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Posts Tagged ‘Sovereignty of God

Short Thoughts on Unconditional Election

I found the following illustration from a blog (Randal Rauser).  I found it interesting.  Here it is:

Imagine that there is a camp for troubled youth. The camp director has a rather unorthodox method of dealing with the campers. Some of them are beaten severely with whips in a wholly punitive or retributive (i.e. not restorative) manner while others are chosen by the director to receive care, love and nurture in a way that restores them.

You are contemplating sending your child to the camp but you want your child to be lovingly restored, not viciously beaten, even if the beatings are just. So you enquire: what is it that makes the director decide to beat the children rather than nurture them? Is it the nature of their crimes? Their race? Gender? What?

The answer comes back. There is absolutely nothing that differentiates the two groups. The bottom line is that for some inexplicable reason the director arbitrarily selects some children to be beaten and others to be nurtured.

Now imagine that somebody came up to you with a positive testimonial. “The director loved our child! He nurtured her. She’s much better now. He is very loving to those he chooses.” Wouldn’t you want to scream back “But what about the children he opts to beat? How can you call that loving? How can you focus only on those he nurtures and completely ignore those he beats? Doesn’t it bother you that his choice to nurture your child was wholly arbitrary?”

Rauser is writing about the doctrine of unconditional election where the Calvinists teach that God, by His sovereign will, chooses some to be saved and most to be damned.  God does this by His own accord without anything from mankind.  His sovereign choice is based on His redeeming and electing love and why He chooses some to be saved but most to not be saved is His own divine decree that we cannot know (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Rauser is pointing out that this view of God does not make Him appear as loving and good as we find in the Bible.

I know many of my Calvinist friends find comfort in unconditional election but John Wesley replied that it made his blood boil.  Wesley believed that this teaching maligned the character of God.  Many other Arminians have replied the same.  I am share I have as times felt that way as well when I have been listening to Calvinists preach on unconditional election.

I too believe that election is biblical but I choose to replace the word “unconditional” with “conditional” because I believe that God has given humanity the gift of free will and He does not force people to believe but rather He gives them enabling grace to believe the gospel and be saved.  This comes through the preaching of the gospel and God’s foreknowledge of those who will believe the gospel.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/20/2014 at 8:00 PM

Does Unconditional Election Bother You?

Having just read Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher tells the story of his being asked by a non-Calvinist friend if the doctrine of unconditional election bothers him.  Dutcher was honest to his friend and said, “It does.”  Nonetheless, Dutcher feels that he must surrender to the authority of Scripture and affirm the doctrine despite his acknowledgement that the doctrine does bother him.  He writes that Calvinists should be honest about their feelings toward their doctrinal views without fear.  He said his friend believed that Calvinists had no feelings toward people and just viewed them as robots or pawns in a divine chess game.  Dutcher writes that his honesty was a good starting point to discuss Calvinism with his friend.

I appreciate that about Dutcher.  Like R.C. Sproul before him, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t like everything about Calvinism while accepting it as true.

I would add another approach to this though and that would be to just admit that the doctrine is wrong.  The doctrine of unconditional election is not based on the clear reading of the Bible but upon taking the TULIP and forcing it upon the text.  That is my approach to this issue.  I agree with Dutcher that it bothers me that God has not chosen to save many, many, many people and in fact He has chosen to damn them for eternity all while holding them responsible for a gospel that they could never have accepted in the first place.  That bothers me too.  It bothers me that someone could read the “all” passages such as John 3:16 or Romans 11:32 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6  or 1 Timothy 4:10 or Revelation 22:17 and says that the “all” there is simply the unconditional elect that God has chosen before time began.  It bothers me that God would grant Adam and Eve free will to fall into sin but then He, in His sovereignty, chooses to save only a few for His glory when He could save all for His glory and make the foundation of that election faith in His Son.  That does bother me.

So I choose, from my free will, to reject the teaching of unconditional election.  I don’t do so blindly.  I do so because I don’t see it in Scripture.  I see God choosing people for His own purposes such as Abraham or Moses or Jeremiah or Paul.  I see God choosing nations such as Israel or Egypt.  I see Jesus choosing His disciples (John 15:16).  But I don’t see these as guaranteeing salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Romans 9 is clear about this with regard to Israel.  Only those who place their faith in Jesus become His elect that He foreknew (Romans 9:30-33; 10:9-17; 11:2).  Through God’s foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2), God knows those who will freely believe the gospel and be saved.

I choose instead to affirm a conditional election.  I believe in the sovereignty of God.  I believe that God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to send His Son to be the elected one who will die for our sins.  Jesus shed His blood for all men but only those who appropriate His sacrifice are those accepted in the beloved (1 Timothy 4:10).  Romans 3:21-26 are powerful verses on this point.  It reads:

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.

