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.

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David Allen Soundly Refutes John Piper’s View on Limited Atonement and the Genuine Offer of the Gospel

Review of John Piper’s chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her” Part 1

Review of John Piper’s chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her” Part 2

Related posts:

Provisional Atonement Part 2: Provision is Consistent with Foreknowledge

Provisional Atonement Part 3: The Integrity and Justice of God in the Gospel Offer

1 Corinthians 15 and the Claims of Calvinism

Reproof: Recent Book Looking to Re-Package Calvinism With a Fresh New Acronym (PROOF) is Reviewed by a Former Calvinist

Former Calvinist, Doug Sayers, gives a concise and irenic review of the recently released Calvinist book, PROOF.

Excerpt:

It is a fair criticism to say that PROOF is a one-sided cherry picking of the biblical texts that would seem to support their teaching with very little time devoted to the texts that present Calvinism with its biggest problems. This may work among those who don’t read the Bible very much but thoughtful Bible students will come upon many texts which will not jibe with PROOF’s inferences. For example, a careful study of scripture will reveal that there are no texts which teach clearly (or by necessary inference) that Jesus did not die for some people. If there was such a text in the Bible you can be sure that all Calvinists would be rallying around it like desperate bees on a lone flower.

An Insightful Review of Austin Fischer’s New Book on Leaving Calvinism

Check out this reflective and insightful review of Austin Fischer’s book, Young, Restless And No Longer Reformed.  John Frye (also a former Calvinist) presents a short and thought provoking summary of the problems inherent in Calvinism that Austin highlights in his book.

John Frye, Review of *Young Restless and No Longer Reformed*

Related Posts:

Glen Shellrude, Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts, Or Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Calvinist Prayer (And Many Other Things) Explained

How Can God’s Glory Be “Diminished” in Calvinism?

Category: Salvation Assurance

Is God Like A Black Hole in Calvinism?

X-Calvinist Corner

 

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.

Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards by Daniel D. Whedon (Book Review)

Many thanks to John D. Wagner for the review copy.

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John D. Wagner has edited and republished another classic and yet little known work on the freedom of the will by Methodist Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885).  It is extremely significant as the discussion over the freedom of the will has intensified greatly with the resurgence of Calvinism in mainstream Christianity.  Many Calvinists today still point to the classic book by Jonathan Edwards (The Freedom of the Will) as an irrefutable work firmly establishing the Calvinist doctrine of necessity and compatibilism.  Whedon brilliantly takes on the arguments of Edwards and his contemporaries in this excellent refutation of the “necessitarian” position.

Whedon covers every significant argument of Edwards and other “necessitarians” in this book and dismantles them piece by piece.  He points out that many of the necessitarian arguments amount to question begging, bare assertions, or intricate sophisms, often riddled with embarrassing contradictions and absurdities.  He explains that there simply aren’t any sufficient arguments against the possibility of a single causative power in the agent capable of producing a variety of effects (volitions).  He refers to this as “alternative power” in the Will and demonstrates that it is itself a full and adequate cause needing nothing else to put forth one effect just as well as another (alternative effect).  In other words, nothing causes the Will to act a certain way since the Will is itself a full and adequate cause.  He would classify Edwards’ view of the Will as “unipotent” while calling his own view “pluripotent” (in contemporary discussions Whedon would be considered a “wide source incompatibilist”) 

He effectively takes on Edwards’ argument from motive force; his argument based on natural versus moral ability; his argument based on foreknowledge; his argument based on a so called infinite series (or infinite regress); his argument based on chance, and numerous others.  It is my opinion that Whedon’s section “Reconciliation of Free Agency and Foreknowledge” definitively demonstrates the compatibility of foreknowledge with libertarian free will.  It should be read and carefully considered by Calvinists and Open Theists alike (who both deny that foreknowledge is compatible with free will).

But Whedon is mostly concerned with the troubling and unavoidable implications of Edwards’ necessitarianism: the impossibility of a just moral government and the damage done to God’s holy character.  It would be as unjust and absurd for God to hold a necessitated being morally responsible for his volitions and actions as it would to hold a clock hammer responsible for its movements.  In the end, Whedon concludes that necessitarianism is in no way compatible with the freedom necessary for upholding a just moral government and providing the conditions for an adequate theodicy:

From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator…If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent. (352)

At times the book presents very tough reading.  Whedon is a very careful philosopher and takes great pains to develop his arguments and carefully define his terms in order to dispatch with the ambiguity that often clouds the topic and makes debating the subject nearly impossible.  At times a single paragraph may need to be read several times in order to gather its full import, but the patient reader will be richly rewarded.  I intend to read it several times and will no doubt gain valuable insight with each additional reading.  If this is a topic of interest for you or if you have come to believe that Edwards’ work on the Will is irrefutable, then this book is a must read. Read it alongside Edwards’ work and decide for yourself who better makes their case.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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You can purchase the book at Amazon:

Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards

For more reviews and related resources go here.