Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 7

posted by xscot mcknight

Myth #6 in Roger Olson’s book, Arminian Theology, is another oft-repeated accusation against Arminians: that Arminian theology is a human-centered theology with an optimistic anthropology. In fact, Olson argues, Arminian theology is every bit as God-intoxicated as Calvinist theology when it comes to the centrality of God’s work in redemption.
The basic accusation, filtered through some inconsistent Arminians, revolves around two themes: (1) that humans are only “damaged goods” rather than totally depraved [what I call comprehensive crackedness] and (2) the cross and gift of the Spirit renders all humans capable — but only as a result of grace, prevenient grace — of responding (or not rejecting) God’s grace.
I hope you can dip into his quotations from Arminius: thorough view of depravity and the absolute need of grace. “No man believes in Christ except him who has been previously disposed and prepared by preventing or preceding grace” (145).
He raises the issue of Wesley’s preference (at times) for “deprivation” rather than “depravity,” but he also has some quotations that make it very clear that Wesley didn’t have a human-centered theology, but a theology rooted in grace.
Human beings, then, in Arminian theology are simultaneously sinful and totally depraved and given, as a result of God’s grace, prevenient grace in order to respond.
Olson contends Arminians believe that “in redemption and creation, human beings are wholly dependent on God’s sustaining and renewing power for anything good, including an exercise of good will toward God and acceptance of God’s offer of salvation” (141).
Olson contends that, because of God’s prevenient grace, Arminians don’t really believe in “free” will but in a “freed” will — that is a will that has been set free by grace (through cross, resurrection, Pentecost) so that it can respond.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(38)
post a comment
Jake H.

posted October 16, 2006 at 2:51 am


Olson contends that, because of God’s prevenient grace, Arminians don’t really believe in “free” will but in a “freed” will — that is a will that has been set free by grace (through cross, resurrection, Pentecost) so that it can respond.
Not to mention the implied action of God upon the heart and mind. See my previous post on Matt 11:20-24 in ‘Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 3.’
(Btw, Scot, you’ve not posted the last two articles on this topic in the Post-Calvinism category, as you did the others.)
Thanks,
Jake



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted October 16, 2006 at 4:12 am


“Freed will” over “free will” is a nice way of putting it. I either miscommunicated or was surprised to find my explanation of prevenient grace eschewed recently by a well known blogger and professor of theology, who seemed to be insisting on the ability for humans to respond to the message of God in Christ, i.e., the gospel, on their own.
But that’s where miscues in understanding can so easily occur on this medium. A grace is needed that is indeed beyond some kind of common grace given in creation. A grace that brings light into the darkness of the soul and mind. But then the one enlightened, as is evident in Scripture, can choose to turn away from that light, back into their darkness, I believe.



report abuse
 

kent

posted October 16, 2006 at 8:10 am


I am curious, where in your opinion do the majority of evangelicals fall – Arminian or Calvinistic?



report abuse
 

Ryan

posted October 16, 2006 at 8:32 am


To tag onto comments 1 and 2 perhaps someone who understands this better could give a good example from scripture, like one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. I think maybe Saul (the king) from the old and Cornelius the centurion (in Acts) might be good examples. I like the idea of “freed will” as that is how my experience in faith has been.
Thanks



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:07 am


Kent,
I think most are neither; in fact, I think most evangelicals are semi-Pelagian. They simply think that the human will is free and neutral — and that the initiative lies within the capacity of the human.



report abuse
 

Beyond Words

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:22 am


Help me understand. Is the “freed will” and the grace that brings light into darkness available to everyone, or only to “the elect?”
I was raised in the old Southern Baptist traditions, a pedestrian Arminianism that seems more like semi-Pelagianism. I’m not tied to much of my Southern Baptist roots anymore, but I think I still carry around some weak semi-Pelagianism boot straps. Please help!



