October 11, 2015

Response to Richard Bushey's "Critique of Arminianism"

Hello, it's been awhile. I don't have the internet right now, so maintaining the blog has been basically impossible. I'm hoping to get my internet back eventually, but I have no idea when.

That said, I am still on facebook, and I made a friend recently by the name of Richard Bushey who is a "Reformed Molinist". Basically someone who takes a Calvinist view on salvation, but a Molinist view on providence and free will. Anyway, he's written a post critiquing Arminianism, and I promised him that I would respond to it. But it's been awhile since then, and I wanted to provide a full critique of his post. So I am writing this. Because he objects to the term "Calvinist", and I reserve the term "Reformed" to refer to an ecclesial tradition rather than a soteriological position, I'll be referring to his position as Dortian, meaning an adherence to the five points of Dort often popularized as TULIP.

Now, to Richard in particular, some of my critique in what follows is rather strong. I have no intention of attacking you personally, for I have great respect for you. But I do go after your thinking on some of these points, and I hope you take my words as criticism and not insults.

I would rather honor God too much than honor man too much.

I would rather get theology right than get theology wrong. This little meme above is just silly, and I have no patience for it even from a friend. I want to glorify God to the highest degree that is possible, which is WHY I'm an Arminian. I want to get God right, and I assume that the truth will glorify God greater than my most brilliant theological imagination. To choose a theological system based off of one's perception of glory misses the whole point of theology: to know who God truly is. There is no greater glory than that for God.

Personally, I don't care about giving honor to man or taking it away. Why? Because I don't care about man. God's glory is at the center of my theology, and man falls where he will. And then there is this bizarre idea that somehow God's glory and man's glory are inversely related. Why is that? God created man for His glory. If man is properly understood, than God's glory will be maximized. Certainly if we glorify man beyond his due, than there is some sense where man will not be glorifying God correctly. It is that incorrect feature though that diminishes the glory, not the oppulance. Indeed, if we lower man to an ant, we do damage to His glory as well for we are made in His image. We trample on something that God has done. Should we agree with the Muslims, than man is a mere dog? I don't think any Dortian wants to go there. In fact, even when we consider the giving of man excessive glory, the problem lies in man being in God's image. Again we would be misrepresenting Him, and any misrepresentation of God is less glorious than His true nature. So again, we should be focused on getting it right. In the end, this is simply hedging your bets, a tactic which I take to be a fallacious and lazy way of thinking in general.

What is also bizarre about this meme is that Arminians believe in Total Depravity, which Richard talks about later. We believe in the human need for God, and our complete insufficiency. Indeed, the only honor I give man is that He is God's instrument in the world, but Dortians don't even disagree with that. We ascribe no higher honor to man in soteriology, so what is the complaint even about?

Well it seems to be connected to power. There is no question that Arminian theology ascribes more power to man than Dortian theology does. Indeed Richard comments that Arminians teach that man is a least able to "grab the rope". While I personally reject the analogy, I don't really object to its use here since it helps us see what Richard is concerned about. He is concerned about the human's ability to affect the outcome of their own salvation. However, the concern here is NOT honor; it's power. Power does not necessarily translate to honor. I don't want to say that there is no relationship, but one does not necessarily entail the other. For instance, if a general gives an order to take a bunker, how much honor does the courier receive for relaying that instruction? Yet the courier has the power to change the order, or simply not relay it if he so chose. Yet no one in their right mind would ever say that the bunker was taken due to the work of the courier. It was the general who gets the credit and rightly so.

In Arminianism, we may say that a person can resist God's actions, but not a single Arminian would ever say that a person should receive some kind of credit for that submission. We do not ascribe honor to them. Therefore, it is not that Arminians have a higher view of man, but that we have a different view of power.

Arminian soteriology is the foundation for sacramental soteriology

So Richard certainly gets points here on originaliality. However, I am not very moved by the argument. First of all, this is another example of bet hedging, so I'm already not very impressed. However, I'm not sure if sacramentology constitutes a proper attack anyway because I'm don't really agree with his analysis of sacraments or its relationship to Arminianism.

Now first off, I am both a Zwinglian and a credobaptist, so I'm not too keen on defending sacraments. As such it is difficult for me to decide how to approach this. However, for Richard's argument to go through, it requires three components: A) sacraments are bad, B) There is a real connection between Arminianism and sacraments and C) Calvinism protects from it. I don't think Richard has given a sufficient argument for A, B, or C. However, I have no real desire to defend sacraments, so I'll grant him A for the sack of the argument.

