I am thankful for Thanksgiving. I rejoice in the goodness of God as He has blessed me to be able to celebrate this Thanksgiving and acknowledge that everything I have comes from His grace and mercy (James 1:17). I pray that I would pray with thanksgiving as He has commanded (Philippians 4:6). I pray that I would worship Him with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2).
I pray that the Lord would truly be exalted for His blessings this Thanksgiving and happy Thanksgiving to all!
The Assemblies of God is the denomination that I was saved in and I served for over 10 years while in the “ministry” (I place this in brackets because I am still in the ministry as I serve the Lord while driving a truck for a living and seeking to glorify Christ through that). The Assemblies of God (AG hereafter) have a special place in my heart and in my prayers.
Historically, the AG’s have been an Arminian fellowship. As a boy, I was taught early on in Sunday School at our AG church that we were not Calvinists and most of it centered in my mind on the doctrine of eternal security. In fact, after I was saved, for about three years, I honestly thought the entire Arminian-Calvinist debate was over the issue of “once saved, always saved.” This was the doctrine that I believed was at the heart of Calvinism. Of course, I know better now.
The AG’s preached hard against “once saved, always saved” but never taught me much about Arminianism nor about Calvinism. I honestly never heard the terms even after being saved in our AG church. While our pastor preached the Word of God, I remember him mentioning Calvinism only once and it had to do with predestination. Our church focused more on the Pentecostal aspects and upon the end times. While our church preached salvation, the doctrine of salvation as it related to Arminianism or Calvinism was not touched. I also remember one Pentecostal pastor mentioning his Arminianism during a watch night service of all places. That is it.
In my own times as an AG youth pastor and then pastor, I rarely touched the issue myself. By the time I started this blog, I had left the church. My family has attended a few AG churches over the years and I have known many AG pastors but I have yet to hear them speak of Arminianism or Calvinism. I know of one pastor who left the AG’s over the issue as he became a charismatic Reformed Baptist (that I didn’t know existed till he left).
In my own experience, the AG’s were Arminian though they did not teach it per se. My own youth pastor gave me books to read covering AG doctrine when I was first saved and I still have them. Their theology is clearly Arminian in soteriology. The official systematic theology text used by the AG’s (and edited by the late Stanley Horton) rejects Calvinism while trying to maintain an in-between over Arminianism. I am not sure why. The AG’s have long held to Arminian views regarding the work of Christ (unlimited atonement) and have rejected unconditional election as well as perseverance of the saints.
In the latest position paper published by the AG’s, the General Council (the core leaders of the AG’s) seek to reject Reformed theology while seeking not to be labeled Arminian. At least that is how I read it. While they acknowledge their Arminian roots, they don’t seem to take a stand for one against the other.
What I wish the AG’s would do is just come out in favor of Arminianism. This would be no shock to those of us who are familiar with the AG’s nor would it create waves in the Bible colleges. In fact, many would be grateful to know where the AG’s have stood on these issues. Many younger pastors in the AG’s have been influenced by Calvinists such as Piper, MacArthur, and Wayne Grudem (they especially enjoy Grudem for his stand on the charismatic gifts). Meanwhile, Arminian leaders have been slow to preach core Arminian doctrines among the AG’s. In fact, many AG leaders seem to favor methodology over theology. I know of one local AG pastor who is clearly pragmatic in his approach and will copy even Calvinists so long as they are growing (he flew out to Seattle while Driscoll was preaching out there to learn from him). Many younger AG pastors reject many of the core Pentecostal teachings such as speaking in tongues as the initial, physical evidence of Spirit-baptism and many favor grouping with even Calvinists for church growth. To many AG pastors, growth is the issue and not theology. I have personally had AG pastors tell me that they avoid theology because “theology divides.”
The AG’s will see an influx of Calvinist pastors. While the official AG position is only to reject “eternal security,” many Calvinists would agree as they hold to perseverance of the saints and not “once saved, always saved” (though I suspect there is not much difference). The AG’s will see an in house debate over the Arminian-Calvinist issue as we are seeing in the Southern Baptists in the future.
