June 24, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part IV: Theology

I do not know whether or not you have noticed, but as I've been going, I am moving from my least relevant reasons to my most relevant reasons as to why I am an Arminian (which is also often a movement from the subjective to the objective). This post continues that trend as I look at the differences between the two theological systems, and why I believe Arminianism to be more intellectually satisfying. ( I am saving Scripture for last, which will be two parts)

As we move into these last three sections, we move into oversimplification. Each subject heading contains ideas and theses which can take whole books to properly present, and here I am attempting to do so in under a page each. In this regard, I ask for a little leniency, that if you find something questionable, it probably simply needs finer articulation. So I fully encourage any questions to what I say here as well as, of course, challenges.


It is very important that I define what I mean by 'intellectually satisfying'. I want to avoid using black and white terms like 'correct', 'accurate', etc... Therefore, I am using this much softer word as an rhetorical olive branch to my Calvinist brothers and sisters.

By satisfying, what I mean is that it answers the various theological questions that are being dealt with in a superior way. In the end, that is what theology is all about. Once we have heard the gospel, we naturally have questions, and we ask these questions of Scripture. Some of these questions Scripture answers directly. Some it does not. In the end, our theology is shaped by our questions: what concerns we come to the Scriptures with. Inappropriate questions result in poor theology. Poorly balanced priorities in our questions lead to poor theology. Forcing Scripture to answer questions that it is unconcerned with leads to poor theology. And, of course, an unwillingness to listen to Scripture leads to... well poor theology.

The Arminianism/Calvinism debate revolves around a certain set of questions, many that have to do with the core of Christianity: the gospel. This is one reason why we get so passionate about it. In this post, I'm going to address these issues in terms of the questions asked, and attempt to show why I believe Arminianism gives more satisfying answers than Calvinism does.

This list of questions is meant to be representative of the debate, not exhaustive, so please keep that in mind in your responses. I am hoping that this post can generate a lot of discussion, since I am sure some of you can point out other questions that we can discuss, as well as being sure that some of you may feel differently about how satisfactory the answers are.

Sovereignty: What does it mean for God to be sovereign over creation?

The concept of sovereignty, according to many Calvinists, is at the heart of the issue. I disagree, but it is true that Calvinism and Arminianism frame sovereignty very differently. I say it is not at the heart of the issue because both Calvinism and Arminianism completely and utterly affirm God's sovereignty. In both systems, God has the right and power to do whatever He wants and whatever He sets out to do, and whatever He decrees will happen. The difference between Calvinism and Arminianism isn't God's power or authority, but how God uses it.

The principle difference between us in this area is how we answer the following question: has God set forth a decree for everything which ever will happen, or has happened? Calvinists say yes, Arminians say no. The key isn't whether or not things can thwart God's decrees, since we are in agreement that nothing can. So when an Arminian claims that there are things which have occurred which God did not cause, what we mean is that God did not deem it necessary to set forth a decree for those things.

Personally, I think the Arminian position on this issue is stronger since the prominent Calvinist position seems to be based on the fallacy of necessity. The logic seems to flow as follows:

1.God may decree whatever He wants
2.Everything that God decrees must come to pass_____
3.Therefore, everything that God wants comes to pass
4.Or: Therefore whatever comes to pass God wants.

Both of these conclusions ignore the possibility that God may want something that He doesn't decree. Though both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God may decree whatever He wants, many Calvinists seem to think that God must decree whatever He wants, hence fallacy of necessity. Indeed, the central point that Arminians make is that there are things which God wants that He chooses not to decree for His own reasons. He is free to decree what He will and free to not decree what He will.

This coincides with the basic sense of sovereignty as we see it displayed on Earth. Sovereignty means the status and authority of a king. When we look at rulers on Earth, we find that they do not need to decree every minutia that occurs within their realms in order to be considered sovereign. Furthermore (indeed more important) they do not need to decree everything that is within their abilities to decree in order to be considered sovereign. It's not the number of decrees, or the scope of decrees that matters. It is based upon whether or not decrees are followed when the sovereign issues them.

In this sense we see that God is just as sovereign in Arminianism as He is in Calvinism, and I would argue that He is freer. For under Calvinism He is under obligation to decree everything which comes to pass, while in Arminianism, God chooses what He decrees and what He does not.

[Aside: Many Calvinists have claimed (and these are mostly the the Neo-Reformed) that determinism is synonymous with saying that God is sovereign, and it is important here to note that God is not bound to behave like a human king. But, the word sovereign is a human word originally conceived to deal with human conditions. By calling God sovereign, we are saying that God is like a human king, and we cannot demand that the word necessarily means something that is not true with human kings. Now, one could make the argument that determinism is necessary for divinity to behave sovereignly, but one should make that argument instead of hiding behind the rhetorical mask of "defining the word". ]

Impeccability: What does it mean for God to be good?

If you ask an Arminian what is the primary thing that is on the line in this debate, he/she would say God's character. In this, I would have to agree, though I am sure my Calvinist brothers and sisters would disagree. This is, in part, because it appears that God would be the cause of sin within deterministic thinking, but I'll talk more about that under responsibility. Here I want to talk more about the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

To me, Unconditional Election is the concept that makes Calvinism Calvinism. Any other Calvinist point is merely an elucidation on this one. The point of Unconditional Election, as well as the very point of Calvinism, is to demonstrate decisively that the human being does nothing to deserve salvation and that the work of salvation is completely God. Personally, I do not believe this idea is undermined by Arminianism, but I understand why Calvinists think it is (I'll talk more about this under Grace).

According to unconditional election, God chooses who He will save and who He will not based on absolutely no quality within or about that person. His selection is completely arbitrary (subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion). This also correlates to those who are not selected.

I do not see how one can maintain that God is love and say that God saves some and not others based solely on what He wants.

That said, I want to make a couple of concessions. It is true that not all Calvinists claim the monstrous idea that God creates certain individuals just to destroy them. However, that goes against what I understand as classic Calvinism. It is also true that most Calvinists claim that God is passive in the role of condemnation while active in the role of salvation, though I do not see how they maintain this given a deterministic perspective. In these ways, classic Calvinism has always attempted to maintain God as a being of love and goodness. I just don't think it succeeds.

