The Work of God

Work of God

God’s Master Plan

In this post we will be looking at the work of God, what he has done in creation as well as what he is currently doing. I believe it is safe to assume that God has a purpose for his creation. A purpose that guides all that he has done, is doing, and will do. If that is indeed the case, then the better we can understand his purpose, the better we can understand how he is working it out.

Some understand that the purpose of creation, and humanity in particular, is to bring glory to God. While it is true that the creation does, and humanity should, bring glory to God, that is not the same as saying that the purpose of creation was for his glory. And it would seem to imply that for some reason God needs us to glorify him. I do not believe though that God has any need that we can meet, including bringing glory to him.

Other people see God as creating because he needed an expression for his love. But I believe this also implies a need on the part of God that is unwarranted. Ultimately, I believe that God created because he chose to, not because of any need on his part. So why did he choose to create?

I do not believe that the Bible contains a fully developed purpose statement from God, it does at least shed some light on the subject. The opening of Paul’s letter the the Ephesian church gives us one of the biggest clues.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:4-14

Notice in this passage the reference to us being chosen before creation as well as the consequences of that choosing. At least a part of God’s plan in creation, and the part that most directly concerns us, is to create children and to develop them as his own. We should be careful not to equate our adoptions as sons with Jesus status as Son; it is different. But God has created us to be holy and blameless, to be partakers of his grace, to be his children. Knowing our place in God’s plan will be helpful as we turn to God’s activity in this world, starting with creation and continuing on with its maintenance. A redeemed humanity is central to God’s purpose, and thus his working in the world.

Creation

The Extent of Creation

The Bible declares that God created the universe from nothing rather than recycling preexisting materials. Hebrews 11:3 says that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” This verse affirms that the universe was created by God ex nihilo, or out of nothing. Everything, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galactic supercluster, was produced by God, from nothing. Other passages, like Colossians 1:16-17, give further definition to the scope of creation; “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Not only was the material universe created by God, but much of the spiritual realm was also created by him; excluding himself of course. That spiritual realm is largely a mystery to humanity, but does include all of the angels, whether they are serving God, or serving Satan, who himself was created by God. It seems that all that is, apart from the triune God, is a product of God’s creative work.

Creation and Science

The Bible has an account, actually two of them, of creation that, if taken literally, is at odds with current scientific theories. How we view the apparent conflict between the biblical account and the scientific account is based, at least in part, on our understanding of inerrancy. For the strict inerrantist, the Bible is right and science is wrong, at least when it comes into conflict with the Scriptures. A more limited view of inerrancy will seek to reconcile the differences between the two. And one who does not hold to inerrancy at all will generally reject the Bible when it is at odds with science.

While the Bible would seem to indicate that the earth is only a few thousand years old, the geological record seems to claim that it is around 4.5 billion years old; the gap between these two estimates is enormous. The record of life on earth and of civilization also argue for an earth that is much more than ten thousand years old. What follows is a brief description of some of the attempts that have been made to reconcile the two accounts. 

The Gap Theory

The gap theory is based on a specific reading of the first two verses of Genesis. In verse one God creates the heavens and the earth, while in verse two the earth was formless and empty. Proponents of this theory argue that when God creates it should be perfect, but verse two seems to imply something less than perfect. Something must have happened between these two verses to mar the perfection of creation. The remainder of the first chapter of Genesis then goes on to describe, not the original creation, but a re-creation of the earth. What caused the chaos described in verse two? Some would speculate it was Satan’s fall from heaven to earth. In this theory the re-creation of the earth, and the life on it now, is fairly recent in time. All of the evidence that points to an old earth is based on the original creation and development.

The Flood Theory

This theory argue for a relatively young earth, but one that was devastated by the global flood described in Genesis 6-8. This flood and the devastating storms that accompany it are responsible for the geological evidence that many interpret to indicate a very old earth. This theory is one that is used in support of a relatively young earth.

The Ideal Time Theory

This is another theory that argues for a relatively young earth. In this theory, sometimes known as the apparent age view, it is argued that when Adam was created, he was created with an apparent age; he was not a newborn, but rather a grown man. In the same way the trees created on the third day were full grown trees having tree rings that would indicate an age of multiple years. From this is drawn the conclusion that all of creation was produced with an apparent age of billions of years, although in reality it was much younger. This includes light created in transit from distant stars and other evidence of an old earth.

The Day-Age Theory

This theory is based on the Hebrew word yom that is translated as day in the first chapter of Genesis. A 24 hour period of time is the most common rendering of this word.  But yom is also used to refer to other periods of time, including a long epoch. The day-age theory uses this longer period of time to argue that creation took, not six days, but six long periods of time. The Genesis account describes, not how long creation took, but the general ages of creation history.

The Pictorial-Day Theory

In this theory, also called the literary-framework view, the six days of creation are not referring to physical time, but rather to logical groupings. It sees in the six days of creation two logical groupings. Days 1-3 are building the domains of the heavens, the waters, the sky, and the earth. Days 4-6 then populate these domains, lights into the heavens, creatures into the waters and air, and creatures onto the land. Rather than being a physical description of creation, the first chapter of Genesis is a poetic description of creation.

While there are multiple supporters for each of these theories, as well as other theories, I find that the pictorial-day theory is the most satisfying, mostly because it eliminates the challenges posed by the strict ordering of events in the other theories such as light before the sun and stars, and trees before the sun or fish.

Development within Creation

Was creation complete after the initial creation period or has creation been an ongoing process. In particular, how did we end up with the great variety of life that is now present on earth, as well as what we find in the fossil record. There are four distinct views on how life came to be as it currently is.

Direct Creation

In this view God created all of the species of life present today, as well as throughout history, during a brief period of creation. While there has likely been some minor diversification within species since then, there have been no new species produced. This is the predominant view of those who hold to a creation event in the past few thousand years.

Naturalistic Evolution

This view is the opposite of direct creation. Naturalistic evolution believes that all existing life today originated from a common ancestor and, over great periods of time, has evolved into the wide variety of life present today. Naturalistic evolution holds that all of the changes in body structure have occurred via the naturalistic process of evolution without any intervention from a  creator. This is the dominant view in the secular world, but is also common among Christians.

Theistic Evolution

This view is similar to naturalistic evolution in believing that life evolved from a common ancestor. But it differs in seeing the hand of the creator involved in the production. Just how extensive that involvement is will vary; but in all cases God is guiding the natural process of evolution, using it to shape his creation to his intended destination.

Progressive Creationism

This view, like the previous one, is a more moderate view than either of the initial two extremes. In progressive creationism God does directly create all of the existing species of life, but it does it gradually. While the direct creation view sees all species created in a brief span of time, progressive creationism sees them coming into existence over a very long span of time. Minor diversification within species may occur, but they do not evolve into new species.

Direct creationism accounts very well for the biblical record, but is at odds with the findings of science. Naturalistic evolution, on the other hand, accounts well for the findings of science, but is at odds with the biblical account. Both theistic evolution and progressive creationism are compatible with the biblical account as well as the scientific account. Progressive creationism accounts best for events like the Cambrian explosion while theistic evolution accounts best for the similarity in body plans and DNA across life. Theistic evolution seems like the best view to me, but progressive creationism also has a lot to offer. They both offer a good compromise between God’s revelation in the Bible and his revelation in the creation.

Implications of Creation

There are several implications of the doctrine of creation. If the universe, this planet, and the life on it are simply a fortuitous accident, then none of it really has much value. On the other hand, if it is all the purposeful act of an intentional creator, then it has value, both to the creator and to the creation.

A naturalistic explanation for our existence can give no explanation for why we are able to observe the creation and understand it. But a universe created by a God who wants us to be able to discover him in his creation would be orderly and discoverable; just how we see things to be.

And, finally, if creation was a fluke, what purpose could there possibly be in my existence. I am on the scene for a brief period of time and then gone, and nothing I can do or say will have any lasting impact. But if God created me for a purpose, then I have a reason for being, and who I am and what I do matters.

Providence

The doctrine of creation deals with God’s bringing into existence all that is. Providence, on the other hand, is the continuing action of God to maintain creation and guide it to his intended purpose. Providence takes two forms; preservation and governance.

Preservation

One of the ways that God’s providence works is in maintaining the creation. In Colossians 1:17, Paul says that “in [Christ] all things hold together.” Also in Hebrews 1:3 we are told that Christ is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Christ is the sustaining power of the universe. You might see that the elementary forces of nature, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, are God’s sustaining power in the universe. Where he to remove them the universe would simply cease.

Governance

While preservation is primarily a passive activity, governance is the active side of providence. In governance we see God actually directing the affairs of individuals and nations; willing, directing, and causing. There are at least four areas where we can see Scripture making reference to God’s governance.

Natural Processes

One aspect of God’s governance concerns the natural processes that provide for life on earth. Acts 14:17 reflects this when Paul says “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” God does this for all life on earth, not just his own people. We understand the physical processes that produce rain and that grow crops, yet it is God who is responsible for those processes; they are not just an accident. While I do not believe that God purposefully sends every rain shower, I do believe that he maintains the processes responsible for them.  And I do believe that at times he withholds the rain and at times causes it. James 5:17-18 reflects on Elijah’s experience with the rain as he attempted to lead the nation of Israel back to the worship of God.

At a National Level

In Acts 17:26 Paul says that “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Here God is actively involved in the rise and fall of nations and people groups and in the limits of their influence. God is pictured here as the great orchestrator of history.

On a Personal Level

In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” I am the way that I am, not because of anything I did, or that my parents did. Instead, I am uniquely crafted by God.

My Choices

And, finally, in Proverbs 16:33 we are told that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” The implication from this passage is that even the decisions that I believe I make are actually from God. I may think that I have free will and the ability to make choices, but that would seem to be an illusion.

Governance: General or Specific

God, in his governance, does affect the course of this life. But how involved is he in it. Some will argue that he is mostly concerned with the big picture, marching creation along toward his intended purpose. Others will argue that God’s governance extends down to the small details; that nothing is too small for him to be involved in and directing.

General Governance

Those who hold to general governance believe that God has created a humanity that truly has free will and can make decisions that are contrary to God’s will. In particular, humans can choose to serve God, or to rebel against him. We also have free choice concerning our spouses, jobs, how we spend our money, and what we do with our time.

Repeatedly in the Scripture we find passages that call on us to believe or have faith in God (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10). We are also called to share the gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16), and to love one another (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34-35). Would there be any need for these instructions if God was in control of all of the details of our lives? Would we not do these things regardless?

Those who hold to general governance will also argue that specific governance, making God responsible for all that we do, also makes him responsible for the evil that we do. If I do not have the ability to make free choices, and am programmed to carry out the actions of God, then he is responsible for everything that I do, including my sin.

Specific Governance

In contrast to general governance is specific governance, the belief that God is involved in all the details of my life, including all of the decisions that I make. We choose God because he first chose us, and we cannot not choose him. In this view free will is really only an illusion. 

Ephesians 1:11 offers support for this view saying, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” God has a plan for us and is making sure that everything conforms to that plan. While there is no explicit indication of a detailed plan in this passage, it is clear that God’s plan will not be thwarted; things will happen the way that he wants them to.

Psalm 139:16 is more explicit concerning God’s involvement in day to day life: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The easiest way to read this passage implies that my life was planned before I was ever born; I have no opportunity to vary from that plan.

Hard and Soft Determinism

There are two variations of specific governance, also known as determinism. In hard determinism there is no such thing as human free will; any appearance of free will is merely an illusion. Everything that happens to me and every decision I make was predetermined by God. The hard determinist will even generally take the logical step of acknowledging that God must also be responsible for sin and evil in the world.

Soft determinism, on the other hand, while holding to the sovereignty of God, does not see that as being incompatible with human free will. In this view the sovereign God works in our lives in such a way that we freely make the decisions that he wants us to make. This is frequently called compatibilist free will, or free will that is compatible with God’s sovereignty.

Reconciling Sovereignty and Free Will

The Scripture is clear that God is sovereign, but it also seems to indicate that humans have at least some limited form of free will. On the surface at least, it would seem that God’s control over nature and humanity would conflict with human free will. There are a number of ways that people have reconciled the two.

Incompatible

In this view either God is not actually sovereign, at least concerning human free will, or free will is just an illusion. This ideal of illusionary free will is one than many non-believers hold to as well. Hard determinism is advocated by many who see the universe operating according to strict laws from which there is no freedom. to the unbeliever, or seeming ability to make free choices is simply something programmed into us by genetics and environment. To the believer with this view, it is God who is directing all of my decisions. The decisions I make are the ones he wants me to make.

Self-limited Sovereignty

God is sovereign, but that does not mean that he always exercises that sovereignty. God could voluntarily choose to limit his sovereignty to allow humans to exercise real free will. That would not detract from God’s sovereignty, but would allow us a certain amount of autonomy, up to the limits God chooses to allow. This view, at least in my opinion, best explains the scriptural descriptions of God’s sovereignty and human free will. This view is also a higher view of sovereignty, since God is able to accomplish his purpose even when taking into account other autonomous free will agents.

Created Compatibility

In this view God is sovereign and has created a world where people freely choose to do what he wants them to. Given the choice between prime rib and liver, I will always choose prime rib. I have the option to choose either one, but I will never choose liver. Environmental and genetic factors have made me so that I always choose against liver. But how many of those factors were manipulated by God to ensure that I dislike liver and thus freely choose any alternative?

Miracles

Another aspect of God’s activity in the world concerns miracles. Miracles are generally considered as something that God does; something that either cannot, or would not, happen apart from his direct action. If there is a creator who is interested in moving his creation toward some specific end, then the existence of miracles should be expected. And real miracles would be conclusive proof for the existence of a purposeful creator. But just what is a miracle?

Manifestations of little known laws: There are some would believe that miracles are actually natural occurrences, the working of natural laws that we are currently unaware of. Some day we will likely discover these laws and be able to harness them ourselves.

Breaking the laws of nature: Others see that miracles are violations of the natural laws. When a miracle occurs, God suspends the laws that would prevent the miracle long enough to perform the miracle, and then reinstates the laws. If God is not transcendent to the natural laws that control the universe, then miracles would not be possible.

A countering supernatural force: Gravity is a force of nature that I cannot break. But I do, in a limited sense, counter the force of gravity when I pick something up. In the same way God supernaturally counters natural laws when he performs a miracle. The laws are not broken, just overridden. This explanation seems the best to me.

What about Evil?

A challenge we often face when talking about God’s interaction with the creation concerns evil. Why does evil exist today? If, as we believe, God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if he is good, then how does evil manage to exist? Surely an all-powerful and all-knowing God should be able to figure out and implement a creation where evil was not possible. And if he was good, surely he would want to do this. So, the argument goes, either God is not all-powerful, or not all-knowing, or not good. Or, evil does not really exist; it is just an illusion. Evil seems to be pretty real though, impacting everyone on this planet as well as the planet itself. So how can we understand the relationship between God and evil?

Natural Evil

We can roughly break up the topic of evil into two categories. The first of these is natural evil; evil whose cause is not derived from humanity. Earthquakes, storms and disease are examples of natural evil. This form of evil seems to be inherent in nature, the way the earth works. It would seem like God could have easily created a world where the earth was stable, the weather always sunny and disease was non-existent, but clearly he did not. Or at least that is not the conditions that currently exist. Much of what we identify as natural evil is easy to explain as necessary or to be expected if the earth is very old, but more challenging for a young earth that was created as it currently is.

