Barth Against the Semi-Pelagian Arminians and Renaissance-Man: What Hath Election to do With Christ?

Barth, in the preceding section, to what we will be reading from him here, has laid down the gauntlet against the doctrine of election as found in Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Bullinger et al. He offers the right amount of praise, for all of them, insofar as they attempted to offer a proper christological reference in regard to their respective doctrines of election; but then notes that each of them, respectively, failed to carry through the necessary theo-logic on an actual christological doctrine of election. We pick up with Barth just as he has been making this same critique against both the Dutch Remonstrants (the Arminians and Arminius), and their opponents found in the Synod of Dort. As you will see, and this interests me greatly, Barth sees the Remonstrant solution to the Dortian understanding of election as falling into the category of Semi-Pelagianism and as a forerunner to the Neo-Protestantism that blossomed more fully in post-Renaissance Western Europe. We will read along with Barth for a bit, and then I will offer some closing comments (and some application to contemporary referents). Barth writes: 

We can say that it would have been good if the orthodox majority at Dort had let the (in any case) remarkable wording remind them of the problem to which the Calvinistic and in particular the Reformation conception of the doctrine had returned so unsatisfactory an answer. But the general tenor of the Remonstrant theology laid down in the Five Articles was so bad that in effect they failed to give the stimulus which they might have given in this respect. The only result was a hardening of the conception inherited from the Reformers. There can be no doubt that the Remonstrants were, in fact, the last exponents of an understanding of the Reformation which Erasmus had once represented against Luther and later Castellio against Calvin; an understanding which can and should be interpreted in the light of the persistence of mediaeval semi-Pelagianism no less than in that of the Renaissance. And as the last exponents of that understanding they were also the first exponents of a modern Christianity which is characterised by the very same ambiguity. They were the first Neo-Protestants of the Church, and it was their basic decision which gave unity to all subsequent developments along this line (from the end of the 17th century onwards). The basic decision which they made was this—that in the understanding of God and His relationship with man, in the question of the formulation of Christian doctrine, the criterion or measure of all things must always be man, ie., man’s conception of that which is right, and rational, and worthy, therefore, of God and man. It was in the light of this basic decision that the Remonstrants opposed to the Calvinistic doctrine of the decretum absolutum the assertion that we cannot and must not state that God elects (and rejects) whom He wills solely upon the basis of His own free beneplacitum [decree] and without reference to conduct, and particularly to belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience. On the contrary, the divine election is made with due consideration of the conduct of men as foreseen by God from all eternity, ie., of the use which, according to God’s foreknowledge, they make of their freedom, whether in belief or unbelief, whether in obedience or disobedience. It is to this context, unfortunately, that there belongs the intrinsically so remarkable statement of the Remonstrants that Christ is the fundamentum electionis [basis of election], a statement which was obviously meant to outbid and correct the Calvinist statement that Christ is the speculum electionis [mirror of election]. We cannot take the statement to mean that as Christ is the Subject of the saving decree of God, so, too, He is the Subject of the free election which underlies it, an election independent of and preceding and predetermining absolutely all creaturely decisions. It is simply a polemical assertion in the battle against the servum [bondage] and for the liberum arbitrium [freedom of the will]. It does not mean, unfortunately, what in itself the wording might well mean: that in concreto the Calvinistic and Reformation magnifying of the freedom of the election of grace must consist in the magnifying of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, who in His own person is Himself the God who freely elects and then acts towards the creature, the One behind and above whom there is no other God and no other election. As directed against the decretrum absolutum [absolute decree] the statement does not contend for the dignity of Jesus Christ, but for the dignity of man standing over against Jesus Christ in an autonomous freed of decision. Read in the context of the general teaching of the Five Remonstrant Articles it unfortunately means nothing more than that Christ is the essence of the divine order of salvation. It is in Him that the grace of God is offered to men. It is by their belief or unbelief in Him that the decision is made—according to God’s foreknowledge, but independently—whether the grace of God profits or does not profit them. The Remonstrants did not say that Christ is the electing God. They can never have wanted to say that. What they did want to say, and what they actually did say in this statement, was that in the distinctive sense of the word there is no divine decision at all. There is only the establishment of a just and reasonable order of salvation, of which Christ must be regarded as the content and the decisive instrument. Above and beyond that, there is no more than a divine foreknowledge of what individuals will become as measured by this order of salvation and on the basis of the use which they make of their creaturely freedom. It might almost be called fate that a statement which is so interesting in its wording should engage the attention of Calvinistic orthodoxy, and the Synod of Dort in particular, only in the form of an argument for so revolutionary an error, and that in the mouth of the Remonstrants it should not be a more accurate or Christian definition of the mystery of the election of grace, but an attempt to deny it altogether; an attempt to make of divine predestination something more akin to a religious world-order. [1] 

For Barth, it ought to be clear, that any doctrine of election that attempts to think of it as something ‘behind the back of Jesus’ is not a doctrine worthy of its name. With reference to a comparison between the Remonstrants or ‘Arminians’ and the Dortians or ‘Calvinists,’ clearly Barth believes the better of the two is the latter. Even so, he is just as critical of the Calvinistic and Lutheranistic teachings on election as he is of the Arminians. But within this frame he rightly sees the doctrine put forward by the Remonstrants as semi-Pelagian; that is, insofar that they make God’s election (or rejection) of them contingent on their abstract choice to be either for Christ or against Him; and this from their own liberum arbitrium (freedom of the will).  

In my view, Barth also rightly draws a connection between the Remonstrants and the Neo-Protestants of Renaissance ilk. In other words, there is an emphasis, among all of these groups, respectively, on an abstract human agency (and thus latent rationalism) that leads the ‘Renaissance-man’ to the conclusion that he/she is the terminus upon which all of reality is contingent; for the Arminian all of reality would find its reference in the eternal salvation that Christ is. But this is to the point: for the Arminian logic, whether or not they identify the necessity for a ‘regenerating-grace’ or not, they still operate from a synergist understanding with reference to the salvific event. In other words, ‘their salvation’ is purely contingent not on an absolute Christ-determination, as if election is solely funded by and from Him, as both the Electing God and Elected Man; for the Arminian (and the subsets under them such as the popular movement today known as Provisionism) their election or reprobation is purely attenuated by their choice to cooperate with God in the appropriation of their salvation or not. This gives us a doctrine of election/reprobation that is not Christ-conditioned, from thinking His vicarious humanity into this doctrine, but a doctrine that is solely abstract-human determined making the Christ merely the organon or instrument who meets the conditions required in order for the Arminian to have the “free-choice” to be for God or against Him on their terms rather than His (ie they decide the when and the where that salvation is actualized for them, thus their choice conditions His foreknowledge in regard to whether He elects or rejects them). 