In closing, I would not classify myself as Assemblies of God. Again, I share much love for them and it was in the AG’s that I was saved and my life was transformed by the grace of God. My salvation is in Jesus, of course, and not in a church group. I classify myself as “non” but of course I would hold to the Wesleyan-Arminianism of men such as Vic Reasoner. I use to describe myself as “Reformed Arminian” but moved away from that after studying more and seeing how Wesleyan theology is vastly different than the holiness movement of the late 19th century. That said, I pray that many Arminian denominations (even those like the AG’s who lean that way but do not label themselves as such) would reject Reformed theology and preach and teach the doctrines of love as found in biblical Arminianism.
One final note: This is not meant to be an attack on Reformed brothers and sisters. I regard Calvinists as my brothers and sisters in the faith. We are united in Christ (Ephesians 4:4). In heaven, there will be only disciples of Jesus and not denominations or isms of men.
I was sad this week to read after the Paris attacks from Muslim terrorists that a brother went on Twitter to attack Calvinists over their view of divine determinism. While I agree that divine determinism is not biblical, I don’t believe we should use evil to try to attack Calvinists. People lost their lives in France and we should mourn that. Now is not the time to use the wicked acts of these Muslims to attack our brethren.
Both Arminians and Calvinists mourn over the loss of lives. We both agree that the only hope for Muslims, for the people of France, and the world is the precious truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the answer to the problem of evil. We both preach that Jesus saves sinners (Luke 19:10) and we both agree that none are saved apart from Christ Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). We agree that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to bring people to salvation (Romans 10:14-17). Let us focus on this, on getting the gospel to the lost souls in France and throughout the world (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the heart of God, for the lost to come to faith in His Son (John 3:16).
Let us pray for the world to hear the gospel and be saved (Matthew 9:38; Romans 10:1). Let us pray that people in France will heed the gospel and repent (Luke 13:1-5) as well as the Muslims.
One of the precious doctrines of the faith is the immutability of God. This doctrine teaches us that God does not change. In other words, God does not change like we humans do. He is not “learning” nor is His character based on what happens around Him. God is loving and good no matter what. God is long-suffering toward us. This is all true because of the nature of God and the fact that He does not change (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 12:29). God’s will does not change because His will is based on who He is (Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:10).
The positive of this doctrine is that God is not a man. He is not one day happy with me and the next day He is angry toward me. God doesn’t hear my prayers today but He ignores me tomorrow. Because of the nature of God and what He has done regarding our salvation, the Lord will not cast us away tomorrow because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our adoption as children of God comes through Christ Jesus and His eternal work (Hebrews 9:14). The Lord does not cast us aside because He has said that all who come to Him He would not cast away (John 6:37). The promises of God are sure because of the nature of God and the fact that He is immutable.
That said, I don’t fully grasp God. I am thankful for that. I have often said that cults have their god figured out. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can explain their god. Why? Because their god is made in their image. Their god is a false god. Our God, the true and living God, is a mystery to me in many ways. The Bible does not fully reveal God. The Bible reveals enough about God to save us (John 20:31) but even John records about the Lord Jesus that not everything about Him was written down (John 21:25). Enough of Jesus was written down to save us but the biblical record is not revealing all about Jesus. It never could.
God is beyond our logic and understanding. His ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). There is much about the Lord that I don’t fully understand. How can I? He is absolutely holy but I am sinful. My sinfulness gets in the way of my thinking about God. I tend to view God through my own limitedness. I view God through my sinfulness. The biblical record often confronts my sins, my views of God, and my understanding of Him. Whenever I tend to think I have God figured out, the Lord will open His Word to me and show me more about Himself that counters my flesh.
One area of God I have no true understanding about is prayer. In Exodus 32 we read the account of Moses interceding for Israel after their rebellion against the Lord through the golden cafe (Exodus 32:6). The Lord says that He is going to wipe them out for their sins and He will raise up a new nation through Moses (Exodus 32:9-10). Moses goes to praying in Exodus 32:11 and he prays according to the promise that God has given through His servants (Exodus 32:13). Interestingly Moses appeals to the unchangeable nature of God in that He had promised to bless His people through Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. I also point out that Moses uses Israel in verse 13 rather than Jacob. The Lord Himself had changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Moses uses the name of Israel to remind the Lord that He is faithful to keep His promises as He is a covenant keeping God.
Then we come to Exodus 32:14. The Lord changed His mind. This is the New American Standard. The ESV uses “relents” while the KJV uses “repents.” I find it amazing that the Lord changed His mind. The immutable God changed His mind. Some suppose that God did not really change His mind but instead this is anthropomorphic language to describe God. They suppose that God allows the biblical writers to use human language to describe Him who is not human. How can God change His mind? How can the Lord who knows all things from beginning to end change His mind? Is He not an eternal God who dwells outside of time?
