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Answering the Calvinist’s #1 Argument

SOTERIOLOGY 101

“Why did you believe the gospel, but your friend did not? Are you wiser or smarter or more spiritual or better trained or more humble?”

This is typically one of the first questions a Calvinist will ask a non-Calvinist when attempting to convince them of their doctrine.[1]In fact, when I was a Calvinist, I used this argument more often than any other, and it was quite effective. However, I have come to believe there are at least foursignificant problems with this line of argumentation:

1) Question Begging Fallacy:

As we have discussed HERE, this is a game of question begging because it presumes a deterministic answer is required. It is tantamount to asking, “What determined the response of you and your friend?” As if something or someone other than the responsible agents themselves made the determination. The question presumes determinism is true and that libertarian free…

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/18/2016 at 10:56 AM

A Friendly Response to JD Dalcour on John 3:16

I appreciate the ministry of brother JD Dalcour.  His book on Oneness Pentecostalism is the best book I’ve read on the subject (though I would take exception with some of his Calvinistic views in the book).  Dalcour is a thoughtful, intelligent brother who seeks to make a defense of the faith.

In his recent newsletter he has been writing about “10 Most Misinterpreted Passages.”  In this letter he attacks us Arminians on two verses: John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9.  Pretty standard Calvinist responses to these two verses.

The Arminian approach of both these verses is that John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 affirm unlimited atonement.  This is why Calvinists often write about these two verses.  If the L of TULIP is true, that Jesus died only for the elect, Calvinists must do something with the so called “universal texts” that speak of Jesus dying for all men.

One of the problems is that Calvinists want to affirm that the work of Christ did not fail.  I appreciate this.  Of course, we Arminians do not believe in a failed atonement either.  We hold that while Jesus shed His blood for all sinners, only those who appropriate His blood are truly saved.  That Jesus died does not save anyone (even Calvinists acknowledge this) but rather the only one who is saved by the work of Christ is the one who repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Even if one holds that faith is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29), God doesn’t believe for the person.  By His grace, the person believes and receives eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Dalcour would have us to believe that Romans 5:1 should say that we are justified unto faith and not by faith.  The Scripture is clear that the only ones who are saved are those who believe in the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Even if one holds that Acts 13:48 is teaching unconditional election, those who believed are the only ones who are saved.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.

So what about John 3:16?  Dalcour, as others before him have done following it seems in the footsteps of John Owen, makes much about “the ones believing” in the Greek text.  Dalcour builds his case that the Greek is clear: Jesus saves “all the ones believing in Him.” Further, Dalcour points out that the word “world” (Kosmos in the Greek) must be viewed in its context and doesn’t always mean “entire world” as Arminians have often preached.  Dalcour writes:

Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by the Arminians, kosmos is assumed here to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of universal atonement.  Although kosmos can have various meanings, as seen above, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning.  Further, we know that the “world” in v. 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love.  Also, in first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles – as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19).

Dalcour goes on to state that Jesus was sent by God not save the “world” but “the world of the believing ones.”

Let us take a look at his arguments.

First, Dalcour builds a straw man in that he asserts without any justification that Arminians hold to “autosoterism” or self-salvation.  I have been an Arminian for my entire Christian life.  I have heard many Arminians preach, have listened to Arminians give talks on theology, have read the works of many Arminians and I am yet to hear one Arminian teach this.

Arminius writes:

The object of justification is man, a sinner, acknowledging himself, with sorrow, to be such an one, and a believer, that is, believing in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ as having been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. As a sinner, man needs justification through grace, and, as a believer, he obtains justification through grace.

Faith is the instrumental cause, or act, by which we apprehend Christ proposed to us by God for a propitiation and for righteousness, according to the command and promise of the gospel, in which it is said, “He who believes shall be justified and saved, and he who believeth not shall be damned.”

Christ has not obtained by his merits that we should be justified by the worthiness and merit of faith, and much less that we should be justified by the merit of works: But the merit of Christ is opposed to justification by works; and, in the Scriptures, faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other.

Just these few quotes from the works of Arminius make it clear that Arminius did not hold to a person saving themselves.  All sinners are saved by grace through faith and not by our works of any kind (Romans 4:5-7; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God that He has wrought though His Son (Ephesians 1:7).  This is biblical Arminianism.

