Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arminianism and Calvinism: Part 2

The last post I attempted to put forth the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, this post I would like to start examining the two positions from a biblical and philosophical position.  My goal is not to put forth a definitive resolution to the questions raised between the two systems, but rather to simply lay out some of the basic arguments so those who are unfamiliar with the positions can begin to think through these issues for themselves.  At the same time I want to illustrate why it matters that we take either position on this subject.  The teaching of our churches and our personal views of the work and person of God are affected by the position we take on Calvinism and Arminianism.  How we view God, how we view our work as Christians, and how we view ideas such as justice and fairness are all tied together in our theology of salvation (soteriology).

So where shall we turn first in considering the first point I brought up that divides the Arminian and Calvinist camps?  The issue we want to examine is the question of whether or not men can resist the Holy Spirit.  For a quick answer we might turn to passages such as Acts 7:51 where we have a rather blatant statement on the subject, "You always resist the Holy Spirit."  But at the same time we have the words of Christ in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."  So how do we resolve such contradictions?  And what does the answer to this question imply about other issues relating to the issue of the freedom of the human will?

First off we have to examine the context of each passage.  In the case of the passage quoted in Acts 7:51 we are looking at the testimony of Stephen before the council when he was asked about the veracity of the charges made against him.  Stephen was not speaking about resisting the Holy Spirit in terms of men resisting the will of God, but rather in terms of persecuting those who spoke the truth of God's word.  Resisting the Holy Spirit in the context of what Stephen said has to be understood in the context of doing violence to the prophets of old.  Thus Stephen was not saying that these men were resisting the call of the Holy Spirit to be Christians, but rather that they were persecuting those who spoke the word of God.

Contextually, however, Christ was speaking about salvation when he spoke to the Jews in John 6.  John 6:22 to the end of the chapter is one long discourse on salvation, and all the conversations between Jesus, the Jews, and the disciples have to be understood in terms of talking about salvation.  This does not make the issue as clear cut as some might would like but it does raise the issue of how each side interprets passages such as this.

First off let's assume the Arminian perspective.

Note that Christ says, "All that the father gives me will come to me."  This demonstrates that men come to God of their freewill.  Christ does not say, "All that the father gives me will be brought to me by the Holy Spirit."  Thus those who come to Christ must come of their own freewill, aligning themselves with the Holy Spirit who calls them.  Also note that Christ says that he will never cast them aside, he does not say that they cannot leave of their freewill, just as they came.

In addition, the Arminian points out that this is a passage written to the Jews.  That the "all that the Father gives me will come to me" is in context of those Jews who have a covenant relationship with God.  This is not a passage talking about salvation in general, but salvation specifically among the Jews.  So here when Christ says that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him is speaking about those who are already in covenant with God needing to be drawn through that covenant to the messiah they are awaiting.

Finally, the discussion of salvation here should be understood in terms of the group to whom Christ was speaking.  Christ was not here trying to lay out that God has called and chosen certain individuals, but rather that as God has given all those who have faith in Christ to him, thus Christ is here teaching that the believing community receives life from him, and that they are all his.  So the issue is not whether or not God has called any certain individual, but rather have you believed, and are you thus part of the community of Christ?

Thus the impetus is on man who responds to the teaching God and comes to Christ because of this teaching, not because the Spirit cannot be resisted.  And so men are called "drawn" by the Father based on their response to the teaching and the calling of the Spirit.  The Father is still the one who initiates the call, but this does not mean that all men who are called will respond, but that those who do respond will be received and accepted by Christ.

However, the Calvinist responds to this that Christ says that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him, and all those whom father gives him will come to him.  Thus the Calvinist points out that it is the determination of God who will be saved, for all those whom God has given to Christ will come to him, and each man comes to Christ because the Father draws him.  Verse 44 becomes important in understanding verses 37-40, because verse 44 lays out that men only come to God because he draws them, and it links those who are drawn with those who are given by noting that those who are drawn will be raised up on the last day.  Here the Calvinist points out that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to draw men to God on behalf of the Father, so the Spirit cannot be resisted or else that would mean that God had given some to Christ who will not come to Christ.

The Calvinist agrees with the Arminian that this passage is not, per se, a discussion on the individual call of believers, but that the individual call is necessitated by the fact that Christ discusses both "all those" and "him" thus showing that Christ has both the universal body and the individual believer in mind in this passage.  So the Calvinist reasons as follows:  All those the Father gives to Christ will come to him, and Christ will raise them up on the last day, because it is the will of the Father that Christ should not lose even one of those given to him, but should raise up each one on the last day; and each one who comes to Christ must be drawn by God, so that he will be raised up on the last day.  The effectual call of God cannot be separated from this passage as the Arminian would like because the text itself requires the effectual call in order to make sense.