An Old Earth Perspective

If, as science suggests, the earth is a few billion years old and developed by natural processes, then plate tectonics is actually important to life on earth. Without the movement and collision of plates creating mountains, erosion would long ago have reduced the earth to a watery world. Plate tectonics is also responsible for burying many of the heavier elements that, in excess, are harmful to life. These elements are buried within the depths of the earth where they cause us no harm.

Storms are also a natural part of the world we live in. Storms are essential for circulating layers in the ocean, mixing colder deep water with warmer upper layers. This mixing of nutrients is essential for the health of our oceans. Storms also, along with plate tectonics, shape the surface of the earth. Without the weathering that comes from erosion the surface of the earth would just be rock.

Many of the diseases we face are the result of other living creatures that prey on us, including bacteria and viruses. We live in harmony with most of these microscopic creatures, but there are some who have evolved in such a way that they prey on us, causing us harm. Other diseases are the result of our bodies not functioning properly or because of poor habits on our part.

A New Earth Perspective

If the earth is on the order of 6-10,000 years old and created as is, then there is no need for plate tectonics, weathering storms, nor time for the evolution of harmful bacteria and viruses. Instead, these are generally thought of as being a consequence of the fall. Because of Adam’s sin in the garden the whole creation was upended. And every ill is our world today can be traced back to this seminal event.

Romans 8:19-22 is the passage that is most commonly used to support this belief. “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” The thought here is that the creation is subjected to its bondage to decay because of the fall, and that at Christ’s return both redeemed humanity and the creation are restored to their original state.

But in either case, natural evil is not really evil in the sense that we typically use the word, with evil having a moral quality. Instead it is simply the result of the way our planet currently functions. While it causes harm to people, there is no malicious or even conscious intent to cause evil.

Moral Evil

A second aspect of evil is that which is human generated. There is untold suffering caused by either human carelessness or poor decision making. The Bible has many terms that are used for moral evil with sin being the primary one. It seems there has been sin and evil in the world as long as there have been humans; we just seem naturally inclined to sin. But could not God have created a humanity that did not sin, where evil was not possible? And if he could, why didn’t he?

Solutions to the Problem of Evil

There have been many solutions developed over the years to try and address the problem of evil in a world created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and good God.

Dualism

Dualism takes the approach that God is not omnipotent. There is another powerful being contending with God who is responsible for evil. This being is frequently thought of as Satan, or someone like him. The problem with this approach, besides arguing against God’s omnipotence, is that the Bible claims Satan is a created being; he is not an equal with God. While Satan is our adversary, he is subject to God’s authority and can do nothing that God does not allow.

A Result of the Fall

Some will argue that the creation was without evil until man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, sin entered into the world with a sinful nature being passed down to all of their descendants. Genesis 3:17-19 describes God’s judgement against the first couple because of their disobedience while Romans 8:19-22 includes the rest of the creation in unrest because of their sin. This approach lays the blame for moral evil at the feet of humanity, unlike dualism that blames Satan.

God is Responsible

While some blame Satan for evil, and others blame humanity, there are those who place the responsibility for evil at God’s feet. Many of those who stress the sovereignty of God conclude that nothing happens in the creation apart from God’s directing hand. So, if evil exists, it is because God wants it to and causes it to happen. This is the position of some who hold to an extreme view of specific providential governance.

God Allows Evil

A fourth position is that God allows evil to occur for some purpose of his own. Humanity is responsible for evil, but God allows it to occur.

  • Some see that God allows evil because if free will is to be real there must be the possibility of making poor choices that produce evil. If God is truly interested in producing a people who can freely choose to love and worship him, then he has to accept that there will be those who will chose not to, choosing instead to live self-centered lives that produce sin. Why God would want to give us free will may be related to the purpose he has created us for, a purpose that we do not yet see clearly.
  • An alternative idea is that God is actually using the evil in this world to accomplish some purpose. Sometimes it might be easy to see some good resulting from evil, but more often it is challenging for us to find the good. However, we do not know the mind and purpose of God and how he might work. At least in the case of believers it appears like the troubles that come our way are used to purify our faith (1 Peter 1:3-9) and we can then endure through it. But in other cases, like child molestation, it is hard to see how any good comes to the innocent child.

Conclusion

Does God cause evil? I find it difficult to accept that God is the cause of evil. James 1:13-14 says that God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Instead our temptations come from within.

Does God allow evil? It seems clear that evil exists in the world today. It would also seem that God could have created a world where evil was not possible. If this is the case then it would also seem that God must allow the evil that exists in our world today.

Could God prevent evil from occurring? I do accept that he could prevent evil if he chose to. If so, then why doesn’t he? In part, I believe that he is not overly concerned about our happiness in this life. He is working to produce people that will be in relationship with him for eternity. This life is preparing us for that, and if learning to make correct choices and being purified by evil help to accomplish that purpose, then evil is accepted.

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Credo: Creation and Providence

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The Nature of God

Nature of God

What is the nature of God? What is he like? This post will be taking a brief look at the nature of God, seeking to get an overview of his nature and character. The Bible will be our primary guide to understanding who God is and his attributes. But even with the help of the Bible we will be limited in what we can know and understand about God. We are finite beings seeking to understand the infinite. Anything approaching complete understanding is not possible for us.

The Attributes of God

There are a number of ways that the study of God’s attributes is approached. One of these is to divide them into communicable and incommunicable attributes. Communicable attributes are those that humans may also have, although to a lesser extent. Incommunicable attributes are those that are unique to God alone. This organization is purely an issue of convenience and does not reflect their importance or value.

Incommunicable Attributes

God is spirit. He does not have physical form or limitations. He is not limited by physical place or time. John 4:24 most clearly expresses this attribute, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

God is self-existent. His name “I Am”, in Exodus 3:14, indicates that he is not dependent on anything else for his life, he is self-existent. That is unlike any other life that we know; all of the rest of us are dependent on him for life. This attribute is often called aseity

God is simple. At first glance we might question this as an attribute. After all, we are complex beings, and he is infinitely greater than we are. But simplicity here does not mean a lack of greatness. It means that all of God’s attributes are fully merged in his nature; he is fully unified. While love and anger are both attributes of my humanity, they are distinct from each other and at times are at odds with each other. That is not the case with God. His love and his anger at sin are not two distinct attributes that are at odds with each other, sometimes demonstrating one and at other times demonstrating the other. God’s love, holiness, mercy, and wrath, while distinct attributes from a human perspective, are all fully integrated and merged in the divine nature.

God is infinite. God is without any limits.

  • In relation to space. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says, “‘Am I only a God nearby’, declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” We could call this attribute omnipresence.
  • In regards to time. Psalm 90:1-2 says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” This is actually a part of omnipresence; God is everywhere in both time and space. We also see this as God being eternal.
  • In relation to knowledge. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This attribute is also call omniscience.
  • In regards to power. Matthew 19:26 says, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” This attribute is generally called omnipotence. Over a hundred time in the Scripture, God is referred to as God Almighty, another reference to his omnipotence.

God is unchanging. In Malachi 1:6 God says, “I the Lord do not change.” And in James 1:17 we are told that God, “does not change like shifting shadows.” God is at least unchanging in his nature and in his plans for his creation. He does not have to change his plans because of anything I might do. This attribute is oftentimes called immutability.

God is sovereign. God answers to no one and is free to do whatever he chooses with his creation. In Isaiah 46:10 God says “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” As humans, God is not obligated to do anything for us. Nothing we can do will put him into our debt.

Communicable Attributes

God has personhood. He is not some great cosmic force, but has personality, is self-consciousness and capable of having relationships. That God is a person, not a human, is at least partially expressed by having a name. In Exodus 3:13-14 Moses asks God for his name and God responds with “I Am”. Only one with self-awareness can identify himself with a name. Repeatedly throughout scripture you also see God interacting with people, often expressing a desire for relationship with people.

God is holy. He is set apart, or distinct, from all of creation. In Leviticus 11:44 God says, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” He is holy, and calls on us to share in that holiness. Some would label this as an incommunicable attribute, but it is listed here because he does call on us to also be holy as he is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).

God is righteous. Psalm 71:19 says, “Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens.” God does what is right and commands us also to do what is right. Repeatedly in the Old Testament his law is praised as being righteous. And in the New Testament, God’s righteousness is given to those who surrender to him.

God is truthful. What he says and does is in accordance with truth. 1 Samuel 15:29 says, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” We can count on him to do what is right. And we can depend on what he has told us in his word.

God is faithful. He is dependable and keeps his promises to us. In Numbers 23:19 we find, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”

God is love. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” God is not loving; he is love. Love is sharing of oneself with another, and God does this for us. John 3:16 expresses this with, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God is gracious. Grace is God’s unmerited favor given to an undeserving people. Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

God is merciful. He has compassion on a poor and helpless people. Romans 9:17, speaking about God’s gift of righteousness, says, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

God is wrathful. Most of us today don’t like the idea of a wrathful God; it seems so contrary to love, grace and mercy. Yet both testaments have numerous references to God’s wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”. His wrath is reserved for those who reject his grace and mercy.

God has all of these attributes in full measure. He is not a little of this and a little of that. But he is each of these to the fullest amount possible. As expressed above, these attributes are in complete union and harmony with each other. God is the standard for all of these attributes. We do not judge God’s love based on some external standard. Rather he is the standard by which we can judge love. And the same applies to all of God’s attributes.

Triune

The Trinity is a uniquely Christian doctrine, teaching that there is only one God, but in three persons. The Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Bible, but is implicitly proclaimed throughout the New Testament. It is worth taking the time to look at the scriptural evidence to support the concept of the Trinity. How did we come to our current understanding of the Trinity. And what are some common analogies used to describe the Trinity.

One God

The Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 begins with “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” When Jesus is asked for the greatest commandment, Mark 12:28-30, he replies by quoting this portion of the Shema. This affirms that, at least for Israel, and Jesus, that there is only one God; they are monotheistic. James 2:19, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 also affirm that there is only one God.

Three Persons

Father: Jesus talks about his Father often, and the other New Testament writers used this term for God as well. In Matthew 6:26 the Father feeds the birds of the air while in v.30 God clothes the grass of the field. In this passage Jesus is using God and Father interchangeably. The Father, distinct from the Son, is God.

Son: In John 10:30 Jesus says that he and the Father are one. They are distinct, and yet in some fashion are one. Philippians 2:5-9, in speaking of Jesus, Paul says “who being in very nature God”, affirming that Jesus is God. John 1:1-3; 14, Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 all speak of Jesus as being God.

Holy Spirit: In John 14:16 Jesus tells his disciples that the Father would send to them another advocate, the Spirit of truth. The ‘another’ in this passages indicates one who is like Jesus; this Spirit of truth is also God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul tells us that we are God’s temple, while in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God and the Holy Spirit are synonymous here.

Three in Oneness

In the baptismal formula in Matthew 18:19-20, we are told to baptize believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note the singular ‘name’ here rather than names. We are to baptize in the name of the one God in three persons.

In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” All three parts of the trinity are included here without any indication of rank and in a different order than in the Matthew quotation. If they are all equal, then the order does not matter.

Formulation

The orthodox position of the Trinity is that God is one being, of one substance, with three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct, and yet of one substance. They are all three eternal and uncreated. Ontologically they are equal, even though functionally for the purpose of our redemption, the Son and The Holy Spirit are submissive to the Father.

This understanding of the Trinity was slow in developing and resulted mostly from the need to separate the orthodox position from heresies that were abounding in the early centuries of the church. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, produced the Nicene Creed which was modified in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople. This creed has been accepted as the orthodox position by Roman Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox churches.

Heresies

Modalism teaches that there is only one God who appears to us as either Father, Son or Holy Spirit. While they are all the one God, God is only one of them at any one time. For instance: the Father is active in creation; the Son in redemption; and the Spirit in our sanctification. Oneness Pentecostalism is a current example of this heresy.

Tritheism teaches that the three persons of the Trinity are actually distinct gods, although sharing the same substance. Mormons practice a form of tritheism, believing the Father, the Son and the Spirit are distinct individuals.

Arianism teaches that Christ is the first and greatest of God’s creations, that he has a beginning and is not eternal. The Nicene Creed was developed primarily in response to Arianism. Jehovah’s Witnesses today proclaim a version of Arianism.

Analogies

As humans, we struggle with trying to understand the concept of the Trinity. In an attempt to understand the Trinity we have developed a number of analogies, but all of the analogies fall short and many of them are actually supportive of one of the heresies listed above.

The analogy of the egg postulates that the Trinity is like an egg, which has three parts; the shell, the yoke and the white. This is actually a form of tritheism, since the three parts of the egg are of different substances, unlike the triune God whose persons are of one substance.

The analogy of water is another attempt to describe the Trinity. Water can be a solid, a liquid or a gas; one substance in three different forms. Yet this is actually a form of modalism; the water can only be in one of these states at a time.

I am a father, a husband and a son; three distinct roles yet one person. The problem with this is that I function in a single role at a time; to no one am I more than one of these roles. That makes this a form of modalism.

The only analogy I know of that comes close is from the world of physics. Light is both a particle and a wave, depending on how you look at it. That is challenging to understand, at least for me, but physicists assure us that it is the case. In the same way that the Trinity has a single essence with three simultaneous persons, so a single photon of light has two simultaneous states.

Ultimately I know of no simple analogies that adequately describe the Trinity. It is not really understandable to us finite creatures and is simply a matter of faith. The Bible, while not explicitly teaching the doctrine, does affirm this doctrine, and so we accept it by faith. God is one in three persons.

The Will of God

The will is what we call the ability to choose, think, and act voluntarily. This is a characteristic of humanity but it is much greater with God. God, as a person, has the ability to choose, think and act free of any constraint beyond his own nature. Complicating the understanding of God’s will, is it’s relationship to the will of his creatures, in particular humans. God has created humanity and given us some measure of will and the freedom to exercise it. But does the exercise of my will interfere with God’s will; is my will limited to act only within the will of God, or can my will act in ways that are contrary to God’s will. There are God fearing Bible believing Christians today who sit on both sides of this question.

I believe that Scripture indicates that I am able to act in ways that are contrary to God’s will. Throughout the pages of the Bible, from the fall, the flood, and the history of Israel we see over and over mankind resisting God’s will and exercising their own instead. But if I can resist God’s will, does that make me stronger than he is? Some people take it that way, and would respond by denying that humanity can actually resist God’s will. But in the same way I allowed my children to exercise, within limits, their own wills, even when contrary to mine, so God allows us to exercise our wills in ways contrary to his. It does not mean I am stronger. It means that God is allowing me some freedom.

Those who accept that human will can resist God’s will tend toward seeing God’s will from two different perspectives. The first of these is God’s antecedent will. This describes God’s will prior to human will and is illustrated by 2 Peter 3:9 where God is said not to want anyone to perish. God’s antecedent will is that all people be saved. But our human will is allowed to resist God and as a result God’s subsequent will is what happens as a result of our resistance. John 3:16-18 is clear that those who continue to resist God’s offer of salvation in Christ are condemned, who those who accept it experience eternal life. But these distinctions in the will of God are only from the human perspective. God’s will is not divided or at odds with itself or any part of his nature.

Immanence and Transcendence

There are two additional attributes of God to examine. Immanence and transcendence deal with God’s interaction with the creation.

Transcendence

God is not a part of his creation; he is outside of it. This is what is meant by transcendence. Most of the gods of mythology are not transcendent, they are a part of the natural world. Zeus was powerful and ruled over the gods and humanity, but he was still contained within this universe. The gods of Mormonism are also not transcendent; they did not create the universe and are contained within it. The gods of Hinduism and New Age are also not transcendent, being one with the physical universe.

But the creator of the universe is transcendent to it; he is distinct from the universe he created. The transcendent God is not bound by any restrictions imposed on his creation, such as time and space. Transcendence is both a logical reality as well as affirmed by the Bible. Isaiah 55:8-9 tell us that God is wholly unlike us, while the attributes for infinity above list some of the passages that indicate his freedom from the constraints of the creation.

Immanence

While transcendence refers to a God who is outside of the creation, immanence refers to a God who is involved with the creation. The god of deism is transcendent, but is not immanent; he does not get involved in the working of the creation and in the lives of people. The God of Christianity though is immanent; he is present in the creation, active in history, and working to create a people he can call his own. Jeremiah 23:23-24 and Acts 17:27-28 refer to God’s immanence. Even more vivid is the example of the incarnation, God taking on human flesh and living among us.

God’s immanence is particularly significant for us. A deistic god is pretty much indifferent to what happens within creation. But God is intimately concerned about accomplishing his purpose in creation. He is active in our lives, and we can have a relationship with him that is beyond intellectual acknowledgement.

Questions about the Nature of God

There are many questions that people raise about the nature of God and some of the more common ones are addressed below.

Logical Impossibilities

Can God make a rock so big he cannot lift it? Can God make a square circle? These are some of the questions people ask when trying to refute the omnipotence of God. But when you look a bit closer at them you see they fall into the category of logical impossibilities. If I were to make a square circle, I would actually have a square. Making an impossible to move rock is a bit trickier. In essence it is asking if a limitless God can make something (a big rock) that would limit himself (unable to pick up). But this is logically impossible; how could a limitless being create limits for himself?

God and Time

I am a finite being and bound by time and space; I can only be in one place at a time, and can only be in the current moment. For me the past is gone and the future has not yet happened; only the current moment actually exists. I can remember or read about things that have happened before the current moment and I can guess what will happen in the future, either because in my experience it always has (the sun appearing in the sky every day) or because I am planning on it to happen. But I have no certainty.

But what about God? We believe God to be transcendent, distinct from the creation and not bound by time and space. We also believe him to be omnipresent; there is no place in the universe that he is not. God is also omniscience, knowing all things. But is his omnipresence and omniscience limited only to space at the current time? Or does it span all of time as well?

We would generally answer that God is omniscience in regards to time; that he knows everything that will ever happen over the life of the universe. But how does he know the future? Some would say that he knows it because it is operating according to the plan he laid out before creation. Everything that happens is according to his plan, or will. Others will say that he knows the future because he is smart enough to know everything and so can predict what will happen tomorrow, and next year, and a million years from now. And his predictions are so certain as to be absolute.

But is God omnipresent in regards to time? In other words, is he currently in the age of the dinosaurs as well as in the age of the Jetson’s? It would be easy to say no to this, since the past and future don’t actually exist. But is that true for one who is outside of time, for whom time does not proceed along in a linear fashion? There are a trio of passages in the New Testament that may give us some insight about this.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. – Ephesians 1:4 NIV

This passage says that God chose me before creation. Before the moment of creation, God already had knowledge of me and had chosen me to be a part of his plan; to be holy and blameless in his sight. Did God only have intellectual knowledge? Or did he also have relational knowledge?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 NIV

In this passage we see that those God had known prior to creation were also predestined to be like Christ, were also called, were justified, and were glorified. As a Christian I can see that God has predestined, called and justified me; those things have happened in my past. But glorification is something I look forward to; yet it is in the past tense here. God has glorified me. God is not in time: my past, present, and future are all now to him. So while glorification may be in my future, Paul can easily describe it as something that, along with my predestination, calling and justification, all happened when God foreknew me; prior to creation. It is not something God knew would happen, but something that did happen.

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NIV

This final passage adds clarity to the above when Paul affirms that God’s grace was given to me before the beginning of time, prior to creation. From my perspective this happened 45 years ago. But from God’s perspective it happened long before that; although the terms before and after are meaningless to one outside of time. To him it is all just now.

Time is an integral part of the creation that controls my earthly existence. But it does not impact God. And that provides a third possible response to God’s knowledge of the future: he is there. He can see my future, not because he has planned it out, or because of his predictive ability, but because he is there. In every moment of my life, past, present, and future, God is there. It is not that he was with me and will be with me, but that he is currently with me, even at the end of my life.

Because God is currently in every moment of time, he knows every choice and action I will ever make. And I can, within limits, freely make choices that have no impact on his knowing the future. How? Because he is in the future, seeing me make those choices as well as the consequences of them. And, if that is a valid picture, then it would seem that omniscience and human free will are not really in conflict.

Open Theism

Open Theism is an attempt to explain how God knows the future. And they do this by denying that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. In Open Theism, God cannot know the choices humans will make prior to the making of those choices. If he did know them, then the people really didn’t make a real choice. In other words, the future can only be known if it is pre-determined. And that is not compatible with human free will. So, while God can know some of what will happen in the future, he can know nothing that humans impact.

This brings up some rather interesting, and damning ideas. If God does not know the future, it is possible for him to make a mistake, directing me to do something that doesn’t work out as expected. God may need to back up and try again sometimes. It also makes it hard for me to trust him for my future. Afterall, if he doesn’t know what is coming, how can he be an adequate guide for my life. He is really just guessing, and while his guesses may be better than mine, they are still just guesses.

Is the God of the Old Testament also the God of the New Testament?

Many people who read the Bible will note that the God of the Old Testament appears to have a different character than the God of the New Testament. Old Testament God is kind of grouchy, smiting people who do not follow his instructions and commanding genocide against whole people groups because they worship other gods. In Numbers 31:15-18 you have God instructing Israel to take vengeance on the Midianites because of their attempt to seduce Israel. But this vengence did not include virgin girls, who could be taken as slaves or maybe wives. In Deuteronomy 20:10-18 instructions are given for going to war against the inhabitants of Canaan, and it is not pretty, including genocide of multiple tribes of people, showing no mercy to them.

On the other hand, New Testament God loves everyone and wants us all to know him. John 3:16 says that God loves the world and gave his Son in order to rescue us. In Matthew 5:48-43 Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. How can we reconcile this with God’s instructions concerning the Midianites?

So what do we make of this seeming difference between the Old and New Testaments? Are they referring to two distinct Gods? It is tempting to take this approach and downplay the Old Testament. After all, isn’t the Old Testament the Jewish Bible and of secondary importance to Christians? Indeed it is the Jewish Bible, but it was also the Bible of Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers. And nowhere can we find Jesus or any of the New Testament authors trying to correct the image of God presented in the Old Testament. He was their God and they embraced him without reservation. So it would appear that what we today view as a distinction in the nature of God between the Old and New Testaments is only apparent and not actual.

When we look deeper we will discover than the messages between the testaments is not as clear cut as one might initially believe. In Leviticus 19:34 God gives instructions for the people to love the foreigners who were dwelling among them; quite a contrast to the instructions for genocide found elsewhere in the Torah. And in the New Testament, references to the wrath of God being poured out on unbelievers are common.

But that still does not explain the passages giving instruction for genocide, both for the tribes living in Canaan when Israel entered the land as well as the Amalekites who had attached Israel during their exodus from Egypt. Did God actually command the Israelites to do this? Or did Israel just do it and then justify it by claiming it is what God wanted them to do? If the Bible is inerrant, whether strictly or soteriologically, then we have to admit that the message presented is at least one that God was OK with.

It could be that the establishment of Israel as a nation was a special time in history and it was necessary to remove these peoples who would corrupt the fledgling nation. There are problems with this approach as well, so it is probably best to just admit ignorance on this question and not get bogged down by it.

Does God Change His Mind

There are a number of times in the Bible where God appears to change his mind, including Genesis 6:6 where it says that God regretted making humans. Exodus 32:14, where God relents from his plan to destroy Israel after the golden calf incident, is another. Did God really change his mind? Was Moses actually able to offer God a better alternative than his original plan? Open Theism proponents would say that he did, that God recognized he had make a mistake and was correcting it. But why would a God who is truly omniscience ever need to change his mind. He would have known from prior to creation what was going to be happening and already determined from then how he would respond.

Rather than God actually changing his mind, these passages speak from a human perspective; God only appeared to change his mind. The passage in Exodus is really a lesson about prayer. If God does not change his mind and already has everything planned out, then what value is there in prayer? Can prayer change things? Moses’ prayer to God concerning Israel did indeed change how God reacted to the golden calf. But the omniscient God knew from creation what Moses’ prayer would be and had already taken it into account. It appeared like God had changed his mind, but in reality he acted as he had planned from eternity past. However, had he foreknow that Moses prayer would be different, his response to Israel would likewise have potentially been different.

 

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The Bible

The Bible

There are two different perspectives we can use when examining the Bible. The first of these is from a human perspective; who wrote it, why they wrote it, and when they write it. The second of these perspectives provides a more God-ward focused view; why did he give it to us, and what is its purpose.

The Human Perspective

The Bible is not a single book. Rather it is a collection of a number of writings produced over a long period of time by a number of distinct individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds. In the Bible used by most Protestants today there are 66 different books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. But those, at least in the Old Testament, are not reflective of how they were originally written. The books of Samuel and Kings, for instance, probably had the same author and were written as a single account, but broken up because of size limitations for scrolls.

Two Collections: The writings in the Bible are broken up into two distinct collections; the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament corresponds to, but is not identical with, the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish Bible has a different ordering and divisions that the Protestant Old Testament. There are also other Jewish writings that are a part of the Roman Catholic Old Testaments. These difference are mostly based on different document sources and traditions. We use the term Old Testament to refer to the writings focused on the covenant established between Israel and God on Mt. Sinai. It is worth noting that the term ‘Old Testament’ can be offensive to Jews who see there only being a single covenant.

The New Testament writings are those of the new covenant between Christ and his Church, established by his atonement on the cross. These writings are distinctly Christian and are not accepted by Jewish readers as being from God.

Kinds of Writings: The Bible is a diverse collection of literature, from history to poetry to instruction to apocalyptic. Some of the books in the Bible contain one type of literature while others contain multiple types, sometimes interwoven together. Complicating this for modern readers is that Hebrew poetry is different than what we are accustomed to and their view of history is also very different.

Authors: While some of the writings in the Bible, especially the New Testament, have known authors, or at least traditional authors, many of them are anonymous. In the New Testament, the gospels are anonymous with traditional authors, Hebrews has an unknown author, and some others, like 2 Peter, have disputed authorship.

It is even worse in the Old Testament. Who wrote the first five books, the Torah? Traditional scholarship claims that Moses wrote the Torah. But more modern scholarship disputes that. They view the Torah as a collection of verbal and written traditions that were finally collected into their current form around 2500 years ago. In a similar fashion, nearly every book in the Old Testament has both traditional and modern theories as to the authors. Ultimately we do not know who wrote the vast majority of the Old Testament.

Dates: Dating the writings of the Bible is just as challenging. The New Testament is the easier of the two, with most scholars convinced it was completed in the second half of the first century. Many of these writings have fairly reliable and uncontested dates.

The Old Testament is the more challenging collection. When was the Torah written? It really depends on who the author or editor was. If it was written by Moses, then the date is during his lifetime, about 1400 B.C. give or take a hundred years. But if it is a collection of different traditions joined together by a later editor(s), then it is impossible to know. The traditions could go all the way back to, or before, Moses, reaching the final form 2500 years ago. Most of the rest of the Old Testament faces the same issue but we can safely say that it was completed prior to about 300 B.C.

Accuracy: This really relates to the historical sections of the Bible; is it an accurate portrayal of the actual events that it records. This is of primary concern to a modern audience that expects its history to be factually based and unbiased; although in reality it always has some bias. Unfortunately, at least from our perspective, ancient historians were less concerned with accuracy and bias and more concerned with telling a story. That is not to say they fabricated their accounts. It is just that telling a story was more important that dry sterile facts, something neither the authors nor their audience cared about until recent times. So, if you read the Bible’s historical accounts thinking they are like the history you read in school, you will be disappointed.

Canonization: There were many more writings in both the Jewish and Christian communities than what we have in the Bible today. How did we come to accept the books in the Bible as being from God while rejecting others? For both testaments this was a long process without clearly defined rules. Ultimately it came down to what Jews, for the Old Testament, and Christians, for the New Testament, considered as being inspired by God, from reputable sources, widely accepted, and of value. Standard collections, or canons, are eventually, and independently, accepted by both communities and today are what we call the Bible.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic you might look at a couple of earlier blog posts concerning the Reliability of the New Testament and the Canonization of the New Testament.

The Divine Perspective

Before looking at the Bible from the divine perspective, there are some assumptions that need to be expressed. The first of these is that God exists; if he does not then the Bible is nothing more than ancient writings of a religious nature. The second assumption is that God wanted us to know something about himself and his purpose in creation. If he wanted to inform us, then something like the Bible would be expected. If not, then the Bible is undoubtedly of human origin and of limited value.

Inspiration

At the heart of the divine perspective is inspiration. Is the Bible given to us by God, and if so, how did he communicate it to the human authors who actually penned the words we have today. The Bible itself, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, claims to be inspired, or God breathed. But it does not tell us in what way this inspiration occurred. There are a number of different theories as to what inspiration actually is. And how you understand inspiration will impact many, if not all, of the other doctrines you hold to.

Theories of Inspiration

Dictation: One of the theories of inspiration is that God gave the specific words to the authors of the Bible. They were nothing more than a passive tool that God used. Every word, every expression, every stylistic inflection is all provided by God. If two different authors had been used to produce the same book, they would be identical. There are not many people who actually subscribe to this theory today.

Verbal: This theory is very similar to the dictation theory. The Holy Spirit’s influence over the author extends to the words that are selected and used. The difference between the two is that in verbal inspiration the Holy Spirit limits himself to the vocabulary of the human author. So if two distinct authors, especially if separated by time, write a book, while it will be exactly what God wants, they will be different. This is likely the most popular theory among evangelicals today.

Dynamic: In the dynamic theory, the Holy Spirit and the human author work together to produce the writing. The Holy Spirit provides the thoughts or concepts while the human author provides the words to express those thoughts. In this theory the human author’s personality comes through very clearly and in a way that would be unique to them.

Illumination: This theory limits the input of the Holy Spirit to influencing them by heightening their spiritual sensitivity. The Holy Spirit gives the human author neither specific thoughts nor words. Rather it is similar to the influence of the Holy Spirit on any other believer. In this version of inspiration, the Bible is little different from any other ‘inspired’ work that Christians might use, like the writings of C. S. Lewis, John Calvin, or Augustine.

Questions about Inspiration

Given the variety of theories concerning inspiration, how does one go about determining what inspiration really means in the case of the Bible? One method is simply to choose based on popularity. And, if you are an evangelical, that would lead you either the verbal or dynamic theories, with the verbal most likely. But do we have to depend on popularity?

I believe an examination of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, can be helpful here. These three are very similar, so much so that many believe that two of them (Matthew and Luke) use the third (Mark) as a source, adding other material as needed. It is clear when reading them that they are very closely related, and quite distinct from the gospel of John. Why do we have multiple gospels? Why not just one comprehensive one, one without the apparent inconsistencies among the Synoptics?

The introduction to the gospel attributed to Luke can help to answer those questions.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In this introduction Luke acknowledges that there are already in existence many other accounts of the life of Jesus. And Luke himself then chooses to produce yet another account, after a thorough research into the life of Jesus. So what can we learn from this:

  • Luke himself chooses to write. He gives no indication that God directed him to do this. And Luke’s reason for writing is a personal one, so that an acquaintance of his would know the truth about Jesus life.
  • Luke’s inspiration for writing did not preclude careful investigation. He does not just sit down and start writing. He is involved in what the final composition looks like.
  • There are other ‘gospels’ already in circulation, likely including Mark. But Luke is not satisfied with them.
  • From comparing Luke and Mark, it appears like Luke changes Marks’s account in some of its details, as well as adding a lot of content.

If the above conclusions are true, it is hard to see that both Mark and Luke are inspired by either the dictation or verbal theories. The difference in details, like the number of angels at the empty tomb, are hard to reconcile with the Holy Spirit giving them both the words to say.

On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit is guiding their thoughts, ensuring that the story he wants told is actually told, then the little details are not a problem. And the other differences can be attributed to the purpose for the author’s writing (Luke and John both share their reason) as well as the sources they drew from. The dynamic theory seems to best account for what is seen in the gospel accounts.

One other passage that supports dynamic inspiration comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul explicitly says that his instruction is from the Lord. But in both verse 12 and verse 25 he expresses that he is delivering to them, not the Lord’s command, but what Paul believes best. Paul would seem not to believe that his writing is either dictated to him from God or verbally inspired. Dynamic inspiration seems to cover this much better.

Inerrancy

A topic that is closely related to inspiration is inerrancy. Inerrancy generally is considered to mean that the Bible, as originally written, is free from error of any type in the topics that it covers. The topic of inerrancy is one that generates a lot of discussion and, for some, is almost a test of the faith. Can I be sure that what the Bible says is true, or are the contents of the Bible of questionable validity.

Models of Inerrancy?

Strict Inerrancy: Strict inerrancy goes hand in hand with both dictation and verbal inspiration. If the Holy Spirit is supplying the words to the human authors, then it follows that, since God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), it must all be true. How could an omniscient and truthful God produce a Bible that was not completely true in all regards, even concerning things that would be completely unknown to the authors, like creation?

The debate over inerrancy is actually a relatively modern one. Historically it was assumed by most that the Bible was true, in its entirety. But with the advent of modern science and history many began to question the accuracy of at least some parts of the Bible. Coming out of this debate is a formal definition of inerrancy, a definition that is subscribed to by many, if not most, evangelicals. The Council on Biblical Inerrancy produced the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1979 which includes the following as a part of its definition of inerrancy.

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

What this means is that if the Bible speaks about any subject, then it is authoritative. If the Bible says that the earth was covered by the waters of a flood and only Noah and his family survived, then that is exactly what happened. Allowance is made for phenomenological language, describing things as they appear such as the rising of the sun, and for symbolic language like much of Revelation, but Bible is exactly what God wanted us to have and is completely true.

With strict inerrancy, if questions are raised about creation, the flood, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, or David’s kingdom; the Bible is always right, and any scientific or archeological findings that seem to contradict the Bible are inaccurate or incomplete. The plus side to strict inerrancy is that the conflict between science/history and the Bible is easy to resolve. God’s inspired and inerrant word cannot possibly be wrong.

Soteriological Inerrancy: There is a lessor form of inerrancy that is common among churches of the Wesleyan tradition such as the Methodists and Nazarenes. Soteriological inerrancy claims inerrancy for the Bible in matters that concern our salvation and relationship with God, but do not make that claim for matters of science or history. While strict inerrancy would insist that all of the Genesis stories about Abraham are correct and literal, soteriological inerrancy would accept that they could be legends, likely with a kernel of truth, that have come down to us from antiquity, and not historically accurate by today’s standards. But all of the accounts in the Bible, whether historically or scientifically accurate contain truth that God wants us to have.

While there is an appeal to soteriological inerrancy because it removes much of the tension between the Bible and science/history, it does open its adherents to the Slippery Slope challenge. Once you allow for some inaccuracy in the Bible, where do you draw the line? If you admit to the possibility that Adam was not a historical person, could acknowledging the same for Jesus be far behind? This is clearly a real danger.

Soteriological inerrancy is most compatible with the dynamic theory of inspiration. If God is inspiring the message, but not the very words, then obviously what is important is the message. That it is not accurate in all of the details is not important, so long as God’s message to us is delivered in a way that we can learn from. The passage in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that declares the inspiration of the Bible, expresses that its inspiration is to enable us to grow in maturity and completeness as believers. The inspiration of the Bible is not to teach us how the earth was formed or details in the life of the early patriarchs.

Not Inerrant: The extreme opposite position of strict inerrancy would be those who deny any form of inerrancy for the Bible. For them, the Bible may have some form of inspiration like illumination, and it may have value for knowing God and be useful for living a godly life, but it is only a human book and subject to error as well as revision. The Bible may be a special book, but it is treated little different than other books that offer perceived value to the readers. This is a position that is popular among liberal churches that want to proclaim a gospel that is different than that proclaimed in the Bible.

Questions about Inerrancy

How important is the question of inerrancy in the life of the believer? I do believe that at least to some extent it is an important issue. If one does not believe that the Bible is true, then why bother to read it or seek to follow its instructions. What makes it any different that the Koran or the Book of Mormon? What makes it any better a guide to truth than thousands of other books you might find in a bookstore or online?

On the other hand, if strict inerrancy it true, then absolute truth is found in the pages of the Bible and any conflicting source is in error. There are several advantages to this approach.

  • There is no need to evaluate any competing claims that appear to be at odds with the Bible. The Bible is always correct. I may not understand what it is saying on a particular topic, but I can rest assured that ultimately it will be proven correct and I just need to depend on it and invest the time in it to properly understand its message. It is actually much easier to simply believe the Bible is true than to have to evaluate the truthfulness of each of its claims.
  • It can protect me from heresy. Many of the heretical ideas that are portrayed as truth are based on non-biblical sources.
  • Accepting anything other than strict inerrancy can lead to doubts about God’s truthfulness. If God has given us a book that is not truthful in all its parts, can we really depend on his nature, that he is who the Bible declares him to be? And that he really is working for my good?

There are however, at least in my mind, some issues with the strict inerrancy approach. It does make the assumption that God is unable to provide us with a book that is anything less than 100% true in every way. I believe that is an unwarranted assumption. I hesitate to put that kind of limit on what God can or cannot do.

The Bible is oftentimes challenging to understand. Why didn’t God give us a book that was more straight forward and easy to consume. What is the reason for the endless genealogies, Psalms about smiting enemies and Song of Solomon? Why is the history in the Bible so uneven; some events covered in great detail and others virtually ignored? Why does the Bible reflect the culture that produced it?

The Bible is a product of a culture(s) that is long gone. It was written by men of that time for men of that time. They had a different way of looking at the world and oftentimes a different understanding of who God is. God worked through them to reveal himself to his people in ways that were meaningful to them. They recorded their history and their world in ways that was meaningful to them and reflected how they perceived God to be working. God used these men, inspiring them, to produce the Bible.

I believe it is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of the Scriptures. As mentioned before, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is key to understanding this purpose.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God has given us the Bible to teach us, rebuke us as necessary, to provide correction and to train us in righteous living. The goal is that we may be fully equipped for the life he has called us to. And the Bible can do that quite nicely without the standards of accuracy that we are accustomed to today. Trying to defend the historicity of the Old Testament accounts, or the scientific accuracy of the Genesis creation accounts detracts us from the goal of living thoroughly equipped lives that honor Christ.

Demanding strict inerrancy can also reduce our ability to bear witness to the love of God to a world that is quite different from the one that produced the Bible. When all of the scientific evidence points to an earth that is billions of years old, proclaiming a belief in an earth that is only thousands of years old will mark us as fools not worth listening to. Being thought a fool for Christ is not a bad thing. But being foolish concerning God’s revelation of himself in the creation, a revelation that is so clear to the rest of the world, is a problem when it keeps people from listening to the truth that we do have.

Soteriological inerrancy accepts that the message of the Bible for us is true. And it recognizes that the Bible was written by and for a culture that is different than ours today. It does not reject the history and science of the Bible; but it calls on us to see it in a different light, a light that is hard for us today and takes a lot of work.

Authority

Ultimately the most important question we can ask concerning the Bible is the authority it will have in our lives. Regardless how we view inspiration and inerrancy, its authority in the life of the believer and its usefulness as a guide to spiritual truth is key. I might view the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant, but if I do not accept its authority, it will have little value for me, apart from an intellectual journey. But if the Bible is authoritative, then just how it was inspired and its level of inerrancy is not important.

Conclusion

The Bible is a collection of writings produced by human authors who lived in a culture foreign to ours today, and written to that same culture. In many ways this makes the Bible challenging to understand. It was also not written to give us a systematic theology of God. Instead it contains historical narratives, laws to follow, corrective material, poetry, and apocalyptic writings. It requires effort for modern man to dig out the message of the Bible.

At the same time, the Bible is inspired by God, and is our authoritative source for faith and practice as believers. It contains what God wants us to have, including the parts that may make little sense to us today. While the context that the Bible was written in has changed, the content of the message has not. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is just as true for 21st century American believers as it was for 1st century believers. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

If the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to humanity, how come it is so often confusing and not more straightforward? Why does he not just tell us who he his, his purpose in creation, the significance of Jesus incarnation and atonement, and how the church should operate? I have no doubt that he could have produced that kind of a book. But he did not. Instead we have a collection of writings that theologians have debated and argued over for as long as we have had them. Could it be that he intentionally gave us something that would require some effort on our part to understand, and with that effort, helping us to grow in our faith? After all, the more we put into it, the more we are likely to derive from it.

The remainder of the posts in this series will assume that the Bible is an authoritative guide to knowing God, his purpose, humanity and our condition, and living as believers. This is an unprovable assumption, but one that has been proven true in the lives of untold numbers of people, including my own. I also will be assuming dynamic inspiration and soteriological inerrancy.

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Credo: The Bible

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The God of General Revelation

knowing God from general revelation

The Existence of God

Does God exist? I believe that he does. But I cannot conclusively prove that to you. I believe that he exists for two primary reasons. The first is based primarily on my own experience, and secondarily on the experience of others. That there is a God, a God who is interested in me, and who is working in my life, is the best explanation I have for who I am and for what I have experienced. And I am not just an isolated example. I have personally known others, and read about countless others, whose experiences have been similar to my own. I cannot prove to you that God exists, but I believe he has proven his existence to me.

The second primary reason I believe in the existence of God is that it makes more rational sense to me than the alternative. I simply cannot wrap my head around the thought that this universe, including the planet we live on, life itself, and the ability to think rationally are simply the product of blind chance. I know there are some really smart people who seem to have no problem with accepting that; but I just cannot.

I must also confess that my upbringing in a Christian family has had an impact on me. Some would say that I was brainwashed, but I am grateful for that push in the right direction. I may have believed at one time because of my parents, but that time is long past.

Proofs for the Existence of God

If I cannot prove to you that God exists, why would I include a section on proofs for his existence? Well, while I do not believe that a conclusive proof is possible, there have been many attempts over the years to provide logical proofs for God’s existence. Some are convinced that they are effective, but I believe they are really only useful to demonstrate the rationality of belief; a quite different thing than real proof. These proofs include:

Cosmological: There are a variety of cosmological arguments for the existence of God. Each of these is centered on causation or change. Among the most familiar of these is the Kalām argument. This proof takes the form of:

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe had a cause

If the initial two premises are correct, then the conclusion is also correct. This seems like a good proof, but you will not have to use it very many times before you find those who will disagree with one or both of the initial premises. To me, their reasons for disputing the premises seem far-fetched or flimsy, but to those who do not want to believe, any excuse will work.

Teleological: The teleological argument is also known as the argument from design. Essentially the argument is that the universe, and life, is too finely tuned to have been an accident; there must have been a designer. Today, the intelligent design movement is championing the teleological argument. Like all of the arguments listed here, there are those who dispute that the appearance of design requires a designer. If could, for instance, simply be that there are an infinite number of universes, and this one just won the cosmic jackpot and was able to support life.

Ontological: Of all of the logical proofs presented here, this is to me the most confusing. A variation of this argument goes something like this.

  • God is by definition the greatest being that you can conceive of.
  • But what is greater, that which is only conceived, or that which is actualized?
  • That which is actualized is greater, so a god that actually exists is greater than a god who is only conceptualized.
  • Therefore God is actual.

Confusing; yes. But it does have its proponents.

Miracles: A miracle is defined as an event that is caused by a supernatural entity. So if miracles occur, then there must be a supernatural entity, God, behind them. So if miracles can be demonstrated to occur, or have occurred in the past, then there must be a God. The biggest miracle ever to occur is the creation of the universe, so God does exist.

Morality: Seemingly hardwired into humanity is a sense of right and wrong, and of fairness. There is also a willingness to self-sacrifice, a willingness which seems contrary to a purely naturalistic understanding of life. What is the source of this morality? Is it a trait that evolution has left us with? Is it culturally derived? Or is it a divine moral lawgiver? There are problems with the first two, so it must be the third.

Religion: Throughout time and place wherever modern man has been found there is some trace of religion, an acknowledgement of something greater than ourselves. That is quite the coincidence, unless the creator has built into us a desire to know him.

General Revelation

What can I know about God apart from the Bible? This is generally what is considered to be general revelation, what is revealed about God through some source other than the Bible or other God inspired writings. General revelation can include:

  • Nature: The creation itself bears witness to its creator (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:18-23).
  • History: Sometimes in historical, or even current, events we can dimly see the hand of God at work.
  • Conscience: Why do we have a conscience? Romans 2:14-15 identifies the conscience as God’s law written on our hearts.

General revelation is available to everyone who lives, or has lived. But for the most part humanity ignores the witness of general revelation and live their lives as if there were no God. General revelation does not tell us anything very specific about the creator and is best understood in light of his more directed revelation of himself in the Bible.

The Nature of God from General Revelation

So just what can a person know about God based on general revelation? There are a number of attributes of God that can be derived just from what we can see in the creation, and others that are likely.

Powerful: In my way of thinking, power is required to produce something. And the bigger and grander the product, the more power is required to produce it. As humans we think of ourselves as pretty powerful, and yet producing something the size of the moon is well beyond our ability to execute. I cannot imagine the amount of power that would be required to produce a universe. Even a universe that unrolls from a singularity would require an amazing amount of power to start it, and keep it unrolling.

I have no idea about what lies beyond the universe we inhabit, nor what limits there might be on a universe creator in that realm. But within the context of the creation, I think it is safe to identify the creator as all-powerful, omnipotent; without equal in power and ability; able to do whatever he chooses.

Intelligent: The more complex and elegant the design, the more intelligence is required to produce it. And can you think of anything that is more complex or elegant than the universe, apart from its creator? Is there anything about the creation that its creator would not know?

Transcendent: A creator would be distinct from his creation, independent of it and not limited by it. Space and time are two limitations that we are very familiar with. Everything in this universe is limited to being in a single location at any one moment in time. And everything that I am aware of experiences the passage of time in a forward only manner, although I am aware that there is some thought that in the quantum world that forward only direction may not be completely applicable. This lack of limitation has some interesting application to a creator.

Not being bound by space means that the creator can be multiple places at any one instance of time, or even in every place within the universe. This means that the creator could be omnipresent, everywhere at once. While in a sense I am able to be multiple adjacent places at once, limited by the size of my body, the creator could be everywhere in his creation, since unlike me, he is not limited by space.

Even more interesting is that the creator would not be bound by time, meaning that he could move both forward and backward in time; be in multiple time periods simultaneously; or even be concurrently present at all points of time. That is admittedly hard to visualize, but if, as scientists claim, time is just another dimension, then it is really little different than being in multiple places at one time.

If the creator is intelligent enough to create our universe, and is able to be everywhere within it, both in space and in time, then he could know everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen. He would be omniscient.

Miracles: A miracle is generally defined as something that has a supernatural origin, an act of a deity. Much of the argument against miracles assumes that there is no creator. But there are those who will argue that even an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator would be unable to produce a miracle. But that does not really make sense, since creation itself is an act of the creator, a miracle. I can find no rational argument for supposing that a creator would be unable to interact with his creation, i.e. perform miracles. He may choose not to perform miracles, but that is different than claiming he would be unable to.

I am able to manipulate the creation in some limited extent to accomplish my own goals. Why could not the creator be able to do the same thing? While I am not able to manipulate the laws of physics to accomplish my goals, is there any reason to suppose that a creator could not? I was a software developer for many years, the creator of little software worlds. Most users of those applications were limited by the user interface in what they could do. But I was able to tweak the underlying data in ways that they could not, allowing me to accomplish things that the average user could not. That is really no different than the creator manipulating the underlying laws and constants that drive our universe to accomplish something that I would be unable to.

Miracles are impossible if there is no creator. But if there is a creator, then miracles should not be a surprise, even miracles that we do not recognize as such; rather they should be expected.

Purposeful: While it is by no means certain to me, it does seem likely that a creator would have a purpose in his creation. In other words, he had a reason for producing a life friendly universe. Other than for the production of some form of life, it is hard to determine what his purpose might have been, assuming all we had to go on was creation itself.

But if he had a purpose in creation, and especially if that purpose included intelligent life, it would seem reasonable to assume that he would be active in his creation, at least enough to make sure his purpose was fulfilled. It would also seem likely that he might want any intelligent life that developed to have some concept of him and his purpose.

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Arminianism: A Summary

The posts that have come before this one have attempted to describe orthodox Arminian soteriology as taught by both Jacob Arminius and John Wesley. Unfortunately there are many who claim to be Arminian who do not hold to the teachings of Arminius and Wesley, oftentimes not even knowing what they taught. And all too often the people who criticize Arminianism are also unaware of what Arminianism actually teaches, and are arguing against a strawman.

So, what is Arminianism? It may be beneficial to start with what it is not. Arminianism is not anything that is not Calvinism. Calvinism is actually a complete theological system developed initially by John Calvin. Jacob Arminius was an early follower of Calvin who took exception to the soteriology of Calvin and how it was reflected in the character of God. Arminianism really only deals with the doctrine of salvation and, unlike Calvinism, has nothing to say about infant baptism, church government, and many other distinctive Calvinist beliefs.

Contrary to the picture many paint of Arminianism, it is not semi-Pelagianism, which teaches that man is able of himself to initiate his salvation experience. Arminianism agrees with Calvinism that mankind is totally depraved with no innate ability to seek God. Arminianism is also not the same as Open Theism. Arminianism believes that God is omniscient in regards to time; that he foreknew everything that would happen prior to creation. Proponents of Open Theism believe that God has only limited foreknowledge of the future, and that he cannot know the choices that humans will make.

The following table will compare the soteriology of Arminianism with Calvinism. Calvinism soteriology is most often associated with the acronym TULIP while Arminian soteriology does not have a universally accepted acronym. For the purpose of this summary I will use the FACTS acronym used by the Society of Evangelical Arminians, although will reorder the letters of the acronym into a more logical presentation. 

ArminianismCalvinism
Total Depravity: This is the one point that both agree on. As a consequence of the fall, mankind is totally depraved and incapable of himself to come to God for salvation. Apart from the working of God’s grace there can be no salvation.
 Conditional Election: God elects, or chooses, all of those who respond in faith to his gift of salvation. We are able to respond, not because of something innately in us, but because of the enabling of the Holy Spirit via prevenient grace. Unlimited Election: God sovereignly chooses some for salvation, independently of anything that the one chosen may believe or do. Logically, God chooses, then regenerates, and then faith is exercised.
 Atonement for All: Christ’s atoning work on the cross was for all people, although it is effective only for those who believe. This is not universalism. While the atonement was for all, only those who believe receive its benefit. Limited Atonement: Christ’s atoning work on the cross was only for the elect. Atonement is only available for those God has foreordained to salvation. Some Calvinists reject this and accept unlimited atonement. This is also the point at which Lutherans disagree with Calvinists, rejecting limited atonement.
 Freed by Grace (to Believe): The Holy Spirit works in the life of unbelievers to enable them to believe. Salvation is then offered as a gift that may either be accepted or rejected.  Irresistible Grace: The Holy Spirit works in the life of the elect to bring them into relationship with Christ. This working of the Holy Spirit is irresistible, all of the foreordained will come to faith.
 Security in Christ: All of those who persist in their faith will be saved in the end. Those who do not persist will suffer the loss of their salvation. Some Arminians do not accept the possibility of apostasy in a true believer. Persistence of the Saints:  Those who God has foreordained to salvation are saved eternally with no possibility of apostasy. Those who appear to fall away were never saved in the first place.

As you can see, there are some significant differences in how John Calvin and Jacob Arminius, and their respective followers, view the doctrine of salvation. But more significant than these differences is how they view the character of God. While both view God as sovereign, they understand the sovereignty of God in different ways. For the Calvinist, God is only sovereign if he is in complete and total control of everything that happens in the creation. If anyone is able to perform some action, or make some decision that is not at God’s direction, then God is not sovereign. 

This issue of the understanding God’s sovereignty is what led Jacob Arminius to reject the soteriology of Calvinism. He saw divine determinism (God determines everything) as making God the author of sin, removing any real responsibility for sin from humanity. If a person can only act in accordance with God’s decrees, then when they sin it is a result of God’s decree; it is what God wanted them to do. For Arminius, God was sovereign over all of his creation, but that sovereignty included God’s permissive will, allowing humanity to act at odds with God’s desired will. But even as God allows evil, he uses it to accomplish his purpose. Our human choices are never unexpected or allowed to interfere with God’s purpose in creation. 

The other issue Arminius had with the Calvinism of his day is in their related doctrine of predestination. In Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, modeled after Augustine’s, God has chosen some to salvation prior to creation, irrespective of anything the individual might do; God seemingly arbitrarily chooses some to salvation. Some Calvinists will also argue that God has specifically chosen the rest of humanity to an eternity in hell. Others argue against that double predestination, but the result is the same. If you are not among the chosen, you are among the damned. To Arminius, this pictured God as a monster; creating some humans with no actual hope of escaping from the fires of hell.

Instead, Arminius, appealing to the Scripture as well as the early church fathers, argued that God loves all of humanity, and enables everyone to believe. Those that he foreknows will respond in faith he elects, while those who do not are condemned to damnation. But that condemnation is a result of a rejection of God’s grace, not an arbitrary action on God’s part. The Calvinist will argue that my choosing to accept God’s offer of grace is an action on my part, making salvation at least partly based on my own efforts. But Arminius responded that a free gift, received, is still a free gift. My accepting the gift does not in any way constitute an earning of that gift on my part. 

Calvinists accuse Arminians of focusing on human free will, although they also claim to accept it after a fashion. But Arminius’ use of human free will was not to elevate humanity, but to make them responsible for their own sin, rather than making God responsible for it. Salvation is no less a work of God because I have the ability to accept or reject it.

Summary of Arminian Soteriology

As expressed earlier, Arminianism is not a complete theological system; rather it is a particular way of understanding soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. God is our creator and he loves all of those within his creation. God created man as an autonomous moral agent with the ability to make real choices, in particular the choice to obey God or to disobey him. While God knew the choices humanity would make and planned around them, he did not cause Adam and Eve to disobey and fall into sin; that was a choice that they freely made for themselves.

When our first parents disobeyed God and fell from their state of grace, they and all of their progeny lost the ability to function in the spiritual realm. No longer could we walk with God in the garden, no longer could we find him, and in fact we were no longer even able to seek or desire him. As a result of the fall we became totally unable to either desire or effect a return to God. Humanity continued on as free moral agents, doing good and bad and making free choices in the physical realm, but we were totally dead in the spiritual realm. And even worse, we faced eternal condemnation.

But man’s fall did not diminish God’s love for mankind. Our fall was anticipated before the creation. And, because of God’s love and grace, the means of reconciliation was also planned prior to the creation. This means of reconciliation had two parts. The first was in the atoning sacrifice offered by Jesus, God incarnate. Jesus’ death on the cross serves to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died in the place of all who would respond in faith to him. And that leads to the second part of the means of reconciliation. In my own natural self I am not able to respond to God in faith; my fallen nature does not have that ability. But God graciously works in the lives of people to enable them to believe, freeing our depraved wills to accept the gift he offers. 

God now is holding out to us the means of salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus, and giving us the ability to accept his freely offered gift. If I accept the gift I am saved and my spirit is born anew, able to seek after and to know God. If I reject the gift of salvation then I continue on toward condemnation and destruction. Only if I accept the gift of God am I delivered from that condemnation that I was born into. The gift of salvation that God offers to me is wholly and completely his work. My acceptance of his freely offered gift does not in any way make it less a gift on his part, or in any way make me worthy of it.

From creation, God has predestined that those who will, as an act of faith, accept his gift of salvation, will be adopted into his family, sharing throughout eternity in the blessings of sonship. God’s choice of us is not arbitrary, but is based on his knowledge of who would respond to him in faith, a faith that is enabled by his grace. Those who find themselves condemned have no one to blame but themselves. God’s grace enables all to believe, and Jesus’ atonement is sufficient for all. But that atonement is only applied to those who respond in faith.

The Five Solas

There are five foundational principles that come out of the Protestant reformation, principles that in many ways define what it means to be a Protestant. These principles are typically expressed as short Latin expressions: Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), Sola Gratia (“by grace alone”), Sola Fide (“by faith alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”). For the Arminian, as for all true Protestants, these truths provide structure for what we believe and practice.

  • Sola Scriptura: The Scripture alone is our source for authority. While we might look to human sources in providing understanding or clarification, the Scripture alone is authoritative. Human and church tradition as well as creeds or confessions are secondary to the Scripture.
  • Sola Gratia: Salvation is by grace alone. It is solely because of God’s gracious action on our part that we can be saved. God’s grace enables us to believe and respond in faith. And his grace continues to work in our lives through regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.
  • Sola Fide: Salvation is also by faith alone. There is nothing we as humans can do to earn God’s favor or to make ourselves in any way acceptable to God. All who come in faith to God are regenerated.
  • Solus Christus: Christ alone has done everything that is necessary for my salvation. There is nothing I can do to add to what he has done.
  • Soli Deo Gloria: All glory to God alone. Because my salvation is solely a work of God, all glory for it should go to God. And all of my life should be lived in a way that will bring glory to God.

We may understand some of these solas slightly differently than other Protestants do, in particular the role of faith. But orthodox Arminians do hold firmly to these five solas and thus are firmly in the Protestant camp.

Conclusion

While I believe that the soteriology of Arminius is more faithful to the Scripture than that of John Calvin, or Martin Luther for that matter, and that it better represents the character of God, I also believe that Protestants of every stripe are indebted to Luther and Calvin, as well as other early reformers, for helping the church to recover the doctrines of Scripture alone and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. While I have serious issues with what I see as the implications of Calvinist and Lutheran views of predestination on the character of God, I do consider them to be true believers and brothers/sisters in the faith. While at times I may have seemed antagonistic toward Calvinist doctrine, that has been primarily to illustrate the differences between the two. But I must also confess at least some irritation over the uninformed attacks of Calvinists against Arminian doctrine. I say uninformed because most of the time they are actually  attacking a strawman, and not Arminian soteriology itself. Hopefully I have not been guilty of that myself. And hopefully this series of posts will help to clear up some of the misinformation that is so rampant concerning Arminian soteriology.

One last point to make. I have used the Arminian tag quite a bit during this series of posts. But Arminian is a label that only describes a particular doctrine of salvation; which happens to be the one that I believe. I believe many things that are not covered by the Arminian label. I am not really an Arminian although I do agree with Arminius concerning soteriology. I agree with John Calvin concerning many other things, although I also disagree with him on others, such as infant baptism. I don’t know of any label that captures all of my theology. In the end, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. 

  <– Salvation Security    Introduction                

Arminianism: Salvation Security

Can a truly born again believer lose their salvation? Arminians are in agreement concerning the total depravity of humanity and our inability to make spiritual choices on our own. We are in agreement that Christ’s atoning work on the cross was for everyone in the world.  We agree that God’s grace is resistible, that we can refuse his offer of salvation. And we agree that God’s election of believers is conditional upon us responding to his prevenient grace in faith. Where Arminians are divided is in response to the opening question; is it possible to lose one’s salvation. Arminius seemed to be vague on the subject, although it appears he accepted that possibility. The early Remonstrants expressed that it was a subject that needed more study and, at least initially, declined to take a position. Charles Wesley, the most prominent Arminian after Arminius himself, believed that salvation could be lost. Generally, those who hold to classical Arminianism accept that it is possible for a person to walk away from their faith, and are called 5 point Arminians. Those who would argue that salvation cannot be lost are thought of as 4 point Arminians; the Baptist tradition I grew up in is 4 point.

This question about eternal security, as it is called in some traditions, is emotionally charged. It is particularly so for those with family members who have made a public profession of faith and later turned their backs on it. It is comforting to believe that your loved ones will be with you in heaven rather than suffering destruction. It can also offer security to the lukewarm believer who believes that even though they are not currently walking with Christ, they have made a commitment to him in the past and so are still saved. But no matter how appealing the idea may be, if it is contrary to what the Bible teaches, then it is a false hope.

What does the Bible teach on the topic of eternal security? Unfortunately, nowhere does it explicitly say that salvation either can or cannot be lost. If it did, there would be no argument about it. Instead we have to more carefully examine the Scriptures to see that they have to say about it.

The Argument for Eternal Security

There are a number of passages used to support the belief that salvation cannot be lost. Jude 1:24, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy”, is one of these. This verse affirms that God can keep me from falling and is able to present me blameless before the Father. Those holding to eternal security see this verse as teaching that God does what is needed to keep us secure, it is not by own own efforts.

John 10:28-29 says that Jesus gives us “eternal life, and they [believers] will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Who, or what, could possibly snatch us of the hands of both the Son and the Father. God is greater than all and able to protect us from any who would seek our destruction.

In Ephesians 4:30 Paul tells us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Sealing was a way to ensure security and prevent tampering. If we are sealed until the day of redemption, then there is no chance of apostasy; our eternal security is secure.

One of the best known passages is John 3:16 where Jesus says that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God has given eternal life to all who believe in Jesus.” This life is eternal, how can something that is eternal be taken away?

And what may be the most used passage to support eternal security is Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love.

Together these passages express the security that we have in our relationship with God. God is strong enough that no one can separate us from him. We were foreknown by God, redeemed by Christ and sealed by the Spirit, adopted into the family of God. There is no possibility of falling from God’s grace. And if someone appears to have done so, it is more likely that they had never been saved in the first place.

One other argument for eternal security comes from Calvinism. If God has unconditionally chosen us and irresistibly called us to himself, then it is reasonable to assume that there is no possibility of falling. Since it was not really my choice to come to Christ, it would not really be my choice to remove myself from his grace. But of course this logic does not work from an Arminian perspective since we do not accept either unconditional election or irresistible grace.

The Argument Against Eternal Security

The Bible is filled with passages that express our need to endure to the end, to not turn away, to remain faithful. Take a look at the passages in the list below, all of which express a warning against turning away.

