Calvinism, Arminianism, and the Middle Road

Soteriological Choices

I will be deliberately simplifying things in this post; I fully realize that the particular teachings mentioned herein are much more nuanced than I will be expressing. I also realize that within the groups ascribing to these particular teachings, there are a myriad of differences and particularities of doctrine; it is not my intention to explain all of that here. Likewise, there may be certain people within a group which disagree with one or more things I am ascribing to that group, and again that is fine. The bottom line is that this post is being written for a friend of mine in an attempt to answer her question, and I am basing my answers largely upon my own personal experience. You’re of course more than welcome to ask questions via the comments and even to debate these subjects at the Hall.

There are many different takes on Christian theology, and it itself is composed of a great many subjects. Some Christians believe Satan was once a cherub named Lucifer who got a bit too big for his britches, so to speak; others believe that Satan & Lucifer are unrelated entities. Many Christians today believe that there is yet a 1,000 year reign of Christ in Earth’s future; others recognize that “Millennial Reign” has being symbolic of the entire church age, no matter how long it goes for.

And then there is the subject of salvation itself, a subject which touches on sin, free will, works, grace, mercy, judgment, sovereignty, and so much more. Within Protestantism today there are two big “streams” of salvation theology (or from here on, soteriology): Arminianism & Calvinism. ((There are also groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, which make good works (the sacraments) a requisite for salvation; I have too much disdain for such teaching to even consider it under the umbrella of “Christian theology” and so will not go into it or other such works-requiring systems here.)) And basically what I want to do here is give a brief introduction to both systems, starting with Arminianism:

Arminianism

Arminianism most broadly describes the theology affirmed by Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609). It’s popularity is likely due in large part to John Wesley (1703–1791). You’ll find Arminian theology taught in Wesleyan & Methodist churches as well as Nazarene churches. Basic Arminian soteriology could be described as follows:

  1. Man is totally depraved, sin having affected every facet of his being; however, God has granted enough grace to all men to allow them to either choose or reject Him.
  2. Election to salvation is conditional upon faith; in other words, the elect (i.e., the saved) are those who exercise faith in God and as a result were chosen by Him.
  3. The atonement (or more accurately, the propitiation) which Jesus accomplished at Calvary was universal — for every man and woman who has ever lived and will ever live; it is thus unlimited in scope, yet its benefits are only bestowed upon those who believe unto salvation.
  4. God’s grace for salvation is extended to everyone, and while He may work to draw unbelievers unto Himself, they are capable of resisting His will and remaining in their unbelief. In other words, man has unbound free will (at least regarding salvation) and is thus capable of choosing or rejecting God.
  5. Because man has such free will, the salvation which they receive upon believing is dependent upon their continuing in their faith. At any point a believer could repent of his belief and go back to his life of sin, losing any benefit of salvation which he once had. Likewise, a believer through growing and maturing could begin to live a truly holy life without sin. ((I noticed this particular belief in the doctrines of the Nazarene church of which I was temporarily a member.))
  6. The Gospel message — that of grace through faith in (and only in) Jesus Christ on the basis of His life, death, and resurrection — should be preached to every one, for all have the ability to be saved if they so choose.

So in summary, we see that the Arminian viewpoint is that God saves those who He sees will have faith in Jesus Christ; anyone may exercise this faith, and many will. Some of them will fall away, but those who remain in their faith will be saved. God helps & aids believers on their way, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

Perhaps a parable would help: Mankind is adrift in a river which is headed toward a waterfall. God is on the bank with His arm outstretched, willing to save anyone who would take His hand. Most people reject the reality of the danger and ultimately perish; however, many choose to take God’s hand. At any time, however, they may jump back into the river — at which point they could again choose to take God’s hand or remain in the river.

