Society of Evangelical Arminians: What is Arminianism?

The following is by Dan Chapa of the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA). Since theologically serious alternatives to Calvinism seem to be in short supply these days, SharperIron contacted SEA recently about the possibility of representing classical Arminianism for the SI audience. To learn more about the SEA, see their About Us page.

Arminianism is a summary of our understanding of the Scripture’s teaching on salvation. The name comes from Jacob Arminius, who led 17th century opposition to Calvinism, but the idea stems from Scripture and has deep roots in the early church fathers. Many non-Arminians have mistaken notions about Arminianism—as do many Arminians. This post will define and defend the essential aspects of Arminianism (total depravity, resistible grace, unlimited atonement and conditional election), without critiquing Calvinism.

Total Depravity

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in total depravity—the idea that fallen man requires God’s grace through the beginning, middle and end of the salvation process. Adam’s fall left us unable, of our own strength, to repent and believe or live a life pleasing to God. But total depravity is not utter depravity; the lost don’t commit the worst sins possible on every occasion. Still without God’s grace, sin impacts every aspect of life and we cannot seek God on our own. Rather, He seeks us and enables us to believe.

Resistible Grace

Arminians may vary on exactly how God’s grace works; but all Arminians hold to the necessity of prevenient grace (grace that comes before conversion that enables us to believe). When God’s grace starts drawing us to conversion, we can choose to say no and reject Christ. God hasn’t predetermined repentance and faith; nothing causes these such that rejection is impossible and we cannot choose otherwise. But believing does not earn or cause salvation; God chooses to have mercy on believers.

Arminians find resistible grace in passages speaking of God’s grace and man’s rejection of it. God is seeking, drawing and inviting mankind to Himself (John 1:9, 4:23, 7:17, 12:32, 16:8; Rom. 2:4, Titus 2:11, Rev. 22:17). In Isaiah 5:4, God asks what more He could have done (showing the sufficiency of His grace) and He invites Israel to judge itself (showing the reasonableness of His requirements). The reasonableness of God’s commands and invitations shows that God treats us as if we can obey Him, which implies that we can, and this harmonizes with our moral intuitions.

In Matthew 11:21, Christ says Tyre and Sidon would have repented if the same works He had done in Chorazin and Bethsaida had been done there. Tyre and Sidon were bywords for sinfulness, so they were neither elect nor regenerate. Yet the same divine works would have brought about repentance in them, showing the fitness of God’s works to bring about repentance and placing the difference in man’s response.

Also, the divine lament passages strongly affirm the resistibility of grace (Ps. 81:13; Luke 13:33-34, 19:41). Some passages plainly say people reject and resist God’s efforts to bring them to Him (Gen. 6:3, Jer. 13:11, Ezek. 24:13, Luke 7:30, Acts 7:51). God hardens hearts by turning over people to their own sinful lusts (Rom. 1:18-28). This implies that God’s grace was softening their hearts and restraining their wickedness. Additionally, the highly controversial Hebrews warning passages (however interpreted) indicate that God’s grace is resistible (Heb. 2:1-3, 3:6-14, 6:4-6, 10:26-29, 12:15). (Most self-identified “Arminians” have held that true believers can forsake Christ and perish as unbelievers, but the earliest formal statement of Arminian theology—the 5 points of the Remonstrants—expressed uncertainty about the point and, conceptually, it is not an essential tenet of Arminian theology.)

Resistible grace often leads to the controversial question of whether faith or regeneration comes first. Some disagreement stems from defining regeneration. Does regeneration include God’s imparting eternal life to us? Does regeneration include God’s enabling belief? Arminians typically answer yes to the first question and no to the second, so naturally we see faith as preceding regeneration. Ephesians 1:13, John 1:12-13, John 5:24-28, Romans 6:2-6, Galatians 3:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 support this order. Notice the issue is which grace enables man to believe (prevenient grace or regeneration) not the depth of man’s depravity without grace.

