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Posts Tagged ‘Arminianism Defended

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 4)

You can find my earlier reviews of this book beginning here.

Chapter 4 of the book Grace for All is a wonderful chapter.  I appreciated it because Dr. Robert Picirilli dives right into the Scriptures to prove his point, that Christ died for all.  Picirilli is clear that Christ shed His blood for all but this salvation is only applied to those who repent and believe the gospel.  Calvinists (at least in part) acknowledge this to be true despite claiming that Christ’s work on the cross actually saves.  Arminians would agree.  The work of Christ was not a failure in that it pleased the Father and brought glory to Him (Philippians 2:5-11).  Yet none are saved simply because Christ died on the cross.  The resurrection after the cross completes the work of redemption for if Jesus is not raised, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 19:30) and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  One must place their faith in the risen Savior who did shed His blood for our sins.

Calvinists often assert that the Arminian view of the atonement is that Christ died to make men savable but He didn’t save anyone on the cross.  The Calvinist view is that God placed the sins of the elect upon Christ so that when Jesus shed His blood, He shed His blood for the sins of the elect.  Yet carried out to its extreme, this would imply that Calvinists hold to eternal justification (as many hyper-Calvinists do).  I ask the question: when is a person justified before God?  Is it when Christ died on the cross?  Is it before time began?  Is it when a person places their saving faith in Christ?  The obvious answer is the that a sinner is only justified before a holy God when the sinner places their faith in Christ alone to save them from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:1).  We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works which we do (Titus 3:5-7).  Yet none are saved until they repent and believe the gospel.  The Calvinist can argue all day that their sins were placed on Christ when He died but the reality of their salvation only comes when they repent and believe the gospel.  This would mean that the Calvinist is not born innocent of sin (this is the hyper-Calvinist view) because they actually sinned in time (Romans 3:23) but their salvation only comes when they (the sinner) repent and believe the gospel.  While the Calvinist can argue their monergistic view of regeneration, they cannot argue that the atonement saved them 2000 years ago but rather it saves them when they actually believe in the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-4; Galatians 3:1-5).

Picirilli examines the Arminian position by looking at key words of salvation.  He looks at the words redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.  By looking at the words used in their biblical context, it is easy to see that Christ died for all people.  Along the way Picirilli points out how Calvinists have interpreted the texts.  For example, Picirilli shows how Calvinists have handled 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul uses “all” three times.  Calvinists take the word “all” here not to mean all in all people but only all types of people (though the Bible doesn’t use the term here that way).  Calvinists go out of their way to build a case against all because the use of the word all would imply that Christ died for all and Calvinism says He died only for the elect.

Picirilli also looks at other key “universal” texts such as 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11.  I appreciated Picirilli also looking at the book of 1 John and how John uses the word “world” (kosmos in the Greek).  By looking at how John uses the Greek, we see that the word “world” is not merely “a group out of the world” as Calvinists often insist but rather the entire world.  Jesus shed His blood for the entire world but only those who appropriate their faith in Christ will be saved.

One interesting point is that Picirilli quotes from John Calvin on John 3:16:

Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

In the conclusion, Picirilli dives into the strongest Calvinist argument for limited atonement and that is that the Bible uses word that suggest that the atonement accomplished what God meant for it to accomplish: salvation.  1 John 4:10 says that Christ’s death was for the propitiation of our sins.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has reconciled the world unto Himself through Christ.  Are these meant to suggest universal salvation?  Calvinists point out that Arminians deny universalism but how can they if these Scriptures are true?  The Calvinist answers that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and He has accomplished their redemption by His own blood to the glory of God.  Universalism can be easily rejected, the Calvinist answers, because the Bible is not teaching universalism but instead that Christ died for His elect only that God chose out of the sinful world (Romans 9:22-23).

Picirilli answers this claim by first pointing out that when a doctor makes a diagnosis of a person, that diagnosis does not save the person’s life but we often use language to say that it did.  No one would say that the doctor finding a cancer in a person saved them at that moment.  It takes the work of the doctor to save the person who humbly submits to the doctor’s diagnosis and allows the doctor to cut out the cancer from their body.  At that point, the person is now saved.

