February 18, 2008

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

A Moderate and Plausible Arminianism, Based on John 6:40 and Romans 8:29

My position on the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the more moderate forms of each are both plausible and orthodox. Hyper-Calvinism can slide into the heresy of fatalism, or the denial that God loves all people; hyper-Arminianism slides, of course, into Pelagianism. It is only the moderate forms of each which are, I say, plausible and orthodox. These moderate forms, I hold, represent two different man-made philosophical and theological systems designed to uphold the same doctrines revealed in Scripture. I believe that when the disagreement actually reaches all the way down to Biblical hermeneutics, rather than staying in the realm of systematic theology, it is usually the case that someone has strayed into the "hyper" realm. We ought to be able to state what the Scripture says in a "topic-neutral" way because the Scripture does not reveal to us a theory of grace or of soteriology that reaches this level of detail. Now, the revealed doctrines I'm talking about are often considered to be specifically Calvinist doctrines. The reason for this, at least among the people I talk to, is that all of us find that the majority (though by no means all) of the Protestants we talk to fall into two categories: those who accept various forms of hyper-Arminianism implicitly and unreflectively, and those who accept Calvinism consciously and reflectively.

I believe in the compatibility of the Biblical doctrines of grace and election with a moderate Arminianism. I believe that this compatibility is most clearly seen in two verses: John 6:40 and Romans 8:29. Note that I am not claiming that the Bible teaches Arminianism. (Personally, I believe in the moderate Arminian theory I am outlining on grounds of philosophical considerations related to human freedom and personal responsibility.) What I am claiming is that these two verses (and others) teach a doctrine of election/grace/predestination that is compatible with a moderate Arminianism. In outlining what this moderate Arminianism would look like, I hope to offer Biblical considerations against (1) the view that only Calvinism can adequately account for the Biblical doctrines of grace, and (2) various hyper-Arminian views.

John 6:40 reads, "For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Christ says that this is the will of the Father. That is, the Father has made an effectual, sovereign pronouncement. This pronouncement relates to a specific group of people: "everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him." It also has a specific content: they "may have eternal life, and [Christ] will raise [them] up on the last day." There is no natural necessity or connection between seeing the Son and believing (trusting) in Him and having eternal life. Rather, the connection is forged entirely by the sovereign will of God. Those who trust the Son do not thereby work any part of their salvation or come to deserve eternal life. The work of salvation is entirely independent of the individual. In this way, we can, as Arminians, claim that everyone is free to accept or reject Christ, while nevertheless assenting to the Biblical doctrines of election ("You did not choose Me, but I chose you" - John 15:16) and grace (i.e. the view that we are undeserving of God's favor - which is, in fact, the meaning of the word 'grace' as it is used throughout the NT).

Similarly, Romans 8:29 reads, "For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers." This passage picks out a specific group of people who God has predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ: "those He foreknew." In order to make sense of this verse foreknowledge must be distinct from, and prior to, predestination. Moderate Calvinist and Arminian views can both do this, but more extreme ones cannot: hyper-Calvinism collapses foreknowledge into predestination, and hyper-Arminianism collapses predestination into foreknowledge. What we need to say in our moderate Arminian theory is that God foreknew something about these people - something they would choose freely - and predestined something entirely unrelated for those people on the basis of his foreknowledge. As in John, we may say that what God foreknew is that they would "see the Son and trust him." The verse itself says what they are predestined for: to be conformed into his image. There is no natural connection or necessity between trusting the Son and being conformed into his image, so by trusting him we do not accomplish our own sanctification. Those who trust the Son do not thereby become worthy to become like him, and therefore we still receive this as a gift of grace.

The core Biblical doctrine that moderate Calvinists and moderate Arminians agree on is this: God, in his sovereignty, has freely chosen, on the basis of his foreknowledge, to save a group of people, the elect, who are unable to contribute anything to their own salvation and are totally undeserving of salvation. The disagreement is over what God foreknew. Our moderate Arminian theory claims that God foreknew decisions which were made freely by the individual members of the group, but which neither contribute to salvation nor render the individual worthy of salvation. The Calvinist denies that the free decisions of humans enter into the equation at any point.

An objection to this view is that human beings are incapable of simply "choosing" to trust the Son:

... both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
together they have become useless;
there is no one who does good,
there is not even one. (Romans 3:9-12)

Similarly, Colossians 2:13: "And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses." (See also Ephesians 2:1-5.) I've heard Calvinists, being only slightly facetious, quote The Princess Bride: "there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead." We cannot simply choose to follow God, as Joshua says: "You will not be able to worship the Lord because He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not remove your transgressions and sins. If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, He will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after He has been good to you" (Joshua 24:19-20). From our state of war with God, even making a decision to serve and follow him, or to "trust in the Son" requires an act of grace: it requires that God treat us better than we deserve and effectually intervene in our lives.

