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Tag: Arminianism

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 5

See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. See what we covered last time here. Please remember: these posts will only be as meaningful as the effort you put forth to engage with the texts of Scriptures referenced throughout. Let’s jump in.


 

Remember our hourglass from the first post in the Hamartiology series, which we revisited in Part 4. We are now at “foreknowledge,” the fulcrum of our discussion on sin and salvation.

God’s foreknowledge is the dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism. How do we define foreknowledge? This is really the core issue.

Let’s take a look at the word “foreknow” in its different forms in Scripture:

Foreknow (Proginosko): Ac. 26:5; Rom. 8:29, 11:22; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:17

Foreknowledge (Prognosis): Ac. 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2

Foreordain (Proorizo): Ac. 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11

 

Foreknowledge Defined:

Arminianism Calvinism (two views)
God’s foresight looking down through history -God’s Favor, or love

-God’s forethought; determination ahead of time of what He is going to do

God never drew a conclusion. All of His knowledge is immediate and intuitive. Famously: “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has occurred to God?”

Proginosko and prognosis sometimes have humans as their subject, making them limited in usefulness in helping to settle this debate. Proorizo always has God as its subject. We need to restrict ourselves to passages that use this form, and better yet, use those passages which are the most clear.

Why do Arminians define “foreknowledge” as they do?

Problems their definition is thought to solve:
1: It eliminates the appearance of unfairness on God’s part because it puts the onus on the individual (God isn’t making the choice, it’s really people making the choice, which means God’s choice of them depends on something within the individual. Arminians may go into orbit if you start talking this way, but I don’t see any way around it logically. Election is really contingent on something in the chooser. We have a name for that, it’s called “merit”).

2: It preserves a libertarian theory of human freedom. God’s choice is no longer “manipulative” or “coercive” (as they would view the Calvinistic views of foreknowledge).

An Arminian wants foreknowledge to be foresight because he doesn’t like the implications of unconditional election. Unconditional election is irretractably connected to irresistible grace, which means if God has chosen you, you will be saved, and if things are that certain then you can’t really have a free choice. It’s a foregone conclusion, which to them makes it coercive and manipulative.

Here’s the problem: Does God know you are going to be saved? Yes. Can God’s knowledge possibly be mistaken? No. So isn’t your choice 100% certain anyways? So you see, the problem that Roger Olson and other Arminians try to avoid in one place is still a problem here. The choice is still 100% certain (because God’s foreknowledge, even if passive, cannot be incorrect). So where’s the “freedom?”

On the other hand, if your definition of freedom involves the possibility of you making a different choice than the one God foresaw that you would make, then the outcome has to be that God can’t really know whether or not you will be saved. This is where Open Theism (a recent heresy that says God does not exhaustively know the future) comes from. In Open Theism, God can’t possibly know the future choice of individuals. He can guess, and He’s a really, really, really good guesser. But He can’t know. This is where you ultimately have to go to preserve “freedom” (by their definition).

Open Theism is far more logically consistent than Arminianism, but less Biblical. Arminianism is more biblical, but less consistent. The Arminian’s inconsistency saves him from heresy, but it is still inconsistency. An Arminian will vehemently deny believing in a system of merit, and I take them at their word that they actually believe that they deny a system of merit, but I think they’re wrong and illogical by claiming such. A system of merit is the logical conclusion of Arminianism and it ends in Semi-Pelagianism (another heresy).

The reason I bring up the merit problem and the Open Theism problem is not to indict Arminians. I bring it up to show them that while trying to avoid the “problem” of unfairness with God they’ve created a whole new problem in a system of merit. By trying to avoid the “problem” of foreknowledge they’ve created the problem of Open Theism.

SIDE NOTE: Why is it such a big deal if we mix merit in, or confuse faith with merit?

Romans 4:4-5 and 11:6

These passages create two compartments. In one goes grace and faith, and in the other goes work and debt. The containers are airtight. It’s impossible to mix them. If any work or debt seeps over into the grace or faith compartment, what you have is no longer grace. It is tainted and is now something less than grace. You can’t mix works with grace and you can’t mix debt with faith. If salvation is by grace, it is by grace alone. If salvation is through faith, it is through faith alone. It allows no mixture of debt or works.

Regarding Calvinistic “View 1” of Foreknowledge:
This view emphasizes the intimate definition of knowledge in the Bible, such as Adam knowing his wife Eve. There’s more going on than just pure factual knowledge. God, in eternity past, places His love on the elect person and on this basis He elects. Problem: I can’t think of any instances in which the words foreknowledge or foreknow are used in this way in the Bible.

Regarding Calvinistic “View 2” of Foreknowledge:
Foreknowledge is forethought (determination). Our chief evidence comes from the text itself. And the crucial question here is this: Do circumstances cause God’s foreknowledge, or does God’s foreknowledge cause circumstances?

