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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.

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John 1:12-13

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:

  1.  Race (not of blood)
  2. Flesh (not of the will of flesh)
  3. Another Disposed to do so on our behalf (nor of the will of man)
  4. 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.

The Mysterious Tensions in Theology

We live in a wicked world.  It seems we look around us and see wickedness each and every day.  Some look at wickedness and they simply ignore it and hope it will go away.  For the disciple, we pray Matthew 6:10, for the kingdom of God to come and the gospel can remove the wickedness that we see.  This nation, the United States, as with most of the “Christian” West, needs revival.  We need the gospel to break the chains of sin and to bring true salvation to the nations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Only the gospel can usher in the kingdom of Christ.

But my purpose here is not to write about the kingdom of God.  Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that the kingdom of Christ is what we long for.  Whether you identify with a certain end-times view it not the issue here.  We want the kingdom to come.  We want the Lord Jesus to be exalted and for His gospel to be preached so that God may be glorified through it all.  We stand in the face of evil and declare that there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  We know that our God is working to bring about this truth.  The gospel is going forth even as I type this.

What then are we to do with evil?  It is the tension that has caused much friction.  Liberals think the answer for evil is education, less poverty, more jobs, equal money.  Atheists point to evil as “proof” that God does not exist (yet there would be no concept of evil with a holy and good God as the standard).  Agnostics wonder if there is a God then why doesn’t He end all evil with just a wave of His all-powerful hand.  Even among us true Christians there is tension.  Calvinists believe that all that comes to pass happens because of the sovereign will of God and His decree.  A murder is the will of God.  A rape is the will of God.  An abortion is the will of God.  Anything and everything happens because God wills it so.

The Arminian cannot escape this tension either.  We too have our mysteries.  Calvinists wrestle with how God avoids being guilty of sin while He ordains whatsoever comes to pass.  In Calvinism, compatibilism (or “soft determinism”) is the idea that mankind does not possess free will but rather they act according to their nature.  In other words, a sinner sins because God does not give them to them the grace necessary to avoid that sin and in essence God knows the sinner is going to sin, wills the sinner to sin, the sinner makes a choice to sin based on their own sinful nature, and thus while God knew, planned, and ordained the sinner to sin, the sinner is still held responsible for their actions that they freely chose to do.  The mystery is how God is not guilty of the sin when the sinner really could not choose otherwise since there is no true free will in mankind in Calvinism.

Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice the article is clear that mankind does not have free will.  A person, when confronted with a choice to murder another person, is not able to choose to do the sin or not.  They are simply doing what God has determined for them to do.  The mystery is that God is not guilty of causing the person to sin nor is He wrong to hold the person to be punished for their sins that they could not chose to do otherwise.

The tension in Arminianism is much more biblical and to me is a biblical tension.  The tension in Arminianism is the mystery of how God is sovereign and does His will despite giving His creatures made in His image the freedom to choose.  God does have the right (since He is the creator) to step into our world and do as He pleases.  He foreknows all things and is not limited in His knowledge.  He foreknew, for example, the fall of Man (Genesis 3) yet does this mean that He caused the fall?  No!  He is perfectly holy and the Bible is clear that He leads no one into sinning (James 1:12-15).  God foreknew that wicked sinners would crucify His Son (Acts 2:23).  Did God cause them to kill His Son?  No!  They did so by their own sinfulness and free will.  The mystery here is free will and how God allowed these creatures of His to do as they please yet His will was done.

The Calvinist replies to this are that God is sovereign and by definition in Calvinism, sovereignty must mean that God alone determines all things.  But I ask why?  Why must we settle for the Calvinist answer?  After all, in the Bible people did things that grieved God yet if Calvinism and compatibilism are true, then why was God grieved?

Glenn Shellrude points out from Ezekiel 24:13-14 that in a Calvinist reading, God simultaneously tried to cleanse Israel and prevented them from being cleansed because He wanted to judge them (Grace for All, p.35).  Does this make sense?  In Jeremiah 7:31 the Lord rebukes the sons of Judah for doing what He had not commanded nor came to His mind.  The Calvinist understanding is that this is merely God coming down on our level so that we can understand His ways.  Yet this does not fit the text.  Is God merely saying something not true about Himself because of our ignorance?  That doesn’t make sense.

Shellrude goes on to point out the many sins in the New Testament we are said to avoid and even the entire book of 1 Corinthians where Paul rebukes the Corinthians for sinning.  If Paul understood compatibilism (and remember that Calvinists will claim that Paul was a true Calvinist) then surely he would understand that the sins of the people were done by the will of God.  The sins could not be avoided if God willed them so.

I accept that there are mysteries in theology.  This is one of them.  I believe in limited free will (because only God has true free will to do whatever He wills) because I see this truth played out in Scripture and in humanity.  Yet I believe in the sovereignty of God but not in the compatibilism use of the word.  I believe that God knows all things and yet the mystery for me is that God is not guilty of sin, that He doesn’t cause people to sin and He would that they not sin yet He allows for free sinful decisions yet He still gets His will done.  That is a mystery I accept because I see it taught in Scripture.  The Bible does not answer all our questions about God and I believe it never could.  God is simply too exhaustive to know.