John Wesley deals with this problem with his doctrine of prevenient grace. This doctrine asserts that God intervenes in our lives by his grace in order to enable us to choose him before we ever begin to seek him. But prevenient grace, unlike the grace of God in the Calvinist conception, is not irresistible. An Arminian Molinist can (but need not) still believe in infallible grace, by holding that God only extends prevenient grace to those he knows will accept it, and denies it to those he knows will never accept it so that it is possible to resist prevenient grace, but this never in fact happens. There are, however, reasons for rejecting this view. The principle one is that God seems to feel the need for what political theorists call public justification. That is, although God already knows the our guilt or innocence, he nevertheless plans to hold a public judgment in order to show us his reasons and his justice (Joel 3, Revelation 20:11-15). So it seems that God might want to go through the motions of offering grace even to those he knows will reject it. The alternative is to hold that every person, at at least one moment in his or her life, is elevated by God's prevenient grace out of his or her bondage to sin to just such a degree as to be able to freely chose to trust, or not to trust, in Christ. Some Calvinists will no doubt object that it is impossible that a person who is free in this way should reject Christ after seeing him. This gets into difficult questions of free wills naturally choosing the good and of akrasia, i.e. weakness of the will. The latter is a big problem, especially for the Augustinian/Platonist account of the will that (I think) most Calvinists hold. Nevertheless, I think it should be evident by the time we get to this objection that I have achieved what I set out to achieve: we are well beyond Biblical hermeneutics and deep into the realm of philosophy, guided not by revelation, but by human reason.

Posted by Kenny at February 18, 2008 10:10 AM
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Hi Kenny,

Thanks so much for sharing (expressing so clearly and thoughtfully) your thoughts on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. This is a subject that I knew nothing about really (other than what I learned in high school European history) until a few months ago, when I realized how much Calvinism was being talked about among several Crusade members. I have been trying to figure out to what extent the discussion is even important, and also to come up with some sense of what I think/feel about the issue. So I really appreciate your input. I also consequentially have a bunch of questions. No rush on answering them, but these are just things I either a) didn't know about or understand, or b) found myself thinking as I read.

Going chronologically through your essay...
1. What is Pelagianism?
2. What makes you say that "the majority of the Protestants we talk to fall into two categories..."? What do these two types of people "look like"? Why do you think it is that most people fall into one of the two categories?
3. (skipping a good bit ahead to the paragraph beginning "The core Biblical doctrine...") You wrote that the moderate Arminian theory claims that God foreknew "decisions which were made freely by the individual members of the group...". What would the Calvinists say God foreknew? You said that free decisions of humans never enter into the equation for them, so what else is there for God to foreknow?
4. I want to make sure I understand the basis of the possible objection to the Arminian view you described based on Romans 3:9-12, Col. 2:13 and Eph. 2:1-5. Would the argument then be that if no one is righteous/understands/seeks God/does good/etc., then the only way one could be saved is if grace "happened" before anyone could make a "choice" to follow Jesus? In other words, "grace" in this sense must be irresistible, because otherwise no one would/could choose it?
5. Do you know of any particular Scriptural basis for prevenient grace? According to the various groups you mentioned, who receives prevenient grace? You said the Molinist would say it is given only to those whom God knows will choose to follow Him - what would others say who also believe in prevenient grace?
6. Is it possible to take the logic you applied in analyzing John 6:40 and Romans 8:29 and apply it (to some extent) to these questions of grace and whether or not people can "choose" to trust Jesus? When I first started reading the sentence "There is no natural necessity or connection between seeing the Son and..." I thought for a moment that the connection you were going to refer to was not the connection of seeing+believing and having eternal life, but rather the connection between seeing and believing. Why would they be mentioned as separate things if one always and necessarily leads to the other? Then the question would also become, how does one "see" Christ. And that is where prevenient grace becomes a question... am I making any sense? Basically, the verse really makes it sound like seeing is NOT believing, nor necessarily leads to believing. Your thoughts?
7. What would all of this stuff mean for the Calvinist doctrine of "limited atonement"? Another whole can of worms, I know, but this possibly baffles me more than predestination. Maybe your next essay can be on this subject??

Thanks again Kenny for sharing your thoughts! Have a great week,

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 18, 2008 7:17 PM

I like the way you try to approach the issue. However, I do think that scripture is not entirely ambiguous on this issue. From my perspective their is a right and a wrong answer to this question. I would go further to say that how you answer this question does have spiritual consequences.

That being said, I agree with you that many of these errors are found in hyper-arminianism and not common to all arminians. I would go further to say that hyper-calvinists are also doctrinally in error and there are negative consequences.

When I speak of spiritual consequences, I do not mean that this is an issue of salvific importance. However, I do think that God uses the renewing of the mind as a means by which he brings sanctification. This does not mean that studying these doctrines is inherently of any value. Someone, may study these doctrines extensively and yet have no spirit of God within them. Furthermore, even for someone born of the Spirit, without the Spirits active work at changing their heart through this study and systematizing of the scriptures then all one will have is a building up of knowledge. This, as the commonly quoted verse reminds us, merely serves to puff up and make proud.