Secondly, Dalcour’s reasoning about “world” is not accurate.  He is certainly right that context must determine the usage.  For example, Mark 1:5 says that all Judea and Jerusalem was going to John the Baptist to be baptized by him.  The context is clear that this means “a large number” and not “every single person.”  That said, Dalcour errs in saying that world here in John 3:16 is not a call to all to come and be saved.  He cites John 17:9 as proof.  Notice that is his only text.  He doesn’t turn to Luke 23:34 where Jesus does pray for sinners.  If Jesus refused to pray for sinners, Luke 23:34 would not make sense.

Furthermore, Dalcour points to 1 John 2:15.  If one studies John’s usage of world in just 1 John, one must conclude that 1 John 2:2 is indeed the entire world.  In fact, in 1 John 2:2 John contrasts “the believing ones” with the whole world in the same verse!

Conclusion

This has been a short reply and I would point my readers to the Society of Evangelical Arminians which has many articles on the issue of John 3:16 as it relates to the Greek text. The arguments Dalcour uses are old.  John Owen implied them hundreds of years ago.  Arminians have answered.

In closing, I agree with Dalcour that Jesus only saves those who believe.  I agree 100%.  I am not a complete “universalist” in that I teach that Jesus saves only those who repent and believe the gospel.  I don’t believe that simply because Jesus died on the cross that people are guaranteed eternal life.  I reject this view completely.  I teach that Jesus did die on the cross for all sinners but only those who place their faith in Him are saved.  None, including the Calvinists, are saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ.  I reject the doctrine of eternal justification.

However, I have found that some Calvinists are so bent on teaching Calvinism that they are willing to even exegete Scripture based on their own presupposition.  In this case, Dalcour takes his rejection of unlimited atonement and turns John 3:16 not into a promise for all sinners but instead he makes it applicable only to the elect whom God has chosen by His own arbitrary choice.  I would say take John 3:16 and preach it to sinners, calling them to repent and believe the gospel of God’s grace.

The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

Leighton Flowers Rebuttal to Tony Miano

Tony Miano, whom some of you might remember caused a stir back in the summer of 2015 when he basically said that Arminians are not saved if they hold to Arminianism and that Arminians worship a false god.  I called Miano’s hand on this as he had written in years prior to this while he was on staff with Living Waters (Ray Comfort) that Arminians were brothers and that we should not divide over this issue.  Miano had called Mark Cahill, an evangelist whom many in the open air preaching world know of, to repent for his statements that Calvinists worship a false god and that he would not associate with Calvinists.  I urged Miano to apologize to Cahill since he did just what he accused Cahill of. Instead, Miano went on to bash Arminians and even called for Dr. Michael Brown to come to repentance and true salvation (i.e. become a Calvinist).

After this, Miano took a “brief” hiatus from social media and blogging he said to get his thoughts together on this issue.  After a brief blackout, Miano is back on social media but not as aggressive this time it seems (for now).  Yet Miano did release the following podcast in which he attacks “the helpless god of free will religion.”  I have linked the podcast for you to listen to if you desire.  I listened to and sent it to my friend Leighton Flowers who did a podcast in which he offers a rebuttal to Miano and I believe Flowers does an excellent job.  I shared in Flowers assessment of Miano’s podcast, that it was not deep nor did he develop an excellent theological presentation to rebuke those of us who hold to free will.  Miano just builds his case against his own perceptions of what we believe and not does not interact with us nor our scholars.

My point here is not to stir the pot again toward Miano.  I think most Arminians simply ignore him.  I use to appreciate much of what Miano did.  I was an avid listener to his podcast, I supported him with money,  I prayed for him often, purchased his gospel tracts and though I disagreed with Tony here and there, I would have gladly preached the gospel with him in the open air.  That has all changed.  I still regard him as a brother though I don’t listen to him anymore, I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t support him.  I pray for Tony to repent of seeing us Arminians as enemies of the gospel.  We can disagree and still love each other.  I gladly would stand with any and every Calvinist in preaching the gospel to the lost.  I would gladly stand with my Calvinist friends against the enemies of the gospel of God’s grace.  While we can disagree let it be a debate “in house” where we regard the gospel as separate from our isms.  We can disagree how we are in Christ but let us praise the Lord that we are in Christ!

