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: 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
  <– Atonement for All    Introduction    It’s All About Grace –>  

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)

 

  <– Total Depravity    Introduction    Sovereignty and Free Will –>  

Arminianism: Total Depravity

You might be surprised to find that Arminianism and Calvinism are in complete agreement on the doctrine of total depravity; I know that I was. For many years I operated under the thought that while mankind was pretty bad, we were not so bad that we could not choose to accept God’s offer of salvation. But that is really the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. Calvinist and Arminian alike agree that mankind is totally corrupt and unable of himself to accept the gospel.

Before looking at total depravity, let’s take a quick look at a couple of the alternatives; Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk from the 4th and 5th centuries who emphasized holy living. He did not believe that the consequences of Adam’s sin passed down to his descendants, but that everyone is born in a morally neutral state; given the right teaching, he is capable of living in a way that would be pleasing to God. Because of this, man has the choice to do either good or bad without any constraints from a natively sinful nature. Pelagius and Augustine clashed over this and in 418 A.D. and again in 431 A.D. his teachings were declared as heretical by the councils of Carthage and Ephesus and the position of Augustine on total depravity was ratified. It is probably worth noting that it is entirely possible that Pelagius himself did not hold to all of the ideas attributed to him, but regardless he is credited with them.

Another British monk, John Cassian, is credited with trying to find a middle ground between Pelagianism and Augustinianism, advocated that there is a spark of good in man, enough to enable him to begin the journey, at which point God takes over and finishes the work. This position, which came to be known as semi-Pelagianism, was also label as heresy, although again it is uncertain if Cassian actually believed what he was accused of. The emphasis of both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is on human free will, the ability of humanity to freely choose, without any help from God, to accept his offer of salvation. Now if you find yourself in this camp you are neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian; you have fallen into the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. Regardless what you may hear Calvinists proclaim, Arminianism is no different than Calvinism in regards to total depravity.

A Summary of the Doctrine of Total Depravity

So now let’s take a look at total depravity as taught by both John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. Total depravity teaches that humanity was created in the image of God and was holy. But that humanity fell from their sinless state when they disobeyed God’s directive not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. When they did this they died spiritually, were separated from God, and fell into condemnation.

That humanity is totally depraved does not mean that they are as bad as they could possibly be. But it does mean that we have a natural inclination to sin and that our natural state is corrupt, unable to think, will, or do anything in ourselves that is good. This includes being able to earn any favor from God, to do anything to save ourselves from the judgement of God, or even to believe the gospel of Christ.

I cannot take the initiative in salvation. If God does not first do something to enable me to believe then I never will. It is an act of grace on God’s part that enables me to believe. My will is not free to choose God. While there is some difference between the Calvinist and the Arminian concerning free will, on this they are agreed; one does not have free will in regard to choosing to believe.

Scriptural Reference for the Doctrine of Total Depravity

  • Humanity was created good, but fell into sin through willful disobedience. – Genesis 1:26-28; 3:1-19
  • All humans are sinful and disobedient to God; we are dead in our sins. – Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:23; Colossians 2:13
  • There is no one who does good. – Romans 3:9-18
  • In our natural sinful state we are incapable of pleasing God. – Romans 8:7-8
  • No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them – John 6:44

Quotes on the Arminian Doctrine of Total Depravity

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.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man. – Arminius, J., Complete Works of Arminius, Volume 1, Public Disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the Free Will of Man and its Powers) (http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-works-of-james-arminius/volume-1/public-disputations/disputation-11-on-the-free-will-of-man-and-its-powers/)

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.” – Article 3 of the Five Articles of the Remonstrance (https://www.theopedia.com/five-articles-of-remonstrance)

John Wesley was in complete agreement with John Calvin and Martin Luther in his understanding of original sin. Wesley taught that as a result of the Fall the moral image of God (holiness, righteousness, love, and connection or relationship to God) is completely destroyed in humanity. Human beings in their natural state are spiritually dead to God, thoroughly sinful, helpless to change themselves, and incapable of even being aware of their state. If human beings are going to be saved God is the One who must take the initiative. If human beings are to be awakened, convicted of their sin, exercise faith to appropriate the new birth, then God must do the work, because humanity has no internal resources from which to draw to move themselves toward God and progress in the way of salvation. – John Wesley, Contemporary Wesleyanism and the Reformed Tradition

For additional quotations concerning this doctrine see the article “Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?” on the Society of Evangelical Arminians website.

