Home » Christian Dogmatics » Matt Frost Critiques Arminius’ ‘Actualism’/Salvation; And I Say Some Stuff Too

Matt Frost Critiques Arminius’ ‘Actualism’/Salvation; And I Say Some Stuff Too

Here Matt Frost—Barthio-Lutheran theologian—offers a critique of Jacobus Arminius (the purported founder of what we know today as Arminianism, but from reading Arminius, directly now, I would claim that what defines fatimamarymost Arminians today and what defined Arminius’ theology yesterday are not corollary, or they are different); and in particular, Matt is critiquing based upon my little claim that Arminius was trying to offer his own version of theological actualism in contrast to the substance metaphysics supporting the “Calvinist’s” understanding of salvation and predestination that he (Arminius) is arguing against. Here is Matt Frost’s response to Arminius (and his ‘actualism’ i.e. oversimplified what is, is):

Such a theology of glory. The cross need never be mentioned; it is not central, not substantial, but accidental. It is not the shape of the thing, but merely the opening gambit. The decree is the thing.

The problem is that Arminius’ “actualism” here is actualism of the human person in history, as the central agent involved in the question of salvation. We are what we do, and the matter of salvation follows accordingly. God has possibilized salvation in Christ, and it is the believer who actualizes it. The proximate cause of salvation here is always belief and perseverance; only the ultimate and mediate/instrumental causes belong to God. This is the problem with the decretal understanding of salvation: it becomes the “law of the land,” which does not fulfill itself. It sets the terms of salvation, terms which are either met or not by human agents.

By comparison, Barth’s actualism (for example) declares that God is what God does, and that the matter of salvation follows accordingly. There is no decree. There is action, the primary fact, and announcement of that action, the secondary fact. Faith does something else: it leads toward moral behavior concordant with God’s accomplished salvation, when we understand and trust that fact. By trusting in God’s grace we begin to become what we are in Christ—our existence begins to conform to our essence—but we are that regardless of the relative possibility of our absolutely impossible existences in sin.

Either Arminius presumes (which he seems to) that there are human beings who shall be judged righteous on the basis of their perseverance in faith, and therefore saved, or he’s proposed a system in which all fail and all are therefore damned in divine foreknowledge. Grace in such a system as he proposes is (as in so much of scholasticism) the provision of effective assistance, and of reward. And it can be this because the assumption underlying it is that there is something worth saving, and that salvation and damnation are on the basis of worth. Salvation is a reward, the attainment of which has been made possible and then announced, and its achievement is left to human agency under the mask of divine foreknowledge. God has only achieved the salvation of the willing, and “election” is the election of a self-selecting group of people who choose salvation by sufficiently embracing the given means.

Have I mentioned I don’t like it? 😉

I think Matt is right! That is why our mode of Evangelical Calvinism, along with Torrance (and Barth) sees humanity’s humanity grounded and conditioned by Christ’s vicarious humanity for us. Instead of salvation being left to human agency under the mask of divine foreknowledge; salvation is left to Spirit anointed human agency under the mask of the divine life that the Son has always shared with the Father. There is no wondering whether salvation will be accomplished, in our scheme; salvation has been accomplished by the surety of God’s own person. It is not something that needs more accruing—by our perseverance in good works—it is someOne who has already finished the work of the Father by the Holy Spirit’s creative and recreative work through the Son’s obedience to become a man, and ultimately His obedience unto death, that makes salvation sure. Thus all we can do is participate in this by the Holy Spirit as we are united to the priestly humanity of Jesus Christ.

See what Matt is rightly critiquing is a form of semi-Pelagianism (moralizing) that he sees at work in Arminius’ theology; and it is this same conception of grace (and moralizing) that is present, not just in Arminius, but in the Calvinism (of which he was a part) of his day. This is the critique of Calvinism that I was first introduced to by Ron Frost in seminary, and it is still one I hold to today; viz. that any time we commodify grace (i.e. created grace), and see it as a quality that we can habituate in as the process by which we attain enough merit before God to then be found worthy to become initiate in the pilgrimage (think ‘viatore’) of salvation (i.e. Medieval conception of salvation), or as that which secures our process in the perseverance of good works (classical Arminian and Calvinist conceptions of salvation); then salvation becomes contingent upon “my” (and your) earning power—as if we could earn more “chips” from the meritorious achievement of Christ (which is how the Roman Catholic Church operates, as the dispenser of grace or merit chips)—and not based on the personal life of God for us in Jesus Christ. We are condemned to a world of obsessively and introvertedly looking at ourselves before we might ever be able to (reflexively) look at Christ. We, if we do this (along with Arminius), have just, at least engaged in the Nestorian (if not Ebionite) heresy of placing divinity in competition with humanity; when in fact the incarnation declares that these two have been reconciled and recreated by the Spirit in the second person of the Trinity, in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

I am streaming now, time to stop.