Tony Miano’s podcast.

Leighton Flower’s rebuttal.

Arminian Honesty About Acts 13:48

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.

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 5) Part One

In this post, I will be looking at chapter 5 of the book Grace For All edited by Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  You may find the first post of these reviews here and the previous review post here.

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.

Old Calvinist Arguments

Almost weekly the same posts from Calvinist bloggers and apologists come out attacking Arminianism for the same things that we have answered them before.  They keep pounding the same arguments because they are either convinced that they are true (even if we deny them and Arminius even addressed them) or they just want to beat up on Arminians (which is sometimes the case).  I will not spend time answering the arguments but I will point you to the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA) which answers most if not all of the Calvinist attacks on biblical Arminianism.

1.  Arminianism is Man-Centered Theology

How many times have I heard this one?  I remember responding to a Calvinist over the issue of justification by faith in which I argued that Arminians hold to justification by faith and not by works (Romans 4:5; Titus 3:5).  He responded that Arminians are “works righteousness.”  When I asked why he believed this about Arminianism, he responded that Arminians believe that we and not God is the one who saves us.  When I pointed out that Arminius never held to this view nor has any Arminian that I know of, he still kept saying that we believe that we “help” God through our faith.  I asked him how are we saved?  He said by faith but he insisted that faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 wrongly used by the way) but when I asked him if he believed or did God make him believe, he said God made him wiling to freely believe.  But I asked again, “So are you saved by faith or not?”  He said yes but God gave him the gift of faith to believe thus his salvation was all of God.  When I responded that we Arminians believe that faith is the gracious gift of God as salvation is all a work of God and that He saves us by His grace, the Calvinist simply said that I still hold to works-salvation because of my Arminianism.

In reality, I am man-centered in my theology: the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:1-6) whom I believe shed His blood to save all who would come to Him in repentance and faith (John 6:37).

2.  Arminianism Denies the Sovereignty of God.

In reality, we Arminians exalt the sovereignty of God because we believe that our God is so sovereign and He is in control to the point that He can allow for mankind to have the gift of free will.  The God of Calvinism, in my estimation, is afraid.  He fears losing control so He has to control everything down even to determining all things and rendering them certain including sin.  The God of the Bible is certainly the creator of all things (Hebrews 1:3) and He certainly is in control of all things (Psalm 115:3) but He allows people to make free decisions.  How God gets His will done while allowing free will is a mystery in Arminianism and one I can live with.  The mystery in Calvinism is tougher.  Their mystery is this: how can God not be accused of sinning when He plans and determines all things and renders all things certain even sin?  The Calvinist has no answer but appeals to mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29).  I would not want to hold to a theology that makes God this monster who determines all things including sin and renders them certain for one reason: His own glory.

A.W. Tozer wrote:

Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

3.  Arminianism Denies the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

In other words, Arminians deny that Jesus saved anyone when He died on the cross.  This of course is not true.  Roger Olson, in his great book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities wrote an entire chapter aimed at this subject.  The atonement, for the Arminian is precious.  Jesus shed His blood for our salvation!  The Arminian doctrine of unlimited atonement, in my estimation, is the strongest point of Arminianism.  The atonement is glorious and big in Arminianism because Jesus didn’t die for just a few people’s sins but He died for all men that whosoever can come and be saved.  This is a wonderful truth that led the early Methodists to world evangelism (along with their postmillennial hopes).

The Calvinist says that when Jesus died on the cross, He died only for the elect (John 10:11).  They teach that Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2) but He died only for the elect out of the world.  At the Society of Evangelical Arminians, one brother wrote a piece on Jesus dying only for Paul based on the Calvinist logic.  You can find that here.

The elect are very small.  It seems that throughout the Church Age, the Calvinist view of God has God saving only a few while damning millions all for His glory.  I know that I am not God but it would be more for His glory to save as many as possible (and even more than the damned) if I were determining all things that come to pass.  Of course, the reason that sinners reject God is not because of predestination in the Calvinist sense but rather because they reject the cross and condemn themselves in their sins.

