An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism (From a Calvinist)”:The Good, The Bad, And The [Very] Ugly

You can find Patton’s original post here

I was referred to this recent post by C. Michel Patton and thought I would respond to it.  My comments can be found in-between sections of his post below:

Definition of Arminianism

Arminianism is a theological system developed by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). It is a form of Protestant Christianity that emphasizes God’s love for all people and human free will in salvation. It rejects the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. It holds that salvation is available to everyone, but that individuals must choose to accept it. For the Arminian, Jesus died for all people, not just for the elect. Arminians believe in conditional election (God chooses those who choose Him) and the ability to resist the grace of God.

Not much to protest here.  The only part I would personally change is the way he describes conditional election as “God chooses those who choose Him.” Arminianism says that God chooses those who trust in Christ and are joined to Him as result of that faith.  The locus and focus of election is Christ and we become elect through union with Him (Eph. 1:4).  So the emphasis in election is not on our own choice, but on God’s choice of those who are joined to His Son by faith (Eph. 1:3).  Is there a choice involved in trusting Christ?  Of course, but saying God chooses those who choose Him leaves a lot of important nuance out of the Arminian view.  So while it is accurate, it is not the best way to express Arminian Theology.  It would have better for him just to have said that Arminians believe in election conditioned on faith (or more specifically, faith union with Christ).

Moving on…

Distinct Doctrines

1. Human Free Will: Arminians believe that all people have free will to choose or reject salvation in Jesus Christ.

Not entirely accurate as Arminians (following Arminius) do not believe that all people have free will to choose or reject salvation in Christ.  We believe that people have free will in a general sense, but when it comes to trusting in Christ our depraved nature actually makes that particular choice impossible.  For that reason we need God to intervene with the enabling grace that makes it possible to trust in Christ and be saved.  Calvinists believe this as well but see this grace as irresistible while Arminians see at resistible (as Patton rightly stated in his opening paragraph).  Does God enable all people to trust in Christ upon hearing the Gospel?  The Arminian would say yes, but Patton phrases this in a way that could give the impression that the freedom to trust in Christ is inherent in all of us without the need for enabling grace.  No Arminian believes that.

2. Conditional Election: Arminians believe that God chooses those who will be saved based on his foreknowledge of their faith and obedience.

Again, not really inaccurate, but also not the best way to describe conditional election from an Arminian perspective (see above).  In the election by foreknowledge view it would better be described as God choosing those that He foreknows as believers in union with His Son.  Does that include foreknowing their faith and obedience?  Sure, but stating it the way Patton does can give the impression that election is not about foreknowing actual persons (believers) but only actions (faith and obedience). Arminians see election as God’s choice of persons who are characterized by faith and in right relationship with Christ as a result. They share in His election by being joined to Him (the Elect One).

It should also be noted that many Arminians do not hold to the classical “election by foreknowledge” view which places the act of election in eternity based on God’s foreknowledge.  Rather, these Arminians see election as based simply on being joined to the covenant Head (Christ) and His people.  So election is primarily corporate as it is about God’s choice of a people in Christ.  It is only secondarily individual in that the individual comes to be joined to Christ and His chosen covenant people through faith. 

In this view (called the corporate election view) foreknowledge is not the basis of election (though God does indeed have exhaustive foreknowledge), so election doesn’t happen in eternity based on God foreknowing people as believers and choosing them for that reason.  Rather, election happens in time when someone comes to be joined to Christ and His people, and not before.  Only then can someone be considered “elect”. I personally find this view superior to the classical view as it coheres better with all that Scripture says about election and the identity of the elect as God’s covenant people [1].

For some reason Patton makes no mention of the corporate view despite the fact that he once wrote a critique of the view which only proved that he badly misunderstood it.

3. Universal Atonement: Arminians believe that Jesus’ death was for all people, and not just for the elect.

Yes, well said.

4. Resistible Grace: Arminians believe that God’s grace can be resisted, and thus it is possible for a person to reject the offer of salvation even though God has extended it to them.

Right again.

5. Assurance of Salvation: Arminians believe that believers can have assurance of their salvation as long as they remain faithful in their faith and obedience to God’s word. Therefore, salvation can be lost.