Scriptures say we have wills and choose (Deut. 30:19, Josh. 24:15, 1 Cor. 7:37). “Choose” is normally defined as “to select from a number of possible alternatives” and we reject imposing on Scripture definitions of “choose” that either remove essential elements or are stipulated philosophical definitions. God tests us—whether we will obey or not—which implies that at least sometimes obedience is up to us (Exod. 16:4). God promises that we will not be tempted beyond our abilities (1 Cor. 10:13), which implies that we can choose to obey or not. God’s desire to have a relationship with free creatures magnifies His love, and His ability to providentially govern and rule a world with free creatures magnifies His sovereignty.

Unlimited Atonement

Christ died for everyone. This is not universalism; the benefits of Christ’s death are conditionally applied, not automatically or necessarily applied. Just as the Passover Lamb was slain and the blood applied, so also we distinguish between Christ’s death and the application of His blood to believers. Christ’s death makes salvation possible for all, and God desires all to believe and be saved through His blood, but only believers are actually cleansed by Christ’s blood.

We see conditionality in the application of Christ’s blood because justification is by faith (Rom. 3:21-26) and because Christ died for some who ultimately perish. Christ said to all the apostles, including Judas, my blood is “shed for you” (Luke 22:21-22). The apostates in Hebrews 10:26-29 were sanctified by Christ’s blood. The false prophets in 2 Peter 2:1 denied the Lord that bought them. 1 John 1:7 and Colossians 1:22-23 plainly teach conditionality in the application of Christ’s blood.

The many passages saying Christ died for the world or all men ground our belief that Christ died for everyone (John 1:29, 3:16-17, 4:42, 6:33, 6:51, 12:47; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:14; 2 Cor. 5:14-19; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-6, 4:10). While “world” has a broad range of meanings, that range does not include any definition that would avoid the conclusion that Christ died for everyone, nor do we see validity in inventing a specially plead definition of world to avoid unlimited atonement. We see Christ’s sacrifice for all as the foundation of the sincere offer of the gospel to all in that everyone can be saved through what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Conditional Election

God gave pre-fallen Adam the ability to obey Him—He wanted Adam to be free to have a relationship with Him. God did not causally determine Adam’s sin such that he couldn’t obey and necessarily fell—such would be inconsistent with God’s holiness and hatred of sin (James 1:13, Jer. 7:31, Ps. 45:7). Thus, Arminians insist that God is not the author of sin, and free will is essential to Arminian theodicy. Our freedom lies between God and sin; otherwise God is ultimately responsible for sin.

In election, God considered man as fallen sinners. God chooses to have mercy (Rom. 9:16). Scripture calls the non-elect vessels of wrath, or appointed to wrath (Rom. 9:22, 1 Thess. 5:9). Now mercy on the one hand, and wrath on the other, presuppose sin. So Arminians view election as fixing the sin problem, rather than seeing the fall as something God planned in order to accomplish His goal of sending His chosen to heaven and the rest to hell.

Election automatically excluded unbelievers. So we see symmetry in some essential respects between election and non-election. Hellfire is a punishment for sins, so rejection is conditional on unbelief and impenitence.

Freely fallen sinners is one starting point in explaining election—God’s amazing love is another. He does not desire the death of the wicked, nor is He willing that any should perish, but rather He wills all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (Ezek. 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4-6). God’s love of the world moved Him to send His Son so that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17). Given man’s fall, the Father chose His Son as the basis and foundation for salvation, and our election is in Him (Matt. 12:18; 1 Pet. 1:20, 2:4; Eph. 1:4).

Just as rejection is conditional, based on sin and impenitence, election to salvation is likewise conditional, not based on works or merit, but based on God’s choice to have mercy on believers. Scripture describes predestination as God’s choosing to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21, 2:7); election is said to be in sanctification and in belief in the truth (1 Pet. 1:2, 2 Thess. 2:13). Conditional election includes God’s plan from before time to save through the gospel. Before the foundation of the world, God, in Christ, chose to glorify Himself by saving believers out of fallen mankind.

While all Arminians agree that election is Christocentric and conditional, Arminians may disagree on whether election is primarily corporate (election of the Church as a group with individuals sharing in the group’s election by faith) or primarily based on God’s foreknowledge of each individual’s faith.