Likewise, even Calvinists such as Shedd point out that only those who place their faith in the atonement are saved.  The atonement, by itself, saves no one.  Consider Romans 3:21-26:

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.

Notice that the atonement is not said to save but only those who appropriate the work of Christ are said to be saved.  Salvation is received by grace through faith.  Even Calvinists preach this.  We must humble ourselves before the diagnosis of our sinfulness (Romans 3:19-20) and confess that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sins (John 8:24; 14:6; Romans 10:9-13).  We must not only preach the universal call to salvation (which I rejoice that Calvinists do) but we must preach that all who place their saving faith in Jesus can be saved.  The call is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

These gives the Arminian three key points we should ponder.  First, we must pray for all to hear the gospel by praying for God to send out laborers to work His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).  Secondly, we should pray for all to hear the gospel and be saved by grace through faith (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  Thirdly, we should pray for God to use us in evangelism of the lost (Acts 1:8).  The will of God is not for sinners to perish (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) but for sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31).

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the Ministry of Jesus

Why did Jesus do miracles?  What was the point of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  In Matthew 8 we get a reason from Matthew about why Jesus did miracles (at least just one among others as we shall see but this point is the overwhelming reason why Jesus did miracles).  In Matthew 8:16-17 we read:

16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Here Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53:4.  Adam Clarke commented on Matthew 8:17:

Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.

The Messiah would come and He would bear the sins of Israel (and the world; see John 1:29).  Part of this was to “reverse the curse” (Romans 5:17-18).  Part of the fall into sin is suffering, pain, and sickness.  In Revelation 21:4 assures us that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, death.  In fact, death will be destroyed completely according to Revelation 20:14.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and part of that work is death itself whom He abolished (2 Timothy 1:10).  Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54) so that Jesus could say to Martha that He was the resurrection and the life even before the cross (John 11:25-26).

What point then does signs and wonders serve for the Messiah?  They point to Him being the true Messiah.  John the Apostle mentions “signs” in John 2:23.  The Greek word here is “semeion” which can be translated “sign, signal, mark.”  Jesus, by doing signs and wonders, was giving a sign, a signal, and a mark that He was in fact the Son of God.  In John 2:11 John the Apostle states that Jesus did these signs or signals or marks and His disciples put their faith in Him.  The signs and wonders of Jesus were not for a show.  They were to point to a greater, deeper meaning and that was that Jesus was the Messiah of God.  Jesus was the promised one from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15).

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He was unlike any other who had ever been or will be.  I know some charismatics like to quote John 14:12 to say that we as believers can do greater works than Jesus but that was not the point of John 14:12.  I know of no charismatics who would claim to do greater miracles than Jesus.  Who can claim to be sinless?  Who can claim toward others that if they destroy them, they will raise themselves up again?  Who can truly make blind eyes open just by a touch?  Who can raise the dead by a word?  Who can claim to seeing the lame walk just by taking them by the hand?  Even the Apostles pointed to the Lord Jesus with their signs and wonders in Acts (more on that in the next post).

In the Bible, God allowed signs and wonders for a purpose.  In biblical history we only find three main times when miracles were rampant.  Moses.  Elijah and Elisha.  The Gospels and Acts.  In each case, the purpose was a sign from God.  For example, in Moses’ case the Lord was delivering His people out of Egypt and He gave great power to Moses as he led God’s people out.  While the Lord allowed Joshua, Moses’ aid and successor, to do miracles, they were not on the same level nor quantity as Moses.  The point of the signs and wonders was to point to Moses as God’s faithful servant and deliver (Exodus 4:1-9).

In the case of the Lord Jesus, He did miracles to point to Him being the true Messiah.  In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus appeals to the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 as about Himself.  The Jews take an exception to this (Luke 4:29) but Jesus escapes from their grasps (Luke 4:30).  Jesus points to the Old Testament Scriptures about Himself and to His miracles (John 5:36-40).  The purpose of the signs and wonders was to reveal that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who came down from heaven to do His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:32).

So let me return to my original question: what is the purpose of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  They were to validate Him as the Messiah.  Yet if divine determinism is true, why is this necessary?  If God can make a person believe and make another not believe by His own determinism then why do we need signs and wonders?  The elect would believe because God makes them believe and not because of signs and wonders!

