God’s sovereignty–to hold that God sovereignly chooses to make salvation contingent upon some aspect of human freedom; specifically, the free choice to respond to the call of the gospel.

Moreover, the Reformed point of view runs into problems by acknowledging a universal (or general) call to repentance and faith (see III. C.) and yet asserting that atonement is limited to the elect. Calvinists usually respond to this point by arguing that only those to whom God gives irresistible grace and faith are able to believe or have any desire to do so; i.e., God is not offering anything that the unregenerate person wants, so there can be no possibility that anyone could actually desire to be saved without provision having been made for that person’s salvation. Granted that this point of view is consistent within the Calvinistic scheme, it ignores the fact that, by making a general call to salvation, God is (in the Reformed view) construed as offering something for which He has not made provision–in fact, for which He has expressly refused to make provision–namely, salvation for the non-elect. The fact that none will accept the offer is immaterial to the fact that God is here represented as making an offer which is not in good faith.

B. Total depravity and the rightness of justice
Although the Bible makes clear the total depravity of man, in that everyone without exception falls short of the glory of God and has no innate desire to live a life worthy of God, the scriptures involving depravity never state that human beings are unable to respond to the Gospel in faith; rather, the reverse is everywhere assumed (e.g., Rom. 10.12-15). Evidently, God does something in and through the preaching of the Gospel that enables hearers to believe. This is what Arminians have traditionally termed, “prevenient grace.” As Paul wrote, the Gospel itself “is the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1.16).

III. The Role of Faith

A. Faith as a Gift
All evangelicals are committed to the propositions that one must believe in Jesus to be saved; that those who have been saved are described as having been chosen by God; and that faith is a gift. Nevertheless, the call to exercise faith is always put in the imperative. Faith is not something that one inevitably exercises if one has it, else it would be pointless to be called upon to believe, and to put one’s faith in God. It must be reemphasized that faith and the action of believing are the most frequent ways in which Scripture identifies God’s people.

By contrast, such terms as “the chosen [elect],” which might lead the reader to view the saved as passive recipients of mercy, appear comparatively rarely in connection with the NT people of God (eklektoV is used 23 times in the NT; of these, four refer either to Christ or to angels and three occur as a parallel passage with another three, leaving only sixteen distinct references referring to individuals, groups, or the church as a whole being described as “chosen” or “elect”). This is not to say that these references can be ignored simply because they are comparatively few in number, but they should not be built into an interpretive grid through which the rest of the Biblical witness must be viewed.

B. Faith as opposed to works
Scripture is clear that faith is not only not a meritorious work but is opposed to works “For by grace are you saved through faith–and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2.8). The capacity to believe is given by God; but the requirement to exercise that faith with respect to Christ, as above, is a commandment given to us. Scripture simply never considers exercising such faith a work, still less a “work of the Law” (Gal. 3.2; i.e., Torah observance) which is what Scripture seems most at pains to oppose. With regard to the issue of boasting, it is related in scripture specifically to the issue of works as explicitly contrasted with faith. Since faith is merely a response to a free offer from God, it is never in any sense considered a ground for boasting.

C. Grace as Irresistible
Most of the scriptures that Calvinists point use to demonstrate the call of God to saving grace as inevitably effectual actually refer in the past tense to believers having been called by God (e.g., 1 Cor. 1.9; Rom. 1.7; 1 Cor. 1.26; Eph. 1.18; Phil. 3.14; 2 Tim. 1.9; Heb. 3.1). Of course, if the group being described as having been called is comprised of believers, then of course, the call was effectual in their case; these scriptures, however, do not have any bearing on whether there are others who were called and did not respond in faith. Just because believers are described as “called” by God doesn’t mean that God didn’t call others. In fact, other scriptures explicitly describe the Lord calling all to salvation (e.g., Matt. 11.28; Isa. 45.22; Matt. 22.14), and the Reformed view is forced to distinguish between a “general” call and an “effectual” call. There are a number of passages in which people are clearly represented as resisting God’s grace (e.g., Acts 7.51; Matt. 23.37; Jer. 3.19-20)–indeed it makes a great deal of sense to view the entirety of the historical sections of the Bible as one long record of people resisting grace offered by God.

