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Why Do Arminians Exist?

I was listening to a podcast and the brother quoted a Calvinist as saying that the most difficult question he has about Calvinism is why do Arminians exist?  If Calvinism is true, if it is true that God must open our eyes to the truths of Calvinism and that the truths of Calvinism are something that comes by divine revelation and by the sovereign decree of God, why does God allow Arminians to exist?  Why are there any non-Calvinists?

The answer for Calvinists is that God, for His glory, allows Arminians to exist and to preach false doctrines.  This would also be true of cults, heretics, and all non-Calvinists.  The only way to understand this is to appeal to mystery or to Deuteronomy 29:29.

The answer for Arminians and non-Calvinists is to point to the fallen world that we live in and to free will.  God allows people to read the Bible and to use their minds to interpret His Word.  The gospel is clear.  Even Calvinists would acknowledge that many non-Calvinists are saved albeit by inconsistent theology.  I have heard Dr. James White refer to this view many times.  I believe that Calvinism exists because God has given the world a certain amount of freedom.

In the end, I would pray that non-Calvinists and Calvinists would love each other.  This is the command of Jesus (John 13:34-35).

Rhema, Logos, and “Words from the Lord”

From time to time I feel it is important to address the use of the Greek terms “Logos” and “Rhema” which are often translated in our English Bibles as “Word.”  In many charismatic circles, the “logos” is used for the Bible but the “rhema” is used for a “personal word from the Lord” or sometimes its where the Holy Spirit makes the Bible “a personal word.”  Often I have found this doctrine is taught by those in the Word-Faith movement but that is not always the case and many godly charismatics have fallen prey to the teaching.

The teaching often goes like this:  The Bible is important and it is the Word of God (logos).  But God wants to speak to us personally and give us a “rhema” word where He reveals His heart to us.  Sometimes this “rhema” word will come while reading the Bible (logos) but sometimes God will send His “rhema” word to our spirit.  The “rhema” word is a “now word from heaven.”

What happens is that this doctrine undermines the authority of Scripture.  It also undermines the sufficiency of Scripture.  But it also misuses the Greek words.  For example, the word “logos” is most notably used in John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word of God.  Oneness Pentecostals jump on the term “logos” as meaning “the thought of God” so that they can deny the eternality of the Son.  Oneness Pentecostals teach that only God the Father (whom they name Jesus) is eternal but Jesus the Son is only eternal in the sense that He was in the mind of God the Father.  The context does not allow for this (John 1:1, 14, 18).  The word “logos” certainly is used here for Jesus but the word “logos” can also just mean “a word” such as in Matthew 8:8, 16; Luke 7:7.  “Logos” can mean a saying or discourses or conversation such as in Matthew 12:37; 15:12; 19:22; 22:15; 26:1; John 4:39; Acts 5:24.  “Logos” can mean a report or rumor (Matthew 28:15; Luke 5:15; 7:17).  It can mean a common saying or proverb (John 4:37).  “Logos” can also mean the Word of God whether the law or the gospel (Matthew 13:19-23; Mark 2:2; 7:13; 16:20; Acts 8:4; 2 Timothy 4:2).  It can mean “the ability to speak, utterance” as in Ephesians 6:19.

The word “rhema” is used in many ways interchangeably with “logos.”  For example, Jesus (who is the logos of God in John 1:1) says in John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words (rhema) of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” And again Jesus says in John 8:43, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word (logos)” and then our Lord says in John 8:47, “He who is of God hears the words (rhema) of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

Notice in the above texts that the living Word of God, the Lord Jesus, uses the words interchangeably.  In context, rhema is not a subjective, personal word from God but is the Lord Jesus speaking to us.  The Bible is the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) and reveals the words of God to us.

In 1 Peter 1:23-25 we read (NASB):

23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word (logos) of God. 24 For,

“All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,

25 But the word (rhema) of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you.

If “logos” is the written Word and “rhema” is the personal word from God, why does the Holy Spirit use them both here referring to the same thing?  Again, it is because the New Testament writers use the Greek terms interchangeable at times.  We must examine the context.

What is clear from 1 Peter 1:23-25 is that Peter has the Scriptures in mind.  He is not pointing us to a subjective personal word.  He is pointing us to the sufficient, inerrant, infallible Word of God and he quotes from Isaiah 40:6.