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:24 am


Beyond Words,
I think to all. Makes me Arminian.



report abuse
 

manwe

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:38 am


isn’t freed will really a calvinistic idea – such as Luther’s “bondage of the will”? grace comes in and now the will is freed?



report abuse
 

kent

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:44 am


That is interesting, I so not consider my self semi-Pelagianistic. How did we get to this position? It seems to be contradictory to what the Bible expressly teaches. Personally I am more ariminian, but there has not been the concept that hey down deep we are all right.
More to the point how do we get out of this position?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:20 am


Manwe,
Isn’t this the whole point of Olson’s book? To show what Arminians really do believe rather than to assign to them all non-Calvinistic ideas? In fact, “freed will” is not only to be found among Calvinists.
Kent,
By realizing again the gravity of sin, the necessity of grace, and the new creation powers of the Holy Spirit.



report abuse
 

Robert E. Mason

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:32 am


Scot,
If I remember correctly, in the “Bondage of the Will,” Luther argues that apart from Christ the only free choice we are capable of making is to accept or reject Christ. All other choices are bent toward evil.
Am I remembering aright—it’s been a long time since I dipped into the “Bondage of the Will”? If so, does this put Luther in the semi-Pelagian camp?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:41 am


Robert,
I haven’t looked at Bondage of the Will in so long I don’t want to speak for what I remember. Maybe others?



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted October 16, 2006 at 11:15 am


For me too, it’s not just a question of being enlightened so as to see, but somehow given the ability, by this prevenient grace to choose. Though, of course, one may sin against this grace and choose to remain in their sins. Of course without God’s working by the Spirit and the Word/truth/gospel, humans are unable to exercise saving faith, and thus choose the way of life over the way of death.
I guess I’m back for some time now to seeing it that way. Though I must say, I really don’t care how it works out, or to try to figure it out. I just think it’s necessary for us to see humans as entirely fallen and unable in themselves to respond to God. And to see salvation as possible, only through God’s work of grace, in which the human element of response, then comes in.
Olson is saying the same here, I think I see.
But I think Calvinists would consider Olson’s position semi-Pelagian.



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted October 16, 2006 at 11:25 am


I this explanation mirrors the argument of the book accurately: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Bondage_of_the_Will
it would seem that Luther sees the human as passive until set free by God from Satan’s clutches. Then the human’s will is set free to follow God, which according to this seems more in line with a Calvinist understanding.



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted October 16, 2006 at 11:27 am


Forgive me though. My copy at home sits on the shelf. And the article I cite doesn’t prove that point necessarily.



report abuse
 

Kipp Wilson

posted October 16, 2006 at 12:08 pm


Here is my one and only problem with this model. What is it then that causes some people to accept Christ and others reject him? If both I and an unbeliever are brought to the same point, having been granted the same measure of prevenient grace and been presented with the gospel, why did I accept it and he reject it? Am I smarter? Holier? More humble? Is it because the gospel was presented more clearly or contextually to me than to him (which means the difference between our eternal destinies is the fault of the evangelists)?
I was an (admittedly theologically ignorant) Arminian who switched to (more or less) Calvinism kicking and screaming. Although frankly I think both systems are really trying to resolve a paradox that the Bible leaves unresolved, which makes me reluctant to fully identify with either.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 12:40 pm


Kipp,
Your question is a great one, but it is not one Olson decides to discuss — since, at one level, it is not the sort of thing that distinguishes Arminians from Calvinists at the level of myths. It is a question that derives from God’s intent and purposes in this world.
It is true that prevenient grace theory suggests then that we’d better be better at evangelism and missions. Calvinism, so it seems to me, has a whole lot less urgency in this matter since those who are elect will come to faith somehow.
Packer got at these things long ago in his famous book on Divine Sovereignty, and he laid that issue firmly in the bed of evangelism.
As to why one believes and one doesn’t — we don’t know. We know, however, that we are called to evangelize. And we know our God is merciful.



