Wanted: More Arminians

quote boxIt has become a bit routine:

  • Email arrives from someone assuming I am (or everybody at SharperIron is) a Calvinist.
  • Email poses question believed to be incriminating of Calvinists or unanswerable by them.
  • Response from me offers biblical answer that is not especially calvinistic.
  • Questioner ignores most of the particulars, broadly condemns “Calvinism.”
  • Discussion becomes repetitive, overly heated or both, ends.

A recent example appears below, with details removed to avoid identifying the sender. I’m including the exchange because, this time around, a reality hit home to me that hadn’t before: apparently, many fundamentalists think that anti-Calvinism is a complete doctrine of salvation.

But anti-Calvinism is, at best, a thoughtful rejection of one particular doctrine of salvation. More commonly, it’s nothing more than a feeling of hostility toward doctrines only partially understood. As a result, many anti-Calvinists have no coherent doctrine of salvation at all. They have rejected lasagna from the menu but have walked away without ordering any alternative.

If the emails I get are any indication, most anti-Calvinists are completely unaware that they have an empty hole where their soteriology ought to be.

So this essay is a plea for more Arminians. Love it or hate it, authentic Arminianism offers a thoughtful, self-consistent set of Bible-based answers to all the same questions Calvinism wrestles with. And the cause of the gospel would be far better served if more anti-Calvinists would embrace some kind of coherent soteriology. Classical Arminianism is not the work of slouches and is far better than the semi-Pelagian, Finneyist confusion that came along later—and way, way better than the self-contradictory, quasi-Pelagian mush many anti-Calvinists settle for nowadays!

The conversation

Anti-Calvinist (1)

How do you theologize away “…was not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?”. And, just so I know, are you a Calvinist who opines that, in John 3:16, that when God so loved the world, it was the world of the elect……..and whosoever actually means “whosoever of the elect”? Just wondering, because my 3rd grade sunday school students read it and believe it means all inclusive.

Me (1)

Hi, [name removed].
Since all do not actually come to repentance, and God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1), that verse requires an explanation regardless of whether one identifies more closely with a Calvinist, Arminian or quasi-Pelagian approach—or none of the above.

In short, “not willing that any should perish” has to be “theologized away” by everybody in one way or another. The question is how to harmonize it with what is revealed elsewhere. A sort of short answer, from my point of view, is that unless we say those burning in Hell for eternity are there against God’s will, we have to understand “not willing” in 2 Pet. 3:9 to be either (a) describing God as conflicted on this point or (b) having a narrower meaning based on the context. As for (a) the idea would be that He wants them there perishing in some sense but doesn’t want them there in another. It is part of His plan to reveal His righteousness through “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:22), yet He is grieved that this part of the plan brings suffering to His creatures (“endured with much longsuffering” - also Rom.9:22).

But the other possibility is that (b) the verse should to be read in context as an explanation for why He delays His coming (see 2Pet.3:4ff), that is, He delays because He is not willing to end His plan early and leave those who would have believed stranded without their day of opportunity. In short, Peter is saying “God has a schedule, and His coming is right on time. There are still those He plans to save.”

I can see merits in both (a) and (b), though I’m still not entirely confident I correctly understand Romans 9. But other passages do indicate He does not take pleasure “in the death of one who dies” (Ezek 18.32). So a scenario where He is “willing” and yet “not willing” at the same time doesn’t seem out of the question to me. All the same, as far as 2 Pet. 3 goes, (b) handles the context better.

Hope that helps. I’m not speaking for others at SharperIron. There would be a variety of answers to that question from folks on the team, not to mention those who would join in discussion.

Anti-Calvinist (2)

See your quote below.

In short, “not willing that any should perish” has to be “theologized away” by everybody in one way or another. The question is how to harmonize it with what is revealed elsewhere. A sort of short answer, from my point of view, is that unless we say those burning in Hell for eternity are there against God’s will, we have to understand “not willing” in 2 Pet. 3:9 to be either (a) describing God as conflicted on this point or (b) having a narrower meaning based on the context. As for (a) the idea would be that He wants them there perishing in some sense but doesn’t want them there in another.

No point in arguing with you, however, I will point out, that it appears that you do not believe people can refuse salvation, and go to hell for their unbelief…..and this is what God desired all along. To put the thought process simply: God created a man, desiring that the man would go to hell, thus not granting him “elect” status, which you oh-so-conveniently purport to possess…..lucky you, that you aren’t part of Gods big ant-squashing rumpus room, right?

