Why I Am A Nazarene, Part 2


In the first part of this series, I briefly explained why I am a Christian. In this second part, I would like to explain why I am an Arminian as opposed to a Calvinist.

I should begin this post by pointing out that some Calvinists do not accept all five points of Calvinism as they were formulated at the Synod of Dort. Many reject the concept of Limited Atonement, often for the same reasons that I reject it. Others accept Limited Atonement but reject other aspects of the TULIP. Since this is the case, I think that the best way to proceed is by taking the TULIP one aspect at a time, and explaining why I accept or reject portions of it.

Total Depravity

The case for Total Depravity is strong. Total depravity includes not only a corruption of the human mind and heart, but also bondage of the will to sin. Simply put, the doctrine of Total Depravity makes it abundantly clear that mankind cannot exercise any good will toward God apart from grace. Paul makes a strong case for this understanding of Total Depravity when he writes,
"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.' 'Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit'; 'The poison of asps is under their lips'; 'Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.' 'Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"
Other passages throughout Scripture speak about the deceitfulness of the human heart and the bondage of the will to sin. Psalm 58:3 states,
"The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray from birth, speaking lies."
Jesus stated in John 3:19,
"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."
Jeremiah points out that,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; Who can understand it?"
There are other passages, as well, that make this abundantly clear. Paul talks about us being dead in our sins. The Psalmist confirms that there is no one righteous. And this is just the beginning. Overall, the case for Total Depravity is strong. This is why I accept the doctrine of Total Depravity, including the bondage of the will. I accept that the only way that the bondage of the will is overcome is by God's grace.

It is a common misconception that Arminians do not accept Total Depravity. From his writings, it would appear that Arminius would agree with this doctrine, had he been around when it had been formulated at the Synod of Dort. Throughout history, Arminians (with some exceptions) have typically accepted this doctrine . Regardless, based on the strong Scriptural case for Total Depravity, we should accept this doctrine instead of rejecting it.

Unconditional Election

The doctrine of Unconditional Election essentially states that God has elected certain individuals to eternal life without condition. That is, without seeing anything in them. This is a typical Calvinist view of election. However, it does not appear to square with the teaching of Scripture.

In contrast with the Calvinist view, which holds that election is based solely on God's decree, making it an individualistic view of election, Arminianism holds to a more corporate view of election. That is, God's election is not based on selecting particular individuals, but rather a particular group of people, namely, those who have allowed God's grace to work faith in them. That is, Arminians hold that God's election is not arbitrary. This appears to square with Scripture.

Paul writes to the Ephesians,
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God"
This passage is often misunderstood by the Calvinist. However, it clearly ties salvation by grace and faith together. That is, this verse itself argues for the tying together of salvation and faith in Christ, not God's arbitrary decree.

Other issues arise. For example, Scripture clearly states that it is God's desire to save everyone, not only some. For instance, Peter writes,
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
Peter makes it clear in this passage that God's patience is because He sincerely desires for all people to repent, so that none perish. This flies in the face of the concept of Unconditional Election.

Another issue arises. If God only selects certain individuals for salvation, and does not select others, He has, in essence, selected those who He did not elect for eternal damnation. In this way, the doctrine of Unconditional Election mars the character of God. If God is essentially loving, would He not want to save as many as possible? And if grace is irresistible (as the Calvinist claims), and God has the ability to save all, why are not all saved? This doctrine becomes an affront to God's love and to God's goodness. Such an affront to God's character cannot be stomached by the Arminian. It also flies in the face of everything Scripture teaches about God's goodness and God's love. If God is perfectly good (as Scripture makes plain), then God's election is not arbitrary.

If the Calvinist view of election is correct, then it becomes inexplicable why we should follow some of the instructions that Christ has given us, including the Great Commission. What is the point of evangelizing if God has already decided who will be saved and who will not? This is a question that the Calvinist cannot simply brush aside.

Another point has to be made. If election is unconditional, based on God's arbitrary decree, then there is no way that a person could fall away from God. Yet, as I will show in the section on the Perseverance of the Saints, Scripture does give dire warnings about falling away. Typically, Calvinists have understood these passages to mean that those who "fall away" were never Christians to begin with. However, these passages were addressed to Christians, not to false converts. We need to take these passages of Scripture seriously, and allow it to challenge our theology rather than allowing our theology to challenge Scripture. In regards to Unconditional Election, Scripture does not seem to support it. Therefore, this doctrine is to be rejected.