Yet the clear reading of Exodus 32:14 is that God is moved by the prayer of Moses. Can prayer really change God’s mind? The divine determinism view of prayer is that prayer is really God working through means to accomplish His will that He has determined beforehand to accomplish. In other words, prayer is not able to move the heart of God. The divine determinist view is that God has fixed what He will do and He even determines the praying of the saints to accomplish His will. Yet when we read Exodus 32:11-14 and we read the prayer of Moses here I don’t see the divine determinism coming into play.
God has said that He will answer prayer. We are to pray according to His will (1 John 5:14-15) but He has said that He will answer prayer (Jeremiah 29:13; 33:3). Jesus taught us to pray because God knows beforehand what we need (Matthew 6:8) and He hears our prayers and responds. I find nothing in Scripture to suggest that prayer is just a religious ritual. I see in the Bible the promise of God that He hears our prayers and He responds.
The example of Moses here shows that God allows us by His grace to be co-workers with Him in accomplishing His will. No doubt God could do whatever He desires. If God wanted to save everyone He could. If God wanted to damn all He could. If God wanted to save sinners without the preaching of the Word or the prayers of the saints, He could. Yet God has fixed certain conditions that if we meet them, God works through His Church to do His will. For example, the will of God is to save sinners. This is the will of God (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but He will only save those who come to Him in faith (Romans 4:5). The Lord could have sent Jesus to die for all sinners and that one sacrifice could have atoned for all sin and that would end that but God has made faith part of His plan of salvation (John 3:16, 36). We have to have faith in Jesus to be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:9 that he was a co-worker with God for His Church. Paul could not save anyone nor could he build the Church apart from the grace of God. The Lord worked through Paul to save sinners (Acts 16:14-15). Paul preached the gospel and the Lord was faithful to add people to His Church (Acts 2:47; Romans 1:16-17).
In a sense, prayer is our working with God. Intercessory prayer is how God has allowed His children to co-work with Him in this world. The Lord heard the prayers of Moses and He changed His mind. That is mind-blowing in of itself.
In Ezekiel 22:30-31 we read these sad words (NKJV):
30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God.
The Lord has said that He would heed the prayers of the intercessor. That is mind-blowing theology. Yet because none was found, the Lord said He is sending judgment. Not so with Moses in Exodus 32. Moses stood in the gap and he prayed for Israel and the Lord changed His mind.
Only when sin has reached its limit will God not hear the prayers of His saints (Jeremiah 15:1; Ezekiel 14:14, 16). If God has determined the judgment of God because of sin, the prayers of the saints will not change the mind of God.
Prayer is a mystery. God uses the prayers of the saints to do His work. He has called us to prayer (Matthew 9:38). The Church is strongest when she is on her knees. Leonard Ravenhill wrote:
“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”
If God has said that He would hear our prayers and He would answer our prayers, how can we not pray? How can we waste time with this world when God has called us to co-work with Him through prayer? Imagine Exodus 32 if Moses had not prayed. God no doubt uses the prayers of the saints to do His work but we need people who will be like Moses and stand in the gap for the world. The world is dying and going to hell yet the Lord has called His people to pray for sinners (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The prayers of the saints rises before the throne of God like sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8).
My longing is to pray. I want to stand in the gap for sinners. I want to pray for the Lord to do great things in this world for His glory and honor. I want to be an intercessory for the glory of God. I may never be known in this world and I’m okay with that but I want to be known by the Lord. I want to stand up before His holy throne and cry out to Him and know that He hears my prayers and He answers according to His will (Mark 11:22-24). There is power in prayer because there is power in the Lord. This leads my heart to cry out (Luke 18:1).
Oh let me pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!
John 1:12-13 reads:
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This text has often been used by both Arminians and Calvinists as a proof text for our positions. The Arminian sees the receiving in verse 12 whereas the Calvinists sees the being born of God in verse 13. Both are correct of course. As an Arminian, I believe that both verses fit together in God’s perfect plan for salvation. The honor of being adopted as a child of God comes not by the flesh. This is a key point of true Christianity. Christians are not Christians because we belong to Christian parents or come from a Christian home. We are not Christians because we belong to the Christian religion or to a Christian church. We are not Christians because we make moral decisions to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings. We may not even be a Christian simply because we have been baptized as a Christian. Salvation, the glorious work of regeneration by the Spirit of God, happens by the work of God’s grace. The new birth is the greatest miracle in our lives.