Me (2)

Eph2, Romans 3 are clear that people do not want to believe. This is why God must graciously bring conviction to them first. No one comes except the Father draws him. It’s not about luck. It’s called grace. There are ultimately only two possibilities: either I am chosen on the basis of some quality I possess or I am chosen graciously apart from any merit of my own (what you are calling “lucky” here). So which do you choose to believe? If you decide for “merit,” you have rejected the gospel. (This is not a “Calvinist” idea. Even Arminians affirm that human beings do not, on their own, possess any inclination to believe the gospel. An act of Grace by God is required.)*

So in your view, is God’s will eternally flouted by the existence of sinners in Hell? Is He standing helplessly by as His will is defeated by millions who reject His offer of salvation? If so, as the old saying goes, your God is too small.

Anti-Calvinist (3)

Do you believe that it is God’s desire that some people go to hell?

Me (3)

Tell you what, I’ll answer that after you answer my questions. :)

Anti-Calvinist (4)

Its been the basic question all along. Does God desire that certain people go to hell? (His will).

Me (4)

I shouldn’t answer your questions if you won’t answer mine. But I’ll let Scripture answer them…

He “works all things according to the counsel of His own will.” Eph.1.11

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ (Isaiah 46:10)

But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)

Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places. (Psalm 135:6)

Anti-Calvinist (5)

Almost as if you are afraid to answer yes, so instead you dance.

In order for Calvinism to be true, God must desire (will) that some boys and girls die and go to hell someday.

Me (5)

Quoting Scripture is dancing? I’m happy to be dancing in that case. When you have something to say about the verses I’ve quoted and the questions I’ve raised, I’d be happy to discuss the matter further.

Anti-Calvinist (6)

There is nothing to discuss, because you are wrong. In typical fashion, a calvinist must engage in long drawn-out searching in order to understand salvation.

Yes, you danced. I asked a question about what you believe. Instead of giving a simple response, you attempted to deflect “blame” for your position of predamnation to the Bible.

Your hateful self-important heresy rears its ugly head up every few decades, and gains momentum….only to once again be slapped down with: “For God so loved the WORLD…that WHOSOEVER..”, “..not our sins only..” Whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.

Sir, a child hearing the Gospel, can understand these verses, and understand that God wants to save everyone.

Im glad that you are wrong, and that everyone can be saved. You believing the world is flat, does not make it so.

A plea for seriousness

The exchange above is shortened slightly, but even in the full length version the anti-Calvinist offers no explanation for how it is that people can spend eternity in Hell contrary to God’s will, how a God who “wants to save everyone” fails to do so, how a God who wants all to be saved could ever return (thus ending the opportunity of salvation for many), or even why there should be any eternal Hell at all.

To all anti-Calvinists everywhere: I respect your right to reject Calvinism—more than you know! But if you’re going to be anti something, please be for something else. Develop a studious, serious, thoughtful and—yes, systematic—set of answers to the issues of God’s sovereign plan; the phenomenon of human choice; the reality of Hell in God’s plan; the nature of depravity, election and grace; and the extent and application of the atonement. For my part, I’d be thrilled if more of you picked up a copy of Roger E. Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and became full-blown Arminians.

*The references to sovereign grace as luck and divine wrath as ant squishing, etc. disoriented me for a bit here, I guess. My counter-argument is pretty much a calvinistic one, since the belief-enabling grace in Arminianism is not granted individually but rather preveniently to all who hear the gospel.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Don Johnson's picture

Hi Aaron,

Unless this is a church member of your own church, why would you bother getting involved in this type of exchange? It's a no win situation, as far as I can see. And I wouldn't get into this with a church member by e-mail... way too inflammatory.

Now, a few comments on what I get from your article...

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Classical Arminianism is not the work of slouches and is far better than the semi-Pelagian, Finneyist confusion that came along later—and way, way better than the self-contradictory, quasi-Pelagian mush many anti-Calvinists settle for nowadays!

The way you say this, along with some other points in your article is rather frustrating to any kind of charitable discussion of theology. First, a lot of these terms are inflammatory by themselves. Using the term "Pelagian" is all too easy for Calvinists, they seem to trot it out at the first opportunity, and whether it is qualified by "semi-", "qausi-", "demi-", "hemi-" or any other such prefix it really frustrates non-Calvinists because it is just pejorative and hardly every is an accurate description of what they believe. It is most often used to silence critics lest they should be in any way connected to Pelagius and his heretical beliefs. That's no way to conduct an argument.

The term "Arminian" itself is likewise very frustrating. The way it is used seems to be generally as a pejorative of any system that isn't at least 4-point Calvinism. The fact is that there are several different views between full Arminianism and full Calvinism. Personally, I reject both Calvinism and Arminianism as inadequate to fully express the meaning of Scripture. So it is incredibly frustrating when that term is trotted out. I noticed it in a recent review somewhere... Themelios? I think that's where it was. There was a review of a book I recently read, http://www.amazon.com/Whosoever-Will-Biblical-Theological-Five-Point-Cal... ]Whosoever Will , edited by David Allen and Steven Lemke. The reviewer basically dismissed the book as "Arminian" ... which is not the case at all.