Calvinists often point to Romans 9 as supporting their view of God's election. However, the common Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 flies in the face of what we are told elsewhere about the goodness of God. Furthermore, reading their theology into the passage, many Calvinists assume that the election that Paul is describing is individual. However, this is far from certain, and in fact, the opposite seems to be the case. While there are some difficult parts of Romans 9-11, the Calvinist interpretation cannot be accepted because it flies in the face of what we are elsewhere told about the nature and character of God. To paraphrase John Wesley, whatever this passage means, it cannot mean what the Calvinist says it means.

Limited Atonement

This is perhaps the most heinous of the doctrines that we will discuss here. The doctrine of Limited Atonement is rejected by many Calvinists for two reasons. First, it mars the character of God. Second, it does not square with Scripture. It is also rejected by all Arminians, for the same reasons.

The doctrine of Limited Atonement essentially states that Jesus Christ only died for those who God arbitrarily decreed to be saved. His Atonement was only for those who He arbitrarily chose to be saved. Forget all the others. It implies that Christ's atonement was either not sufficient for the whole world or that Christ did not intend to save the whole world.

Again, it should be pointed out that this doctrine is an affront to the character of God. God is perfectly loving. Scripture makes it clear that God loves the whole world. John writes,
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
Many Calvinists interpret the statement that "God so loved the world" as "God so loved people from every nation, tribe, and tongue," thus avoiding the clear implication of this passage in order to maintain their theology. The clear meaning of this passage is that God loves the world--every person, big or small, regardless of race, saved or unsaved. God loves them all and desires that all of them come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Not only does God love the whole world and desire for them to be saved, but Scripture clearly teaches that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of the whole world. The apostle John writes,
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
Calvinists who accept Limited Atonement, again, typically understand the term "whole world" to mean specific people from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and not for everyone in the world. But this makes a mockery of this verse. The apostle John was a saved person, writing to saved people, and explaining that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient not only for their sins, but for the sins of the whole world.

A Calvinist who is reading this may raise the objection at this point, "If the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for the whole world, why is not the whole world saved?" This stems from a misunderstanding of the Arminian view. The Arminian view is that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for the whole world. That is, it is enough that if every person were to repent and place their trust in Christ, every person would be saved. The Arminian view, however, is that it is only efficacious for those who have repented and placed their trust in Christ. That is, a person is only saved if he or she allows God's grace to bring him or her to repentance and a place of trust in Christ.

Some Calvinists have also asked, "Why would Jesus die for those He knew would reject Him?" This objection misses the depth of God's love. God loves everyone because it is in His nature to love. It is not possible for Him to not love. Furthermore, a more Scripturally-based and important question is this: "Why did Jesus ask the Father to forgive those who rejected Him at the cross and were crucifying Him?" The fact that Jesus did this shows the depth of His love and His desire that they be forgiven. So, the short answer to this question is that Jesus died as a sacrifice sufficient for those who would reject Him because He loves them. Even though they reject Him, He still sincerely desires their forgiveness.

One final point. If Limited Atonement is correct doctrine, hell is no longer a tragedy, but a necessity. That is, if Christ only died for a limited number of people, then it is necessary that some people go to hell. If it is necessary that some people go to hell, the hell is a necessity, not a tragedy. Contrast this with the Arminian view, in which hell is a tragedy because, although people do end up there by their rejection of Christ, they did not have to go there. They could have allowed God's grace to work in their lives and lead them to repentance. On Arminianism, hell is not a necessity. It is a tragedy. On Limited Atonement, it is God's fault that people end up in hell, not their own. Furthermore, those who end up in hell would have a legitimate claim against God on Judgment Day. They could simply point out that God never gave them a chance to repent. Furthermore, the Calvinist who accepts Limited Atonement usually argues that some people will go to hell, but it will all be "for God's glory." But God is glorified in saving souls, not in damning them to an eternal punishment. Thus, Limited Atonement actually brings less glory to God than the view often called "Unlimited Atonement," which is the Arminian view.