IV. The Order of Salvation

A. Human Inability
It is stipulated that unregenerate persons are unable to do anything to please God, merit salvation, or even come to the Lord without God first drawing them (Jn. 6.44, 65). Yet Jesus announces his intention to “draw all men” to himself (Jn. 12.32). Although unredeemed humanity is pictured in scripture as being spiritually dead and blind, completely unable to come to the Lord, there is no indication in scripture that those who are actually confronted with the Gospel are unable to receive it. The Gospel itself is viewed in the New Testament as bringing with it the power of salvation (e.g., Rom. 1.16, 10.14-15; Eph. 1.13; 2 Tim. 1.10). The best means of understanding God’s work in enabling people to believe (what Arminians have termed, “prevenient grace”) would be to view the Gospel itself as being invested with the power to respond with saving faith.

B. Regeneration necessary to faith and repentance
If the power to respond to the Gospel lies in the Gospel itself, rather than in regeneration, then it is not necessary to suppose that God regenerates a person who is not yet converted or justified. No passage of scripture states that conversion is subsequent to regeneration; however, there are scriptures that place conversion at the entrance to salvation (e.g., Acts 2.38, 10.43, 16.31).

C. Necessary separation of regeneration and justification
As explained above, there is no clear scriptural reason to separate regeneration and justification, other than the necessity in Reformed theology of postulating regeneration before conversion and justification after. Once that necessity is obviated, one may see regeneration and justification as simply two metaphors for expressing the same spiritual change. This is the most natural reading of the scripture.

V. The Role of Election

A. Unconditional election required by God’s sovereignty
Since God is sovereign, the criteria of election must be sovereignly determined by Him, and the sole criterion he has established is faith in Christ. However, to suppose that God’s sovereignty prevents Him from allowing humans to make a free response to the gospel diminishes His sovereignty, rather than supporting it. God is able to make creatures that exercise free will; God is able to enable them to respond to the Gospel even if they are dead in sin; God is able to elect them based on their response to the Gospel. None of this is precluded by God’s sovereignty; in fact, if any of them are precluded, the result is to diminish God’s sovereignty.
Reformed understanding of foreknowledge

The understanding of proginosko as meaning “forelove” rather than “foreknow” must be understood as a desperate expedient to avoid the clear implication of scripture that election is based on foreknowledge. The usual passage referred to in defense of this interpretation is Genesis 4.1, in which Adam “knew” his wife; i.e., had sexual relations with her. However, the fact that “know” is used biblically as a euphemism for sexual intercourse does not mean that “know” in general can have the meaning of “love,” much less that “foreknow” can have the meaning of “forelove.” At any rate, if God “foreloves” certain people, He must have already chosen–elected–them for such “foreloving.” Yet the scripture makes clear that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge, not the reverse.

B. Unconditional election necessary for assurance
The fact that the doctrine of unconditional election provides assurance of salvation (for those who know themselves to be elect) does not make it true. If anything, it suggests an ulterior motive (beyond the testimony of scripture and reason) for those who hold that doctrine. We must hold a doctrine because Scripture clearly supports it, not because it produces a result that we like.

VI. The Necessity of Personal Perseverance

A. A corollary of unconditional election and irresistible grace
It seems logical that if election is unconditional and grace is irresistible, then perseverance is a necessary corollary. However, since the Arminian position views personal election as conditioned upon the response of faith and views grace as resistible, it is not committed to perseverance as a doctrine.

B. The promise of perseverance
Scriptures dealing with assurance, including those relating it to election, are there to give comfort to sincere believers that despite external pressures and persecutions, they will be enabled to remain in a faith relationship by the power of God. These scriptures, however, do not give assurance that the believer will never fall away; indeed, many scriptures warn against precisely that possibility. We can be assured that we will always be enabled to believe and thus never need lose our salvation; we are not assured that once we’ve been saved, we will never fall away.

Further Considerations: Overall perspectives of the rival systems

The areas in which the two systems are most clearly divergent are two. Calvinism views God primarily in His aspect of justice, and views the human will as essentially passive or mechanical–the sum total of all a person’s desires. It is therefore basically deterministic. Arminianism views God primarily in His aspect of mercy, and views the human will as essentially active and determinative. Apart from the pressures of a person’s various desires is something that retains the power of individual choice. This faculty, the will, is enabled by the reception of the Gospel to respond in faith and to receive salvation. The will is also able to reject faith after salvation, despite the fact that God will not allow any circumstances to take our faith from us. Although it would satisfy justice for God to select from the mass of sinful and condemned humanity a small number (Matt. 7.14) to save, and to abandon the rest to their deserved fate without hope, it does not seem in the character of God to so selectively and parsimoniously mete out mercy to the fortunate few. It seems much more in the character of God to offer mercy generously to all, even though we are sinful, rebellious, and rightfully condemned, and to give us the enablement to respond to His offer of grace freely offered.

Keith Schooley (comments may be submitted at the original post)