Closing Thoughts

When I was first challenged by a Calvinist friend regarding Romans 9, I couldn’t explain the passage. And since his explanation made sense, I reluctantly accepted Calvinism. Then one night, I was shocked by the warning in Hebrews 10 and decided to devote time to digging into Scripture on the issues. I studied for years and came out of that process an Arminian. It was difficult; Arminian resources were scarce and Arminians scarcer still. SEA fixes all of that, giving us resources and a community in which to build each other up. Space hasn’t permitted a detailed exegesis of each of the passages cited, but much more detail is available on the SEA website.

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There are 91 Comments

nbanuchi's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
martin, I agree that one accepts unconditional election or one does not. I writes as one who does. But I would argue that the Scriptures themselves come at these matters from both directions. We know, for example, that we cannot save ourselves. Yet Acts 2:40 exhorts us to do just that...I am saying that the Scriptures describe salvation in both Sovereign Grace terms and Arminian terms.

Just for clarification, are you suggesting that Scripture "describes salvation" in both terms of a grace that can be resisted and, simultaneously, of that same grace that cannot be resisted?

Thanks.

danchapa's picture

Greg,

Quote:
When you say you believe election is God's choice to save the group of people He knew would believe, do you mean God chose each member of that group individually, or only that He chose to save the group? Whoever places themselves into that group by believing becomes, thereby, the elect of God?

Closer to the former, I think. But it's all the members collectively rather than each individually. So not like, Bob, yes. Tim, yes. Sue, yes. But rather the list or Bob, Tim, Sue, yes.

Arminians will have different views on this issue, no doubt.

God be with you,
Dan

danchapa's picture

Quote:
Dan, that is exactly what I am saying!

Glad to hear it Ed!

God be with you,
Dan

Martin_G's picture

Ed said:

Quote:
Martin, I agree that one accepts unconditional election or one does not. I writes as one who does. But I would argue that the Scriptures themselves come at these matters from both directions. We know, for example, that we cannot save ourselves. Yet Acts 2:40 exhorts us to do just that:

Quote:
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."

I am saying that the Scriptures describe salvation in both Sovereign Grace terms and Arminian terms.

But this demonstrates my point in so many ways. As an Arminian, I necessarily believe in Sovereign Grace. I believe that we cannot save ourselves. I believe God's hand is over all of history and humanity. If I didn't believe such things, I wouldn't be Arminian. I find that when people try to hold to Calvinist concepts and Arminian concepts at the same time, the Calvinist concepts they are talking about already exist within the Arminian system. The two belief systems are actually extremely close together.

your brother in Christ,

Martin
Alpha and omega forever

nbanuchi's picture

Martin_G wrote:
...the Calvinist concepts they are talking about already exist within the Arminian system. The two belief systems are actually extremely close together.

It seems to me that when concepts are defined, both theological systems are widely divergent and cannot be reconciled. Their being "extremely close together", therefore, is merely superficial. No?

Martin_G's picture

nbanuchi writes:

Quote:
It seems to me that when concepts are defined, both theological systems are widely divergent and cannot be reconciled. Their being "extremely close together", therefore, is merely superficial. No?

I don't think their being close together is superficial, no. On the other hand, i do think that what differentiates them makes them irreconcilable. Like I said before, it is like the difference between the hallway and the living room: they are right next to each other, but there is a clear line of demarcation between them.

If you go back to the Augustine/Pelagius debate, there were four belief systems that emerged: Augustinianism, Semi-augustinianism, Semi-pelagianism, and Pelagianism. Calvinism is very similar to Augustinianism, and Arminianism is very similar to Semi-augustinianism. Both C and A are founded on Reformed theology, and have the 5 solas as their theological starting places. Thus, i would argue against it being a superficial similarity.

your brother in Christ,

Martin
Alpha and omega forever

JohnBrian's picture

Martin_G wrote:
If you go back to the Augustine/Pelagius debate, there were four belief systems that emerged: Augustinianism, Semi-augustinianism, Semi-pelagianism, and Pelagianism. Calvinism is very similar to Augustinianism, and Arminianism is very similar to Semi-augustinianism. Both C and A are founded on Reformed theology, and have the 5 solas as their theological starting places. Thus, i would argue against it being a superficial similarity.

http://www.amazon.com/History-Christian-Church-8-vols/dp/156563196X ]Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 1996.