For all of these reasons, any Christian who reads Scripture, as well as any Christian who cares about accurately understanding God's character must completely reject the doctrine of Limited Atonement.

Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine that God's grace cannot be resisted. This is a Calvinist doctrine that stands in contrast to the Arminian doctrine of Resistible Grace. Which one is correct?

It should be pointed out that both the Calvinist and the Arminian believe in a type of irresistible grace, although the latter rejects the Calvinist formulation of this doctrine. The Arminian believes that God give Prevenient Grace to all as a result of Christ's sacrifice. Prevenient Grace is simply the grace that goes before conversion that prepares a person's heart and mind to repent and receive Christ. The Arminian holds that a person cannot resist receiving this grace. The Calvinist, however, holds that God extends saving grace to those who were arbitrarily elected to salvation, and that these cannot resist responding positively to this grace. When Arminians speak about Resistible Grace, they are taking issue with the Calvinist idea that we cannot resist responding positively to God's grace.

It seems that there are two questions that need to be raised here. First, does God extend His grace to all? Second, can mankind resist God's grace? The answer to this first question seems straightforward. If you accept Limited Atonement, you are going to accept a limited view of grace. However, if you accept Unlimited Atonement (the Arminian view), then you are going to accept a stronger view of God's grace and accept that He extends Prevenient Grace to all people. But what about the second question?

Scripture gives us examples of people resisting the grace of God. For example, Stephen tells the Sanhedrin,
"You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!"
He goes on to compare the Sanhedrin to their ancestors who resisted the message the prophets brought. This indicates that the same thing had happened over and over throughout Israel's history. God warned Isaiah that the people Isaiah was being sent to would resist his message. Again, we could look at the people who resisted the message of Jeremiah and the other prophets to see examples of people who resisted the grace of God.

Another point must be raised. Christ's atonement and God's grace restores us to a proper relationship with God. But if you cannot resist responding to this grace, then that would place the saved individual into a forced relationship with God. But this seems to be contrary to God's character as revealed in Scripture. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him or her (John 6:44). The word "draw" in this passage does not imply an irresistible drawing. It is also used later by Jesus, when he states that when He is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself. If this "drawing" were irresistible, and the Calvinist would say, then this would imply universalism, the doctrine that everyone will be saved. Yet other passages of Scripture speak against this doctrine! In fact, the word "draw" in this passage means, "to draw by inward power," or "to lead." This is more in line with the Arminian belief in Resistible Grace than the Calvinist belief in Irresistible Grace.

Because of these things, I reject the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

Perseverance of the Saints

The last of the five points of Calvinism is a doctrine called the "Perseverance of the Saints." This doctrine essentially states that every true Christian will be saved. In other words, you cannot become a Christian and fall away. Arminians stand divided on this issue, but I will explain why I reject this doctrine.

First, it should be noted that, theologically, the Perseverance of the Saints is tied closely to Unconditional Election. Rejecting Unconditional Election provides one less reason to accept the Perseverance of the Saints.

The primary reason for rejecting the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is because Scripture clearly gives warnings to Christians about not falling away. The author of the book of Hebrews writes,
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame."
Remember, this was a letter written to Jewish Christians, and this passage was likely written to warn them about the dangers of returning to Judaism from Christianity because of pressure that they were facing from non-Christian Jewish people. When the author of Hebrews writes about those who were once enlightened and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, he is clearly talking about Christians. Yet he warns these Christians not to fall away from the faith by returning to their old lifestyle. He gives no indication that these people may have been fake Christians, or insincere converts, or anything of that nature. This is a very serious warning to Christians about the dangers of falling away from the faith. We would do well not to sugar-coat it, but to take it seriously.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say,
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?....It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Again, this book was written to Christians, and the author is speaking about Jewish Christians who had experienced sanctification, and who turned back to their old lives. Again, we should take this warning very seriously. Because of these serious warnings, I have to reject the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.

Conclusion

While I think that each of these points should be looked at in greater depth, it becomes clear that the only one of the five points of Calvinism that is biblical and theologically sound is the doctrine of Total Depravity. The other four points should be rejected. This, at least, is my view.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and let me know!

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