  • Matthew 10:22 – And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
  • Matthew 10:33 – But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
  • Matthew 24:12-13 – And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
  • Mark 13:13 – And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
  • Luke 8:13 – “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
  • Luke 9:62 – Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
  • John 15:2 – Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away
  • John 15:6 – “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
  • Romans 11:20-22 – That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:2 – By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
  • Galatians 1:6 – I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;
  • 1 Timothy 1:19-20 – keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.
  • 1 Timothy 4:1 – But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
  • 2 Timothy 2:12 – if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
  • Hebrews 3:12 – Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
  • Hebrews 3:14 – We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
  • Hebrews 6:4-6 – For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
  • Hebrews 6:11 – We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.
  • Hebrews 10:39 – But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
  • 2 Peter 2:20-22- For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to it’s own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

Over and over we are warned about falling away, encouraged to endure to the end. Why would that be if there were no possibility of falling. All of these passages are directed at believers, at people who were currently following Christ, who were saved. Those who claim that salvation cannot be lost acknowledge that these are indeed warnings, but that the warnings are effective and true believers will heed them and thus not be lost. But that would seem to leave open the possibility that if the warnings had not been given, that believers could have fallen and once again become lost. Nor does it explain 1 Timothy 1:19-20 where Hymenaeus and Alexander have rejected faith and been shipwrecked; the warnings seemed ineffective in at least their case. 

Now it is logically true that if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true, that a believer should be unable to remove himself from the grace of God. But Arminianism does not accept either of those doctrines, holding instead to condition election and resistible grace. There is a synergism involved in coming into relationship with God. Our human part is limited to submission to God’s gracious offer of salvation, but our faith is a requirement in salvation. But is persisting faith not a requirement is maintaining salvation? Hebrews 3:14 says that “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” We will share in Christ, only if we persevere to the very end. It would appear that synergism is involved, not just in the initial act of salvation, but also throughout our walk with Christ. God indeed will not allow anyone or anything to take us from him, but those passages say nothing about me removing myself from his care. I am protected so long as I persist in faith. If I do not, then I am worse off than I was at the beginning (2 Pet 2:20-22).

Three Phases of Salvation

All to often when we talk about salvation we are referring to something that is in our past; we have been saved. While I do not remember the specific day, I very much remember the occasion of my salvation and it is something I look back on periodically. But salvation is more than that. The Scripture also talks about salvation is the present and future tenses; I am being saved, and I will be saved.

Sanctification

Philippians 2:12-13 gives the clearest reference to a present tense for salvation as Paul tells the believers at Philippi, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This verse expresses the synergy involved in our ongoing salvation; God is working in us to accomplish his will, but we are also instructed to ‘work out’ our salvation. We can do nothing apart from the working of God, but we are called to cooperate with him.

This phase of salvation is most commonly called sanctification or growing in Christ likeness. Sanctification is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, molding and shaping us into people who will be useful in God’s service. But as the previous passage expressed, the Holy Spirit works with us, not against us. My free will is not removed when I come to Christ; I need to continue to choose surrender rather than resistance. There are a number of passages that express the consequences of starting along the journey with Christ, but not completing it.

Luke 9:62 is as clear on this as any when “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'” If we start out, putting our hands to the plow, but somewhere along the line turn away from the task at hand, then Jesus tells us we are not fit for his service. Only if we continue, remaining in Christ (John 15:1-6) are we going to be fruitful; the result of unfruitfulness is to be broken off of the vine and cast into the fire.

Glorification

The third phase of salvation is what happens at the end of this life, often termed glorification. 1 Peter 1:5 expresses this the best for me when Peter, talking about believers, says “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” We are waiting for a salvation that is waiting to be revealed. It is reminiscent of the unveiling of a work of art; we know it is there, but what it looks like is somewhat of a mystery. So it is with our salvation; we know it is awaiting us, but what it will actually entail is beyond our knowledge. Instead we eagerly look forward to it. Later in this chapter Peter says, in 1 Peter 1:9, that we are “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The salvation of our souls is yet in the future, and is something we look forward to.

Paul expresses a similar thought in Romans 13:11 telling us “that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Our salvation is getting closer all the time. While we have been saved, and are being saved, we also look forward to being saved. The proverb “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is somewhat appropriate here. Salvation is not complete so long as we are living in this world.

When you look at the passages under the section “Arguments Against Eternal Security”, you will find quite a few that express the need to endure to the end, holding firmly, or otherwise expressing the importance of not deserting your faith. You might almost say that one could not lose his salvation, because in a very real way we do not have it as long as we live in the flesh. We have to have persevering faith in order to come to the end and ultimately experience salvation. More import than how you start the Christian life is how you finish it.

Assurance of Salvation

So if it is possible for one to lose their salvation, to fall from grace, is it possible to have assurance of your salvation? The answer to that depends to a large extent on what would cause you to lose your salvation. I knew a godly young couple many years ago and the young man told me something that stunned me at the time, and is something I have never forgotten. He said that if he were to look at a woman with lust in his heart, step out into the road and get hit by a truck and die, he would go to hell. His salvation was dependant on seeking forgiveness for each sin as he committed it. As much as I admired and respected this young couple, I do not find that taught in the Scripture anywhere, apart from a misunderstanding of 1 John 5:18, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” and similar passages in that letter.

If I don’t lose my salvation with every sin, are there any specific sins that can remove me from God’s grace? 1 John 5:16 says that “There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” What is this sin that leads to death; sin that we should not even bother to pray for? John seems to define two categories of sin, some that are forgivable and some that are not. But what is the unforgivable sin? Some, like the Roman Catholic church, specify some specific sins as being mortal, meaning unforgivable., while others are venial, or forgivable. Others see this unforgivable sin as the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12:32. And others see this unforgivable sin as a rejection of the gospel.

Rejection of the gospel seems to be what Paul is dealing with in Galatians 5:4 when he says “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” These are people who must have been connected with Christ at one point, else how could they be severed from him. What had they done to be severed from him? They had exchanged the gospel, and God’s grace, for justification by law, a different gospel. As a result, they had fallen from grace. And this would seem to be the key in the issue of losing one’s salvation. Have you abandoned your faith and the grace of God, either for a different gospel, or just to return to the world? If so, then you have not endured to the end, and are not saved.

I can have assurance of my salvation. As long as I am faithful and serving God, as long as faith persists, I am saved. If I fall short of perfection, my salvation is not impacted. If I am not growing fast enough, it does not impact my salvation. If I abandon my faith in Jesus, turning away from the gospel proclaimed in the Bible, I am no longer saved. I will not lose my salvation accidently. It is because of a choice on my part to take my hand from the plow and turn away (Luke 9:62).

 

Eternal security is not a critical doctrine for Arminians. Many Arminians do believe in the doctrine of eternal security. And many others, who might otherwise consider themselves Arminian choose not to identify as Arminian because of a mistaken belief that the possibility of losing salvation is a core doctrine of Arminianism. Many even go so far as to identify as Calvinist and that is indeed unfortunate since they are really Arminian. The views expressed in this post are mine, and are not held by all Arminians. Regardless your stand on eternal security, if you accept the doctrines of total depravity, unlimited atonement, conditional election and resistible grace, you are an Arminian.

  <– Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Election    Introduction    Summary –>  

Arminianism: Foreknowledge, Predestination and Election

One of the challenges when studying theology is the terminology; for instance the three words in the title to this post. Foreknowledge, election and predestination are all biblical words, but not everyone interprets them the same way. This is particularly true in the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism. Both sides believe in foreknowledge, election and predestination, but they mean something quite different when they use the terms. This post is written primarily to describe how an Arminian would use them, but will also contrast that usage with Calvinism. 

Foreknowledge

The word translated as foreknowledge has both noun and verb forms. According to Bullinger’s Critical Greek Lexicon, the verb foreknow means “to know, perceive, learn or understand beforehand, to take note of.” This word is used in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” and Roman 11:2, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. ” And, according to Bullinger, the noun foreknowledge means: ‘a perceiving beforehand’. This word is used in Acts 2:23 where Jesus “was handed over to you [the Jews] by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” and in 1 Peter 1:20 where we find that we “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

As you can see from the definitions, both variations of the word are expressing that something is known or perceived before it happens, and in the Scripture it is applied to God; that God knows beforehand what will happen in the future. Furthermore, God does not just know it shortly before it happens, but his foreknowledge of the universe extends to eternity past. God has always known what will happen during the course of our history.

How does God know the future; how can he have foreknowledge? The Calvinist would say that God knows the future because he decreed it, the universe and everything in it is operating according to God’s deterministic plan. For the Calvinist foreknowledge is based on foreordination. 

But Arminianism, while agreeing with Scripture that God has a plan for the universe that he is working out, denies determinism. The biggest flaw with determinism, and the primary reason it is rejected by Arminians, is that it logically makes God the author of evil. If everything is happening just the way that God planned it, then it is hard for us not to see him as being responsible for sin and evil. Many Calvinists deny that God is the author of evil, but it is hard to avoid it in a deterministic universe.

Arminians believe that God knows the future without causing it, or at least all of it. There have been several explanations developed to express how God knows the future. Determinism is one of these, Molinism is another one that some, but by no means all, Arminians accept. It is currently beyond me to adequately describe Molinism but if you are interested you can find a description of it here. For myself it is enough to recognize that the omnipresent, omniscience God is everywhere in time; our past, present, and future are all now for him. I wrote more extensively on this in an earlier post if you are interested in my musings on the subject. 

In the above four verses that deal with foreknowledge, the Calvinist assumes foreordination because of their deterministic outlook; an example of interpreting Scripture to support your theology. But if you are not bound to determinism, then these passages simply read that God knew beforehand who would be saved, as well as the choices people would make, and he acted accordingly. That is after all what foreknowledge means: a perceiving beforehand.

Predestination

Another similar word is proorizō, translated in the NIV four time as predestined, once as ‘decided beforehand’, and once as destined. Bullinger defines this word as “to set bounds, decree or ordain beforehand.” This word could easily be thought of as foreordain, expressing that God has predetermined something that will happen in the future.

The first two uses of this word are in Romans 8:29-30 where “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” and “those he predestined, he also called.” In both of these usages the predestination is based upon God’s foreknowledge. God has chosen to do something based on what he sees in the future. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul says that “in love he [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” This is similar to the usage in Romans with this passage describing God as foreordaining some to be adopted as sons. In this passage the reason given for his foreordination to sonship was his love, in contrast to the Romans passage where it was his foreknowledge.

This word is used again in Ephesians 1:11 where Paul says that “In him [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” In this passage the foreordination is based on the plan of God. While this passage can easily be used to support determinism, the question must be asked; how detailed is the plan of God? Has God laid everything out in exquisite detail? Or is his plan to save all who will believe? Or somewhere in between? If you accept that the plan is in great detail, then you need to be willing to credit God with all of the evil that happens in the world, something that most Arminians are unwilling to do. It seems better to me to somehow include the actions of free moral agents in the development and execution of God’s plan; agents who are responsible for their own sin. 

In Acts 4:28 Peter, talking about the crucifixion of Jesus, tells the other believers that “They [the Jews] did what your [God] power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” The Jewish religious leaders, as well as Pilate and Herod, had operated to accomplish God’s purpose in having Jesus crucified. What was it that God had decided should happen? That Jesus would be crucified, or that the Jews would have Jesus crucified with Pilate and Herod as accomplices? It would seem that the most logical reading of this passage is that what God had decided beforehand to accomplish was Jesus atoning sacrifice on the cross. And that God, in his foreknowledge, knew that Pilate, Herod and the Jews would choose to accomplish God’s purpose.

In 1 Corinthians 2:7 Paul, speaking of the mystery of God, tells the Corinthian church, “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” While Paul does not explicitly define what the mystery is that God had hidden, it does include Jesus crucifixion and the significance of it for us. This fits with what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18-20, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” Christ was chosen before the creation to redeem us; a choosing that was hidden, or a mystery. God had foreordained that Christ would be crucified to redeem us from sin, prior to the creation of the world.

Election

Election is a word that is frequently used with predestination, but it does have a distinct meaning. The adjective eklektos means ‘chosen out, preferred, selected’ and is translated in the NIV as chosen 12 times and as elect 10 times. The noun eklogē means ‘a picking out, selection, that which is chosen’, and is translated in the NIV as chosen 3 times, as election 3 times, and once as elect. Generally the words are used to refer to those that God has chosen to be his people; God elects the elect. For both Arminian and Calvinist, God does the electing and those he has elected become the elect. It is worth pointing out that not everyone agrees on just who the elect are. Dispensationalists will argue that in the gospels the elect are Jews while in the rest of the New Testament the elect are Christians. The rest of us generally see the elect as being believers throughout the New Testament.

The big difference in how Arminians and Calvinists understand election lies in what the elector, God, and the elect, humans, contribute to the election. Calvinists are monergistic, believing that the Holy Spirit is entirely responsible for regeneration, including choosing who will be regenerated. There is no human effort involved in regeneration, nor is the selection for regeneration based on anything the person might do or choose. This is generally known as unconditional election; God does everything.

Arminians, on the other hand, are synergistic, holding that regeneration is a cooperative effort between the elector and the elect. Arminians acknowledge the total inability of humanity to participate in regeneration, but believe that God’s prevenient grace enables us to be able to submit to the work of God, or to refuse it. The human part in this synergy is to submit to the working of the Holy Spirit, not really contributing anything to the effort. The synergistic approach to election is generally called conditional election; election is conditional on our submission to the working of the Holy Spirit.

So what does the Scripture say about election? For the most part the passages referring to election do not really shed any light on this question, simply referring to those who are God’s elect. But there are two passages that I find helpful in understanding election. The first is in Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding banquet. In this parable everyone that can be found gets invited to the banquet, but many do not come, and one who does come is incorrect garbed and thrown out. At the end of the parable Jesus says that “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” The call went out to the whole population, but only those who respond appropriately are chosen, or elect. This parable would support the Arminian view of election. But the next one is much more challenging.

In the ninth chapter of Romans Paul is discussing God’s sovereignty in election. In this chapter Paul is focused on Israel, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. In verses 6-9 he points out that just being a descendant of Abraham does not make you a part of God’s elect. And he makes that even more clear in verses 10-13 using Esau and Jacob. 

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:10-13 NIV

This passage would seem to support the Calvinist view of election, especially if taken alone. But if God loves the whole world (John 3:16), does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and wants everyone to be saved (2 Tim. 2:4), then this passage cannot simply mean that God arbitrarily chooses some to salvation and some to reprobation. So how can this passage be understood in light of the rest of the Bible?

What was/is God’s purpose in election; what is his purpose for choosing people? 1 Peter 2:9-10 gives at least a partial answer to that.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV

We are a chosen, or elect, people so that we can declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his light. In the parable of the wedding banquet, who was it that would be praising the king who had invited them? It was the chosen ones. But would they praise because they were chosen, or were they chosen because they were the ones who would praise him? It is likely that it is the later; the ones not chosen couldn’t be bothered to come and were likely not inclined to praise the king.

So God’s purpose in election would seem to be to select for himself a people who would be responsive to him. Romans 12:11-12 makes clear that election is not based on works, I can do nothing to be chosen; and an orthodox Arminian would agree with that. In fact, the only disagreement an Arminian would have with a Calvinist over this passage is that we disagree that the election is arbitrary. God wants everyone to be saved, even though in ourselves we are incapable of responding to his offer of salvation. But God enables us to respond, and all who do are chosen according to God’s purpose for us; the purpose of becoming God’s special possession who will declare his praises. I would argue here that Jacob was chosen over Esau, not because Jacob had done anything good or was better than Esau; but because God knew that Jacob would be responsive to God’s purpose and Esau would not.