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 16, 2006 at 1:51 pm


Kipp,
Regarding you questions above, see my poorly written couple of posts in ‘Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 3.’ I don’t want to take up space here by repeating what I’ve said there. However, as a recovering Calvinist myself, I now see the Arminian position a one that’s superior.
I’m simply a pragmatist at heart, so I don’t think that apologies are needed when a system doesn’t explain everything, if, it least, it’s superior to the alternatives. Concerning something like the anatomy of the metaphysics of conversion, the field-test is about as good as it gets.
Thanks,
Jake



report abuse
 

Daniel

posted October 16, 2006 at 3:25 pm


The major problem that Calvinism faces is that it cannot answer the problem of evil. It winds up making God the author of sin; thus, it robs God of His glory.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 16, 2006 at 3:29 pm


Arminianism « Anchor for the Soul

Tim Challies on Roger E. Olson’s Arminian Theology
Challies actually repeats the precise mischaracterization that Scot McKnight is currently discussing on his blog.—–
[...] Check out Scot McKnight’s excellent post on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I love the distinction between “free will” and “freed will.” [...]



report abuse
 

CSR

posted October 16, 2006 at 4:37 pm


This may seem like a basic question, but I am relatively new to these issues…. How does Olson square the idea of prevenient grace with the passages like Romans 9:14-24?
From what I’ve read about Olson’s book here and elsewhere I think I’d find his analysis persuasive, but that passage from Romans (and others that, I am sure, the commentators here know far far better than I) give me pause.
Thanks for putting up with a newbie!



report abuse
 

David Johnson

posted October 16, 2006 at 4:58 pm


CSR,
I haven’t read the book, but I doubt that Olson actually addresses the idea of prevenient grace as a doctrine that needs to be defended. The whole idea of prevenient grace is an absolute essential if you believe in the idea of total depravity and yet hold that there is some human free will. For if you believe that a man cannot choose God, and you believe that God’s call is to every man, then you must believe that God has made it possible for every man to choose him (even if they don’t).
Of course, the doctrine of prevenient grace would not be necessary if the doctrines of original sin/total depravity were eliminated.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 5:02 pm


CSR,
Olson does not discuss the biblical issues but has chosen, for good reasons, to discuss what Calvinists have said about Arminians.



report abuse
 

CSR

posted October 16, 2006 at 5:16 pm


If Olson doesn’t tackle that question, I’d be grateful if someone here would let me know what they think about it. Since leaving the RCC two years ago and landing in a presbyterian church, this issue has been particularly vexing to me. (And my “this issue” I mean, generally speaking, limited atonement/unconditional election vs. prevenient grace, or, put another way the idea of prevenient grace vs. Romans 9:14-24). Would appreciate whatever thoughts youall have.



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 16, 2006 at 5:47 pm


If Olson doesn’t tackle that question, I’d be grateful if someone here would let me know what they think about it.
CSR,
You asked about prevenient grace, which to me has a lot of philosophical underpinnings, regardless of what theology you prescribe to (I hate the philosophical approach.). However, if you’d like to see a sample, here’s one: http://www.geocities.com/bobesay/electionromans1.html
I have a few problems with the perspective offered in the link I provided, but if I get time I’ll outline my own. Among other things, his individualistic interpretation of Sirach, his missed opportunity (if I remember correctly – good chance I don’t) to note that his perspective solves the longstanding, apparently contradicting uses of two appearances of “longsuffering” in Romans provided by the tranditional Calvinist exegesus, an easily understandable presentation of corporate election (see recent JETS articles for a sample), and a synopsis of how much the Calvinist’s have come around to the more Arminian interpretation of Romans by have to resolve inconsistencies within their own paradigmatic presentations.
But “doin’ theology” ain’t for the faint of heart.
Thanks,
Jake



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 16, 2006 at 5:49 pm


Yes, I do know how to spell “exegesis.” Dang.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted October 16, 2006 at 6:21 pm