I am also not saying that Unconditional Election is, on its own, unjust. God made the rules. If that's how the rules go, that's how it goes. (Though I don't think these are the rules, as I will argue below)

But this goes directly against the character of God as described in the Bible: God is a God of love. Love does not mean that He is soft, and would never condemn anybody. But it does mean that fundamentally God desires the salvation of all, and works toward the salvation of all. Love is a statement of value. You cannot claim that God truly loves something which He arbitrarily disregards.

And the reason that this has to do with impeccability is that God defines goodness by love. (Matthew 22:34-40) If God is considered to be good and just, then He must be compliant to the definitions of goodness and justice that He himself sets forth. I agree with Sproul that God is the source in defining what is just and what is good. But where I cannot agree with Him is that something is just just because God does it. If all we had were God's actions, then, yes, we define justice by those actions. But we also have God's description of justice and goodness recorded in the Bible, and consistently God speaks out against arbitrary decisions and preferential treatment. This is not consistent with the Bible's description of God's loving character, nor the Bible's definition of justice. (Sorry I don't have a reference for you on the Sproul quote. It is from a video I watched once called The Truth Project)

To some degree, the call to salvation is unconditional, as Calvinists say, in that God calls to those based on His love for them, not based on their actions, thoughts, or qualities. However, this call is also universal, for He loves all and desires to save all. To believe otherwise, in my opinion goes against the qualities of goodness and love as God describes them in the biblical witness.
In the end, in Calvinism, we have a God who saves some because He likes them, and abandons others because He doesn't. There is no way around this. This is different in Arminianism where God demands a unmeritous criterion to be met.

[Aside: The Arminian view of God's sovereignty and human will comes from its view of God's desire to save all. If God desires the salvation of all, and not all are saved, then God must allow humans the opportunity to reject His salvific actions. This is basic Arminian logic, and to avoid this, you must either reject the first premise (Calvinism) or the second premise (Universalism). In the end, the basis of Arminian thought is God's character, not anthropology as some Calvinists have surmised.]

Responsibility: Who is responsible for sin, and who is responsible for salvation?

Responsibility is an issue that both Calvinists and Arminians are attempting to defend something on. On the one side, we need to recognize that man is responsible for sin and God is not. On the other hand, we need to recognize that God is responsible for salvation and man is not. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree on these points. Directly tied to the issue of responsibility is causation, which is why the subject of determinism and free will come out.

By responsibility, I mean the state of being "chargeable with being the author, cause, or occasion of something". I have found it difficult to nail down precisely how to define 'responsibility' theologically, but I believe it is important so I have given it my best shot. First, it is important to remember that 'responsibility' is not the same thing as cause. However responsibility is related to causation, and causation needs to be discussed along side it.

Thus by 'being responsible' I therefore mean that "one is the principle cause: the one who initiates and carries out an action." This does not necessarily mean the only cause, as there are often other factors that go into an event. For instance, we say that Mark Chapman is responsible for the death of John Lennon. Now, there were other factors, like the source of Chapman's gun, the various events and persons in Chapman's life that lead up to that decision, the influence of Lennon that made him a target, etc. But no one would argue against the idea Chapman is indeed the one responsible because he was the principle cause.

The principle cause also is not necessary the immediate cause, as a Calvinist might argue. In The Count of Monte Christo, for instance, there are two men who conspire to destroy a certain Edmond. Edmond recognizes in that novel himself that it is the who who came up with the idea, and planned the strategy (Danglers) who was more responsible for the crime, rather than the one who merely delivered the letter (Fernand).

Let's see how this works out theologically. Let's start with sin. In Arminianism, God still provides the context (i.e. free will and the laws against which one may rebel) necessary for one to sin which could be considered a cause, but it is still the human that initiates and carries out the action of sin. Therefore, the human is the principle cause. However, in Calvinism, though God still provides the context, He also initiates the sin by decreeing it, though He is passive in carrying it out (somehow. I don't really understand, but I'll give the system the benefit of the doubt on that one). This is how Calvinists conclude that humans are the principle cause, but God would truly be the principle cause by my definition given above.

Now let's take salvation. In Arminianism, the context is sin which is caused by man, but God initiates salvation through the sending of the Son and the prevenient grace of the Spirit, as well as carries it out through the justification by the blood, regeneration of the body and soul, and adoption into the family. Human action is required in the sense of response, but God initiates and carries out the action, making Him the principle cause. In Calvinism, we have unconditional election and irresistible grace through which the human is completely docile. God is undoubtedly the principle cause, for He is the only cause.

Now let me point out an inconsistency I see here in Calvinist thought. On the one hand, in the arena of sin, they make the distinction between primary and secondary causes to explain human responsibility, though they clearly are defining it differently than me. But in the arena of salvation, they insist that God must be the only cause to be responsible. For me, I do not understand this logic. How is God the only cause with salvation of man but isn't the only cause with sin? This is especially true when they still claim that salvation of by faith. So let's lay this issue out simply: if God causing faith in a person, and then that person being saved, is all on God, then how is God causing a desire for sin in a person, and then that person sinning, all on man? To me, this is contradiction: same line of causation with a different party being held responsible.

With Beza's supralapsarianism, you had the consistency of God being the cause of both (which comes back to impeccability issues). As well, in Arminianism, you have consistency, given the view I gave about of the relationship between causation and responsibility. But in orthodox Calvinism, that maintains that humans are responsible for sin, this must be inconsistent. I find even compatibilism fails to reconcile this. In order for Calvinism to uphold the correct balance of who is responsible for what, causation must work differently in the arenas of sin and salvation, or it renders the concept of responsibility meaningless.

[Aside: Many Calvinists claim that Arminianism isn't any better since prevenient grace is merely contextual. I disagree since I see prevenient grace as active, as I will argue below.]

Grace: How does God dispense His grace?

In my opinion, this all comes down to grace. My SEA colleague, Eric Landstrom whom I highly respect, claims the same thing. In the end, this isn't an argument over faith and works, or over sovereignty, or over goodness. Those are the reasons why we get passionate; those things are why we care. The principle difference theologically is how we understand God's dispensation of His grace.