In these discussions, it would be better to just leave off the labels and talk about what we think the actual texts say. On the non-Calvinist side, I have seen too much throwing around of the "Hyper-" prefix, a term designed to frustrate Calvinists and shut them up.

One last quibble, in your footnote, you said:

Aaron Blumer wrote:
My counter-argument is pretty much a calvinistic one, since the belief-enabling grace in Arminianism is not granted individually but rather preveniently to all who hear the gospel.

I don't think that is quite right. I think Arminianism teaches that all men are given prevenient grace such that when they hear the gospel they are able to believe.

Here's part of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevenient_grace ]Wikipedia entry:

Quote:
Prevenient grace is divine grace which precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.

There are more definitions there, including one from the Church of the Nazarene that seems to be a pretty representative statement of it.

Well, have at it! I don't plan to enter into this discussion beyond this post, though you never know...

And I think the internet is about to explode into a discussion of 'events, my boy, events' starting tomorrow, so probably this post will get lost in the shuffle!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What was I going to say "You're not a member of my church so I'm not going to answer your question"?

No, I usually assume that I can either (a) make my own understanding more clear or (b) give a questioner some things to think about. I have too much of a teaching impulse to turn anybody away who is asking, even if I suspect he isn't really interested in thinking about the subject.

As for prevenient grace, I think the difference between "comes to all before they hear the gospel" and "comes to all who hear" is not tremendously important. Either way, all who hear have belief-enabling grace in the Arminian system.
But, FWIW, the way I worded it came most recently from here (though I have seen it elsewhere):
http://evangelicalarminians.org/Outline.FACTS-of-Arminianism-vs-the-TULI...

"Because of Total Depravity and Atonement for All (as described above), God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, and graciously enables those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith."

Don wrote:
The term "Arminian" itself is likewise very frustrating. The way it is used seems to be generally as a pejorative of any system that isn't at least 4-point Calvinism. The fact is that there are several different views between full Arminianism and full Calvinism.

I think you kind of missed my point. I'm serious about the title of the essay. I have a great deal of respect for the Arminianism that came from Arminius, though it does not represent my own views. And the piece is intended to illustrate that many out there today have not thought their soteriology through--with the result that their views are incoherent. Coherent Arminianism is better than any view that is tripping over its own answers to the fundamental questions.

So I'd rather see "in betweeners" go a bit further one way or the other than have a random soteriology. I'm not ready to say that neither system can be modified at all, but these were very serious men trying to answer very important questions biblically (the men I refer to are mainly Augustine and later Calvin and Arminius and their proteges).
They didn't invent systems in order to enslave everyone to a system. They arrived at systems because they believed that everything God says is true and therefore everything He says is consistent with everything else He says. Therefore, we have not understood Him accurately if our views on a subject are contradictory.

My post is getting long but I need to clarify that I absolutely believe in mysteries, but we're not qualified to rope a question off as unanswerable until we seriously aim to answer it (and find that God has not given us enough information to do so).

So "modifying" Arminianism or Calvinism is only proper and possible when you understand both first. If we don't go to that much trouble, we're likely to have semi-Pelagian mush as a soteriology because this is where we are historically post-Finney. (I use the term Pelagian advisedly because I do know what Pelagianism is).

Dick Dayton's picture

Aaron, Some time ago, I wrestled with these two texts, in both of which the translation speaks of God's not being "willing" for people to perish. On further study, the II Peter passage uses "boulamai" and the I Timothy one uses "thelo." Without pushing the envelope too far, "boulomai" can mean God's determined plan, while "thelo" can speak of a desire, a wish, but not a determined blueprint. In II Peter, the author says God is longsuffering "to us," which would mean His children by faith in Christ. God works in us to draw us to Himself, even as John 6 indicates. In I Timothy, God says He desires all men to be saved. That would bring Him great joy, even as He knows and told us in Romans 3 that no man, left to his own devices, would come to Christ. This would tie in with Ezekiel 33:11, where God says He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and with Acts 13:46, where Paul says that those who rejected the gospel judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
As I meditated upon these two passages over the years, this is how the Lord led my understanding of them.

Dick Dayton

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron, it took real courage to write this article! But you know, those of us who believe in Sovereign Grace (as I do) are often inconsistent with Calvinism, too. That is why I prefer the term "Sovereign Grace" or "Election." For example, by a Calvinistic model, I am a 4 pointer. I believe God's grace is too lavish to merely cover the elect without any grace left over. I do not embrace the old European "waste not" ethic of some of the Reformers. Yet a 5 pointer would claim I am inconsistent because I believe God's election secured the salvation of the elect and that the atonement overpaid the debt of sin.

Many of us, perhaps yourself included, also see a duel track. There is a sense in which whosever will is true, and there is a sense in which no man can come unless the Father draws him, and the Father does not draw everyone. I used to often hear about the paradox of God's sovereignty and free will (I prefer the term responsibility because I do not actually believe in free will), but that seems to have dropped out of modern discussions.

