Saturday, September 9, 2017

Arminius vs. Calvin - The Golden Path

Jacobus Arminius vs. John Calvin

On Facebook of all places I ran into a deep discussion of Arminianism vs. Calvinism (free will vs. election).
Admittedly I'm an Arminian in that I believe free will is essential to salvation. Without free will, our passage through the vale of tears that is this Earth is little more than God's version of an ant farm. I don't believe God is arbitrary choosing one and tossing aside another for no reason. While I do believe God sticks his finger into human history at key junctures and stirs the pot for his own purposes, I also believe that He knows how to stir the pot so that all comes out according to His will and to our ultimate good. The Arminian perspective posits that my own choice in the matter is neither forced by God's foreknowledge, nor is my free will subverted by God's design for my life. God's foreknowledge doesn't mean that God's arbitrarily force His will on us.

I believe that sometimes in every life, God brings every person to a single moment of clarity and from that point the person must choose his path. It may be a roller coaster getting where God intends for them to go. It may be a rough ride after that decision is made, but at some point I believe every man is given that Joshua choice. "Choose you this day who you will serve." The greatest sinner and the finest saint, I believe, all reach that point at some time in their lives. It may be at a quiet moment such as CS Lewis describes in Screwtape letters wher a man is reading a book in his study and his life is changed forever. Or this moment may happen during some great upheaval on the battlefield of life. But I do believe we all reach it. What we choose is entirely in our hands. Our choice of the Golden Path to heaven is our gift to God. He provides the rest.

The Adventist Encyclopedia states:

  • The capacity with which the Creator endowed human beings enables them to make choices as to whether to obey or to disobey God, to be subject to moral law or not to be subject to it. This endowment precludes the use of force on God’s part to effect a change in human beings. God seeks to draw people to Him, but leaves each person free to decide for himself or herself whether or not to respond. If people choose to ally themselves with God, His will becomes omnipotent in their lives and nothing can keep them from following God’s plan. Calvinism and Arminianism propose two greatly differing views regarding free will. These views reach far back into church history.
ARMINIANISM comes from the teaching of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). The fundamental principle in Arminianism is that predestination as preached by John Calvin and other preachers of the Protestant reformation is incorrect. Arminius believed in the freedom of the human will. The Arminian argument holds that:
  1.  Man is able to to choose whether or not to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or to resist God’s grace and perish. Arminius preached that man does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe.
  2. Faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth through the spirit. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
  3. God chooses certain individuals "unto salvation before the foundation of the world" because He foresaw that they would respond to His call. God says Arminius selects only those He knows will freely choose to believe the Gospel. In other words, election to salvation is determined by what we will do. If we are not going to choose, we won't be elected.
  4. Everyone will not be saved.  Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. We must choose to receive it.
  5. We can resist the Holy Spirit. The Spirit calls everyone, but since man is free, he can successfully resist that call. Without faith the Spirit cannot bestow the new birth on anyone. Man's will limits the Spirit's ability to carry out Christ’s saving work in the human soul.
  6. Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation. Adventists believe this. Some Arminian theologians do not.
Calvinists hold a more grim view. The deny that we have free will at all. Full bore Calvinists believe:
  1. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation according to Calvinists. We are, in their view, so depraved we cannot choose God’s gift of salvation. Faith in the Calvinist view is God’s gift to the sinner. The sinner brings nothing at all to the relationship. 
  2. God’s only chooses certain individuals to be saved. It's not based on whether or not God foresaw the person accepting his Grace. Calvinists believe God chooses particular sinners for His own reasons and human faith and repentance has nothing to do with it. God gives these things to whoever he chooses and denies it to whoever he chooses to deny it to.
  3. Christ died to save only the elect and his death actually secured salvation for them. His sacrifice was not for anyone who wasn't chosen. Apparently if you aren't on the list, you are going straight to hell whatever you do.
  4. The call of the Holy Spirit is, Calvinists believe, irresistable. In addition to the outward general call to salvation (which is made to everyone who hears the Gospel), the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. In other words if the Spirit calls you, you have no choice in the matter.
  5. All who are chosen by God, say the Calvinists, are redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. Basically, once saved, always saved.
Adventists came out of a largely Arminian Wesleyan background and interpret Scripture from the principle that man does have free will and that God does not want robots with no will of their own, but wants sons and daughters who choose to love Him. Many of the Calvinists accuse those who believe in free will of heresy. Arminians point out that if the Calvinist view is absolutely true then accusations by the agnostic community that God is arbitrary and cruel are hard to answer. Some of us, according to Calvin were created by God to be destroyed and since most believe in an immortal soul and an ever-burning hell, that makes God a pretty horrible deity. It makes Him sadistic, as though he were breeding puppies and choosing out half or more of them to be tortured, set on fire and brutalized forever without mercy.

Sorry, Calvin et al. I don't buy it. God is love. Love doesn't bully people into returning love. Love does not torture those who spurn love's reaching out. Love honors our choices. We are the sons and daughters of God. As parents we cannot imagine selecting one of our children and setting him or her on fire, just because we need the heat.

The first command God gave us when he ushered our parents out of Eden was to, "Go forth, be fruitful and multiply." It was a homework assignment; one designed to teach us about the nature of our Heavenly Father. No decent parent is arbitrary. We love every child and want nothing more than for our children to voluntarily love us. If we could plug a machine into our child's spine that would force him to love, honor and obey us, how many of us would do that. Only socio-pathic parents could do such a thing.

So why does anyone think God could be that evil?  I can't figure it out, myself.

© 2017 by Tom King

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