Strong Patristic Agreement With the Standard Arminian Approach to Rom. 7:14-25 Part 2

Read the article at The Arminian magazine on-line:

The Patristic Interpretation Of Rom. 7:14-25 Part 1, The Early Christian Witness to the Arminian Interpretation Part 2

Note:  While this represents the typical Arminian interpretation of Rom. 7 going back to Arminius, not all Arminians subscribe to this basic interpretation.   Dr. Robert Picirilli and Dr. Brian Abasciano are examples of Arminian scholars who take a different approach to the passage.

Go to Part 1

 

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

 A recent question in the ??Questions?? thread reminded me of an issue I raised long ago [1].  I thought it would be beneficial to raise this question again in more detail and maybe get some feedback from any Calvinists out there that may be able to come up with a satisfying answer.

The question has to do with why, in Calvinism, the newly regenerated sinner necessarily turns to Christ in faith [2].  Calvinists tend to bristle at the suggestion that the newly regenerated sinner chooses Christ in such a way that the choice cannot be considered free.  Most Calvinists still want to speak of the process in terms of freedom.  They tell us that such a person, once regenerated, will be motivated by the new nature created within and as a result recognize the beauty and value of Christ in such a way that this person will freely, in accordance with the new desires produced by regeneration, turn to Christ.  Calvinist John Piper illustrates the point,

The most immediate and decisive work of God in the new birth is that the new life he creates sees the superior value of Jesus over all else. And with no lapse of time at all, this spiritual sight of the superior value of Jesus results in receiving Jesus as the Treasure that he is. (source)

My question pertains to how this faith response can be a theological certainty given the remaining presence of the sinful nature?  Unless the sinful nature is wholly overcome or eradicated, what is to prevent the regenerated sinner from yielding instead to the desires and motives still remaining in the sinful nature, and reject Christ?

Many Calvinists seem comfortable with the idea that the sinful nature is at least wholly overcome when the sinner is regenerated.  This would explain how the regenerated sinner might be said to “freely choose” Christ without the possibility remaining of the desires of the flesh interfering in the process [3].  But if that is the case, why is it that the sinful nature is able to overcome the godly desires of the regenerated nature and produce sin in the regenerate post conversion?

It seems to me that for the Calvinist to be consistent, he should hold to a view of sinless perfection from the moment of initial regeneration onward, a view of entire sanctification that would even make the strictest Wesleyan uncomfortable.  There should never again be a moment when the regenerated believer chooses again in accordance with the sinful nature.  If the sinful nature and its desires are wholly overcome at the point of initial regeneration, why should that change?  Unless the believer ceases to be regenerated, there should be no reason for the believer to ever sin again [5].  Sin should no longer be possible.  But Calvinists do not believe this.  It is contrary to both Scripture and reality.

This is likely the reason why some Calvinists are even comfortable in saying that while initial conversion is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic (which creates further difficulties for both Calvinist theology and Calvinist polemics: see here and here).  But I have yet to see an explanation as to why this should be the case, given the Calvinist assumptions on how the newly regenerated nature apparently operates to guarantee the person will “freely choose” Christ.

So it seems to me that the Calvinist has some issues to work out.  If the newly regenerated nature does not wholly overcome the sinful nature, guaranteeing a positive response to Christ, then it can only be said to enable the sinner to choose between competing motives.  If that is the case, then Calvinism will quickly find its accounting of initial conversion to have no practical difference from that of  Arminian prevenient grace.  Irresistible grace suddenly becomes resistible, in which case we gladly welcome the Calvinist to the Arminian camp.

On the other hand, if the Calvinist wants to maintain that the regenerated nature eradicates or wholly overcomes the sinful nature, they need to explain how or why this should suddenly change after initial regeneration so that the regenerated nature’s desires are often overcome, evidenced by the sinful choices that believers still occasionally make after conversion [6].  If the Calvinist answer is to make sanctification synergistic, then the Calvinist needs to also explain how synergistic sanctification isn’t sanctification “by works” in accordance with the Calvinist charge that Arminian synergistic conversion amounts to salvation “by works”? 

Conclusion

In light of the above questions and potential inconsistencies created by the Calvinist accounting of the conversion process, there is need for theological precision on the part of the Calvinist regarding the specifics of the claim that regeneration causes faith in the sinner.  There is especially need for precision regarding the claim that regeneration causes the sinner to “freely” embrace Christ. It is not that this issue, in general, necessarily presents an impossible or fatal problem for Calvinism (though the specific claim that we can “freely” choose something that has been predetermined or necessitated is incoherent, see footnote # 3 below), but it does mean the Calvinist has some explaining to do as to how their view makes sense, and at the very least, exposes a need for Calvinists who make such arguments to be more careful and precise in explaining how and why regeneration causes faith in the sinner, as well as explaining how and why this process should change post conversion.

[Note: Some necessary revisions have been made in the conclusion since its original posting.]

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[1] See the last two paragraphs of my post, Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

[2] I refer to the person as a “regenerated sinner” for the sake of illustrating that we are speaking of the regenerated person logically prior to coming to faith.

[3] See my post, The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture, for why I find the language of choice to be wholly incompatible with Calvinist determinism.

[4] Here it is proper to speak of the regenerated person as a believer rather than a sinner since we are now focusing on the person’s state after regeneration has produced faith.  Strangely, if my observations are correct, the Calvinist might be forced to view the will of the regenerated “unbeliever” as stronger than the will of the regenerated “believer”.  This makes one wonder why faith should not be considered a detriment to the person’s ability to resist sin, which is obviously in sharp disagreement with the testimony of Scripture (e.g., Eph. 6:16; 1 John 5:4; Acts 26:18).

[5] In fact, it is often Calvinists who tend to emphasize the Christian’s weakness as a sinner (e.g., see the typical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 7).  I have often interacted with Calvinists who claim that Christians sin “a thousand times a day”, or something similar.

[6] See my post, Sanctification by Works?   It should also be noted that Calvinists seem to view resistible grace as no grace at all.  For this reason, Calvinists say that Arminians deny salvation by grace because Arminians see such saving grace as resistible.  But if the Calvinist holds to synergistic sanctification then the Calvinist must admit that resistible grace is no less grace than irresistible grace.  If that is the case, the Calvinist insistence that Arminianism does not teach salvation by grace is shown to be completely baseless.  Sadly,  Calvinists seem to keep ignoring such obvious inconsistencies and continue to libel Arminiansm as a system of “works salvation.”

Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity Gets it Wrong: Examining the So Called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism”

About a year ago I engaged in a conversation with someone who kept misrepresenting Arminian and Wesleyan teaching while insisting that his claims were “historical facts”.  This person kept making reference to the “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” to back up his claims.  I had no idea what this could be a reference to since I was not familiar with any document written by Arminius or the Remonstrants that went by such a name.  As it turns out, the so called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” is a sub-title given under the heading “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity.  Below is a critique proving that these 15 tenets are far from representative of Arminian theology.  

The 15 Major Tenets of Arminianism are:

1. Human beings are free agents and human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God.

I suppose this might be considered a feature of Arminianism, but the wording is hard to follow.  What does it mean that “human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God?”  Arminians certainly affirm that some human actions are truly free.  Arminians also affirm that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all things, including truly free human choices and actions.  If that is what is meant, then the point is accurate; but it is worded very poorly and could be easily misconstrued.

2. God’s decrees are conditional, not absolute.

I don’t think this accurately reflects Arminianism at all.  One would first need to define “God’s decrees”.  Are we speaking of eternal decrees?  If not, then there are certainly decrees in Scripture that prove to be conditional (e.g., the decree that the priesthood would continue forever through Eli’s line, which was revoked due to Eli’s disobedience and failure to deal with his rebellious sons, 1 Samuel 2:30-33).  If the decrees in view have reference to eternal decrees, then the Arminian could say that God’s decrees are absolute while also affirming that they encompass conditions.

For example, the Arminian could say that God decreed from all eternity to endow His creatures with the power of free will and to hold them accountable for their choices and actions [1].  That would still be an “absolute” decree.  If an “absolute” decree has reference to an unchangeable and irresistible eternal decree that determines everything that will ever happen (including every human choice, sinful or otherwise), then Arminians do indeed reject such an “absolute” view of God’s decrees.  Still, the “conditional” aspect of #2 is imprecise and does not necessarily comport with any standard Arminian view of God’s decrees.  I can’t imagine that any Arminian would consider #2, as worded, to be anything even close to a “major tenet of Arminianism.”

3. God created Adam as innocent.

True.  Is this supposed to be in contrast to Calvinism?  Did God create Adam guilty in Calvinism?  I would say this is a major tenet of theology in general and not just Arminianism.

4. Sin consists in acts of the will.

Correct.  James 1:13-15 establish that well enough.  However, if this is meant to say that Arminians do not believe that we have a corrupt (sinful) nature, then this is entirely false.  All Arminians fully affirm man’s depravity and some (though not all) even affirm racial guilt (which is not the same as affirming total depravity).

5. Only the pollution, not the sin of Adam, is imputed to his
descendants.

As above, this is true of some Arminians, but not all.  Personally, I do not believe that God holds Adam’s descendents responsible for Adam’s sin.  However, I agree with all Arminians that Adam’s sinful nature is passed on to all of his descendents (though I am not sure “imputed” is the best way to express this).

6. Man’s depravity is not total, and his will is inclined toward God and good.

This is entirely false.  Such a claim has never been a feature of Arminianism.  Man’s depravity is total in Arminianism so that the will is not inclined towards God and good.  Point #6 is the opposite of what Arminianism teaches. [2]

7. The Atonement was not necessary but once offered is available to all.

This is worded so awkwardly it is difficult to grasp what is being asserted (just as many of these so called “tenets” so far).  However, the Arminian would certainly object to the idea that the atonement “was not necessary.” I suppose this might be a description of the governmental view of atonement which some Arminians have held.  But even then, I doubt that many (if any) of those who hold the governmental view would say that the atonement was “not necessary”.  At any rate, Arminius held to penal-satisfaction (and for that reason saw the atonement as wholly necessary) as did Wesley and numerous other Arminians throughout history.  Therefore, if this is a reference to the governmental view of atonement (accurate or not), it cannot be rightly called a “major tenet of Arminianism”.   As far as the atonement being a provision available for all, this would indeed be a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

8. The Atonement does not actually effect the salvation of human beings but merely makes it possible.

False again.  The atonement makes salvation possible for all and “effects the salvation” of those who repent and believe the gospel.

9. Salvation becomes effectual only when accepted voluntarily by penitent sinners.

Here #8 is contradicted by #9.  If the atonement “does not actually effect salvation” (as #8 claims), then it cannot even “effect” salvation on the condition of voluntary acceptance.  Again, I do not care for the wording of #9.  I would prefer to say that the free gift of salvation is received by the God enabled exercise of faith in the person.  Still, there is nothing in #9 that the Arminian need object to.

10. Regeneration is determined by the human will, not divine decree.

Arminians believe that regeneration is received by faith, but caused by God.  Faith precedes regeneration in Arminianism as it receives the free gift of new life from God and enjoys this life as the result of being joined to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit through faith.  If “determined by the human will” is meant to say that man regenerates himself, then the statement is false and misrepresents Arminianism. Only God can regenerate just as God alone can justify.  To say that justification and regeneration are by faith does not mean that the one who trusts God is doing these things to himself, any more than it can be said that the one who receives a gift also gives the gift to himself or provided the gift in the first place. 

Does this mean that regeneration is not determined by “divine decree?”  Not at all.  The Arminian affirms that God decreed from all eternity to justify and regenerate sinners on the condition of faith in His Son.  Therefore, regeneration is determined by “divine decree.”

11. Faith itself is a good work.

It is ridiculous to claim that this is a feature of Arminianism, let alone a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  The Arminian agrees with Paul that faith is not a work and in no way merits salvation.  Rather, faith receives the free and undeserved gift of salvation (Romans 4:4-8).  For this reason salvation by faith is salvation by grace (Rom. 4:16).  The Arminian also acknowledges that faith is impossible if not for the gracious enabling work of God in the sinner.  For this reason, even faith can be considered a gift from God.

12. There is no distinction between common grace and special grace.

This is hardly a major tenet of Arminianism.  Many Arminians do make such distinctions, but understand “special grace” differently than Calvinists and, apparently, the misinformed architect of these so-called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism.”  The Arminian would likely understand “special grace” as that special working of God that makes faith possible while the Calvinist would see this same working as irresistible.  The typical Arminian understanding of “common grace” is roughly the same as the Calvinist view (i.e. as that grace which restrains evil in this world, etc.).

 13. Grace may be resisted.

Yes, this could be rightly classified as a “major tenet” or Arminianism.

14. The righteousness of Christ is never imputed to the believer.

This is false.  Arminius affirmed the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the condition of faith as have many (if not most) Arminians since.  Some Arminians deny that Christ’s so called “active” obedience is imputed to the believer, while still maintaining that Christ’s “passive” obedience is imputed for righteousness.  Other Arminians affirm that both Christ’s active and passive obedience is imputed to the believer (e.g. Free Will Baptists). 

There are some from the Wesleyan tradition who would add “imparted righteousness” while still holding to a form of “imputed righteousness” as well.  It seems to me that there are some from the Wesleyan tradition who might deny that the imputation of righteousness can rightly be called “the righteousness of Christ”, though from my readings of Wesley, I am confident that while Wesley denied the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the “active” sense, he affirmed it in the “passive” sense.  Regardless, it can hardly be accurate to say the rejection of Christ’s imputed righteousness is a “major tenet” of Arminianism when its founder and so many of his theological heirs fully affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer.  It would be far more accurate to say that Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

15. A believer may attain full conformity to divine will in this life, but may also fall from grace and be lost eternally.

Again, this is worded very strangely.  If this is meant to say that true believers can yet abandon faith and be eternally lost, then this might be considered to be a major tenet of Arminianism.  Unfortunately, Arminius never took a stand on the issue (though Arminius seemed to believe that apostasy was both theoretically and scripturally possible and argued against the contrary view [of inevitable perseverance] in his response to Calvinist William Perkins- see pp. 272-289 in Arminius Speaks). [4]  Likewise, Arminius’ first followers (the Remonstrants) initially left the question of apostasy open to debate, though they eventually took a stand on the issue against the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance. 

If “full conformity to divine will in this life” has reference to entire sanctification, then this could only be rightly called a feature of Arminianism rooted in the teachings of Wesley.  Many Arminians hold to progressive sanctification and Arminius did not take a stand on the issue (though he did not deny the possibility of entire sanctification for the regenerated believer so long as it was emphasized that such could only be possible through total dependence on the empowering grace of God). [5]

Therefore, it doesn’t seem quite accurate to say that either claim in #15 is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  For this reason The Society of Evangelical Arminians does not prevent Arminians who hold to inevitable perseverance from holding membership in the society, nor does it take a stand on the possibility of entire sanctification.

[This unfortunate and inaccurate listing of “major tenets” is found under “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 47]

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[1] A. W. Tozer expressed this view of divine decree very well in the following quote:

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God)

In Arminius’ descriptions of the divine decrees he twice uses the word “absolute” to define these decrees:

“The first absolute decree of God concerning the salvation of sinful man, is that by which he decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.”

“The second precise and absolute decree of God, is that in which he decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for His sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.” (From “A Declaration of the Sentiments of James Arminius Part 2” in Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, pg. 63).

[2] James Arminius wrote:

“In this [depraved] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they are excited by Divine grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.  For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing”…..The mind of man, in  this [depraved] state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14),…” (From “Public Disputation” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 3, 4, brackets mine).

[3] James Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law…” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 78)

[4] James Arminius wrote:

“But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.”

“Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish.  Yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them [the passages that seem to teach the possibility of apostasy] which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding.  On the other hand, certain passages are produced [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 69, 70, first brackets in second paragraph mine.  Unfortunately, Arminius did not live to participate in such a “convention”, and the “Synod of Dort” that his followers participated in proved to be nothing less than a kangaroo court.)

[5] James Arminius wrote:

“But while I never asserted that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life, I never denied it, but always left it as a matter which has still to be decided.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 71)

Strong Patristic Agreement With the Standard Arminian Approach to Rom. 7:14-25

Read the article at The Arminian magazine on-line:

The Patristic Interpretation Of Rom. 7:14-25 Part 1, The Early Christian Witness to the Arminian Interpretation

Note:  While this represents the typical Arminian interpretation of Rom. 7 going back to Arminius, not all Arminians subscribe to this basic interpretation.  Robert Picirilli, for example, is one Arminian exception and takes a different approach to the passage.

Go to Part 2

Get the F.A.C.T.S. on Salvation!

Some like to play with flowers, while others prefer to just get the FACTS on salvation:

An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

Some New Must Read Articles at SEA (Abasciano and McCall)

SEA has been diligently providing its readers with excellent Arminian resources.  Recently Dr. Brian Abasciano’s newest theological article on corporate election was made available.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Introducing Dr. Brian Abasciano's "Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election"]:

SEA is excited to announce the addition to our site of Dr. Brian Abasciano’s recently published article Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election which argues forcefully and compellingly for the corporate view of election. The theological concept of corporate election has been gaining force in modern scholarship for quite some time. It is widely held among scholars that a primarily corporate election is the election described in the OT. It is on this basis that Dr. Abasciano and others argue that this corporate view of election is the view that Paul and the other apostles would naturally carry over into the NT. This is not just speculation but is strongly supported by the language of election used especially by Paul, not least in Romans and Ephesians.

But there are critics from the Reformed view who naturally recognize acceptance of the corporate view of election as a threat to the traditional Calvinist interpretation of key Scriptures and the nature of salvation since corporate election holds to a conditional rather than unconditional view of election. Foremost among these critics of the corporate view is Dr. Thomas Schreiner who criticized corporate election in an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation?: Some Exegetical and Theological Reflections” JETS 36/1 [March 1993] 25-40. Abasciano later responded, pointing out that the criticisms Schreiner leveled against the corporate view not only lacked cogency but were primarily based on fundamental misunderstandings of the concept (Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, JETS 49/2 [June 2006], 351-71). Schreiner then wrote a reply in the same theological journal issue criticizing corporate election once again, even going so far as to make the unguarded and surprising claim that the corporate view is incoherent (Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano).

Abasciano sought to write a response to Schreiner’s follow-up article but the policy of the theological journal did not allow for further rebuttals. For this reason he decided to write a more general theological article on corporate election specifically addressing the many misconceptions held by those who have criticized the concept. In this present article Abasciano interacts with Schreiner and other scholars convincingly demonstrating that the corporate view of election is indeed the Biblical view. He draws on the Old and New Testament witness in order to make his case while showing that the attacks leveled against the corporate view by Calvinists are based on individualistic biases in handling the primary texts or misconceptions of what the corporate view entails.

He argues for a view of corporate election that has its ultimate basis in the divine election of Christ as God’s covenant Head through whom the covenant people of God will be named and identified as God’s children. Election is therefore primarily of a people and those people draw their identity as God’s chosen people through faith union with the chosen corporate representative, Christ Jesus. In other words, as the Scriptures testify, we are elect “in Him” (Eph. 1:4). Since one comes to be in union with Christ and His people through faith, it follows that election is conditional rather than unconditional.

It is my opinion that this article goes further than any previous work in making a clear and compelling case for the corporate view of election. No doubt Calvinists will continue to resist the mounting weight of scholarship in support of corporate election, but they will need to seriously contend with Abasciano’s work in order to gain any real ground. It will be extremely difficult from this point forward for any Calvinist scholar to be able to dismiss the corporate view by suggesting it is incoherent or does not fully deal with all of the Biblical data. It is my opinion that Abasciano’s work will stand the test of time and help to finally advance our understanding of such an important Biblical concept beyond the narrow and individualistic views of Calvinistic interpreters which have unfortunately led to so much unnecessary theological confusion and tension in the church today.

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election

In addition to Abasciano’s important and compelling new article, SEA has also made available Dr. Thomas McCall’s theological articles addressing the serious problems inherent in the Calvinistic accounting of sovereignty.  In these articles, McCall interacts with John Piper and demonstrates that his accounting of God’s primary objection in reprobation is seriously flawed and leads to terrible theological implications and absurdities.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Dr. Thomas McCall takes on John Piper and the Calvinistic View of God's Sovereignty]:

We are excited to have added two articles by Thomas McCall, assistant professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which critique John Piper’s theology of God’s sovereignty. They appeared in an issue of Trinity Journal that features an exchange between Piper and McCall, with McCall firing the first volley (Thomas McCall, “I Believe in Divine Sovereignty”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 205-226), followed by Piper’s response (John Piper, “I Believe in God’s Self-Sufficiency: A Response to Thomas McCall”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 227-234), and then McCall offering a final rejoinder (Thomas McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 235-246). McCall makes a compelling case against the typical Calvinist view of divine sovereignty (which amounts to exhaustive divine determinism), represented by Piper,[1] and for a more Arminian view of God’s sovereignty, which does justice to his power, love, and goodness. I appreciated Piper’s humble, pastoral response to such a strong critique of his theology when he said, “I do not rush to press people to believe all the hard things I believe without regard to their own conscience. I do not want someone to believe that God is evil, or that God ever sinned. So if my affirmation that God wills sin to come to pass . . . requires of someone that they believe in their hearts that God sins or that God is evil, then I say to them, ‘Do not yet believe what I say. Your conscience forbids it. You dare not believe statements about God which, according to your own conscience, can only mean that God is what he is not. Continue to pray and study. Either you or I (or both of us) will be changed in due time’ ” (p. 234).

This is wise counsel that we should take to heart, especially as McCall eventually lands a real knock-out blow (or close to it), by drawing attention to the fact that Piper admits that his view logically implies that we might as well sin that grace may abound, and resorts to pleading that we not follow where the logic of his position leads, since it directly contradicts God’s word (pp. 243-44). Calvinism as it is typically held is logically incoherent. That is one reason why I am an Arminian. It is a theology that is logically coherent, biblically faithful, and can actually be lived by the grace of God. Praise God for his sovereingty, love, and goodness! And praise God for this irenic exchange between Piper and McCall, which, in my view, has the effect of refuting the standard Calvinistic position on God’s sovereignty and providence and commending the Arminian one.

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[1] McCall does make clear that Piper’s is not the only Calvinist view, and that he focuses on the popular Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty, represented by Piper, that offers a theodicy for God ordaining sin and evil to the effect that it is necessary for God’s glory, and ultimately, for God to be God. But his essays still show up the deficiency of the more general and standard Calvinistic view (i.e., exhaustive determinism). Citing the judgment of Reformed historical theologian, Richard A. Muller, McCall also cautions that determinism is not the standard position of the broad Reformed tradition (p. 246 n. 34). Be that as it may, it is certainly the position of Calvin and standard Calvinism (see e.g., these quotes of Calvin; the Westminister Confession of Faith, 3.1-2; 5.1-4).

Sanctification by Works?

I have mentioned this in posts and comment threads in the past, but thought I would bring it up in its own post and get some thoughts on it. 

Many Calvinists insist that if there is a synergsitic element in man’s initial salvation (i.e. conversion) then it amounts to salvation by “works”.  Synergism in coversion apparently equals conversion by works.  But what about sanctification?  Many Calvinists say sanctification is synergistic.  Well, doesn’t that mean that sanctification is by works?  Why is synergistic conversion “by works” but synergistic sanctification is not?   I have yet to hear a solid Calvinist response to this question.  Maybe today will be my lucky day.

Three More Great Articles For You to Check Out

Below are the blurbs and links from SEA,

This article is posted with permission from the publisher, the scholarly journal Bibliotheca Sacra. Please click on the attachment to view Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “ANATOMY OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHISM: DOES GOD DISCOVER FACTS?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (January-March 2007) 3-20.

This article reconciles God’s foreknowledge with some of the most difficult texts in the Old Tesament that can be taken to imply that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge. Classically, Arminianism holds to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, a doctrine included in SEA’s statement of faith (see http://evangelicalarminians.org/sof) and to which SEA members must adhere. At the same time, Chisholm shows that these texts at least show that God’s knowledge is (sometimes) contingent on what people do. Though he does not draw the implications out for the Arminian/Calvinist debate, his conclusions support the Arminian view of God’s knowledge (and hence also his foreknowledge) of free human acts as contingent on those acts rather than on divine unconditional decree.

“ANATOMY OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHISM: DOES GOD DISCOVER FACTS?”

This article is posted with permission from the publisher, the scholarly journal Bibliotheca Sacra. Please click on the attachment to view René A. López, “IS FAITH A GIFT FROM GOD OR A HUMAN EXERCISE?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (July–September 2007) 259–76.

“IS FAITH A GIFT FROM GOD OR A HUMAN EXERCISE?”

Does Arminianism Diminish God’s Glory? One charge often heard against Arminianism is that by allowing for human agency to play a significant role in the process of salvation, Arminians decrease the scope of God’s agency and thus diminish the glory that is rightly due him.  Warfield, for example, urged that “men owe in each and every case their actual salvation, and not merely their general opportunity to be saved, to [God].  And therefore, to him and to him alone belongs in each instance all the glory, which none can share with him.”  (Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, n.d., p. 23, emphasis added). This argument by Calvinists has strong emotional overtones, and tends to be effective in silencing would-be objectors, given that no truly humble believer wishes to be seen as diminishing the glory of God.

Does Arminianism Diminish God’s Glory?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

The ordo salutis is the “order of salvation.”  It focuses on the process of salvation and the logical order of that process.  The main difference between the Arminian and Calvinist ordo concerns faith and regeneration.  Strictly speaking, faith is not part of salvation in the Arminian ordo since it is the condition that is met prior to God’s act of saving.  All that follows faith is salvation in the Arminian ordo while in the Calvinist ordo faith is the result of salvation in some sense.  What follows is how I see the Arminian ordo compared to the Calvinist ordo along with why I find the Calvinist ordo theologically problematic.

Arminian ordo salutis:

Prevenient grace

Faith

[Union with Christ]

Justification

Regeneration

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Arminian ordo:

Again, it is important to note that strictly speaking prevenient grace and faith are not part of salvation but are necessary to salvation.  Prevenient grace makes the faith response possible and faith is the God ordained condition that must be met before God will save.  Faith is synergistic in that it is a genuine response that is made possible by God’s enabling grace.  All that follows (the various aspects of salvation) are a monergistic work of God.  While salvation results from faith, faith does not cause salvation.  God causes salvation in response to faith according to His promise to save believers.

There are other aspects or expressions of salvation that are not explicitly included in the above ordo.  Adoption, for instance, would probably be included under both regeneration and glorification.  Regeneration would include the commencement of adoption while glorification would include the culmination of adoption.  Election would be tied to union with Christ.  We would become the elect of God upon our union with Christ (the elect One) as we would come to share in His election through union and identification with Him.  Faith joins us to Christ (Eph. 1:13) and all of the spiritual blessings that reside in Christ become the believer’s upon union with Him (Eph. 1:3-12).

Temporally, these blessings would become ours simultaneously, but logically it is important to place justification prior to regeneration and all that follows, since one must first receive forgiveness and have sin removed prior to the reception of new life and the attaining of holiness (sanctification).  One cannot have life while still under the condemnation of sin and the wrath of God for “the wages of sin is death”.  And one cannot be made holy apart from justification.  So the moment we are joined to Christ we are cleansed by His blood and new life and holiness immediately result from that cleansing.

Predestination would have reference to the predetermined destiny of believers through union with Christ.  Believers have been predestinated to ultimate adoption and conformity to the image of Christ (glorification).  Predestination does not have reference to God’s predetermination of certain sinners to become believers and be ultimately saved.

Calvinist ordo salutis:

Election/Predestination (unconditional)

Regeneration

Faith

Justification

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Calvinist ordo salutis:

The Calvinist ordo begins with an unconditional divine selection of certain individuals for salvation.  This divine selection of those to be saved would fall under election and predestination.  God would then regenerate those pre-selected individuals in time (usually upon the hearing of the gospel).  Regeneration would cause a faith response.  Most Calvinists would say that the faith response would be automatic and immediate.  The moment one is regenerated by God that person believes.  Calvinists tend to speak of faith as an unconditional and irresistible gift from God rather than the condition for receiving salvation.  It is part of the salvation package as it arises from a primary aspect of salvation- regeneration.  Calvinists will often say that faith is monergistic, but it is hard to see how faith could be monergistic unless God does the believing for the individual.  But most Calvinists deny that God believes for the person while maintaining that faith is an unconditional monergistic work of God along with every other aspect of salvation.

The difficulty with the Calvinist ordo has to do with the priority of regeneration (the new birth).  Logically, the new birth (regeneration- the beginning of spiritual life) precedes justification in the Calvinist ordo just as it precedes faith (and the Bible is clear that justification is by faith).  So logically speaking we have people receiving new life prior to justification.  Since justification includes forgiveness and the removal of God’s wrath, the Calvinist ordo results in the receiving of life logically prior to being forgiven and prior to the wrath of God being removed.

A further difficulty comes from trying to place adoption in the Calvinist ordo.  Do we place it at the new birth (regeneration)?  If we place it at the new birth then we also have the person becoming a child of God (which I think must be part of regeneration) logically prior to being forgiven and justified.

And still another difficulty comes from trying to place sanctification in the ordo.  I think most Calvinists would agree with where I have placed it here.  Yet I have heard (and read) many Calvinists claim that regeneration is the beginning of sanctification.  If that is the case then the Calvinist also needs to explain how one can be sanctified (made holy) prior to being justified.

