Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Arminianism = Pelagianism?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

The basis for this charge is because although God takes the first step in seeking, convicting, knocking and opening hearts to receive Him, “this step is not decisive, and can be thwarted by the sinner. If the sinner refuses to cooperate with or assent to this proffered grace, then grace is to no avail.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

So in other words, any theology whereby God sovereignly gives a person the power of contrary choice, must be Pelagianism by definition. That is the argument.

Sproul continues: “The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? ... Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

In other words, if one person receives Christ, but another does not, then what makes the difference? (To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, illuming one but not the other.)

Sproul writes:Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation.” (What is Reformed Theology, pp.187-188)

This gets back to the original point, so here comes the key argument for Sproul:

Sproul states:If God merely offers to change my heart, what will that accomplish for me as long as my heart remains opposed to him? If he offers me grace while I am a slave to sin and still in the flesh, what good is the offer? Saving grace does not merely offer regeneration, it regenerates. This is what makes grace so gracious: God unilaterally and monergistically does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why would Sproul think that Prevenient Grace is just an “offer” rather than some actual operation taking place at the heart level? Acts 16:14, concerning Lydia, states that God opened her heart to respond to the Gospel. Note that it does not say that her old stony heart was swapped out for a new heart of flesh. (Calvinists commonly read that into the passage.) Why shouldn’t we understand the passage simply to mean what it says, in that God enabled her to believe? Why shouldn’t we conclude the same thing about others who hear the Gospel, that is, that God gets down at the heart level, convicts them of their sin, and enables them to believe, though not being decisive, that is, a determinant, but instead forces the person into a one-way-or-the-other choice? Is God sovereignly entitled to do so? The question seems absurd, but is also quite realistic, since it is often insisted that for God to give someone such a choice, namely, the power of contrary choice, would be tantamount to God giving away His sovereignty.

Sproul summarizes: “What the unregenerate person desperately needs in order to come to faith is regeneration.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why? If you say, “Man is so depraved that God must....” then all that you have done is limited God. Think of it this way: There are at least three types of God-can’ts. There is the illogical can’t, which is really not true inability, but rather a logic puzzle, such as whether God can make a square circle, or create a rock so big that even He cannot lift. There is also the type of God-can’t where God can’t sin, which is not true inability, in that God lacks capacity to sin, but instead is a God-can’t due to preference, in that God’s preference is not to sin, due to His nature. Finally, there is the God-can’t which is true inability, in that God simply lacks power to do something, and this is precisely what many allege, if it is maintained that God lacks the divine power and capacity to sovereignly deliver a person the power of contrary choice. I'd rather that Calvinists insist that God uses Irresistible Grace, rather than Prevenient Grace, out of preference rather than a “lack of other options.”

16 comments:

The Seeking Disciple said...

Pelagianism is the scapegoat for Calvinism. I would argue that almost all doctrinal systems apart from Calvinism are viewed as Pelagianism by Calvinist theologians it seems. Any mention of free will or common grace is viewed with both skepticism and heresy among Calvinist.

Good post.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Roy,

From the C perspective, any system which has God putting the fate of a person's own soul in their own hands, will be seen as "Pelagianism." And yet, as Kyle pointed out in his Blog post yesterday, this concept seems to be exactly the case, as per Jesus' famous question at Matthew 16:26: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

In other words, if the fate of a person's own soul is already predetermined, then "the elect" cannot forfeit their soul whether they die rich or poor, no more than the "non-elect" can exchange their soul for eternal life. From the C perspective, the "elect's" say in the fate of their own soul is predetermined by an irresistible drawing. However, from the A perspective, this passage has God giving man control and accountability over the destiny of his own soul. From my perspective, having to view Matthew 16:26 with the backdrop of the C perspective, would make me distrust anything in the Bible. In fact, Dave Hunt referred to this as "turning the Bible into a charade." This is a very real objection, and a source of why most non-C's reject Calvinism. They simply feel that Calvinism does damage to the Bible itself. Justified or not, this is indeed a very common reservation of non-C's from Calvinism. If I was a C, then I would want to make this the focal point of my discussions with non-C's, that is, to try and demonstrate how C does not turn the Bible into a charade.

a helmet said...

"To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, illuming one but not the other.)"

Okay, if the Calvinist has been illuminated (drawn) then why does he not illuminate his fellows in like manner. If you have captured a lamp then why don't you put it on a lampstand so that it illuminates everybody? If you have received knowledge ("heard and learned from the father" John 6:45) why do you not share this revelation? Why don't YOU
now draw other people as you were drawn? Why doesn't the Calvinist, having received spiritual light, become God's co-savior ? If you only say: "God drew me, hopefully he will draw you too", what does it profit?