__________________________________________________________

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 70-1.   

 

‘The 5 Points of Arminianism’ and How Evangelical Calvinists are Neither classical Calvinist or Arminian

We hear a lot about the so called 5 points of Calvinism, but rarely, if ever do we hear of the 5 points of the Remonstrants or Arminianism. This is ironic, since the 5 canons or points of Calvinism were in response to the points of Arminianism; this is why the Calvinists had 5 points at all. The Calvinist points were developed at the internationally shaped Council of Dort, held in the Netherlands. The Calvinists felt compelled to respond because the Remonstrants (or Arminians) were gaining too much theological and political ground, and so the Calvinists knew they needed to offer a united front in response. What is interesting about the 5 points of the Remonstrants, is that when you read them what the reader might be surprised by is just how “Calvinist” many of the points sound. For those aware, this makes sense, since historically, Arminius, and his followers were situated in the same sort of theological milieu as their Reformed counterparts. Arminius himself had an elevated view of John Calvin’s Institutes, and in many ways reflects many of the themes, that Calvin developed, in his own work. Further, the Remonstrants, were couched in the scholastic Reformed world, or what has now come to be called Post Reformation Reformed Orthodoxy. As such, the Arminians, as far as their grammatical soundings and theological material and method, will sound and look a lot like the scholastics Reformed. Of course, the Remonstrant theology veers rather dramatically away from Calvinist theology; particularly when it comes to the doctrine of predestination and election. Let’s read what the 5 points of Arminianism entail, and then reflect a bit further on the other side of that:

  1. In the decree of election, God has purposed to save those whom He foreknows will believe and persevere in faith to the end.
  2. Christ by His death has purchased salvation equally for all, but this salvation is enjoyed only through faith.
  3. Fallen human beings are enslaved to sin, and have no innate power to think, will, or do anything spiritually good, unless they are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
  4. Divine grace alone enables fallen sinners to think, will, or do anything good; yet this grace is always able to be resisted. The difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is that the former cooperate with grace, but the latter resist it.
  5. Believers are given all the help of grace to persevere to the end; but whether a true believer can reject this grace, return to his sin, and be for ever lost, is a question requiring further investigation from Scripture.[1]

If the reader is interested in reading Arminius’s theological developments in these areas, as those stand behind the 5 points, I would recommend they read his Declaration of Sentiments. It becomes clear why Calvinists would reject these points out of hand; as the TULIP (a 20th century acronym used to make the 5 canons of Dort more memorable) makes unmistakably clear.

As an Evangelical Calvinist I reject the Remonstrant points as they ostensibly make God’s election contingent upon the ‘seen’ faith of people who will believe and persevere; I think this does indeed collapse God’s will into the human will much too closely. Of interest, though, is point 3: it is here that the Calvinists and Arminians can hold hands with great affection. Often Arminians are charged with being Pelagian, or that they grant neutrality to the human will in regard to its capacity to be for God or against Him. As point 3 ought to clarify, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem that Calvinists have with the Remonstrants though, on this particular point, is how the Arminians develop that in point 4. The idea that someone could resist God’s grace when offered to them is intolerable to the Calvinist. The Calvinist has a heavy emphasis on God’s brute power as that is given form, in a God-world relation, in the so called decretum absolutum. If a person can thwart God’s will in salvation, which the Calvinist believes point 4 above entails, then the conception of God as almighty and sovereign is undercut; according to the Calvinist. This, of course, is why, in the 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP), we get the “I” of Irresistible Grace.

Some people have charged Evangelical Calvinism, as we have described that, as being more Arminian than Calvinist. They make this claim, because like the Arminian we affirm a universal atonement. They also seem to think that we can be construed as Arminian-like (so Kevin Vanhoozer’s critique of us) because we reject the absolute decree (decretum absolutum) of election and reprobation, at least as those are understood in the Reformed orthodox tradition. Vanhoozer, in particular, maintains that since we have the concept of universal atonement operative in our ‘system’ that this necessarily leads to the idea that either all people will ultimately be ‘saved.’ Since we reject universalism, Vanhoozer and Roger Olson, believe that we operate with an irrationalism in regard to election; since, for Vanhoozer, we don’t have a coherent strategy for understanding why not all will end up repenting, and on the other hand, for Olson, because we likewise do not ostensibly have a limiting factor in regard to who will end up turning to Christ. In other words, because Vanhoozer reads these things through his metaphysic of primary and secondary causation (and Aristotelian frame), he believes that if we affirm a universal atonement, that it only makes sense that all will end up turning to Christ; since there is a one-for-one causal relationship between God’s will in atonement, and God’s will in regard to whom the atonement is for. I.e. If God in Christ dies for all, eo ipso all MUST repent and receive Christ; or, God’s sovereignty has been thwarted and defeated by His creation.

But Evangelical Calvinists evade Vanhoozer’s critique, in particular, and the classical Calvinist critique, in general, insofar that we repudiate the ‘logico-causal necessitarian’ theory of causation that they operate from. In other words, we think it is artificial to think that God must operate from an Aristotelian or Newtonian, or mechanical understanding of a God-world relation. This is not required by Scripture’s disclosure, and more significantly, the Self-revelation of God in Christ of the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ought to indicate to the theologian that God’s relationship to the world, as His relationship has eternally been in se, is a filial and personal one. As such, if we are going to strictly follow the implications of God’s Self-revelation as the only means by which we might come to know God’s way in Himself and for us, we ought to reject the metaphysic that Vanhoozer and the rest of the classical Calvinists (along with the classical Arminians) operate with; viz. the theory of causation that thinks in the mechanistic terms we have already alluded to. Because Evangelical Calvinists reject the so called ‘classical metaphysic’ of the Great Tradition, and opt for a reified conception of that as that is understood within a so-called ‘Chalcedonian Pattern,’ we elide, indeed, the logico-causal critique against us as if we are Arminian. We might affirm similar things in regard to the extent of the atonement, but that is only a semantic connection, not a material one.