Some redundancy in the first sentence, but still true.  The second sentence reflects the more consistent and historical Arminian view on apostasy, but since Arminius never took a strong stand on the issue (though he seemed to lean heavily in that direction and after his death his followers quickly adopted the view that true believers could fall away and perish) it is not improper to call someone an Arminian who holds to a view of inevitable perseverance in the same way Calvinists do (though they are open to the same critiques of that view)[2].  The “free grace” once saved always saved view (OSAS), however, is incompatible with historical Arminianism (as well as historical Calvinism).  For that reason it is strange to see Norman Geisler described as an Arminian below (since he did hold to that form of OSAS which denies the need for perseverance)

Best Arminian Theologians of All-Time

(In No Particular Order)
1. Jacob Arminius (1560–1609)
2. John Wesley (1703–1791)
3. John Miley (1813–1895)
4. Thomas Oden (1931–2016)
5. Clark Pinnock (1937–2010)
6. H. Orton Wiley (1877-1962)
7. Charles Finney (1792-1875)
8. Roger Olson (b. 1946)
9. Gregory A. Boyd (b. 1955) (Boyd is an Open Theologian)
10. Craig S. Keener (b. 1960)

A few problems with this list. Charles Finney was not an Arminian.  His soteriology was closer to semi-Pelagian. Patton rightly identifies Boyd as an open theologian (holding to open theism) but does not identify Pinnock that way (though he also came to hold and defend that view). This list also doesn’t consider those who would be better identified as Arminian Biblical scholars (more concerned with exegesis than systematics in their written works) like Brian Abasciano, Ben Witherington III and Gordon Fee (among many others).  I would also add several theologians that are not on this list as better than some that are on it (e.g. how does someone like  I. Howard Marshall not make the list?).   So it is just an OK list with a few misidentifications along the way (Finney and Pinnock).

Arminian Works You Should Know

1. Jacob Arminius, A Treatise on Free Will
2. The Canons of Dort of 1610
3. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley
4. James Arminius, On Divine Predestination
5. Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace
6. Clark Pinnock, The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism
7. Thomas C Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace
8. Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
8. Roger Olson, Against Calvinism
9. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dingell, Against Calvinism
10. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (Yes, Geisler was Arminian though he called himself a Calvinist)

Again, a decent list, but could be much better.  Works written by Brian Abasciano (like his massive three volume intertextaul exegesis of Romans 9) should definitely be included, as well as the works of Free Will Baptists like F. Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli.  And how are the Canons of Dort an Arminian work?  What?  Maybe he meant “The Opinions of the Remontsrants”  or the Five Articles of Remonstrance (both of which are strangely missing as well).  Of course, such lists are subjective, but I highly doubt that any Arminian would consider these lists worthy of the so-called “Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism.”  But Patton does let us know that this is coming from a Calvinist and that is likely the problem here.  It would seem he is just not as familiar with the other side of the aisle as he would like to think.

So far we have only a few minor quibbles with Patton’s “Guide” and the next section is surprisingly well done.  I have no problems with Misconceptions 1-8.  I would say that only numbers nine and ten could have been better (see my comments after those points below).

Misconceptions About Arminianism

1. Arminians don’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Arminians believe very much in the sovereignty of God. To say that God gives people freedom does not necessarily mean that God relinquishes his authority over mankind. To be sovereign does not mean that one always has to be in meticulous control over everything that happens. God, for the Arminian, could shape all human events according to his will, he just chooses not to. This is still sovereignty.

2. Arminians believe that Christians could lose their salvation if they commit a really bad sin.

This is not true. Mainstream Arminianism has traditionally taught that the only way one can forfeit their salvation is through a permanent loss of faith. All sins, no matter how bad, are covered by the cross of Christ. Roman Catholicism is the only mainstream tradition that teaches that really bad sins (“mortal sins”) can cause one to lose their status in heaven.

3. Arminianism is Pelagianism. 

This is one of the most widely taught misrepresentations, primarily among Calvinists. Pelagianism is the belief that man is born morally neutral. As well, Pelagianism teaches that man’s will is neutral from birth. Therefore, according to Pelagianism, man does not need the grace of God to live according to his will. Arminianism, on the other hand, believes that man is completely dependent upon God’s grace in order to be saved.

