Many Calvinists have attempted to argue that Arminianism falls short of this passage by making faith something to boast about. I believe this argument is based off at least one of four problems:
- The Calvinist not understanding the Arminian position of prevenient grace
- The application of Calvinist presuppositions that Arminians don't hold
- A complete misunderstanding of the nature of faith.
- A complete misunderstanding of the nature of boasting.
In this post, I will be dealing with each of these mistakes in turn.
One of the ways that Calvinists have expressed the reasons why Arminians should be "able to boast" is because "faith is something that originates inside of man, and thus the thing that saves you comes from you."
There are a couple of different problems with this, but the issue that I wish to point out here is that Arminians do not hold that faith is something that originates within you. Faith is made possible by the prevenient grace of God.
Prevenient grace simply means grace which comes before. In this case, it is the sum total of all those acts of grace which God bestows upon us before salvation which prepares us for salvation. All Arminians believe that prevenient grace is necessary in order for us to be saved. Indeed, it is necessary in order for us to have faith.
Now some Calvinists may argue that the notion of prevenient grace doesn't solve the problem. This seems to be based off of the idea that if man is not 100% passive, than man is 100% responsible for the result, even if God does all the actual work. I have read multiple reasons why Calvinists think this (none of which I find convincing obviously), but I don't have space to go into each one now. What is important for the purposes of this article is that Arminians believe that God is the source of our faith.
It is important for the Calvinist to realize that no one would ever boast off of something that they "should" logically conclude. Instead, if they are going to boast, they are going to boast based off of what they actually believe, and we don't believe that faith originates within us.
One of the common mistakes of Calvinist Apologetics is claiming that Arminianism is internally inconsistent. The term "Internally Inconsistent" means that there are 2 or more beliefs which exist within a system of thought that are contradictory ideas. However, what most Calvinists seem to mean by this term is that certain Arminian conclusions do not naturally follow from Calvinist presuppositions.
There is an excellent example of this within this particular subject. Many Calvinist would argue that because the difference between one saved and one who is not saved is faith, that therefore faith is something to boast about. However, this assumes the idea that any condition within man that God uses is therefore meritous (which it isn't), and it assumes that if God does not directly cause something than it is purely man's accomplishment (which is silly). Both of these ideas derive from the idea of unconditional election, and is therefore a circular argument.
These are Calvinist presuppositions that Arminians do not hold, and because we do not hold them, we are not being inconsistent. We just simply disagree with Calvinists.
The Nature of Faith
Probably the silliest aspect of Calvinists claiming that Arminians "can boast" is that it is impossible to boast about real faith. You can't do it. To boast about faith is like boasting about humility: you negate it by boasting. Just try and think about what that would really sound like:
"I have more faith in my complete depravity and absolute necessity in my great, powerful merciful savior to atone for the sum of my sinful and worthless deeds than you do. You loser!"
I cannot imagine how someone who understands how necessarily humbling true biblical faith is can possibly claim it is something someone can boast about. And as silly as it sounds just by calmly thinking about what it must mean, it amazes me that people are convinced by this. Indeed, it saddens me that this is one of the most popular and successful Calvinist arguments. It shows me that we Arminians have done a poor job articulating our theology.
The Nature of Boasting
So far I have talked about how it false to argue that Arminianism can lead to boasting. Now I am going to change gears a bit and explain why Calvinism doesn't protect one from it.
First of all, let's deal with a misunderstanding of the Biblical text. Here it is again for those who may want to reference it:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Many Calvinists believe that the point of this text is that grace is supposed to take away the ability for humans to boast (as opposed to taking away all reason for boasting). At least, this is how the argument seems to me.
However, history and common experience tells us that humans do not only boast about accomplishment. Indeed, we will boast about any status to makes us superior to someone else, whether that be accomplishments, race, class, etc... Therefore, because being saved is superior to not being saved, it is possible for someone to boast about it, regardless of how one is saved.
I don't see why it is impossible to say, "I'm elected and you're not. So I'm better than you." Well, in some degree you are! I mean God chose you didn't He? Even if His selection was arbitrary, God still chose you. That's pretty sweet, and means that you are in a better position than those who aren't.
"Wait a second," says the Calvinist, "even if someone were to boast about being unconditionally elected, that boasting would be completely unjustified." Well the same goes for having been saved by faith. If the text means that the person has no legitimate reason to boast, than the Calvinist has no basis to use it against Arminians, as I have already shown.
And ultimately, that's my point. Salvation is by faith, which the text clearly says, and it is because of the nature of faith that one cannot boast. Indeed, that fact that it is by faith is what makes it a grace, because God has the right to make us earn it if He wanted to. But we don't have to earn it; we just have to believe. The only boasting salvation encourages me to make is to boast in the glory and graciousness of my God and His Son, and it is vanity to argue otherwise.