Does Arminian Theology Suggest That We Depend on Ourselves Instead of Christ for Salvation?

From the late R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries we find a short article “praising” limited atonement by Richard Phillips.  For the purpose of this post we will be focusing in on a section that promotes a critique of Arminianism that has been common among Calvinists for a long time and has been expressed in many different ways:

Second, if we grasp how personal in its application and how efficacious in its effects is the cross of Christ, we will find solid ground for our assurance of salvation.

There can be no assurance if the ultimate cause of our redemption is found in ourselves. The Arminian concept of a universal atonement, Packer remarks, “destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether… . My salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself.”

These comments by Packer, quoted favorably by Richard Phillips, represent just one of many Calvinist talking points that relies on a total misrepresentation of Arminian theology.

Since Packer and Phillips see this as a valid critique of Arminian Theology, it is worth addressing.  Thankfully, it is so easily shown to be false that this response won’t need to be very long.

Let’s start by looking at some of the language Packer uses here.  He says that in Arminianism, salvation does not depend on Christ but on us.  It depends on what we “subsequently do” for ourselves.  Since I do not have the full quote, I can only assume he is talking about our response of faith to the provision of the atonement.  Never mind that the Bible plainly teaches that the benefits of the atonement are received by faith (Rom. 3:25), the main issue here is the claim that if it is up to us to put faith in Christ (or His “blood” as Rom. 3:25 says), then suddenly salvation “depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself.”

Really?  Putting faith in Christ and His atonement is an exercise in self-dependence?  Does he really not see how it is exactly the opposite?  Put simply, if we could save ourselves, we would not need to trust in Christ to save us.  If we could atone for our own sins, we would not need to trust in His blood to receive the benefits of His atonement.  Indeed, to say we need to trust in Christ to save us is the same as saying we need to “depend” on Him to save us.  Trusting in Jesus is an act of dependence.  That is why faith is the perfect non-meritorious condition for receiving the free, unearned and undeserved gift of salvation (cf. Rom. 4).

Let’s just look at a simple statement that all Arminians and Calvinists should readily agree with: “We need to trust in Christ to save us.”

Not controversial, right?  Now let’s ask a simple question regarding that statement: Who does the saving in that statement?  Is it the one who trusts in Christ?  Of course not.  Christ does the saving.  Again, that is why we need to trust in Christ to save us because we cannot save ourselves.  If we could save ourselves, we would not need to trust in Christ to save us, now would we?  That we need to trust in Christ to save us proves that we are powerless to save ourselves.  It is so painfully simple and obvious it is hard to understand how Calvinists can so easily miss it.

Are we responsible to trust in Christ?  Yes.  But that in no way means we save ourselves.  It is still Christ who does all the saving.  Trusting in Christ to save is depending on Christ to save.  If we are depending on Christ to save us by trusting in Him, how can Packer not see how false it is to claim that Arminianism teaches that “salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself”?

Arminianism in no way teaches that salvation depends on us.  It teaches that salvation depends wholly on Christ and His atoning work on the cross.  Because we are powerless to save ourselves or atone for ourselves, we must trust in Him to do what we cannot do.  Arminianism cannot be rightly charged with promoting self-salvation or salvation by works.  We fully believe in salvation by grace through faith, while rejecting the unBiblical idea that if we are not irresistibly caused to trust in Christ, that faith is somehow a work.  Paul didn’t think so, nor does logic demand such a conclusion.  So why do Calvinists persist in libeling Arminianism in such a way?

And of course, in Arminianism, we are not even able to trust in Christ in the first place without the prior intervention of God’s enabling grace to overcome our depravity and make faith possible.  Not only do we need to trust in Christ to save us (proving we are powerless to save ourselves), but we are also fully dependent on His grace to even be able to trust in Him to save us.   So the charge of Phillips and Packer against Arminianism is seen to be completely without merit.

The “ultimate cause of our redemption” is not found in us, it is found in Christ, which is why we need to trust in Christ to redeem us.  The fact that we need to trust in Christ to redeem us in no way means that we are the cause of redemption.  That is like saying that if we receive a free and unearned gift from someone, even though we could just as well have rejected the gift, that we are then somehow the “ultimate cause” of the gift.  Freely receiving a gift from someone does not mean we earned the gift.  It does not mean we bought the gift.  It does not mean we contributed to the gift.  It does not mean we caused the gift, and it certainly does not mean we gave the gift to ourselves.  All of that is plainly absurd and yet that absurdity forms the basis of this Calvinist argument against Arminianism.  Behind this argument also lies the bizarre assumption that a gift cannot truly be a gift unless it is given irresistibly or unconditionally. It is truly hard to understand how many Calvinists still find this line of reasoning compelling.