Here is where both Calvinists and Arminians agree:
  1. Humanity is depraved beyond the hope of achieving any good left to its own devices
  2. Humanity is incapable of reconciling itself to God
  3. In order for a human to turn towards God, God must enable that human
  4. Such an enabling is undeserved, and is thus grace.
  5. Due to how God dispenses this grace, He alone can be considered responsible for a person's salvation.
Therefore, the true issue here is how God accomplishes this task.

Now, I don't have a particular problem with irresistible grace per-se. Indeed, there are graces which God dispenses which are irresistible. God has the power and the right to do such. Therefore, the question is: does He do such in this circumstance? Is it necessary for salvational grace to be irresistible if God is to be considered responsible for the act of salvation (so that no man may boast)?
Now, what is my reason for saying that saving grace cannot be irresistible? Well, for one, Scripture no where says that it is. Still, that doesn't prove it isn't true, but it does mean we have to think it out. My main reason is that if grace is irresistible, then that means that salvation is based upon some... unconditional election (for the lack of another word), and I have lots of reasons for disliking that. But, Calvinists don't really seem to mind it, so I can't really chide them for believing in irresistible grace.

On the other side of things though, Calvinists reject Arminianism because of our view of grace. The claim is that such a view makes God not sovereign and turns faith into a work by which a man may boast. I've already explained why I believe the first point is unfounded (see above), but the second makes even less sense to me.

First of all, faith is not works. Scripture always uses these terms as opposites when compared. A work is an action which is used to merit something. However, in employing faith to receive the gift of salvation, one isn't meriting salvation; it is simply receiving it. The analogy of the gift has been employed often to show this. When one receives a gift, they haven't earned it. But they still could reject the gift. This is the paradigm of salvation. Salvation is a gift offered to us by God which we are allowed to reject.

Second, by its very nature, faith is passive. By believing in the person of Jesus Christ (that is trusting in Him, not simply cognitively affirming His existence), you are assenting to His Lordship and power. You are actually relenting of activity, and allowing Him to do the saving. Again, this isn't something which you can boast about anymore than a drowning victim can claim to have saved themselves by letting their body go limp as the lifeguard swam them to safety.
Finally, faith itself isn't truly an accomplishment of the human. The Arminian view of grace is that God enables the person to come to faith. This enablement isn't just passive as if God came down, gave us the tool to get the job done, and then waited for us to use the thing (I think this is how many Calvinists view the Arminian concept of free will). Instead, God is constantly active, coming down, freeing the will from corruption, and actively wooing us to Him.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I view the Calvinist view of grace as some kind of salvation package. It is like a highly defined object which is given to the person, and accomplishes everything it is supposed to do in an almost mechanized fashion. I find the Calvinist descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit to be almost a Hegelian Giest, simply doing what is necessary to progress the world to its ultimate destiny.

 However, the God of Scriptures is highly personable, as is the working out of grace. It doesn't work in one sorta way. Prevenient grace isn't just one action that God does and which accomplishes one particular thing (i.e. free will). Prevenient grace is the full account of all the personal actions which God does prior to salvation of which the freeing of the will is only a part.
There is also a gross misunderstanding about the nature of free will. First of all, Arminians don't all express it the same way. The doctrine of free will is a means to an end (explaining the origin of evil basically). Second, the will is just a faculty that humanity has. God's grace frees the will much in the same way as a father may hold a child in water. It is a continuous action on God's part, and once God ceases being there, the will shall again be totally consumed by sin (that is, unless one is regenerated).

 All in all, I feel that the Arminian view of grace is robust and more than sufficient to account for the fullness of God's role in salvation. Thus, I find that a Calvinist's insistence on the irresistiblity of grace to be unnecessary, and not worth the sacrifice in other areas of soteriology.
Theodicy: Why is there evil? Why are there demons and Satan?
Thankfully, this section shall by rather short. My point here is simply that Calvinism cannot account for the existence of evil and Satan. In Calvinism, such things exist because they must exist for God to accomplish His ultimate goal. They are a means to an end, and a rather silly means if you ask me. In Arminianism, the framing of evil and Satan is very simple and very biblical: rebellion.
You see, in Calvinism, there is no true rebellion. Sure, they frame rebellion as a desire to go against God, but that desire was ordained by God, and by "rebelling" one accomplishes God's purpose anyway. This isn't truly rebellion of course.

But in Arminianism, we recognize rebellion as meaning what it means: resisting the sovereignty of a being. In other words, it is doing other than what the sovereign wants. Now as I said before, if God decrees a thing, it is so. There is no getting around it. Not all rebellions succeed. But God does decree conditional laws (read Leviticus for examples), as every king does, and rebellion is going against these laws. Why is there evil? Because people rebel. Why is there a Satan? Because Satan rebelled. Simple, and biblical.

Security and Assurance: What does Scripture mean when it says we can be assured of our salvation?

I saved this one for last since Arminianism as a system doesn't take a stand on this issue, though it shows a tendency, and I am an example of that tendency. According to Scripture, there are two final destinies for every human: eternal life and eternal death. How you understand those realities is moot at this point. The important thing is that there are two, and one you want and one you don't. The existence of these two produce a basic question in all of us: "Where will I end up?"

Well, Arminians and Calvinists agree with our basic answer. If you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you will have eternal life, but if you don't then you will keep eternal damnation. Those who accept Jesus have been born again. This rebirth is the foundation of our reconciliation with God, and a new reality that we live in which allows us to live eternally.
However, there are two basic questions that stem from this answer. The first is, "how do I know that this rebirth will last? Will it ultimately keep me safe?". The second is, "How do I even know that I've been born again to begin with?" Which of these two answers your prioritize often pushes you towards Calvinism or Arminianism.
The truth of the matter is, you can't have absolute assurance on both of these questions. There does exist those who show every sign of being saved, and eventually walk away. They exist and only an ostrich would say otherwise. So either they were never saved to begin with (meaning that we cannot be assured of our current salvation) or they were saved and forfeited it (meaning that we cannot be assured that once one is saved, one is always saved). Concluding this, we must then ask another question: which of these two above questions is more important? Not just for me personally, but which one is the Scriptures themselves more concerned with?

Personally, I find nothing in Scripture that teaches the idea that one cannot walk away. Sure, there are a few verses that sorta sound like one could never walk away. I'm not really denying these, and I'll treat a couple of them in the next post. What I am saying is that I've never found a passage that stresses the assurance of it (and several that very explicitly say the opposite). Where does Scripture ever say that one can be assured that they won't stray from the path?