Despite Calvinism holding to soft determinism, most Calvinists are not consistent in this so that they preach, pray, and live their lives as if free will were true.  No doubt when backed into a corner they will hold to determinism but they don’t live that way.  I know of only one man in all my years who lived as if compatibilism were true.  He would indulge looking at porn and he never felt guilty for it because he reasoned that if God didn’t will for him to look at porn, God would supply the grace for him to not look at it.  He eventually moved on to prostitutes and then to leaving his wife for another woman. Why?  Because God never stopped him.  He reasoned that God could have but God willed for him to do all these sexual sins.

Now to be fair, nearly every Calvinist I know would rebuke this man for his sinning.  They would even call him an apostate and call him to repentance and they should.  Yet did this man not do what God willed him to do?  If compatibilism is true then he has no free will and acted by his nature that God had not changed by His sovereign grace.  As an Arminian, I would (and did) call this man to repent.  I warned him of his sinning but he ignored me because of my Arminianism.  I pointed him to Scripture but he ignored that.  Again, he reasoned that if God wanted him to stop his sinning, God would grant him the grace to do so but God never did and so he continued in his sinfulness.

Now I know that was a hard case.  That is not typical at all and I thank God for that.  Most Calvinists I know are truly godly men and women who love the Lord Jesus.  Yet they live their lives as if free will were true.  They might would deny free will if asked but they wake up each day and seemingly do what they like.  When faced with temptation, they, like myself, are faced with a choice to make and many of them avoid sinning.  I praise God for that.  Yet if I asked them if they could freely choose A or B when faced with temptation, they would say yes yet Calvinism denies such a view.

I am happy to hold to my mysteries.  I have not figured God out and never will.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door this morning have their god figured out.  That is why the JW’s god is not the true and living God.  God is a mystery.  He is beyond my understanding and His ways are a mystery to me.  I am comfortable with my mysteries in my theology.

Determinism And False Doctrine

Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines.  While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology.  Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved.  However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.”  Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture.  When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a common view.

However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same.  All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission.  No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God).  Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation.  They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.

So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so.  Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited.  When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so.  If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist.  They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).

Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice.  The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire.  Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism.  The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose.  Take the case of Adam and Eve.  Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?  The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice.  The compatabilist does not.  Calvinist John Frame is clear:

Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.

In other words, Adam could not freely choose.  Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so.  God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him.  That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions.  All Calvinists believe we are.  They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done.  An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23).  Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.

So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was.  The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do.  This is the nature even of soft determinism.

There are biblical problems with such a view.  For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds.  The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11).  Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15).  Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16).  God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts.  In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind.  God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15).  He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13).  God is completely holy (1 John 1:5).  All of this is held true even by soft determinists.  Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7.  Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature.  Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind.  How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world?  I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?

There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to.  The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty.  I have no true answer here.  I only admit that it is so.  The compatibilist cannot.  They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).

In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.

Another Take on Prevenient Grace

I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace.  His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs.  His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all.  His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call.  He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe.  This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.

In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel.  The gospel is prevenient grace in his view.  The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16).  The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11).  As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation.  God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance.  All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32).  Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church.  This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation.  This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.

This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about.  I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner.  I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists.  The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance.  Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard.  Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view.  The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another.  Is it based on works?  Is it based on the response of the person?  Is it based on foreseen faith?  The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God.  While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).

However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint.  It reads:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul is speaking here of the Jews.  Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe.  He says that they have become dull.  These Jews have made themselves this way.  Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).

So why does one man believe while another man does not?  The issue is not with God.  The issue is humility.  Does one person humble themselves before God as a child?  Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief?  Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen.  The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.

This is this brother’s take.  No system of theology is perfect.  We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God.  We are so limited in knowing God.  A.W. Tower said:

The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.

The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God.  It is knowing Him!  Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1).  I want to know Him more and more!  I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2015 at 7:06 PM

Arminianism and Free Will

Arminius is often said to be the theologian of freedom.  One Calvinist theologian said that Arminius was “anthropocentric” in that he placed humanity at the center of his theology and not God.  To this day, Calvinist theologians continue to assert that Arminius and Arminianism is all about human freedom.  Libertarian free will is said a chief focus of Arminian theology.

And yet is this fair?  Is Arminianism focused on free will and humans as its center?

The fact is that those who say that Arminius was first and foremost about human freedom must prove this from his writings.  This cannot be done.  Arminius does not elevate human freedom above God’s sovereignty nor does he ascribe to salvation the basis being free will.  Arminius is clear in his writings that the will of man is free indeed but bound by sin (Romans 8:6-7).  The will of mankind is darkened by our sinfulness.  The will of man, like Jonathan Edwards later, was free but free to sin.  Man could do nothing with their free will to earn salvation.

Arminius was clear that we should uphold free will for three main reasons.  First, sin must be ascribed to free will.  While God can certainly use man’s free will sinful acts for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23-24), the act of sin must be free and not from God lest God be made the author of sin itself which Scripture deplores (James 1:13-15). God is simply too holy to sin (Exodus 15:11; Habakkuk 1:13).  If mankind does not have free will, sin must come from outside of them and that would be from the Creator Himself and Arminius simply would not affirm this.