Phillips continues:

This is why assurance of salvation is a field of theology and Christian experience plowed only by the Reformed. Murray notes, “It is no wonder that the doctrine of assurance should have found its true expression in that theology which is conditioned by the thought of the divine atonement or effective redemption, the irreversibility of effectual calling, and the immutability of the gifts of grace.

It is when you realize that even your faith is the outworking of Christ’s saving death for you, by the electing will of the Father, as applied by the Spirit, that you know the solid ground on which your salvation stands. If you truly believe–and the Bible gives you tests to determine whether you do–you can rest your heart in God’s sovereign grace and begin looking forward to an eternity of glory in the kingdom that you are now called to serve.

Actually, many of the fundamental claims of Calvinism work to severely undercut Biblical salvation assurance, rather than bolster it.  For more on that see:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

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

A Telling and Ironic Tweet by John Piper on “Waking up in The Morning” as a Believer 

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 3: Who’s Really Holding the Daisy?

 

Great Quotes: J.C. Thibodaux on Faith and Boasting

Whether you freely believe in Christ or not makes a difference only in what you obtain, not what you deserve. But since what you obtain is only what you’ve freely received from God, the One who makes you differ from those with no hope is God, for without His grace and mercy, you’d be no better off than demons who believe. Therefore no flesh can legitimately boast in His sight. (emphasis mine)

Be sure to check out the full post here

Related:

Brian Abasciano: Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe and Your Neighbor Did Not?’

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #1: If We Have Libertarian Freedom, What Makes Us Choose One Way Or The Other?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #2: Arminianism Entails Salvation by “Inherent Ability”

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #10: Wait, Now Faith is a “Work”?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

 

Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Second Response to James White on 1 John 5:1

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White on 1 John 5:1 And The Order of Faith and Regeneration”

You can find the beginning of his interaction with James White here

Excerpt:

Ironically, it is White who argues regarding 1 John 5:1 as the JW’s do regarding 2 Peter 1:1. For they point to minor syntactical differences in 2 Peter 1:1 from the other uses of the Granville Sharp construction in 2 Peter to argue that 1:1 does not refer to Jesus as God. Compare White arguing that the minor syntactical differences in 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 from other instances in John involving an articular present participle combined with a perfect indicative make 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 a special Johannine usage that differs from normal Greek grammar. Take this example of JW apologist Greg Strafford arguing the JW position on 2 Peter 1:1.

_____________

“We can see that four out of the five articulated nouns are the same; one is significantly different. In 2 Peter 1:1 we have θεός and in the other four Peter uses κύριος. The question we ask is, Why would Peter call Christ “God” in verse 1, but in 1:11, 2:20, 3:2, and 3:18 use “Lord”? . . . he uses “Lord” for Jesus in a number of instances. . . However, when referring to the Father, Peter uses θεός 45 times, excluding 2 Peter 1:1” (Greg Stafford,Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics (2nd edn.; Huntington Beach: Elihu Books, 2000, 404).

_____________

Notice how similarly the JW apologist argues to White. He argues that a minor difference in Peter’s use of the construction in 2 Peter 1:1 means it does not carry the same import as the construction normally does in 2 Peter—and though he does not mention it specifically, generally in Greek grammar. And his numbers are much more impressive than White’s. Rather than 2 instances White can cite in 1 John, Stafford points to 4 in 2 Peter (admittedly there are only 4 instances of the present participle/perfect indicative construction in John outside of 1 John 5:1, two that White can point to and two that go against him). And then he points out that Peter uses θεός of the Father a whopping 45 times excluding 2 Peter 1:1. Talk about a consistent pattern! Of course, we know that Stafford is wrong here in his conclusions, and so is White in regard to 1 John 5:1. In the former case, normal Greek grammar identifies Jesus with God and minor syntactical difference does not change that. In the latter case, normal Greek grammar portrays the action of the present participle and perfect indicative as roughly simultaneous (or the present participle preceding the perfect indicative) allowing for logical order but not indicating it, and minor syntactical differences do not change that.