I have to affirm that your main point is valid about a hole in the realm of soteriology among those who reject Sovereign Grace. People want to take eternal security but not the basis for that security (God's sovereign hand). They want to assert man's free will, but, in essence, say after salvation that free will is removed (a saved person cannot choose to be lost).

Personally, I have found much appeal in Arminian viewpoints, although I usually disagree with parts of them. Yet, because they are not encapsulated with the Westminster Confession or a TULIP configuration, they often do a better job of thinking outside the box. Unfortunately Arminianism often borders on works salvation, but not always. Ben Witherington III is a commentator I do not always agree with, but he has to be one of the most amazing Bible scholars of our day. His commentaries are amazing.

Great, bold post brother!

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

I for one am thankful that you would endeavor to answer these kinds of questions and to give us the benefit of your thinking. I believe this kind of discussion can be most helpful to those who are wrestling with difficult Biblical statements.

Don, I would appeal to you to not get so frustrated with the use of terms and labels. These all have well defined meanings, historically, and can be extremely helpful in keeping these discussions from long, detailed explanations. Re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. The problem is not with the labels. The problem is that some do not understand correctly what the labels mean. When that becomes apparent, the discussion needs to slow down and take more time to explain. Otherwise, it can move forward more efficiently. Perhaps the use of these terms will encourage some to learn what they mean, and in the process, to further their understanding of the subject at hand.

It is my observation that a well understood, full blown Arminianism comes closer to Calvinism in many respects than the broadly evangelical gospel so prevalent today. An old-fashioned Wesleyan, for example, recognizes the need for the Holy Spirit's personal and specific operation upon an individual to enable them to believe the gospel. Many modern day evangelicals/fundamentalists do not, opting instead to believe that saving faith is inherent in every man, or that prevenient grace enables everyone to believe the gospel when they hear it, without an immediate enabling work of the Holy Spirit, a work that may not occur to another sinner hearing the same message at the same time.

Thanks to all for a good discussion.

G. N. Barkman

Steven Svendsen's picture

Thanks, Aaron. I get your point. It is the reason many of us Calvinists smile and say "Amen" to C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer while we cringe at Rob Bell and Greg Boyd.

Thanks for taking a few hits for the team.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

One of these days, I'd like to do a post or two along the lines of "What Arminius really believed." But the folks over at the http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Society of Evangelical Arminians have done a thorough job of that already (though they do include posts with views that are contrary to Arminius... some on imputation for example).

One example of Arminius' views below-- one that explains the distinction I'm trying to make between true "Arminianism" and "semi-Pelagianism." Maybe, Don, I wasn't clear that I don't lump these together. Arminius was not a semi-Pelagian because, for one, he did believe we all sinned in Adam.

"XVI. The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam "all have sinned." (Rom. v. 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men "are by nature the children of wrath," (Ephes. ii. 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v. 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever."
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.v.viii.html
Mike Durning's picture

Aaron, I appreciate the spirit of this article.

I find both Calvinists and Arminians, in their attempts to reconcile the various passages, explaining away the few passages that trouble their system. When this happens on both sides, it ought to be a sign to us that neither system is sufficient to completely explain the fullness of soteriological truth.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mike Durning wrote:
Aaron, I appreciate the spirit of this article.

I find both Calvinists and Arminians, in their attempts to reconcile the various passages, explaining away the few passages that trouble their system. When this happens on both sides, it ought to be a sign to us that neither system is sufficient to completely explain the fullness of soteriological truth.


I agree to an extent... though I find when I read the more serious representatives, they don't do this as much as they seem to be doing it. That is, whether you see something being "explained away" or not tends to depend on the theological tilt you already have when you read the explanation.
In general, I think the effort these men put into systematizing is underappreciated today. I tend to read Calvin and Arminius with the assumption that these guys were both smarter and godlier than me... so if it looks like "explaining away," I want to step back and say, well, maybe not.

But on the whole, I've come to value the whole idea of "systematic" much more than I did, say, a dozen years ago. (Partly because we seem to live in an era where logical inconsistency is becoming almost a badge of honor. [understatement ] Something about that offends me... [/understatement ] though I'm all for keeping a keen eye on the fact that we mere humans can only reason out so much and no more.)

JobK's picture

The soteriology chapter in that textbook, which attempts to pass its anti-Calvinist polemicizing propaganda as "biblicism" is a perfect example of "with the result that their views are incoherent. Coherent Arminianism is better than any view that is tripping over its own answers to the fundamental questions." The best (or worst) part was when Towns attempted to alter the long and commonly understood meaning of certain words (i.e. election and predestination) because said meanings were inconvenient to his "biblicist" system.

