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 most 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.