Calvinism

Calvinism most broadly describes the theology affirmed by John Calvin (1509–1564). Notable evangelists from history which held to Calvinist theology include Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and Charles C. Spurgeon (1834–1892). ((I’m including two very prominent & fruitful evangelists here due simply to the common charge that Calvinists don’t evangelize or that somehow Calvinism is anti-evangelism; history, however, disproves such an idea!)) You’ll find Calvinist theology taught in Presbyterian & Congregationalist churches as well as Reformed Baptist churches. Basic Calvinist soteriology could be described as follows:

  1. Man is totally depraved, sin having affected every facet of his being; left in this natural state, man will never seek the true God but will only ever choose that which allows them to remain sinful.
  2. Election to salvation is unconditional; in other words, the elect (i.e., the saved) are those whom God has chosen arbitrarily, apart from anything inherent within those chosen (including their actions, beliefs, etc.).
  3. The atonement (or more accurately, the propitiation) which Jesus accomplished at Calvary was not universal — Jesus died only for those whom God has chosen; it is thus limited in scope, its benefits only being bestowed upon the chosen.
  4. God’s grace in salvation is only bestowed to the elect, and when He thus exercises grace on a sinner, they will not resist it. In other words, God’s grace overrides man’s inability to come to God, grants man this ability, and drags man to Jesus for salvation.
  5. Because salvation (even faith itself) is solely a work of God, the saved will persevere in their faith; falling away from the faith completely is a sign that a person was never truly a part of it in the first place. This perseverance in faith does not preclude sin, and Calvinists recognize that until we are given new bodies, Christians will continue to sin, albeit not habitually.
  6. The Gospel message — that of grace through faith in (and only in) Jesus Christ on the basis of His life, death, and resurrection — should be preached to every one because God has commanded it, the preaching of the Gospel being the primary means He has chosen to reach those He has chosen.

So in summary, we see that the Calvinist viewpoint is that God saves those whom He has sovereignly chosen; only they will exercise faith in God, and they will continue in this faith throughout their lives. Regarding salvation itself, man brings nothing to the table — even his faith being the handiwork of God; salvation, from beginning to end, is credited only to God.

Perhaps a parable would help: Mankind is adrift in a river which is headed toward a waterfall. While mankind seeks a great variety of things to alleviate the sense of danger — life preservers, life vests, floaties, indifference, and so on — none of them are a true help, and none are aware of where true help comes from. God, however, is in a rescue helicopter which is unheard due to the rapids below. Prior to humanity ever being in this river, God has chosen those He would save, and it is those which He plucks out of the river below, lifting them into the helicopter so that they will remain with Him.

The Middle Road

Oh my goodness, I cannot believe I forgot that this position could be described as “Semi-Pelagianism”! Chalk one up to my imperfect memory, and I tip my hat to Glen for reminding me of this title! Thanks, buddy!

I’m unsure if this position actually has a name or not. Actually, I’m really unsure just how common this position is. I’m fairly certain most independent, fundamental Baptists believe this, and while there may very well be other more prominent teachers, David Cloud (1949-) is the only one coming to mind at the moment.

And as the title of this section says, this really is a middle of the road position; it takes elements from both Calvinism & Arminianism (but mostly Arminianism) along with some “custom” modifications. Of course, various adherents of the Middle Road view will have diverse (perhaps even wildly so) beliefs. This summation is based upon my own experiences.

Rather than re-hash what has already been written, I will go down the six points as above as simply as possible:

  1. The Arminian view is taken without much modification.
  2. The Arminian view is taken without much modification.
  3. The Arminian view is taken without much modification.
  4. The Arminian view is taken without much modification.
  5. Not much of a middle road so far, is it? Anyway, on this point, the Middle Row views lean more Calvinist, adopting what is commonly called “once saved always saved.” Like the Calvinist “perseverance of the saints,” this is a form of “eternal security”; unlike the Calvinists, however, Middle Road adherents believe that once a person is saved, it is possible for them to leave their faith and once again adopt a life of sin. Because they were saved at one point, they are still saved.
  6. The Arminian view is taken without much modification.

And That’s That

As I noted at the beginning, this was by no means meant to be in-depth, comprehensive, or anything of that nature, and I am very much open to suggestions on what should be added to these brief intros.

Why does any of this matter? Shouldn’t churches be aloud to teach what they want, all the while remaining respectful of other churches? No. The above differences between the three view points represent differences in their understanding of the Gospel, of God, and so on. Do you believe in a Jesus Christ who died for every man indiscriminately or in a Jesus Christ who died only for His elect? Do you believe in a God reaching out waiting on you to come to Him or in a God actively saving those whom He has chosen?

The answers are important because, as you can see, whichever systems are wrong are thus pointing to a false christ or a false god. God is Truth, and He demands truth in worshiping Him.