This brings me to the importance of systematics. Systematics are not the end all be all of biblical inquiry but they are an important necessity for us to understand biblical passages not only within the surrounding context but within the broader biblical narrative. We always bring ideological baggage to any text we read. Furthermore, we are unable to read and process all of the bible at once. Because of these limitations, systematics become a necessity. At its best, a good understanding of systematic theology gives people a working knowledge of the bible, so that the presuppositions they bring to scripture would be inline with scripture, they can have a biblical understanding of by which to understand their own life and actions and to act as a short hand by which one can easily distinguish between truth and error.

In the early church most of the work done in systematics was focused on christiology and the triune nature of God. Heresies like Arianism were treated quite harshly. The church Fathers understood that how one defines Jesus has great implications; both spiritual and pracitcal. I would argue that in the same manner the calvinist-arminian debate is not irrelevant intellectual speculation but of high practical and spiritual importance. (note: This is a comparison of kind and not degree. I am making a point regarding the fact that I do not think the debate is pointless speculation. I am NOT attempting to place any equivalence between arianism and Arminianism.

All that being said, I must confess, and gladly so, that many of these differences are seemingly not present under old school Arminianism. However, my intuition tells me that the many of the fundamental issues will remain. (I say intuition because I have not yet dilineated my thoughts on these specifics)

Now concerning the Bible itself. I would argue that the bible does make clear the correct teaching on these doctrines. I do not have time, at this moment, to even attempt to do this. However, I will comment briefly on the passages you have written on.

I fully agree with you that John 6:40 could be taken either way. However, I would point to John 6:44 which says:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

What does this word to "draw"(in greek: Helkuo) mean?

If we look at the other times it is used in scripture we find it does not mean to woo but to drag. I will capslock the word translated for Helkuo.

John 6:44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me DRAWS him; and I will raise him up on the last day."

John 12:32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will DRAW all peoples to Myself."

John 18:10 "Then Simon Peter, having a sword, DREW it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus."

John 21:6 "And He said to them,'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast, and now they were not able to DRAW it in because of the multitude of fish."

John 21:11 "Simon Peter went up and DRAGGED the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were many, the net was not broken."

Acts 16:19 "But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and DRAGGED them into the marketplace to the authorities."

Acts 21:30 "And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and DRAGGED him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut."

James 2:6 "But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and DRAG you into the courts?"

As can be seen the draw given here is never used in the voluntary sense. It does not necessarily mean it is coercive, you do not "coerce" a sword out of its scabbard, but at the very least it should be clear this cannot be understood in the sense of wooing or voluntary choice. This does not preclude the possibility of voluntary choice, but at the very least if this were voluntary then it appears to be poor word choice.

Additionally, this drawing of the Father is efficatious.

Consider John 6:44 again:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws HIM. And I will raise HIM up on the last day.

In this verse the him clearly refers to the same person. Therefore, all those the father draws he will also raise on the last day.

So, if this speaks of prevenient grace it must be speaking of a grace only given to those God knows will choose him. I am not yet sure if this really gets you off the horns of that verse... but in the very least it eliminates universal atonement!

For a more detailed job see the link below:

If you look at the Romans 8:29 passage the important thing to see is that the foreknowledge is not of actions but of people. For THOSE he foreknew. If this speaks of people he foreknew what could this mean? God knows everyone as he is omniscient. However, in the bible knowing and loving are highly related. To say he knew her is to say he had sex with her. So, if we are to read it literally, as God foreknowing individuals, instead of ASSUMING that there must be an implied clause, then it becomes very clear. We could say it like this: For those God FORELOVED he also predestined.

I would question why you chose the passages that you did. I take it you are a dispensationalist and dont believe romans 9 speaks of individuals? Otherwise, it seems sensible to go to the most clear passage on this whole ordeal.

Lastly, before I end, I would like to appeal to the beauty of the biblical narrative.

Under a calvinist system God elected israel as a nation because they were weak and pathetic and he elected the Elect because they were weak and pathetic (1 Cor. 26-31).

Under an Arminian system God elected Israel as a nation because they were weak and pathetic and he elected the Elect because they were (better choosers?), (more righteous?), (lucky?).

The bible really is a unified storyline and the God of the old testament and the God of the new testament are the same God. This God calls his people out from among many, jealously loves them and "38 I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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."

Glory be to Christ!

Posted by: David Rice at February 18, 2008 9:17 PM

Kenny I see the one link you left discusses the interpretation of romans 8 that I discussed. Sorry for being redundant...

I also may have said universal atonement at some point as opposed to unlimited atonement... but I cant see yet because the moderation isnt done wiht.

Also, interesting question. Do you think, that being able to find a logical explanation for every text makes an interpretation valid? Because certainly, we could agree that some interpretations while logically valid are clearly wrong. Any thoughts on criteria?

