The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 4: A Litany of Inaccuracies and Misrepresentations

As stated before, Mr. Brown says that his primary objective in writing his short book was for the purpose of clearing up misunderstandings concerning what Calvinists believe.  In the process of doing this he has also engaged in trying to demonize the opposing system of belief: Arminianism.  I say demonize because Brown, like so many Calvinists, treats Arminianism as if it were a total perversion of Biblical teaching that the church has always rejected (which we pointed out in Parts 1 and 2 is a gross inaccuracy).  Since Brown is so concerned with properly representing Calvinism, one would think that he would be equally concerned about fairly representing Arminianism.  Sadly, this is not the case at all.  In the next two posts we will address and set the record straight on several more of those inaccuracies expressed throughout Brown’s book, before getting into a careful examination of his treatment of the so-called “five dilemmas” of Calvinism.

Craig Brown writes,

Each [protestant] church developed its own confession of faith, but they all agreed on the basic doctrines of Scripture and stressed the biblical teachings of Paul as they had been interpreted by Augustine and the early church leaders (p. 17).

As noted in Part 2, Augustine misinterpreted Paul, introducing doctrines into the church that were unheard of prior to him.  Brown is wrong to say that the “early church leaders” interpreted Scripture and Paul in the same way as Augustine [1].  They did not.  They did not hold to unconditional election, nor did they hold to irresistible grace or exhaustive determinism.  In fact, such doctrines were standard features of the Gnostic sects that the early church leaders fought against. [2]  If you read some of the earliest Christian polemics against the Gnostics, you will see that they sound just like  Arminians arguing against Calvinist doctrines!  In fact, the Gnostic sects used many of the same “proof texts” as Calvinists do today in order to defend their peculiar doctrines of exhaustive determinism, unconditional election, and inevitable perseverance (like certain sections of Romans 9 and John 6).[3]  The earliest church writers (the ante-Nicene fathers) combated those claims just as Arminians do today, using many of the same Scriptures and arguments as Arminians continue to urge against Calvinists. [4]  They argued fiercely for a libertarian view of free will (though they did not use the phrase “libertarian free will”) [5].  With this in mind, we can see that Brown’s attempt to say that Augustine and Calvin were simply restoring what the early church has always believed is essentially backwards.

Brown continues,

In his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin put down on paper the doctrines that were the foundation for all Protestant groups at the time of the Reformation- especially the Sovereignty of God in salvation [which is simply a Calvinist catch phrase for the doctrines of exhaustive determinism, irresistible grace, and unconditional election/reprobation] (ibid.)

This statement is also inaccurate.  The Reformers were not in agreement with Calvin’s novel doctrines of unconditional election, exhaustive determinism, unlimited atonement (though some scholars maintain that unlike five point Calvinists today, Calvin did not actually teach limited atonement), and inevitable perseverance.  There were many within the protestant movement that found Calvin’s doctrines to be reprehensible, essentially making God into the author of all sin and evil.  The Lutheran church never accepted Calvin’s teaching of inevitable perseverance for the regenerate, and came to reject his essential denial of free will as well.  Even Augustine had held that many regenerate believers fall away from faith into perdition (those who have not been given the “gift of perseverance” by God).  While the protestant church at large agreed with much of what Calvin wrote (those teachings which were in harmony with the five solas of the reformation), Calvin’s doctrines of exhaustive determinism, unconditional election and reprobation, and irresistible grace (doctrines that Brown refers to as “the Sovereignty of God in salvation” above), remained controversial and were rejected, to various degrees, by many key figures during the Reformation movement.

Later, Brown falls into the typical and oft repeated Calvinist blunder of equating Arminianism with Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism:

The beliefs of the Remonstrance [i.e. the Arminians], were not new.  They were a rehashing of the views of Pelagius and Cassian [a semi-Pelagian] in the fifth and sixth centuries, teachings that had been decreed heresy.

Calvinists never seem to tire of drawing this false correlation between Arminianism and the doctrines of Pelagius.  Pelagians denied the existence of a corrupted nature in man, and believed that man could exercise his free will towards salvation apart from any grace of God whatsoever.  Semi-Pelagians believed that God’s grace did intervene, but only after man took the first step towards God unaided by enabling grace.  Arminians believe neither of these things, but rather affirm as fully as Calvinists that, due to man’s depraved state, God’s enabling grace must intervene before any sinner can exercise saving faith in Christ.  The only difference being that the Arminian sees this necessary divine intervention as resistible (i.e. the sinner is capable of resisting this grace and remaining in unbelief or yielding to this grace in faith towards God), whereas the Calvinist sees it as irresistible.  Therefore, Arminianism cannot be rightly called Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, nor can it be rightly called a “rehashing” of either.

James Arminius wrote,

This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace (The Works of James Arminius Vol. 1, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD, pg. 218)

It is obvious from this quote that Arminius gave God’s grace the preeminence in all things pertaining to the salvation of man.  Arminius again states concerning the will of man in his natural state and subsequent total dependence on the grace of God,

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace (ibid. 470).

Consider also these pointed words by Arminius,

It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing [i.e. preceding] and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered (ibid. 219).

Again, we see that the main point of contention between the Calvinist and Arminian is not the necessity of enabling prevenient grace (grace which precedes faith and conversion and makes a faith response possible), but the question as to whether or not such grace can ultimately be resisted by the sinner.  The Arminian says such grace can and often is resisted, while the Calvinist says such grace cannot be resisted and inevitably leads to conversion.  Therefore, Calvinists like Craig Brown need to stop misrepresenting Arminian theology by trying to compare it to Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, when it has no more in common with those systems of belief than does Calvinism [6].  Calvinists Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams are a bit more honest in rejecting the typical Calvinist attempt to poison the well by correlating Arminianism with Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism,

Does the antipathy between Calvinism and Arminianism suggest that Pelagius, the arch-opposite of Augustine, is the proper ancestor of Arminianism?  Calvinists have often sought to paint Arminianism in Pelagian colors.  Associating your opponent with a position that the historic faith has repeatedly judged heretical can only help one’s cause.  However, the allegation that Arminianism is Pelagian is unfortunate and indeed unwarranted.  From Jacob Arminius and the ‘Remonstrance Articles’ on, the Arminian tradition has affirmed the corruption of the will by sin and the necessity of grace for redemption.  Arminianism is not Pelagianism….The Semi-Pelagians thought of salvation as beginning with human beings.  We must first seek God; and his grace is a response to that seeking.  The Arminians of the seventeenth century, however, held that the human will has been so corrupted by sin that a person cannot seek God without the enablement of grace.  They therefore affirmed the necessity and priority of grace in redemption.  Grace must go before a person’s response to the gospel.  This suggests that Arminianism is closer to Semi-Augustinianism than it is to Semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism. (Why I Am Not An Arminian, pg. 39)

Therefore, Craig Brown’s assertion that Arminianism is simply a rehashing of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism reveals again a basic unwillingness (or inability) to accurately research and present the historical data in an seeming effort to paint Calvinism as orthodoxy while making Arminianism to look as heretical as possible (perhaps we should counter that Calvinism is just a “rehashing” of fundamental features of early Gnosticism into a more “Christian” framework).  Such persistent inaccuracies stand against his own testimony to his supposed careful historical investigation in stating,

Above all else, this [book] will be an exciting exploration of the truth of the sovereignty of God.  I have spent a lot of time studying church history, and reading and thinking about divine sovereignty, and I have come to the conclusion that an understanding of this truth is essential if one’s faith is to stand up against the world.  However, most Christians today do not give much thought to this subject.  But if you will approach this journey with an open mind and heart, at the end of this book I believe you will have gone from seeing the relationship between God and man like this:

God      Man

to seeing it more like this:

[in the book is pictured a graphic of “God” in very large bold font, next to “man” in very small font.  Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow me to type in larger characters]

(pg. 21)

Not only does Brown prove that the time he has spent reading church history has not prevented him from making numerous erroneous historical claims, but he also proves to have a much distorted view of how Christians generally view God (which is likely due to his inflated view of Calvinism as the purest representation of gospel truth).  The end of his quote would seem to suggest that those who read his book (who apparently are not Calvinists) will naturally begin by seeing God and man as essential equals.  Where does he get this idea?  Basic Christian theology could never come to such a conclusion regardless of whether that theology is driven by Calvinistic presuppositions or not.