 However, there are a plethora of passages that do stress the assurance in one's current position with God. Indeed, the whole book of I John is devoted to the subject. This tells me that this is the more important question, and therefore, that is the question we should really be asking. And if we are pursuing the answer to that question in our personal lives, I believe that will result in the eventual rejection of a guaranteed perseverance of the saints.

 On top of this, I also believe that this is the more spiritually important answer. The Bible talks about the need for us to maintain our walk, and when we understand that maintenance in terms of faith instead of works, it is not very oppressive (when it is understood as works it is quite oppressive). One's spiritual walk doesn't seem to be diminished from this. Meanwhile, a lack of confidence in our present position with the Lord creates huge trust issues with God. How can we find true spiritual security if we cannot be sure that the spirit that enlivens us is the Holy Spirit? Indeed a couple of months ago, a Calvinist by the name of C. Michael Patton, wrote a post admitting that it is Calvinism that tends to develop spiritual insecurity. So not only is it good exegesis, and not only is it good theology, but it is good spirituality as well.
For the sake of brevity (which I've already failed), I'll leave it at those points. These are my main issues. But overall, I simply find Calvinism unsatisfactory. It doesn't seem to deal with the right emphases of salvation and Christianity. Calvinist writes seems like someone writing a sonnet on the beauty of a rose's thorn. Though I appreciate the aspects of Christianity that Calvinism is attempting to defend, I believe that Arminianism does a fine enough job defending these same things without forfeiting some other more basic points. Election itself, which is the central theme of Calvinist soteriology, is a passing theme in the New Testament, which instead emphasizes conversion and redemption. It seems to exemplify the role of the Father in decreeing, while leaving the roles of the Son and the Spirit as merely working out the plan. It makes grace mechanical instead of personable, sin a necessary evil instead of a problem to be solved (by God), and empties sovereignty of its basic natural sense.

Now, if you think I have mischaracterized Calvinism in any way, I have a couple more things to say. I think that many Calvinists don't view Calvinism this way because they allow Scripture to be a corrective to their theological viewpoints. The theology is merely a means of answering certain questions, but isn't the focus of their faith. These are people who I commend, but I say that they have these attitudes in spite of Calvinism, rather than because of it. The actual theology does not seem to me to engender the Christian attitude or worldview as well as Arminianism does. All of this considered, I definitely believe that Armininism is theologically the superior position.

However, which is the biblically superior position? We'll look at that in the next two posts.

June 17, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part III: History

Many Calvinists claim that they represent historical orthodoxy. However, I believe that the opposite is true. In this post I intend to traverse Christian history and tease out, on a very basic and incomplete level, the development of those issues that form the backbone of the Arminian/Calvinist debate, and see where the two systems lay. For the sake of clarity I will lay out here my thesis for this post:

Calvinism has never been THE central understanding of salvation within the church.

I am really sorry that I am including paganism within my exploration of the history of this debate, but there has been a consistent claim that paganism is the source of Arminianism, and, since it is an antecedent to the debate, we must have an understanding of what themes it has that could have any baring on the discussion at hand.

First of all, paganism never was a systematic philosophical position. Classic paganism, in all its forms except for maybe the Greek philosophers, was a hodgepodge of local myths and legends that represent the historic political interactions of a region as much as it represents the worldview of that region. This must be understood.

Second, when we are talking about paganism in terms of it possibly having an influence on Christian thought, we are talking about Greek paganism, especially its culmination with Aristotle and Plato.

Third, within the topics involved with the Calvinist/Arminian debate, before the Greek philosophers, Greek paganism would be considered to be inconsistently deterministic. Indeed, the early Greek pagans believed in beings known as the fates, who determined the life and death of all beings through the weaving and cutting of thread. The Greeks strongly believed in the notion of fate and destiny, and that we do not control what happens to us. Even the gods were at the mercy of fate. However, the fates could be tempted and persuaded with, which is why I would call the pagans inconsistent. A good example of Greek determinism is the story of Oedipus (Aeschylus, Laius and Oedipus).

The Greek philosophers, on the other hand, were consistent determinists. They held that there was a singular deity who moved and shaped all things, and within which all things had there source. Such a deity was perfectly logical, and was motivated primarily, if not entirely, by such concepts as the greatest good, maintaining absolute control, and the dispensation of justice. This deity would be purely impassive, for emotion denotes change, change denotes a move toward or away from perfection, and this must be impossible since this deity must initially and constantly be perfect. It is very important to note that the notion of libertarian free will came late to Greek philosophy, and Plato and Aristotle and most schools held to something more like compatabilism. However, libertarianism did develop before the maturation of Christian theology, but this was rather concurrent with early Christianity itself.

It is also important to note that modern Jews, and as far as I know ancient Jews, do hold to the notion of free will. Jews during Greek times were actually divided. According to Josephus (Jos. Antiq. XVIII. i. 3; cf. Antiq. XIII. v. 9; War II. viii. 14), the Pharisees and Sadducees held to a view of free will, while the Essenes were more deterministic. Therefore an appeal to extra-biblical Judaism leans things in an Arminian perspective.

Before Augustine

Before Augustine and Pelagius you will not find a systematic presentation, or even a careful development, of free will/determinism themes. However, out of all of the early church fathers, you will find many polemical works (which are works that speak out against a position) against paganism and gnosticism that cite determinism as a problem with these positions. What you won't find is any apologetic works (which are works that defend a position) for determinism, or anything at all which speaks of a deterministic worldview.

Here is a short list of quotes:
  • Justin Martyr (ca. 160) writes: "Lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. . . . And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions" (285).
  • Tatian (ca. 160) writes: "We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it" (86).
  • Irenaeus (ca. 180) writes: "But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff" (286).
  • Clement of Alexandria (ca. 195) writes: "God ministers eternal salvation to those who cooperate for the attainment of knowledge and good conduct. Since what the commandments direct are in our own power, along with the performance of them, the promise is accomplished" (294-5).
Pelagius, Augustine, and the Council of Orange

In the early 5th century, a British monk by the name of Pelagius became insistent about demanding the need for Christians to recognize their responsibility to the biblical law. At around the same time, a African bishop of the city of Hippo by the name of Augustine had established a name for himself theologically. Augustine felt a need to emphasize the greatness of God's work within the realm of redemption, and the human's absolute need for divine action.

