In This Lesson
Introduction | Myths/Falsehoods about Arminian Theology | Man Has Free Will
Apostasy Is Possible for Believers | Five Points of Classical Arminianism
Humans Have Free Will to Resist and Reject | Conclusion
First, I want to make it clear that the purpose for me in writing this paper is not to be divisive. However, I believe it is important for our brethren to begin to understand the fundamental truths of Classical Arminian theology.
Classical Arminianism is neither Pelagian1 nor semi-Pelagian; it is neither heretical nor humanistic2 synergistic3. For the sake of brevity, we will not be covering this point but merely will suffice for now to declare what classical Arminianism is not.
Classical Arminians, like Rev. John Wesley, never denied total depravity or the grace of God to save sinners, but he did affirm free will and conditional predestination. Even one of my favorite Calvinist Theologians, Dr. R.C. Sproul, believes that God foreordained the fall in a sense that He chose to allow it, but not in the sense that He chose to coerce [cause] it. So God permitted it and allowed it but did not in some fatalistic way ordain it.
It is interesting that people point to Satan as the main proponent of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, Satan actually was indirectly responsible for the fall. It was Adam and Eve who are primarily responsible for the fall of man. God gave them rules to obey and live by and built them with free will. Ultimately, humans are responsible for the fall, not God or Satan. This concept of free will and responsibility, I believe, is hard for our modern generation to grasp. We live in a society that does not want to take responsibility even now and has the mentality of "entitlement". After all, don't we have rights within laws? We have our rights as Americans, don't we? And we certainly deserve to be successful and receive all that we can.
Due to the complexity of this theological viewpoint, I will not be going through every single point of classical Arminian theology, but rather state my position with a generalized overview of what I believe to be scripturally sound and a good representation of classical Arminian theology.
I want to challenge all my Calvinistic and Arminian friends (clergy and laity) to first fully understand each position prior to making your final analysis/decision. It is interesting to me that most believers in both camps do not even fully understand their own position. What is certain is that a believer can hold to each distinctive and still be a born-again child of God. This is no cause to divide, but we can have internal debates and questioning, and at the end of the day, both are biblically orthodox doctrines and each believer should settle his/her approach.
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Myths/Falsehoods about Arminian Theology
I want to begin by giving you the top ten myths in Arminian theology written by Dr. Roger E. Olson in his book, Arminian Theology-Myths and Realities. This book is the most extensive and complete writing on classical Arminianism. I would encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself.
- Arminian theology is the opposite of Calvinism/Reformed Theology.
- Arminianism is not an orthodox evangelical option.
- The heart of Arminianism is belief in free will.
- Arminianism denies the sovereignty of God.
- Arminian theology is human-centered theology.
- Arminian theology is not a theology of grace.
- Arminian theology does not believe in predestination.
- Arminian theology denies justification by grace alone through faith alone.
- All Arminians believe in the governmental theology4 of the atonement.
- A hybrid [crossbreeding/merging] of Calvinism and Arminianism is possible.
Dr. Robert M. Norris, a Calvinist, said in reference to law and love (grace) that "to lose the balance will always lead to spiritual deformity because, if either 'law' or 'love' is absent from the life of God's people, the gospel will fail to operate in its God-intended way."
The famous and renowned Calvinist theologian and one of my favorite theologians, Dr. R.C. Sproul, said that "unconditional love is not found in the Bible." Surely, even God has limits. Dr. Sproul goes on further to say that he is sick and tired of so-called Christians who believe they can go on sinning and live any way they want, and call themselves Christians. Dr. Sproul has even been cited to say that if you don't go to church, there is a 99% possibility that you have not been born again. Are we to assume that Dr. R.C. Sproul is an Arminian? Absolutely not! You better not even say that in his presence or you will at the very least receive a puzzled look from the great Calvinistic theologian.
Let me begin by pointing out a very important but often overlooked Scripture 1 Corinthians 9:27: "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." In particular, Paul writes the word "disqualified". The word "disqualified" (from the Greek Adokimos) means:
a. disqualified from receiving any rewards in Heaven; and
b. to become a castaway or reprobate, one who walks away from the faith and loses his faith.