Christian theology and Christians as a whole would begin just where Brown says his book will lead them, with a view of a God who is immeasurably greater than man in every respect.  But this is likely more of an attack on Arminianism than anything, since Calvinists are fond of calling Arminianism a “man centered” theology (nothing could be further from the truth).  However, no Arminian would suggest that we view God and man as equals or object to Brown’s second illustration of God as very big and man as very small.  This seems to be yet another attempt, by Craig Brown, to misrepresent and mischaracterize Arminian theology for the purpose of exalting Calvinism to a superior theological position in the minds of his readers.

It should not surprise us, however, that Brown has such a woefully inadequate understanding of what Arminian theology entails, since it becomes clear, throughout his short book, that he has relied on Calvinists, and not Arminians, to teach him and his readers what Arminians believe (in fact, one will search Brown’s book in vain for a single quote from anyone who represents an Arminian view of theology).  This will become even clearer in our next post where we examine still more of Brown’s numerous misrepresentations of Arminian theology.

Before ending this post, we need to ask ourselves one more question concerning Brown’s quote above.  What do we make of his claim that, “…I have come to the conclusion that an understanding of this truth [the Calvinist understanding of “sovereignty”] is essential if one’s faith is to stand up against the world?”  What can we possibly take from this?  Is Craig Brown truly suggesting that only those whose faith is grounded in the Calvinist understanding of sovereignty “can stand up against the world?”

This is truly an amazing and bold claim.  Is he really suggesting that only Calvinists, throughout the history of Christianity, have successfully stood up against the world?  Surely he can’t be serious. Is he questioning the faith and ministry of the ante-Nicene fathers (men like Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc.), many of whom went to their deaths for the sake of their commitment to Jesus Christ?  Is he likewise questioning the faith of men like John Wesley who preached a doctrine of holiness unmatched in the history of the church, who preached well over 100,000 sermons, and whose commitment to Christ is unquestioned by any serious student of history?  Is Craig Brown likewise suggesting that non-Calvinists today possess a faith that is incapable of standing up against the world?  This is plainly contrary to Scripture where John says,

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world- our faith.  Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4

Scripture, contrary to Brown’s claims, says that the faith that overcomes the world is the belief that Jesus is the Son of God.  It certainly does not say that faith in the Calvinistic conception of sovereignty (i.e. exhaustive determinism) is the “faith” or “victory” which overcomes the world.  In his zeal to promote Calvinism, Mr. Brown has essentially added a belief in Calvinism to the simple saving gospel message of faith in Jesus Christ, and has thereby violated one of the fundamental battle cries of the Reformation (sola fide– faith alone).

What could possibly motivate such an outlandish claim as this?  I can only guess as to what Mr. Brown was trying to convey, but it seems inescapable to me that such unguarded and bizarre statements could only serve to further prejudice his readers against anything that is not strict five point Calvinism.