Truth told: classical Calvinists and Arminians have more in common with each other than we do with either Calvinism or Arminianism. Since they both operate from the same intellectual heritage, and seemingly have become stuck in the web of 13th century through 17th century theological metaphysics, they are unable to adequately read the Bible’s reality for all its worth. Thomas Torrance, patron saint of us Evangelical Calvinists, has charted a better way forward, in regard to constructively appropriating modern metaphysical insight towards the reification of theological concepts. In other words, as Torrance notes, we do not live under a Ptolemaic or Newtonian mechanical system; we have arrived at an Einsteinian moment wherein the theory of relativity has undone the way we think about the time-space continuum. Ah, this leads us into another blog post for another time.

[1] Nick Needham, 2000 Years Of Christ’s Power: Volume 4: The Age Of Religious Conflict (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publication, 2017), 134.

Johann von Staupitz as Proto-Evangelical Calvinist in Constructive Critique of the Calvinists, Arminians, and Provisionists

Theories of salvation remain a contentious thing; particularly among us Protestants. We have such an array of theories that it becomes a task in and of itself to simply index them. But for our purposes, I want to focus on a particular thread as that is given to us in a Catholic and medieval development. I want to use this sketch and appeal to the past to help interrogate certain contemporary Protestant doctrines of salvation that we are currently living with. We will use David Steinmetz’s sketch of medieval nominalism in the soteriology of Luther’s mentor, Johann von Stuapitz. And from this sketch we will contrast one strand of nominalist soteriology with Staupitz’s own unique offering. What emerges from these sketches, I submit, is a helpful roadmap for better understanding the why and the what of contemporary theories of salvation such as we find in Calvinism, Arminianism, and what has been called Traditionalism (or ‘Provisionism’ a la Leighton Flowers—Flowers’ own position is really just a sub-set or nuanced version of classical Arminianism as that has been tweaked in an even more ‘semi-Augustinian’ or ‘semi-Pelagian’ direction than what we find in Arminianism or even Nominalism proper).

As is my normal blogging mode, let me offer a long quote and then we will use that quote as a material font for populating the sort of constructive critique I want to make of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Provisionism. I will juxtapose these other traditions with our Evangelical Calvinist soteriology, as that is grounded in a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ or the Patristic Homooousion. As we engage with Steinmetz’s sketch of Staupitz, what we will find is an interesting emphasis on what Calvin later came to identify as the Duplex Gratia (‘double grace’ of salvation) within a broader doctrine of unio cum Christo (‘union with Christ). This focus on union with Christ also, not uncoincidentally, plays a heavy role in Luther’s soteriology, along with TF Torrance’s and Barth’s after them. You will see, through Steinmetz’s work, how these themes begin to become contrasted and set into relief, one from the other. Steinmetz writes:

Staupitz’s stress on the initiative of God in predestination led him to redefine the doctrine of justification. The entire scholastic tradition, and not simply the nominalists, defined justifying grace as the grace that makes sinners pleasing to God. This definition seemed to Staupitz to mirror inadequately the nature of God’s act. It is not justification but predestination that makes sinners pleasing to God. The function of grace given in justification is to make God pleasing to sinners. Justification is simply the fruition in time of a sovereign decree of election made before time. When God chose the elect, God placed Jesus Christ under obligation to give justification to them through his work as mediator. The function of the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ is, therefore, not to make men and women dear to God, but rather to make God dear to them. The elect are the beneficiaries of a covenant initiated and fulfilled by God in Jesus Christ.[1]

Compare Staupitz’s understanding of salvation, with its emphasis on predestination and a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ with Barth’s:

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[2]

We can sense some parallels, and see some antecedents of emphasis between Barth and Steinmetz’s Staupitz. What it most significant to me is the emphasis placed on a doctrine of predestination. Because of Staupitz’s situadedness he would not have had the intensive Christological edge that Barth brings to these things. But Staupitz does have the sort of ‘from above’ unilateral focus on salvation that kicks against any form of quid pro quo covenantalism as we find that in various forms in classical Calvinism, Arminianism, and Provisionism. We see Staupitz move away from the dualistic potentia God of the nominalists proper, and towards an understanding of salvation that focuses solely on God’s Word of grace and hope. Luther couldn’t help but pick this emphasis up, and Barth following could not as well.

For Barth and Torrance (latterly), the logic of reformational thinking, whether that be thought back from someone like Staupitz, or more radically from Luther and Calvin, is a Logic of Grace; as TF Torrance calls it. This logic is not the starting point for the Augustinian forms of salvation that we find in classic Calvinism, Arminianism, or Provisionism. Instead we get a focus on ‘justification’ as the starting point for thinking salvation, which in itself thinks in terms of an abstractly elected human with the focus on the human’s responsibility to respond to God. This might sound like strange fire to some, particularly classical Calvinists. But if we read the Federal theologians of Calvinist heritage, what we find is a ‘two-winged’ conception of the Covenant where the unconditionally elect person is burdened with task of keeping their end of the covenant. Indeed, in the Federal scheme, this person has been predestined to keep on keeping on in the faith, but they are burdened with this need to persevere in the salvation they have been granted. This need to persevere is set within a juridical framework (i.e. Covenant of Works and the Divine Pactum), such that the focus becomes one wherein the elect is to a live a life that seeks to avoid the judgment and instead find justification and vindication at the second advent of Jesus Christ.