 

Addressing the Calvinist Claim That God Can Irresisitibly Cause (Make) People to “Freely” Love Him

Below is a recent response to a Calvinist in a discussion forum which addresses the oft repeated Calvinist claim that while God works in the elect irresistibly, the elect still freely come to Christ in such a way that their free will is not violated. In other words, Calvinists often say that it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism to suggest that God saves people “against their will”, while it seems that their theological claims cannot actually avoid that logical conclusion.  This is a part of a conversation I recently had with a Calvinist that made this claim:

Calvinist: “My wife made me willing to love her the first time I saw her. She was so appealing to me I knew that I had to have her. That is what the Lord does to His people. He makes us willing by showing us our desperate need of Him and then the beauty of His salvation. He makes us willing by giving us a new heart to know our need and to see the wonder of the truth of the Gospel as it is in Christ.”

Me: “But prior to that we were God haters who wanted nothing to do with God, so the analogy fails. And we didn’t want a “new heart” prior to God giving us one (in Calvinism, since in my view the new heart is clearly and Biblically the result of faith, and not the cause). It would be like someone using a mind control device in someone who hated broccoli and controlling the mind in such a way that it suddenly found broccoli irresistibly attractive. Would we say that the person then freely chose to love broccoli? Of course not.”

Calvinist: “That is why Christ said that you must be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God. The new nature must come before faith. God making us willing is not mind control in the sense that you describe it but giving us a new nature and a new mind. Of course the analogy isn’t perfect but it does illustrate the fact that we can be made to love without it being against our will.”

Me: “No it doesn’t. If we were God haters that wanted nothing to do with Christ prior to His irresistible act of “giving us a new heart” that “makes us willing”, then it was certainly “against our will” because our will was to hate and reject God prior to His irresistible working in us. It would be like a man meeting a girl at a bar and the girl doesn’t like him and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she finds him repulsive. So the man slips a pill in her drink that removes her inhibitions and causes her to begin to find him attractive, even to the point of “making her willing” to sleep with him. Now if this incident was brought before the court, would the court say that the man is not liable for violating the woman against her will, since the pill he put in her drink “made her willing”? Of course not. Nobody would say that she freely chose to be with the man under such circumstances, and no one would say that her will was not violated.”

“As distasteful as this illustration might be, it illustrates the exact same principle behind your claims that while God “makes us willing” this making us willing by “giving us a new heart” is not a violation of the person’s will. Instead of dropping a pill into our drink, God drops a “new heart” into our God hating chest. The only difference would be that in your view of how God works, the “effects” of the “drug” would never wear off. But that doesn’t change the fact that a person’s will has been obviously violated in the process.”

“It really is pretty simple. If God’s working faith into us is not resistible, but irresistible, then it certainly violates freedom and the will. That is so obvious, it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. If you want to say that God irresistibly brings sinners to faith and love and devotion to Him (by irresistibly removing their “hate God heart” and putting in a “love God heart”) because you think the Bible teaches that, then fine. But trying to then claim that God does this in such a way that we freely come to him in such a way that our wills are not violated is clearly incoherent. You can’t have it both ways. Sorry.”

Related posts:

Resistible Grace or Sinless Perfection? A Call For Theological Precision in the Calvinist Accounting of Monergistic Conversion

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

No Real Choice in Calvinism

Is The “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith

Interesting Comments From John MacArthur on the Nature of Preveninet Grace and the Ordo Salutis

A Concise Description of Prevenient Grace From a Surprising Source (spoiler: It’s John MacArthur)

Excerpt:

I don’t think…particularly I don’t think that regeneration precedes anything except the fruit of regeneration which is a righteous life. I do not think that regeneration precedes saving faith.

Now I know that that’s becoming a…that’s a strongly Calvinistic…I shouldn’t even say Calvinistic, it’s a bit of a hard line Calvinistic viewpoint, I’m hearing it quite a bit nowadays. I had a two and a half hour discussion last week with a man who tried to convince me that regeneration occurs first and after you’re regenerate, then you can believe. So I said to him, “Show me the verse….just show it to me.” Well, he wanted to argue logic but he couldn’t find a verse. I do not find anywhere in the Scripture that the Bible says you will be saved and somewhere along the line you’ll come to realize it. When you separate saving faith from the regenerating act of God, you have put yourself in a non-biblical frame of reference and you have also created a new kind of dynamic in salvation where God is saving people completely independent of anything they do and then they’re just waking up to realize it and putting faith which they’re given by Him in regeneration into action.

Related:

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?

Is The New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 A Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

A Preliminary Defense of Prevenient Grace

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.

Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”

A while back I did a five part series responding to a post by C. Michael Patton entitled, “The Irrationality of Calvinism.” I recently noticed that some of the posts in the series did not have links at the bottom directing the reader to the next post in the series, leaving the impression that there were only two parts to the series, rather than five. I have gone back and added in those links to the bottom of those posts. I will also post links to all five parts below:

Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations 

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments