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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.]
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:
- Humanity is depraved beyond the hope of achieving any good left to its own devices
- Humanity is incapable of reconciling itself to God
- In order for a human to turn towards God, God must enable that human
- Such an enabling is undeserved, and is thus grace.
- 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)?
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, which is the biblically superior position? We'll look at that in the next two posts.