Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Out of the Theological Closet: I am an Arminian (Ed.3)
Firstly, I'd like to say that this post is not to be a thorough defence of Arminianism. I strongly suggest that for a thorough defence of the system that you look at the Society of Evangelical Arminians (Widget on the right hand side tool bar), and look at the fantastic Classical Arminianism blog. I also suggest you read the short tractate by John Wesley entitle, "The Question, "What Is an Arminian?" Answered by a Lover of Free Grace" and of course the works of Arminius himself, many of which can be read here. I will however be explaining what Arminianism really is, and dispel what some people claim it is, but is not. I will look briefly at some of the major objection. The manner at which I will be doing this on the whole is in comparison to the 5 points of Calvinism, often known as TULIP. It is not that these are complete opposites as some assert, quite the contrary in fact, but that it gives us a good base line.
As always here is a little of my background: I was brought up in a church which, from what I could tell at the time, was simply based on the Gospel and had no real affinity to any soteriological system (in this sense). I was however taken under the wing of one of the Deacons (or Elders: They were one post in this church) who was a Calvinist. I was obviously effected by this and came to call myself one also. I had done no real study into the subject at the time but simply took him, and his interpretation, at his word. Eventually I moved to Wales for University and began to realise that there the Calvinist/Arminian debate was huge so I decided to do more research on the subject. What I came to at first was that Calvinism was inconsistent with the core Gospel, and with who God had revealed himself to be. It was only gradually that I came to realise that Arminianism was the system which best explains how the Gospel works. If you are now screaming at the monitor the likelihood is that you are Welsh, or heavily involved in a Welsh reformed church. If however you can't fathom what the issue is then I suspect that you are not. Either way I invite you all to read on and decide for yourselves, with prayer, what is right.
So let's start with the negative. Arminianism is not Pelagianism, or Semi-Pelagianism. Pelagianism is a system propagated by an English monk, later deemed a heretic, who claimed that we are not effected by original sin and are therefore able to choose God on our own. Jesus was more of a good example, rather then a way of freeing us from Sin. Semi-Pelagianism claimed that we were in some way effected but there was a joint venture between us and God. This is often what Arminianism is falsely accused of. Obviously it is not Calvinism either which claims that God does everything, including pre-destining some to belief and other to reject. In other words we have no free will, no choice, in relation to our salvation.
A disclaimer before we go any further. Arminianism, as it is with Calvinism, is a varied system. Mine resembles that of Mr. Wesley more then that of Arminius. Also, the Calvinism I will be dealing with is a caricature used for literary purposes and doesn't necessarily express the views of those who hold it. So, with that said, what is Arminianism: Arminianism is a belief in God's grace first and foremost, with an acceptance of our God given free will and responsibility. Arminianism is the belief that we are all spiritually blind and are in need to God's grace. The difference comes in the concept of Prevenient (that which comes before) Grace. Arminians hold that through grace alone, and not of humanity at all, that God call each of us and enables us all to make a choice as to follow him or not. We are created in the image of God and have free will, however due to sin we are spiritually blind and therefore our free will is marred. Prevenient Grace is a form of common grace where in God allows us to see him and therefore choose with our restored free-wills. As Mr. Wesley says, "I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which "enlightens every man that cometh into the world [Jn 1:9].""(Wesley's Works, 8:52). Isn't our choosing taking away from Gods grace? Arminius explains, "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!"(Works of James Arminius Vol. 1, Article 27) Arminians also hold, as do some Calvinists, that Jesus died to redeem all people, and not a limited, predestined number. Let us continue then with a comparison with the 5 points of Calvinism:
T - Total Depravity. This teaches that there is nothing in man that can save himself. He is spiritually blind and helpless due to the effects of sin. Obviously the reason given for this varies. I would argue that we are depraved by sin and therefore have a sinful nature, rather then the R.Catholic concept of original sin. (See Eph 2:1-10)
U - Unconditional Election. That we have nothing of ourselves that deserves election but rather all of Gods grace, and nothing besides. Arminians would disagree as to the meaning of this election. The key to understanding what Arminians mean by election is choice. I argue that God has elected and in will save those who he as foreseen will choose to respond to the Gospel (Molinism). The issue here then is not of the concept but of the how. i.e. not arbitrary (See Eph 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:2)
L - Limited Atonement. This is where they differ. Arminianism believes that Jesus came to redeem all mankind and not just a few who he will later force to believe. Of course, to borrow a phrase, it is "sufficient for all and efficient for" those who believe. (See 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 3:9)
I - Irresistible Grave. They also differ here. Arminianism argues that due to Gods prevenient Grace mankind is able to either accept or reject the Gospel by being enlightened to the truth of the gospel. God will not force anyone to believe. God enables salvation by grace. (See Acts 7:51-52)
P - Perseverance of the Saints. This is a point of which even Arminians disagree. I believe that a believer once saved is able to reject God and loose their salvation. (See 1 Cor 10:12; Heb 4:1)
Till next time!