The very nature of signs and wonders in the life of Jesus points to the reality of contra-casual free will.  God was not making people believe or disbelieve.  He was sending His Son to redeem fallen humanity just as Isaiah stated in Isaiah 53.  This good news (gospel) would be for all people and not just the Jews (Luke 2:10).  All of humanity is under the curse of sin but Christ came to redeem us who were under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13-14).  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on the poll to redeem all who would look upon the poll, so the Lord Jesus was lifted up for all sinners so that whosoever can come and be saved by looking to Him alone to save them (John 3:14-15).  The purpose of signs and wonders is to point to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31).  The signs and wonders are signs, signals, and marks that Jesus is the Son of God who gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Peter 3:18).

If unconditional election were true what point would signs and wonders play?  The elect will believe because God makes them to believe (or at least makes them irresistibly willing to believe).  A Calvinist may argue that the purpose of signs and wonders is so that the elect will believe but if God chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn, the elect will believe no matter what by God’s determined decree.  The signs are not true signs then but just merely a show for the purpose of the Bible.  Even if Jesus never did miracles, the elect would believe if in fact divine determinism is true.  The very reason for signs and wonders points to free will.  The signs are to invoke people to consider Jesus and His claims.  The wonders are to cause people to question if Jesus is truly the Messiah.  Read John 9 and notice how signs and wonders play into the reasoning of the people about Jesus.  Jesus healed the blind man to provoke people to debating about Him.  The signs provoked the people as well in John 7:31 to consider Jesus.

One final point about signs and wonders.  The purpose of signs and wonders in the Gospels seems to me to be three-fold.  First and most obvious, the signs point to Jesus as the Messiah.  This is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) so we expect Him to do miracles since He is God.  This is the anointed one (Christ) of God who is sinless and is the perfect Son of God.  He does miracles to point to Him being both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22, 36).

Secondly, signs and wonders provoked the Jews to consider Jesus as the Messiah.  I point again to John 9 as a case in point.  I would also point to Acts 10:38.

Thirdly, I believe that signs and wonders also provoked the Jews to kill Jesus.  We read this in John 12:36-43.  Some of the Jews (such as the Apostles) believed in Jesus because of His signs and wonders and His teachings but many Jews rejected Him as the Messiah and killed Him for it.  The signs worked to provoke some to faith while others to rejection.  This is still true today.  Why does God do this if in fact divine determinism is true?  Why does God need to harden the Jews according to John 12:40 if total depravity (in the Calvinist sense) is true?  If man is born depraved, dead in their sins, wicked sinners from birth then why would God need to provoke the Jews to harden their hearts toward His Messiah?  There is no logical answer for the Calvinist here.

In my next post I will jump into the purpose of signs and wonders among the Apostles.

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

  • Ephesians 1:3-14

This wonderful passage of Scripture has often been used to teach individual, unconditional election.  Calvinists often turn to this text and to others such as John 6 or Romans 9 to try to teach that God elects His elect based on His own sovereignty and He hardens the non-elect to damnation in hell for His glory.  Romans 9:22 speaks of God choosing to show His wrath and make His power known through objects of His wrath that He prepared for destruction.  John Calvin clearly saw double predestination in this verse and interpreted it that way.  R.C. Sproul Sr. likewise sees Romans 9:22 as affirming double predestination though he seeks to avoid this.  Others such as John MacArthur see Romans 9:22 as graceful toward the reprobate as the text says that God has great patience toward the non-elect.  My question would be why?  Why does God have patience toward the reprobate?  If God prepared for their destruction and misery in hell, why does He have patience with them?  What is God being patient for?  It cannot be for their salvation since God does not offer them salvation.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is another abused text.  Rather than focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Calvinist theologian turns to man. I argue that Calvinism, in this text, is man-centered as it looks to mankind as the focus of the text rather than on Jesus Christ whom I see as the focus of Ephesians 1:3-14.  The text is very much focused on Jesus with Jesus dominating the text.  Jesus is the elected one.  He is the chosen one of Israel.  Jesus is the elect one.  Even in Ephesians 1:4 we see that God has chosen us in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ark of our salvation.  Just as Noah escaped the wrath of God in the flood in Genesis 6:13-14; 7:1-10, so the child of God escapes the wrath of God in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:18-22).  Jesus has bore the wrath of God for those in Him (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  The Father is just to punish sin and He must punish all sin but if we trust in Christ alone through faith, we are justified in Him (Romans 3:24-26).

