Classical Arminianism by F. Leroy Forlines (Book Review)

Classical Arminianism is one of the best resources available for those who are interested in Arminian theology.  F. Leroy Forlines is a senior theologian from the Free Will Baptist camp and this volume represents Arminian theology from a tradition that follows closely to the writings of Arminius himself.  This book is an edited version of Forlines’ systematic theology, The Quest For Truth, minus the material that is not directly related to soteriology from the Classical Arminian perspective.

Forlines’ writing style is conversational and easy to read and understand even while exploring difficult exegetical, theological and philosophical concepts.  Forlines masterfully argues from an “influence and response” model of God’s relationship and interactions with man as opposed to the Calvinist “cause and effect” model.  Forlines frames the debate on the nature of free will in the context of what it means to be a person.  For Forlines, the Arminian accounting of free will is essential to personhood.

Forlines extensively quotes and interacts with numerous Calvinist writers on philosophical and exegetical grounds.  The book is primarily concerned with exegesis of the primary texts addressing justification, atonement, foreknowledge, election and predestination.  Forlines goes head to head with John Piper on Rom. 9 and demonstrates that the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is not in harmony with the overall context and misses the point of Paul’s main concern in Rom. 9-11.  He navigates numerous passages that Calvinists appeal to in trying to establish unconditional election and shows that these passages do not provide the evidence Calvinists need to support their assumptions.  Worse yet for the Calvinist, Forlines shows that many of these passages work against any concept of unconditional election and actually establish conditional election instead.

Forlines argues for the penal-satisfaction model of atonement and does a great job showing that the satisfaction model is compatible with Arminian theology and universal atonement.  Indeed, Arminius was a strong proponent of penal-satisfaction atonement.  Forlines sees justification as being grounded solely on the imputation of both Christ’s active and passive obedience and righteousness.

Forlines also has a great section arguing for conditional perseverance and the real possibility of apostasy from saving faith.  He sees apostasy as irrevocable and sees a strong connection between the act of apostasy and the presumptuous sin of the Old Testament.  Sadly, while Forlines’ detailed appendix on this important connection can be found in The Quest for Truth, it is missing from this edited volume.

While I do not agree with Forlines on everything (e.g. in my opinion he rejects the corporate view of election too hastily, largely based on a misunderstanding of all that the view entails), his work has had a tremendous influence on my thinking and can easily be classified as one of the most important works on Arminian theology in the modern era.  Arminians will be encouraged and enriched by it, and Calvinists will be challenged by it.  It is one of the first books I would recommend to anyone looking to gain a firm grasp on what Classical Arminian theology entails.  Forlines’ irenic style also stands as a tremendous example for all of us in how to engage a heated debate with the utmost respect and Christian charity.  I highly recommend this work.

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5 Responses

  1. I have a copy but have not yet read it. Too busy right now to read much other than my Bible and the Bible comes before all other books.

  2. I was not going to purchase this since I have Quest for Truth and reference it regularly. However, after a couple of reviews and looking at how the subject matter is arranged, I went ahead and purchased it. It was a good decision.

  3. A.M. Mallett,

    I agree. The only bummer for me was that the appendix on presumptuous sin and apostasy was not included in this version. I am not sure why it was left out. I think it is very important information, given Forlines’ view on apostasy.

  4. I will have mercy on who I will have mercy, can’t be translated to mean “I will save who I will save.”

    9:16 is a direct quote from Exodus where Moses asked God to show him His glory, which God grants.

    The Calvinist is so anxious for God to be arbitrary, that he reads his theology into the verse.

    You bet God “will have mercy on who he will have mercy.” And, by the way, He has mercy on people by healing them, but not necessarily saving them.

  5. JML,

    I don’t agree that this passage cannot mean something like “I will save whom I will save.” I think it does basically mean that, but that in no way lends any credibility to the Calvinist interpretation. There is no reason to assume that this is meant to convey the idea that God’s choice of who to have mercy on is unconditional. It only means that it is entirely up to Him. If God wants to save on the condition of faith in His Son, then when He is having mercy on believers, it is because God has chosen to have mercy on believers. JCT just wrote a short post on this basic idea:

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/where-calvinism-gets-romans-9-wrong-prerogative-equals-unconditionality/

    In the Exodus account it has reference to Moses trying to find favor with God who had just rejected Israel and cut them off from the covenant due to their apostasy. Moses is trying to get God to restore Israel to their covenantal status and is mediating between the people and God. The context is very much about the salvation of God’s people and how God chooses to mediate His mercy. The OT context also makes it clear that God’s choice regarding who He will have mercy on is conditional. This runs counter to the basic Calvinist assumption regarding this passage in Romans 9. The same could be said about the potter and clay analogy drawn from Jer. 18. The context of that passage also supports conditionality rather than unconditionality.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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