Theological Musings

The debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has long been of intense interest to me. Mostly because the heart of the debate is over the nature of God and salvation. What could be more important? Two new books have recently been released: For Calvinism, by Michael Horton, and Against Calvinism, by Roger Olson. Both look like good representations of each position, though Olson’s book, just from the excerpts I’ve read, seems to be more polemical. Then again, the title is Against Calvinism. This is somewhat disappointing (though I haven’t read it), because Arminians need more books that argue for their position based on scripture, not on rhetoric. The standard for this remains Robert Shank’s, Life in the Son, and his companion volume, Elect in the Son.

Horton and Olson have been posting on their blogs about the new books, and both have been defending certain assertions. In one of Horton’s posts he points out (fairly in my opinion) that objections to predestination are mainly about foreknowledge. He goes on to articulate that certain problems for Calvinism, regarding God’s foreknowledge, are also problems for orthodox Arminians. This much is true, in fact, our modern day Marcion and open theist, Greg Boyd, makes this point abudantly clear in his work Satan and the Problem of Evil, when he states that Arminians are logically inconsistent when it comes to free choice and divine foreknowledge.

But hyper-Arminianism, as Horton calls it, is not the subject of my post here. I wanted to make one point about Horton’s assumption regarding Arminianism – namely, that God is merely passive and purposeless in allowing evil. He states: “Any view that makes God the author of sin does indeed turn the object of our worship into a moral monster. However, any deity who merely stands around reluctantly permitting horrible things for which he has no greater purpose in view, is equally reprehensible.” Of course, if God was reluctantly permitting horrible things with no greater purpose he would be reprehensible. But has any orthodox Arminian said this? Arminians believe that God has purposes in allowing evil: that men and angels be held accountable for their choices and that by allowing suffering He sanctifies His saints. Horton goes on to say: “Once you acknowledge that God foreknows a sinful act and chooses to allow it (however reluctantly) when he could have chosen not to, the only consolation is that God never would have allowed it unless he had already determined why he would permit it and how he has decided to overcome it for his glory and our good.” What Arminian tenet is in disagreement with this statement?

I guess the real rub is what purpose is more biblical, and therefore more in line with the character of God. I’ve been on both sides of the fence regarding this issue and the statements I have made above are not meant to reflect my current theological position; however, what troubles me is a misrepresentation of either side. I believe that Horton has misrepresented Arminianism. Much of what he said regarding Calvinism is not inconsistent with an Arminian view of providence.

8 thoughts on “Theological Musings

  1. “This is somewhat disappointing (though I haven’t read it), because Arminians need more books that argue for their position based on scripture, not on rhetoric.”

    I think you’re just biased. Both sides engage in an awful lot of rhetoric. And it makes since to name the book ‘Against Calvinism’ because non-Calvinism is the DEFAULT Christian position. Calvinism is an addon. The Calvinists are on the affirmative side of the debate, they’re the ones with something new to prove, something to add, to simple Christianity. As such, the burden of proof is on the Calvinists. For the Arminian to write a book ‘for Arminianism’ would be simply to write a book ‘for Christianity.’ To Christians, Christianity is viewed as already proven, so not much point. But since the Calvinists want to add their crazy theories to Christianity, writing ‘Against Calvinism’ makes sense.

    Of course, to me, the more fruitful book would be to write a book examining why Paul was ever accepted into the canon to begin with. Fact is, we know many of his arguments are not sequiturs. We know that he often misquotes and twists the Old Testament out of context. We know that his position on circumcision contradicts itself (circumcision is a sacrament that makes you a debtor to do the whole Law, Gal 5, vs circumcision is a seal of the righteousness that is by faith, Romans 4). We know also that his position on the Law is contradictory (Romans 2, the doers of the Law SHALL be justified, Romans 3, by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified; the Law is impossible to keep, vs the Law is fulfilled simply by loving others, etc.) So he wasn’t added to the canon for having flawless logic nor for consistency, nor for being a good exegete of the Old Testament. So why was he added? and should Protestants really just accept Paul as scripture because the Catholics added him? shouldn’t we re-evaluate?

    • Thanks for your thoughts – there is certainly a lot to consider in your statement, more than I could hope to address here. However, I would simply affirm the Pauline contribution to scripture as inspired and inerrant. While Paul’s statements are complex, they do not contradict one another, since he commonly looks at different aspects of a particular issue. In the second epistle of Peter the writer says this: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).” Here, Paul’s writings are authenticated as scripture by another apostle.