Likewise, because these issues regard central truths of the Gospel, it’s very possible that to adhere to the false system is to adhere to a false gospel, which according to Galatians 1:8, 9 results in curse, not blessing or salvation (those who are saved are not under a curse).

As for me, I hold to the Calvinist viewpoint, believing it to be in line with what the Bible teaches, ((Ultimately the Bible is my rule in faith & doctrine; however, Calvinism provides a handy framework of theology which has proven trustworthy enough to rely upon thus far.)) and I would be happy to explain why to anyone who asks. In the interim, however, you can browse over to the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry for their brief intro to Calvinism which includes all sorts of scriptural support.

19 thoughts on “Calvinism, Arminianism, and the Middle Road

  1. Glen H. says:

    What are your thoughts on the Calivinist teaching that the Atonement was actually Universal, in the thought of Christ buying everything back, but it’s only the elect few that actually Redeemed. Similar to the parable of the man who purchased the field to Redeem something out of it.

  2. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Good question, Glen; I’m not entirely happy, however, with the word “atonement” as it is applied to what Christ accomplished. I prefer instead the term “propitiation.” As a matter of fact, in some Bibles (the ESV, for example), the word “atonement” doesn’t even appear in the New Testament, nor does “atone.”

    Certainly I think that the Lord is redeeming the whole world to Himself based upon what He accomplished at Calvary; in particular, the Cross provided propitiation only for the elect.

    So rather than the terms “Limited Atonement” or “Unlimited Atonement,” perhaps we should be speaking in terms of propitiation, and if that is the case, then it is truly “limited.” Atonement was an annual thing that anyone with a sacrifice to slaughter could have done for them; propitiation, however… Whosoever has propitiation made for their sins has no more guilt, no more legal obligation to God for evil deeds committed. They are forgiven, washed away, once for all.

    If propitiation was made for the whole world — if Christ’s sacrifice was as universal as Arminians claim — then no one — NO one — would be punished for their sins, the preaching of the Gospel becomes a useless exercise (if propitation was made for everyone whether they believe or not, why the need for anything more?), and so on. Certainly they would say the same to Calvinists — if God provided propitiation to the elect, why must they believe? To that I’d respond that it is because they are the elect — because propitiation has been made for them — that they believe. Such logic does not work in the Arminian system, and suddenly “believing in Jesus Christ” becomes something which can be boasted of. If everyone is afforded the same opportunity to be saved, the same grace, the same wooing of the Spirit, then those who have faith are bringing something to the table in and of themselves — their willingness, their faith, whatever. Either way, biblical salvation affords nothing to the man, casting all glory, all workmanship, all honor unto God.

  3. Rob says:

    Rick,
    Would you mind expanding your thoughts a little more on your dislike of the word “atonement?” I’m thinking of the comparison of “katallagē” vs. “hilastērion.” Thanks.

  4. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    I don’t dislike the word “atonement”; it applies perfectly well to what the Old Testament sacrifices. However, “atonement” is not a word ascribed to the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus Christ in numerous translations of the Bible (including the ALT, ESV, NASB, LITV, Darby, and JPS). The one time the word appears in the New Testament in the KJV is Romans 5:11, which states that we have “now received the atonement.”

    If that’s the word we’re using, then technically we’ve been receiving the atonement for millennia each year via sacrifices of animals.

    Other versions translate that word as “reconciliation” rather than “atonement,” and so it is: through Jesus, we have received true reconciliation to God, not a mere covering over of sins (i.e., atonement).

    My NASB concordance says that katallagē means only “reconciliation.” Likewise, the couple of words from which we translate “propitiate” always mean “propitiate” or “propitiation” or similar.

    So I’m not sure why those two words are in a “versus” situation, but I am by no means a Greek scholar.

    It seems to me that the act of atonement in the Old Testament was but a temporary or perhaps even “minor” propitiation — the people made amends (expiation or propitiation) to God through the temporary covering over of sins (atonement). This is contrasted by the once for all time sacrifice of Christ which accomplished true reconciliation, permanent propitiation, and the wiping away of sins (rather than the covering over, or atonement, of them).