B. So, what is the connection between Arminianism and sacramentism that Richard proposes? We might be able to consider that he is making some kind of historical argument that all sacramental systems also hold to Arminian theology, but considering that sacraments only came into existance once, and that this connection has more to do with the early church than anything elsewe must consider that this historical argument is, at best, nothing more than mere correlation (and not enough data), which is insufficent to demonstrate causation. So I don't really believe Richard is trying to make this argument. So does he ever really make an argument?

"For if man is capable of turning to God in faith, and that action is necessary to salvation, we may easily understand why the Papists or the Campbellists would think to add other elements to this formula." This is really it. In fact, we just have this one sentence. First of all, to say that man is capable of turning to God is to misunderstand Arminian theology. We merely say that we are capable of turning away from Him, not toward Him. Nothing but God's grace can bring us toward Him. So this link is grounded in straw man. This is not a very good start.

Worst yet, that papists ground their sacramentology on their ecclesiology, not their soteriology. They view it has the function of the church to dispense God's grace. So while this argument may sound plausible, it doesn't take catholic theology for its own word. As for the Campbellites, I cannot speak much on the movement. While aware of it, I have not studied the matter historically. I would be interested whether their commentment to sacramentialism though was grounded more in privitism rather than their libertarianism. Also, I do not know if they are even Arminian in their theology (Catholics certainly aren't). Here I would simply wonder what historical evidence Richard has that sacramentology formed the way he claims here.

C. Here it is even harder to tell how he is trying to justify this (that is that Calvinism protects against sacraments). It is difficult to determine whether or not a general dismissal of sacramentalism by Dortists has to do with Dortism or their rejection of Catholicism (and devotion to Sola Scriptura). I suspect the latter. And many Arminians feel likewise. Sure, the Methodists tend to have sacraments, but that is because of their historical ties to Anglicanism, not their soteriology. But classicly Martin Luther and Augustine had similar soteriological views, and yet were passionate sacramentalists. Augustine was a major shaper of Catholic sacramentology. Even Calvin and Presbyrterians still hold to a sacramental view (though admittely weaker than other sacramental traditions). So this also strikes me as incredibly weak.

In summary, I would say that this argument simply doesn't have any historical evidence, and doesn't seem to take seriously the actual theological positions that it is dealing with. Now possibly he has a point, but at this stage significantly more research is required for this argument to even have a prima facie case.

Does Jesus save or make men saveable?

We hear this argument A LOT, and it is a terrible argument. First of all, when assessing the efficaciousness of the cross, there are two ways to approach it: a divine perspective, and a human perspective. The trick with this argument is to assess Dort from a divine perspective and Arminianism from a human perspective, which is exactly what I said it was: a trick. Now I am not saying that Richard is trying to trick anyone. This argument is so common that I'm sure he is repeating it because it was convinced by it. But at its heart, it is a rhetorical trick to turn Dort's biblically weakest link into something good and important.

So since I like saving my more important points for last, let's look at both positions from a human perspective first. In both systems no one is born justified. So we start out unredeemed. In both systems, when we come to have faith in order to have Christ's atonement applied to us. In both systems, once the atonement is applied to us, we are completely justified. So the difference in the person's life is not the efficaiousness of the atonement, which does the same thing with the same power (and is considered infinite in both systems), but simply in the order with which things happen (regeneration->faith->justification vs faith->justification->regeneration).

Now let's look at it from a divine perspective. Now here things are a bit tricky since there are two theories of election within Armianianism, but for the sake of simplicity I'm going to look at the traditional view held by Arminius. In both Classic Arminianism and Dortism, God knows exactly who He is going to save when Jesus is at the cross, and those exact persons' sins are atoned for at the moment. So again, no difference in terms of efficaciousness.

So what's the real difference? The real difference is in election. In both systems justification comes by faith, but how faith comes about is different. And from the Arminian perspective, the issue is that anyone could be saved. Not everyone is, and God knows who will be because He is omniscient. So who is saved is certain. But it is not necessitated, and thus the offer of salvation to everyone is geniune. At least that's our issue anyway.