As for the Arminians who object to being called Arminians ... well wow, how many "Calvinists" are actually "Calvinists" (meaning that they agree with Calvin's entire system, and not just the soteriology)? If they want a better name for themselves, it is their responsibility to pick one (and no, we are not going to go along with their propaganda and trash our own beliefs by calling them "biblicists.")

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Shaynus's picture

For my hour long commutes in the morning, I'm listening through the 100 Sunday School classes that Wayne Grudem did of his Systematic Theology at his church. Just yesterday, I listened to his lecture on Election. I think he has a similar spirit to Aaron here. He appreciates the legitimate arguments of true Arminians, while holding a Calvinist view. This is worth a listen, as is the series. He has a good discussion here of the different kinds of "wanting" that God may have. He has a good illustration of how we all "want" various things, and we all do what we "want" in the end. Do we "want" to accept Christ? Yes. But the question of whether we really want it or not is somewhat different from what God sovereignly willed and "wanted" from time past.

Election and Reprobation

http://scottsdalebible.com/assets/audio/christian-essentials/20080120WGr...

The whole series is linked here

http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/MP3-Audio--Multimedia/A...

And on iTunes via podcast.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wayne-grudems-systematic-theology/id3...

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Don wrote:
The term "Arminian" itself is likewise very frustrating. The way it is used seems to be generally as a pejorative of any system that isn't at least 4-point Calvinism. The fact is that there are several different views between full Arminianism and full Calvinism.

I think you kind of missed my point. I'm serious about the title of the essay. I have a great deal of respect for the Arminianism that came from Arminius, though it does not represent my own views. And the piece is intended to illustrate that many out there today have not thought their soteriology through--with the result that their views are incoherent. Coherent Arminianism is better than any view that is tripping over its own answers to the fundamental questions.

So I'd rather see "in betweeners" go a bit further one way or the other than have a random soteriology. I'm not ready to say that neither system can be modified at all, but these were very serious men trying to answer very important questions biblically (the men I refer to are mainly Augustine and later Calvin and Arminius and their proteges).

What I am pointing out is that Calvinists tend to use the term 'Arminian' to describe all systems that are not Calvinist. But doing so is a misuse of the term. Most of those who it is wielded against are not Calvinists, but they are not Arminians either.

Further, I think it is a mistake to assume that someone who isn't either an Arminian or a Calvinist is guilty of 'random soteriology', 'semi-Pelagian mush', or hasn't thought through the issues.

I think you can find thoughtless people at all points along the theological spectrum. I could say I find a LOT of them at the C end, but I don't want to inflame things!!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Don, I would appeal to you to not get so frustrated with the use of terms and labels. These all have well defined meanings, historically, and can be extremely helpful in keeping these discussions from long, detailed explanations. Re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. The problem is not with the labels. The problem is that some do not understand correctly what the labels mean. When that becomes apparent, the discussion needs to slow down and take more time to explain. Otherwise, it can move forward more efficiently.

Fair enough. However, the labels I object to most are not used as descriptors in debate, they are used to dismiss the argument or the one arguing and to shut down the argument altogether. "That's just semi-Pelagianism." "You're just an Arminian." I suppose such statements are fine if they are true, but most often they are not, and when used, they are used by Calvinists who don't understand what they mean and just want to dismiss the person they disagree with.

G. N. Barkman wrote:
It is my observation that a well understood, full blown Arminianism comes closer to Calvinism in many respects than the broadly evangelical gospel so prevalent today.

I agree. That's one of the reasons I reject full blown Arminianism! (I reject the 'broadly evangelical gospel' too, just in case anyone is wondering.)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Charlie's picture

Don, I think your point is sound. I'm deep enough in Reformed-land that I know people who get angry when 4-pointers call themselves "Calvinists," yet these same people lump all non-Calvinist view under the term "Arminian." It's not fair, nor is it helpful. Plus, there's something patently absurd about labeling confessional Lutherans or Catholics as Arminians, since these views existed before Arminius (or Calvin!) ever wrote a thing.

However, I do think that non-systematic mush is extremely common in the US outside confessional Protestantism and Catholicism. For example, Norman Geisler is a very well respected evangelical theologian. He has been the president of ETS and written an influential 4-volume systematic. His soteriological views are an incoherent mess, and I don't say that merely because I disagree with him.

He participated in the Zondervan volume http://www.amazon.com/Views-Eternal-Security-Matthew-Pinson/dp/0310234395 ]Four Views on Eternal Security . That volume included Michael Horton (Classical Calvinism), Geisler (Moderate Calvinism), Stephen Ashby (Reformed [Classical ] Arminianism), and J. Stephen Harper (Wesleyan Arminianism).