In contrast to this focus, once again, we find that Staupitz that is more aligned with Barth’s and Torrance’s theologies, or Luther’s and Calvin’s. Steinmetz writes again:

Staupitz, on the other hand, had very little to say about the work of Christ as judge. The work of hope was expanded for him from the past into the present. He did not think simply in terms of the first advent of Christ in the flesh (which for Biel was the basis of the work of hope) or the final advent of Christ in glory (which for Biel was the culmination of the work of justice). Rather, he laid heavy emphasis in his theology on the advent of Christ in grace. Grace is not an impersonal power or habit of love, though in his early thought he could speak of it in these terms. Grace should be defined instead as the personal presence of the risen Christ and justification as an intimate marriage between Christ and the Christian. Life in the present is live out of the boundless resources of the indwelling Christ, who provides at every moment all the Christian needs in order to persevere. Because in his union with Christ the Christian has access to all the unlimited resources of grace, Staupitz could not be anxious about the impending judgment of God. His certitude was grounded in the love of God, a reality that is not subject to change and fluctuation.[3]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attempting to suggest that Staupitz was a proto-Barthian; but I am suggesting that in the history there were prominent threads and strands of soteriological bounty that stand in stark contradistinction to what later came to be known as a Protestant Reformed orthodoxy; or what Richard Muller calls Christian Aristotelianism. Staupitz fits within a Christological formed nominalist theology that we find quite present in the emphases of Luther&company. We might want to read this emphasis as Stauptiz against the Calvinists, just as we have Calvin against the Calvinists (Muller’s critique notwithstanding).

The Evangelical Calvinist thread is always the thread that emphasizes God’s Grace, his ‘Logic of Grace’ in Jesus Christ. We see this thread in medieval times, as much as we see it in the modern times of Barth and Torrance. It is a thread that the contemporary offerings don’t grasp, and thus they fail to offer a radically and Christologically formed understanding of salvation for the Church. The Arminians and Provisionists fall prey to the critique of a bottom-up juridical understanding of salvation just as much as the Calvinists do. Unlike Evangelical Calvinism, and like Calvinism proper, Arminians and Provisionists start their respective soteriologies in the person needing the saving, rather than in the God doing the saving. This is not to say that they reject the idea that salvation is of God, instead mine is a methodological observation. They think of the ‘elect’ or the ‘justified’ in abstraction from the choice of God to be for us rather than against us. In other words, they continue to emphasize the judgment of God on individual sinners, rather than the cosmic life of God in Christ for the world as the basis for their understanding of salvation. So, they have a vision of God, unlike Staupitz et al. that starts with a Judgment-God rather than Father-God who is eternal Love.

I have so much more to say, but this will have to suffice for now. There is a lot of assertion in this post about classical Calvinists and Arminians, but if you scour my blog you will find posts on Calvinism and Arminianism (the latter implicates so called Provisionism) that help take my assertions out of the realm of assertion, and into the realm of critical and substantial statement.

 

[1] David C. Steinmetz, Reformers In The Wings: From Geiler von Kaysersberg to Theodore Beza: Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 19.

[2] Barth, CD II/2:111.

[3] Steinmetz, Reformers In The Wings, 20.

How evangelical Calvinism is not Arminianism et al.: Metaphysics Matter

Just because evangelical Calvinism affirms universal atonement some have concluded, or might conclude that we are essentially a sub-set of Arminian theology; if not, at the least, Amyrauldian—but this could not be further from the truth. Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, follow a thoroughly different prolegomenon (or theological methodology) than what we will find funding the arminiusprintthinking of Arminians, Arminius, or even the classically Reformed (who take their cues from scholasticism Reformed, and Thomist intellectualism [as did Arminius himself, in a modified form]). I have written on our dialectical approach to theology, and analogy of faith method, with Myk Habets and personally in our 2012 edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.

In order, though, to illustrate my point further let me highlight Arminius’ personal approach to how he thinks of knowledge of God and how that implicates God’s dealing with humanity in salvation in a God-world relation. I will appeal to a rather lengthy section from Richard Muller’s book on Arminius; in this section Muller elucidates Arminius’s appropriation of Molina’s (et al.) ‘middle knowledge,’ and how Arminius used this to foreword his own uniquely styled understanding of God, foreknowledge, predestination, and salvation. What this sketch from Muller should illustrate is how Arminius, much like his scholastic and Reformed contemporaries worked from within a logico-causal mechanistic and deterministic Aristotelian (if not Stoic) understanding of metaphysics (it is precisely this that evangelical Calvinists, following the lead of Barth and Torrance through their respective actualism[s], repudiate).

Muller writes (in full):

This problem, resident in Thomist theology, had become a focus of discussion at the University of Louvain after the publication of John Driedo’s De concordia liberi arbitrii et praedestinationis divinae in 1537. Driedo argued that divine grace and human freedom ought not to be severed in the work of salvation and, indeed, that “the right use of free will, foreknown by God, ought to be the basis for election to the grace of “justification” and that, therefore, predestination could be defined as the divine decree “to call and to aid human beings in such a way as to bring about their obedience.” Driedo found it necessary to distinguish between the prior divine intention to save all human beings which establishes the priority of grace and rests all salvific acts of human beings on the effective movement of God as first cause and the divine foreknowledge of the success or failure of that grace, inasmuch as those who are called do not respond equally to the divine offer of salvation. The ultimate ground of predestination is the divine good pleasure, but this ultimate ground cannot conflict with the divine demand that human beings freely choose to live rightly. Driedo’s views were carried forward by his students at Louvain and were, beginning in 1556, adopted by the Jesuit teacher, Fonseca, as the basis for his refutation of Calvin’s teaching, De praedestinatione, libero arbitrio et gratia contra Calvinium (Paris, 1556). By 1565, Fonseca had provided a full description of the concept of a divine scientia media, prior to the divine decrees and, therefore, having the character of a noncausal knowing, distinct from the categories of scientia necessaria and scientia libera.

It was precisely this ultimately causal character of the divine intellect—that God knows all possibilities and, granting the priority of intellect over will knowingly ordains which possibilities he will actualize—that Molina strove to overcome in his debate with the somewhat radicalized Augustinianism of Bañez and with the Dominican interpreters of Thomas Aquinas. Whereas Thomism generally and Bañez in particular “began with metaphysical principles,” with God “as first cause and prime mover,” Molina began with the problem of the free consent of the will and assumed as his task the explanation of “divine foreknowledge and the action of grace in such a way that the freedom of the will is not explained away or tacitly denied. Molina’s Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providential, praedestinatione et reprobatione, published in 1588, argued that God’s foreknowledge of future contingents must be understood not as a knowledge of contingencies created or ordered as such by the direct action of the divine will (and therefore a category of scientia libera) but as a knowledge of contingencies standing prior to “any free act of his will” and resting on a clear and certain knowledge of the act of the creature.