Matthew Henry writes about verse 12:
The true Christian’s description and property; and that is, that he receives Christ, and believes on his name; the latter explains the former. Note, First, To be a Christian indeed is to believe on Christ’s name; it is to assent to the gospel discovery, and consent to the gospel proposal, concerning him. His name is the Word of God; the King of kings, the Lord our righteousness; Jesus a Saviour. Now to believe on his name is to acknowledge that he is what these great names bespeak him to be, and to acquiesce in it, that he may be so to us. Secondly, Believing in Christ’s name is receiving him as a gift from God. We must receive his doctrine as true and good; receive his law as just and holy; receive his offers as kind and advantageous; and we must receive the image of his grace, and impressions of his love, as the governing principle of our affections and actions.
The true Christian is the one who receives Christ, who trusts in Christ alone to save them by His grace from their sins. This is not about works. This salvation is not based on what I do to obtain that salvation. This salvation is wrought by God’s grace through the preaching of His gospel through His Word (1 Peter 1:23). The disciple of Jesus humbly accepts the Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and is able to save us (James 1:21).
In verse 13 the Evangelist writes that this salvation comes to us by God. Many Calvinists see in verse 13 the working of God’s sovereignty in salvation. They see this verse as denying free will as John adds that this salvation from verse 12 comes “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
What is John the Beloved teaching us in verse 13? Is he teaching us that free will is not involved in salvation? Is he teaching that regeneration is the divine act of God alone and that God must first regenerate a person in order for them to believe and become a child of God? Many presuppose this to be the teaching.
I see verse 13 as teaching that this salvation, this regeneration is not based on:
- Race (not of blood)
- Flesh (not of the will of flesh)
- Another Disposed to do so on our behalf (nor of the will of man)
- God alone! (but of God)
Let make briefly deal with all four. First, John says that our race (in this case the Jews from verse 11) could not save us. The Jews believed that their race made them children of God by virtue of Abraham (John 8:31-47). Paul dealt with the same issue in Romans 9. The Jews claimed to be the elect of God by virtue of their blood. John is saying that salvation and being adopted as a child of God has nothing to do with blood. Praise God for this truth!
Secondly, corrupt flesh cannot save itself. Because of our sins, we cannot save ourselves. The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). When we sin and rebel against God in our flesh, our flesh cannot save us. We cannot will our flesh to salvation. We cannot will our flesh to do what is just and right. Our righteous deeds in our flesh are but filthy garments before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Corrupt flesh only wants to please itself and never the Lord (Romans 3:10-18). We need the aid of the Spirit of God to be saved. We need the Holy Spirit to convict us and to show us our sins (John 16:8). We need the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of the gospel. The Holy Spirit does all this when the gospel is preached though He does not make us believe. This act of belief is ours that we do by His aid (John 1:12).
Thirdly, one cannot will another to salvation. I desire that my children be saved but I cannot earn them salvation nor can I will them to salvation. I pray for their salvation and I pray for their repentance but I cannot make them believe nor can I will them to heaven. This is an act of God. The saying is true that God has no grandchildren. God only has children (v. 12). Thus while Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Salvation comes for each person who is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this salvation is not because a parent or another willed it so but because God willed that whosoever comes to Him through Christ Jesus will be saved (John 3:14-17). Thus Jews could not will Gentiles nor forbid them. Salvation comes through Christ alone and He grants salvation to whosoever comes to Him (Romans 10:9-13). All can come and be saved but only those who do repent are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).
Lastly, the miracle of regeneration comes through God. God saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). The cross testifies to God’s willingness to save sinners (Romans 3:23-25). Romans 5:8 tells that God demonstrates His own love toward us. God doesn’t just say that He loves us but He has proven His love through the cross. This salvation is the work of God. God sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity (Galatians 4:4-7). Being born again is not the work then of our bloodline nor of our corrupt flesh seeking to earn salvation by our works nor is it willed to us by another disciple but our salvation is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and died for us (Galatians 1:4). Regeneration is the divine grace of God at work in us who believe.
