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 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.