Now, the remarkable thing is that Geisler, while disagreeing with all the accepted points of Calvinism, nevertheless styled himself a "moderate Calvinist" because of his belief in eternal security. However, the two Arminians, in their responses, lambasted Geisler. They said that he was no Calvinist, nor even an Arminian, but some sort of confused semi-Pelagian. Had that come from Horton, the reader might pass over it as overzealous Calvinism, but when two Arminians starting throwing around the big P-word, we need to listen. If a man as intelligent and well-educated as Geisler doesn't have a clue what he's talking about in this area, I fear for evangelicalism.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don wrote:
"That's just semi-Pelagianism." "You're just an Arminian." I suppose such statements are fine if they are true, but most often they are not, and when used, they are used by Calvinists who don't understand what they mean and just want to dismiss the person they disagree with.

I share your distaste for that sort of thing. In the long run, helps nobody because the ideas themselves are not getting thought about. (It's also pretty boring, IMO... but that sort of depends on whether you prefer chess to free style wrestling Wink )

There's a really interesting article by J. Matthew Pinson of the Society of Church History, http://evangelicalarminians.org/files/The%20Diversity%20of%20Arminian%20... ]published at SEA .
It's a fascinating look at the differences between the Arminianism of Thomas Grantham and that of John Goodwin, both 17th century English Baptists.
A brief taste: Grantham (with Arminius) embraces both original sin in Adam and imputation with Adam. Goodwin says we all sinned in Adam but are not imputed Adam's guilt.
Grantham (with Arminius), holds to the penal satisfaction view of the atonement. Goodwin leans toward Grotius' governmental theory.

The piece is very even handed and well documented and some great background for looking at how we got to where we are with these questions today. It's kind of the beginning of the departures that eventually led to more popular, but less biblical, variants of Arminianism in the U.S.

Charlie wrote:
They said that he was no Calvinist, nor even an Arminian, but some sort of confused semi-Pelagian. Had that come from Horton, the reader might pass over it as overzealous Calvinism, but when two Arminians starting throwing around the big P-word, we need to listen.

LOL. But I agree that the confusion we're seeing isn't funny at all.

Gabe Franklin's picture

Quote:
So in your view, is God’s will eternally flouted by the existence of sinners in Hell? Is He standing helplessly by as His will is defeated by millions who reject His offer of salvation? If so, as the old saying goes, your God is too small.

Aaron,

Let me attempt to answer this question you posed.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of people not doing the will of God, Matthew 5:21 would be an example. I believe that God's sovereign plan can not be thwarted, but I would agree with Dick that there is a difference between God's predetermined plan and God's desire. So, my answer is that God's will is no more flouted by those who go to hell, then by those that Jesus was referring to in Matthew.

Pastor Harold's picture

Well said and I couldn't agree more. It would seem it you give God a little to much credit for saving us...Then your just a dirty old Calvinist.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
Let me attempt to answer this question you posed.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of people not doing the will of God, Matthew 5:21 would be an example. I believe that God's sovereign plan can not be thwarted, but I would agree with Dick that there is a difference between God's predetermined plan and God's desire. So, my answer is that God's will is no more flouted by those who go to hell, then by those that Jesus was referring to in Matthew.

I'm guilty of a bit of "mush" myself on some points. This is one of them. At the moment, though I think the Peter passage really is an explanation of why Christ delays His coming (those who are going to believe have not all believed yet), I still think there is a kind of conflictedness... and maybe that's what you're saying as well.
It seems counterintuitive that God has made a plan that includes things He doesn't like, but there seems to be no way around that. As far as Hell goes, what can "righteous wrath" mean if not a kind of pleasure in punishing unrighteousness? So He has to "want" what happens there. But I think there is no reason why He cannot be grieved at the same time.

D.Hazen87's picture

Hey Aaron,

Like it's been said by a few, thank you for your boldness in speaking forth, and I'd just encourage you to be gentle with those who disagree with you on some of these things, even when they start the conversation with an attack. And maybe gentle isn't the best word...but responding out of love.

I used to be an arminian. Or...something like that. I knew I wasn't one of those crazy, arrogant and self-important Calvinists who thought that God would only save them and a few others. What a ridiculous stance to take - how would you ever even bring that into the world? I remember (somewhat to my shame) sitting in my 11th or 12th grade Bible class, arguing with my teacher, and not letting John 3:16 go. "THE WORLD! How can you MISS that?!?!"

About 2 or 3 years ago, I really began to see the positions put forward by John Calvin in Scripture. I didn't want to see them. I basically ended a relationship with a girl over Calvinism. That one might prove that God is sovereign AND good, but that's a separate issue Smile

I really didn't want to hear it. The stance that God would predestine some but not all did, and sometimes still does, bother me. It doesn't square with my feelings of "fairness." And perhaps there is where the problem starts. I understood that none of us deserved heaven, but if one person is saved, shouldn't all people have a fully equal chance of being saved?