Thus , Molina argues the existence of a divine knowledge or foreknowledge

Mediate between the free and the purely natural knowledge of God by which … God knew, before any free act of his will, what would come to pass conditionally (ex hypothesi) by the agency of the created will in the order of things, granting that he had decided to place these angels or men in a particular situation; if, moreover, the created will were able to do the contrary, by [this foreknowledge] he would know the contrary.

This divine knowledge, therefore, rests entirely upon the acts of creatures. No divine determination enters into the scientia media. Thus, God is capable of foreknowing the way a given creature will act, given certain conditions—and capable, therefore, of acting upon this foreknowledge of future contingents by establishing those conditions accordingly. Molina refers specifically to the statement of Origen that “a thing will happen not because God knows it as future; but because it is future, it is on that account known by God before it exists,” as cited by Aquinas had categorically refused to view the future event as the cause of something in God or as standing outside of the divine causality.

A crucial element, therefore, in the transition from Aquinas’ view to the modified Thomism—on this point, radically modified—of the Jesuit theologians, was the denial of the causal nature of the divine knowing. Molina insisted on the utter omniscience of God and rested the divine foreknowledge of future contingents on the “unlimited perfection of the divine intellect.” In other words, God so utterly knows the entire realm of possibility that, beyond his willing some things to be and other things not to be, God also knows, simply because of his own infinite cognitive powers, the actual results of all contingent causes prior to their actualization. Suárez, whose formulation of the problem Arminius also probably read, chose not to rest his argument purely upon the nature of divine cognition. Suárez argued that God, in foreknowing the nature or character of his creatures, foreknows how creatures will be disposed to act in any given situation, and therefore foreknows with certainty the actual result of a future creaturely choice.[1]

While this represents interesting historiography and theological development relative to the Protestant scholastics (inclusive of the Reformed and Arminius in particular), it should be illustrative of my point which I made to start this post out. Evangelical Calvinism does not think from the type of a priori speculative metaphysics and theory of causation we see funding this sketch by Muller. I don’t really think critics of evangelical Calvinism (if they have engaged at all) get this, not at all. Roger Olsen’s engagement with evangelical Calvinism (i.e. our book) doesn’t get this; Kevin Vanhoozer in his engagement with evangelical Calvinism (in published form) doesn’t really appreciate this (he thinks our appeal to a “Barthian” or “Torrancean” mode of dialogical/dialectical theology does not serve as the pressure valve we think it does). I say this because these critics of evangelical Calvinism continue to try and force us to operate from the type of metaphysics we see funding what Muller just described of the scholastics Reformed, the Molnisits, Arminius et al. But to me this is thoroughly disingenuous, especially if both Olson and Vanhoozer, among others can recognize that we do indeed work from other theological methodological grounds (which attendant to that comes with its own set of self-referential criterion of coherences).

Evangelical Calvinists, at least this one (me), after Barth think from the scandal and particularity of Jesus Christ. Instead of thinking a priori from ad hoc speculative metaphysics and schemata, we attempt to think all things theological from the depth dimension of God Self-revealed and interpreted in Jesus Christ; so we think a posteriori. We aren’t attempting to think out all of these types of abstract causal relations in a tightly wound conception of a God-to-world relation that is informed by a mechanical theoretical conception of causation (from God to humanity). Thomas F. Torrance gets at how an evangelical Calvinist understanding of causation, if we have one, is totally at odds with what we find funding classical Calvinism and Arminianism. Torrance writes:

It is this interweaving of natural processes and human agencies, of nature and rational intention, that gives history its complicated patterns. The course of events has often quite unforeseen results, for human acts may fail to achieve what would have been expected or may achieve far more than would or could have been anticipated. But in our interpretation of history we must never forget that in the heart of historical events there is free happening which bears the intention in which the true significance of history is to be discerned. Thus while we must appreciate fully the physical factors involved, we must penetrate into the movement of time in the actual happening in order to understand the event in the light of the intentionality and spontaneity embedded in it. The handling of temporal relation has proved very difficult and elusive in the history of thought, for it has so often been assimilated to logical relation and so transposed into something very different. The confusion of temporal with logical connection corresponds here to that between spontaneity and causal determinism in natural science. We can see this error recurring, for example, in notions of predestination where the free prius of the divine grace is converted by the scholastic mind into logico-causal relation, while the kind of time-relation with which we operate between natural events is imported into the movements of divine love and activity. It is a form of the same mistake that people make in regard to the resurrection, when they think of its happening only within the logico-causal nexus with which they operate in classical physics.[2]

In other words for the evangelical Calvinist, there are unseen, unknown contingencies built into the nature of things themselves that make it impossible to accurately infer a stable causal chain of events from the event back to the cause itself. The answer to this, in relation to knowledge of God, is to see the event and cause conjoined together in the person-act of Jesus himself. It is from this vantage point that we then are set up to know God, in Christ, but no longer as some sort of deterministic causal agent; but instead, as personal, triune Divine agent who apocalyptically breaks into the contingencies of history re-creating them towards their telos or created purpose in Christ (cf. Col. 1:13ff) — the resurrection, then, being the instantiation of this within time-space history. So we are forced to think from the mystery of God made flesh itself. What this does is to set up a whole other set of questions, ones that have to do with Godself and Christ revealed, rather than abstract speculative questions that cause thinkers to construct the types of theories of causation and metaphysics that we see funding classical Calvinist and Arminian theologies (among others).

I could share more, particularly with reference to how actualism works, at least in my style of evangelical Calvinism. But hopefully what has been shared will allow the reader to appreciate how at odds evangelical Calvinism is with its kissing cousins in the classical forms of Calvinism and Arminianism (and other so construed expressions of classical theistic theology). I know it is tempting for folks committed to the classical metaphysic to force evangelical Calvinists into their conceptual playground, but that’s just simply a dishonest requirement. We all work within and from self-referential coherentist constructs of thought, as such it is appropriate that we recognize that and then test the “coherence” of said frameworks from within the parameters of their own conceptual houses. Having said that, not all conceptual frameworks are equal; I contend that evangelical Calvinism has the capacity to think more responsibly from the implications and conceptual impositions of the Gospel itself, in contrast to what we find in the classical frameworks, which work from a prioris not necessarily related to the God of the Bible or the Gospelself.

