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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Great Quotes: Dr. Craig Keener

Many beliefs today are popular because they appeal to our weakness rather than because they are biblical. Such beliefs include spiritual justifications for materialism, theological exemptions from suffering tribulation, and even justifications for not sharing our faith with others. The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false.

From: Once-Saved-Always-Saved?  Maybe Not

J.C. Wegner on Apostasy: An Important Warning

You can find the article at SEA here.

Here is an excerpt that addresses a common complaint about the idea that a true believer can become an apostate.  I think it is something most of us can relate to as many of us have, at some point, begun down that road to varying degrees.  It should also serve as a strong warning for those who may be in this dangerous downward spiral of rebellion and slowly turning from God and becoming more and more hardened to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  If that’s you, get out and repent now.  Don’t buy the lie that sin cannot harm you or threaten your eternal destiny.

Excerpt:

Those who teach a doctrine of unconditional eternal security sometimes object to the possibility of apostasy by holding that a regenerated person would never wish to return to a life of sin and to become an apostate. This fact is of course altogether true. The answer to the objection lies in the fact that believers can grow cold little by little, and ultimately find themselves with but little desire to return to Christ in penitence and renewed obedience. The steps in apostasy undoubtedly are somewhat as follows: first of all, the individual becomes too busy or unconcerned to maintain a faithful devotional life of Bible meditation and prayer. This results in a certain state of lukewarmness in which it becomes easy to harbor, if only briefly, a sinful desire or attitude. This attitude may be one of envy, pride, hatred, sensuality, or avarice. The unsanctified state of attempting to cling to a “minor sin” for a time in turn promotes the very neglect of Bible reading and prayer which brought about the state of lukewarmness to begin with. As the individual becomes more and more cold spiritually his zeal for the Lord’s cause slackens. After a time overt acts of sin begin to occur in his life. These falls into sin are accompanied by a decreasing concern about sin and its guilt. There comes also a determination, and this is something new, to continue enjoying sin for the time being; the first intention was merely to indulge briefly. There is less and less interest in returning to a holy Christian life as time goes on and the apostasy becomes more severe. All this takes place in spite of fierce inner struggles of conscience, repeated chastisements of God, and generally the warnings of other Christians.

We are again reminded of Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-67) description of the downward progress of the apostate: “First it startles him, then it becomes pleasing, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, then obstinate, then resolved never to repent, then damned.” [Strong, Systematic Theology, 651]

Muppet Calvinism

A puppet representing Calvinist thought seems about right to me…

MUPPET

Better than TULIP?

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

Is Philippians 1:6 A Good Proof Text For Eternal Security?

Matt O’Reilly takes a corporate view of the passage and concludes that Paul did not intend to teach individual eternal security in Philippians 1:6

The Question of Perseverance in Philippians 1:6

For a post I wrote a while back that takes a slightly different approach, but also concludes that Philippians 1:6 fails as  proof text for eternal security see:

Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Philippians 1:6?

An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton

Excerpt:

It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most…Isn’t this ironic? I have never had a call from an Arminian (or any other believer in conditional election) about this. In my experience, it is only Calvinists who doubt their faith in such a way with such traumatic devastation. Why? (Doubting Calvinists)

This article is interesting in a lot of ways and should be carefully considered by all Calvinists.  I have always maintained that Calvinist doctrine undercuts Biblical Assurance.  Patton finds assurance in his present belief (though he admits that assurance is not total).  However, Calvinist doctrine makes present assurance impossible, while Arminian doctrine fully comports with that possibility:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Ironic And Telling Tweet by John Piper on Waking up in The Morning as a Believer 

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance, and Anxiety?

[some of the material below was recently added]

Not only that, but the Calvinist cannot even have assurance of final salvation as he cannot be certain that his faith will endure to the end until it in fact endures to the end.  Only when his faith endures to the end will it prove to be a genuine saving faith.  Since the Calvinist cannot know that his faith is genuine till he endures in that faith till the end, he cannot have even present assurance of salvation as mentioned above.  But the Arminian has a strong basis for present salvation assurance.  Not only that, in knowing that God desires his salvation and will give him all the power he needs to continue to trust in Him, the Arminian has a strong basis for assurance in final salvation as well.  A commenter in one of the posts linked to above, put the matter well when he wrote,

But I would add that Arminians do have substantial assurance of future final salvation, simply not absolute or unconditional whereas Calvinists, as you point out, can have no present assurance and therefore no future assurance whatsoever and be consistent with their own doctrine. In everyday life, people have substantial assurance of future benefit which is nonetheless conditional on their continuing to meet the condition for that future benefit, for example continuing to consent to receive it. So Arminians can have solid assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation, which is contingent on them continuing to meet the condition, which is faith. Put another way concerning future salvation, we have full assurance of future salvation on the condition of faith. And wonderfully, God promises true believers the ability to persevere in faith and that nothing can tear them away from him. So with present salvation we have the absolute assurance that God will enable us to persevere unto final salvation and that God is for us. He simply does not gaurantee that he will *make* us persevere. Arminian theology gives far more assurance than Calvinism: In Arminianism, full assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation (i.e. full assurance on the condition of faith) vs. in Calvinism no assurance period.

Now it is important to note that many Calvinists have assurance *despite* their theology. But the important point is that it is despite their theology, which puts their theology at odds with Scripture, which teaches that we can know that we are saved….let me restate one of my points in stronger language: in everyday life, assurance of a future benefit is almost always conditional on at least the continuing free consent of the receiver of the benefit. Hardly anyone ever thinks of such assurance as minimal or meaningless. It is simply a given that receiving a future promised benefit remains contingent on consenting to it. Here’s an illustration: if one is on a train that the company assures will get you to your destination (and it has never failed a customer), one can have assurance that one will arrive at the destination (and assurance is accordingly greater with the reliability of the one promising the result; in salvation it is God, so assurance is certain). But that does not mean that one cannot decide to jump off the train. The company’s assurance to take you to the destination does not include forcing you to stay on the train. So saying Arminians don’t have absolute, unconditional assurance for final salvation verges on being a red herring or perhaps irrelevant instead. It is not the type of assurance people ever normally have with respect to future promised benefits. We have seen that Calvinists don’t have such assurance from their theology anyway. But it is good to underscore the very real and profound assurance of future salvation that Arminian theology gives in harmony with biblical teaching from which it is draw and that Calvinistic theology can never deliver. [link to comments]

As noted above, a believing Calvinist could still have salvation assurance based on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that their fundamental doctrines negate the Biblical basis for salvation assurance.  But as Patton’s post reveals, it can serve to put the knowledgeable Calvinist in great tension between what the Holy Spirit might be communicating to him and what are the unavoidable implications of the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.