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hello Helmet,

I believe that the Calvinist would answer that the reason why they cannot illume others is because only God can dispense an "Irresistible Grace," and that being because it is a "regeneration." In other words, to the Calvinists, we can share the light of the Gospel, but only the Holy Spirit can preemptively make someone Born Again in order to believe. Of course, I don't believe that anyone is made preemptively born again. I believe that one must receive Christ in order to receive the Spirit's New Birth. Thoughts?

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

I believe that one must receive Christ in order to receive the Spirit's New Birth.

If words have meaning, and I assume that you believe they do, your order robs the term "birth" of any sense as a descriptor for regeneration. That's like saying a baby must cry before they can come out of the womb.

Faith is the cry of the regenerated nature.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Actually, I agree that faith is the mark of a regenerated nature. Regeneration instills within us, a desire to want to know God and to do His will. However, I also believe that faith comes from hearing the Gospel. So if a person can hear it, and receive faith from it, then they can be saved through it, and thus enter into the place of grace, as I, an Arminian, sees it, unless you believe than an "unregenerate" person cannot positively do anything with the faith received by the hearing of the Gospel. As a Calvinist, you could defer to an irresistible calling as the basis for why one person positively receives Christ, whereas I must defer to the free will of the individual, when God reaches out His hand of grace to them.

a helmet said...

Hello examiningcalvinism,

to the Calvinists, we can share the light of the Gospel, but only the Holy Spirit can preemptively make someone Born Again in order to believe.

Such is nonsense. Note, light = "seeing" = knowledge = spirit. If they have true light, then they have the Holy Spirit. What is the "light of the Gospel" ? If it is not light of the truth (Holy Spirit) then what is it? As Christians they have received the Holy Spirit (=light = knowledge of the truth = eternal life). So Calvinists must be able to share what they have! Nothing more, but put your light on the lampstand and let it shine. If you cannot share, what you have "learned from the father" (John 6:45) then you do not have anything. Moreover, why shall each and every person work to capture, what you have captured already? If one person has found a lamp, then he can let it radiate for everybody. Calvinists, do not turn people away by saying they will hopefully find the same enlightening or drawing that you received! Calvinists have "learned from the father". The content of this teaching, and nothing more is the light they must be able to share.

Now note, sometimes people claim to have received a certain truth from Got, but cannot communicate it. They allege to have feelings, or convictions or whatever "in their heart" and claim they have received a truth that you do not have. Such is false! All truth originates with God the father, and there ist the logos. Logos means word and reason. The logos communicates all truth. There is no truth that the logos cannot communicate in some form and thereby share! If you cannot express what you have been taught by the father, then the logos is not in you! And then Christ is not in you, for Christ is the logos! Do not delude your fellows! Calvinists do not know what they are talking about when they speak of "having learned from the father" and "having been drawn". If you claim to have received from the father, then there is one task for you now:

Draw as you were drawn by the father. Do the same!


Of course, I don't believe that anyone is made preemptively born again. I believe that one must receive Christ in order to receive the Spirit's New Birth. Thoughts?

On "born again", you might take a look on my posting "The Gospel - faith and knowledge" that I just posted on my blog about the gospel of john.

Thoughts? I think Calvinism is pretty esoteric! I really do not believe that Calvinists know what they are in fact talking about when they speak about "drawn" and "born again".

Kevin Rhyne said...

Helmet,

If Calvinists don't know what they're talking about then I must be really dense because I can't make heads nor tails out of your comment. If your objection now is that Calvinists don't evangelize, then I would point you to the first wave of modern missions. William Carey, Adoniram Judson, John G. Paton, etc., it was a Calvinist movement based upon the biblical understanding that the mission cannot fail. Rev. 5:9.

If you're talking about missions and evangelism today, quite frankly, Christians in the West of all stripes are pitiful when it comes to the Great Commission. However, through the efforts of Calvinists, like John Piper and others, many are heeding the call once again to leave behind the comfort and safety of the West and take the Gospel to the nations.

How's evangelism going in Germany these days?

a helmet said...

kevin,

Calvinists distinguish between the "general call" and the "inward call", don't they?

My comment was meant to point out that no one can express what this inward call actually is. Note that Jesus sent us just as He was sent. And He gave us the glory, that He had been given from the father! Do Calvinists believe that?
And more, He gave us the word He had been given by the father. And here is the core of what I said: The Logos. The logos expresses everything of God. Not in terms of a mystery, but reason. God is truth. The logos communicates all truth. There is no truth the logos cannot reveal.

And note what Jesus said, He has given us the word, He has given us logos power. The logos is in us. Now, if you cannot communicate what the "inward call" is, what the revelation that irresistibly led to your conversion actually is then you are not able to share the glory you have received, you are not even able to let the light shine you claim to have been given! You are not able to draw others irresistibly either!

Christians can say "the father in us", because Christ is in them. Then they have the logos in them. Become Gods co-savior and by doing to others what God has done to you, you can draw others just like you were drawn!