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 158-61.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009, 249-50.

Jacobus Arminius, The Theologian of Law: Miscellanies on Moralism and the Priority of Justice

There is so much I would like to communicate through this post; Jacobus Arminius is just that kind of rascal! Unfortunately, because of space limitations and blog attention span disorder, I will have to delimit myself to the
arminiusbare minimum of what I would really like to cover in regard to Arminius’ conception of duplex amore Dei (i.e. God’s ‘twofold love’), and how that is taken captive by a ‘Legal theology’ of the sort that I would think ought to heal any Arminian of being Arminian (if they actually followed the actual teachings of Arminius–which I don’t think most know). I am really having a hard time knowing how to whittle this down, much of what I am going to provide will just be straight quotation of Arminius from his Declaration of Sentiments, and then maybe some commentary from his translator W. Stephen Gunter.

We will jump into the discussion that involves Arminius Legal Theology. I will quote Gunter’s lead into Arminius, and then we will hear directly from Arminius.

[P]oint nineteen is a tightly woven sustained argument exhibiting a fine example of Arminius’ scholastic inclinations. He starts where his opponents start, with Legal Theology in the pre-fall situation, logically irrespective of Christ’s saving work. God is characterized by justice, which produces a hatred for sin, and God is characterized by his “love for humanity” as creatures endowed with reason…. At this juncture he invokes Hebrews 11:6, because in Arminius’ theological dialectic, election is God’s free decision to save those who by grace come seeking and believing: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Regardless of where one encounters the doctrine of election in Arminius, one finds also the dimensions of uncoerced, non-necessitated freedom. It is important to keep this in mind, even as we see how Arminius weaves his notion of the duplex amor Dei:

[Here is Arminius]A mutuality exists between those two kinds of love. The love that God extends to humanity cannot come into play unless it is permitted by God’s love of justice. This implies that God’s love for justice is the more excellent of the two; however, love for the creature abounds, except where the love of justice would prohibit its expression. The consequence of this is demonstrated by God’s condemning humanity on account of sin. God clearly demonstrates this love relationship in the original created order; however, this does not imply that God’s love for the creature supersedes his love for justice. Had this been the case, God would have manifested a stronger aversion to the eternal misery of the creature than to the creature’s disobedience. The abundant place for divine love is clear because God condemns no person for any reason other than sin, and God saves the multitudes of humanity who are converted from sin. In the divine dispensation, this salvation would not be possible unless it was God’s will to allow an abundant scope for his love toward the creature under God’s judgment, to the extent this is permitted by his justice (p. 124).[1]

For Arminius, then, God loves His justice more than He loves creation. The consequent of this is that for Arminius, God’s own life is shaped and given co-inherence through a relation of Law and Justice; and thus not a conception of God as Triune, ‘personal’, self-giving love. Love of Law precedes Love (of people) and Grace in the theology of Jacobus Arminius, and this is played out–in my view–in the most heinous of ways as it relates to God’s love for humanity.

As an aside [I don’t have the time to get into this here], Arminius intentionally operates with a subordinationist conception of the Divine Monarchia (or God-head); which makes perfect sense, given His ‘Legal Theology’, and thus the priority of Law being met prior to Love being given (so in order for this to happen, Jesus, then must become the ‘instrument’ by which God’s [the ‘Father’s] ‘Just’ requirements are met, prior to Love being given. So Law is always the orienting pole of salvation, and then the subsequent Love for the sinner. Law becomes the control that leverages the continued obedience of the sinner, and thus salvation and relationship with God continues to be shaped by God’s ontological character as a Lover of Justice, more than a Lover of the Person. Note Arminius:

[…] This prioritizing of justice is the only adequate protection against carelessness. At the same time, the foundation for the latter kind of faith, one that dares to believe that God will undoubtedly reward those who diligently seek Him, is that great love for humanity which neither can nor will prevent God from effecting salvation for the sinner—unless God be hindered by his greater love for justice…. God’s twofold love, and the mutuality that each part bears toward the other, serve together to form the foundation of religion, without which no true religion can possibly exist. Any doctrine, therefore that is in open hostility to this twofold love and to the relationship that mutually exists between them, subverts the foundation of all religion. (pp. 126-28)[2]

Okay, so this aside has gotten a little out of control. What this illustrates, though, is the utter contingence that God’s own life and then subsequent relation to His creation has on Law/Justice (and the voluntarism therein). Beyond that, what this also demonstrates is that Arminius suffered from a terrible case of, at least, semi-Pelagianism. As corollary with Arminius’ conception of God’s love of justice as primary, this becomes the rule by which humanity sustains their salvation, and it becomes the motivation for personal holiness; fear of damnation. So Arminius, in good Pelagian form has constructed a soteriology that is a principled moralism; one that starts in God’s life and works all the way down to ours, and back up to God’s again.

There is much more to say, but let me end by quoting Arminius’ final summarization of his view of predestination and election; the final summation that he gives to his opponents and detractors in his Declaration of Sentiments (which represents Arminius’ mature and final statements on his positions). Here is Arminius, and with this we end:

  1. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest, and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

  2. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith. Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

  3. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

  4. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its own foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere.[3]

It is fitting that Arminius ends his summary with an article (IV) grounded and framed by keeping the conditions of the Law, meeting God’s standard and definitive form as Lover of Justice more than Lover of People.

Roger Olson (contemporary evangelical Arminian theologian, par excellence), has written more than once (online and elsewhere), that most Arminians nowadays are nothing more than semi-Pelagian; he communicates this with the triumphalism that if Arminians today really followed and knew what Jacobus Arminius actually taught, they would cease all  semi-Pelagian activity, and become ‘orthodox’. Really?