      As to your assertion that Arminianism is the default position I cannot agree. I think its more prudent to study the scriptures and come to conclusions based on careful exegesis. If that study ends with Arminianism (within the bounds of orthodoxy) then that’s fair enough. However, in my next post I will in one sense agree with you that the New Calvinism tends to add to the gospel.

      Thanks again for responding!

      • “While Paul’s statements are complex, they do not contradict one another,”

        If “the doers of the Law shall be justified” doesn’t contradict “by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” or the concept of circumcision as a sacrament that makes one a “debtor to do the whole Law” doesn’t contradict the other concept of it as as “seal of righteousness by faith”, then I’ll eat my hat.

        “As to your assertion that Arminianism is the default position I cannot agree”

        Before there ever was a Paul, there was Jesus and the 12, who did not teach any distinction between works and faith. Sure they rejected the ceremonial law, but didn’t establish the false dichotomy between faith and works that was left for Paul to invent. The default position in Christianity is the position of Christ and the 12 — Paul is an addon, an extra.

      • Mr. Jacobs,

        I appreciate your willingness to engage in discussion, though as you can see I have edited your comment. Let me clearly state that assumptions about someone’s theological positions generally do not lead people to accurate statements.

        Furthermore, this post was not about Paul. It was about the misrepresentation of Arminianism by a Calvinist. Regarding your second point: if what you are stating is that there is too much concentration on Paul because he is a unnecessary “addition” I cannot agree. But if you are trying to argue that Calvinists tend to put too much emphasis on Paul then you might have a case.

        Thanks again for commenting and let’s try to keep assumptions out.

  2. Regarding the suggested contradiction in Paul: Justification is by works. But only two men have stood ‘on probation,’ the first Adam (who failed), and the Second (who prevailed). All descending from Adam “by ordinary generation” have been born cursed and are thus unable to keep the law (therefore “no flesh will be justified” – not, “no flesh could be justified”). Christ, descending not from Adam directly but born of the Holy Spirit, passed his probation, died for his own, and was “raised for our justification.” Those born again “in Christ” receive the benefits of his obedience (by faith) in a similar way that those born “in Adam” suffered the consequences of his disobedience – by way of a covenantal solidarity (partly forensic, partly organic). See Romans 5. So men can be, and indeed must be, justified by law-keeping, but only Christ (and those in Him by faith) actually will be.

    Regarding circumcision, there is such a thing as using the law unlawfully. Paul’s attack on the Judaizers sounds very similar to God’s covenant lawsuit against his people who “worship with their lips but whose hearts are far from him”, those whose circumcised foreskin is not the symbol of a circumcised heart. For Abraham, it was a God-ordained sign and seal of his faith. But what it symbolized was fulfilled in Christ, and to “go backwards” after the circumcision of Christ was to deny Christ.

    Finally, regarding the idea that Paul “invented” the distinction between faith and works, I offer the distinction between the covenant of works given to Adam in the garden, and republished in the Mosaic economy (“do this and live”), as contrasted with the covenant of grace promised after the fall, matured in the Abrahamic, and blossomed in the work of Christ (“this I will do for you”). Also, to the question “what work can we do to be doing the work of God?” Christ says, “The work of God is to believe in his son, whom he sent.” The law-gospel (or works-faith) contrast has been a part of human history since the moment of Adam’s sentencing.

    • Hey Aron,

      Thanks for commenting – that was actually really helpful. Just by way of a question: are you suggesting that Christ’s active obedience was imputed to us, as believers, as our obedience, and through his works we are justified? This is what I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’ve read through Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace. Also, do you think our forensic justification allows our following good works to be counted towards reward (not salvation) in Heaven?

  3. Hi Mike,

    Yes; He died for us (removing the debt), and obeyed for us (putting our account ‘in the black,’ so to speak). I believe this is the teaching of Scripture as a whole, but is nicely summarized in Rom 5. If I understand your question correctly about rewards, I would say, with great profundity, “probably.” I wouldn’t say we ‘merit’ reward, but that God, seeing them in Christ, “accepts and rewards them” – echoing the language of WCF XVI. And because “even when we have obeyed, we are yet unworthy servants”, any reward we receive is all of grace.

    Glad to see you posting again!

  4. One more thing – I’m sure I’ve pointed you to this article in the past, but this is good enough to read again and again: “Two Adams, Two Covenants of Works“, excerpts from Meredith G. Kline’s Kingdom Prologue. Classic Reformed / federal / covenant theology at its finest (the same, albeit at earlier stages of development, as is expressed in the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity). Enjoy!

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