In conclusion, the teaching that the “logos” is the written Word and “rhema” is the subjective personal word is not found in the Bible.  If you want to hear from God, open your Bible and read it.  The Bible is all you need to hear from God.  The Bible is breathed out from God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and is useful for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (ESV).  This “word” is what we are to preach (2 Timothy 4:2).  We need no other.  2 Peter 1:16-21 is clear that we have the sure foundation if we heed the Word of God.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

In order for people to accept “words from God” apart from Scripture, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is attacked.  People are taught that the Bible is a “dead book” but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6 misused).  Other “holy” books such as the Quran or the Book of Mormon will attack the Bible itself and mock it.  In the end, if you want to hear from God read the Bible for the Bible is the Word of God.  The Bible is sufficient.  Open it up, read it, and you are hearing from God.

We Are All Fallible

The Bible is clear that there are none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).  We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our minds and hearts are warped with sin when we come to Christ and the work of God in sanctifying us is to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29-30).  Yet even after we come to Christ, we bring years of sin, years of filling our minds with wordiness and compromise.  We also bring to the Lord all our culture, our thoughts, our upbringing, our traditions.  All of this must be laid before the Lord and we take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25; 14:25-35).

Of course, not all of that is sinful.  Our culture may or may not be sinful.  Our traditions may or may not be sinful.  We must take all of them and lay them before the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  The Word of God is the only infallible and inerrant guide in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We submit to the Word of God (John 8:31-32).

Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t bring our fallible presuppositions to the Bible.  We all do.  I appreciate those who come humbly to the Bible longing for the Holy Spirit to teach us as little children (Matthew 18:2-4).  I acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about the Bible and there are parts I have yet to grasp.  I suppose I never will.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t study the Bible or don’t read difficult passages but I don’t build doctrines on passages that are not clear.  Nor should you.

Furthermore, we can read a passage and bring different presuppositions to the text.  Take the controversy of Romans 9.  When Arminius begin to preach through the book of Romans, it was at Romans 7 that Arminius first differed with the Reformed pastors of his day.  Arminius argued that Romans 7 was not a Christian.  This was (and remains) not the view of the Calvinists.  Arminius, who at the time was himself likely a Calvinist or at least was trained by Calvinists, was willing to disagree with the theologians of his day over the sake of truth.  I happen to agree with much of what he wrote about Romans 7.  That said, I know that neither myself nor Arminius are infallible.  Arminius brought his presuppositions to the text and so did the Calvinists of his day.

Another text that is hotly debated is Romans 9.  We Arminians read Romans 9 and we see the concept of corporate election all though it.  We see God showing mercy to whom He desires to show mercy and hardening whom He wants to harden (Romans 9:18) but we don’t see this in the sense of individual unconditional election of people to salvation.  Calvinists do.  And why?  Can we both be right?  Could we both be wrong?  We both read Romans 9 and we both seek to be faithful to the text but we read Romans 9 totally different ways.

We read Romans 7 or Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 or John 6 in different ways because we are fallible.  Muslims point to the divisions in the Church as proof that Allah needed to send the final prophet to unite all people.  Of course, Islam is not united.  ISIS is proof of that.  Atheists point to John 17:20-23 as a text that shows God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since the Church is not one.  Other cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses harp on the same thing.  Where is the unity?  Where is the one true Church?  Who is correct in their doctrine?  Who is the one who is preaching the true gospel?

All this does is prove that men are sinful.  That is all.  We are fallible.  We are fallen creatures made in the image of God but sinful nonetheless.  Our thoughts are not infallible.  Only the Bible is infallible.

The answer I believe is humility.  I confess that I don’t know all things.  I confess I could be wrong about Romans 9.  That said, there are clear things taught in Scripture that I believe are essential and are vital to our salvation.  Seeing election unto salvation in Romans 9 is not one of them.  Seeing all the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 as operative today or not is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the book of Revelation as futurist is not essential to salvation.  The deity of Christ, His miracles, His teachings, His saving work on the cross, etc. are essential.  Faith is essential (Hebrews 11:6).  Repentance is essential (Acts 2:38).

My point here is not to be some postmodern in regards to Scripture.  I believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible truth of God given to us to reveal His salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).  I am not claiming that humility is greatest virtue and we should not be dogmatic over theology.  I believe theology is vital to our salvation (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).  I believe that without sound exegesis, you could be preaching or hearing about the wrong Jesus (Matthew 24:23-25).