What I've found, in my searching and studying, is that the answer is yes, and no (like several people have said.) We all get the same opportunity in that none would chose it, but some are chosen by God while others are not. To take it a step further becomes more uncomfortable, but logically consistent, I think, is to say therefore that God choses, as Romans 9 would say, some vessels to be prepared for destruction. That sounds like a mean, vindictive God who isn't love or doesn't love, but I think our view is too man-centered (I think there is a theological term for this, but all I can think of is Helio-centric, which isn't what I want.)

Following the logic of Romans 9, God reveled to me that God's ultimate goal is not to give every person a fair chance, but it is to Glorify the name of God. That God has grace on some does not make him unjust when he refuses that grace on others. Again, even now this concept isn't comfortable...but I see scripture supporting it. Which somehow gives me more confidence that it is not my idea, but the Word of the Lord.

As one last thought, Aaron, I think you are on the right track with your view on 2 Peter - that God has what I think Lewis called a narrow and wide scope or view, and that he is not bound by one while acting in accord with the other. Or said another way, he doesn't have to do what makes him happy right now if it does not line up with his overall purpose, namely glorifying his name.

Alright, sorry - I told myself this would be short Smile

So Aaron...thank you!

Gabe Franklin's picture

First off, I have to admit something. When I referenced Matthew 5:21 I meant Matthew 7:21, but I guess both verses work, but it is completely coincidental Smile

Quote:
It seems counterintuitive that God has made a plan that includes things He doesn't like, but there seems to be no way around that.

I am glad to hear you say this, because one of my problems with Calvinists is that is seems to me that what it comes down to is that they can not accept this seeming contradiction. Maybe I am wrong, I don't know.

I thought your explanation of the "conflict" is pretty good. I would say that the conflict would be that God want us to do His will, but He also wants us to choose to do His will. The second desire being greater than the first. I don't see this conflict as being contrary to the character of God at all. Jesus had a conflict within Himself in the garden.

D.Hazen87's picture

Ohh - one other thought - you're spot on about calling all people (even those who call themselves Calvinists because that's the church they attend) to develop a consistent, Biblical, and Christ-centered Soteriology. I don't think that we can think to deeply or praise God to much for the way God redeems man, and, more importantly, us. My prayer is that we can build each other up and push each other towards truth, rather then dig deeper into our camps because "those other guys are jerks".

DavidO's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
...I reject full blown Arminianism! (I reject the 'broadly evangelical gospel' too...

And we know you're not a Calvinist either.

I suspect a well-written article detailing your non-Calvinist, non-Arminian, non-broadly evangelical soteriology would likely be posted here, and I, for one, would love to read it (even over at oxgoad.ca).

Todd Wood's picture

It is all a push for coherency. The coherency tries to relieve the tension. But until Jesus comes, the tension is going to remain. The debates will continue among godly brethren.

Charles, I haven't read much of Geisler. I read a lot of Calvinistic stuff. One of Andy N.'s recent blog posts has got me thinking about Owen's defense of particular atonement. But I am still not swayed.

I often find myself agreeing with Bruce Ware.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Since no one else has mentioned it, I would like to suggest a simple solution to the seeming tension in II Peter 3:9. If we will pay close attention to the pronouns, and the clear distinction between the statements Peter applies to "us" and "you" in contrast to the ones that apply to "those" and "them" (in the context of the entire chapter), the verse isn't very conflicting. With that in mind, Peter says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some (of them) count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any (of us, that is the elect) should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

As Aaron noted, the main point is that God's seeming delay of the second coming is to give time for "all" to come to repentance. But, as Aaron (or someone) also noted, if "all" means everyone in all the world, Christ could never come as long as anyone remains unsaved. The solution is to realize that "all" here means all the elect. When the last elect child of God believes, Christ will return, not before.

G. N. Barkman

dan's picture

I think it's amusing that Calvinists use the term "Sovereign Grace", as if implying only they believe God is sovereign, yet they object to non-Cavlinists using the term "Biblicist", claiming it implies only non-Calvinists believe the Bible. Smile

In the past when I got involved in discussions of alternatives to Calvinism here, the Calvinists (not the best representatives) involved would not acknowledge such a thing as Classical Arminianism, insisting all arminianism is pelagian, or semi.

I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian (of any kind), but am probably closer to a Classical Arminian than a Calvinist.

Nor is my soteriology random.

"Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy."
G.K. Chesterton

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Part of the tiny world of many Calvinists is to assume that those who are not Calvinist are de facto Arminians of some form or another. Of course beyond the tiny world of such people one finds appreciable recognition by other Calvinist of non-Calvinist views upon which they understand trying to force the label Arminian is inappropriate.

Todd Wood's picture

This is interesting . . .

(1) John Piper exploring the two wills of God -

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/are-there-two-will...