Too often the object of election is the person.  The Calvinist will argue that God in His sovereignty chose people from among the lump of sinful humanity (Romans 9:21) to save by His grace.  God did this before time began.  The Calvinist argues that only this view of election protects the sovereignty of God from the abuse that Arminians bring.  However, in reality the Calvinist doesn’t begin with a Christocentric view of election (as Arminius does) but rather they begin with the sovereignty of God and to a lesser point, the glory of God.

The Arminian begins with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The love of God is manifested in the Son.  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15).  Jesus is the representation of God because He is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14).  Jesus fully revealed God (Colossians 2:9).  What we don’t see when we study Jesus in the Gospels is unconditional election.  Instead we see Jesus calling all sinners to Himself to repent and have life (Matthew 11:28-30).  We read that God has sent His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).  We read that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).  We read that Jesus will lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:15) and we read that He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  We read Jesus telling His disciples to love their enemies to be like God (Matthew 5:44-48) yet are we to believe that God, if the Calvinist view is true, really loves His enemies?  We read of Jesus telling the rich young man how to obtain eternal life (Mark 10:17-19) and Mark even says that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21) which could not be true if Romans 9:22 teaches that the reprobate are damned by God.

From the start of the Gospels to the end of Revelation, we read of our God calling out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Revelation 22:17).  Even Calvinists acknowledge this.  Calvinist evangelists plead with sinners to repent just as Arminians do.  Yet I argue that they are not consistent with their theology.  They labor under the view that God alone knows who the elect are and thus we must preach the gospel to all men and call all to salvation though God will save only those whom He has chosen.  Yet if God will save the elect, He will save the elect.  What has that to do with us?  I know the standard answer is that preaching is the means to salvation but I argue that the reason preaching is the means is that God truly desires all to be saved and to come to the Lord Jesus for eternal life (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Jesus died for all men but only those who appropriate His saving work are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).  The gospel must go out because the gospel is the means to salvation (Romans 1:16-17; 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Let us now return to Ephesians 1:3-14.  The key to this text is Jesus.  We should not be looking for predestination in this text.  That is not the focus.  The focus is Jesus.  If you begin your hermeneutic as Jesus and not your ism, you’ll not fail (Hebrews 12:2).  While I confess that we bring our presuppositions to the text, we should strive to filter our presuppositions through Jesus.  Does our view focus on the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture?  Is our view a view of Jesus who shed His blood for all?  Is our view a view of Jesus that truly desires to save sinners?  Is our view focused on exalting Jesus Christ?  If our view is doing nothing but furthering our pet doctrines but not exalting Jesus, we should rethink our position.

I urge you to re-read Ephesians 1:3-14 with an eye on Jesus.  Notice how much the text lifts Him up.  Notice how much Jesus is exalted in the text.  The center of attention here is not the sovereignty of God in unconditional election but the focus is on Jesus.  Mankind is not the focus.  Arminianism or Calvinism is not the focus.  The focus is on Jesus.  Just as all of Scripture testifies to this fact (Luke 24:27, 44-49).  John 20:31 is clear that these are written (the Gospel of John here but all of Scripture as well according to 2 Timothy 3:15-17) that we might believe in Jesus and have life.

Friend, the focus of Scripture is Jesus.  Jesus is supreme.  Jesus alone is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15).  Jesus is the exalted one (Philippians 2:5-11).  Jesus is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:7).  Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our faith (Hebrews 3:1).  Jesus is the one who is worthy of worship and praise (Revelation 5:13).  The heart of the Bible and of Christianity is Jesus.  It is not a prophet or a building or a place or a ritual or a church group.  The heart of Christianity is the Lord Jesus Christ who died and is risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 17).

May Jesus be preached, worship, adored, and proclaimed among the saints of God!  Praise be to His glorious grace!

Preaching the Gospel at Auschwitz

1.1 million people died at Auschwitz.  It was pure evil.  Did God ordain this?  Did God cause this?