Two texts are sufficiently clear to help us to make a decision at this point:

Acts 2:23
Peter, during his Pentecostal speech, declares that Christ was delivered by God’s foreknowledge. Was God simply passively aware that Christ was going to be delivered and crucified, or did God plan Christ’s deliverance and crucifixion? Here, we have no doubt because the instrumental case is being used. God’s foreknowledge caused something to happen. To say it slightly differently: God’s foreknowledge causes things to happen. (Additionally, it would be ludicrous to suggest God did not ordain this event.)

1 Peter 1:20
Again, was God simply passively aware, or did He plan the death of Christ? Did God sit back in eternity past and look down through the corridors of time and say, “I’m gonna’ send my Son into the world, let’s see what’s gonna’ happen”? The answer is very clear.

The Arminian is going to say, “Yes, God foreordained it because He foresaw that it would happen.” This is called special pleading.

These passages give us a biblical, textual definition of foreknowledge. We’re not relying on etymology, or philosophy, or whatever else. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen. So if I am elect according to God’s foreknowledge, what that means is that God’s foreknowledge causes my choice. There is some meaningful sense in which a choice can be caused and yet still be free. There is a meaningful sense in which some form of causation or determination is compatible with some meaningful form of free choice.

Application of this definition: Romans 8:28-30
1: God foreknew some, that is, He foreordained some to salvation.

2: God predestined those whom He selected, which means that He actually planned how He would get them saved.

3: God called the predestined ones. He actively brought them to the point of faith.

4: God justified the called ones, He pronounced them righteous on condition of their faith (not “on the basis”; the death of Christ and His righteousness is the basis).

5: God glorified those whom He had justified.

Interestingly, this is all past tense in the text. In the mind of God we are already seated with Christ.

[Important note: Most people, even Bible college and seminary graduates, don’t have enough theological acumen to really know the ‘where’ and ‘why’ they stand where they say they do on this issue of foreknowledge. Humans have a massive capacity for inconsistency, and most people have not rigorously thought through the implications of their “system” and what they say they believe.]

If this Calvinistic view of foreknowledge is correct, how can you say that you are saved through faith?
You have to remember our definition of “free.” As long as you are not forced to act against your will or prevented from acting according to your will you are free. But persuasion is a possibility.

What is irresistible grace?
It does not mean that God drags the elect into His kingdom kicking and screaming. They are never saved against their will or without their consent. It does not mean the elect can never say no to God’s invitation. They can and do for a while. They resist God’s grace temporarily.

It does not mean that they are saved apart from their choice and their trust. It does not address the question of means at all. It makes no statement about how God does what God does. All it addresses is result.

Positively stated, irresistible grace simply means all whom God has chosen will, in the long run, ultimately and freely choose His salvation. If God has chosen you, then you are going to believe. And you will do it freely and you will do it because you want to. How does God get us there? We’re not going to answer that. The Bible doesn’t tell us that. We are not answering the ‘how’ question, only the ‘what’ question, because that is all that the Bible answers.

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 3

Before we move forward, I want to add something that I had to leave out last time. I was writing Part 2 from Alaska where my wife and I were visiting family, and did not have access to this chart that I copied down in class. It is a wheel that helps us to picture the various positions along the soteriological spectrum (can a spectrum be circular?). Start at the bottom of the wheel and work your way to the top. Immediately after the chart we’ll jump into Part 3.

[And yes, I am aware that my PowerPoint drawing skills leave even more to be desired than my golf game.]

Calv_Armin_Wheel

 


How Great A Salvation

If we are to understand salvation, we have to understand lostness. We are not poor little sheep who’ve lost their way. We are creatures who hate God and hate truth. We are repulsive to God. We are guilty. And guilt requires retribution.

All of this is what makes it so astonishing that God loves us; that He sent His only son to die on the cross for our sins. And what do we do? We reject it! We reject what came at infinite cost to Him. We despise it. We aren’t even capable of accepting it.

God would have been completely fair had He condemned all of us. He would have been doubly fair if He had condemned us (again) after we rejected His gift. If God singled out just one of us, just one, to seek and save, this would still be an infinite display of grace. But God has bent over backwards in a thousand ways to manifest His love. God’s love is not what’s at stake in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Even if I believed in limited atonement as it is traditionally defined God still would be infinitely gracious and merciful (this is why I don’t have a big problem if someone does believe it, I don’t think it really matters. It still wouldn’t make God unfair or unjust. To think it does is absolutely backwards).

We are not innocent little sheep. We are infinitely treasonous wicked beings who hate God and hate truth. You have to understand this to understand the glory of God’s salvation.

Arminian Understandings of Election

1. Category Election (Karl Barth; R.B. Thiem; Robert Jordan)

In category election, God chooses a group but individuals choose to leave or enter the group. It’s like the bus to Los Angeles: you choose to get on or get off the bus. (Evidence cited: Romans 9-11 where God chooses a category in the people of Israel.)

Problem 1: It doesn’t solve any of the problems. It just moves the problem back one step. Ultimately our question is why do some believe and some do not. So now God elects a category. This still leaves the question why some people get on or off the bus.

Problem 2: The Bible specifically states that God chooses individual believers, and not just a category. 2 Thess. 2:13-14 speaks to specific individuals.