    If any Greek scholar sees this, it’d be great if they could weigh in on this. :)

  5. Rob says:

    I don’t think it is a “vs” situation at all. I am not a scholar of any kind. I am familiar with Greek; but we can keep this discussion in english and still clarify things a little. You said you prefer the word propitiation. Without going into further explanation right this second; I understand the doctrine to go something like this – “Christ became our the propitiation for sin, so that we could receive THE ATONEMENT. Look back over the verses that contain “propitiation” and then look at Rom. 5:11, Rom. 11:15, II Cor 5:18, and II Cor 5:19. All theses verses contain the same Greek word translated “atonement” in Rom 5:11. Look past the english trans. and see what they are saying.

    Latest from Rob: Happy Birthday My Buggy!

  6. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    You can’t say “we can keep this discussion in English” while at the same time saying “Look past the english trans.” ;-)

    That said, the word in Romans 5:11 is “reconciliation.” Christ provided the propitiation for sins so that we may be reconciled to God.

    Old Testament sacrifices were able to provide atonement; Christ provided reconciliation — so much more than a mere covering of sins (atonement).

    The King James Version is the only version I have that says “atonement” at Romans 5:11; it seems every other version has figured out that the word is actually “reconciliation” or a form thereof, for if all Christ did was provide atonement, then our sins would still exist, albeit covered up.

    That, however, is not what the Scriptures teach Messiah would provide; He completely removed sins, blotting out the record of trespasses so that never again would God remember our sins. Under the Old Testament system of atonements, sins would have to be covered yearly.

    So my question is, if Christ provided us “atonement” rather than “reconciliation” at Romans 5:11, are our sins merely covered over or are they completely blotted out? In any event, the propitiation provided by His blood accomplished this reconciliation.

    Hmm, I guess the issue is “reconciliation” vs. “atonement”; why do you feel all the modern translations of the Scriptures have gotten it wrong? Many of them do not contain the words “atone” or “atonements” in the New Testament.

  7. Rob says:

    yea, you are completely right – “You can’t say “we can keep this discussion in English” while at the same time saying “Look past the english trans.” ;-)”
    The way I am used to studying, I really don’t pay very much attention to the different English trans. I guess i should.

    “why do you feel all the modern translations of the Scriptures have gotten it wrong? Many of them do not contain the words “atone” or “atonements” in the New Testament.”

    Regardless of whether they translate ” ” As reconciliation or atonement, the doctrinal implications are the same. The translators maybe should have paid more attention to The Letter To the Hebrews; chapters 9 and 10. These passages demand a synthesis between the overarching OT theme of atonement, and the work of Christ.

    That said, I do not think there is anything wrong with using the word ” reconciliation.” Except that we think of it in terms of… “we were friends, then we were not, but now we are reconciled.” In biblical terms, it is a bookkeeping allusion. As in… ” You owed me money, but someone paid the money for you, so now we are reconciled;” which harkens back to the OT just as Heb. 9 and 10.

  8. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Hebrews 9 & 10 still do not mention atonement, preferring instead to focus on redemption.

    Alas, though, I really don’t know much else about the topic than what I’ve already said, and none of this seems to affect what the original post was about.

    And I still welcome anyone knowledgeable in Greek (or the finer points of soteriology) to weigh in. :-)

  9. Rob says:

    we may need to use another forum to continue this, if you so desire. Either way, you may find it helpful to get a hold of a copy of Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest’s Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1990) They do a wonderful job describing atonement as a “multi-faceted diamond” which includes propitiation, redemption, reconciliation,substitutionary sacrifice, freedom, victory, and even the atoning work of the Resurrection. Atonement is the theological term derived from the revelation of God in the OT used to describe ALL the work of the Christ.

  10. Clint says:
    I am a father of 2 wonderful children and the husband of a beautiful woman who has taught me more about compassion for goofballs than I could have ever learned. I have know Jesus for many years but about 5 years ago I truly met Him and now I do my best to follow Him as I walk in this world

    Thanks for the link Rick.
    I must say that I do not agree with the Arminist #5. You explanation also helps in regard to those who were not elected for salvation. I believe in OSAS but in the context of “really” saved. I guess that would be where those who are not elected fall into. I would suspect that I am more Calvanistic than i thought ;) What about evangelism? Would there be any need for it with that belief or is it something that we do because of the Great Commission and he fact that we don’t know whom God has selected?
    I just started looking at the different doctrines the last part of 07 through a Bible school correspondance course. The pastor who crated it lives very close to me. Let me know if you would ever want to check it out. It is not accredited but it would help you brush up on the books of the Bible before you go to school. i thought i had read somewhere that you were looking into it