Posted by: David Rice at February 18, 2008 9:27 PM

Wow, that's a lot of comment in one day :)

So as not to overwhelm myself or readers (mostly myself), I'm going to break my responses up into pieces and write them one at a time. Hopefully that will allow me to get to everything in the shortest possible time (rather than procrastinating until I have time to do it all at once). I'll start by answering the first few of Christina's questions. (David, I will get to your concerns at some point, I promise.)

1) Pelagianism is an ancient Christian heresy. (Actually, it was never really condemned in the East, but only because no one ever really believed it in the East - it was sort of condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council, but it was kind of a side comment and not the purpose of the council.) Pelagius taught that human nature was not corrupted by the Fall, so we could still seek God for ourselves, and ultimately bring ourselves into relationship with him. Augustine was Pelagius' main opponent. Semi-Pelagianism is also widely considered to be heretical (I lean that direction myself) but, to my knowledge, was never condemned by any council prior to Calvin. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that human beings are able to begin the process of their salvation, but only God can complete it. The term is often used broadly for any view that says we contribute something to our salvation by our works or that we are somehow more deserving of salvation than those who are not saved.

2) We have an intuition in favor of libertarian free will (the kind of free will that Arminians believe in but Calvinists don't). Most people who don't study philosophy or theology believe in it. Furthermore, all Christians have had some kind of experience of choosing to follow Christ. Because of this, most Christians who don't think about theology very much are some kind of Arminian. Often they are even hyper-Arminians/semi-Pelagians but, of course, if they understand the Gospel, then they are not full-blown Pelagians. On the other hand, of all Protestant traditions, Presbyterians probably place the most value on the academic discipline of theology and especially systematic theology. As a result there are a lot of really good Calvinist theologians, people who are already Calvinists are more likely to become theologically educated, and people who start to read a lot of Protestant theology encounter a lot of very intelligent and well-versed Calvinists. This, at any rate, is my hypothesis for why most Protestants I know fall into one of those two categories.

3) See David's comment and the account of D.A. Carson in the post I linked, and compare Jeremiah 1:5.

4) Yes, that's exactly what the objection is. The (moderate) Arminian responds by arguing that grace doesn't have to be irresistable in order to be prior to choice.

Ok, that's it for me for tonight. Hopefully I'll have time to write some more tomorrow. Christina, I especially look forward to discussing your question 6 which not only makes sense but is an excellent point. David, we'll definitely have to have a discussion of the proper role and importance of systematics and the various types of "validity" an interpretation can have. (I have said that both are "plausible and orthodox," but that needn't mean that both are "valid" and certainly doesn't mean that both are equally valid.)

Thank you both for your thoughts.

Posted by: Kenny at February 18, 2008 11:04 PM

Thanks Kenny for your insights so far! After reading David's response I have a question for both of you (or either/or, whoever feels like it)-- Can you *briefly* define for a "layperson" what you mean when you refer to systematics/systematic theology? If I'm not mistaken, at one point it was mentioned by Kenny as opposed to hermeneutics, so maybe clarifying what belongs to the territory of each would be helpful?

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 19, 2008 1:52 AM

Yeah kenny dont feel you have to get back to me immediately... because then I will have to get back to you. And I think I speak for both of us when I say that arguments are not always the best use of our time.

I don't know how much value there is in plausibility. Further, I am curious what you mean by orthodox... it seems that term has more to do with, to be postmodern, control and power. That is to say if orthodox means right-belief but this is not the same as what is true. Then it seems to me the definition is more semantic to define who is in the camp and who is outside of the camp.

Kenny do you think the issue has broad implications as i do?

Christina on Limited Atonement... everyone limits the atonement in some way.... The fact is that not all people will go to heaven. Therefore, either God chose not to do what was necessary to get them in heaven or he lacked the ability to do what was necessary. What will you limit God's intent or his power?

