Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Book Review)

John D. Wagner has produced  an updated and expanded version of “Grace Unlimited”, originally edited by the late Clark H. Pinnock.  This updated version is called “Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation.”  This newer version contains several new essays along with some changes and heavy editing of  a few essays that appeared in the original version.

Essays that remain from the original version include: “God’s Universal Salvific Grace” by Vernon Grounds; “Conditional Election” by Jack Cottrell; “The Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:27)” by William G. McDonald, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner; “Predestination in the Old Testament” by David A. Clines; “Predestination in the New Testament” by I. Howard Marshall; “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts” and “Soteriology: Perseverance and Apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” both by Grant Osborne, and “God’s Promise and Universal History: The Theology of Romans 9” by James D. Strauss, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner.

For the purposes of this review I will focus on the new material and make some closing comments that will address some of the older material as well.

The first essay in this new volume is “Arminianism is God Centered Theology”, written by Roger Olson.  In this section Olson clears up many misconceptions and misrepresentations of Arminian Theology commonly propagated by Calvinist authors and those who simply have not carefully studied the subject.  In doing so, Olson convincingly demonstrates that Arminian Theology is thoroughly Evangelical and grace oriented.

Another new essay in the volume is “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of the New Testament Texts Or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist” by Glenn Shellrude.  This is an excellent essay which looks at numerous Biblical texts and the overall tenor of Scripture against the backdrop of Calvinist determinism.  Shellrude succeeds in showing that one cannot read or understand Scripture in any coherent manner when the fundamental presuppositions of Calvinist determinism are in view.

Picirilli’s contribution on “The Intent and Extent of Christ’s atonement” focuses on the exegesis of the many key texts that point towards an unlimited provisional atonement in accordance with God’s love for the world and desire to save all.  Picirilli does an  excellent job showing how these texts support the Arminian view and are simply incompatible with the Calvinist “limited atonement” claims.

The next new essay in the volume is J. Matthew Pinson’s “Jacob Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming” which looks at Arminius and his Theology in historical context and how his Theology is thoroughly “reformed” despite being at odds with Calvinism on many crucial points.  Like Olson’s essay, this essay serves as an important corrective to so many false views and claims about Arminius and his Theology.

Another new contribution comes from Fundamental Wesleyan scholar Vic Reasoner which focuses on John Wesley’s attention to  grace in his own articulation of Arminian Theology called: “John Wesley’s Doctrines of the Theology of Grace.”  Not surprisingly, Dr. Reasoner spends a good deal of time describing Wesley’s view of entire sanctification and it’s relation to God’s powerful working of grace in the hearts and lives of believers.

The final essay that is new to this updated volume is Steve Witzki’s “Saving Faith: The Act of a Moment or the Attitude of a Life Time?” which argues strongly for the need of continuance in faith to reach final salvation.  While Witzki’s essay argues against  any Theology that would deny the possibility of apostasy, he especially takes aim at the popular and very dangerous version of “Once Saved, Always Saved” that would deny the need for perseverance in faith at all, claiming that an initial moment of genuine faith is all that is needed to guarantee one’s eternal place in heaven regardless of any subsequent eventuality, including loss of faith and rejection of Christ.  Witzki’s exegetical work is devastating to this dangerous  and surprisingly popular “saved regardless” view of eternal security.

Overall, this is a great effort by editor and contributor John D. Wagner,  pulling solid essays from the original “Grace Unlimited” and many newer essays of several contemporary and important Arminian writers together in order to take this work to a whole new level.  My only complaint would be that the corporate election view as articulated by such notable scholars as Brian Abasciano and William Klein was not represented in this new volume.  However, Wagner does incorporate some minor elements of this view in his contribution to the essay on Romans 9, while still not fully capturing the essence of this view as articulated by the best proponents of the view like Abasciano, Klein and Shank.