(2) Bruce Ware exploring the extent of the Lord's atonement -

http://www.withoutvoid.com/WareExtentof%20Atonement.pdf

(3) Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views

http://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Doctrine-God-Four-Views/dp/B004LQ0INS

Again, I am inclined to agree with Ware rather than with a classical Calvinist position.

Don Johnson's picture

DavidO wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
...I reject full blown Arminianism! (I reject the 'broadly evangelical gospel' too...

And we know you're not a Calvinist either.

I suspect a well-written article detailing your non-Calvinist, non-Arminian, non-broadly evangelical soteriology would likely be posted here, and I, for one, would love to read it (even over at oxgoad.ca).

So I don't think I'll write that one.

However, I am going to write a review of the book I mentioned earlier in the thread and also a review of http://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Sovereignty-Molinist-Kenneth-Keathley/dp... ]Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley. The other book, Whosoever Will, is a cooperative effort and is the fruit of something called the John 3:16 conference, put on by non-Calvinist Southern Baptists. As a cooperative effort, it is uneven, but some of the chapters are quite strong, I think, especially the chapter dealing with the extent of the atonement. Salvation and Sovereignty is an attempt to give a thorough explanation of what is called a Molinist position (3 point Calvinism, if you will). I find a lot of agreement with the views in this book, but also some points of disagreement. I'm about half way through it just now, so it will be a few weeks before I can get to it. I need to sit down and write the review of the other one soon, though, or I'll start forgetting things I want to say about it.

But to write a comprehensive soteriology? No, thanks. Too daunting a task, and others have already done a much better job than I could.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

D.Hazen87's picture

Guys - at the risk of sounding soft and mushy...easy. My feelings aren't hurt, and I understand the passion that you guys have for rightly handling the Word of God, especially in something as essential as to how God deal with the Salvation of his people, whom we all would agree and dependent on grace alone. And I'm newer to this board - i've followed and occasionally posted for about the last 18 months, but I know a lot of you have been involved a lot longer then that. So it's easy to get familiar with each other and lose some of the social graces, which is good to a point.

BUT, I encourage you guys to, while fiercely defending your position (or, more specifically, the scriptural position), do so with grace and as Iron sharpening Iron instead of chunks of lead slamming against each other. Realistically, I think it might be tough for a non-believer to get through this entire thread and get to the last few posts to see some things possibly deteriorating. So I won't in any way rule out the possibility of that happening or already have happened. And if that's you - congrats! But I think we'd be wise to develop a form no matter where we're writing, or who we're dealing with, where we build each other up and glorify God instead of protecting our pride in our position.

I know that sounds very..."I have candles on the stage in my meet room on Saturday nights"ish of me. And I'm sorry for that. I was just surprised to see a pretty civil debate start to take a nose dive, and think we'd all be wise to keep things in check in a conversation where it is super easy to get super emotional super quick.

Again, if you want to - just discount me. But I ask that you keep it in the back of your mind, not because I said it, but because...it's scriptural.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
Part of the tiny world of many Calvinists is to assume that those who are not Calvinist are de facto Arminians of some form or another. Of course beyond the tiny world of such people one finds appreciable recognition by other Calvinist of non-Calvinist views upon which they understand trying to force the label Arminian is inappropriate.

I agree. My main point in the post is that most anti-Calvinists are not really Arminians, but would be better off if they were Arminians. So, though I can't speak for "Cavinists" generally, which is a pretty broad category, for my part, "Arminian" is not a term of derision but a term of respect. But I do use it more narrowly than history probably warrants. I'm kind of trying to deny the title "Arminian" to the perspectives that buy into Pelagius. That's probably a loosing proposition, but "classical Arminian" is pretty much what I mean when I say "Arminian." Those who own the theology should fly the flag proudly.
But what I haven't studied much yet--recently anyway--is the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Finney's version and then full circle to the thought of Arminius and Grantham et. al. In short, I'm not sure if I have as much regard for Wesleyan Armin. as primitive Arminianism.

Short version: if you're an anti-Calvinist and you hear me call you an Arminian, I'm praising you.

Todd wrote:
It is all a push for coherency. The coherency tries to relieve the tension. But until Jesus comes, the tension is going to remain. The debates will continue among godly brethren.

I do think that the debate is changing some in a few places. For example, because there is a growing soteriological void, more calvinists are writing things like "Wanted: More Arminains." Smile
But I agree that the tension is not going away and debate will continue.
I just think it's healthier to point the rhetorical guns at soteriology slop rather than at "everything that isn't my own system." So, I'm trying to give Arminianism the respect it's due.
Maybe there is a little place in a small corner of the universe for people to disagree about these systems but appreciate the amount of diligent, humble work proponents have put into them.

But I guess the second prong of my "agenda" here is to encourage folks to more highly value systems in general. That's probably something to work on some more in another post... but you know, more people read if you toss the words "Arminian" and "Calvinist" into your text frequently. Wink

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