Posted by: David Rice at February 19, 2008 2:57 AM

More questions for David -
1. How does your conclusion on John 6:44 ("In this verse the him clearly refers to the same person. Therefore, all those the father draws he will also raise on the last day.") eliminate the possibility of universal/unlimited atonement? I didn't follow your logic to that conclusion.
2. Regarding Romans 8:29, I agree that defining "foreknowing" as simply "knowing beforehand" is somewhat illogical, since God is omniscient and knows everything; thus foreknowledge of this sort would not be specific to the Elect, but rather of everyone. On the other hand, I am reluctant to adapt your definition of foreknowledge based on the Jewish idiom for sex. Strong's dictionary gives four possible definitions for the word "know" (G1097) which is the root of the word "foreknow" (G4267) in this verse, and one of them is this idiom, stated as such: "Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman." A clear example of such usage is of Joseph not "knowing" Mary until Jesus was born (Matt. 1:25). The idiom, however, clearly refers to sexual intercourse, not to love, and... well, God doesn't have sex with us. Perhaps I'm being too literal, but I think it is foolish to assume a metaphorical meaning right off the bat which has no other basis in Scripture. Joseph loved Mary before Jesus was born, he just didn't have sex with her. Yes, sex is intended to go hand-in-hand with love, but the idiom refers to the physical act, not necessarily to love itself. (http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1097&Version=KJV)
3. What is a dispensationalist?
4. You wrote: "Under a Calvinist system God elected Israel as a nation because they were weak and pathetic and he elected the Elect because they were weak and pathetic (1 Cor. 26-31). Under an Arminian system God elected Israel as a nation because they were weak and pathetic and he elected the Elect because they were (better choosers?), (more righteous?), (lucky?)." Perhaps this isn't what you meant to do, but I think it is erroneous to make a causal relationship out of Israel's and the Elect's characteristics and God's election of them. God did not choose Israel BECAUSE they were weak and pathetic - He chose Israel, AND they were weak and pathetic. We are all weak and pathetic, but God did not choose all of us. (Your statement - though I am quite confident this was not your intention at all - would lead one to think that to obtain salvation/election one must simply be as absolutely weak and pathetic as possible.) This is further confirmed in the fact that God did not choose Israel "after the fact" - He CREATED, PRODUCED a nation to be His people, and He called it Israel. He didn't look around at all the nations and say, "Israel is the weakest and most pathetic - I'll pick them" - no, He created a nation to be His own, and they turned out to be weak and pathetic. God knew beforehand, of course, that they would be weak and pathetic, but this was not the reason or cause for His choosing.

A more accurate causal statement would be something like this: God created a nation called Israel to be a blessing to other nations (Gen. 12), and He "elected" the "elect" (out of a pool of weak and pathetic candidates) "according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28) and so that no one could boast (1 Cor. 1:29).

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 19, 2008 3:26 AM

Very briefly -
Systematic theology - the branch of theology that attempts to fit everything into a coherent logical system. Opposed to Biblical studies/hermeneutics, which is concerned with the interpretation of particular books or passages, or Church dogmatics which is concerned with expounding the doctrines taught by the Church.

Orthodoxy - the range of "permissible" views, i.e. those that don't contradict the dogmas of the Church. See my post on Church dogma. We can talk more about this later, but that's the quick and simple definition I would give.

Posted by: Kenny at February 19, 2008 8:05 AM

Haha David I'm so glad I wasn't the only person up at 3am thinking about this stuff. :)

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 19, 2008 2:23 PM

P.S. Just to clarify, I am not arguing. I'm just trying to figure out what the heck all this stuff means and it really matters. So if I come across as arguing, my apologies. I am questioning more than anything else!

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 19, 2008 2:27 PM

Ok, here are my answer to Christina's questions 5-7 (of the first comment, the one addressed to me):

5) John 6:44, which David cited, is a good verse on prevenient grace. Note that Calvinists also believe in prevenient grace (though they don't usually use that term), but they believe that it is infallible and irresistible - i.e. it is extended only to the elect and effectually produces faith in them; they cannot deny it. This is what David is arguing, and I will address that argument in due course. An Arminian Molinist might (but doesn't have to) say that people are free to reject prevenient grace, but it is extended only to those God knows will not reject it. An Arminian who is not a Molinist (and some who are Molinists) will generally say that it is extended to everyone, but most people reject it.

6) The idea that "seeing" is the product of prevenient grace, but doesn't lead to "trusting" apart from the will of the individual seems to be a perfectly reasonable idea to me. Certainly unregenerate human beings are blinded from seeing Christ (see, e.g., 1 John 2:11). Of course, I would caution that the passage does not teach this. It simply teaches that, by the will of the Father, the set of people picked out by the phrase "those who see the Son and believe in Him" is a subset of the set of people picked out by the phrase "those who have eternal life and are raised by the Son at the last day." (Note that every set is a subset of itself - in actuality the two sets are identical, but this verse doesn't tell us that.) What we are talking about here is a way of fitting this fact into the Arminian's system.

7) I'm not sure what it means for limited vs. unlimited atonement. For the record, it is my opinion that if we had a "Scripture stacking" competition (which is NOT, by the way, a good way of determining what the Scripture teaches) that was fair and evenly matched, the Calvinist and the Arminian would tie as follows:

  • Total Depravity - draw (they both believe almost the same thing anyway)

  • Unconditional Election - Calvinists

  • Limited Atonement - Arminians

  • Irresistible Grace - Calvinists

  • Perseverance of the Saints - Arminians

The reason not very many people hold mixed views like this is that it's VERY difficult (maybe impossible) to make them internally consistent, so we all point out that the verses in question merely lean one way or another and stop short of actually teaching one or the other.

My point here is that I think the Bible leans toward unlimited atonement (the strongest leaning is in 1 John 2:2 - "[Christ] Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world"), but there's nothing decisive. The moderate Arminian view I've described would probably be compatible with limited atonement, but I'm not sure why you'd want to do hermeneutical gymnastics in verses like the one I just cited in order to get to a position that, given the rest of your theory, requires you to do logical gymnastics.