Further the Calvinist notes that Christ says that it is the will of God that none that the Father gives him shall be lost, again proving that whoever is drawn to God by the Spirit will necessarily come to God, and he cannot be resisted.  Christ himself says that the spirit gives life, the flesh is no help at all.  Since all men are in the flesh, apart from the work of the Spirit, that means that the will of man in the flesh is of no help in coming to Christ, who is the giver of life.  So men are totally dependent upon the calling and work of the Spirit to draw them to life, their will is necessarily set against the Spirit for their flesh is set against the Spirit, yet God overcomes this opposition in his call to them, rescuing them from the helpless state they are otherwise found in.

Again, the Calvinist and Arminian agree on this point, that no man comes to the Father unless the Father draws him, but the question is whether or not men can resist this call.  The Arminian says that this passage assumes the full knowledge of God and the idea of those who God has given to Christ is based on his final knowledge of who will and won't be saved.  The Calvinist argues that the giving is based on God's decree and that the drawing of the Spirit cannot be resisted, or else that would mean that some of those whom the Father has given the Son would not come to the Son.  The Arminian position must assume an additional theological position of this passage relying on God's foreknowledge, and that his giving in predicated on man's response, thus making man the active agent in salvation.  The Calvinist also assumes God's foreknowledge, arguing that God has determined whom he will call from eternity past, and that the response of man is just that, a response to the will and work of God, who is the active agent in terms of salvation.

Here we see how the teaching of the church would differ based on which position the church takes on these issues.  The Arminian would teach that this passage shows that God's knowledge is so great that he knows who will respond to the call of the Gospel, and at the same time his mercy is such that he will never reject those who come to Christ.  Further they would note the fact that the majority of individuals walked away, despite the fact that Christ was calling them to believe in him, thus illustrating that God works with the freewill of humans to bring about salvation.

The Calvinist, on the other hand, would preach this passage as one showing the sovereignty of God in drawing whom he wills and in assuring those whom he brings to Christ will be saved.  Thus his great mercy is shown in assuring salvation among those whom he effectually calls.  The fact that the majority of those who heard the call turned away does not prove that God is dependent upon the will of man to effect salvation, but rather shows that those who turned away from Christ were not called by the Spirit to salvation.  If they were called to salvation and left Christ that would mean that the will of God was thwarted, because some of whom the Father gave to the Son would not be raised up on the last day.

Other verses could be examined and interpreted, but here we see an example of how the two positions interact with just one passage.

Arminianism and Calvinism: Part 1

I haven't written on this subject because I feel there are already plenty of posts on this subject written by those smarter and with far more training in this area than myself.  However, recently I received a request from a friend of mine to write back to him on this issue and help him understand the two points as he wanted to understand where he stood in this discussion.  Also, as a Southern Baptist, this is a subject that is very important within our churches and our convention.  Unfortunately this debate has become far more divisive than it needs to be, and so I thought I would write a few posts to help clarify the issues for those who are just beginning to learn about these two positions.

A first point must be made that cannot be stressed enough: neither of these positions will save anyone.  This is a debate within the Christian community that revolves around soteriological (soteriology is the study of doctrine of salvation) issues, but being a Calvinist or being an Arminian does not mean you are going to heaven.  Faith in Christ saves a man, and it is possible to understand the soteriological implications of both of these positions (that means you understand how these positions impact one's view of how salvation happens) and take a strong stance on either of them and still not have faith in Christ.  Salvation is not granted by theological acumen, sound argument, or the adherence to traditions that have come from the early church.  Salvation is a gift of God, coming by faith, which faith understands the truth of the Gospel and looks to Christ as the author and perfecter of faith, the only path of redemption for a fallen humanity.

With that being said, these positions are also both within the realm of Christian orthodoxy.  One may be an Arminian or a Calvinist and still be a brother or sister in Christ.  Yes, some of the theological ramifications that develop from these systems will lead to differences in teaching that would lead to some divisions within the church.  But neither of these positions should so divide those within the faith that they would cast one another out or begin screaming "Anathema!" at those who hold to the other view.  In the end this is a discussion within the family of Christ.

Understanding this is an "in-house" discussion, I would like to devote this first post to understanding the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.  Unfortunately both sides tend to paint the other with an unfair brush, often leading to straw man arguments, or at least less than accurate portrayals of the two theological systems.  Arminians often describe Calvinism in a way that makes it seem that Calvinism necessarily leads to a view of God as a capricious, even petty deity.  Calvinists, on the other hand, tend to discuss Arminianism in a way that makes it seem as though every Arminian is, at best, a semi-Pelagian, and at worst a full blown Pelagian.  (Don't worry if you don't understand some of the terms here, just know that Pelagianism has been condemned by the church as heresy, and Arminianism is not Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.)  In order to have a conversation about these two systems we must first look to them honestly so as to understand where they differ.