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7 thoughts on “Matt Frost Critiques Arminius’ ‘Actualism’/Salvation; And I Say Some Stuff Too

  1. I think you’re spot on. Once grace becomes a ‘thing’ rather than the person of Jesus Christ, a ‘substance’ instead of fellowship with the Triune God, then we fall into a form of Medieval Scholasticism.

    When we see Paul say:
    “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”

    It seems like sometimes this is left off:

    “whom he has given us.”

    Indeed, what does Jesus say that eternal life is but ” that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

    We’re trying to reify communion! How can you quantify a relationship?! Madness.

    Cal

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  2. Cal,

    Amen.

    Augustine referred to the grace (or the donum), as the Holy Spirit (so in personal and affective terms); and his favorite passage was what you just quoted Romans 5:5 :-).

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  3. Very Good! …but this (to me) begs the question: You (Bobby) agree with Matt, and I agree with Matt, but does Matt agree that you and I agree with Matt? :
    [Matt argues against the view that] “God has only achieved the salvation of the willing, and “election” is the election of a self-selecting group of people who choose salvation by sufficiently embracing the given means”.

    We believe that God has selected salvation for all, but we have it within our power to inexplicably de-select ourselves, by rejecting His salvation; by rejecting Jesus. For us, selection is based on non-works faith or belief in Jesus alone (not to put words in your mouth Bobby?), or perhaps, rather to say faith is the default position, as in “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL MEN unto ME”, but men can (again, inexplicably) de-select, or reject that faith or belief.

    Matt, for you, does that put enough room between us and the scholastics?
    By the way Matt, are you related to that other Frosty theologian also mentioned in this post? :O)

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  4. @Duane, good question. I like it when Bobby agrees with me, but he rarely does so for the reasons I agree with myself. 🙂 He’s too good for that! But I do know that when Bobby and I manage to come together on a point from our very different backgrounds, there’s something to it.

    Having trained as a Lutheran in schools of thought that were very big on heresiology, and having then discovered Barth and read myself some of the heresiarchs, I got leery about labeling. Pelagius v. Augustine is actually quite interesting, and which one is the heretic was a very close thing without the politics. Closer, I might say, than Arminius and Calvin, even though that was also a kind of political slam-dunk at Dor(d)t. So I’m just not going to wade into Bobby’s diagnosis of what the problem is, and whether it’s semi-Pelagian, or Nestorian, or Ebionite, or what. But he and I have been dancing this dance for a while, and I remain confident in his basic discernment that the vicarious humanity of Christ is the key.

    However, I will say this: the difference between Calvinist double predestination and universalism is simply that in one, God inexplicably elects some and not others, in no connection to merit, and in the other, God explicably elects all, in no connection to merit. The best of Calvinism (at least from my perspective), even when it insists upon double-predestinarian views, does so under the clear understanding that there is no synergism here. The question of the assurance of salvation is answered by even the smallest particle of faith, however surrounded it may be by doubt. Faith is the consolation given those who are in fact being saved. It is the result of the indwelling Spirit of God accomplishing our salvation out of the universal condemnation of the Fall. The only remaining question between DP and universalism is then whether we can uphold the idea of damnation out of the character of God as revealed to us.

    I’ve wrestled for a long time over the role of faith in my own tradition. Lutherans are renowned for our “solafidianism.” Although, I would say that the popular use of the solae for this point is mistaken. The better phrase to use is “by grace, through faith in Christ, apart from works.” Of course, the best of all phrases is “by God,” for which these are all scholastic attempts at working out the means. But our attention to faith as a means, even in Luther, results in the kind of understanding of the world in which faith is the difference between salvation and damnation. Vom unfreien Willen, as useful as it is, cuts us both ways—and Luther acknowledges later that there are problems in it. But the Church believes in damnation, and so does Luther. And if we believe in it, we must figure out (for our own sakes!) what the logic of it is, and what is the logic of salvation on the other hand. Luther’s generation leaves the Reformation traditions with this problem, that faith has been set in place of works, but that it isn’t yet not works.

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