The Calvinist answer is that God did not cause the horrors of Auschwitz.  He did ordain it to come to pass and He used secondary causes to ensure that the deaths at Auschwitz did in fact take place.  John Calvin wrote, “The will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by his command or permission.  God then, according to Calvin, does not give permission for sinners to commit sin but He is the cause of all things including sin.  Calvin continues:

The hand of God no less rules the internal affections than it precedes the external acts, and that God does not perform by the hand of men those things which he has decreed without first working in their hearts the very will which precedes their acts.

Did you read that?  Calvin is stating that everything that comes to pass does so because God both decrees it and He works in the heart of man to make sure their acts come to pass as He ordains.

The mystery in Calvinism is how God can bring things to pass including evil and yet hold mankind responsible (or punishable would be a better term) for their sinful actions.  Calvin likewise stated that this responsibility is a mystery to him.  Calvin wrote,

“But how it was that God, by his foreknowledge and decree, ordained what should take place respecting man, and yet so ordained it without his being himself in the least a participator of the fault, or being at all the author (autor) or the approver of the transgression; how this was, I repeat, is a secret manifestly far too deep to be penetrated by the human mind, nor am I ashamed to confess our ignorance. And far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed to confess his ignorance of that which the Lord envelopes in the blaze of his own inaccessible light.”

Other Calvinists affirm this as well.  How can God hold wicked sinners responsible for the sins that He ordained for them to commit in the first place?  The answer: mystery with an appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29.

Most Calvinists are comfortable with that mystery.  I am not.

Someone has said that if you cannot preach the gospel at the gates of Auschwitz, it is not the gospel.  How can we look at 1.1 million people dead at Auschwitz and agree with Calvin?  That this happened by the will of God.  And for what?  I know that Calvinists like to preach that such a view would mean that evil is without purpose.  Yet can there be purposeless evil in a world with free creatures?

John Piper appeals to a greater evil and that would be the cross.  1.1 million sinners dying at Auschwitz is nothing compared to the perfect and holy one dying on the cross (Acts 2:22-23).  Piper points out that this evil, the murder of Jesus Christ, is worst than any other wicked acts and yet it was planned by God.

The problem is that we Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God.  While Piper holds that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of all things, I would disagree with his definition of sovereignty.  The Calvinist reads sovereignty and sees omnipotence.  I disagree.  God can be sovereign while allowing mankind to be free to make free choices.  The cross demonstrates this.  Further, God, because He is God, can step into His creation for His purposes.  God did this in the cross.  God will do this at the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  God can use evil for His glory such as in the cross.  Yet God did not make the Jews kill Jesus nor did He make the Romans crucify Jesus.  This was allowed.  Such language would be opposed by Calvin.  Calvin would argue that God not only ordained the cross but He would make sure that the people would do the very sinful acts that He purposed for them to do.  Piper seems to agree.

Dr. James White also holds that there is no such thing as purposeless evil.  Since White holds to divine determinism (even hard determinism), he holds that everything happens as Calvin states, because God wills for it to happen and He makes sure it comes to pass.  Every rape, murder, abortion (which is murder), theft, war, etc. happens because God wills it so.  God is perfectly holy so He cannot be accused of sinning but He uses secondary causes to bring about His decreed will.

Let us return then to Auschwitz.  I have never heard a Calvinist preach this at Auschwitz.  It would not preach well.  Imagine going back to 1944 and preaching to the souls at Auschwitz that all this is happening  because God wills it so.  Imagine preaching that God will hold the Nazis responsible for their sins of killing but He first ordained this to come to pass.  Imagine further preaching that the same God who ordained this evil to come to pass is now calling you to repent and come to faith in Christ.  How is this consistent with the God who gave His Son?

The Arminian gospel would be this: this evil is happening because of the sinful choices of mankind.  People are wicked and unless they repent, they will see the wrath of God in His judgment upon them (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The Bible is clear, however, that God wills not for anyone here at Auschwitz to perish but to come to repentance including you Nazis.  He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) but He wants all of you to repent and be saved from your sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  This wicked place is here because we live in a fallen world with fallen sinners who love evil and hate God.  May you repent and believe the gospel for eternal life (Romans 6:23).