“I think both systems are really trying to resolve a paradox that the Bible leaves unresolved” Amen Kip. Perhaps it is a mystery and we can’t know the specifics of why, with equal persons, equal presentations, equal grace, why one accepts and one rejects. I was at Swiss L’Abri for awhile, when Schaeffer was still around. He told of a calvinist and arminian who got into discussions there, over a week or so. Not making progress in their discussion, Schaeffer asked if they could agree that it is God’s grace that saves. Yes, they could. And, so, it is what I think of when examples of the paradoxes and mysteries come up. Schaeffer also used the example that God’s sovereignty and human’s significance (that is, we create effect) are like 2 trees that intertwine at the top. We are choice makers, and, God is in control. Makes smoke come out the ears, unless one can accept each and not try to make them make sense the way we’d like them to make sense. That is, they do make sense in their own ways.



report abuse
 

Kipp Wilson

posted October 16, 2006 at 9:53 pm


Aw nuts, you’re kidding me! You mean I posted the same question in section 3?? Okay, apparently I’m NOT smarter than your average unbeliever; I think we can throw that one out as an option.
Thanks, BeckyR. One thing I’m beginning to discover about the Bible is that it speaks against both extremes on most spectrums (spectra?), and thus ends up sounding contradictory. Look at Paul’s treatment of the Christian life in Phil. 3:8-16. I don’t want to treat it too flippantly, but it seems like this passage begs the question, “Is his salvation (and all of its attendant goals) already secured by Christ or hopefully secured by Paul?” As nearly as I can tell, the answer is “both.”



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:14 pm


I don’t want to treat it too flippantly, but it seems like this passage begs the question, “Is his salvation (and all of its attendant goals) already secured by Christ or hopefully secured by Paul?” As nearly as I can tell, the answer is “both.”
Yes, it is secured by Christ for those “in him.” Thus it’s important to be found “in him” all the way to the end. The problem is that Westerners come to the text with a scholastic philosophical bias that wasn’t shared by the ancient writers like Paul. I recommend DeSilva’s commentary on Hebrews for a starting point for recovery. Once patron-client relationships are understood, its obvious that a patron can secure something that would not be share by an ungrateful client.
This is why I object to “throwing in the towel” too soon. Like a complex math problem, it’s difficult for some, but not for others. But the truth is, many things (not everything) could be learned through study and effort.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:34 pm


I haven’t had much to say in the discussion of Arminianism and Calvinism since I’ve looked at both, found them very similar to each other, and both alien to my perspective. At the end of the day, I think you can boil it down to a simple question. Do you believe there are any who die in infancy condemned to hell? If your answer to that question is no, then you don’t really believe in the expression of total depravity upon which both depend even if you use the words.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 16, 2006 at 10:37 pm


Scott M,
Does that mean anyone who answers that question is Arminian? Actually, I don’t think it is simply about total depravity but could be both total depravity and prevenient grace — to erase its guilt.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 17, 2006 at 12:11 am


No, anyone who answers that question ‘no’ doesn’t truly fit the picture of either a Calvinist or an Arminian. Sure, you can hedge your bets and simply proclaim that God provides saving grace (under either view) to all infants (though under the more calvinistic view you would still have the problem of holding God responsible for the death of infants), but there’s no scriptural basis for such a claim. It’s rather that we have a gut reaction that any such action on God’s part would be unjust. However, the doctrine of total depravity requires that we be born in a state of total depravity, dead to God, and incapable of choosing him in any facet of our being. And that leads to many questions, but the one against which most people will instinctively rebel is the one I posed.
Do you believe babies are innocent or depraved? Pretty much everything hinges on how you answer that question.
Yes, I understand the heresy of Pelagius, but it’s not exactly as is typically portrayed today. At the heart of it, he would not accept that God required a standard of behavior that could only be achieved through grace. The whole formal doctrine of first original sin, and later total depravity were designed to counter the arrogance of such a perspective. And if you meet a present-day Pelagius, by all means throw Augustine or Luther at him. However, I don’t know many people like that anywhere outside the church today. The people I know don’t really need any convincing that life is other than it should be. Personally, I don’t need the doctrine of original sin to believe that it is inevitable that we will all choose to sin. And I find the doctrine introduces more problems than it solves for me. So I just ignore it.
As far as total depravity, the true distinctive of both the Calvinistic and Arminian branches of Reformed theology, goes, I generally share C.S. Lewis’ views.