  11. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Clint: If you’ve read that I was thinking about going to school, it was a pretty old post. I have an associates degree in theology from Slidell; however, I don’t often claim it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they revoked the degree if they knew how anti-King-James-Onlyist and Calvinistic I have become. :P

    Regarding evangelism, it is important to note that many of history’s greatest evangelists were Calvinist, perhaps most notably Charles Spurgeon. (But also Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, John Bunyan, and so on and so on).

    Bottom line is, Calvinism demands a deep respect and obedience to the Word of God; where it says evangelize, we ought to say, “Your will be done” and get ourselves out there evangelizing. We don’t do this simply out of love-inspired obedience, but we do this with a humble recognition that it is through the preaching of the Gospel that God instills faith in His elect. Romans 10:14–17 establishes that beyond any doubt. Interestingly enough, those very evangelistic verses follow right beyond Romans 9, which is one of the most clear teachings of Calvinistic doctrine found anywhere in the Bible (although Jesus’ words in John 6 are right up there as well).

    Arminians seem to like to claim that Calvinism is anti-evangelism, but I can only surmise that they make such lame claims against us because they have no real scriptural grounds for their particular doctrines with which to argue.

    Thanks for the comment, though; glad you found the article educational. :D

  12. Walt Dickinson says:

    Don’t forget the greatest evangelist of all, George Whitefield. He was a Calvinistic Methodist.

    And then you have today’s preachers: John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, Jr., etc., etc..

    I’ve always wondered why most Calvinists have the name John.

    For example…

    John Calvin
    John Knox
    John Owen
    John Bunyan
    John Howard
    John Gill
    Jonathan Edwards
    John L. Dagg
    John Duncan
    John Brown
    John Angell James
    John Murray
    John Piper
    John MacArthur
    John Frame
    John W. Hendryx

    Those are just the famous ones!

  13. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Walt Dickinson: Mark Driscoll said the same thing during a lesson on Calvinism and Arminianism, available on YouTube.

    You left off a very notable Calvinist named John: the Apostle!

    If I believe Calvinism to be a truly biblical system of theology, then I must include the Bible’s teachers as Calvinists for they taught it centuries before John Calvin was ever born!

    Hope you’re doing well, Justin. :D

  14. Walt Dickinson says:

    Rick: “You left off a very notable Calvinist named John: the Apostle!”

    I thought about including him, but now I don’t even remember why I didn’t. :)

    “Hope you’re doing well, Justin. ”

    By my standards, I’m doing well. Whatever your standards are, I can’t say.

    My dad is getting married tomorrow to a wonderful lady he is so lucky to have found. She was truly a miracle for him.

  15. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Walt Dickinson: Congratulations to you, your dad, and the miracle lady! :-)

    Have a great weekend.

  16. cesty says:

    Early on in my walk with God I struggled with these issues a great deal, as I had had an encounter with a Calvinist who drew my attention to certain scriptural passages, which seemed to indicate that Jesus did not die for all, but only for those for whom He had chosen to be saved from the beginning.

    As a result of this I became quite angry with God, because I didn’t think that it was fair of Him to create some for salvation and others for damnation, and then to put us through all of this trouble when our lives were already mapped out in detail from the beginning…

    In other words, if some are to be saved no matter what, while others were created for damnation, then what sense would there have been in God allowing the saved to go through all of the trouble of being tormented, persecuted and abused, by the damned when the predestined were to be saved regardless?

    Moreover, if we never had the will to choose to be something other than what God had willed us to be, then why didn’t God at least create us to be good in that all that God’s creation would do is nothing but good things?

    In other words, if God wants us to be good, and we have no choice but to be what He wants us to be, then why not just simply make us what He wants us to be from the beginning and not create an opportunity for a wicked people to torment the righteous?

    After all, what sense is there in having us do bad things to each other when we don’t have the will to be anything other than what God had made us to be? All God had to do was to just simply not allow wickedness to be, as He would eliminate at some point anyway.

    Indeed, there are some very serious logical issues that must be dealt with in order to justify such a view!