Here is where the Calvinist and the Arminian agree:  No one comes to faith apart from the working of the Spirit of God.  The Calvinist and the Arminian both recognize what I opened with in regards to Salvation:  Salvation is a gift from God.  This means no one comes to God apart from God calling that person to Himself.  This is where Arminianism differs from semi-Pelagianism.  The Arminian does not say that men do all they can and then God must call them the rest of the way, rather the Arminian, along with the Calvinist, says that God is the one who initiates the call of men to himself.  This is important because it is an area where many Calvinists tend to misrepresent what Arminians actually hold to.

Now, at the same time the Arminian and the Calvinist agree that God must call men to himself, they disagree as to the effectiveness of this call.  The Arminian holds that God calls men to himself, but that the man may then resist or respond to the call, thus resisting the desire of God to save him, or aligning his will with that of God and being drawn to relationship with his creator.  For the Calvinist though the idea that man can ultimately resist the will of God is foolishness, for the nature of God being sovereign means that he will accomplish saving those he desires to save.

This necessarily points to another area where the Calvinist and the Armenian disagree, that is what it means to be one of the "elect."  The Arminian argues the elect is the one who has faith.  Thus if you have faith in Christ you are one of the elect.  The idea of election is based upon God's looking forward to see who will  respond in faith to the Spirit's call, and thus those who have faith are the elect.  Again the Calvinist sees this quite in the opposite, arguing that those who are elect are the ones who will have faith.  The Calvinist says that God has determined whom he will effectively call to himself, he has elected to save those individuals as an act of great mercy and thus the elect are those who will have faith in Christ, and their election is in no way based upon any work of their own but only upon the sovereign work of God.

Discussing the idea of election then brings in the question of the extent of the atonement.  Here the classical Calvinist and Arminian positions differ as well.  The Arminian, seeing that those who have faith are the elect and that anyone may align his will with that of the Spirit and so be saved, argues that the atonement is for all humanity, and that the call is wide and general that all men may respond to it.  The Calvinist argues that as God has determined whom he will save and has elected those individuals, the atonement is necessarily limited only to the elect, and that while there is the general call of the Gospel to all men,  Christ did not die to procure salvation for all men, but rather his death was only for those whom God would effectually call, that is, the elect.  (It is this area more than any other I often hear argued about among Christians.)

The final area that I want to discuss as far as Calvinist and Arminian disagreements goes is in the area of final salvation.  What I mean by this is the question of whether or not men can lose their salvation.  In this area modern Arminians have taken a more traditionally Calvinist position, but at the same time many are not aware that their position is historically Calvinist.  In the Baptist tradition there is the saying, "Once saved always saved" which indicates the impossibility of men losing their salvation.  However, the original Arminian position was to reject this position, which the Calvinists held to.  The Arminians argued that the Calvinists were wrong, and that as the will of man was free to determine his own response to God it was therefore possible that a man who had responded in faith to God and had entered into the New Covenant with Christ- a man who was saved- could, in fact, lose that salvation by walking away from Christ.  The Calvinists, again appealing to the sovereignty of God, had argued that whomever God saves is saved, and that as no act of man's will brought him into salvation, but men only responded as the Spirit drew them, so likewise no one who had been so drawn would ever turn away from Christ.

So, on this last point, as to whether or not men can lose their salvation, the Arminian position was that yes, men could lose their salvation.  However, the Calvinist position was that men could not lose their salvation. 

In this area we see the final outworking of the real crux that divides the two camps, that being the question of the freedom of the will of man.  The Arminian argues that the will of man is necessarily free, that God desires a relationship with man built upon this foundation of free choice.  In this view man must decide wholly upon his own whether he will respond to the call of the Spirit or not, and though God calls a man he does not bind the will of man to respond to that call.  The Arminian view may be somewhat summarized as the idea of a lover pursuing his beloved.  The Calvinist argues that the will of man is corrupt, and that God saves men based upon his will, not upon their desire to respond to him.  Consequently, in the Calvinist view, the will of man is either in bondage to sin or grace; there is no such thing as a true "freewill" that is totally unbounded and is not bent either toward God or away from God.  For the Calvinist the relationship between God and man is both a lover chasing after his beloved and also a military captain conquering a rebellious city.

In the next post I will attempt to being looking at the areas where the Calvinist and the Arminian differ.  My goal is to look at Scripture and see which of the positions makes sense of the biblical witness and what the weaknesses are within the positions.  I hope to look at each of the positions from both a philosophical and theological perspective, seeking weaknesses in logic and deficiencies in textual soundness.