[T]here is nothing in that reasoning of Calvin that I cannot heartily approve, if all things (in it) are rightly understood. For I confess that the grace by which the Holy Spirit is given, is not common to all men; I also confess that the origin [fontem: source, principal cause] of faith can be said to be gratuitous election of God, but it is election to bestow faith, not to communicate salvation. For a believer is elected to participate in salvation, a sinner is elected to faith. ~Jacobus Arminius[4]


[1] W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 176-77.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] Works, 1:747 cited by Gunter, p. 181.

Jacobus Arminius’ View of Predestination [In His Own Words], and Some Commentary by Me

Here are Jacobus Arminius’ own words on how he conceived of a doctrine of predestination; this is following a lengthy argument, made by him before his ecclesial examiners against double predestination (and against both
supra and infra lapsarianism):

arminian1

I. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

II. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith.  Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

III. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

IV. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere. [Jacobus Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, trans. by W. Stephen Gunter, 135.]

Arminius immediately follows these points up with twenty implications of these theses; which I will have to share at a later time. Suffice it to say, it becomes quickly clear that Arminius was just as much a son of his time as any of us are. He is using the same kind of formal and material methodological and conceptual matter that his antagonists have available to them, in other words he is a classical theist who is also a conceptually formed scholastic. In other words, Arminius and his detractors are really not all that far a part.

It should be noticed, that Arminius offers these points after he has just offered direct argument against both supralapsarian and infralapsarian positions; declaring that in both situations, God is still seen as the decreer and antecedent cause of evil (even the infralapsarian position). Thus, Arminius, argued, creation was not ultimately created as ‘good’, but as evil, since it was the theater intended for God to cause evil that his justice might be displayed (he also makes an argument from God’s love of  justice juxtaposed with God’s love of humanity).

So for Arminius, he believes that the supra/infralapsarian positions (the now Westminster Calvinist positions) both stumble over themselves because he thinks that God has caused salvation (antecedent or previous to) the ‘fall’ and sin. And thus repentance, justification, the incarnation, etc. become arbitrary middle terms that aren’t really necessary for salvation for the elect to be accomplished. In other words, Arminius’ point of attack focuses on the Calvinist position offering a ‘metaphysical’ salvation far away that does not really need the ‘physical’ (like the historical fall, etc.) in order to become reality. So Arminius is trying to offer a conception, in contrast to this, that offers a view of salvation that is (dare I say) actualistic and concretely particularized and realized in the ontology of the world, and within the parameters of salvation or redemptive history (i.e. not all predetermined back up in the absolute decrees of God somewhere in eternity).

Out of time, more to say, but this should do for now.

Jacobus Arminius’ Argument Against Supralapsarian Double Election From Creation

Here is one of many ways that Jacobus Arminius sought to undercut the supralapsarian double election teaching of some of the Calvinists of his day (and it should be noted that Arminius was of their number, ecclesially). This is Arminius finally offering his self-defense of his views on such things, which up until now had only been caricatured by his detractors as they made inferences from what some of Arminius’ students taught and preached from arminiustheir respective pulpits in Holland. Here is Arminius in his Declaration of Sentiments:

IX. This Predestination Is Diametrically Opposed to the Act of Creation

1. By virtue of its intrinsic nature, creation is a communication of that which is good; however, creation is not a communication of good when its purposive intent and design is set up to attain a predetermined reprobation. That which is good may be judged and determined to be good according to the mind and intention of the donor and according to the goal or purpose for which it is bestowed. In this instance, the intention of the donor would have to been to damn, an act that could only affect created beings, and the goal of the creative act was the eternal damnation of those beings. In which case, creation was not a communication of any good, but rather a preparation for the greatest evil—according to the very intention of the creator and the actual result of the event as designed. For such an event, the words of Christ are appropriate: “It would have been better for that one not to have been born” [Matt 26:24]. [W. Stephen Gunter, translator, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, 116.]

This is representative of one of many arguments and articles that make up this particular article on predestination and creation. Arminius is offering a series of arguments from different angles that seek to undercut supralpsarian double election teaching. You can see how his argument is very scholastic, syllogistic, and succinct—Arminius was no dummy!

What do you think about Arminius’ argument against double election from creation? Do you think his major premise, i.e. that creation is a communication of that which is good …, is the best way to argue against this doctrine (if you are so inclined to in fact argue)? And what does this reveal about Arminius’ own theological orientation, relative to his methodology? I mean, what does making a primary argument from creation say about Arminius’ chosen theological methodology? [Hint: It is something I have argued against more than once, and as a theme of my blogging against classic Calvinism]

One thing is for sure, though; to read Arminius, directly, throws him into a light that really overshadows what has become known as Arminianism today. Arminius was really more of a Calvinist than anything else (methodologically, conceptually, and so forth). He moved and breathed within that context (the Calvinist or Reformed one), and he sought to work with the same material datum that his opponents worked with; that is, working from an Aristotelian based metaphysics and conception of reality (or now known as classical Theism today). This is why I usually lump classical Arminians in with classical Calvinists; their approaches aren’t dissimilar at the material principled level (de jure), but instead, their disparity comes at the level of chosen emphases and referent. They both work from a conception of God that is heavily decretal (a God who works through a set of predetermined decrees).

From Whence Is Human Freedom?

I am reposting the following because I am working the next couple of days, and so don’t have the time to develop some things I would like to in response the discussion I have been having with Nathan in this thread. Some have asked what ‘grace all the way down’ might mean (in the thread and post I am referencing). Some of you are wondering how I might move differently than a classic Calvinist or Arminian in framing human action as grounded in a theological-christological anthropology—thus ultimately recasting, and somewhat avoiding the usual categories of working out of ‘the bondage of the will’ dialogue. So in lieu of me writing an actual post that would articulate how I might proceed; this post, and maybe one more tomorrow will have to suffice until I can do a proper (new) one. Somebody might think that some of the language from Barth sounds like what Billings is critiquing in the Arminian, but it’s not. Since Barth’s construct grounds what it means to be human, dogmatically, in the elect humanity of Christ for us. This is the piece that classic Arminianism (and Calvinism) is missing; i.e. ‘the classic way’ operates with a competitive view between Divine-human action vis-á-vis human action simpliciter. Meaning that the classic approach, does not ground humanity from the humanity of Christ in an objective gracious way. Instead, it sees humanity as abstracted from the humanity of Christ in need of union with his humanity which is only actualised through their cooperation with God in salvation by habituating in the ‘created grace’ (which becomes the impersonal intermediary that binds elect or foreknown humanity to Christ’s humanity). More to be said. Here’s Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ as ‘God with us’, which becomes the recreated humanity through which our humanity elevated to what it means to be human; or free for God.