It is also hard to place union with Christ in the Calvinist ordo.  When do we become united with Christ?  Do we become united to Christ in regeneration logically prior to a faith response?  This would lead to the conclusion that one can be in union with Christ logically prior to believing in Christ.  If union with Christ is placed after regeneration and faith in the ordo we run into the difficulty of sinners receiving new spiritual life logically prior to being joined to the source of life- Christ.

The Calvinist ordo has much to account for and seems to be hopelessly problematic.  In placing regeneration prior to faith the Calvinist ordo salutis involves itself in numerous theological absurdities while the Arminian ordo avoids them all.

Related posts:

 John Piper Tweets Out and Already Refuted Calvinist Argument on 1 John 5:1

Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

What Can the Dead in Sin Do?

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

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?

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Sanctification by Works?

Examining Inconsistencies in Calvinistic Monergism Part 2: Sanctification

Parallel Passages on Regeneration

Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

Examining A Rather Strange Proof Text For Irresistible Regeneration

Quick Questions for my Calvinist Friends

Paul Washer’s -”Doctrine” of Election: An Arminian Critique

“Saved by Grace”-Through Faith

Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

Several common accusations we hear from Calvinists are that a Synergistic view of faith (as opposed to regeneration) ‘robs God of the glory.’ “It’s man-centered,” they say, “and gives man room to boast in saving himself!” But does such logic really stand up to scripture? Let’s take a look at another important aspect of salvation: sanctification.

Is Sanctification Synergistic?

One of the most effective arguments Ben and I have ever employed against the idea of exhaustive determinism (the belief that there is no real libertarian free will/contrary choice of any kind) comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 10,

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God is faithful, and with each temptation He makes a way of escape so that we can endure it rather than yield to it. Yet if we do fall into sin, and that sin was predetermined (as it must be in exhaustive determinism), then the only possible conclusion is that God allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, contrary to the scriptures. We have yet to hear a tenable defense against it by any of the hard determinists we’ve spoken to. This and other passages on the subject haven’t escaped the notice of quite a few Calvinists. John Hendryx, one of the foremost defenders of Monergism declares,

I recall R.C. Sproul saying that the sanctification process is synergistic and it seems the Scriptures would also testify to this. Only regeneration is monergistic (solely the work of God). The Scripture itself testifies to a synergistic sanctification…

“work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:12b,13.

This is a clear indication that there is a synergism taking place in our sanctification. (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/questions/sanctification01.html)

But if sanctification is synergistic, then this raises the question….

Does Our Sanctification Glorify God?

Absolutely. In John 15, Jesus declares to His disciples,

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8 )

This raises obvious difficulties for the standard Calvinist arguments against Synergistic faith: How does Synergistic faith somehow rob God of the glory, while Synergistic sanctification brings Him glory? Are we now to label sanctification as ‘man-centered?’ Why would Synergistic faith give us reason to boast in our salvation, but Synergistic sanctification not give us reason to boast in our holiness? Why is Synergistic faith not ‘of the the Lord,’ yet Synergistic sanctification obviously is? Suddenly, the arguments against Synergism don’t sound so clever, and the four-hundred year effort at producing a craftily-worded smear campaign starts to ring very hollow. Hendryx attempts to salvage the Calvinist case,

Yet this is a synergism in which God receives the glory because the Holy Spirit indwells and enables our new desires yet it is we who make choices based on that new nature. (Ibid.)

Yet the Synergistic view of faith is that one can only believe through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, for the heart of man is hopelessly lost due to his fallen nature apart from grace. It’s true that we believe that grace is resistible, but this does not rob God of the glory, for the work of the Spirit in sanctification is likewise resistible – else we could never sin. Yet any holiness worked in us cannot be ascribed to he who complies with the Spirit, but to He who supplies the Spirit (Galatians 3:5). Jesus said,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Using a similar analogy, Paul adds in Romans 11 that we are not even to boast against the branches that were cut off from the root [Christ], for we do not support Him, but He supports us! God’s grace is the beginning, sustainment, and completion of our salvation and sanctification. Free though he is to choose between God and himself, man is powerless on his own. He then has no reason to think himself focal, no right in claiming glory for his redemption or holiness, and no room to boast in what God has freely supplied him with. Without the grace of God, we truly are nothing, and this Synergist saved by grace can only reply, Sola Deo Gloria!

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