Sunday, April 20, 2008

A brief critique by Tartanarmy to “Why I am an Arminian” Part 1

A brief critique by Tartanarmy to “Why I am an Arminian” Part 1
by Keith Schooley

I thought to address some of these articles as they are written simply and with a degree of organisation I have rarely encountered from those who oppose Calvinism and Reformed thought.
I hope to be helpful and give support for the “doctrines of grace”, a.k.a Calvinism.

I have chosen to interact with the writers article as it is written, mainly for simplicity and thoroughness.
My comments are in Blue.


Why I Am an Arminian, Part 1 of 2
by Keith Schooley

The following paper is meant to be an overview of what I believe with regard to the doctrine of Divine election. The first half, contained in this post, will explain why Arminianism--the rejection of unconditional divine election of specific individuals to salvation--is so often defended only in reaction to the Calvinist position, and will attempt to make a positive, Biblical case for Arminianism, without specific reference to the Calvinist position. The second half of the paper will discuss the Calvinist critique of Arminianism and attempt to respond to that critique from the Arminian point of view. The paper as a whole is merely intended to be an overview, not an exhaustive examination of the issues that surround divine election; a close exegetical study of the Biblical passages that bear upon divine election is necessary to decide upon one position or another.

I should note that I consider the whole controversy something that should be a friendly debate among fellow believers, not a test of orthodoxy.

Introduction: Against Reaction to Calvinism

I. Since the Reformation, what has come to be known as "Calvinism" or Reformed theology has been the fundamental interpretive grid through which the doctrine of election has been historically understood by Protestants. This is to say that the Reformers established a dominant Protestant tradition upholding some form of unconditional divine election of specific individuals to salvation (largely by contrast to the medieval Roman Catholic position). Those that differed from this position, notably Jacobus Arminius, John Wesley, and the traditions that arose from them, did so largely in reaction to a prior Reformed tradition. (For convenience’ sake, this paper will use the terms "Calvinism" and "Reformed" in reference to all Protestant traditions, including Lutheran, that espouse unconditional, particular election to salvation, and Wesleyan and Arminian interchangeably in reference to all Protestant traditions that reject unconditional, particular election.)

Please simply note that as a result of the Arminian rejection of the Protestant and reformed views, they, “the Arminians” have sided with Rome against the reformers on these matters. On these issues the Arminians would stand alongside Rome today over and against the Protestants on the issues dealing with free will, election and predestination etc. This is no secret to reformed believers today, who constantly hear the same arguments coming not only from Arminians, but any other Synergistic system, including Rome, Islam and the cults also. What this “prior” position mentioned above is, has not been mentioned so I have no comment to make on that at this point. It sounds confusing, because how can there be a “prior reformed” position, when the reformation was taking place. Such would have a prior reformation to the real one. I am not sure what is exactly being said by the writer above. Maybe it is a reference to the Anabaptists, I am not sure. If so, then that is another tradition and could be discussed.

II. The result of this is that even today, advocates of an Arminian position find themselves generally arguing defensively--that is to say, attempting to refute established Calvinistic doctrines rather than developing a positive case for an alternative point of view. This is seen most clearly in defenses of the Arminian position that are cast (as rebuttals) within the framework of the "five points" of Calvinism. A number of reasons for the continuing of this situation exist:

Yes, and let us never forget that the five points were “given” as a response to Arminianism which condemned Arminianism as heresy, see The Canons of Dort,

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by the Orthodox Churches at that time in History, so it is accurate to say that Arminianism was rejected as unorthodox and that fact is very important for a full understanding, at least in the historical context.

1. For most people who haven’t been specifically taught unconditional, particular election, the possibility of anyone coming to faith through the gospel seems to be the natural understanding of scripture.[See Note 1 below]

Please be aware of the not so hidden assumption here, namely that those not really taught and familiar with these doctrines in scripture, will inevitable come to a “natural” understanding of this doctrine. This speaks volumes to those trained by the “revelation” of God’s Word in juxtaposition to a natural understanding.

Therefore, most people never bother to defend Arminianism except when confronting a specific Calvinistic challenge; and so they end up doing so reactively, rather than proactively.

Of course, this would not be necessary if one had a positive case to begin with, which an examination of any positive case for Arminianism has been found wanting way back in history and just as much today, in fact even more so which I will argue later on or in the next article I respond to.