A Note on Being an Arminian

A Calvinist is one who follows the teachings of John Calvin. An Arminian is one who follows the teachings of Jacob Arminius. Can someone who does not follow the teachings of John Calvin rightly be considered a Calvinist? Or can someone who does not follow the teachings of Jacob Arminius be rightly considered an Arminian? While there are many who call themselves Calvinist or Arminian who only follow some of the teachings of these two men, are they really Calvinist or Arminian? For this series of posts, Arminianism, or Classic Arminianism, will be defined based on the teachings of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants, his earliest followers. There have admittedly been many who called themselves Arminian who believed and taught things that Arminius did not agree with. That is unfortunate, but it true for Calvinists as well. Total depravity is an area where some who call themselves Arminians have ventured into semi-Pelagianism. But that is not Arminianism, which holds strongly to the doctrine of total depravity.

                      Introduction    Atonement for All –>  

An Introduction to Arminianism

Are you an Arminian? It is possible that your first reaction is to think of Armenians, an ethnic group of people whose homeland is near Turkey. But while the names are pronounced the same, the spelling is different and and they represent two vastly different groups. Your next thought is that Arminianism is anything other than Calvinism or that it is something that verges on heresy. But both of those are incorrect as well. Arminianism is frequently misunderstood by both its detractors and its supporters, and much is labeled Arminianism that is actually something else.

Arminianism is a system of belief that comes out of the Protestant Reformation, deriving from the teachings of Jacob Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560 to 1609. Arminius was educated in the reformed, or Calvinist, tradition, but struggled with the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination, that God has, according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to the affected people, elected some to salvation and, either directly or indirectly, condemned the rest of mankind to damnation. As a result of his study he came to reject the Calvinist teachings of predestination, limited atonement and irresistible grace.

Shortly after the death of Arminius, a group of his followers produced the Five Articles of the Remonstrance, A few years later the Dutch Reformed Church, at the Synod of Dort, labeled Arminianism as heretical and developed what has come to be know as the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP, in response to the Five Articles. But Arminianism did not die out. John Wesley later championed the teaching of Jacob Arminius, and today many, if not most Protestants are at least somewhat Arminian. Unfortunately most of what is read or proclaimed concerning Arminianism is coming from Calvinist preachers who seem not to really understand Arminianism and incorrectly associate it with semi-Pelagianism, a teaching that humanity comes to God via their own faith and only after that does God step in to help the believer grow via grace. This was identified as heresy in 529. But that is not what classic Arminianism (derived from the teaching of Arminius) teaches. It is true though that many people even in evangelical churches today are actually semi-Pelagianism and think that they are Arminian; and I have to admit that I was among them until recently.

Jacob Arminius and John Wesley after him were thoroughly Protestant and varied from the Reformed, or Calvinistic, tradition only in how they understood man comes to faith in Christ. The Calvinist doctrine of unconditional predestination, that God chooses to save or damn humanity solely on his own choice, is replaced with conditional predestination, where God chooses to save all to respond to him in faith. But this is not the free will faith of semi-Pelagianism. Rather God’s grace enables each person to be able to respond, but does not force the response. The other three points of difference derive from this one. The limited atonement of Calvinism, where Christ died only for the elect, is replaced with universal atonement, where Christ died for all, although it is only applicable to those who respond in faith. The irresistible grace of Calvinism, where the elect cannot resist God’s offer of salvation, is replaced with resistible grace, where the offer of salvation can be resisted. And finally, the possibility of falling from grace, which is missing in Calvinism, is accepted as a possibility by some Arminians.

Over the next few weeks, or months, I will be posting a series of blogs that will describe Arminianism as taught by Jacob Arminius and John Wesley. I will be focusing on 5 specific teachings of Arminianism: total depravity of humanity; unlimited atonement, Christ died for all of humanity; we are freed to believe by God’s grace; conditional election, God chooses those who come to him in faith; and our security in Christ. I am indebted to the Society of Evangelical Arminians for this outline and will be drawing much from their resources. I will also be using Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger Olson and Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden as resources for this study.

I have also invited a friend who is of the Calvinist persuasion to write a companion series of posts on the equivalent tenets of Calvinism. Hopefully these two sets of blog posts will enable you to clearly see the differences, as well as the similarities, between Arminianism and Calvinism.

Outline

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