Vol. 3. Ch. 9, Sec. 146-160, p. 783ff

or http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/history/3_ch09.htm online text here

or http://www.whitehorsemedia.com/docs/HISTORY_OF_THE_CHRISTIAN_CHURCH_03.pdf ]FREE PDF download here - p.464ff

Section 160 is titled Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, AD 529.

Schaff (p.870 book); (p.514 PDF) wrote:
At the close of this period Gregory the Great represents the moderated Augustinian system, with the gratia praeveniens, but without the gratia irresistibilis and without a particularistic decretum absolutum. Through him this milder Augustinianism exerted great influence upon the mediaeeval theology.

It appears that the idea of Prevenient Grace came from http://www.reformed.org/documents/canons_of_orange.html the canons of the Council of Orange .

The conclusion reads:

Quote:
The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him.

It also shows that baptism was the means by which that grace was bestowed.

Quote:
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul.

Additional source: Chris Bounds blog article http://cbounds.blogspot.com/2006/10/four-major-views-of-christian.html The Four Major Views of Christian Salvation: Part Two.

Quote:
...unlike the Semi-Pelagian view, which sees original sin or human depravity as partial or incomplete, leaving humanity with some internal resources to contribute to the work of salvation, the Semi-Augustinian view sees original sin as complete or humanity as totally depraved.

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G. N. Barkman's picture

It seems that the similarities become smaller, and the differences greater as we define issues more carefully. I have tried to stay focused on one doctrine, election, in order to define clearly what Dan believes. Dan believes that election is of groups, not indiiduals. The Bible speaks of individuals. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined..." (Romans 8:29 NASB)

Dan gave an illustration of a football team choosing a tackle, as if the fact that the football player, in choosing to become a tackle rather than a linebacker, placed him in the group that Dallas had already determined to choose. But the illustration does not work, precisely because the doctrinal viewpoint does not work.

For the illustration to work, Dallas would have to "choose" every player who chose to become a tackle, not just one. Dallas didn't choose a group, they chose an individual. God doesn't choose a group, He chooses individuals and makes them members of a group, the church. When Dan's illustration is examined carefully, he illustrates individual Divine election. Dallas chose one tackle and passed over others. God chooses one individual and passes over others.

The doctrine of election is not warmly welcomed by either sinner or many saints. But an honest dealing with Scripture requires that we accept Unconditional Election. That is what God does because He is Sovereign. That is what the Bible teaches so that we may know that His sovereignty extends to every detail of salvation, not just to a general rule of most parts of His universe. When the Biblical doctrine of election is understood and embraced, our understanding of God grows larger, as well as our understanding of the meaning of grace. Grace is truly unmerited favor in every way.

Again, thanks for a good discussion.

Warm regards,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
It seems that the similarities become smaller, and the differences greater as we define issues more carefully. I have tried to stay focused on one doctrine, election, in order to define clearly what Dan believes. Dan believes that election is of groups, not individuals. The Bible speaks of individuals. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined..." (Romans 8:29 NASB)

Hey Greg-

Quite a few of the other translations for Romans 8:29 make that a plural, not a singular; if I remember my greek correctly, this is a legitimate translation. Furthermore, in the overall context of Romans 8, I do not see how you can make that one verse particular.

Here are a few of the other translations:

Quote:
HCSB - 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.

ESV - 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

AMP - For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was aware and loved beforehand ], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them ] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness ], that He might become the firstborn among many brethren.

NIV - For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

The NAS, KJV, and NKJV to render it as a singular in that one particular verse.

As for the context (in the NAS, since that's what you used):

Quote:
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?...

et cetera. I think my point is clear Smile

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks to everybody for the tone of the discussion here. I haven't been able to keep up, but what I'm seeing has been interesting.

Just one thought on paradox. I doubt anybody is saying that Arminianism and Calvinism can be held simultaneously "as paradox" in their entirety. That is, in my experience, what people usually mean is that they like to hold to parts of one and the other at the same time and call it paradox or mystery etc.

I prefer to say that there are details of the whole working of God in salvation that are, while truly important, still mysterious to me and I expect to remain uncertain for some time... maybe until 1Cor.13.12.
So rather than say I'm "both" or "neither," I prefer to say that in some particulars I'm "as yet undecided."