Go to Part 3

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[1] Marston and Forster point out that,

“Actually, Augustine can really not be called an ‘early church father’, since he was some 350 years after Paul – further than we today are from King Charles II.  Unlike some key earlier figures, he spoke a different language, struggled with Greek, and knew little or no Hebrew.  It is therefore very surprising that so many writers conclude that he got it right and effectively everyone else before him got it wrong.” (God’s Strategy in Human History, 291)

[2] For example, Marston and Forster write, “…we find striking agreement among early church leaders over the issue of freewill.  The same teaching was held by mainstream and fringe groups, by scholars and ordinary ministers, by the Greek, Latin, and even Syrian traditions- by everyone, in short, except total heretics.” (God’s Strategy, pg. 305- emphasis mine)

[3] For example, Origen (c225) says of the Gnostics who misuse passages such as Rom. 9, “Some of those who hold different opinions [i.e. the Gnostics] misuse these passages.  They essentially destroy free will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation and by introducing others as being saved in such a way that they cannot be lost…” (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, by David W. Bercot, pg. 290)

Likewise, Chrysostom, countering the misuse of John 6 by the Gnostic Manichaean sect (the sect Augustine belonged to for nine years prior to converting to Catholicism), writes,

“The Manichæans spring upon these words [in John 6:44], saying, that nothing lies in our own power; yet the expression shows that we are masters of our will. For if a man comes to Him, says some one, what need is there of drawing? But the words do not take away our free will, but show that we greatly need assistance. And He implies not an unwilling comer, but one enjoying much succor.”

For the full response by Chrysostom on John 6, see here.

[4] For example, Irenaeus (c130-200) made use of Matthew 23:37 in Against Heresies XXXVII:

“This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,” set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God.  For there is no coercion with God, but a good will (towards us) is present with Him continually.  And therefore does He give good counsel to all.  And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice…so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves….

If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?  But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of freewill in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.” (quoted in Chosen But Free, by Norman Geisler, pg. 151)

Likewise, Arnobius of Sicca (c253-327) made use of Rev. 22:17, described a sort of universal prevenient grace, and argued forcefully against any notion of God irresistibly inclining man’s will towards faith and obedience (a key feature of the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace),

Against the Heathen: 64 “I reply, does not He free all alike who invites all alike? Or does He thrust back or repel anyone from the kindness of the Supreme who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him?  To all, He says, the fountain of life is open, and no one is hindered or kept back from drinking…

65. “Nay, my opponent says, if God is powerful, merciful, willing to save us, let Him change our dispositions, and compel us to trust in His promises.  This then, is violence, not kindness nor bounty of the Supreme God, but childish and vain strife in seeking to get the mastery.  For what is unjust as to force men who are reluctant and unworthy, to reverse their inclinations; to impress forcibly on their minds what they are unwilling to receive, and shrink from…  

Bardaisan of Syria (c154-222) echoes the objections of numerous early church fathers  against the fatalistic God of the Gnostics (in this case, the followers of Marcion) who would thereby be ultimately responsible for all that His creatures did (including sin),

Fragments: “How is it that God did not make us that we should not sin and incur condemnation?” – if man had been made so, he would not have belonged to himself but would have been the instrument of him that moved him…And how, in that case, would a man differ from a harp, on which another plays; or from a ship, which another guides: where the praise and the blame reside in the hand of the performer or the steersman…they being only instruments made for the use of him in whom is the skill?  But God, in His benignity, chose not so to make man; but by freedom he exalted him above many of his creatures.

Likewise, Methodius of Olympus (c260-martyred 311) saw such theistic determinism as making God the author of all sin and evil,

The Banquet of the Ten Virgins xvi: Now those who decide that man is not possessed of freewill, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate…are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.

(All quotes taken from God’s Strategy, pp. 300, 302)

Cyril of Jerusalem (c312-386) argued in his Lecture, IV 18-21, for freewill and against the Gnostic concept of one being controlled irresistibly by one’s nature alone (another key doctrine of Calvinism today),

“Know also that thou hast a soul self-governed, the noblest work of God, made after the image of its Creator, immortal because of God that gives it immortality, a living being rational, because of Him that bestowed these gifts: having free power to do what it willeth…There is not a class of souls sinning by nature and a class of souls practicing righteousness by nature; but both act from choice, the substance of their souls being of one kind only and alike in all…The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will.  He pictures to thee the thought of fornication: if thou wilt, thou rejectest.  For if thou wert a fornicator of necessity, then for what cause did God prepare hell?  If thou wert a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory?  The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.” (quoted in Chosen But Free, pp. 154, 155)

[5] “Augustinian sympathizer Alister E. McGrath admits:

‘The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will.’