These two persons eventually came to a head, and developed two very different theological systems. Pelagius claimed that the concept of human responsibility necessitates the idea that salvation is the result of a human's piety (a rather pagan idea), and that the human's free will is the source for his piety (not a very pagan idea). Augustine on the other hand put forward the doctrine of original sin, and stated that human beings are incapable of doing any real good from birth as a result of Adam's first sin completely infecting his progeny. As a result, all those saved are only saved because God initiates and completes a saving work within them. Those who are saved are individually chosen by God to be saved before the inception of the world.

It is very important to note three things about these two positions. First, neither position was previously espoused within the church, which means that one cannot conflate all positions on these issues to these two positions (as many often try to do).

Second, Arminians are not Pelagians (not even close) and Calvinists are not Augustinians (though certainly based off of him). Though Arminians believe in a free will, we hold that God initiates the process of salvation, and we agree with Augustine on the notion of original sin (loosely) and total depravity. Meanwhile, Augustine himself did not outright reject free will, and was not a pure determinist. Though he introduced the concept of unconditional election to the church, he did not hold to perseverance of the saints, and held that one persevered in the faith by one's devotion to the Church's sacraments. In other words he believed that one was unconditionally elected to the Church, but it was through the Church that one found the grace to enable them to persist in the faith. This was most certainly not Calvinism.

The third thing to note is that the Church did not agree completely with either side. Pelagius was declared a heretic at the Council of Ephesus, but though Augustine's beliefs were not condemned, they also were not accepted unqualified. Indeed, debate continued after his death as two new systems developed: Semipelagianism and Semiaugustinianism.

Semipelagianism held that though one was saved by piety, one could not obtain the necessary level of piety without divine intervention. But the human must initiate this intervention through prayer. Semiaugustinianism held that though the human is born into a state of total depravity because of original sin, God seeks the redemption of all, and so works within all to bend them towards faith. However, all humans must respond within and to this grace by free will in order for faith to reach its full fruition. In 529 there was a council held at Orange that examined these two belief systems. It condemned Semipelagianism, and fully excepted Semiaugustinianism as official orthodoxy.

Arminianism, though distinct from either of these views, has as much in common with Semiaugustinianism as Calvinism does with Augustinianism. It is interesting that many Calvinists call Arminianism 'Semipelagian', but those that do so often do not know that there is a belief system by that name, and that it is completely dissimilar from Arminianism (they also don't know of the system of Semiaugustianism. Indeed by Semipelagianism is seems to me that they usually mean anything which falls short of the deterministic Calvinism).


The Council of Ephesus and the Council of Orange solidified things within this area for quite some time. However, after the fall of Rome, the Western Church fell into the dark ages. Within this time, theology became divided between those in the monasteries (which often debated high philosophical ideas) and common folk religion (which really didn't represent official dogma at all). Indeed, even most priests had little to no theological understanding, and were really only trained in administering sacraments.

By the time of Martin Luther, most of the church believed in a kind of Semipelagianism, though it was officially heresy. This was mostly due to lack of teaching, but also because many of the leaders of the church were more politicians than ministers and abused the people's ignorance to push their own agendas (Like, maybe, selling indulgences to build a cathedral. As if that ever happened).

Luther, being an Augustinian monk, developed much of his theology from Augustine himself. Indeed, it was a kind of Augustinianism that typified much of the early soteriology of the Reformed Church. It is little wonder that Calvin, who systematized this, also worked within this same mindset.

However, Calvinism itself never defined the Reformed movement. Indeed, Luther, though he believed in and taught a sort of predestination, never emphasized these issues, and many within the second generation of Reformers were already moving in a Semiaugustinian direction. The defining stances of the Reformation was always the five solas: "Scripture alone", "faith alone", "grace alone", "in Christ alone", and "to the glory of God alone". These were not, and are not, strictly Calvinist ideas, but were equally held among the semiaugustinian reformers, including Jacob Arminius.

It is only at Geneva, the city and university founded by Calvin, that we find people really emphasizing Calvinist dogma. Indeed, within Geneva there seemed to be an almost veneration of Calvin, and much of his works became unquestionable (which brings up the question of their allegiance to Sola Scriptura, but I digress). It was within this environment that we have Arminius and Beza enter. It may be worth mentioning here that what we call Calvinism today is based more off of Beza's articulation of Calvin than Calvin himself. Indeed, Arminius saw himself as an interpreter of Calvin.

One must also recognize that Geneva was as much a political institution as it was a theological one. The strength of Geneva and Beza gave strength to the government. It is difficult for us to fully appreciate the relationship between the theologians and politicians of those days, but if we remember the political power of the Catholic Church we would realize that the Reformation never would have gotten off the ground if it did not have some political power behind it. Thus, a challenge to the theological stances of Beza and Geneva was a political threat, and was often cast as being "Romist" in source.

Synod of Dort

Jacob Arminius was a brilliant theologian and rhetorician that rose up a generation after Calvin. He did not create Arminianism, but simply became the figurehead for it due to his eloquence. Like I said above, there were many Reformed theologians moving towards a Semiaugustinian stance; Arminius simply became the spokesman.

Throughout Arminius' career, he often called for a council to help settle the matter: some place where the two opinions could be fairly presented and compared. He never got one though. He died before any council was convened. His followers eventually wrote a document called "The Articles of Remonstrance" to state precisely what their stances were. This document was a plea to the larger church for a council to protect them from the political powers within the Netherlands. This group was later called the Remonstrants after this document.

After Arminius passed away, a council (more accurately a synod since it was purely local) was convened at Dort. This synod was not convened to decide the issue though, but to condemn Arminianism due to its political danger. There were a few ministers called in from outside of the Netherlands (some of which became convinced of Arminianism), but for the most part the synod was comprised of Dutch ministers there to protect the political prestige of Geneva. Dort was a kangaroo court, as Ben Henshaw would say (hence his pen name over at Arminian Perspectives).