But I'm not keen on the Arminian idea of comprehensive prevenient grace. Though I respect the idea as a viable solution to the problem of total depravity + responsibility to repent and believe, I'm not inclined to see it as the right solution.
Still, I'm not for dismissing the problem as one with an obvious (ie. Calvinist) answer. I think the answer is a difficult one any way you slice it.

Martin_G's picture

Thanks for that reference. I have some Schaff, but I really should get that particular book.

I would also like to add that Baptism being the mode of dispensing grace was as much an Augustinian position as it was a Semi-augustinian position. Indeed, Augustine was the father of Protestant soteriology and Catholic sacramentology. The principle difference between those two views and their Protestant counterparts is sacramentology.

your brother in Christ,

Martin
Alpha and omega forever

danchapa's picture

Greg,

It’s true the illustration has its limitations – it was intended to deal with ratification and to show a conditional choice is still a choice and I think it does that. Perhaps it could be fixed by supposing that instead of selecting individual players, groups of players were chosen or something like that.

Well in any case, I am not sure I understand your concern. Are you saying selecting a group is illogical or rather unbiblical?
I agree with Jay’s point about Romans 8.

Quote:
Again, thanks for a good discussion.

Likewise. I certainly appreciate your approach.

God be with you,
Dan

Martin_G's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
It seems that the similarities become smaller, and the differences greater as we define issues more carefully. I have tried to stay focused on one doctrine, election, in order to define clearly what Dan believes. Dan believes that election is of groups, not indiiduals. The Bible speaks of individuals. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined..." (Romans 8:29 NASB)

Dan gave an illustration of a football team choosing a tackle, as if the fact that the football player, in choosing to become a tackle rather than a linebacker, placed him in the group that Dallas had already determined to choose. But the illustration does not work, precisely because the doctrinal viewpoint does not work.

For the illustration to work, Dallas would have to "choose" every player who chose to become a tackle, not just one. Dallas didn't choose a group, they chose an individual. God doesn't choose a group, He chooses individuals and makes them members of a group, the church. When Dan's illustration is examined carefully, he illustrates individual Divine election. Dallas chose one tackle and passed over others. God chooses one individual and passes over others.

The doctrine of election is not warmly welcomed by either sinner or many saints. But an honest dealing with Scripture requires that we accept Unconditional Election. That is what God does because He is Sovereign. That is what the Bible teaches so that we may know that His sovereignty extends to every detail of salvation, not just to a general rule of most parts of His universe. When the Biblical doctrine of election is understood and embraced, our understanding of God grows larger, as well as our understanding of the meaning of grace. Grace is truly unmerited favor in every way.

Again, thanks for a good discussion.

Warm regards,
Greg

If I remember correctly, Dan only uses that metaphor to explain the relationship between conditionality and election. He doesn't use it as an allegory for how election works. Dan himself can clarify more if he cares to.

your brother in Christ,

Martin
Alpha and omega forever

Martin_G's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Thanks to everybody for the tone of the discussion here. I haven't been able to keep up, but what I'm seeing has been interesting.

Just one thought on paradox. I doubt anybody is saying that Arminianism and Calvinism can be held simultaneously "as paradox" in their entirety. That is, in my experience, what people usually mean is that they like to hold to parts of one and the other at the same time and call it paradox or mystery etc.

I prefer to say that there are details of the whole working of God in salvation that are, while truly important, still mysterious to me and I expect to remain uncertain for some time... maybe until 1Cor.13.12.
So rather than say I'm "both" or "neither," I prefer to say that in some particulars I'm "as yet undecided."

But I'm not keen on the Arminian idea of comprehensive prevenient grace. Though I respect the idea as a viable solution to the problem of total depravity + responsibility to repent and believe, I'm not inclined to see it as the right solution.
Still, I'm not for dismissing the problem as one with an obvious (ie. Calvinist) answer. I think the answer is a difficult one any way you slice it.

What do you mean by "comprehensive"? Do you mean that it expands the whole human race? Or do you mean that it deals with the totality of depravity? I only ask because I would not find the latter to be accurate.

your brother in Christ,

Martin
Alpha and omega forever

A.M. Mallett's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Hi A.M. -

I saw this:

Quote:
Of course, this is the Classical or Reformed Arminian perspective. Others might disagree with elements of this but I believe most would agree that the central theme of election is the salvation of believers who persevere to the trump of the LORD.