But I am arguing to humility toward our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with us over non-essentials.  I am calling for love (John 13:34-35) and charity.  2 Timothy 2:24-26 is clear (NIV):

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

The Lord’s slave should reflect their Lord who is humble (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:5).  Our Lord Jesus gave us the perfect example for us to follow in His steps (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21).  Jesus Himself was not quarrelsome even with the Pharisees.  Yes He rebuked them in Matthew 23 but He also warned them, loved them, and ultimately (here is my Arminianism coming out) died for them (Luke 23:34; John 11:49-52).  Jesus was kind to all and He taught all who would hear Him.  He handled His opponents with much grace (Matthew 22:23-46).  Jesus always answered His opponents with Scripture.  He didn’t make it a personal issue.  Jesus wanted them to repent and come to the truth.  Many of them did repent after His death and resurrection including a Jew named Saul of Tarsus.

While we are often willing to grant grace toward sinners, we are not willing to grant it toward our fellow disciples.  This should not be.  We should be humble and willing to love even that brother who disagrees with our end times view or our mode of baptism.  We should be willing to preach the gospel with our Calvinists friends who disagree with us over many issues but who preach the same saving Jesus as we preach in Arminianism.  Let us unite over the essentials, defend the gospel at all costs (1 Peter 3:15-16) but love each other over non-essentials and personal preferences (Romans 14:1-4).

And those are the thoughts of a slave of Christ.  May Jesus be glorified (John 3:30).

Regarding Our Presuppositions in Bible Reading

There is no doubt that we all bring our culture, our experiences, our presuppositions to the biblical text.  The goal of our Bible study should be to examine the text allowing for proper biblical hermeneutics to guide us but I confess that we all have our presuppositions when it comes to Bible reading and study.

This is why you can find an Arminian reading Romans 9 and he sees something there that a Calvinist does not see and vise versa.  The Calvinist takes Romans 9 and interprets it based on their presupposition which is Calvinism.  The Arminian reads Romans 9 with his Arminian presupposition and thus you have two people disagreeing over Romans 9 while both reading it and interpreting it.

The argument then often goes that they both can’t be right.  Some say they might both be wrong.  Before we label them, let me state that they both are right on many issues.  For example, an Arminian would agree with a Calvinist over the gospel, over the person and work of the Lord Jesus,  over the doctrine of the Trinity, over justification by faith.  Both clearly would agree (or should) that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  Both agree in the existence and nature of God, that He is sovereign (though disagreeing over exactly what that means in terms of His sovereignty versus divine determinism).  Yet both acknowledge that they disagree over the issue of Calvinism.  Therefore, while both could be wrong on Romans 9, both are not wrong on many issues.  This is why this debate among Arminians and Calvinists is an “in-house” debate.  I know some Calvinists (and perhaps Arminians though I know of none) believe that Arminians are lost, most regard us as brothers and sisters.  We are united in Christ (Galatians 3:27-28).  We are both baptized into His Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

So then back to our issue.  How can a person read John 6, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, etc. and not be a Calvinist?  Surely the Calvinist strength is that they deal with the text (this is the argument of some)?  In some cases, non-Calvinists point out the context is unique.  For instance, John 6 is Jesus speaking to the Jews.  A partial hardening was taking place within Israel (Romans 11:7-10).  Jesus was intentionally provoking the Jews to bring about this hardening for the purpose of redemption (John 1:11-13).  Some others point out in Ephesians 1 that Paul often changes from we (Jews) to them (Gentiles) and thus Ephesians 1 is focused on God’s first choosing of the Jews and then the Gentiles were included when they believed the gospel (Ephesians 1:13).

Is the Arminian then right and the Calvinist wrong?  Depends on your point of view.  The Calvinist reads John 6, Romans 9, and the entire Bible with TULIP in mind.  I have often heard Calvinists say that they see Calvinism all through the Bible.  Books have even been written supporting this view.  Others say that before they became a Calvinist, they struggled with Romans 9 but once they became a Calvinist, Romans 9 became precious to them.

On the other side, I have read former Calvinists say they once they rejected Calvinism, they begin to see the goodness of God and His love for the world all through the Bible.  They also begin to see free will despite rejecting it beforehand.

The point here is that we all read the Bible with our “keys” in our minds.  We have a key by which we judge Scripture.  I confess that we should read the Bible and seek to exegete it based on sound principles of biblical interpretation but we often read the Bible with our presuppositions in mind.  Is it possible to lay aside those presuppositions to truly read the Bible?  I think it is and I think we often do it but we fail to apply it to our lives nor to our theology.