The cross shows us God.  In the cross we have a humble Savior who left the glory of heaven to abide on earth (Philippians 2:5-11).  We have a Savior who prays even for sinners while He is dying (Luke 23:34).  In the cross we see a God who would rather die than mankind go to hell (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  The cross shows us the love of God (Romans 5:8-9) and this love is not confined merely to those of who have believed but to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14).  This is our God.  He is glorious.  He is loving.  He is good (Psalm 145:8-9).

John Wesley wrote:

“While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.”

But Wesley also preached that all that we have from God, His love, His salvation, etc. are gifts of His love:

All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

This is our God.  This is the God of the Bible.  The glorious God whom I love and adore.  He rescues sinners by His grace and I am a testimony of His love and grace.  What evil may befall me I will not cast at His feet but know that He is able to work even through evil for His glory and good (Romans 8:28).  The mystery in Arminianism is how God’s will is done despite allowing mankind free will.  I would rather have that as my mystery while preaching at the gates of Auschwitz.

Book Review: Grace For All (Chapter 2: God’s Universal Salvific Grace)

This is an ongoing review of the book Grace For All.  This book is edited by the late Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  It is published by Resource Publications.

After reading Roger Olson’s chapter on how Arminianism is not “man-centered theology” but instead is “Man-centered theology” with the focus on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross and through His glorious resurrection, we are ready to examine what separates Arminians from Calvinists.  This chapter, “God’s universal salvific grace” seeks to focus on the grace of God for all.  The writer, Vernon Grounds, seeks to build a case from both Scripture and logic that God’s grace was given for all humanity.  It was the grace of God that reached out to lost humanity through the cross.

Grounds contrasts how Calvinism views the grace of God that is given only for the elect (those predetermined by God’s sovereignty to be His elect) and that of Arminianism where God’s grace is the power of God, the acting of God to bring sinners to salvation.  The gospel by nature then is the grace of God reaching out to lost sinners (Matthew 28:19).  God’s grace was fully manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17-18) and Jesus shed His blood for all (Mark 10:45).  Jesus is the one mediator before God for lost sinners (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

The chapter tends to get bogged down in philosophy more than exegesis.  If one is to err (in my opinion), let them err on spending too much time examining what the Bible says about grace and salvation above what Calvinist theologians have said.  While I do think that it is important to see what some Calvinists have said about grace and particularly how salvation is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus, it is more important to see what the Bible says above what Calvinists or Arminians have said.  The final authority for both Arminians and Calvinists must be the Word of God.  Therefore, I feel that Grounds doesn’t do justice to this chapter by spending too much time on what Calvinists have said above what the Bible says. No doubt he does cite Scripture here and there but true exegesis is missing.

One need only examine the great commission in Mathew 28:19-20 to see that Jesus intended His gospel to go into every nation.  This is the grace of God at work.  The message of the Church is now: Jesus is King!  Jesus has defeated sin and death.  Jesus has won the victory!  The message of the cross is thus one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  God calls out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Acts 17:30-31).  Whenever one does repent and believe the gospel, they find that God’s grace was drawing them to salvation (John 6:44).  It was the Spirit of God working to draw lost sinners by the gospel to the cross for salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:1-9).  A person then is justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not by works (Titus 3:5-7) nor is our salvation unto faith (as in Calvinism).

The Gospel As The Power of God Unto Salvation

I think both Arminians and Calvinists need to rethink our positions on the issue of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.  Here is what I mean.  Both Arminians and Calvinists assert that because of sin, mankind is unable to hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists teach that mankind must first be regenerated by the Spirit of God to come to salvation.  Arminians deny this but still teach prevenient grace as the work of the Spirit to bring sinners to salvation which in essence frees their will to believe the gospel.  Both sides teach that mankind is totally depraved to the point that even if we preach the gospel to lost sinners, they are incapable of responding to the gospel apart from this other work of the Spirit either in effectual calling or in prevenient grace.

However, how can it be that the gospel given to us by the Spirit is incapable of drawing sinners?  What if part of the work of salvation is the preaching of the gospel to lost sinners?  After all, Jesus makes much about the preaching of the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).  Notice that in Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to preach the gospel yet is the gospel still not able to save?  What if the work of the Spirit is drawing (John 6:44) but He does so through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17)?

Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Notice several things.  First, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The same Greek word used in Acts 1:8 is used here.  The Spirit of God brings the power of God into our lives but the gospel is also the power of God unto salvation.  I ask again, if the gospel not able then to save?  Could it be that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel that is preached and He also works on the hearts of those who hear the gospel so that they can respond and be saved?

Secondly, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  I think this is where Calvinists get this part wrong.  They teach that a person must be regenerated to be saved.  Even the great Charles Spurgeon saw the folly in this:

“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.” [Sermon entitled The Warrant of Faith].

The difficulty lies in trying to prove that a person is regenerated before faith.  To do this, the Calvinists must take their doctrine to the Scriptures and presuppose this upon the text.  Because of time, I will only say that the biblical case for the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration before faith is weak.

As an Arminian, I believe that mankind is depraved (Ephesians 2:1-3) but I believe that the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior.  He also works on the human will to draw sinners to salvation through the preaching of the gospel that He inspired through holy men of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).  The Holy Spirit does both!  He works through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation but He doesn’t stop there.  As the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit works on the person to prepare them and draw them to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can I prove this from Scripture?  Lets look at two examples both used by Arminians and Calvinists: the salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15) and then the example of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-34.

  1. The Salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15).

Notice the text.  Lydia hears the gospel from Paul and believes (Acts 16:14).  The Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.  She hears the Word, repents, and is baptized just as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19) and Peter preached (Acts 2:38).

We must not gloss over the truths here that the Holy Spirit did both the opening of her heart and He used the Word of God to bring salvation.  This is the biblical pattern (Ephesians 1:13).

2.  The Salvation of the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30-34).

The pattern here is clear: the jailer asks what must he do to be saved.  Does Paul say “There is nothing you can do to be saved.  If God wants to save you, He will save you for His glory!”  No!  Paul preaches that he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and he would be saved.  Paul preaches to him the gospel (v. 32), the jailer demonstrates his repentance and is baptized (v. 33).  Again, the gospel is preached here.  While the text says nothing of the ministry of the Spirit as in Lydia above, no doubt He is at work doing just what Jesus said He would do by exalting the Savior (John 15:26).  As A.W. Tower proclaimed: “We need not cry out for God to pour His Spirit for He already has beginning at Pentecost but now we simply exalt Jesus Christ and we have the assurance that this is the work of the Holy Ghost.”

What is clear is the preaching of the gospel.

Conclusion

Calvinists believe in the preaching of the gospel.  I don’t want to undermine that truth.  I know of many good Calvinists who are out on the streets preaching the gospel to the lost and calling people to repentance.  I appreciate them doing this very much and I admire them greatly.  I do think they are not consistent with their theology and I know they feel the same toward me.  I rejoice that Jesus is preached (Philippians 1:18).

In Galatians 3:2 Paul wrote this:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Notice that Paul makes the receiving of the Spirit conditioned upon hearing the gospel.  The term “hearing with faith” can only mean that as we see in the context from Galatians 3:1.  We preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23) and we exalt Jesus as the One who saves from sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  When we preach Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work.  The Holy Spirit has come to glorify the Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit takes the gospel preached and He woos sinners to salvation.  The work of regeneration is the Holy Spirit’s work (Titus 3:5).  Being “born again” is being born from above (John 3:3).  When a sinner humbles themselves, the Lord brings the forgiveness of their sins and they are born from above by God’s grace.

Now both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge the necessity of the new birth.  Both acknowledge the necessity even of preaching the gospel to the lost.  The difference lies in whether depraved sinners can hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists deny this.  Arminians affirm this but only with a view of prevenient grace wherein the Spirit works on those whom God has foreknown will believe.  I am more comfortable preaching that the work of the Spirit is in the preaching of the gospel and sinners can hear and be saved.  Simply ponder the amazing work of the Spirit in conviction of sin (John 16:8).  When does this take place in Calvinism?  If regeneration is first, when is conviction of sin?  And how can dead sinners be convicted of sin if not first made alive?  While I acknowledge depravity of sinners, I also believe that the preaching of the gospel is powerful enough to open sinners eyes to their sins.  Most reject the gospel and continue in their sins but a few believe and repent and are saved.

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