My understanding of Arminianism is that all true believers are saved and that the salvation is permanent (John 10:22-30, Romans 8:26-39), but the real problem is discerning between the unsaved who think that they are believers and the true believers who are in fact saved. I would disagree strongly with the idea that believers can be lost or fall away from God's grace.

There are many passages that I'm thinking of, including many of Christ's parables, but especially Matthew 25 (the parables of the Ten Virgins, Talents, and the teaching on the final judgment.)

Jay,
Arminius himself did not clearly subscribe to the notion that believers could fall away into apostasy although he acknowledged that there is a scriptural case that deserves consideration. He also emphasized the distinction of "true believers" as being the Elect. I do not believe that "true" is used in an empirical manner as opposed to "false" but instead represents faithfulness e.g. I am true to my wife. True believers will persevere. Those who believe for a season thinking they are "true believers fall away. Now, keep in mind the question what distinction is there really to any believer in his own mind? Both the true and temporal hold to similar truths with only the former faithful and obedient in persevering. Place them side by side and I suggest there is no difference to be found in the eyes of men until one or the other moves his eye to something other than the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hence, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling and only through faith in that same person and work.

nbanuchi's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
It seems that the similarities become smaller, and the differences greater as we define issues more carefully...But an honest dealing with Scripture requires that we accept Unconditional Election. That is what God does because He is Sovereign. That is what the Bible teaches so that we may know that His sovereignty extends to every detail of salvation, not just to a general rule of most parts of His universe. When the Biblical doctrine of election is understood and embraced, our understanding of God grows larger, as well as our understanding of the meaning of grace. Grace is truly unmerited favor in every way.

It would seem to me that defining God as sovereign would neither necessarily entail the Calvinistic notion of election nor demand it's denial would lead to an improper understanding of divine grace. Also, I respectfully note, to reject Calvinism's understanding of election is not necessaily, as your comment implies, an indication that one is not dealing honestly with Scripture.

God can still be sovereign although its extension to every detail may be denied and conditional election is affirmed. Grace remains unmerited although man is required to do what God will not do for him, that is, believe the Gospel. The problem may lie not with the Scriptural declarations of divine sovereignty and man's freedom of the will but in one's understanding of how each is to be viewed/defined within its Biblical framwork.

As such, it still seems to me and I agree that while the similarities may be affirmed on the surface between Calvinism and Arminianism, e.g. the declaration that God is sovereign, looking into the details betray irreconcilable differences.

jlamarcrowder's picture

Martin_G wrote:
To Wayne Wilson,

You said that you would like SEA to focus more on the Anti-calvinists of the internet. What would you like to see? How could we improve in that area in your opinion?

SEA I hope doesn't focus on Anti-Calvinists on the internet. The Calvinists have many websites to combat those people.

nbanuchi's picture

A.M. Mallett wrote:
Arminius himself did not clearly subscribe to the notion that believers could fall away into apostasy although he acknowledged that there is a scriptural case that deserves consideration. He also emphasized the distinction of "true believers" as being the Elect. I do not believe that "true" is used in an empirical manner as opposed to "false" but instead represents faithfulness e.g. I am true to my wife. True believers will persevere. Those who believe for a season thinking they are "true believers fall away. Now, keep in mind the question what distinction is there really to any believer in his own mind? Both the true and temporal hold to similar truths with only the former faithful and obedient in persevering. Place them side by side and I suggest there is no difference to be found in the eyes of men until one or the other moves his eye to something other than the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hence, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling and only through faith in that same person and work.

I really appreciat these comments, especially your understanding of what is mant by a "true" believer. It's very helpful in my understanding of the Bible. Thanks...

jlamarcrowder's picture

Charlie wrote:
I don't think it's true that people (which people?) used to reconcile Calvinism and Arminianism through paradox. Such a thing is impossible, since paradox is not contradiction, and between C&A there are contradictions.