4.  Arminianism Appeals to Immature Christians.

The argument is that people are born again and often become Arminians only to later have the Lord open their eyes to the “doctrines of grace” and they become true Christians which are Calvinists.  Calvinism, according to Calvinists, is the highest one can ascribe to theologically that truly exalts the Lord God.  While some Calvinists will acknowledge that we Arminians and other non-Calvinists are saved (albeit barely in some views), the Calvinist is the one who is truly reached the highest intellectual level of Christianity.  So men such as John Wesley, Adam Clarke, Richard Watson, Francis Asbury, William Pope, Thomas Oden, Jack Cottrell, these are all lesser men of God than say Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, or James White.

Now I do believe Calvinism is a step up from most of American evangelicalism.  To go from listening to Joel Osteen to John MacArthur is a good thing.  All of us who have truly been saved know what we came out of (1 Timothy 1:15).  I was a lost sinner before Christ saved me by His grace.  I was nothing and then He made me something (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Now as a young Christian, I was ignorant of theology.  I knew I was saved but that was it.  As I grew, I was blessed to attend an Arminian church and was discipled by an Arminian pastor.  He pointed me to John Wesley and eventually Wesley pointed me to Arminius.  I begin to grow in my understanding of theology.  This is true not just for me but other Arminians and Calvinists as well.  After I had been saved for about 10 years, I begin to read the works of Calvin but I never have been a Calvinist.

I believe that Arminianism is a step up from Calvinism.  If you will, there is saved and then a person steps up to being a Calvinist and then the next step is to being an Arminian.  That is my view and one that is very biased indeed.  I believe Arminianism has a healthier view of God and His sovereignty than Calvinists do and I believe that our passion for prayer, for evangelism. for worship is deeper than Calvinists despite their protests otherwise.

5.  Arminianism is All About Free Will.

There is no doubt that compatibilism and libertarian free will are involved in our debate with Calvinists.  Calvinists believe that everything that happens happens because God decrees it and renders it certain.  Therefore, when Joe Blow sins against God by murdering his mother-in-law, Joe does so because God willed it so and rendered it certain by not giving Joe the grace to resist the sin.  Calvinists would insist that Joe committed the sin freely by his own free choice (based upon his nature according to Jonathan Edwards) and Joe is responsible for his sin.  But by responsible the Calvinists means that Joe is punishable for his sin not that Joe could choose to do otherwise.  There is no free will in Calvinism.  For an Arminian analysis of the issues, read this.  For now, let me post what Calvinists believe about free will from Monergism.com:

We should be clear that NEITHER compatibilism nor hard determinism affirms that any man has a free will. Those who believe man has a free will are not compatibilists, but should, rather, be called “inconsistent”. Our choices are our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures, nor seperately from God’s meticulous providence. Furthermore, compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, a choice without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most according to our disposition and inclinations. The former view (libertarianism) is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (the fallen will is never free from the bondage of our corrupt nature, and not free, in any sense, from God’s eternal decree.) The reason I emphasize this is that compatibilists are often misrepresented by hard determinists at this point. They are somehow confused with inconsistent Calvinists. When compatibilists use such phrases as “compatibilistic freedom”, they are, more often than not, using it to mean ‘voluntary’ choice, but are not referring to freedom FROM God’s decree or absolute sovereignty (an impossible supposition).

I have heard Calvinists insist that they we have free will but only the will to sin.  The ability to freely choose with either choice A or B is not found in Calvinism.

Now is this the issue within Arminianism toward Calvinism?  I don’t think so.  Our view on free will is not the heart of our theology.  It is the nature of God.  We believe God desires to have a true relationship with people and so He does not force this relationship.  Our God calls sinners to Himself through the gospel and He freely allows them to respond to His gospel but He does not force people to believe and be saved (despite what Sproul believes about John 6:44 and “drag” people to salvation).  Free will only flows from our view of God.  We believe God is loving and good and He truly wants to save all sinners.  God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32).  God’s call to salvation in Arminianism is genuine.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/14/2015 at 11:39 AM

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