If I had to say one passage of Scripture that is difficult for me as an Arminian to reply to it would be Acts 13:48. The text reads:
ESV: And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
NIV: When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
NASB: When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
KJV: And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Adam Clarke offers this on verse 48:
This text has been most pitifully misunderstood. Many suppose that it simply means that those in that assembly who were fore-ordained; or predestinated by God’s decree, to eternal life, believed under the influence of that decree. Now, we should be careful to examine what a word means, before we attempt to fix its meaning. Whatever tetagmenoi may mean, which is the word we translate ordained, it is neither protetagmenoi nor proorismenoi which the apostle uses, but simply tetagmenoi, which includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind. And if it even did, it would be rather hazardous to say that all those who believed at this time were such as actually persevered unto the end, and were saved unto eternal life. But, leaving all these precarious matters, what does the word tetagmenov mean? The verb tattw or tassw signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned ver. 43, who possessed the reverse of the disposition of those Jews who spake against those things, contradicting and blaspheming, ver. 45. Though the word in this place has been variously translated, yet, of all the meanings ever put on it, none agrees worse with its nature and known signification than that which represents it as intending those who were predestinated to eternal life: this is no meaning of the term, and should never be applied to it. Let us, without prejudice, consider the scope of the place: the Jews contradicted and blasphemed; the religious proselytes heard attentively, and received the word of life: the one party were utterly indisposed, through their own stubbornness, to receive the Gospel; the others, destitute of prejudice and prepossession, were glad to hear that, in the order of God, the Gentiles were included in the covenant of salvation through Christ Jesus; they, therefore, in this good state and order of mind, believed. Those who seek for the plain meaning of the word will find it here: those who wish to make out a sense, not from the Greek word, its use among the best Greek writers, and the obvious sense of the evangelist, but from their own creed, may continue to puzzle themselves and others; kindle their own fire, compass themselves with sparks, and walk in the light of their own fire, and of the sparks which they have kindled; and, in consequence, lie down in sorrow, having bidden adieu to the true meaning of a passage so very simple, taken in its connection, that one must wonder how it ever came to be misunderstood and misapplied.
F.F. Bruce wrote about verses 48-49:
Distasteful as this announcement was to the synagogue leaders, it was joyful news to the Gentiles who heard it, and many of them believed the gospel – all, in fact, who had been enrolled for eternal life in the records of heaven (for this appears to be the sense of the words here used). And not only in the city itself, but throughout the surrounding countryside as well, those who believed the good news carried it to others.
In a footnote on Acts 13:48, Bruce wrote:
There is no good reason for weakening the predestinarian note here, as H. Alford does by rendering “as many as were disposed to eternal life.”
And Bruce goes on to show that the Greek participle used here in the sense of “inscribe” or “enroll” is used in other places both in the Old and New Testament as well as in other Greek and rabbinical writings.
In a commentary on Acts I have here before me written from a classical Pentecostal view (Robert Tourville), the writer comments about verse 48:
By way of contrast Paul had said (v. 46) that the Jews had “judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.” This helps to understand what is meant by “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The word “appointed” (tetagmenoi) is a perfect tense participle of the passive voice, but it is also the middle voice form since there is no middle form as distinguished from the passive form. In light of the context the middle form is the verb tosso, found in the New Testament eight times, of which four occur in Acts. It is translated appointed, set, ordained, addicted, and devoted. In the Septuagint it is used numerous times with varied meanings as, to order, appoint, assign, and arrange. The same voice is used in Acts 28:23, where tosso is used to mean they “had arranged” or “had appointed” or “had set” a day in behalf of themselves. This brings out the middle voice precisely as in this verse (48). The same middle sense is found in Matthew 28:16 for this verb. According to Liddell and Scott the word tosso is a military term meaning “to draw up in order to battle,” to form array, marshal, to place in a certain order or relative position, to agree upon and settle.
From the above we see the word is used as an analogy. The command has gone forth to believe on Jesus as Savior. The Jews refused to believe but the Gentiles rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord by following in the rank with the other soldiers of the Cross. Thus, they “arrange” themselves, order themselves, line up with eyes right in accord with the preaching of the gospel. This fits the middle and passive meaning of the verb and harmonizes with the context.
The view above has been my own and remains. That said, Acts 13:48 is a tough verse. I am not shy in admitting that. In my humble opinion, Acts 13:48 is the toughest verse I know to explain from an Arminian viewpoint. In my estimation, the Calvinist view of Acts 13:48 is easier to hold to.