What we need in this case is grace.  God does not save us because of our perfect theological construct.  God saves us by His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is not a debatable doctrine.  To reject Jesus is to reject God’s salvation (John 14:6).  Others want to argue how we get into Christ.  They argue that we have to be baptized in their church or in their mode to be saved.  I believe the Bible is clear on this point:  salvation is in Christ Jesus and in Him alone (Titus 3:5-7).  Our works cannot save us (John 6:29) because our works are often tainted by our sins (Isaiah 64:6).  Our moral goodness cannot save us.  Our church membership cannot save us.  Keeping the Law of Moses cannot save us (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  Being a Jew cannot save us (Romans 2:1-7).  Being a kind person cannot save us.  Jesus alone saves us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  We have no mediator before a holy God besides Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Jesus unites His people (John 13:34-35) under the banner of His love.  I confess our presuppositions but I confess that Jesus alone is Lord (Romans 10:9-10).  When we stand before Him when we die (Hebrews 9:27-28), we will be judged through Jesus.  Our salvation, if we truly repented of our sins, will be done but the Lord will judge us based on our works done in Christ (Ephesians 2:10; Revelation 2:19).  The Lord does know our works yet we are not saved by our works but will be judged for our works (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).  The Lord remembers our deeds (Hebrews 6:10).  What I don’t believe He will judge us for will be whether we had perfect understanding of theology.  While sound doctrine is vital (Titus 2:1) and sound doctrine can save us (1 Timothy 4:16), none of us have perfect theological understanding.

In conclusion, let me state that this is not an excuse for bad theology.  The goal of the faithful Bible student and teacher is the same: to be made in the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Titus 1:15-16 is a good start for those who love Jesus:

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

I also read Titus 2:11-14 and I think of what I am writing here:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

My exhortation is simple: Christ alone saves, Christ alone is the One that we adorn and love, and He works in His people for good works which He alone will judge when we stand before Him.  Let us then have grace and mercy toward those whom we disagree recognizing that we read the Bible with our presuppositions in mind but also confessing that Jesus Christ alone saves and not another person, movement, or thing.

Read Bible Commentaries

I use to believe that reading a Bible commentary was something you only did for reference work only.  If you were studying a passage for teaching, it was vital to do sound exegesis but using a good Bible commentary was necessary as well.  These commentaries could vary from book to book in the Bible.

Now, however, I enjoy reading from a Bible commentary just for enjoyment in reading.  There is much to learn from them.  Granted, some of them can be more technical than others but a good commentary will use both sound doctrine, exegesis, and will offer encouragement and exhortation from the text.  For instance, I have been reading Dr. John MacArthur’s commentary on the book of Galatians.  It has been good reading.  His commentary is a strong presentation of the gospel of Christ and he works through the text word for word.  It is very good reading.

I also enjoy Dr. Vic Reasoner’s commentaries on Romans and Revelation.  I hear that he is also working on a commentary on Ephesians.  Dr. Reasoner writes from an Arminian perspective but what I appreciate is that Dr. Reasoner is not focused on proving Arminianism nor attacking Calvinism.  His focus is the gospel of Christ much like Dr. MacArthur.  Certainly his Arminianism does come out in texts where it is needful such as in debated texts in Romans.  His commentary on Revelation is one of the first I have ever read from that comes from a partial preterist viewpoint.

My point is that commentaries can be valuable tools for Bible study.  A good study Bible such as the ESV Study Bible or the Fire Bible can offer helpful study notes and commentary but they are no where as in-depth as a good Bible commentary.  We need to study the Word of God as deep as we can (2 Timothy 2:15).  The Word is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) and it is able to defeat the lies of the enemy and this sinful world.  How important it is then to study and mediate upon God’s Word (John 17:17).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/28/2013 at 10:00 AM

Arminian Commentaries on Romans

Romans is by far one of the most popular books in the New Testament for commentaries along with the book of Revelation.  Romans is called the magnum opus of Paul the Apostle.  It is the closest thing we have to a systematic theology text from Paul.  Romans, in just 11 chapters, builds a case for Christianity as a fulfillment of God’s promises to His people Israel and establishes what this new life brings in Christ.  No wonder it would be a popular book then to write a commentary.

There are many good Calvinist commentaries on the book of Romans so I don’t want to take away from my brethren of the work that they have done in seeking to write biblical commentaries on Romans.  That said, I want to post some Arminian commentaries on the book of Romans.  When it comes to Arminian commentaries, Arminians historically have written much on Romans and Hebrews.  One writer at Amazon.com has put together a list of Arminian commentaries on Romans.  You can find the link here.

