My Arminian Upbringing . . .
June 21, 2011
About 15 years ago I stole my dad’s text book that he used for his Systematic Theology class in his Bible College days at then Southwestern Bible College in Phoenix, Arizona. They used Henry C. Thiessen’s “Lectures In Systematic Theology.” Southwestern is a Conservative Baptist College (now known as Arizona Christian University), I attended there for a semester when I graduated from high school back in 1992. I never totally read through Thiessen’s book, but I have flipped through it and read sections of it. One section was on Thiessen’s development of his doctrine of election. I wanted to quote what he says about election and foreknowledge:
(1) Election and Foreknowledge. Election is a sovereign act of God; He was under no obligation to elect any one, since all had lost their standing before God. Even after Christ had died, God was not obligated to apply that salvation, except as He owed it to Christ to keep the agreement with Him as to man’s salvation. Election is a sovereign act, because it was not due to any constraint laid upon God. It was an act in grace, in that He chose those who were utterly unworthy of salvation. Man deserved the exact opposite; but in His grace God chose to save some. He chose them “in Christ.” He could not choose them in themselves because of their ill-desert; so He chose them in the merits of another. Furthermore, He chose those who He foreknew would accept Christ. The Scriptures definitely base God’s election on His foreknowledge: “Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained, . . . and whom He foreordained, them He also called” (Rom. 8:29, 30); “to the elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:1, 2). Although we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines His choice, the repeated teaching of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation necessitates or postulating that it is man’s reaction to the revelation God has made of Himself that is the basis of His election. May we repeat: Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His forknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. . . . (Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures In Systematic Theology, 344-45)
Thiessen articulates a pretty classic version of an Arminian understanding of election: God’s choosing of individual people for salvation is based upon His foreknowledge and ability to look down the corridor of time and see who will place their faith in Him; and it is on this basis that God elects these individuals, and as corrollary, reprobates those who choose to stay in unbelief. You’ll notice that Thiessen is careful to frame this in a way that underscorse the fact that the person’s capacity to place their faith in Christ comes from God’s grace given to them; which then opens up a person’s ability to deliberate whether they want Christ or don’t. So we have an Arminian version of prevenient grace at play as well.
This is what I was taught about election, and things from early on in my life. My influence was pretty much Arminian theology like that articulated by Thiessen. Yet, it was somewhat of a hybrid form of Arminianism, since it also had a strong doctrine of the eternal security of the believer; which of course is why I was taught that our view was simply an “Biblicist” approach ;-) .