Here is a great statement from Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ,

[T]he answer is that we ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and gift of our salvation. By it we are made free fro Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remains to us of life and activity in the face of this actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment. It is not a small thing, but the greatest of all. It is not for us a passive presence as spectators, but our true and highest activation—the magnifying of His grace which has its highest and most profound greatness in the fact that God has made Himself man with us, to make our cause His own, and as His own to save it from disaster and to carry it through to success. The genuine being of man as life and activity, the “We with God,” is to affirm this, to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains, to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community, of those who know that this is all that remains to us, but that it does remain to us and that for all men everything depends upon its coming to pass. And it is this “We with God” that is meant by the Christian message in its central “God with us,” when it proclaims that God Himself has taken our place, that He Himself has made peace between Himself and us, that by Himself he has accomplished our salvation, I.e., our participation in His being. [Karl Barth CD IV/I, p. 12]

This is the kind of stuff I am looking for. A theological anthropology, that is Christological; that honors the integrity of created humanity by giving humanity its place in the recreated humanity of Jesus Christ for us. It is a participationist humanity that we are given as a gift, we don’t possess it in ourselves. The giveness of humanity is where humanity flourishes through its relation in the divine life (i.e. the proper order) in Christ. This early section in IV/I is entitled “God with Us.”

Why FreeWill Theism and Arminians’ ‘Choice’ is Theologically Aloof, pace Billings

I haven’t addressed (for some time) some of the very things that originally gave this blog inception in the first place; i.e. things related to Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the more frequent points of departure between the two camps is the question about freedom of choice in regards to salvation. Arminians argue that we have free will, albeit aided by prevenient grace, and thus have the capacity to choose or reject God’s free offer of salvation. The Reformed, or Calvinists, believe that man’s ‘will is in bondage’ to itself; and thus the only choice man will make is for himself. Further, Calvinists argue that salvation must be all of God and all of grace, or man has room to boast that he had a part in his salvation; etc. These are some of the basics that keep the continued debate going (as an Evangelical Calvinist I have a unique way to side-step this whole apparent dilemma–fodder for another post). I, in principle, side with the Reformed (of course, since I am Reformed … and this is one of the things that makes me Reformed). J. Todd Billings sketches the Reformed position, and in the process critiques the Arminian position that shows why it is untenable, theologically.

[B]ut how can we receive or even have faith unless we are free to do so on our own? This frequent question assumes that true humanity is humanity autonomous from God rather than united to God. The Reformation doctrine of the bondage of the will to sin asserts that, apart from the Spirit’s regeneration, the fallen will is unable to do any good that could contribute to salvation. No part of the fallen human being is untainted by sin such that it could take the first step toward God—that is what total (extensive) depravity is. But this claim is not a new speculation born out of the Reformation. It is simply the consequence of a theology of salvation and communion that John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters are well aware of: in the words of Christ, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

One faces a similar issue in interpreting Paul’s imperatives, which, if taken out of context, may appear to make divine and human agency partitive and competitive: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Is Paul postulating an autonomous way of speaking about the Christian will, such that Christians “grieve” God unless they obey him from an autonomous space? No. Once again, this is part of Paul’s eschatological way of speaking. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” like “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), is an imperative to live into the God-given identity that Christians have already received in Christ. For example, in Ephesians, the neighbor-love imperatives of 4:25 through 5:1 are rooted in the indicative of union in Christ: “for we are members of one another” (4:25). Ephesians does not exhort us to make ourselves members of Christ’s body; rather, being a member of Christ’s body is the accomplished fact that leads to the exhortation to speak only what is “useful for building up,” avoiding the evil talk and bitterness that would “grieve the Holy Spirt” (4:29-30). Similarly, Paul roots the imperative of Romans 13:14 in the indicative of union with Christ, which is prominent in the book of Romans. Only by removing such imperatives from the eschatological “now” but “not yet” that conditions Paul’s theology of union with Christ can one use such passages to support the notion that Christian action has a space that is autonomous from the Spirit’s work. Why is it impossible for the fallen human to take the first step toward God? Because it would be a contradiction in terms, both scripturally and logically, when the scriptural framework outlined above is owned. To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin—the corollary to salvation as communion.

If we are to move the implications of this position to a post-Reformation era, we can see how it differs from a classic Arminian position. On the one hand, unlike Pelagius, Arminians affirm that fallen humans cannot choose God on their own. Yet, in contrast to the Reformed explanation, the Spirit’s prevenient grace lifts the sinner to a state of equilibrium in which the sinner can either choose or reject God’s gospel. But this explanation is impossible without assuming that true humanity is autonomous from God rather than in divinely enabled communion with God. Why? Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself,” rather than effected “by the Spirit.”

Yet Arminians could object that their view of prevenient grace affirms divine initiative and communion with God the Spirit in the moment of decision. That is true, in a certain sense. But Arminians don’t confess that divinely enabled communion goes “all the way down,” so to speak. There is divine initiative not just at the conception of Christ in Mary but throughout the incarnation. We do not abide in Christ the Vine at the beginning, only to be replanted after Christ has given us new life. No. We abide in Christ “all the way down.” Apart from this abiding, John says, we can do nothing. The Arminian denial of the effectual or causal dimension of the Spirit’s work occurs to preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will. But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.” Only by the Spirit’s effectual work can one move toward communion with God. Or, stated differently, only by communion with God can we move toward communion with God. That’s what the Reformed teaching of the bondage of the will affirms. —J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, 47-9

Still here 😉 ? With the obvious popularity of Arminian Evangelical Roger Olson, and others; it is apparent that Arminian Freewillism is popular amongst all sorts of Evangelical Christians (e.g. not just those who are self consciously Arminian in theology, like Olson). I think Billings throws down the Reformed gauntlet, and I am unaware of how what Billings has written can be defeated by an Arminian response. If you know of one, let me know; won’t you?