One last thing in regards to election concerns God’s invitation to salvation. The New Testament is filled with passages that call on people to repent and to have faith in Jesus. And as believers we are called to share the good news with all people. But if only some are elected, and that independent of anything they do, then the global call to repent and believe would seem to be a sham. Why should God entice people with something he is unwilling to give to them? Among the many passages that call on all to repent is Romans 10:9-13, just a few verses after the passage discussed above. Verse 13 very clearly expresses that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Of course we cannot call on his name without the aid of God’s grace, but if that grace is not extended to all, then you have to ignore the clear meaning of what Paul is saying here. ‘Everyone’ would indicate that the offer is open to all, not just to the few. And, if unconditional election was true, why are people told to call on the name of the Lord? Wouldn’t that happen automatically when the Spirit irresistibly calls them?

Summary

Foreknowledge refers to God’s knowing the future, although it does not imply that God ordains or decrees the future. He can see it because he is omniscient. Predestination refers to God’s ordaining something to occur. Sometimes God only sees the future, and at other times God determines the future, and predestination refers to the later. And election refers to God’s choosing of certain individuals to be his special possession. God’s people are the elect.

What is the relationship between these three terms, all of which are using in connection with our salvation? I believe that foreknowledge logically comes first. In Romans 8:29 Pauls says that those God foreknew he also predestined, implying that predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge. I also believe that election fits between these two, that God elects those he foreknew and then predestines them. God, in his foreknowledge, knows who will respond to prevenient grace and his offer of salvation; he chooses those to be his special people; and then predestines them to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Scripture References

Foreknowledge

proginōskō – verb: to know, perceive, learn or understand beforehand, to take note of.

  • Romans 8:29 – For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
  • Romans 11:2 – God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:
  • 1 Peter 1:20 – He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
  • 2 Peter 3:17 – Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.

prognōsis – noun: a perceiving beforehand.

  • Acts 2:23 – This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
  • 1 Peter 1:2 – who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Predestination

proorizō,  – verb: “to set bound, decree or ordain beforehand.” 

  • Acts 4:28 – They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
  • Romans 8:29-30 – For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:7 – No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
  • Ephesians 1:5 – he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
  • Ephesians 1:11 – In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

Election

eklektos – adjective: “chosen out, preferred, selected”

  • Matthew 22:14 – “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
  • Luke 18:7 – And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
  • Luke 23:35 – The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
  • Romans 8:33 – Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
  • Romans 16:13 – Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
  • Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  • 1 Peter 2:4 – As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him
  • 1 Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
  • 1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
  • 2 John 1:1 – The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth
  • 2 John 1:13 – The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.
  • Revelation 17:14 – They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
  • Matthew 24:22 – “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
  • Matthew 24:24 – For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
  • Matthew 24:31 – And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
  • Mark 13:20 – “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.
  • Mark 13:22 – For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
  • Mark 13:27 – And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
  • 1 Timothy 5:21 – I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
  • 2 Timothy 2:10 – Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
  • Titus 1:1 – Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—
  • 1 Peter 1:1 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus,Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,

eklogē – noun: “a picking out, selection, that which is chosen”

  • Acts 9:15 – But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
  • Romans 11:5 – So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:4 – For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,
  • Romans 11:7 – What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened,
  • Romans 9:11 – Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:
  • Romans 11:28 – As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
  • 2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,

 

  <– It’s All About Grace    Introduction    Salvation Security –>  

Arminianism: It’s All About Grace

So what have we covered so far in this discussion of Arminian soteriology? God loves everyone in the whole world and has given his Son as an atonement for all of us, although the benefits of the atonement only accrue to those who believe. But humanity is a fallen and spiritually dead race; totally depraved and unable to understand, acknowledge, or make any move towards accepting the benefits of the atonement. So, since we are unable to make the first move toward God, he takes the initiative, enabling us to respond to his offer of salvation. And the key to this is grace.

Grace

What is grace, specifically God’s grace? Thomas Oden, in the book The Transforming Power of Grace, defines grace as “the favor shown by God to sinners. It is the divine goodwill offered to those who neither inherently deserve nor can ever hope to earn it. It is the divine disposition to work in our hearts, wills, and actions, so as actively to communicate God’s self-giving love for humanity.”1  Grace is not an entity or other object. It is a defining characteristic of God’s relationship with us. It is only because of God’s grace, his favorable disposition towards us, that we are able to submit to God as well as to live for him.

God’s grace, or favor, impacts our lives in a number of different ways. God’s grace enables us to believe. It enables us to be saved. It enables us to live holy and godly lives. It enables us to serve within his church. While some talk about different types of grace, as I will here, in reality they are all simply different ways that God’s grace is working in our lives, not different kinds of grace. God’s grace enables us to be what we could never be on our own.

Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is the term Arminians use to describe the grace of God that enables us to believe. Prevenient means ‘comes before’, or the grace of God that comes to us before we have believed. This grace of God makes it possible for us to submit to God’s call in our lives. It is by the prevenient grace of God that faith is possible. Apart from this gracious action on God’s part I would be unable to turn to him.

In Romans 10:20 Paul quotes from Isaiah where God says “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Clearly it is not due to man’s efforts that we are able to find God. We might seek, but on our own we will not find God. He is found by those who do not seek him and revealed to those who did not ask. God initiates the contact. Apart from his initiation, we are helpless. This is prevenient grace.

In John 6:44 Jesus says that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And he expresses the same thought shortly after in John 6:64 when he says “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”  God’s drawing of people to Christ is a result of his grace toward us and is what the Arminian means by the term prevenient grace. Apart from God’s drawing or enabling, we are incapable of coming to Christ. This is in contrast to semi-pelagianism that teaches that I make the initial step towards God, and then God takes over and does all the rest. But I cannot make the initial step. Only after God has enabled me am I able to respond positively to his invitation.

But who is drawn? Does God only draw those who are foreordained, or does he draw everyone? In John 12:32 Jesus says “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” One of the consequences of Jesus crucifixion is that he would draw all people, to himself. Jesus is not drawing just those who have been foreordained, or from all types of people; he is drawing everyone in the world. But is the drawing of the Father different that the drawing of the Son? Since they are the same God it would seem reasonable that those that the Father draws are the same as those that the Son draws.

How does this drawing occur? In John 16:8-11 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit that “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, of our lack of righteous, and awareness of the judgement to come because of our sin. That is something that in our natural depraved state we would be unable to experience. Conviction of sin and the coming judgement is not done just to torment us. But the Holy Spirit, at the same time he brings conviction, also enables us to respond.

John’s gospel makes clear that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in drawing or enabling us. God loves the whole world (John 3:16) and is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God knows we are incapable by ourselves, so he does what is needed to enable us to be saved.

Is Grace Resistible?

Calvinist and Arminian alike agree that humanity is depraved and salvation is only possible through God’s gracious work on our behalf. Where they differ though is in the resistibility of God’s grace. The Calvinist will argue that if God’s grace draws you to God, that you cannot resist it; what they call irresistible grace. The Arminian, on the other hand, believes that God’s gracious work on our behalf is resistible, we can choose not to submit to God and to continue in our sinful and fallen state. We can resist God, not because we are stronger than him, but because he allows us to.

The difference here really follows from the differing views of predestination. If God foreordained who would be saved, then it logically follows that we could not resist his invitation to salvation. And in reality it is not an invitation; it is a summons that we are unable to ignore. But if, on the other hand, God wants all to be saved, and foreknows those who will believe, then it makes sense that his grace would be given to all to enable the possibility of belief.

So what does the Scripture say about this; is God’s grace resistible? One of the most telling passages comes from Acts 7:51 when Stephen is confronting the Jewish religious leaders. He tells them ““You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Clearly the Jewish people had been able to resist the Holy Spirit’s intentions for the nation. Throughout the history of Israel we see God calling the people, and the people nearly as often resisting him. If God’s will, his gracious invitation to us, was not resistible, the Old Testament would read quite differently.

In Matthew 24:1-14 Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet. In this parable there are a number of people invited to the banquet; in fact, everyone was ultimately invited. But not everyone was able to enjoy the banquet; many resisted the summons and refused to come, or came in an inappropriate fashion. At the conclusion of the parable Jesus says that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” This parable would clearly seem to teach that more are invited into the kingdom than actually make it. God’s invitation to salvation is resistible.

Some will argue that if God’s grace is resistible, it is somehow diminished, that it is not as powerful. And that would be true if God was attempting to force his will on us. But if God is wanting to allow us to make a choice, then his grace must be resistible; not because it is weak, but because he chooses to make it so. Indeed, in the Arminian view, God’s grace is magnified because it reaches out to all people rather than being limited in scope to only a few.

Is Prevenient Grace Always Available?

Another way of wording this question is “am I able to accept Christ at any time, or are there times when God’s grace is not enabling me to respond.” Arminians are generally divided on this. Classical Arminians, those holding specifically to the teaching of Jacob Arminius would argue that grace is given to the hearers when the gospel is proclaimed (Rom 10:14). Others, who hold more to the Wesleyan Arminian tradition, believe that prevenient grace is always available and not just when the gospel is proclaimed.

The danger with the Wesleyan approach is that one might be tempted to believe that people could be saved apart from the gospel. And while that is also true of Calvinists view on predestination where salvation is determined independent of the proclamation or acceptance of the gospel, it seems contrary to the necessity of evangelism. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Without hearing the message there can be no faith. This is one of the few differences I have found between Arminius and Wesley, and I believe that Arminius’ view that prevenient grace is only present when the gospel is proclaimed in some fashion, or the word of God is read, is preferable.

But What About Faith?

If salvation is entirely a work of God, then what role does faith play? The Scripture is clear that faith is an essential element as Romans 3:21-31 repeatedly expresses. 

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

It is hard to read this passage and not see the emphasis Paul places on faith. But if we are totally depraved, incapable of doing any spiritual good, where does faith come from. For the Calvinist, if faith is something that I choose to exercise then it is a work, and I am responsible for my own salvation. Instead, they would say that faith is a gift of God, he gives it to me and essentially requires me to exercise it; I have no choice. But is that really faith? If God has arbitrarily decided to save me apart from anything I am or do, then I do not understand why he would choose to require faith and give it to me. Faith would not seem to have any real role in my salvation; it’s just window dressing. 

But the Scripture distinguishes between faith and works. Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 both quote from Genesis 15:6, expressing that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham simply believed that what God told him was true, and he was justified. Romans 4:5 then says that “to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” Faith is credited to us as righteousness, and it is specifically contrasted with works; faith and works are not the same thing. Galatians 3:10-14 contrasts faith with works of the law. Justification does not come by obeying the law, but by faith. Faith is not a ‘work’ on my part; rather it is a surrender. 

The Arminian would say that God enables faith in me. His prevenient grace frees my will to be able to accept God’s salvation, or to resist it. I am able to exercise true faith because of God’s grace working within me. But doesn’t that make faith a ‘work’ on my part; something that I have to do in order to be saved? Jacob Arminius responds to this question with the following from The Apology or Defense of James Arminius:

“To explain the matter I will employ a simile, which yet, I confess is very dissimilar; but its dissimilitude is greatly in favour of my sentiments. A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it? Can it be said with propriety, that ‘the alms depended partly on THE LIBERALITY of the Donor, and partly on THE LIBERTY of the Receiver,’ though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, BECAUSE THE BEGGAR IS ALWAYS PREPARED TO RECEIVE, that ‘he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?’ If these assertions cannot be truly made about a beggar who receives alms, how much less can they be made about the gift of faith, for the receiving of which far more acts of Divine Grace are required!”

The rich man gives alms to a beggar and the beggar accepted them. Is the gift here solely a work of the rich man? Or does the willingness of the beggar to receive the gift give him a portion of the credit? Arminians would agree that the gift is solely the work of the rich man. In the same way the gift of salvation, including the freed will that enables faith, is totally the work of God, and all glory belongs to him alone. And, just as the beggar could have rejected the rich man’s gift, so our grace freed will enables us to reject the gift of God. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a free faith that is not constrained to believe.

It Is by Grace Alone

The five solas of the Protestant Reformation define the foundational principles of the movement and of all true Protestants. These five sola’s are:

  • Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
  • Sola fide (by faith alone)
  • Sola gratia (by grace alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Arminians hold as strongly to these biblical principles as any Calvinist or Lutheran and boldly proclaim that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled. 2

Scriptural References

  • John 5:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
  • John 6:44 – No one come to the Father unless he is drawn.
  • John 12:32 – Jesus draws all people to himself.
  • Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the power of God that brings light to everyone in the world.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 – Salvation is a gift of God by his grace.
  • John 16:8 – The Holy Spirit came to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement.
  • Acts 16:14 – The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel.
  • Romans 2:4-5 – God’s kindness leads us to repentance, our stubbornness leads us to wrath.
  • Acts 17:27 – God is not far from each of us.
  • Acts 18:27 – Apollos helped those who by grace had believed.
  • Titus 2:11 – God’s grace brings salvation to all men.
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 – God repeatedly reaches out to Israel, but they rejected and then faced God’s wrath.
  • Luke 7:30 – The Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
  • Luke 13:34 – Jerusalem unwilling to be gathered to Jesus as a chick to a hen.
  • Isaiah 66:4 – God calls, but they did not answer. His call is resistible.
  • Acts 7:51 – Stephen accuses the religious leaders of resisting God.
  • Romans 4:3 – Abraham believed and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.
  • Romans 4:5 – Faith is not a saving work.

Quotes

Article 3
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.” – Five articles of Remonstrance

Article 4
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can nei­ther think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inas­much as it is written con­cerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and else­where in many places. – Five articles of Remonstrance

“In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. 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.” – Jacob Arminius, A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius

“Arminius was concerned not only that God not be made the author of sin but also that the God-human relationship not be merely mechanical but genuinely personal. For him the high Calvinist doctrine reduced the person being saved to an automaton and the God-person relationship to the level of the relationship between a person and an instrument. Therefore, he had to leave room for resistance, but never did he so much as hint that the person being saved became a cause of salvation. He adamantly denied it.” – William Gene Witt, Creation, Redemption and Grace in the Theology of Jacob Arminius (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1993, pp. 629-30

“Whatsoever good is in man or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it.” – John Wesley, On Working Out Our Own Salvation

“Grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need of God, is the work of preparing, prevening grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own unrighteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the grace of God.” – Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), p. 246

 

1 Oden, Thomas C., The Transforming Power of Grace, Abingdon Press, 1993; pg. 33

2 Grace Greater than Our Sin by Julia H. Johnston

  <– Sovereignty and Free Will    Introduction    Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Election –>  

Arminianism: Sovereignty and Free Will

I had planned on writing about God’s grace next, but decided to divert to a discussion of God’s sovereignty and human free will first. It is mistakenly believed that Calvinists believe in sovereignty and not free will and Arminians believe in free will but limited sovereignty, but that is not the case. Both believe in sovereignty and free will, although they mean different things by the terms.  I believe that looking into this will help to better understand the role of God’s grace. But first I want to look briefly at God’s omniscience in regards to the future; how can God know the future.

God and the Future

One of the attributes of God that is common across all orthodox Christian theologies is his omniscience. God knows everything, not just in the present and the past, but also in the future. God knew before he began to create the universe just exactly what I would do during my lifetime. But how does he know a future that hasn’t yet happened? Let’s look briefly at three alternatives.

  1. The Calvinist believes that God knows the future because he decreed it. Determinism is inherent in God’s sovereignty according to Calvinism; the thought that nothing happens apart from the specific direction of God. So, because God has determined the future, he can know it.
  2. The Arminian believes that God knows the future because he is transcendent, he is outside of time and able to see past, present, and future without necessarily impacting it. While Arminians do believe that most of the future is decreed by God, they do leave room for the free will actions of humanity, with God not violating the freedom he has given his creatures. God knows all of the possible choices I might make, as well as which one I will actually make, and plans accordingly.
  3. Open Theism teaches that God does not know the future exhaustively, that God cannot know what choices humanity will make in the future and has to wait until they act before knowing the action. This is a heretical teaching that limits the omniscience of God and makes him failable in his dealings with humanity. This is sometimes identified as Arminianism, but it is not.