2. Arminians would hold that their position is an assumption which undergirds scripture (just as the Bible doesn’t defend God’s existence but rather everywhere assumes it) rather than a doctrine to be proven by explicit scriptural statement.

This is quite an overstatement when one really thinks about it. It fails to be even semi-aware of such things as presuppositions, tradition and any other appeal to foundations. To compare the existence of God as assumed to the libertarian freedom of man as assumed seems very bold and arrogant to me. This perhaps explains why libertarian assumption is just so prevalent amongst Non Calvinists.

3. For the above reasons and because of the historical prominence of this question within Reformation debate, the issue of election rises to a greater importance for the Calvinist than for the Arminian.

This makes no sense at all. It is only prominent amongst Calvinists because Arminianism came along and challenged the reformed Churches, otherwise it would not be so prominent. Think about it.

4. The "five points" are taught within the Reformed tradition, whereas the possibility of anyone who hears the gospel coming to saving faith is simply a working assumption within the Wesleyan tradition.

The five points are not taught as much as they should be, but that is not the isuue. The “working” assumption for the reformed is that “God is at work” in saving souls, and we as Ambassadors have the privilege of proclaiming the gospel to everyone, and we leave to God the Holy Spirit, whom He will save. This idea that only Arminians have a “working” gospel for all, is question begging and confuses the differences between us.

III. The practical result of this situation is that Calvinism is generally thought to be the only intellectually respectable form of evangelicalism.

This sounds like sour grapes and a smokescreen. I and many others claim no superior intellectual prowess or respectability (not even a College education) and yet the simple can comprehend Calvinism. The reason their are so many scholars who are reformed speaks more to Arminianism and it’s bankruptcy than to reformed intellectualism.

IV. A defense of the Arminian position needs to be made, but it cannot be made merely in reaction to the Calvinistic position; that is to concede to the opposition the terms of debate.

Is that not what the Arminians did historically? The Arminians rallied and presented their views against certain teachings and were thoroughly and patiently dealt with and then entirely rejected, hence that shall ever be the case, at least again historically.

V. A positive case needs to be made for Arminianism. Two points must be understood regarding the following treatise:

I actually would like to see a positive case, which of course may mean different things to different people, but if Scripture is abundantly exegeted with consistent hermeneutics, then fire away!

1. Some of the foundations of such a case will be common to both Calvinistic and Arminian understandings of scripture--so to assert something as essential to the Arminian position is not necessarily to deny that Calvinists may agree; and
2. Since the immediate point is to build a positive case for Arminianism without reference to Calvinism, some Arminian assertions to which Calvinists have historically responded will need to be laid down without immediate engagement with Reformed criticism. A later section of the paper will be devoted to the Reformed critique of Arminian assertions and to the Arminian response.

To which I shall attempt to interact in the next instalment.

[1] This "naive Arminianism" in itself is neither an argument for or against Arminianism: one could argue that the average Christian hasn’t studied the Bible closely enough to recognize the implication of passages dealing with election, or one could argue that Calvinism is a system of interpretation not naturally arising from Scripture but imposed upon it. What the present writer is concerned with here is the practical implication of "natural Arminianism" that Arminianism tends to be taught only in reaction to Calvinism, as opposed to being taught on its own.

Interesting terminology.

The Positive Case for Arminianism

I. The Mercy of God
Arminianism is based in the first instance on an expansive understanding of God’s mercy.

A. Favorably compared with His justice
Throughout Scripture, the theme of the Lord’s mercy is prominent, if not preeminent. Where it is contextually related to the Lord’s justice, it is always treated as more fundamental to God’s character. The seminal scripture in this regard would be Exodus 34.6-7:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands [or, "a thousand generations," cf. Ex. 20.6], and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.It is difficult to imagine that a comparison of attributes is not intentional. First and overwhelmingly, God identifies Himself with those attributes that stress His mercy, and only subsequently identifies Himself in terms of justice. In contrast to the "third and fourth generation" to which He punishes sin, He stipulates "a thousand" whom He forgives.