It is also important to note that this synod's political influence was fairly short-lived. A generation later the Remonstrants were welcomed back into the Netherlands.

What Happened Next

Since Dort, the matter has been rather up in the air. There are lots of theological movements associated with the two stances that could be discussed: particular vs. general Baptists, the Puritans, the Wesleys and Methodism, Edwards, The Great Awakenings, Finney (who wasn't in either camp but influenced the debate dramatically), Pentecostalism, and, of course, the recent Calvinist Resurgence.

However, with the steady decentralization of theological authority since the Reformation, to claim that either side could be the central theological position of Protestantism or Evangelicalism is impossible. Certain movements were more Calvinist (like the First Great Awakening) while others were more Arminian (like the Second Great Awakening). In general, the waters have been pretty muddy.


Returning to my original thesis: Calvinism has never been THE central understanding of salvation within the church. We have seen:

  • That pagan and Greek antecedents were deterministic, rather than believing in free will
  • That the Jewish antecedents were libertarian
  • That the earliest Church fathers opposed determinism
  • That in the Augustine/Pelagius debate, both Arminianism's and Calvinism's antecedents (Semiaugustinianism and Augustinianism) were accepted to be within orthodoxy
  • That while the early Reformation was undoubtedly Augustinian, it never flat out rejected Semiaugustinianism, nor did it emphasize the issue
  • That Arminian like beliefs began to rise within the first generation of Protestants of which Arminius was merely the most articulate in the Reformed camp
  • That Dort was a purely local synod which was motivated as much by politics as it was by theology and it therefore cannot be considered to represent official Protestant orthodoxy
  • That since the Remonstrant/Dort episode, there have been many movements and persons of note on both sides of the question.
So where does history stand on the issue? I would argue that history supports Arminianism over Calvinism. Semiaugustinianism was generally preferred over Augustinianism, and Arminian thoughts rose up quickly within Protestant circles. Calvinism's one claim on history was that the early Reformation leaned that way, as well as Geneva's prestige within the early Reformed Church, but that was relatively short lived, and since those times history has been rather flippant.

For my next post, I'm going to turn to the actual theological issues.

For series index, see here.

June 10, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part II: Calvinists


Considering that I have always been an Arminian, deciding between Arminianism and Calvinism was a matter of whether or not Calvinism challenged my own beliefs enough for me to lose my trust in them. They would have to do this through biblical evidence, theological argument, and/or demonstration of good fruit. Needless to say, this never happened.

I'm going to examine each of these in turn, but right now, I am going to focus on fruit. Here I am going to be discussing the movement that many have called "the Calvinist Resurgence". There has been a recent increase over the past couple of years of Calvinism, especially within academia and the internet.

Disclaimers: I would like to remind everyone that the name of this series is "Why I am not a Calvinist" rather than "Why you shouldn't be a Calvinist". I do not expect what I say here to dissuade anyone from being or becoming Calvinist, nor do I think that it should. I write it because it is a very real reason why I am not.

The critique that follows is not a critique of 'Calvinism' but of the Calvinist Resurgence, and the mentality and attitude that tends to be associated with it. If you are Calvinist, and you feel that this doesn't apply to you, then it simply may not. This is my analysis of a present movement, rather than Calvinism as a system (that's coming later).

It is also necessary to mention why it is so important to me to mention this in this series (and I'll say this again at the end): A major reason why I am not a Calvinist is that most Calvinists that I have talked to have been jerks, and so I didn't trust them. It is very important to me that Christians realize that the way they behave and the way they treat the person they are talking to have a very real affect on how that person views the validity of what you have to say, not to mention what you believe. If you only receive one thing from this post, I would like it to be: be careful how you express the things of Christ, because people are watching.

Calvinist Resurgence

[What follows is an extrapolation of my thoughts expressed in this article I submitted to SEA: Personal belief as to the reasons of the Calvinist resurgence]
My opinion and thesis is that the Calvinist Resurgence is basically a backlash to the Postmodern Movement. What is the Postmodern Movement? Excellent question.
Well, no one really knows. The postmodern movement is a negatively defined stance, and like all negatively defined stances, it lacks something to stand on.

By negatively defined, I mean it defines itself by what it is not, i.e. it is not modernism. Modernism itself began with the Enlightenment which believed in the omnicompetence of human reason, as well as a strong expectation of progress. Ancients were seen as inferior, and they believed that we are progressing to a greater state of life. However, the various atrocities of the 20th century modernist philosophies have shaken the West's confidence in this world view. The result is what is known as postmodernity.

Postmodernity can be seen as essentially an overall attitude stemming directly from the rejection of modernity's main points. The result of this that I believe is most pertinent to the conversation is the rejection of a cultural epistemological standard.

Epistemology is the study of understanding. It deals with such things as how we determine truth, and what are the standards upon which we sort out fallacy and what do we mean by 'truth'. Our present culture lacks any epistemological cohesion. In modernity they relied on reason; in the ancient world they relied on revelation. Today, we rely on personal opinion, which is hardly a standard at all. Indeed, the less systematized, the less authoritative, the less orthodox an idea is, and the more personally it is expressed, the more legitimate it sounds to the postmodern ears. Ancient heretics are seen as open-minded thinkers, and flash and pomp mean more than substance.

There is a backlash going on in this culture attempting to reestablish past epistemological norms, though they would hardly phrase it like that. By this, I mean that they are trying to strongly establish the idea of truth, the attainability of that truth, and that the truth is "such and such". They see themselves as the last champions of orthodoxy at Thermopylae, standing the tide of heretics, gluttons, and liberals who are tearing the world apart. However, it is this "world" that they are protecting. They are trying to fix the damage already done, and return things to the old order so to speak. However, this backlash is just as much of a smorgasbord as postmodernity itself, since different groups see the "old order" differently.

I believe one of these groups sees the "old order" to be protected as Calvinist theology. They somehow believe the Reformation put the world in order, and ever since then liberals have been driving it apart. I might add that they don't tend to see the difference between a liberal and a postmodern, meaning that they often see themselves as fundamentalist. Indeed, they really are fundamentalist in attitude, doctrine, and politics. Whether or not this is a slow transference of fundamentalism opposing liberalism to opposing postliberalism, or whether or not it is a reaction against postmodernity which is absorbing fundamentalism is beyond my capacity to speculate. I would say though that this particular group's reliance on Calvinism is tied to postmodernity's loss of epistemological standards (standards of establishing truth).