I also found it disappointing to see Dr. Jack Cottrell representing the Arminian election view in his essay since, despite the name of the new volume referencing “The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation”, Cottrell is not, himself, an Arminian, as he denies two key features of Arminianism: total depravity and the need for enabling grace to overcome that depravity in order to make a faith response possible.  For those reasons, Cottrell’s soteriology is more  properly classified as semi-Pelagian  and not “Arminian.”  And while Cottrell does  a good job describing the classical Arminian “election by foreknowledge”  view in his essay, he also unfairly dismisses the corporate election view and demonstrates that he does not fully understand the view he is rejecting in his brief interactions with Robert Shank’s work “Elect in the Son.”

Despite Cottrell’s misunderstanding of the corporate view and the fact that a key contributor to this volume on Arminian Theology is not even Arminian,  this updated volume is a huge improvement over the original publication and is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the topic of Arminian Theology.

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.

Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God (Book Review)

John D. Wagner has provided another valuable resource for all those interested in the Calvinist and Arminian debate.  Arminius Speaks is a compilation of Arminius’ writings particularly focused on election and salvation. 

Unfortunately, Arminius is often maligned but rarely quoted or directly interacted with by his detractors.  His views have been misrepresented and misunderstood by Calvinists, non-Calvinists, and even many who call themselves Arminians.  This book will go a long way towards clearing up confusion and vindicating Arminius as thoroughly orthodox in his views.

Arminius promoted a view of salvation that is entirely dependent on the grace of God from first to last.  Arminius well expresses the heart of the difference between his and the Calvinist view of salvation when he writes,

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. (pg. 69)

One need only read Arminius’ “Public Disputations” and “Declaration of Sentiments” (pp. 1-89) to gain a clear understanding of his views on salvation.  The sections on predestination interact with the three decretal Calvinist schemes of predestination, highlighting Arminius’ disagreements with them.  Arminius lays out his own views on God’s decrees and the nature of election in the same sections (pp. 9-12 and 63-66).  Throughout, his main concern is that the Calvinist schemes are not sufficiently Christocentric, go beyond Scriptural revelation, and necessarily imply that God is the author of sin.  Arminius’ arguments on these points are masterful and, in my opinion, irrefutable.  These are further hammered out in his interactions with the writings of William Perkins.

Each section is rich with deep theological reflection that is determined to be solely founded on and consistent with Scriptural revelation.  The only disappointment was that this collection does not include Arminius’ important and detailed exegesis of Romans chapters seven and nine, which alone would amount to another volume of 300 pages or more.  Perhaps Mr. Wagner will treat us to a second book containing these sections in the near future.

My hope is that these important selections from Arminius’ works will help to promote the debate into a more accurate and scholarly exchange between opposing viewpoints, minus the misrepresentations that so often accompany and detract from the discussion.  This important work is long overdue and highly recommended.

Wesleyan Heritage Collection for $19.95!!

The Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD is now available for only $19.95.  Some of these works are available through the internet, but many are still hard to find and it is nice to be able to access them and read them without needing access to the internet. The search function is also very helpful in tracking down specific topics among the various works.  My only complaint would be that there seems to be quite a bit of typos, but I would still highly recommend it.  It is an extremely valuable resource.  Here is a list of what you will find on the CD:

Asbury’s Journals and Letters
Benson’s Commentary
Fletcher’s Works
Ralston’s Elements of Divinity
Sutcliffe’s Commentary
Watson’s Dictionary
Watson’s Exposition
Watson’s Institutes
Whedon’s Commentary
Beet’s Commentary
Clarke’s Commentary
Wesley’s Notes on the Bible
Works of Wesley
Works of Arminius

Full Text of John Goodwin’s Puritan Defense of Arminianism and Polemic Against Calvinism Available at SEA

Big thanks to SEA member John Wagner!

John Goodwin (Redemption Redeemed)

Arminian Resources

Just added these two great book lists to the Arminian Websites and Resources side bar:

Arminian Commentaries (NT)

Arminian Theology

I think the second one is still a work in progress, but already is very extensive.  Thanks to SEA member Steve Noel for the hard work put into compiling these great lists!