Saturday, July 10, 2010

Answering as an Arminian

I was asked by one of my Calvinist readers to respond to a couple of questions on soteriology from my Arminian perspective; however, I am an Arminian more by default than by choice. My beliefs were developed from reading the Bible rather than James Arminius or Arminian theologians, so I am not truly an effective apologist for Arminian theology. That said, I do find myself in agreement with basic theological tenets set forth by Arminians and have no problem being associated as one of their lot (although that might not be a two way street! ;-) ). There is an excellent resource on the web (at http://evangelicalarminians.org/) that any of you readers would probably find very helpful in understanding the tenets of Arminian theology. On to the questions...

What is man's part in salvation?
There is no human role in salvation. The plan was God’s, the execution was God’s. Man either receives or rejects what God has finished in Christ. Those that believe in that plan and receive Christ, are saved, those that reject that plan and Christ will remain rejected by God. Calvinists characterize Arminianism as making man co-redemptors with Christ by such a stand, but Arminians see that as entirely specious. Look at it this way: if you’re at a carnival where there is a guy making balloon animals and offering them to the bystanders, how does taking one from him make you the co-creator or co-artist in it’s creation?

I know of no passages in the scripture that say salvation is effected apart from faith on the part of the receiver. So, Arminians see that faith is the effective reaction a human makes to a work completed by God, and is thus saved by Christ. Calvinists believe that kind of faith is impossible, due to their view on Total Depravity, without regeneration preceding faith. Arminians, though we generally share the Calvinist’s view on Total Depravity, believe faith comes first, made possible by the visitation of God grace. To review: for every human saved the Arminian would say that the plan was God’s, the execution was God’s, and the enabling grace was God’s. Man either puts faith in Christ as a result or does not.

For me personally, the problem I have with Calvinistic conceptions of this issue is that in order to give the glory to God alone and remove any “free role” for man, Calvinists end up relying in some fashion on Determinism. Once that is adopted, God alone getting the glory for salvation may be assured, but dragged along for the ride is God inexorably getting the blame for sin as well. If things happen as they happen by the decree of God, that God’s will is the effective determiner of what happens for good or for ill, then God is not only the author of salvation but the author of sin as well. I find that a totally unscriptural characterization of God and what he’s revealed about how he does things. Calvinists appeal to “mystery” to deal with the problem, I just see an unmysterious problem.

Can one lose their salvation?
Arminians have widely varying viewpoints on this issue. Arminius, himself, was not precisely clear on the subject. I do not believe anyone can lose their salvation, but I do believe they can lose their faith. The two are related but most definitely distinct. Salvation was achieved by the finished work of Christ, not by any work of the saved. If our works do not save us, our works cannot “unsave” us. Our faith, on the other hand, is the means through which grace and salvation are effected, and a loss of such faith would result in God’s grace and salvation becoming ineffective as well.

There are instances of folks falling away from Christ in the NT, and Hebrews 6 spells out at least the possibility. Calvinists, generally, rely on the “they were never saved in the first place” argument. I see no validity in that approach at all, and practically, see it completely undermining trust in Christ in real time because one can’t trust that their faith is true at any given moment—they might just be fooling themselves and never truly believed from the start. From an Arminian perspective, if I know Christ is the risen Lord now, and trust him now, I am saved now. That is what an examination of oneself to see if he is in the faith should produce.

If any of my Arminian readers would like to chime in, I'd be blessed to hear your comments.

9 comments:

  1. I would add too that we Arminians believe in predestination. We believe that predestination is based on God's foreknowledge of people's free will decisions. Is this choice then based on human will? It is but is based on the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing the sinner to Christ (John 6:44) through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17). The grace of God saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7) through the work of the Spirit. As you rightly observe, this salvation is received by faith and is kept by faith (2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:17-18).

    Also the Greek has faith in the present active tense (1 John 5:1). "The one believing" is how we are saved and it is how we remain saved. Sin demonstrates that we no longer believe in God and His promises (Hebrews 3:6-19; 4:1-16; 5:8-9; 6:4-20; 10:19-39; 11:13-15; 12:1-39).

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  2. Seeking Disciple, With your comment on predestination you've seemingly gone around a circle ending up at the calvinist's doorstep for you state that predestination is really based on the work of God Himself in the Holy Spirit. I think a Calvinist would fully agree with the remainder of your comments.

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  3. Would really love to hear (read) more discussion on this topic.

    Thanks SLW.

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  4. Roy,
    I've heard Calvinists make the claim that if God would not have predestined (read: elected) some unto salvation, none would be saved. I appreciate them understanding the lostness of man and the heart of God to save (at least a remnant), but I see their view as jumping to a conclusion--namely if God did not irrestistably cause some to be saved, none would. The truth is that if God didn't get in our faces, no face would turn toward him, but that is a far cry from the overstepped Calvinist view of predestination (election, irristable grace, perserverance).

    Thanks for the input.

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  5. Scooter,
    I've found that there really is not an uncrossable chasm between a moderate Calvinist and a classical Arminian. There's a divide, no doubt, but not so wide that we can't shake hands across it.

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  6. Marvin,
    I hoped you'd like this posting. ;-)

    If you check out Roy Ingle's site (on my sidebar), you'd find Arminian theology presented and discussed in a friendly, noncombative manner. Calvinists are frequent commenters there.

    William Birch's site (also on my sidebar) gets a little more argumentative in the comment threads at times, but the tenor is still always respectful and yet fully engaged. William posts a lot of material directly from Jacob Arminius and you may find it very interesting.

    Some other Arminian sites are also listed in the sidebar: some are more formal logically, some more philosophical.

    Here, I do my best to explore these issues from the Bible, rather than from systematic theology per se, and more informally and as assessible to the average layman as possible. I do try to be as unobnoxious as I can about it, but I fear it's only a matter of time until the gremlins get out. ;-)

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  7. Thanks Pastor, I'll be reading those.

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  8. Hi SLW,

    I also came to Arminian conclusions primarily from Bible study and meditation. Currently, my primary refutation of Calvinism opposes unconditional election (U). For example, Paul's discussion of election in Romans is in the context of a conditional covenant while faith is the condition. Likewise, Romans clearly taught that Christians are justified by faith, implying that “faith” is the condition of the new covenant. Ultimately, Romans taught about a conditional covenant. And I wish that I could discuss this with a Calvinist scholar to test my view.

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  9. JG,
    At least we have something in common! ;-)

    I'd suggest checking out Calvinist blogs and see what you could arrange, but honestly, as a class they tend to be more combative and ill-mannered than behooves a Christian. I have a couple of pastor friends in my town who are stalwart Calvinists, learned, and yet easy to talk to about theology, maybe there's someone like that in your town.

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Any comment in ill taste or not germane to the post may be deleted without warning. I am under no obligation to give anyone an opportunity to call me names or impugn my motives or integrity. If you can't play nice, go somewhere else and play.