A couple of comments about the list.  First, my personal favorite Arminian commentary on the book of Romans is by Vic Reasoner.  You can find his introduction about his book here.  The book is a complete analysis of Romans.  Dr. Reasoner deals with the texts and while he does interact with Calvinism here and there as he needs to, his point is not to build a case for Arminians but to simply teach the Scriptures.  I rejoice in that!  How important it is that biblical truth go forth and not just Arminianism or Calvinism.  May Jesus always be exalted above all others!

One title I do not have but plan to get is by Dr. Jack Cottrell.  His commentary on Romans use to be two-volumes but now is one volume from College Press.  Cottrell is an excellent writer who writes from an Arminian but Restoration perspective.  This would be played out especially in passages such as Romans 5:12-18 or 6:1-4.  I appreciate Dr. Cottrell’s emphasis, like Reasoner’s, on the Bible being our main text and focus instead of Arminianism or other groups.

One final point is that it is interesting to read Arminian commentaries on Romans 7:14-25.  Some Arminians argue along with Arminius that Romans 7 pictures a lost man.  Others argue that Romans 7 is a struggling man.  Robert Picirilli would represent this view whereas his friend F. Leroy Forlines would represent the view of Arminius.  Interesting to say the least.  I hold to the view of Arminius regarding Romans 7, that the person is lost and does not describe the normal behavior of a believer.  I have heard so many abuses from Romans 7:14-25 to justify living in sin and living below the victory that God has called us to in Christ Jesus that He gives us in Romans 8.

Sorry for the ramble.  Enjoy the commentaries!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2012 at 10:04 PM

Finding The Center of Biblical Tension

Dr. Robertson McQuilkin, former President of Columbia International University (my alma mater by the way), for many years taught hermeneutics to the undergrads at Columbia Bible College.  Dr. McQuilkin was noted as stressing over and over again to his hermeneutic students to seek to find the center of biblical tension.  He noted that much of the battles over biblical interpretation comes when people fail to find the center.  While its true that its not always easy to find the center of biblical tension, we should seek to do so as often as possible.  He would stress that on any issue whether it was over the gifts of the Spirit to the issues involving the Arminian/Calvinist debate. 

How we need more godly men like Dr. McQuilkin who would promote such theology.  Far too often we tend to go out of balance when it comes to theological issues.  We fail to find the center of biblical tension.  I remember years ago having a Bible study with a young man who was so convinced in the necessity of water baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) that that became his focus.  He would argue till he was blue in the face that unless a person was baptized by immersion in his church, they were lost.  I tried to reason with him to find the center of biblical tension pointing out that while I agreed with him in the importance of baptism, its far more important for us to stress that Jesus Christ is the Savior than to stress obeying Him in baptism.  If we point people to Jesus, I argued, then they will want to be baptized because Jesus commanded it (Matthew 28:19-20).  Yet all he could see was baptism, baptism, and more baptisms.  He was not finding the center of biblical tension. 

Hyper-Calvinists can do this as well or even semi-Pelagians.  The hyper-Calvinist sees nothing but the sovereignty of God in Scripture without seeing personal responsibility to the gospel.  The semi-Pelagian sees nothing but the freedom of the will with disregard for the depravity of humanity and that salvation is a work of God’s Spirit and not of works of the flesh whatsoever.  Both the hyper-Calvinist and the semi-Pelagian fails to find the center of biblical tension.

Those who reject the Trinity often do so because they fail to find the center of biblical tension.  On the one hand we have those who are “Jesus Only” and they see no one but Jesus in the Godhead (Colossians 2:9 KJV).  On the other hand we have people who see three Gods in the Scripture (and sometimes more than that).  They both fail to find the center of biblical tension.

I could go on and on but you get my point.  In terms of application we often fail to find the center of biblical tension.  I have seen people who are all about worship (by that I mean singing songs to the Lord) and prayer yet they have little time to study the Bible.  On the other hand I have known people who were full of knowledge from the Word but no passion to worship Jesus nor seek Him in prayer.  We need both.  We need to study the Word of God (Matthew 4:4; 1 Peter 2:1-3) and we need to pray and seek the face of Christ (1 John 5:14-15). 

So my point is simple: seek to find the center of biblical tension on all issues.  I highly recommend two of Dr. McQuilkin’s books to help.  The first is the book that we used from his hermeneutics classes.  The second is on Christian ethics.  Both will help you go deeper in your Bible study and will help you to seek to find the center of biblical tension on all issues. 

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/11/2010 at 5:36 AM

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