This is actually true for all the divergent branches of early church theology, in all areas into which the church was carried…Not a single church figure in the first 300 years rejected it and most of them stated it clearly in works still extent.  We find it taught by great leaders in places as different as Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Carthage, Jerusalem, Lycia, Nyssa, Rome, and Sicca.  We find it taught by the leaders of all the main theological schools.  The only ones to reject it were heretics like the Gnostics, Marcion, Valentinus, Manes (and the Manichaens [the followers of Manes and the sect that Augustine had been involved with for nine years prior to his conversion to Catholicism]), etc.  In fact, the early Fathers often state their beliefs on “freewill” in works attacking heretics.  Three recurrent ideas seem to be in their teaching:

1. The rejection of freewill is the view of heretics.

2. Freewill is a gift given to man by God – for nothing can ultimately be independent of God.

3. Man possesses freewill because he is made in God’s image, and God has freewill.” (God’s Strategy, pg. 296- the entire section [pp. 289-344] called “Early Teaching on Free Will and Election” is excellent in documenting early church beliefs in contradistinction to the later radical novelties of Augustinian and Calvinist teachings, among other things).

[6] Writing over a thousand years before Arminius, Jerome (c347-420) sounded very “Arminian” in opposing the Pelagians (affirming genuine free will in man that is completely dependent on God’s gracious enabling power),

Letters CXXXIII It is in vain that you misrepresent me and try to convince the ignorant that I condemn freewill.  Let him who condemns it be himself condemned.  We have been created endowed with freewill; still it is not this which distinguishes us from the brutes.  For human freewill, as I said, depends upon the help of God and needs His aid moment by moment, a thing which you and yours do not choose to admit.  Your position is that once a man has freewill he no longer needs the help of God.  It is true that freedom of the will brings with it freedom of decision.  Still man does not act immediately on his freewill but requires God’s aid who Himself needs no aid.

Against the Pelagians, Book 111, 10: But when we are concerned with grace and mercy, freewill is in part void; in part, I say, for so much depends upon it, that we wish and desire, and give assent to the course we choose.  But it depends on God whether we have the power in His strength and with His help to perform what we desire, and to bring to effect our toil and effort. (God’s Strategy, pp. 303, 304)

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16 Responses

  1. I always look forward to a new post from you. The footnotes alone are extremely valuable. I have F & M’s book, but its been a long time since I read it. I do remember that it had a lot of great stuff in it.

    Mr. Brown’s misrepresentations of Arminian theology are embarassing. This is simply lazy, poor, and shoddy scholarship. These could have easily been avoided by reading from primary sources or at least Olson’s book “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” It is hard to take Brown’s work seriously when he makes statements that are easily shown to be false and misleading. Thankfully we have some Calvinists like Peterson who represent Arminian theology more accurately.

    Great stuff, Thanks again.

    Blessings,
    Steve

  2. It’s very frustrating to have one’s position continually misrepresented. Either Mr. Brown is dishonest or he shows a lack of due diligence. Bad deal either way.

    I’m reading F & M’s book right now. It is excellent, I wish I had read it sooner.

  3. Not to create ammunition for Calvinists to use against Arminians, but…

    I see Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism and Open Theism as distinct from Arminianism as you state above.

    But while they may have been condemned (at least the first 2) as heretical, I must say that I don’t see them as heretical as Calvinism. Heretical may be a poor choice of words, as I don’t see any of these beliefs as preventing union with Christ (as say a deliberate denial of the deity of Christ). But I think despite the existence of many pleasant Calvinists, that Calvinist theology is less scriptural than Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism and Open Theism.

  4. I have not read Augustine but I have never been that impressed by what I have heard about him. Possibly a bit unfair.

    I tend to think he married Greek philosophy to Christianity and we have been slowly removing the Greek for the last millennium. I don’t know how true my thoughts are. Perhaps I need to brush up on church history?