However, I will say that while Acts 13:48 is hard to explain, I don’t think we should interpret the Bible based just on Acts 13:48. I know that Calvinists say that we should not interpret the entire Bible based on John 3:16. I would agree. We must allow the weight of Scripture determine our view. Too often I find that Calvinists interpret the Bible based on TULIP instead of looking at the context of Scripture. For example, I know many Calvinists hold to limited atonement because of TULIP and so they explain away many unlimited texts such as John 3:16 or Romans 11:32 or 1 Timothy 2:4 because it doesn’t fit into the TULIP system. They base limited atonement on logic (well Jesus died only for the sheep, for the church and because of unconditional election, He certainly must have died only for the elect) instead of Scripture.
Likewise, just because I don’t understand fully Acts 13:48, this doesn’t mean that I take Acts 13:48 and then apply it to the conditional texts of election. As I have written before, the mystery in Calvinism is how God can be good and gracious while He ordains whatsoever comes to pass including sin. The mystery in Arminianism is how God works through free creatures to accomplish His divine will. This mystery in Arminianism does not make God the author of sin and thus I am comfortable with this mystery.
Acts 13:48 has been a verse many Calvinists have looked to and used it to interpret even the whosoever verses. It is a verse you will always see as a proof text for unconditional election.
As an Arminian, I don’t have an easy answer for Acts 13:48. Again, I point to Tourville above as a common argument used by Arminians to answer Acts 13:48 but one in which Bruce above also denied. While I am comfortable admitting that I don’t have an easy answer to Acts 13:48, I am okay with that. It doesn’t mean that I must repent of my Arminianism and become a five pointer. I simply acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers nor is Arminianism a perfect system. We have unanswered questions.
My question is whether Calvinists would do the same? Are they willing to admit that they don’t have a perfect system? I suppose many would not. Sadly, many Calvinists (though not all thank the Lord) hold that their system is the gospel. I don’t. I don’t believe either Arminianism nor Calvinism is the gospel. I believe both are systems by which we seek to make sense of our salvation while acknowledging that God alone saves us by His grace (Jonah 2:9; Revelation 1:5-6). Jesus Christ and not our systems is who saves us (Hebrews 7:25). I am okay with mystery in my system. My system flows from the teachings of Arminius as he best understood Scripture but Arminius was just a man who loved Christ and wanted to glorify Him. It was created by a fallen man just as Calvinism flows from a fallen man. Both systems flow from fallen men who sought to exalt the Lord Jesus by their teachings. They were both imperfect men who needed Christ for their salvation.
So here I sit with Acts 13:48. I am okay in saying that this verse is tough. I am okay with listening to Calvinists explain the text as it fits into their system. I am also okay with Arminians seeking to explain why this verse is not a divine determinism passage. As an Arminian, I admit my bias here but admit that I don’t know. Indeed, God is God and He is bigger than I will ever understand nor can I grasp Him (Romans 11:33-36). I am okay with and will continue to worship Him no matter what mysteries I cannot explain.
This chapter was written by Dr. Jack Cottrell. I have always appreciated Dr. Cottrell. His book on baptism is a must read as well as his commentary on Romans (one of the best Arminian commentaries on Romans in my estimation along with Dr. Vic Reasoner’s). His book on the sovereignty of God is the best I have ever read on the subject from an Arminian view.
In this chapter Dr. Cottrell dives into the issue of conditional election. If you are a Calvinist reading Grace For All, this will be the chapter that really gets you focused on the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. I know that many Calvinists love the doctrine of unconditional election and view it as the heart of the gospel. They believe that the doctrine protects not just the sovereignty of God but also destroys the pride of men by teaching that God alone saves for His own glory and purposes. God, within the Calvinist system, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn based on His own choice and nothing in mankind (in other words, God doesn’t choose those who choose Him or foresee their faith but instead He chooses based on His own sovereign choice for His own glory). Calvinists teach that God is just in choosing His elect from among the lump of sinful humanity because He could justly send us all to hell but instead He saves some for His glory and purposes that are known only to Himself (Romans 9:22-23).