Although the Bible teaches the security of the believers (Romans 8:28-39; John 5:24; Hebrews 7:16; Philippians 1:6), Christians should not presume they are going to Heaven regardless of what they do or how they live their lives. Christians cannot afford to become complacent and lax. No Christian can afford to take lightly the many warnings of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 quoted above, the word "disqualified" also means one who is cut off from eternal salvation and has become disqualified based on not demonstrating the fruit of the spirit.
Christians can become reprobate. Interestingly, in most Bibles there is a cross reference in Jeremiah 6:30 that gives us insight into what Paul was saying using this word "adokimos". Jeremiah 6:30
This verse is talking about a people whom the LORD had "rejected". Paul understood this concept for himself, so he would bring his body [flesh] under subjection [control] in order to live a successful Christian life by the Spirit. In this way, he would ensure he made it to Heaven even if God chose him to be the Apostle to bring the Holy Word of God!
If this applied to Paul, shouldn't it apply to us? If Paul could clearly see that he might become "reprobate" [disqualified], shouldn't we be concerned as well? Or does this apply only to Paul? Let me give you something to chew on here: God has a right to decide who will spend eternity with Him and who will not based on their own free will. Sadly, again, humans are so driven by entitlement that we have the most difficulty with this biblical position. The traditional Arminian stance on eternal security dictates that it is possible for a Christian to become a reprobate [turn away from God so far as to spend eternity in Hell]. Dr. Stanley Horton, a classical Arminian theologian, has written that it is possible for man to turn away from God and be lost, but because of God's tender and merciful love and grace, the LORD does not let go that easily and it is only by God's grace that we are kept. But by God's grace!! Yet, we cannot presume to even know how long the Lord will tarry with a rebellious son or daughter.
Four Ways to Help Us Stay on Course with God
...and with the scriptural teaching that one who believes for a season may fall away and become a reprobate (see Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:27)...
- We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
- We must cultivate our Christian life.
- We must live for Christ with intensity and keep ourselves in training under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
- We must not run aimlessly. We must keep God-given goals.
In the final analysis, we must embrace, believe, preach, teach, and declare what the Word of God says, even if it goes against our own understanding and presuppositions even if it goes against what we have been taught all our lives and even if it contradicts the denomination affiliation we were raised in.
In light of this preface [introduction] and what the Bible teaches about our eternal security as it relates to the relationship we have with Christ (see John 15:6)...
...with the clear teaching that man may have his name taken out of the Book of Life (see Revelation 22:19)...
...with the view that the Bible calls all believers to a life of holiness and separation from the world (see 1 Peter 1:16; Hebrews 12:14)...
...I cannot, in clear conscience, preach or teach that once you are saved, it is a done deal. I cannot preach that you can "never" lose your salvation. I disapprove this and do caution any truly called clergyman or woman. I have personally witnessed many so-called Christians take the "once saved, always saved" worldview and use it as an opportunity to allow their own sin to remain in their lives. Many Christians will use this to justify their direct disobedience to the Lord and will use it as a license to sin. I do not accept the doctrine of unconditional security of the believer, which holds that once a believer is saved, it is impossible for that believer to be lost or not enter into eternity with God.
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Man Has Free Will
I embrace and hold to man's free will and his responsibility between himself and God. After you are regenerated, God does not take away your will and will never take away your right to make decisions, however trivial or important.
I want to emphasize these four points in order to stimulate further study, to solidify, and to once-and-for-all lay this vitally important doctrine of salvation to rest:
"For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Romans 10:11-13)
2 Peter 3:9
- Salvation is available to everyone. John 3:16
Salvation is received and kept by faith. Romans 3:28
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21)
See also Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38; 1 Peter 1:5.
Continuing in sin will adversely affect the believer's faith.
"But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just." (Romans 3:5-8)
"But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
1 John 1:8
See also Hebrews 3:12-14; 1 John 3:8.
A believer can forfeit his/her salvation by rejecting Christ. John 17:12
1 Timothy 4:1
"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:4-6)
See also 1 Timothy 5:12,15; Hebrews 10: 26-27, 38; 2 Peter 2:20; 1 John 5:16.
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Apostasy Is Possible for the Believer
"But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:27)
2 Corinthians 13:5
2 Thessalonians 1:8
2 Thessalonians 2:10
"For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'" (1 Peter 4:17-18)
See also Matthew 24:42-51; 25:1-13; 25:14-30; Romans 11:15-25; 2:3-11; 2 Peter 1:8-10; 2:15, 20-22; 3:11-12,14,17.