Secondly, Arminius defended free will in regard to grace.  It was here that Calvinists often attacked Arminius as being Pelagian.  For salvation to be truly gracious and a gift from God (Romans 6:23) then it must be maintained that mankind receives this grace by their own free will albeit by the ministry of the Spirit.  To deny freedom in the work of grace is to make grace not truly grace.  How can one ascribe salvation as a work of grace if in fact man has no choice but to succumb to the irresistible drawing power of God?  Calvinists will insist that this is truly grace when dead sinners are regenerated to believe the gospel but salvation as a gift from God (John 3:16) is not a gift if the person offered the gift has nothing to say about receiving the gift.  Salvation as gracious is gracious in Arminianism since the will of man is freed by the Spirit to believe and receive the gift (John 1:12-13; Romans 11:5-6).

Finally, Arminius affirmed human freedom because it upholds the relationship between God and man as a true relationship.  God is not forcing His will upon people as a Master and they as robotic slaves.  Instead, God is loving, gracious, and reaching out to lost humanity through His Son and through His Word to bring them into a free and loving relationship with Himself.  The consistent theme of the Old Testament is God having relationships with people (and later the nation of Israel) through human freedom.  God allows the free will decisions of Abraham, David, and others to build His relationship with them.  No doubt God is sovereign in His choosing but He continues to allow a man like Abraham or Moses to even sin against Him in the process but nonetheless uses the men and their free will for His glory.  This does not end in the New Testament.  The coming of the Messiah is God still reaching out to humanity.  Yes our will is bent and wicked.  Yes we are sinners but God is consistently holy and pure yet He reaches out to the lost though His Son (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15).  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The facts are that Arminius is not putting man at the center of his theology nor even free will.  Instead, Arminius affirmed the grace of God as central to his theology.  We are saved by grace and kept by grace.  Pelagianism places the beginning of faith in man but Arminius places salvation as an act of God’s first grace.  It is God who initiates salvation first in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and ultimately in His Son (John 1:17-18).  The beginning of salvation is not in man.  The beginning of salvation, according to Arminius, is God and His grace.

For more on this I highly recommend the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall.

How Prevenient Grace Helps Me Sleep

John MacArthur has a famous sermon that he preached on Mark 4:26-29 on the theology of sleep in which he argues that the doctrine of unconditional election allows him to sleep at night.  He argues that the doctrine that God alone saves gives him comfort because if the salvation of others depended on him, he would not be able to sleep at night.  MacArthur argues that he cannot understand how ministers who deny unconditional election can sleep if in fact the saving of souls depends upon them.

I for one reject unconditional election but I sleep well at night not because I deny the lostness of men nor because I turn a blind eye to their desperate need for salvation.  I sleep well because of the doctrine of prevenient grace.  I agree with MacArthur that salvation is the work of the Lord.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation is by the power of God (Romans 1:16-17).  While I believe the Bible teaches that people believe the gospel as a duty (John 3:15), I deny that this belief is works (Romans 4:5).  Sinners are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, my job is not to save sinners.  It is the Lord’s work to save sinners.  MacArthur’s appeal to Mark 4:26-29 is right.  The harvest is the Lord’s harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Paul argues this way in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  While Paul and others did work to tell people the gospel, the Lord is the One who saves sinners.  Our job is to simply preach the gospel.  This is a point that both Arminians and Calvinists can agree.

Obviously, the key difference here then is not over the gospel.  It is not over whether the Lord saves sinners.  It is over whether the Lord treats sinners as people or does He treat them as something else like robots or chess pawns?  I believe God treats people as people who can think, hear, respond.  God is the one who saves and He deals with sinners by His grace.  His Spirit woos the sinner but He does not force the sinner (John 6:44).  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The Spirit is the one who empowers the disciple to first preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8) and then He also is the one who opens sinners minds and hearts to the gospel though He allows the sinner to believe in their own freed will.  Over and over again the New Testament calls the sinner to believe the gospel and repent (Acts 17:30-31).  As the Spirit works, the sinners respond (Acts 2:37).  The sinner either repents (Acts 2:38, 41) or they rebel (Acts 7:51; 13:46).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10).

As Arminians our dependence in evangelism must not be on gimmicks or tricks or rock concerts or skits or movies.  It must be on the gospel that saves sinners!  The Spirit empowers the Church to preach to the lost.  Our dependence must be on the Word of God that saves the lost.  In Mark 4:26 we read of the scattered seed.  In Mark 4:14 the seed is the Word.  The Word brings forth fruit as we preach the gospel!  Our job must then be to preach the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).

The bottom line is that Arminians can take comfort in the work of the Spirit in drawing sinners to salvation.  Calvinists often contend that the term “prevenient grace” is not found in the Bible.  What they fail to realize is that Calvinists theologians have also used the term for the term means “beforehand” grace.  This is a biblical concept even if we disagree over whether this grace can be resisted or not.  Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is the divine work of God and His grace.  While we Arminians would contend that God grants free grace to draw in souls through the preaching of the gospel, the result of regeneration is the divine working of God.

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