Cottrell differs with such a view but he does believe the Bible teaches election. This is important since some Arminians have tried to argue against Calvinism by saying that the Bible doesn’t even teach election. Of course election is taught but the question becomes what does the Bible teach about election? Does the Bible teach the Calvinist view of unconditional election to salvation or does the Bible teach something else? Does the Bible teach that God elects the plan but not the man? Does the Bible teach that God elects classes or does He elect individuals and how does He elect?
First, let us establish the biblical truth of election. Cottrell shows us that the Bible teaches several elections. We must not assume that since the Bible teaches election that it is always unto salvation or unto service. In some cases it is both and in some cases it is just to service. Cottrell points out that God has elected and He has elected:
- Jesus (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18; Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6).
- Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Acts 13:17; Romans 9:4-5) which led to Him choosing men to build up the line of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nehemiah 9:7; Romans 9:7, 13), Moses (Psalm 106:23) and David (Psalm 78:70) to carry out His purpose for Israel. He even used Gentiles such as Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) or Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1).
- The Church (1 Peter 2:9; 2 John 1, 13). Just as God used individuals in His building of Israel, so He used the Apostles whom Jesus chose to build His Church (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16) along with Paul the Apostle (Galatians 1:15-16) for His purposes. Both Israel and the Church were corporate elections with certain individuals chosen for special roles in connection with each.
Up to this point, the Calvinist probably would not take exception with what Cottrell has written. It is his next discussion, election of individuals unto salvation that begins to show the key differences between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view.
Cottrell first shows that while a person could be chosen by God to service in Israel, this did not mean that the person was saved. Pharaoh is a case in point. Yet this is not the case with God’s election in the Church. To be in the Church and chosen by God to serve the Church, one had to be saved. God chose Paul the Apostle to serve the Church but He also called Him to service through His salvation. In Romans 11:7 Paul shows us that one could still be among Israel and not be in the Church. Merely to identify with the Jews was not enough to be saved. One had to repent to be in the Church (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10).
Cottrell shows the Calvinist understanding of God’s election of people to His Church. This election is unconditional and based on God’s divine choosing that is known only to Himself. God has reasons why He chooses one person over the other but He has not made that known to men. Calvinists often appeal to mystery when it comes to unconditional election and Deuteronomy 29:29. God does not chose people based on any merit of their own nor is it based on foreseen faith or anything else mankind does. God simply elects whom He elects and saves whom He saves by His own sovereign choice. This choice is based on love but not because God sees something in the elect but because God, by nature, is loving and good. Again, God could will to send all of us to hell and that would be just (Romans 5:12) but instead He chooses to save people out of sinful humanity for His glory.
Cottrell contrasts this view (unconditional election of individuals unto salvation) with a view held largely by many Arminians of class or corporate election. This was the view of men such as Dr. H. Orton Wiley who held to corporate election. Robert Shank holds to this view in his book Elect in the Son. Dr. Cottrell points out the flaws of such a view by saying that the Bible speaks of people being chosen to salvation and not merely a plan. For example, Cottrell points to Romans 8:29-30 as speaking of persons and not a plan. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 is speaking of people and not a plan. Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 speaks of people and not a plan. Romans 16:13 says that Rufus has been elected. 1 Peter 1:1-2 speaks of elected Christians. Revelation 17:8 speaks of people who have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. These are all persons and not merely a plan.
The key to understanding election, according to Cottrell, is that election is conditional and particular. Those who meet the conditions are saved and thus become part of the elect of God. This salvation is not unconditional (as Calvinists teach) but is conditional and particular. God has indeed chosen the Lord Jesus to save lost humanity and Cottrell believes (as all Arminians do) that His atonement was unlimited but is applied only to those who meet the conditions of salvation. God is sovereign and just to make conditions part of His saving. Does this mean then that mankind saves themselves? Of course not! The humble sinner who repents is not saving themselves but is looking to Christ alone to save them by His grace. Was the lost sinner in Acts 16:30 trying to earn his salvation when he asked what he must do to be saved? Paul didn’t reply, “Nothing. Salvation is unconditionally based on God’s sovereignty and choice.” No. He replied that he had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31). Once the sinner met the condition, he was baptized (Acts 16:33-34) just as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20) and Peter preached (Acts 2:37-38).
In the next post on this chapter, we will dive into Dr. Cottrell’s understanding of how election can be individual while maintaining that it is conditional. Cottrell rejects corporate election in favor of God’s divine foreknowledge (which is a strong Arminian view). Others disagree of course such as many Southern Baptists who hold to corporate election.