4. Arminianism is Semi-Pelagianism. 

Unlike Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism is the belief that man is born in a state of moral brokenness but, in his natural state, is still able to call upon God for aid. Arminianism, on the other hand (and like Calvinism), does not believe that man can do any good whatsoever outside of God’s intervention. Man, in his natural state, is at enmity with God. It is only the prevenient grace of God that gives man the ability to call on Him for mercy.
Arminians believe in the doctrine of total depravity to the same degree that Calvinists do.

5. Arminians follow a man, Jacob Arminius.

Arminianism represents a system of theology that has roots all the way back to the early church. In fact, it could be easily argued that the earliest Christians after the Apostles were more Arminian than Calvinistic. The designation “Arminianism” is named after Jacob Arminius. Arminius was a Protestant leader who rejected many of the beliefs of the Calvinists of his day, offering an alternative to the prevailing Reformed thought.

6. Arminianism is heresy.

Many passionate Calvinists call Arminianism heresy, but this is normally due to a misunderstanding of both Arminianism and heresy. A “heresy” is a departure from a central belief in historic Christianity. Simply believing something is really wrong does not automatically make it heresy. Most people believe heresy can only apply to issues involving the person and work of Christ. Arminianism is in no way a departure from Christian orthodoxy. It represents beliefs that have always been legitimately debatable in the church.

7. Arminians believe that Christians can be perfect.

Christian perfectionism is a doctrine that is held by Wesleyan-Arminians, not mainstream Arminianism. Most Arminians do not believe that man can be perfect until the resurrection.

8. Arminians deny God’s transcendence.

God’s transcendence is his timeless, spaceless, matterless existence. Open Theology believes that God is bound in time and, therefore, not transcendent. While Open Theology is an Arminian theology, it is a very radical form. Mainstream Arminians are not Open Theologians and have always believed in God’s transcendence.

9. Arminians deny predestination.

All Christians believe in predestination, including Arminians. Predestination cannot be denied, as it is very clearly taught in Scripture. Arminians deny unconditional predestination, believing that predestination is conditioned on the free-will choice of man.

Here Patton seems to conflate election with predestination in the third sentence.  To be fair, some Arminians also conflate the two (even Arminius seemed to do so at times), but it would be more precise to say that Arminians hold to conditional election since predestination is not about God predetermining who will be saved or not (whether conditionally or unconditionally), but about God’s predetermined plan (or destiny) for His chosen people (those who are joined to Christ by faith).  So only believers are predestined (to adoption as sons and the eternal inheritance that comes with it, and to be conformed to the image of Christ). Only in that sense can we say predestination is conditional since it only has believers in view.

10. Arminians cannot have assurance of their salvation.

The idea here is that Arminians can never know with certainty whether or not they are saved, since it is possible that they may, at some point in the future, lose their faith, and with it their salvation. But Arminians can have at least as much assurance as Calvinists. Calvinists cannot ever know whether or not they are truly elect. So Calvinists and Arminians are in the same boat. Both of them have to rely on the current state of their faith in order to gain assurance.

While I very much respect Patton’s honesty in admitting Calvinism has a serious problem with assurance, he is wrong to say that Arminians are “in the same boat” since Calvinism actually serves to undercut biblical salvation assurance in ways that Arminianism does not [3]

11. Arminians believe that man’s freedom is the controlling force in the universe.

This is a straw man put together by many ill-informed Calvinists who seek to associate Arminianism with a compromise to liberalism. For the Arminian, freedom is not the controlling force of the universe; God’s love is. It is God’s love that gives man freedom so that he has the ability to choose him.

12. Arminianism is a compromise with Roman Catholicism.

Arminians believe in all five solas of Reformed thought, including sola Scriptura (Scripture is the final and only infallible guide for the Christian) and sola fide (justification is by faith alone). Both of these are expressly anathematized by Roman Catholicism. Arminianism is a legitimate option within the Protestant tradition.

13. Arminians are from Armenia. 

Armenia is a country and has nothing to do with Arminianism.

So all and all a very good list with some refreshingly honest points made against oft repeated Calvinist misrepresentations (along with a rare concession on Calvinist assurance).  Very Nice.  So far we can say that Patton’s “Balanced Guide” is mostly good with just a little bit of bad (or maybe just not so good) sprinkled in here and there.  Unfortunately, Patton concludes his “Balanced Guide” with the “ugly” in presenting a truly terrible argument against Arminianism to ironically follow up his very well done list of misconceptions.