report abuse
 

Keith Schooley

posted October 17, 2006 at 1:43 am


Scot -
Re: #5–I don’t think it’s entirely fair to represent the opinion of “most evangelicals” as semi-Pelagian. That associates the views of people who simply haven’t been exposed to or reflected on the issues involved with heresy. People who haven’t reflected on the issues cannot be said to have a position.
Not only does that seem unfair, but it also exposes Olson’s argument to the criticism recently leveled by Tim Challies: that Olson is simply redefining Arminianism so that he and a few “good Arminians” aren’t in the same boat with the vast majority of “bad Arminians” who really are the semi-Pelagians that Reformed scholars have always said they are.
I think it’s also worth reflecting on the fact that almost no one, without specifically being taught the Calvinistic system, comes on their own to believe in a limited atonement. This seems odd if it’s truly the clear teaching of Scripture that Calvinists insist that it is.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 17, 2006 at 6:42 am


Places I’ve Been « A Place For The God-Hungry

[...] A wonderful post about ministry from Eddie Sharp.  Excellent!  Thanks to Wade Tannehill for making me aware of Eddie’s blog. Check out Mark Parker’s blog which deals with spirituality in ministry. Bob Robinson has posted something very helpful regarding dealing with a very serious illness.  For me, this was a keeper. John Frye’s very good post on the 23rd Psalm.  "David: Brilliant Play-write-Poet of Psalm 23" You might wish to check out Mark Buchanan’s blog.  (Author of  Your God is Too Safe and other books).  A much talked about article from the New York Times, "To Be Married is to Be Outnumbered." Two nice posts from Bobby Valentine on Deuteronomy.  Part one and Part two. Check out columnist John Grogan’s piece on the Amish killings and forgiveness from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Just a sample of Scot McKnight’s very fine series reviewing Roger Olson’s book Arminian Theology.  This has been a very good series.   [...]



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 17, 2006 at 7:19 am


I don’t want to treat it too flippantly, but it seems like this passage begs the question, “Is his salvation (and all of its attendant goals) already secured by Christ or hopefully secured by Paul?” As nearly as I can tell, the answer is “both.”
I don’t want to beat a dead horse (Aw heck, sure I do!!), but my all-time favorite proof text for that particular way of framing the issue is 2 Peter 3:17:
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Of course the position is secure, so don’t come down from it.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 17, 2006 at 7:20 am


Keith,
I think you are fair to say that saying most are semi-Pelagian is a charge against many who have not been taught, and I want to be careful not to overdramatize the point. But, then the issue becomes: Where do they hear these things?
On Challies … I’ve not read his post but hope to. But, for me it is pretty hard to discount the clearly exposed evidence of Olson that shows time and time again what Arminian theologians have taught. This means Olson is not redefining Arminianism; he’s cutting a figure in the ice from the evidence of Arminius himself, showing that misrepresentation is what it really is when folks say things about Arminians without having read them.



report abuse
 

Jake H.

posted October 17, 2006 at 7:43 am


I’ve yet to meet a person who says God isn’t active in the presentation of His word. I would have to say, then, that were these alleged semi-Pelagianists can be found, they usually don’t actually believe that the circumstances we are discussing actually occur, even if they believe that the circumstances are logically possible.
Therefore, I dub them semi-semi-Pelagianists!



report abuse
 

Keith Schooley

posted October 17, 2006 at 1:36 pm


Scot -
Yes, it appears that Challies had a knee-jerk reaction to the first part of the book and hadn’t read (at the time of his posting) the documented evidence that Olson presents.
It seems to me that Calvinists say what they say about Arminianism not based on what evangelical Arminians have actually said or written, but because it’s the logical implication of the Arminian system from their point of view, regardless of what Arminians say. Similar to how Arminians view the Calvinistic system as attributing the origin of evil to God, despite Calvinistic denials, because that’s what the Calvinistic system implies from the Arminian point of view.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.