  5. Calvinist alert! Thanks Ben for stopping by my blog earlier today. I look forward to looking around here in the days and weeks to come.

    God bless!

  6. RFT,

    Thanks for dropping by. I will likewise be checking out your site more fully when I get the chance.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. I’ve noticed this as well, and I think the problem might be the books they read about the issues.

    They will read books by other calvinists that talk about the issue and just take their word for it. Not knowing that that book might be a tertianary source or a 4th source. Very few of them will ever double check their sources by going to the primaries.

    And I think this is the main problem.

    Good work Ben

    Jnorm888

  8. For about the tenth time I have picked this book off of the shelf to begin to give it a fair hearing and for the tenth time I have cast it across the room toward the shelves. The author’s approach is glib and misleading and, in general, factually incorrect. Your perseverance in working through it is admired and appreciated.

  9. Doulos,

    I agree, it is tough to read. That is why this series is taking me so long.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. I did not get the chance to read through this whole reply, but from what I have read I am not at all impressed. I have for a long time debated with very serious Arminians who claim that Calvinism is Gnosticism which when looked at carefully is not.
    Even if it is true that Gnostics defended a view of Determinism, who says that the Determinism that Calvinists hold to is false? Is it not likely that God’s knowledge can(imperfectly) be found in other religions? If we truly believe that God has placed the knowledge of himself in every heart, then we should at least consider that. (Romans 1:19-20) If that is an argument of yours that Calvinism is false because gnostics taught determinism, then what about ‘free-will’? If another religion teaches ‘free-will’ in some sense does that make ‘free-will’ a false teaching? Not of necessity, no. Calvinists, in the majority, have always taught that God determines the choices man makes in such a way that that person is not coerced against his will to do what he does. Freedom, as I understand it, is the ability to choose according to who we are and what we possess, at least when relating to volitional freedom and not spiritual freedom(something which Scriptures give to the Church alone). And that is what Calvinists have taught, and continue to teach. For us to make a free volitional choice our heart must be in it, otherwise it is forced. Calvinists believe all of that, yet just add that we as human being are not self-caused in our faculties of thoughts, desires and will. How do our thoughts come into being? It must be confessed that thoughts come into being, otherwise how do we have them? If they come into being, then what causes them to come into being? Is it our thoughts? That cant be, for that would suppose our thoughts to be in existence before they are in existence, which is a contradiction. Is it our desires? It can’t be, for desires(as everyman knows) are there by knowledge first. We first know, then we feel about what we know. And so it cant be our desires, and lastly it is obvious that it cant be our wills. Therefore it must be something else, and Calvinists say that it is the Will of a Sovereign, wise and Holy God. It cant be ‘chance’ for every one who knows their bible cannot believe in chance. Everything is under God’s Sovereign control, and nothing happens by chance.

    I appreciate your concern to defend what you believe the Bible teaches, but it has just confirmed it in my mind that Arminians have no real understanding of the Calvinistic position because they are unwilling to have their presuppositions challenged regarding ‘free-will’.

  11. Benjamin,

    Thanks for stopping by. You wrote,

    I did not get the chance to read through this whole reply, but from what I have read I am not at all impressed.

    It is always better to read an entire post before making comments. It could very well be that your objections will turn out to be invalid since you may have misunderstood what was written based on the fact that you did not bother to read it all.

    I have for a long time debated with very serious Arminians who claim that Calvinism is Gnosticism which when looked at carefully is not.

    I never claimed that Calvinism is Gnosticism, though it does share features of Gnosticism. It is certainly true that Christians prior to Augustine fought against the same sort of determinism that Calvinism holds to, and saw this as exclusively a feature of Gnosticism. The point was not to prove that Calvinism is wrong or unbiblical based on its similarity with early Gnostic doctrines, but rather to show that Brown’s claims that Calvinism is just a return to early Christian beliefs is false. The earliest Christian writers rejected all of the basic doctrinal distinctions of what is known as Calvinism today.

