Sunday, 29 December 2013

Questions on Arminianism

In response to my post "Repairing fences" Bnonn asks
1. Historically, Calvinism has upheld the free offer of the gospel. So both Calvinism and Arminianism would have God visiting every house, as it were. But this analogy does reveal a different asymmetry between C and A, which is that God doesn't actually visit every house at all. Plenty of people never hear the gospel. That seems problematic under A, since God wants to save everyone, and certainly could have arranged it so everyone at least got a visit. But under C, there is no need for God to visit those whom he has not elected.

2. One very serious philosophical question Arminians need to give account for is why Christians choose faith while others don't. There seems to be a trilemma here. It can't be (i) because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally. It can't be (ii) that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation (it also seems to collapse into the same problem as [i], since God makes us the way we are). And it can't be (iii) that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.

3. On the theological side, I don't see how Arminians can remain Arminians in light of John 6:44-45: "No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me."

The logic of the passage reveals 3 propositions:

i. No one comes to Jesus unless drawn by the Father
ii. Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
iii. Everyone who comes to Jesus is raised up on the last day

Now, (i) and (iii) are consistent with Arminianism, since you can just say that the set of people in (iii) is a subset of the universal set in (i). But (ii) makes it clear the sets are actually identical. So Arminianism in conjunction with (ii) entails universalism. If God draws everyone, then Jesus raises up everyone on the last day. The context of the passage precludes universalism, however, because Jesus is clearly talking about people who come to him in this life...which demonstrably not everyone does. So the only way to read this passage is that the Father draws only those who come to Jesus, and no one else. But... that's Calvinism!
Before addressing these questions I need to point out that my goal in the post was not a defence of Arminianism in general but rather a refutation, by use of analogy, of the false claim that Arminians save themselves. Arminians never claim to save themselves, they say that salvation is a gift, and they differ from Calvinists by saying that man is able to refuse the gift of salvation. This position is logical, that is internally coherent. It also seems to Arminians to be Biblical.

As to my takes on various aspects that relate to Calvinism and Arminianism; these can be found under my labels of determinism and freewill.

Addressing Bnonn's questions.

1. If we extend the analogy and say that God does not visit every household the analogy still works; the point is one can still reject the offer of his gate being fixed.

But I did not equate the visit to every house with the preaching of the gospel but with God's desire to save. Thus the Calvinist position that if God desires someone to be saved he will be amongst the elect (some houses); and the Arminian position that God desires all men to be saved (every house), regardless of whether they hear the gospel.

As to my position on salvation, it is about who we follow. Christianity is a centred set, not a bounded set.

2. As I have said elsewhere I don't think there is an answer to why some people choose faith and others do not, beyond our capacity to make choices. We choose because we have a nature that can choose. Yes other things sway us, but we make decisions based on the fact we are agents that can do such things.

Say I have 2 options, one that brings a degree of pleasure, and I desire it, but it does not please God. The other option would please God but I don't desire it. Do I subvert my desire to my will, or do I suppress my conscience for the sake of pleasure?

Our desires compete between long term pleasure and short term pleasure. Sin and righteousness. Yielding to temptation depends on degree of perceived pleasure, previous yielding, our resistance, our requests to God to help us, tiredness, knowledge of consequences, past experiences. All these feed into our decision to obey God, or not. But because men love wickedness, many choose to reject God.

What is it specifically within our spirit that means 2 men with similar inputs choose opposite paths? I see nothing deeper than our will. Our choice to obey righteousness or wickedness. Nothing compels us. Ultimately one person chooses one way and one person the other because they do. Do they decide to love righteousness more than wickedness?  This ability to choose is part of the imago Dei in us. In the same kind of way that God can make free, non-necessary choices, so can we. God can create, or not create. And he could have created a variety of worlds, all of which are good. This freedom that exists within God he imparts to us.