    So I prayed to the Lord that evening, pleading with Him to open my eyes. It wasn’t common for me to listen to the radio. But shortly after praying to God for an answer, I had a sense of urgency to turn the radio on…

    After having done that, the very first thing I heard was the voice of a person who shared his thoughts about this issue, and basically had said that Jesus died for all people, and that God gives everyone an opportunity to be saved, even though He already knows who will and won’t accept His gift.

    You see, just because He already knows these things in advance that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. For, He gave us the will to choose, while knowing what choices we would make. And so we are still free, but known by God as He is capable of seeing things from eternity.

    Therefore, I took this as an answer to my prayer. Of course, just taking a person’s word for it would not suffice entirely. But the timing of the response gave me great assurance in that it indicated that God was speaking to me through that person.

    After that, I spent a great deal of time in the scriptures, and God opened my eyes even more…

    Thus my knowledge of the subject was greatly enhanced as Jesus showed me via the Holy Spirit, that even if God foreknew that no one would have given their life to Him, Jesus still would have died for all, as it isn’t merely a question of who God is willing to save, but also one of how merciful a savior He is, and how far reaching His love extends. Hence, Jesus did not only die to save sinners; He died to disclose the fullness of God’s love…

    to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
    (Rom 3:26)

  17. Miguel says:
    Coach Miguel …

    Hey Rick

    First let me start by saying, “I’d rather have discussions of this nature in person because there’s something about being up close and personal, especially with sensitive issues of this sort (at least for some). This debate has been ongoing (throughout history) and I don’t think it’s wise to expect someone to change their view because of nicely presented points about who believes what and why.

    My aim is not to change someone’s mind or view about Calvinism but to mention some points, critiques ( on the exegetical foundations) or food for thought if you will concerning Calvinism. I will also list some points of reference, because people need to research and wrestle with these theological doctrines for themselves.

    It’s the questions not answers that lead us down life’s path. I would also recommend learning about Hermeneutics (applying it accordingly even if it departs from our tradition). The same can also be said of exegesis. Remember, there’s a difference between theological ideas (doctrines) and exegesis. I’m afraid that much of what we see today are theologies being forced into the text because people come to it wearing different theological lens, which leads to a distortion of the author’s original intent and message (apart of exegesis)

    “… any effort to mount an interpretation of the Bible that ignores its first readers is doomed to end up with a bouquet of fragments that are neither the book of the church nor the imaginative wellspring of Western literature, art and music. Uprooted from the soil that feeds them, they are like cut flowers whose vivid colors have faded…. Yet, and this is the central point, the biblical narrative was not reduced to a set of ideas or a body of principles; no conceptual scheme was allowed to displace the evangelical history.”
    – R. Wilken, quoted from the Problem with Evangelical Theology by Ben Witherington III (highly recommended)

    The problem, already hinted at above, is reading the text outside of its proper original contexts- historical, rhetorical, social, theological, and so on. Proof- texting or some call it strip-mining of the text are endemic problems with Biblicists who cannot wait to get to the theological or ethical implication or the application stage. I find it amazing how many people impose a theological grid on the schema of interpretation and assuming that if text A cannot possibly mean that because it interferes with one’s prior theological commitments.

    First, your first footnote (wow, my friend that’s rough… I’m not Catholic but I know both Catholic and non-Catholic professors and friends that would take you to task on that point alone.) Please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not upset or using fighting words. I used to think like that during my early years as a Christian ( or Disciple if you prefer). :) Side note, the term Christian means “little Christ.” At least early on it did. Anyhow.
    Some points to consider, anyone that has studied early church history knows we all came from that umbrella. Second, if it wasn’t for the early Christians and traditions, there’s a chance we lose many of the ancient copies of the scriptures available to us. Third, I recommend, as best as you can to approach the text without your Calvinistic lens, side with the text and not your tradition and you may learn something, which is not being blinded by your presuppositions.

    “Sometimes it is more presuppositional than it is a matter of careful exposition of texts.” – Ben Witherington III

    A little history, Josephus indicates that determinism, or fate, or predestination, was an issue very much in dispute in early Judaism, mostly between Paul’s former sect, the Pharisees, and other dominant sects.