This group neither represents Calvinism historically, nor Calvinism proper, but I do believe it represents most Calvinists we see on the net, including James White, Reformed Mafia, and Pyromaniacs. My thesis is that most of the attitudes that we find distasteful are a result of the combination of Calvinism with their reactionary position towards what is going on in the world.


By apologetic theology, I mean that they develop their understanding of God and the world based off of what works the best in debate. Indeed, I would argue that it is the cause of their devotion of Calvinism, rather than a result from it. However, there are a lot of new Calvinist ideas (that are considered to be the traditional Calvinist view by these people) for exactly this reason. Compatiblism comes readily to mind. Another is regeneration before salvation, along with its "dead man" analogy.

Again, we return to a lack of epistemology. Truth is what is the most convincing. Therefore, since they were convinced by these ideas, they are truth. Many do not seem to truly understand the ideas, they just know that they find them convincing, and parrot them back against the "enemy".


Once on the Ben Witherington blog, Ben put up a post expressing John Piper's opinions regarding the elitism of certain Calvinists. I only reference so that you may compare them with my own, for I disagree with him considerably, but have respect for the man so I offer him as a second opinion.

By elitism, what I mean is an attitude that considers one to have the high ground. To them, it is our responsibility to convince them, and if they remain unconvinced, then we have been "defeated". As long as their system survives, they are victorious. In other words, they don't really have to prove anything.

Many of my Arminian brothers have speculated that this elitism that we see is a natural result of a caste system consisting of the reprobate and elect inherit to Calvinist theology. I disagree, though I do think this caste system is a reasonable conclusion from Calvinism.

The elitism is drawn from several factors, the greatest of which is the erroneous presupposition that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position. I don't really know where this particular presupposition comes from, but I do believe that it is connected to the need of an epistemology (fundamental way of viewing and verifying truth). Without a unifying epistemology, each person is forced to create for themselves their own standards of truth. Calvinism offers this, providing a framework of understanding which is easily grasped (this is not a negative). The result is the person judges new information based off of this framework making it impossible to turn around and judge the framework itself.

The militant nature of the movement is also tied to this. This is a group of people who are angry at the changing cultural tides, whether they see them as liberal or recognize them as postmodern. Regardless, they cast those accepting these cultural changes as the enemy, creating an us/them mentality.

This mentality combines with Calvinism much like baking soda and vinegar. The us/them attitude is casted in elect/reprobate rhetoric and theology. Their hatred of the enemy becomes justified through God's hatred of the reprobate. They use this to justify their anger and behavior. Casting God as vindictive justifies their vindictiveness.

Apologetics Over Evangelism

There is nothing wrong with Apologetics (The defense of an idea or belief system). Each of us is gifted differently, and some of us are more gifted in the area of apologetics than in the area of evangelism. I am included in this, since I am more of a theologian than anything else.

However, these people seem to be dramatically drawn to apologetics, mostly because the foundation of their whole worldview is based on an opposition to certain ideas. They want to defeat what they see as liberalism, which eventually develops into any false Christian perspective. Therefore, they care more about converting "false Christians" than converting non-Christians.

Some of this isn't bad when applied to groups like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. But when it gets extended to actual Christian groups, like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and, of course, Arminians, they end up wasting their energy "sheep stealing".

Pragmatic Hermeneutic

Similar to apologetic theology, pragmatic hermeneutics is tied to usefulness in debate. However, here instead of ideas, I'm referring to methodology. There are a couple of examples of this:

  1. The Machine Gun Hermeneutic
  2. Lack of contextual understanding (like knowing Romans 9:9-24 but being ignorant of Romans 9:7-8)
  3. Focus on verses instead of books
  4. Favorite memory verses.

All of those go hand in hand but are slightly different. The fourth isn't really a negative thing, except when joined with the other three issues. The point of all of this, is that Scripture is a tool which they use to prove their point, rather than what they use to shape their opinion. Indeed, there is an assumption that their opinion is already formed from Scripture. After all, their teacher knew a lot of Scriptures...

This is mostly tied to their militant nature. They claim that their belief in Scriptural inerrancy is giving authority to Scripture (which itself is tied to their rejection of liberalism), but in reality, it is granting their opinions inerrancy since they are "derived" from Scripture. Though I have no problem affirming that there are no mistakes in Scripture, I do not grant my interpretation of it the same respect.


This is the bit that I had the most difficulty is writing. Due to the complex relationship of fundamentalism with liberalism/postmodernity, they have a kind of love/hate relationship with reason.

Liberalism is, in essence, the acceptance of Enlightenment epistemology as the norm of the church (Again, epistemology is the study of how we understand truth, and the Enlightenment did this through the belief in the omnicompetance of human reason). Fundamentalism, fighting against this movement, not only rejects this claim, but also bases their own arguments on Enlightenment epistemology in an attempt to combat liberals. The result is that Enlightenment epistemology crept into the Fundamentalist perspective anyway.

When Postmodernity came along, and started rejecting Enlightenment epistemology, fundamentalists made a fatal mistake: they equated postmodernity with liberalism. The result is that now they think that liberals are the ones rejecting Enlightenment epistemology, and that it is the fundamentalist's job to defend it. Combine this with the still present inherit hatred of the liberal arguments and positions in the past, as well as commitment to the authority of revelation over human reason, and you have one really messed up epistemology.

Enter Van Til. Cornelius Van Til was an apologist in the mid 20th century who first proposed what is known as "presuppositional apologetics". Without getting into details, part of the theory is that the highest goal of a philosophical/theological position is consistency. Anyone who has entered the fray with these Calvinist fundamentalists have heard of the word "consistent" before. Indeed, Van Til himself was a Calvinist.

This whole position creates an excellent resource when dealing with a culture that lacks epistemology. When accepted, a person can sort through all of the conflicting opinions with this rule of consistency as a guide. However, no one person can possibly grasp all of the various implications of all philosophical systems around them, and the result is that the person will be attracted to theologies that are an easily presentable interlocking system. Naturally, 5-point Calvinism becomes very attractive.