On the other hand, many Calvinists have invoked paradox (or antinomy) to explain the compatibility of unconditional election with human responsibility. Examples of this include J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God; Henry Krabbendam, Sovereignty and Responsibility ( http://www.worldevangelicals.org/lausanne/data/resources/Henry%20Krabben... ]read online here ); and James Anderson, Paradox in Christian Theology.

Ed, as surprising as this sounds coming from me, I completely agree that the emphasis on "Calvinism" does not produce the fruit proponents have proffered. I think that's because some people have tried to embrace the so-called "5 points" without actually embracing Reformed theology, which grounds and directs those points in a robust, well-balanced manner. These days I'm more wary of Calvinist Baptists than I am of Arminians.


This is very interesting to me. I'd not thought about Calvinist Baptists not fully embracing Reformed theology. I guess it's similar to me having been an Arminian Baptist and finding myself a Wesleyan Arminian in the end. It seems that Baptists tend to be hard to pin down with various areas of doctrine which is a strength and a weakness.

G. N. Barkman's picture

There is a long history of Reformed Baptists dating to the early seventeenth century in England. Baptists produced the Calvinist First London Baptist Confession several years before the Westminster Confession appeared.

The claim that Reformed Baptists are not really reformed is more an indication of partisanship than history.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Charlie's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
There is a long history of Reformed Baptists dating to the early seventeenth century in England. Baptists produced the Calvinist First London Baptist Confession several years before the Westminster Confession appeared.

The claim that Reformed Baptists are not really reformed is more an indication of partisanship than history.

No one has claimed that. I would call LBCF Baptists Reformed, although I'm compelled to point out that, historically, they did not use the title "Reformed" but rather "particular," since "Reformed" was associated more with particular ecclesiastical bodies. What I meant was that when a dispensational, decisionistic, Lordship-salvation, memorialist, biblicist, 19th-century-taboo-perpetuating Baptist suddenly picks up a few points commonly called "Calvinism," it does not make him or her Reformed.

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

G. N. Barkman's picture

Charlie,

Thanks for the clarification. Labels can be tricky. Doctrine is what matters. There will aways be differences between Reformed paedo-baptists and credo-baptists. Some who are reformed deny the label "reformed" to all credo-baptists. I thought that might be what you were driving at.

You are correct about the Particular Baptist label. But, I'm not sure that Presbyterians necessarily called themselves "reformed" either, but today we have no trouble doing so.

So, the question boils down to this: how many doctrines must be embraced before the label "reformed" may be employed? Is five-point Calvinism enough? Probably not. Is paedo-baptism necessary? Reformed Baptists would say no. In the end, each must choose his own labels, as there are really no "label police." (Though some come close to this by insisting on the TR, "totally reformed" designation.) If someone believes his doctrine is sufficiently reformed to want to wear the label, why should others object? I don't really know of any dispensational Baptists who accept the label "reformed," even if they are five pointers. In my experience (which is limited), it takes more than the five points before the reformed label is accepted.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Martin_G wrote:
What do you mean by "comprehensive"? Do you mean that it expands the whole human race? Or do you mean that it deals with the totality of depravity? I only ask because I would not find the latter to be accurate.

I was referring to the entirety of the human race. Which raises another question I've wondered about: do classical Arminians differ on when person becomes the recipient of prevenient grace? That is, does it happen at birth or when they hear the gospel or what has been the thinking on that? Also is it generally held that a person receives 100% of that kind of grace at one moment or do some believe it occurs in stages?

No agenda on that, just curious.

(As for "reformed" and when it applies, I get that question surprisingly often. Lately my response is that when a person claims to be Reformed you always have to ask Reformed in soteriology, Reformed in Ecclesiology, Reformed in Eschatology or some combination of the above? I doubt there is any consensus on who is entitled to use the term.... but as Charlie has indicated there are extremes that are obviously not valid. ... FWIW, I do not claim to be Reformed, though my soteriology is in that tradition.... to get back on topic, Arminian soteriology (as in, what Arminius taught) is also Reformed)

danchapa's picture

Aaron,

Yes, Arminians differ on how they explain prevenient grace. John Wesley seemed to hold to a universal prevenient grace, such that all people at all times are enabled by God to obey His commands and believe His promises. Arminius seemed to take a more staged approached, first, through God’s law, man is brought to a point where he realizes he is a sinner and needs salvation. Then, through the Gospel, He realizes salvation is through Christ and is enabled by God’s grace to believe. If a person is not first brought to fear by the law, then the Gospel simply bounces off them.