By the way, I'm slightly disappointed that you (Christina) are not here to argue - I was kind of hoping you would thoroughly refute David so I wouldn't have to! (Just kidding.)

More later.

Posted by: Kenny at February 19, 2008 10:43 PM

Haha Kenny, the only "arguing" I see myself being even capable of doing would be to ask questions that force us to think and reconsider, which could potentially end up producing an "argument." But I feel I know far too little about the theories behind each side to give much insight into which one would be more accurate. Personally, my gut feeling is that neither is totally wrong and neither is totally right, and predestination and human free will do not have to be exclusive of each other, and understanding to what degree each happened (if at all) is really not that important. Each of us made a choice to follow Jesus. Whether that choice was made because we literally were incapable of not doing so because we encountered irresistible grace, or because God revealed Himself to us and we ourselves then chose to receive Him and follow Him, we still made a choice, we follow Jesus, and need only to keep following Him.

Just to clarify, for your "Scripture stacking" competition, you listed what I know (from recent talks with Calvinists and Wikipedia) to be the 5 "tenets" so to speak of Calvinism. So where you said, for example, that Arminians would "win" on Perseverance of the Saints, you mean that there are more verses that lean against this idea than toward it, right? And perseverance of the saints refers to the idea that one cannot lose his salvation, right?

As far as limited atonement goes: How would you respond to the Calvinist argument that if Christ paid for everyone's sins, then it would be unjust for God to still condemn some to hell? I have a couple thoughts of my own here but I'm interested in what you think, since I usually only hear Calvinists even talking about the issue. :)

It's David's turn to get a response now. I'll wait. :)

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 20, 2008 12:01 AM

Ack sorry, one more comment/question for David, I was just re-reading and this came up...

You wrote "Christina on Limited Atonement... everyone limits the atonement in some way.... The fact is that not all people will go to heaven. Therefore, either God chose not to do what was necessary to get them in heaven or he lacked the ability to do what was necessary. What will you limit God's intent or his power?" I'm not sure these are the only two alternatives. Could it not be that God also did what was necessary of Him in order for each man to go to heaven, but not every man did what was necessary of him to go to heaven? You assume that man has absolutely nothing to do with his own salvation, but Scripture doesn't seem to portray this. Look at the first 3 chapters of Romans. In theory, man could have obtained righteousness by obedience to the Law (for the Jew) or the law written on man's heart (for the Gentile). If a man lived perfectly rightly and obediently (as only Christ did), he would not die nor go to hell. But we blew it. So God made the righteousness by faith available to us, providing another way of obtaining life - believing in Jesus. We do not have to do anything in particular in order to be saved, but we do have to believe! Thus God leaves us with a condition, just as He left Adam and Eve with a condition when He told them in the Garden not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil *or else they would surely die*. God did not cause man to fall and be condemned - He could if He wanted to, but He didn't. Why, then, would it not follow that God could also cause everyone to believe in Jesus (before the End Times) if He wanted to, but doesn't? It is not a question of whether God only wants certain people to be saved or only has the power to save certain people - the debate here is whether God only wants certain people to be saved, or whether God wants man to choose Him for himself.

Okay now I sound like I'm just refuting David. I'm really not trying to refute anyone! I'm simply less acquainted with David's ideas than Kenny's, and at the moment David's are making less sense to me. But maybe I have misunderstood.

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 20, 2008 12:22 AM

To Christina
1) let me be more precise... it at least limits the prevenient grace to those who will be saved. Speaking of prevenient grace, Kenny Calvinists believe in irresistible saving grace, and common grace. If you are equating saving grace with prevenient grace that is in fallible and irresistible. I agree with you but I don't see your point. By changing the extent and the efficatiousness of this grace you make it an entirely differnt thing.

2)I think you will find that the image of christ in marriage with the church is a common one in scripture. Further, I think you will find that the song of songs uses alot of sexual imagery that has been understood to be related to the love between christ and his church. Should it suprise us that God is less of a prude then his people?

Also it goes beyond just sex. Here is a quick thing stolen from an internet cite:

God predetermined to love us. "Foreknow" (Gk., prognosis) is the key word in Romans 8:29. The word know is often used in Scripture to speak of a love relationship. Genesis 4:17 says, "Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bore Enoch." That doesn't mean Cain knew who his wife was or what her name was; it means he knew her intimately. Joseph was surprised when Mary became pregnant with Jesus because he had not yet known her intimately (Matt 1:18, 25). Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them" (John 10:27). God told Israel, "You only have I known" (Amos 3:2). He didn't mean He knew only about the Jewish people. According to Matthew 7:23 the Lord will someday say to unbelievers, "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." In that case there was no predetermined love relationship, as when a man knows his wife.

God's foreknowledge means He predetermined to love certain people. He foreordained the redemption of those people, and could foresee it all happening in the future. So foreknowledge is a predetermined, foreordained, foreseen love relationship. Romans 8:28 says we are "called according to his purpose." Before the world began God purposed to love us and redeem us so we might be conformed to Christ's image. Second Timothy 2:19 says, "The Lord knoweth them that are his." Christ knows us intimately.