This has an unfortunate consequence. In my experience, those that appeal to Calvinism's inner-consistency are often really poor judges of inner-consistency of other systems. I have found that Arminianism often "fails" the inner-consistency rule by failing to be consistent with Calvinist presuppositions. This is because, to some degree, Calvinism is becoming the basis of these people's epistemology. Personally, Arminianism is not the foundation of my epistemology. Instead the Incarnation is. However, for this group, Calvinism is absolutely their epistemology, adding to the elitism already mentioned.

Pathos-based Rhetoric

In formal rhetoric, there are three factors which are considered to enter into convincing a person. They are logos (Greek for 'word' or 'reason', referring here to the soundness of an argument, or it's logical coherence), pathos (Greek for 'emotion', referring here to the passions aroused in the audience), and ethos (Greek for 'ethic' or 'character', referring here to the projected character of the speaker for the sake of creating trust). Therefore, by pathos-based rhetoric I mean that they tend to use emotional arguments, and are often rather emotional themselves.

Now this isn't entirely bad, except that they absolutely fail in the area of ethos. There's some logos there, I admit, but very little ethos, if any at all. This is, of course, a result of the elitism.

I brought this attribute up last because it ties back into the title of this series: Why I am an Arminian. Because I started as an Arminian, I am in part an Arminian because Calvinists failed to convince me otherwise. They failed to convince me otherwise because of the shear lack of character displayed by the Calvinists I met. I didn't trust them enough to really listen to them.

You may ask how this isn't elitism, since I am demanding the Calvinist convince me instead of allowing both sides to stand on equal ground. The difference is that here we are dealing with my own heart, rather than a public discussion. In a public discussion, I don't insist that all I have to do is disprove the other side's arguments. But when it comes to my own heart, I'm not going to change my mind on something unless I am convinced otherwise.

But, these Calvinists didn't even cause me to doubt my position. If anything, they bolstered it by displaying the fruits of the world rather than the Spirit. If they merely showed me kindness, they may have convinced me when I first encountered it. Now, I am not so ignorant about Arminianism itself as I was then. The reason that I currently reject Calvinism is due to the superiority of Arminianism, and I want to make sure that is understood. While their behavior at that time prevented me from taking them seriously, I have since talked to and read many Calvinists who I do respect, including John Calvin himself. But by the time I had started to understand Calvinism, and had already come to study and fully understand Arminianism.

However, the reason I didn't believe in Calvinism back then was the kind of Calvinists I met. I write this in the hope of inspiring others to think about how you present the person of Jesus Christ first, and think about how to win the argument second. Thank you.

For orginal post, see here.
For series index, see here.

June 3, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part I: Testimony

Finding Scotia

I grew up in a village called Scotia. When I was a child, all I really knew was my home, my school, and some sites from my car. I knew my home was located in Scotia, but I didn't really know what Scotia was like, or where it was.

Soon, I got my first bicycle. I began to ride through the streets, learning the street names, the sites, and the feel of the village. As I grew, I became more and more familiar with my surroundings, and I developed a greater appreciation for my home.

When I became a teenager, I started to learn the area around Scotia. I understood where it was in relation to the various towns around me. Slowly I developed a better sense of where my home really was.

Finding Arminianism

For me, discovering Arminianism was much like discovering Scotia. I didn't grow up in a Calvinist church, or was converted to Calvinism when I came to Christ. Nor was I raised in a Semi-Pelagian Church thinking that it was Arminian. My church was legitimately Arminian; I just didn't know that was what it was called. Calvinism was just this "ancient heresy" that I had heard about once or twice, but never really gave it much thought.

Then in college, I remember being told that a band that I listened to was Calvinist. I was shocked. I did not suddenly think they were bad or anything. I was just shocked that Calvinism was still around; I then got involved with an on-line debate site called carm.org which is run by a Calvinist. I wasn't really that concerned with the topic though, I was more concerned with talking to atheists and cult members.

As time went on, I became more and more frustrated with the Calvinists at carm. I knew they weren't all bad (I liked the guy who ran the site for instance). But I found I had to keep cleaning up their messes. The Calvinists were pushy, rude, and were giving Christianity a bad name. So, I began to ask them questions.

I found that what I believed in was called "Arminianism". I had never heard the term before. However, when they tried to explain Arminianism to me, it never sounded like what I believed in. When I described what I believed, they assured me that I was Arminian, but "one of the good ones". This somewhat disturbed me since many of their descriptions of "other Arminians" were clearly unbiblical. So I began to investigate.

By this time I was in seminary, and to understand things better I took a course about Arminianism and Calvinism (taught by an Augustianian Catholic. I had a very fun seminary). I was hoping to understand the two systems better, and to test my own beliefs.

From seminary, I learned that what the Calvinists were describing as Arminianism wasn't Arminianism at all. It was called Semi-Pelagianism. Ancient Arminianism was actually referred to as Semi-Augustianism, a term that most Calvinsts don't even seem to know. Furthermore, I learned that the Synod of Dordt (which they claimed was a significant historical document backing up their claim to orthodoxy) was a local council with little authority. I also learned the teachings of Arminius himself, as well as John Wesley. In these two men, I found not only clear wisdom and piety, but true devotion to Scripture.

Defending Arminianism

From all of this, I was greatly disturbed at the slander and libel that I was encountering on-line. Calvinists were constantly equating Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism, while occasionally equating it with every other heresy ever conceived. Most of these were deceived, but behind it all were many deceivers.

I accepted the label 'Arminian' and began defending it; not because I wanted to label myself, nor because I am so committed to Arminius, and not because I hate Calvinism itself. I began defending Arminianism because those particular people who are using Calvinism for their own ends are damaging the name of Christ and need to be opposed. I've never seen myself in opposition to Calvinism, but in opposition to a movement which happens to be Calvinist (This movement is often called the Calvinist Resurgence).

My passion is a passion for truth and honesty. I want the truth taught, but I also want people to think clearly, and be honest with their own motivations and beliefs. This movement is disrupting the integrity of the faithful, dispossessing them of the heart of Scripture, and robbing them of their minds. This is the conviction that I have come to. Some of you may be offended at that, but this is where I am right now, and I have to follow where it leads me. So I will continue to fight the fight, and promote an honest reading of Scripture.

Find original post here.
Find series index here.