    Even if it is true that Gnostics defended a view of Determinism, who says that the Determinism that Calvinists hold to is false? Is it not likely that God’s knowledge can(imperfectly) be found in other religions? If we truly believe that God has placed the knowledge of himself in every heart, then we should at least consider that.

    In the historical context, you are basically claiming that God placed this knowledge in the Gnostics while hiding it from the early Christian writers, some of whom were taught directly by the apostles themselves. Is that really where you are willing to go in order to salvage your point?

    If that is an argument of yours that Calvinism is false because gnostics taught determinism, then what about ‘free-will’?

    Again, this is not my argument. Determinism is false because the Bible does not teach it, and not because Gnostics embraced it. Free will is true because the Bible teaches it, and not because the early Christians embraced it. However, it is still significant that the earliest Christian writers were unanimously against determinism while defending a libertarian view of free will.

    Calvinists, in the majority, have always taught that God determines the choices man makes in such a way that that person is not coerced against his will to do what he does.

    And your point is what? I will say that a divinely predetermined choice is no “choice” at all, since the person could only move his mind thoughts and actions in the predetermined way. Therefore, there was nothing to choose from and by extension, no real “choice”. For more on that see here:

    The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

    Freedom, as I understand it, is the ability to choose according to who we are and what we possess, at least when relating to volitional freedom and not spiritual freedom(something which Scriptures give to the Church alone). And that is what Calvinists have taught, and continue to teach. For us to make a free volitional choice our heart must be in it, otherwise it is forced.

    Well, I would call that a Calvinist redefinition of “freedom”, rather than true freedom (and the earliest Christian writers would agree). Your “freedom” is the freedom to choose or do that which we must choose or do. It is the “freedom” to do what we cannot avoid doing. It is the “freedom” to think and act according to an unchangeable and irresistible eternal decree. It is the freedom of a falling rock to continue falling. It is simply necessity being called “freedom” (the very opposite of necessity).

    Calvinists believe all of that, yet just add that we as human being are not self-caused in our faculties of thoughts, desires and will.

    Well, that means that our thoughts, actions, and will are irresistibly necessitated, and therefore not free.

    How do our thoughts come into being? It must be confessed that thoughts come into being, otherwise how do we have them? If they come into being, then what causes them to come into being? Is it our thoughts?

    Thoughts are created by the mind and soul of man. Our mind causes our thoughts to come into being, though outside stimuli certainly have an impact on our thought process.

    Therefore it must be something else, and Calvinists say that it is the Will of a Sovereign, wise and Holy God.

    Since our thoughts come from our own minds, none of this follows. However, look where your philosophy has led you. In saying our thoughts come from “the Will of a Sovereign, wise and Holy God”, you make God the originator of every evil thought we have (and yet you say He is “Holy”, thereby emptying holiness of any real meaning). You make God the only true thinker and actor in the universe (the rest of us being just passive instruments), and therefore make God the cause and author of all sin and evil. This is exactly what the early Christian writers found reprehensible in Gnostic determinism. For example, in the footnotes I quoted Methodius of Olympus who wrote,

    “Now those who decide that man is not possessed of freewill, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate…are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.”

    It cant be ‘chance’ for every one who knows their bible cannot believe in chance. Everything is under God’s Sovereign control, and nothing happens by chance.

    You would do well to read,

    The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics

    I appreciate your concern to defend what you believe the Bible teaches, but it has just confirmed it in my mind that Arminians have no real understanding of the Calvinistic position because they are unwilling to have their presuppositions challenged regarding ‘free-will’.

    I think I understand the Calvinist position quite well (and this has been confirmed in numerous discussions with Calvinists). I would challenge you to re-examine your presuppositions.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. The Calvinist “view” regarding free will is the most absurd, duplicitous, contradictory verbiage to ever be seen in print. Up is Down, Left is Right, In is Out, etc.