4)I am sorry I handled that wording very poorly. God chose israel just like he chose the elect. Because he chose to love them. The connection in deuteronomy with them being small is i suppose more assumed. Aka God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

SO lets say this God elected israel because he chose to love israel and he elected hte elect because he chose to love the elect. there exists continuity. The arminian does not have continuity unless he argues that israel also could choose whether or not to be a chosen people.

So kenny you mention you are leaning toward semipelegianism does that mean you are a semi-semi-pelegian? What exactly do you believe with regard to the fallen nature of man?

Posted by: David at February 20, 2008 1:09 AM


1) With regard to prevenient grace, all I'm saying is that both Calvinists and Arminians agree that the Elect (with the possible exception of those who die when they are very young children) all have the experience of choosing Christ, and we both agree that God begins showing grace to the elect before they have that experience. For the Calvinist, this is saving grace, in addition to common grace.

2) I am NOT leaning toward semi-Pegalianism. My wording may have been a little confusing. I lean toward thinking semi-Pelagianism is heretical, despite not having a council to back me up. I think the Arminian theory I have outlined escapes semi-Pelagianism.

I'll write more when I have time, but I didn't want to let those two misunderstandings go.

Posted by: Kenny at February 20, 2008 8:18 AM

For David (briefly) -

Why must there be perfect continuity/parallelism between Israel (and how they were chosen, etc.) and the Elect (and how they become the Elect)?

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 20, 2008 10:45 AM

David -

Let me begin to address your comments by stating that I agree that there is a right answer and a wrong answer. That is, Calvinism and Arminianism cannot both be true. I claim, rather, that the answer to this question is not the subject of any supernatural divine revelation, so that any determination we make on the matter is left to natural revelation, i.e. reason, and such a determination is fallible and therefore inappropriate as the content of a dogmatic definition.

This does, as you say, lead us to the role of systematic theology. The Bible is consistently unsystematic. Romans and Hebrews are as close as it comes to engaging in systematic theology, and these books are still more devotional, practical, and dogmatic (in the positive sense - i.e. concerned with simply expounding Christian teaching on certain specific points) than systematic.

Systematic theology is a human invention. When it is done well, the Bible (and possibly also the experience of the Church through the ages considered more broadly) provides the data. Systematic theology is an attempt to construct a theory accounting for all of these data points. Because it is the data and not the theory or system which is divinely revealed and therefore infallible, we reject a system as heterodox only when it contradicts a particular data point.

(Sidebar on Heterodoxy vs. Heresy: "Heterodoxy" means "belief contrary to the revealed truths of Christianity." Heresy is a term of Church discipline coming from a Greek word meaning "to pull apart." It refers to a judgment against someone who is dividing the Church by teaching heterodox doctrine.)

Systematic theology does begin early in Church history with such figures as Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine. I think, however, that you are wrong in supposing that Church councils (particularly the Ecumenical Councils) were engaged in systematic theology. The Council of Chalcedon comes close, but is still far more concerned with dogmatics. If I recall correctly, it was Gregory of Nyssa (who was present at the First Council of Constantinople, which revised the Nicene Creed into its present form, minus the infamous filioque, which I think we should reject at least on procedural grounds, even if we accept it on theological grounds, but that's another story) who explicitly said that the councils were concerned with setting up a "fence" around heresy. If you read them closely, and include the canons, you find that they are very concerned with stating what is NOT the case, and the sections (specifically, the actual Creeds) which tell us what IS the case tend to be brief. They are not intended to be systems, but merely to express boundaries within which systematic theology must stay.

That's it for now. I may write a separate post discussing the meaning of helko in the near future.

Posted by: Kenny at February 20, 2008 6:43 PM

I am glad to hear your not a semi-pelegian. I was not quite sure what to do with someone who openly acknowledged they were a heretic. lol

I think we agree for the most part that both positions are "in the fold".

I am curious though on your thoughts of its overall practical importance. For, I think that it is a huge issue and has many implications.

Considering whether it is something to divide over. I would say that arminians and calvinists can serve together and minister together, however, it can be difficult. Moreover, if the message that you give is conflicting, it may be a reason for parting ways.

Posted by: David at February 21, 2008 4:47 AM

David, I think that the point you are making about "spiritual consequences" boils down to this: there are certain answers to this question that contradict what I have called "the core Biblical doctrine," and many people believe such a thing. These views are heterodox and do have serious consequences. That applies to both sides. But I think that if a Calvinist and an Arminian are preaching/teaching a different message in a context that is evangelistic, devotional, or practical (as opposed to a context of speculative theology) then either (a) at least one of them is "hyper-", or (b) at least one of them is overly focused on speculative details that are not important in evangelistic, devotional, or practical contexts. I've gone to Tenth a lot in the last few years, and I have only twice disagreed with remarks in a sermon because of Calvinism, and one of the two was Dr. Ryken, after saying something that sounded Arminian at first blush, clarifying "this should not be taken to contradict the doctrine of..." (I forget which doctrine.) Furthermore, I hope that no (moderate) Calvinist has ever disagreed with anything I've said when speaking at Cru because of Calvinism. I try to stay away from that stuff, because I don't think a sermon is the appropriate place for it. (For me, personally, I think appropriate places are primarily blog posts and philosophy papers.)