We are justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.  At what point are we then saved?  In Calvinism, God’s election of the person means that Jesus shed His blood for that elected person.  When Jesus died on the cross (in Calvinism), He died to save the elect that God had ordained before the world began.  Thus Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation.  Now when were the elect justified?  Where they justified before time began when God ordained that Jesus would be the Lamb of God for the elect (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8)?  If this is the case, are the elect eternally justified?  Most Calvinists will answer no to these questions.  Calvinists, like Arminians, will acknowledge that the elect are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But if Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation, are what point are they saved?  When Jesus died or when they place their faith in Him?  Further, are the elect born regenerated since regeneration must occur before faith because dead men cannot place their faith in the living Christ?

I believe that we are saved when we place our faith in Christ.  Most of my Calvinist brethren do too.  While some of them will say that we are regenerated before faith in Christ, they all acknowledge that they are saved by grace through faith.  I am thankful for that.  We agree on that.  But I wonder, are they, the elect, born without sin?  If Christ died for their sins on the cross (and none of His blood was spilled in vain according to this view), then the sins of the elect were atoned for when Jesus died.  Thus the elect are born sinless?  Correct?  So how can an elect person then need to be justified through faith if in fact Jesus already shed His blood for their sins even before time began?

Perhaps I am wondering here a bit but my point is that the unconditional election view leads to other issues.  I am not asking for them to be resolved here.  I don’t mind that we all appeal to a bit of uncertainty when it comes to some theological issues (the Trinity is a tough one to grasp and though I try,  I have not been able to but I don’t reject the doctrine because I do see it in Scripture).  But when it comes to unconditional election, I do reject it and not just because of where it logical leads (to reprobation of sinners by God’s sovereign choice and makes God guilty of sin and favoritism which He is not in any way) but also because I see the best alternative in Scripture, conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge.  This view, to me, not only is based on the sacrifice of the Messiah but also the doctrine of God Himself wherein He has revealed Himself as loving, good, and just.  The focus of election, in the works of Arminius, is based on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the focus of election.  He is the elected One and not only that but He is the foundation for our election.  I was just reading from Ephesians 1:3-14 and it is amazing to me how much “He” and “Him” appear in the text (I was reading it from the NASB).  “He” and not “me” is the focus of election.

I pray that I have not misunderstood Calvinism as this point.  I know many godly Calvinists who are active in evangelism despite their agreement with unconditional election and I am grateful for that.  I don’t mean to cast Calvinists as being ignorant of God’s Word in the least bit.  Many of them are far greater thinkers than I am but I do acknowledge that I am not comfortable, as Dutcher has above, with the doctrine of unconditional election and my rejection of it is, in my mind, based on both Scripture and logic.

 

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

Quick Comparison of the Order of God’s Decrees

Here is a quick comparison of the three major order of God’s decrees.  This comes from the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall.  This is an excellent book.

Supralapsarian

God decrees to:

  1. Predestine; that is, elect some individuals (though not yet considered as created or fallen) to eternal life with God and reprobate others;
  2. Create (in some versions, this decree comes before predestination);
  3. Ordain or permit the fall, with ensuing guilt, corruption, and total inability;
  4. Appoint Christ as the foundation of salvation to redeem the elect;
  5. Provide the means of salvation: Holy Spirit to save, regenerate, and preserve the redeemed.

Infralapsarian

  1. Create;
  2. Permit the fall, with ensuing guilt, corruption, and total inability;
  3. Predestine; that is, elect some created and fallen individuals to eternal life with God, and reprobate, or pass by, the rest of the sinners;
  4. Appoint Christ as foundation of salvation to redeem the elect;
  5. Provide the means of salvation: Holy Spirit to save, regenerate, and preserve the redeemed.

Arminian

  1. Create;
  2. Permit the fall;
  3. Appoint Christ as foundation of election to redeem;
  4. Save, in Christ, (the class of) penitent believers, and condemn unbelievers;
  5. Provide means (grace) for repentance and faith;
  6. Save or condemn single, specific individuals foreknown to believe or not believe.

 

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/05/2013 at 11:35 AM

Arminius on the Lordship or Dominion of God

Just today I saw a Calvinist blogger who posted a piece against Arminianism.  His chief argument: Calvinism exalts God while Arminianism exalts Man.  He is convinced from reading John Owen that Arminianism is nothing more than idolatry.  He is also convinced that Arminianism is all about Mankind first and foremost.  Whereas his Calvinism exalts God and destroys man’s pride (so he reasons).  