    We understand your diabolical doctrine quite well. We also know that logic and consistency is something the Calvinist runs from at light speed.

    The Calvinist does not believe that man has a will, let alone that it is free. They redefine all these terms in ways found in no dictionary. They make it up as they go along. Calvinism is a lie from beginning to end. There is no truth in it. Augustine the Apostate invented it, and the entire church of that day condemned him and said his idea were never taught in any church in any region EVER. Augustine departed from the faith.

  13. Semi-Pelagianism (unlike strict Pelagianism) was never universally condemned as a heresy at all (except, of course, by Calvinists and hyper-Augustinians). John Cassian, by the way, is still viewed very highly (as a saint, in fact) by both Eastern Orthodox and (I’m pretty sure) Roman Catholics as well.

    What’s more, the council that condemned Pelagius was far from ecumenical (I. e., universal); it was a small local synod, particular to Rome and the Western jurisdictions of the Church at the time. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to be officially neutral on the Augustine vs. Pelagius issue but there are a lot of opinions both ways. One thing’s for sure, if it’s Augustinian theology you have a problem with, you really should look into Eastern Christianity, whose theology is largely uninfluenced by Augustine and which is largely based on the Greek Fathers who preceded him (and read the New Testament in its original language!) You might find a pleasant surprise. EO is about the furthest from Augustine you can get.

  14. Anastasios,

    I agree and disagree. The EOC is far from Augustine on a number of issues, but close to him on others. Many of his primary influences on Catholicism seem to have found their way into the EOC as well. The EOC is far too close to Catholicism for my liking.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. Benjamin said,

    “Even if it is true that Gnostics defended a view of Determinism, who says that the Determinism that Calvinists hold to is false?”

    Ah, just the kind of reasoning that allows Calvinism to be right. Heretics in history are wrong only when they disagree with one’s position.

    “If another religion teaches ‘free-will’ in some sense does that make ‘free-will’ a false teaching? Not of necessity, no. Calvinists, in the majority, have always taught that God determines the choices man makes in such a way that that person is not coerced against his will to do what he does.”

    I will NEVER understand how it can be that God fully determines my choices and at the same time I am making the choice of my own free will. This comes directly out of a view of sovereignty (as defined by Calvinism) that is based on a determinism which flinches at fatalism and merely nods at free will. Actually it redefines determinism to set better, albeit it becomes illogical, To me it is totally made up (and unnecessary as I just don’t see it in Scripture).

    I think the phrase “in such a way” is code for “it makes no sense but that’s what we believe.” The Westminster confession drives me nuts in this sense when it says God “decrees” (not allows or permits) whatever comes to pass, but he doesn’t violate man’s will. This is an odd logic. The teaching is derived from an interpretation of Scripture that totally ignores sound reasoning. You wouldn’t get away with interpreting other scriptures with this same logic, yet it somehow holds water because “we’ll that’s what the Reformers taught.” So what!

    My Calvinist friends just can’t imagine a God who is anything but totally in control of every molecule in a constantly causitive fashion. Why God can’t be sovereign while NOT forcing or causing things is beyond their understanding. But their interpretations couldn’t be wrong; rather it is our frail human understanding. If a doctrine is right but defies logic, how could you ever trust your own reason? I would expect to see Calvinists also believing in Aliens and Bigfoot according to the laws of their logic…why not?

    I honestly don’t mock my Calvinist brothers here; it’s just that the conclusions really, really don’t fit. And those who oppose it are really, really NOT relying too heavily on logic. I mean, let’s be fair. That attack really rubs me the wrong way. And now that I lean toward Arminianism, I can see why this is so frustrating. The same logic used to rightly interpret scripture is set aside to wrongly interpret it. And you just can’t counter that with any argument.

    BTW Ben, your last verse reference should be 1 John 5:4.

    Gene

  16. Now Dimly,

    This is great: I think the phrase “in such a way” is code for “it makes no sense but that’s what we believe.”

    Thanks for the heads up on the reference. I made the change.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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