So you shall share your glory that Christ has given you and not tell others they shall find salvation themselves. If one person has captured a precious lamp, then he can put it on a pillar and let it radiate, so that everbody is now drawn, so that no one ever has to struggle for the lamp again!!

So communicate and thereby reveal the mystery of the "inward call" once for all!

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Helmet,

I just noticed your Blog article. I look forward to checking it out.

Do you believe that you can make someone else Born Again?

Surely not, however you can show someone the way to New Birth, via the Gospel, which is what?... the imperishable "seed" through which we are made Born Again. (1st Peter 1:23) So you can communicate eternal life through the means of the Gospel.

In comparison, the Calvinist would agree that you cannot make someone Born Again, but would disagree that you could point them the way to New Birth, because New Birth is something that, allegedly, God must do preemptively, in order to receive the Gospel. However, I should note that not all Calvinists believe in preemptive New Birth. Some Calvininst (for instance, my Calvinist brother in Law) believes that God simply gives faith to the ones that He has elected to salvation, and thus subsequently receive New Birth, Regeneration, The Indwelling, ect. So there is some variance between Calvinists themselves on this point.

Again, I look forward with much anticipation to reading your article.

Richard Coords

a helmet said...

Do you believe that you can make someone else Born Again?

If one is a christian then Christ is in him. The father is in Christ, thus the father is in the christian. Not the fulness of the father as it was the case with Jesus though, however principially you can now do the works of the father inasmuch as He is in you. The more you can say "the father in me" the more you can "draw people" -- doing the father's work.


Surely not, however you can show someone the way to New Birth, via the Gospel, which is what?... the imperishable "seed" through which we are made Born Again. (1st Peter 1:23)

The seed is the word of God = revelation of the truth = knowledge of the truth = spirit.
And spirit = life = knowledge
(John 6:63, 17:3)
The "new birth" is understanding that. There is no mystery, nothing that is happening beyond your comprehension.

I really mean understanding. It's a matter of the head. There is no mysterious element here. Note, all truth has been revealed. The mysterious God has vanished.

So you can communicate eternal life through the means of the Gospel.

Yes, "this is eternal life that they may know You..."

Knowing = spirit = life. And
Knowing = revelation = the word = the seed.
This must be understood.

In comparison, the Calvinist would agree that you cannot make someone Born Again, but would disagree that you could point them the way to New Birth, because New Birth is something that, allegedly, God must do preemptively, in order to receive the Gospel.

The Calvinist must understand, that knowledge precedes faith. Faith is the product of understanding. It is a "head thing". Knowledge of the truth. The truth originates with the father and is transported via the word (logos, Christ). The knowledge of truth leads to faith.

Some Calvininst...believe that God simply gives faith to the ones that He has elected to salvation

Yes, and those can never tell whether the person sitting next to them in church is actually their brother in Christ. There is "false faith" as well, right? They do not know what "drawing by the father" in fact IS but talk a lot about it. Pretty esoteric isn't it?

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Helmet,

You wrote: "The 'new birth' is understanding that."

Based upon 2nd Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is "in Christ," they have become what?

Answer: they have become a "new creature."

So what does that mean?

Answer: They have received a "new heart" and a "new spirit."

So what does that mean? In your opinion, what do you believe it means to receive a new heart and a new spirit? Compare with Ezekiel 36:26: "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

Do you feel that that's what it means to become a "new creature"?

a helmet said...

Hello examiningcalvinism,

I have an article dealing with 'new creature' - the fulfillment of the law by Jesus Christ. I cannot explain it in a few sentences. :-)

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

Curious as to your answer on these questions:

Can a creature make itself new?

Can a baby will itself to be conceived and born?

Can a corpse will itself to live again?

Can you find for me another analogy in the New Testament for regeneration?

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Sorry, I've been out for a few days. I'll post an article tonight after work.

As to your questions. In terms of the "corpse" analogy, Arminians reject it, in favor of linking spiritual death to spiritual lostness and separation (as per the parable), so we'll have to agree to disagree on that point, however in terms of your other two points, Arminianism rejects that the old creature makes itself new, but rather, when that old creature submits to Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms the old creature into a new creature, as a brand new born again creature in Christ.

In terms of an illustration of Regeneration, let me consider that for a bit. Off the top of my head, "born again" (John 3:3-8), is the only analogy to regeneration that I can think of.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

You wrote: Can a creature make itself new?

Answer: No.

You wrote: Can a baby will itself to be conceived and born?

Answer: No.

You wrote: Can a corpse will itself to live again?

Answer: No.

The Holy Spirit alone makes the old, unregenerate creature, into a new, regenerate creature. A baby must be conceived, and a spiritual conception takes place when the Holy Spirit makes an unregenerate person, brand new. Arminians do not accept the "corpse" view. Arminians view spiritual death as spiritual separation.

God bless,
Richard

P.S. I'll stop by your Blog today to view your Tuesday post.