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The Five Points of Classical Arminianism
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- Free Will
The fall of man is not total and maintains that there is enough good left in man for him/her to accept Jesus Christ for salvation.
- Conditional Election
Election is based on the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe. A human being's act of faith is seen as the "condition" for his being elected to eternal life, since God foresaw him/her exercising free will in response to the wooing of the Holy Spirit to receive Jesus Christ.
- Universal Atonement
Redemption is based on the fact that God loves everybody, that Jesus died for everyone, and that the Father is not willing that any should perish but have eternal life through Christ cf. 2 Peter 3:9). The death and resurrection of Christ then provide the grounds for God to save all mankind, but each must exercise his/her free will [choice] in order to be saved.
- Obstructable Grace
Because God wants all mankind to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to draw men [to woo them] to Christ. However, since man still has free will (even after elected), he is able to resist God's will for his life. God's will to save all men can be frustrated by the finite will of man. Mankind must first exercise his own will, and then be born again. [Note: This is directly opposite of classical Calvinism teaching which declares that regeneration precedes faith and that faith is the fruit of regeneration and not the cause of it. In classical Arminian theology, you must have faith in order to be born again because God will never violate man's free will. This is not to say that God at times will not impose His power to accomplish His divine will upon the life of an individual for His glory. Again, God can do what He wants to do.]
- Falling from Grace
If then, mankind cannot be saved by God unless it is man's will to be saved, then man cannot continue in salvation unless he continues to will to be saved.
Humans Have Free Will to Resist and Reject
Jesus clearly acknowledges the fact of human resistance and rejection. "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." (John 12:46-48)
The Apostle Paul also acknowledges this fact of human resistant and rejection in Romans 10:21
The book of Hebrews warns of insulting the Spirit of grace. Clearly, God's grace can either be resisted or received by the exercise of human free will. Hebrews 10:26
Biblical Warnings for the Complacent Christian
and Those with a False Sense of Security
Jesus warns that not everyone who even acts like a Christian or professes to be a Christian will be saved. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Similar warnings are included in Paul's letters.
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)
"But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (Ephesians 5:3-5)
Other Scriptures that exhort Christians to live godly and that talk about the possibility of Christian apostasy: Colossians 1:22-23; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 3:12; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:20-21; 2 Peter 1:10; Jude 24.
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I realize it is not easy to maintain the unity of the Spirit among this matter. It seems that the sovereignty of God and human responsibility is one thing which our minds have a hard time understanding. I find it easy, however, to just preach and teach those things that are contained in the Bible (nothing more, nothing less). It is not always easy, comfortable, or completely understandable. However, the Bible tells us that the wisdom from above will be loving and kind toward all, seeking the unity of the believers, not trying to find ways to divide and separate from one another. May the Lord help us all to love each other, to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Jesus Christ has forgiven us (cf. Ephesians 4:32).
With difficult doctrinal matters such as this, may we have gracious attitudes and humble hearts, and above all, desiring to please the Lord. May we wrestle with Scripture until we reach Glory! Internal debates? Yes! Divisions? No! May the Lord bless you as you continue to study His Word!
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For His glory! Dr. Henry
1 Pelagian n. A follower of Pelagius, a British monk, born in the later part of the 4th century, who denied the doctrines of hereditary sin, of the connection between sin and death, and of conversion through grace.
2 humanistic adj. Of or pertaining to a philosophy asserting human dignity and man's capacity for fulfillment through reason and scientific method and often rejecting religion.
3 synergistic adj. The theological doctrine that salvation results from the interaction of human will and divine grace.
4 Governmental Theology Advanced by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), this view places a high value on the justice of God and the demand of His holy law. In this view, the death of Christ upholds God's moral government in that it demonstrates His utter commitment to His holy law. He could have forgiven men without the death of Christ, but this would have left men without the true knowledge of His commitment to His Law. The death of Christ, then, is not as a substitute for us, but rather God's statement about what He thinks about His moral government of the universe. This view has much to commend it, but as a global theory it simply cannot account for the tight connection between three important facts in Scripture:
the reconciliation to God of the believing sinner;
the forgiveness of sin; and
the death of Christ.
Peter says that "Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring [us] to God" (1 Peter 3:18).