In Wesley’s case, PG enables obedience but in Arminius’ case PG uses disobedience to work fear in the unbeliever. It’s interesting to note that the predestination controversy didn’t start over Romans 9, it started over Romans 7, when Arminius said the second half applies to an unregenerate man being brought to conversion by prevenient grace.

Now this difference may well be a matter of focus rather than a substantive disagreement. Arminius also held to some type of gracious enablement to obey the law (albeit imperfect obedience and polluted by a corrupt source). But when he spoke of PG, he was focused on God’s drawing man to salvation.

There will be other related differences between Arminians as well such as the exact nature of original sin, the extent to which unbelievers do ‘good’ works, and is PG necessary to defend God’s justice in continuing to require obedience of fallen man.

God be with you,
Dan

Andrew Henderson's picture

Interesting that the predestination controversy started by taking what many (myself included) believe to be a faulty view of the second part of Romans 7.

Andrew Henderson

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

So Dan, am I correct in understanding that to Arminius, prevenient grace comes to people individually as the law does what it does then belief-enabling grace comes thereafter, accompanying the gospel?
Did Arminius maintain many never receive this grace? (I assume those who never hear the gospel, for example?)

Andrew: with you on Rom. 7... Not sure it says all that much about which view of predestination is correct. I can only see a couple of references in Rom.7 to a previous lost condition... and these are in what looks to me like the first half of the chapter. I can't believe that the present tense stuff is meant to be understood as actually happening in the past.

danchapa's picture

Aaron,

Quote:
So Dan, am I correct in understanding that to Arminius, prevenient grace comes to people individually as the law does what it does then belief-enabling grace comes thereafter, accompanying the gospel?

Yes, that's correct, it's individual. All people come under the law at some point in life. If through the law they realize they are a sinner and need salvation, then God would enable them to believe the gospel. But not everyone that hears the gospel is able to believe, especially those who resist God’s law and don’t think they need salvation.

Quote:
Did Arminius maintain many never receive this grace? (I assume those who never hear the gospel, for example?)

Arminius didn’t say that but he did say not everyone who hears the gospel is able to believe it.

As far as ‘those who never hear’, I grant that as far as we can tell, some people die without having ever heard, but we don’t know for sure there are some people that die without ever hearing. The bible simply doesn’t say much about that topic and while there is much speculation and some theories (i.e. Vatican II style inclusivism) can be shown to be contrary to scripture, some theories seem like legitimate options though none seems so solid as to warrant holding to it dogmatically.

God be with you,
Dan

danchapa's picture

As for the tense change in Romans 7, the first question we need to ask is not what Paul means by the present tense, but rather what he means by “I”. Most people probably recognize that Paul intends Romans 7 to apply more broadly than himself so the question is this: is Paul talking about himself as he represents the church or is he talking about himself as he represents Israel?

Romans 7:9 hints that there’s something interesting going on with Paul’s use of I, because he seems to be talking about before and after the giving of the Mosaic law. Broadly, Romans 7 is about the law and one sub-point involved is that the law was intended to bring life but brings death. This fits nicely with the idea that Paul is speaking of himself as representative of Israel, but not of himself of representing the church.

Some might object that Paul must mean himself in the present based only on the fact that he uses I in the present, how would they explain Romans 3:7? There’s precedent for people speaking of themselves as representatives for Isreal in the OT (i.e. Jeremiah 10:19-22) and this form of expression remains imbedded in Jewish thought today as can be seen in the Passover right written in the first person - "I was a slave in the land of Egypt". http://www.best-meaningful-gifts.com/passover-haggadah.html link

God be with you,
Dan

Caleb S's picture

While I do not agree with Arminianism, I find it to be much better than Process Theology, Open Theism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Catholicism, and many contemporary personal theologies of individuals that deal with the issue of salvation.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What he said.

FYI, the folks at SEA and I are talking about future interactions on the subject, so there will likely be more essays coming from this perspective in the not-too-distant future.

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