    Remember, the Essenes, in regard to destiny or foreordination, exempted nothing from its control, while the Sadducees took the opposite end of the spectrum, denying there was any such thing as foreordination, while the Pharisees held the middle ground, namely some things, but not all things, are the work of divine destining. Some things, such as whether one responds to divine grace, or whether one continues in one’s faith, are within the control of human beings. ( I’m not just pulling this out of thin air or from the pulpit speaker, do your research it is there.) :)

    “… it having pleased God that there should be a co-operation, and that to the deliberation (of God) about destiny, humans in the case of the one who wills should assent, with virtue or wickedness.”

    The point: Paul was a Pharisee before his Damascus Road experience; he affirms God’s foreknowledge, his destining of some things, and also he affirms human responsibility for sin, and the awful possibility of radical rebellion against God by a believer, namely apostasy.

    Take note, it is not an either/or matter for Paul when it comes to viable human moral choices and God’s sovereignty, but rather a both/ and situation. He stand directly in the line of the early Jewish discussions by affirming that in the most important matter of all- one’s salvation and the possibility of virtuous behavior- humans must respond to the initiative of grace freely, and continue to do so freely after initially becoming new creatures in Christ. The divine and human wills are both involved in such matters.
    It is essential to set Paul in the context of early Jewish discussions

    Some tools: http://www.asburyseminary.edu/chapel/ntwright.php

    Commentaries on Romans or just Paul in general, look up scholars like Robert Jewett, James Dunn, N.T Wright, Douglass Moo (Calvinist background but sides with the text over his tradition) and Ben Witherington among others.

    BTW, great work in the Thesis forums. I see your pretty active there, keep up the great work! :) I should add, we have only starched the surface. Please try to equip yourself with the necessary tools, learning biblical Greek was amazing, fun but no easy. A lot changes when you not only realize the limitations of English Versions but the work required to translate. It’s unreal my friend. All the best!

  18. Richard says:

    Hi, I’m an assistant pastor in a chapel (Primitive Methodist – we do still exist!) in England, and have long been fascinated with the whole Arminist vs. Calvinist question. It seems a bit difficult to reduce scripture to ‘soundbites’ to prove a point of this complexity on a site, so I won’t try other than to suggest approaching the apparent contradictions in scripture on this point by this simple approach:

    1. God chooses who are saved.
    2. So, who are predestined to be saved by the Lord?
    3. Answer… those who love God.

    Summary/supposition: God choose those who love Him (those who have a heart for Him), and love in that context (from the Greek) means have goodwill or affection towards.

    This may sound simplistic but isn’t (but I’m really not prepared to present a theological argument in too much depth here since getting to this simplistic point is rather complex!). It explains why an accurate knowledge of God’s nature is vital and why we have to repent (which word simply means, translated, ‘think differently’. Once someone grasps the love God has poured out to us though His Son, then the proper response is love). Our relationship with the Lord can then be both based on knowledge AND experience (our churches often fall into one of two camps; knowledge-based or experiential-based, whereas both are necessary).

    This approach does however take away any apparent contradiction in scripture, which as we all surely realise does not contradict but is in inerrant.

    Read one point of Romans, for example, and you’ll be a convinced Arminist, read on and you’ll then turn into a convinced Calvinist… in the end even Paul the Apostle seemed to get exasperated with explaining it all and just remarked that it was enough to say if you confess with the mouth and believe in the heart that Jesus Christ was raised then you’re in the Kingdom! But then we could have an argument over what ‘believe’ means in this context. It seems to me to mean ‘to trust’ which is not something you do once and then forget about, but keep doing. Works don’t save you, but what you put your trust in can, and if your trust is really in Christ Jesus and you know Him then there is nothing to worry about and we can approach Him boldly. But will someone ever get to that point without love for God in their heart in response to God’s love?

    I am also convinced that someone can lose their salvation if they turn from God badly enough. That observation is clear in the Bible texts (Hebraic and Greek) from start to finish.

    I realise this could get messy but propose you just delve into the Word with the thought ‘God chooses those who love Him’ in mind and you’ll see the pattern.

    Hope that helps.

    Or maybe a fourth way of looking at this question will just have you tearing your hair out!!!

    Thank you all for a very interesting conversation!

    God is good all the time.

    Grace & Peace,

    Richard D. White-Watts

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