Very few notable theologians hold this view.

2. Conditional Election

God elects people based on some condition that He sees in them, namely, that God in eternity past looks down through the corridors of time and foresees who will be willing to trust Christ as Savior. Based on His foresight, God chooses people. There are two versions of this view:

1: God foresees that they will believe and chooses them to be saved. He can also choose them to be un-saved again. Losing salvation is not a necessity, but it is a possibility.

2: God foresees that they will be saved and chooses them to be glorified. What He foresees is different than what He elects them to. In this view they get around the problem of loss of salvation by saying that those whom God chooses to glorify cannot be lost.

In Part 4, we will handle Calvinist understandings of election.

Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 1

This series will be in the same vein as our earlier Knowing and Loving God set. The content is not original to me, but is the notes from my November 2014 seminary class “Hamartiology and Soteriology” (Sin and Salvation) at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The course was taught by Dr. Kevin Bauder. Any errors or omissions are mine, and despite my best efforts, I’m sure there will be several of them.

Even though I will be covering the doctrine of sin in this first series, I hope to move right into the doctrine of salvation next. Though two different areas of systematic theology, they are so closely related that you could view them as one series. They are not typically the first areas of systematic theology covered, but me being a modular student and taking courses in a wacky order, you get them in the same order I am getting them.

As always, I will try to keep the personal interjections to a minimum, but some things will need to be explained. Unlike in the Knowing and Loving God series, in these posts I am going to take the more sensible route of having course material (that is, my class notes…the material not original to me) in normal font, and my interjections in italics. This system will start beneath the line below. Without further delay, let’s begin working through the doctrine of sin. We will start with a visual roadmap of what the larger trek through both sin and salvation will look like (please click on image for a better view):

Hourglass

The week long discussion started broad, then narrowed down to the topic of divine foreknowledge, and finally broadened back out to a discussion of the various doctrines of salvation. This will make more sense as we work through this study.


DAY ONE

SIN

Sin begins in Genesis 3, with the fall of man. [NOTE: We don’t know when Satan fell. It could have pre-dated Creation week, or it could have been between Creation week and the Fall of Man in Genesis 3]

Let’s discuss the nature of the Fall, what was going on there? What’s the point of the temptation? To understand, you have to understand the thing to which Adam and Eve were being tempted, i.e. the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Why do we have this tree, and why are they forbidden to eat its fruit?

Many take this as a purely symbolic tree. On the other hand, some over-mystify the tree (“over-magic” the tree). The tree is more than a symbol, but it is a symbol. It is a very literal tree, with literal fruit.  The problem with eating the fruit of the tree was not that the fruit was intrinsically harmful, but in what the tree stood for.

God declares things good throughout Genesis 1 as He creates them. “Good” (Heb. “tov”) is not so much morally upright, but useful or beneficial. For whom are these things useful or beneficial? They are useful for humans.

All the way through Genesis 1 it is God Who decides what is good. By the time he creates the tree, who has known what is good and bad? God. Not Adam. For God to create this tree of the knowledge of good and bad and to use it as a test for Adam is exactly to test Adam’s willingness to depend on the Creator for the good.

In other words Adam has a choice to make: trust the Creator to provide what is good, or seize the initiative in defining for himself what he sees to be good and try to gain it for himself. The crucial issue in the temptation is the issue of trust. Which means that the issue of trust, or faith, is not something that comes in with the fall of man. It is intrinsic in the creation of humanity. If there had never been a fall, the way we would have lived would still have been the life of faith, trusting the Creator to provide what is good and never seeking it on our own or for ourselves.

This is Adam seizing the initiative, no longer trusting God. Implicitly, Adam is declaring the Creator to be untrustworthy. “I cannot trust you for the good, therefore I must seize the good for myself.” This is in tune with the final lines of William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

In short, this would be not just a rejection of the Creator’s law, but the Creator’s character. Which is worse? To attack God’s person is worse. So to eat of this fruit would be quite literally the worst thing Adam could do. It would be to declare independence from God.

This also helps to explain the penalty that comes from eating the fruit, to come under the sentence of death. It is a Hebrew idiom (“dying you will die”), which simply explains why Adam didn’t die that day. Rather, this was the day the sentence was passed. The moment you are attempting to seize the good for yourself, you are rejecting the Source of life. You are embracing death. It couldn’t be otherwise! Adam is separating from God, and immediately comes under the sentence of death.

Interestingly, God doesn’t leave it at the prohibition. He sees something in the creation that is “not good,” that is, that man should be alone. This does not mean it was bad, or evil, it just wasn’t good. A higher level of order was needed. But Adam doesn’t see this. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. So God gives him a task: group the animals (an exercise in taxonomy, not merely naming). Adam realizes that there’s no one like him. He is a single image bearer. And an image bearer of God needs someone else to image God to, and to image God to Him.

So God causes a deep sleep to fall on Adam and takes a rib, from which He creates woman. The good that He provided was well beyond anything that Adam could have invented or come up with on his own. God is infinitely trustworthy to provide the good.

Part 2 –>

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