I will just say at this point, that to in any way, make any characteristic of God predominate (except perhaps God’s Holiness) is a faulty premise and somewhat misleading. Many passages address the attributes of God, and pitting “mercy” over “justice” is misleading if not outright dangerous and could miss-characterise God, which I believe Arminianism does. The “Justice” of God in scripture is so wrapped up in so many categories, that to merely suggest it has a lesser importance than “mercy” is just not taught in scripture. When we consider that such categories as punishment, discipline, righteousness and even such things as “love” and “mercy” could not even be properly understood apart from Justice, is in itself essential to keep in mind. Here are some passages that come to mind explicitly mentioning these two equally important attributes.

Psa 85:10 Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Psa 89:14 Justice and judgment are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth shall go before Your face. Isa 16:5 And in mercy the throne shall be established; and he shall sit on it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging and seeking judgment, and speeding righteousness.
Pro 16:6 By mercy and truth, iniquity is purged, and by the fear of Jehovah men turn away from evil.
Also consider Psa 57:10, Psa 86:15,

If we mistakenly pit mercy and justice against each other in any sense, could we ever really truly say,
Psalms 119:97. Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day

The atonement itself is in many ways a triumph of mercy over justice--compelled by His own nature to remain just, God nonetheless finds a way to extend mercy to those who justly deserve death, even at the cost of His own Son (Rom. 4.25). This is not to say that God is not ultimately just, or that His mercy somehow obviates His justice; it is merely to state that where the scriptures bring these two attributes together, mercy is always magnified over justice.

I simply do not agree. I know that if we look at this from our own fallen perspective, we could reason that way in some sense, but I believe scripture does not do that, at least not in the way the writer here is suggesting, but I respect this writer for his honest statements, which I have long believed Arminians hold dear but obscures the attributes of God or at least makes God seem imbalanced. This also may explain why Arminians generally spend much effort pleading these emotional traits within God toward all men in general.

It would thus seem to be unbiblical to regard God’s mercy as somehow restricted as compared with His justice.

I agree with that thought, but Calvinists do not attempt to separate these attributes like Arminians certainly feel a need to do.

B. Desire for none to perish/love expressed universally
Scripture notably records God’s desire to see the wicked--spoken of inclusively; i.e., all the wicked--come to salvation: "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (Ezek. 33.11; cf. 3.18-19, 13.22);

This subject could easily be splintered off to a separate debate, but I shall merely at this point suggest that Gods desires and or intentions are ably summed up in Rom 9 and other places.

Rom 9:15 For He said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

Rom 9:16 So then it is not of the one willing, nor of the one running, but of God, the One showing mercy.
Jesus Himself also tells us,

Joh 17:9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.

Those passages offered by Arminians are often not about salvation per say or how one is saved or some such thing. Those above in Ezekiel are such passages, and in context, refer to God announcing to Israel, who had believed God wanted to kill His people, therefore why seek the Lord? God responded to correct that assumption by the people of Israel at that particular time. Read the entire contexts rather than plucking a passage or passages out of their context.

The passages I quoted above are clear enough are they not? Why even go to Ezekiel?
There are other passages that tell us that God does indeed desire the death of the wicked, Gen 6:7, Gen 18:28, Exo 23:27, Lev 23:30, Lev 26:30, Deu 7:16, Deu 9:14, Deu 31:3, Psa 52:5, Psa 101:8, Psa 118:10, Jer 12:17, Jer 15:3, Jer 15:6, Jer 25:9, Jer 31:28, Jer 49:38, Jer 51:20, Eze 5:16, Eze 6:3, Eze 9:8, Eze 14:9, Eze 20:13, Eze 25:7, Eze 25:16, Eze 34:16, Amo 9:8, Zep 2:5, Zec 12:9, so if we have contradiction, then perhaps our interpretations need re-thinking.

I would refer the reader to comments made by John Knox, Samuel Rutherford and Gillespie for further thought on the matter.
Personally, for me to become an Arminian, I would have to discard at least half of the Bible!

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"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3.9);

Another passage often quoted, which in context is referring to believers and not all men without exception. Here I can do no better than to quote from the standard commentary on 2 Peter, whose interpretation is all the more telling as coming from an exegete who is by no means a card-carrying Calvinist: "God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay...The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. Here it is for the sake of the repentance of 2 Peter's Christian readers. No doubt repentance from those sins into which some of them had been enticed by the false teachers (2:14,18; 3:17) is especially in mind," R. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 50, Jude, 2 Peter (Word, 1983), 312-13.

Here is a helpful video

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More soon

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