In reality, Arminius had much to say about the Lordship or Dominion of God.  From his writings it is clear that Arminius wanted to praise God above all else.  He wants to exalt the love of God along with the holiness of God.  How could God lovingly reconcile people while not ignoring sin nor His justice in regard to sin.  For Arminius, the answer was clear: Jesus Christ was the embodiment of both the love of God and the holiness of God.  

To show you that Arminius sought to exalt the Lordship of God, read the following remarks from his Works on the subject.

DISPUTATION XXVII

ON THE LORDSHIP OR DOMINION OF GOD

I. Through creation, dominion over all things which have been created by himself, belongs to the Creator. It is, therefore, primary, being dependent on no other dominion or on that of no other person; and it is, on this account, chief because there is none greater; and it is absolute, because it is over the entire creature, according to the whole, and according to all and each of its parts, and to all the relations which subsist between the Creator and the creature. It is, consequently, perpetual, that is, so long as the creature itself exists.

II. But the dominion of God is the right of the Creator, and his power over the creatures; according to which he has them as his own property, and can command and use them, and do about them, whatever the relation of creation and the equity which rests upon it, permit.

III. For the right cannot extend further than is allowed by that cause from which the whole of it arises, and on which it is dependent. For this reason, it is not agreeable to this right of God, either that he delivers up his creature to another who may domineer over such creature, at his arbitrary pleasure, so that he be not compelled to render to God an account of the exercise of his sovereignty, and be able, without any demerit on the part of the creature, to inflict every evil on a creature capable of injury, or, at least, not for any good of this creature; or that he [God] command an act to be done by the creature, for the performance of which he neither has, nor can have, sufficient and necessary powers; or that he employ the creature to introduce sin into the world, that he may, by punishing or by forgiving it, promote his own glory; or, lastly, to do concerning the creature whatever he is able, according to his absolute power, to do concerning him, that is eternally to punish or to afflict him, without [his having committed] sin.

IV. As this is a power over rational creatures, (in reference to whom chiefly we treat on the dominion and power of God,) it may be considered in two views, either as despotic, or as kingly, or patriarchal. The former is that which he employs without any intention of good which may be useful or saving to the creature; that latter is that which he employs when he also intends the good of the creature itself. And this last is used by God through the abundance of his own goodness and sufficiency, until he considers the creature to be unworthy, on account of his perverseness, to have God presiding over him in his kingly and paternal authority.

V. Hence, it is, that, when God is about to command some thing to his rational creature, he does not exact every thing which he justly might do, and he employs persuasions through arguments which have regard to the utility and necessity of those persuasions.

VI. In addition to this, God enters into a contract or covenant with his creature; and he does this for the purpose that the creature may serve him, not so much “of debt,” as from a spontaneous, free and liberal obedience, according to the nature of confederations which consist of stipulations and promises. On this account, God frequently distinguishes his law by the title of a COVENANT.

VII. Yet this condition is always annexed to the confederation, that if man be unmindful of the covenant and a contemner of its pleasant rule, he may always be impelled or governed by that domination which is really lordly, strict and rigid, and into which, he who refuses to obey the other [species of rule], justly falls.

VIII. Hence, arises a two-fold right of God over his rational creature. The First, which belongs to him through creation; the Second, through contract. The former rests on the good which the creature has received from his Creator; the latter rests on the still greater benefit which the creature will receive from God, his preserver, promoter and glorifier.

IX. If the creature happen to sin against this two-fold right, by that very act, he gives to God, his Lord, King and Father, the right of treating him as a sinning creature, and of inflicting on him due punishment; and this is a THIRD right, which rests on the wicked act of the creature against God.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/19/2013 at 3:01 PM

Does Arminianism Deny the Providence of God?

Here is an excellent article from the Examining Calvinism blog on the Arminian view of the providence of God.  Arminius wrote the following about divine providence:

I consider Divine Providence to be “that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers. In this definition of Divine Providence, I by no means deprive it of any particle of those properties which agree with it or belong to it; but I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance. Beside this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that “God both wills and performs good acts,” but that “He only freely permits those which are evil.” Still farther than this, I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence Employing solely one caution, “not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin.” This I have testified with sufficient clearness, in a certain disputation concerning the Righteousness and Efficacy of Divine Providence concerning things that are evil, which was discussed at Leyden on two different occasions, as a divinity-act, at which I presided. In that disputation, I endeavoured to ascribe to God whatever actions concerning sin I could possibly conclude from the scriptures to belong to him; and I proceeded to such a length in my attempt, that some persons thought proper on that account to charge me with having made God the author of sin. The same serious allegation has likewise been often produced against me, from the pulpit, in the city of Amsterdam, on account of those very theses; but with what show of justice such a charge was made, may be evident to any one, from the contents of my written answer to those Thirty-one Articles formerly mentioned, which have been falsely imputed to me, and of which this was one.

You can the find the post here.

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