The ugly:

The Base Weakness of Arminian Theology

First, let me say that Arminians are staunch believers and defenders of basic Christianity. They know and worship the same Jesus as Calvinists and we will all be with Christ for eternity. They may be taken out to the theological woodshed, but I will too. We do our best as fellow believers in Christ and members of his body.

Here is the problem: Arminianism seeks to reconcile the mystery of divine sovereignty and human freedom by relieving the tension between the two. Both unconditional election and human freedom are clearly taught, emphasized, and celebrated in the Scripture. There is a great mystery here that Arminians do not allow. They attempt to turn the “secret things of the Lord”—that which is theologically classified—and relieve the difficulties. Arminians need to learn to trust the Lord in that He is the effectual Caller and Lover of mankind. Maybe he will pull back the curtain one day and help us understand, but maybe he won’t.

This is an argument Patton has used more than once in the past which has been thoroughly and easily refuted.  For some reason he still thinks it has merit as he repeats it again here, seemingly unaware of how question begging, self-refuting and condescending it is.  I addressed this same argument when he made it (for the second time) at his “Parchment and Pen” blog [4].  Rather than make this post much longer, I will just refer the reader to that series of responses which I believe plainly demonstrate the “Base Weakness” of this terrible Calvinist argument against Arminianism: Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”

Conclusion: Patton’s attempt to make an “Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism” had some good things going for it.  While some of his writing lacked important nuance, the majority of the article was very accurate and “balanced” as claimed.  The misconceptions sections was especially good and refreshing.  Sadly, Patton’s “Guide” took a hard turn off a cliff with the last section entitled “The Base Weakness of Arminian Theology” which is itself extremely weak and logically flawed on many levels (see my series).  This is not to say Arminianism doesn’t have any weaknesses or that it is above critique, but this particular critique is especially egregious in its logical fallacies and double standards.  It is too bad that for some reason Patton still finds this terrible argument compelling enough to include it here, despite being corrected on it many times in the past.  It really ruins what is an otherwise pretty well written post on Arminianism by a Calvinist.

For what can truly be called an “Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism” one could hardly do better than The FACTS of Salvation.

________________________________

[1] Corporate election is a term used by some who see election as an election to service only, while the strongest version sees election as entailing salvation.  This stronger version finds its best articulation in the works of Brian Abasciano who has written many articles on the subject and just completed his third volume of a detailed exegetical work on Romans 9.  He has also written a chapter on Romans 9 in the recently published Calvinism: A Biblical And Theological Critique. A condensed version of his three volume work (which are quite pricey being scholarly academic works) is set to be released in the summer (which will be much cheaper).   For anyone interested in exploring this view of election in more detail, these posts would be a great place to start:

Corporate Election Quotes

Corporate Election Resources

[2] See #7 of “Survey: Are You An Arminian And Don’t Even Know It?”  For an exegetical critique of the inevitable perseverance view, see my thirteen part series on perseverance starting here

[3] See Perseverance Series Part 12: Salvation Assurance

For another post where Patton actually admits that Calvinists lack salvation assurance, see here

[4] C. Michael Patton’s website and blog have been moved so the links in my series go to the old blog which is no longer there.   Strangely, while many comments are still there to be read at the end of the post, mine have disappeared, as well as the pingbacks from my series.  In looking through those comments it seems that I am not the only commenter that was ultimately scrubbed when he relocated his blog (Patton has a history of getting rid of comments that severely challenge his posts.  You can see another example of that here). 

My series responded to his second post on the same topic called “The Irrationality of Calvinism” which was just a re-worked and re-titled post of an earlier work called “Why Calvinism is The Least Rational Option” (and that post seems to have entirely disappeared from the internet).  In both posts Patton tries to make the case that Calvinism must be biblical and Arminianism unbiblical because Calvinists allow for “tension” in their systems while Arminians do not.  His arguments are easily refuted and he was corrected in the comments section of both of those posts (though, again, my comments have since been scrubbed and the first post disappeared), but strangely he still seems to feel it is a compelling argument as he repeats it here (in a very condensed form) as an apparent “knock down” argument against Arminianism.  Very strange.

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