Sovereignty and Free Will in Calvinism, from an Arminian Perspective

As mentioned above, sovereignty for the Calvinist involves determinism. Nothing happens in all of creation apart from the decree of God. Every event in the natural world as well as every action of man happens at God’s direction. So where does human free will fit into this? Calvinists advocate what they call compatibilist free will, or free will that is compatible with determinism. What this says is that God has made me is such a way that I freely choose to do what he wants me to do, although, since I could not choose otherwise, this hardly seems like free will.

Because God specifically determines everything that will happen, then it would seem to follow that God is also responsible for everything, including sin. Most Calvinists try to distance themselves from the thought that God causes sin, but it is an inescapable consequence of determinism. Their response to the issue of sin is hard to follow but goes something like this. Man is totally depraved and incapable of doing any good apart from God’s grace. God does not force people to sin, but he does withdraw his grace from them so that they are incapable of obeying God. Therefore the responsibility for their sin is theirs alone and not God’s. In essence this comes across to the Arminian as God telling us to hit a ball, holding it so high we can’t reach it, and then blaming us for missing the ball. If you read the quotes at the bottom you will see that some Calvinists, instead of going through this gyration, just admit that God is the author of sin.

Maybe the most significant issue in regards to determinism is the Calvinist view of predestination. In this view God foreordained some to salvation and the remainder are condemned to damnation. God’s foreordination of his elect is not based on anything they might do. Rather, God, in his divine wisdom and inscrutable ways, simply chose them. It is hard for the Arminian to see this as anything other than God arbitrarily creating people for the express purpose of condemning them to hell simply because he did not choose them, holding them responsible for something they were incapable of attaining on their own, that he could give to them, and yet withholding that means from them.

The Arminian generally fails to see determinism as anything other than God as a puppet master pulling the strings of humanity and making God responsible for everything that happens in creation, including sin and evil. In is hard to see a loving and merciful God in this.

Sovereignty and Free Will in Arminianism

Arminius rejected this view of sovereignty, not out of a desire for free will, but because of how he understood it to reflect on God’s character. How do you reconcile a holy, righteous, and loving God with one who is the author of sin and holds humanity responsible for something they cannot avoid. Human free will, rather than being at the center of Arminianism, is a way to transfer responsibility for sin from God to humanity. Because humanity is responsible for their own sin, God can rightly punish sin without doing damage to his holiness.

Contrary to popular opinion in Calvinist circles, Arminianism holds a high view of God’s sovereignty, in some ways even higher than the Calvinist. For the Arminian, God’s sovereignty means that nothing happens in the universe that God does not allow. Indeed much, if not most, of what happens is decreed by God. But we do believe that God has given man a limited, although corrupted in the fall, free will that is able to make actual choices. While our depravity does prevent us from choosing to believe in Christ, we are able to freely choose the color of shirt we will wear, what we will eat for dinner, where we will go on vacation, or who we will marry. Yet no matter what choices we make, God knew them before creation and works through them to accomplish his purpose in creation. For the Arminian, God permits sin but does not decree it. But even as God permits sin, he uses it to accomplish his purpose. God also prevents gratuitous evil if good cannot come out of it.

Arminians also hold to a form of predestination. But rather than foreordination for arbitrary reasons, God predestines based on his foreknowledge of who will respond to his offer of grace. All who submit to it are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Those his resist his grace face damnation, not because God wants them to be damned, but because they chose to reject God’s offer of salvation.

In contrast to the compatibilist free will of Calvinism, Arminians hold to libertarian free will, or will that is free from determinism. Human free will is totally depraved and totally incapable of doing anything that is pleasing to God. Apart from the working of God’s grace I cannot please him; and we hold this in common with Calvinists. But God does give to each of us a measure of grace that will enable us to do good. Because of this ‘common grace’ we can be rightly held responsible for our sin. While I am totally corrupt, God’s grace enables me to make good moral choices, and so I have no excuse.

While the Calvinist view of sovereignty is ‘sovereignty by fiat’, where God is like a puppet master pulling all the strings and making everything and everyone dance to his tune, the Arminian view is more that of  a ‘sovereign conductor’; God is like an orchestra conductor who works to blend the music of each of the players into his vision. Each member of the orchestra is independent and contributes their own notes. But the conductor has a plan that he is working toward and works to bring all of the disparate parts into a magnificent whole. But while the human conductor is not guaranteed success, God will not fail, his plan will be successful. 

But Why?

So just why would the sovereign God grant humanity the ability to make free choices rather than just direct all of our affairs? I believe that it is related to his purpose in creation. Why did he create the universe? I believe it was to produce the church. The best proof of this is that when he takes us from this earth the purpose for the universe is accomplished and the next step is the destruction of the current creation and the production of a new one that we will inhabit (2 Pet 3:3-13; Rev 21:1).

I believe that God is using the current creation as a place, not only to produce the church, but also to develop it for what is to come. The development of our character now is important, and how better to do that than to allow us to make choices, including mistakes. In some ways we are like children now, and what we will be is not yet known, but I believe God has created us for a special purpose, and as a loving Father is guiding us along the way. And what better way to shape us than by allowing us to make choices rather than just be programmed. I really struggle with the purpose for a deterministic universe. Why could God not just skip this phase, speeding up the programming, and just start his elect off in the new creation?

Nothing that has happened in the history of the universe was a surprise to God. He knew before he created us that we would reject his lordship and go our own way. His plan of redemption was not an attempt to win us back after we foiled his plan; it was the plan from the beginning (1 Pet 1:18-20). God wants those who will respond to him in faith (Heb 11:6), not because they must. On our own, we are incapable of responding in faith, but God’s grace does enable humanity to either submit to God or to continue to resist him. It is by faith, enabled by grace, that we are able to enter into a relationship with God that will continue for the remainder of eternity. God created humanity with free will for a reason; he wants us to freely choose to serve and love him as well as to develop into maturity. And I believe that the exercise of our wills now, as we develop, is preparing us for eternity and his task for us there.

 

Scriptural References

  • Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2
  • For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:16-17
  • Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. – Psalm 147:5
  • Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:13
  • Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26
  • Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. – 1 Chronicles 29:11 – 12
  • I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. – Job 42:2
  • The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. – Psalm 135:6
  • In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.- Ephesians 1:11-12
  • The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. – Psalm 135:6
  • The LORD works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster. – Proverbs 16:4
  • For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30

 

  • And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:16-17
  • The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
  • You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. – Galatians 5:13
  • Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. – John 7:17
  • But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15
  • Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. – Revelation 3:20
  • Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Romans 13:2
  • No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. – John 1:12-13
  • This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. – Deuteronomy 30:19-20
  • Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! – Ezekiel 18:30-32

Quotes

  • I say then, that though all things are ordered by the counsel and certain arrangement of God, to us, however, they are fortuitous,—not because we imagine that Fortune rules the world and mankind, and turns all things upside down at random (far be such a heartless thought from every Christian breast); but as the order, method, end, and necessity of events, are, for the most part, hidden in the counsel of God, though it is certain that they are produced by the will of God, they have the appearance of being fortuitous, such being the form under which they present themselves to us, whether considered in their own nature, or estimated according to our knowledge and Judgment. Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. – John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion 1.16.9
  • For other Calvinist quotes concerning God’s ordination of sin see the article Does God Ordain Sin?
    • As an example: “God controls everything that exists and everything that happens. There is not one thing that exists or that happens that he has not decreed and caused—not even a single thought in the mind of man. Since this is true, it follows that God has decreed and caused the existence of evil. He has not merely permitted it, because nothing can originate or happen apart from his will and power. Since no creature can make free or independent decisions, evil could never have started unless God decreed and caused it, and it cannot continue for one moment longer without God’s will for it to continue or without God’s power actively causing it to continue.” – Vincent Cheung: The Problem of Evil, God’s Sovereignty
  • Whether certain words and forms of speech are not employed in them, which are capable of being understood in different ways and furnishing occasion for disputes. Thus, for example, in the Fourteenth article of the [Dutch] Confession, we read the following words, “nothing is done without God’s ordination,” [or appointment]: if by the word “ordination” is signified, “that God appoints things of any kind to be done,” this mode of enunciation is erroneous, and it follows as a consequence from it, that God is the author of sin. But if it signify, that “whatever it be that is done, God ordains it to a good end,” the terms in which it is conceived are in that case correct. Jacob Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments X.4
  • In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by 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.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” Jacob Arminius, Public Disputation 11 On the Free Will of Man and Its Powers
  • 30. The understanding of God is a faculty of his life, which is the first in nature as well as in order, and by which He distinctly understands all things and every thing which now have, will have, have had, can have, or might hypothetically have, any kind of being; by which He likewise distinctly understands the order which all and each of them hold among themselves, the connections and the various relations which they have or can have; not excluding even that entity which belongs to reason, and which exists, or can exist, only in the mind, imagination, and enunciation. (Romans 11:33.) – Jacob Arminius, Public Disputation 4 On the Nature of God
  • 38. Though the understanding of God be certain and infallible, yet it does not impose any necessity on things, nay, it rather establishes in them a contingency. For since it is an understanding not only of the thing itself, but likewise of its mode, it must know the thing and its mode such as they both are; and therefore if the mode of the thing be contingent, it will know it to be contingent; which cannot be done, if this mode of the thing be changed into a necessary one, even solely by reason of the Divine understanding. (Acts 27:22-25, 31; 23:11, in connection with verses 17, 18, etc., with 25:10, 12; and with 26:32; Romans 11:33; Psalm 147:5.) – Jacob Arminius, Public Disputation 4 On the Nature of God
  • 5. And, First, let us look forward on the whole work of God in the salvation of man; considering it from the beginning, the first point, till it terminates in glory. The first point is, the foreknowledge of God. God foreknew those in every nation those who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things. but, in order to throw light upon this dark question, it should be well observed, that when we speak of God’s foreknowledge, we do not speak according to the nature of things, but after the manner of men. For, if we speak properly, there is no such thing as either foreknowledge or afterknowledge in God. All time, or rather all eternity, (for the children of men,) being present to him at once, he does not know one thing in one point of view from everlasting to everlasting. As all time, with everything that exists therein, is present with him at once, so he sees at once, whatever was is, or will be, to the end of time. But observe: We must not think they are because he knows them. No: he knows them because they are. Just as I (if one may be allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God) now know the sun shines: Yet the sun does not shine because I know it, but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in anywise cause it. In like manner, God knows that man sins; for he knows all things: Yet we do not sin because he knows it, but he knows it because we sin; and his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in anywise cause it. In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in nowise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he did not know it at all. – John Wesley, Sermon 58 – On Predestination
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Arminianism: Atonement for All

As expressed in a previous post, humanity is totally depraved and unable to do anything of themselves to be saved. We are lost and without hope in the world (Eph 2:12). But God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), he loves us, and not just some of us, but everyone in the whole world (John 3:16). God’s desire is that we all be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that no one should perish but all come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Why does God love us? Not because we are in any way worthy of his love (Eph 2:9). He loves us because he has made us (Ps 100:3). He saves us because of his mercy (Titus 3:5).

Because of God’s love for us, and because of our helpless condition, God took the initiative in providing a way of salvation for us. John 3:16-18 is one of the clearest expressions of what God has done for us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This passage makes clear that God loves us; that he loves everyone in the world, not just a select few. It is also clear from this passage that God did what was needed to provide salvation for those that he loved. God gave his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the whole world (1 John 2:2), in order to taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9). Jesus was our sacrificial lamb (John 1:29) who delivers us from the wrath of God (1 Thess 1:10) that we justly deserved. Over and over in the Scripture we see that Jesus died for the sins of the world. His sacrifice was made for everyone, not just for a few.

But while Christ’s death was for all people, the benefits of his sacrifice are effective only for those who will believe in Christ. As the passage above from John 3:16-18 makes clear, the sacrifice of Jesus was for the whole world, but only those who believe will obtain eternal life. Those who do not believe remain in a state of condemnation. This is repeated in John 3:36; those who believe have eternal life while those who reject the Son remain under the wrath of God.

Repeatedly the Scriptures express God’s love and concern for the whole world. Some would argue that the whole world is not really the whole world, but only selective representatives. But I find it hard to ignore what seems to be the clear teaching of the Bible that God loves the whole world; everyone that he has created. Limiting the scope of ‘all the world’ to ‘all of the elect from around the world’ would seem to be a case of interpreting these passages in a way to support a specific doctrine, limited atonement, rather than allowing the Scripture to define the doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:10 distinguishes believers from unbelievers in salvation, but still says that Christ is the savior of all people. The expression “especially of those who believe” in that passage really supports that the idea that the sacrifice made for all people is only applicable for those who believe.

To deny the universality of the atonement is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture that God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and desires no one to perish (2 Pet 3:9). I am by no means an expert of the teachings of the early church fathers, but according to the article “The Scope of the Atonement in the Early Church Fathers“, “In the early Ante-Nicene period, no respected father can be cited within his literary context as limiting the scope of salvation, or more particularly the atonement.” Universal atonement also appears to have been the teaching of the church, both east and west, up until the Protestant reformation with Luther and Calvin. I recognize that an appeal to the Church Fathers and church tradition is secondary to the Scriptures, but I do believe it is significant that belief in a limited atonement seems to have been introduced with the reformers, implying that the church had it wrong for the first 15 centuries.

It is worth noting here that because of the total depravity of humanity, we are incapable of choosing to believe in Christ; we are not capable of responding in faith apart from the working of God’s grace. This will be the topic of a future post. 

Scriptural Reference for the Doctrine of Universal Atonement

  • God loves all of humanity – John 3:16
  • God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth – 1 Tim 2:4
  • God does not wish that any perish but that all should repent – 2 Pet 3:9
  • Christ tasted death for everyone – Heb 2:9
  • Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world – 1 John 2:2
  • Christ gave himself as a ransom for all people – 1 Tim 2:5-6
  • Christ is the savior of all people – 1 Tim 4:10
  • Christ died for all – 1 Cor 5:15
  • The grace of God offers salvation to all people – Titus 2:11
  • Only those who believe are saved – John 3:16-18
  • Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, those who reject him face the wrath of God – John 3:36
  • God’s righteousness comes by faith to all who believe in Christ – Rom 3:22
  • Believe in your heart to be saved – Rom 10:9-10
  • Those who believe are saved – 1 Cor 1:21
  • Justified, not by works, but by faith in Jesus – Gal 2:16
  • Saved by grace through faith – Eph 2:8-9
  • Christ, the savior of all, especially those who believe – 1 Tim 4:10

Quotes on the Arminian Doctrine of Universal Atonement

The covenant into which God entered with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, consisted, on the part of God, of the demand of an action to be performed, and of the promise of an immense remuneration. On the part of Christ, our High Priest, it consisted of an accepting of the Promise, and a voluntary engagement to Perform the Action. First, God required of him, that he should lay down his soul as a victim in sacrifice for sin, (Isaiah 53:11,) that he should give his flesh for the light of the world, (John 6:51,) and that he should pay the price of redemption for the sins and the captivity of the human race. – The Works of James Arminius – Vol. 1, Oration 1: The Priesthood of Christ

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of 1 John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” – Article 2 of the Five Articles of the Remonstrance (https://www.theopedia.com/five-articles-of-remonstrance)

 

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