Nevertheless, it is critical that, regardless of our theory, we constantly remind ourselves and others that there is absolutely nothing we can do to work or deserve our salvation or, more generally, to earn God's favor. If what you mean in saying that there are "spiritual consequences" is that Arminians who are not careful in their theological reflections are prone to forget this, whereas Calvinists are not, then I agree with you. However, I would also note that if Calvinists are not careful in their theological reflections, their theory can obscure personal responsibility for sin. The fact is simply that, for whatever reason, your average Calvinist seems (to me) to be much more careful than your average Arminian. This, however, does not provide an argument for one side or the other.

Posted by: Kenny at February 21, 2008 8:08 AM

An interesting point you bring up, David, about Arminians and Calvinists ministering together. I agree with Kenny about the extent to which the issue should even come up (like, for example, in sermons). My main reason for this is that don't know the technicalities of how the atonement works, how people are saved, how predestination and human free will co-exist, etc. We need to stick to what we definitely *do* know.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that a key issue of disagreement between Arminians and Calvinists is over whether faith counts as a "work." Both sides agree that it is not by works that one is saved - but the Calvinist sees faith in Jesus Christ through a free-will choice as a "work" and thus does not believe this happens by man's free will. The Arminian, on the other hand, views even faith by free-will not as a work. It's not about what you do or say, but about what you believe. Therefore if man is saved through faith, even if that faith comes through a free choice, it is still not a work and doesn't violate the concept of salvation being "not by works, so no one can boast."

Maybe I'm totally off on that, but that is the impression I get.

Posted by: Christina Lordeman at February 21, 2008 11:54 PM

Christina you are right. The issue really comes down to definitions. When Calvinists and Arminians speak of grace, election, predestination, works, atonement etc. the disagreement takes form of the definition of the nouns.

check out this look at the subject (from a reformed perspective of course!)

I do think it effects how you present the gospel. That is not to say one should preach the five points, but what we believe will effect what we say and how we say it.

Posted by: David at February 24, 2008 12:54 AM

Seriously dude, ya gotta lose the script and background color combo fer sumpin' that's easier on the peepers...

Posted by: Greg Anderson at February 28, 2008 3:57 PM

Greg - if you click the "view with boring colors" link that is at the top of every page, it will change to black on white.

Posted by: Kenny at February 28, 2008 8:57 PM

I saved this post in my RSS reader and am only getting back to it now. You offer a fascinating approach, and I think the more general claim (that scripture allows both moderate Arminianism and moderate Calvinism) is plausible, at least in one respect. There are times when I believe it.

Your more specific claim that you have to do it all in systematic theology seems to me to require a further assumption, namely that scripture not only doesn't settle the debate between the two moderate views, but there isn't even enough information to make one more likely or a better way to capture the biblical information. I don't think you have to turn to systematics to find a better interpretation. You can do that in biblical theology.

I'm not prepared to endorse or reject this second claim. I've actually gone back and forth on it quite a lot. But I have some sympathy for your general approach, anyway, and it's rare that I see someone arguing for it.

It's been a long time since I read Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul, a pretty paradigm case of a Calvinist, but I seem to remember him preferring the term 'prevenient grace' to 'irresistible grace'. His main reason to dislike the latter is that he does think God's prevenient grace is resistible, at least temporarily. Someone can certainly resist it. They just won't ultimately be successful in rejecting it. But it doesn't get all the way to what Irresistible Grace was supposed to capture, so he settles on Effectual Grace, which I think is much more accurate to what Calvinists hold.

It's hard for me to let go the Limited Atonement issue either. My understanding of the classic doctrine of limited atonement is that it simply holds the first of the following three views:

a. Only the atoned-for are saved, and some people are not atoned-for and thus not saved.
b. Everyone is atoned for, but only some of the atoned-for are saved.
c. Everyone is atoned-for, and thus everyone is saved.

To be clear, the third view says that somehow the cross atones for the sins of those who will not be saved but somehow does not thereby save them. The first view is compatible with "sufficient for all, efficient only for those actually saved". Some Calvinists hold something more extreme, but Calvin himself and the early Calvinists did not. They actually held the more moderate view, and that's what Limited Atonement originally referred to. The biblical language favors a different claim, the claim that Christ died for all. But that's a distinct claim from the claim that the atonement actually covers all, as long as the sense in which he died for all is potential, as Calvin insisted it is. Anyway, that's a pet peeve of mine that takes issue with people on both sides of the issue. I happen to think the view that there's no potentiality in the Christ's death in any sense is a form of hyper-Calvinism.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at March 12, 2010 5:02 PM

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