The Bible favors the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

There is no way I can adequately respond to this here, but to some degree, I think this section is the most important. What really matters IS what does the Bible actually teach. Now, I don't think the Bible teaches unconditional election. Romans 9 is about God's soveriegnty over the conditions of election, not unconditionality (verse 20 is anticipating a Jew who is angry that God is saving Gentiles, not Arminianism). Ephesians 1 is saying that God has chosen to save us, but doesn't stipulate how He does so; so one has to read the rest of the book for that. John 6 is about how only those who were already believers amoung the Jews could recognize what God was revealing in Jesus, not about unconditional election. In fact, here are my links dealing with those subjects: proof-texts, biblical arguments, and SEA on election.

However, all that said, attempting to settle the matter here will not do the conversation justice. My only real critique of this section then is the fact that Richard does nothing to engage with the Arminian responses to his incredibly common arguments. An issue I also have with the next section.

The doctrine of total depravity causes problems for Arminian soteriology

First of all, a point about the rhetoric here. He says that Armians "often" or "usually" believe in Total Depravity. This is untrue. Arminians always believe in Total Depravity, though sometimes reject the language. The third article of the Remonstrance is quite clear on this. If you don't believe at least in what he describes here, that humanity "is unable to turn to God in and of himself", then you are not an Arminian. Additionally, to say that Arminians "just" employ prevenient grace is to say that Dortians "just" employ unconditional election. It's the defining doctrine of the entire position!

Anyway, how does this cause a problem? He makes three arguments. The first is that it is ad hoc. Well, sorta. The theology is designed to balance the theological tensions that are in Scripture, and it does so well. But this is no less true than the Trinity. While the doctrine of prevenient grace is designed to pull together all of what Scripture says, it still is the best explanation of the evidence that we have. And it isn't really that ad hoc. It is a rather reasonable conclusion to what we know about God's character. Afterall, prevenient grace is nothing more than saying that God actively drawing people to Him from birth. It isn't really that complex.

Second point is that what I typically call the technical argument. In this argument, the Total Depravity of man is never really experienced because God is always at work, so TD is merely "technical". However, I don't see this as a weakness, but as a strength. When we look around us, don't we see people trying to be good? Don't we see people being drawn to conviction and righteousness? In fact Reformed circles refer to this as "common grace", that is grace extended to the reprobate to hold back their sinful natures. And what is the problem with the understanding that God is always at work? Are we seriously suggesting here that the problem with Arminian theology is the ubiquity of God's providence? Um, darn?

Third point is the "why does one person choose and another doesn't" argument. This confuses merit with condition, a point which I flesh out in more detail here. To sum up quickly, while merit implies conditionality, conditionality doesn't imply merit, and the question is merely a question of conditionality. Indeed, we could say, "Well if the condition is faith, then faith itself must be caused by a 'something'. What is that 'something'". Well, it varies from person to person. Indeed, as a Molinist, Richard should recognize that such a question actually assumes compatiblism, and thus doesn't really work with his own belief in libertarian free will.

Evangelical Arminianism borrows from Calvinism

Well, this is a textbook genetic fallacy. However, even if we considered genetic fallacies legit, it still doesn't work considering historical details. First of all, yes Luther was a staunch Augustian, and certainly Arminians being Protestant inherit a good deal from him. However, Luther's successor, Philip Melchathon, held to a Semiaugustian position, and Luther stilll blessed him.

What is Semiaugustianism you ask? Good question. Semiaugustinianism is basicly pre-reformation Arminianism, and what is important to note about this is that is was accepted over Augustianism at the Council of Orange (not one of the big 7 of course, but much more influential in its day than Dort). However, aren't we still in the same place since Semiaugustinianism is clearly based off of Augustinianism? Well, no, because Semiaugustinianism was reconciling Augustine with the church fathers that came before him. It is precisely in those areas that Dort is so proud of that put Augustine in conflict with every theologian prior. Now I don't want to say that this makes Augustine and therefore Dort wrong or unworthy. That would be a genetic fallacy. But my point is that Arminianism has a very good historical pedigree.


So where do we stand? Section 1 is bet hedging, which is bad argumentation. Section 2 is also bet hedging and underdevelopped. Section 3 is just sophistry in my opinion. Section 4 is underdevelopped, but that might just be due to the nature of the article. Section 5 is simply unconvincing to me, but probably his best section apart from a bit of straw man. And finally section 6 is a genetic fallacy. Overall, I'm not very challenged in my Arminian faith, though I do thank Richard for sharing his thoughts and perspective on the issue.

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