Bnonn's trilemma does not pose significant difficulties. He says the reason Christians have faith and others do not cannot be (from an Arminian perspective)
  1. because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally;
  2. that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation; or
  3. that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.
Interestingly I deny all 3 can be excluded. God can give more grace to some than others, though this does not cause saving faith. The faithful may be better than others because faith choices are right choices, though Christians are still sinners who require Christ's righteousness to be acceptable before God; that all fall short does not imply they fall short by the same amount. And other external forces may contribute to one's decisions as mentioned above.

Though the crux of the issue is 1. The unstated assumption is that God can increase the amount of grace to a level which will ensure salvation for each person. My position is that the amount of grace given by God is qualitatively different to our choice to follow God or resist him. The nature of love (and the grace by which it comes) is such that no amount of it can prevent the possibility of resistance.

3. I am familiar with the Calvinist approach to John 6. One Arminian response is to deny ii.
Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
I am not certain that John 6 insists on this. John 6 is saying that one cannot come to Jesus of his own accord, that the Father must draw him. But an Arminian would argue that such drawing is still resistible.

Yet there is another possible understanding of John 6. It is not so much saying that the Father will draw specific people to Jesus a la Calvinism, rather that the Father will draw those who are his people to his son Jesus. In my post on John 6 I wrote,
those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.


  1. I find your answer to the problem of why some Christians don't believe and others do very insufficient. You state that the crux of the problem is in the first part of the trilemma, and I would agree -this is the part that causes the most trouble for the Arminian, because it would be so much more illogical to deny the other two. But you don't really give an answer. You say that His loving grace is such that it does not change the outcome of the response. You have also said that His grace, however various it might be, does not cause salvation. So your answer must lie in responding to the other two parts of the argument. You say "they may be better than others". You need to understand that it is a stronger matter than that. By necessity they must be better than others, because as you say "faith choices are right choices". Being right makes them into moral actions. If one man does something more moral than another then he does have reason to say that he is more moral and a better person. So he then can say that he has by his better nature attained salvation. He is saved in contrast to the other man because he is better than the other man. There is no escaping this fact. This is not a biblical stance. If his salvation is based on doing more good works (his belief) which are caused by himself, and none other, then he can boast in contrast to Ephesians 2:9. But lastly, if you say that other external forces lead to him believing, then how can you say that those forces are not controlled by God, since God is sovereign?
    And as for God desiring all men to be saved, you must understand that Calvinists and the four-pointers like myself interpret these passages as following the preceptive will of God, not His sovereign will. This is just the same interpretive method that you, I and others would apply to passages where God says that He does not desire that men keep on sinning. And indeed, if we attributed it to His sovereign will then we would have problems, because then God would be a liar. He surely can't really desire that everyone stop sinning and disbelieving, because otherwise He would make it happen! Even you, as an Arminian, understand this. You would say that He allows them to sin and disbelieve in order to not impinge on their freedom. So you accept, as do we, that God must of course have a higher reason for allowing sin to exist but the problem comes in our solutions as to what that reason is. (Or maybe you might be surprised to find, that in actual fact, we're not so far apart as you'd think)

  2. Samuel, your response is very Calvinist (unsurprisingly) but it doesn't view the problem from an Arminian perspective. There are positions that Calvinists hold that Arminians deny.

    While I say that one could disagree with all of Bnonn's 3 claims, my point about #1 being the crux is because that is where the primary disagreement lies. I don't think that God can increase grace to a level where one believes. I think that this is a qualitative not a quantitative issue. I think that men have the ability to refuse God, and that they have this ability because God has given it to them.

    You write: You have also said that His grace, however various it might be, does not cause salvation. But I said that grace does not cause saving faith, that is it does not cause something in man. I think faith of of us. But salvation itself is of God and definitely of grace.

    You wrote If his salvation is based on doing more good works (his belief) which are caused by himself, and none other, then he can boast. Firstly, I dispute that belief is a work. This is a frequent claim by Calvinists but I see no reason to call beliefs "works". The whole point of belief is that it contrasts work. Secondly, choosing faith is clearly better than choosing unbelief. But as our faith receives what God offers and does not cause it, how can be boast. I think that it is good that I have faith in God; better than rejecting God. I don't think I have anything to boast about.

    Lastly, I don't think external forces cause belief. I said that they can contribute to it.



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