“Why Arminianism?” by Pastor Brian Chilton

Why Arminianism?

 Pastor Brian Chilton

Theologians ask big questions concerning big issues.  One of the great questions in theology is based around the issue of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.  In this brief exposition, we will list abbreviated summaries on why Arminianism is a biblical concept.  We will look at the basics of Arminian theology.  While we examine the basics of Arminianism, we will also examine the misconceptions of Arminianism.  The core tenets of Arminianism are: Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God, Election by Foreknowledge, Unlimited Atonement, Resistible Grace, and Falling from Grace.

The five core beliefs are antagonistic to the “TULIP” beliefs of Calvinism.  But, it is not as extremely different as some may be inclined to think.

 Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God

Arminians believe that man[1] is depraved.  As Paul writes, “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” [2]  Some would ask, “Doesn’t that mean that no one has the capacity to choose?”  Not really.  Isaiah writes, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.”[3]  The act of “seeking” is a personal thing.  It is part of the human equation.  So, this depravity means that we are morally corrupt, but does not necessarily mean that this depravity has completely deadened one’s theological senses entirely.  For, every person has an inclination to worship God.  This is an inclination given to us by God.  As Paul writes, For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”[4]

The Arminian would agree with the concept that man cannot know anything about God without it being first revealed.  Arminians and Wesleyans call this “Prevenient Grace.”  This means that God calls us by His Spirit and reveals His truths to us from whence man has a free will to choose or reject His grace.

 

Election by Foreknowledge

The Arminian does not reject the sovereignty of God.  Arminians have a high view of God’s power.  However, just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time?  Could God not limit Himself in some ways?  Well, the Bible seems to indicate that He can and in fact did.  Consider the ancient hymn listed in Philippians 2.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”[5]  Christ limited Himself to come to earth.  Could God not do the same to allow for human freewill?  Could God force people to accept Him?  Of course He could.  But does He, I don’t think so.

The Bible indicates that God desires for every person to come to faith.  Peter writes, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”[6]  The Greek word “panta”” (pantas) means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.”[7]  So, this writer sees no other exegetical possibility but to accept that God desires every person to be saved.  So if God has the power to save everyone and desires to save everyone, why doesn’t He?  I feel that it is due to the power of reciprocated love.

Take for instance a time when God revealed truth to a person that He really loved and the person rejected the truth.  This case involved the Rich Young Ruler.  “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,  “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”[8]

So how does one deal with election?  Well, the answer is foreknowledge.  God is not restrained by time as we are.  God created time.  So, God is non-linear whereas we are linear.  Therefore, God can foresee and know what a person’s free decision will be before the person makes the decision.  This best defines the dichotomy.  The Scripture gives an indication of this very thing.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”[9]  The Greek term for “foreknew” is the term “proginwskw.”  It is from this term that we get our word “prognosis.”  It literally means to “know beforehand.”[10]  So, Arminians believe in election, too.  But, Arminians believe that election goes hand-in-hand with reciprocated love; love extended from the hand of God and love received by the heart of man.

 

Unlimited Atonement

Arminius did not believe that Christ died for just a few people.  He believed that Christ died for all people.  This seems to be the indication of the gospels.  Take the famous verse John 3:16; For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”[11]  The word used for “world” is “kosmon” (kosmon, or kosmos).  This word is defined as “the world, the world’s inhabitants, or the human race.”[12]  Take this in addition to the words of Paul, For there is no partiality with God.”[13]  How can it be that God is impartial if God only chooses some to save without giving others a chance to be saved?  With Calvinism, there exists a logical inconsistency with God’s omnipotence and God’s holiness for the Calvinist precept of double predestination causes God to be the author of sin and evil which goes against the holiness of God.  This is something that has yet to be explained in a logically consistent way by the Calvinist.  If there is a good explanation, this author would love to hear its explanation.  This is predominantly the core reason why I cannot accept Calvinism as it has been described.

 

Resistible Grace

The fourth tenet of Arminianism is “resistible grace.”  This indicates that a person can accept or reject the grace that God reveals and grants a person.  Some postulate that Arminians believe that humans have the absolute freedom to choose God or reject God.  That is not the case.  As we mentioned earlier, Arminians believe in “prevenient grace” which means that God reveals Himself to a person before the person is able to freely choose or freely reject.  Take the words of Christ for instance,For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”[14]

In the former passage, we see that the word “believe” is used.  The Greek word is “pisteuwn” (pisteuon).  It means to “trust, have confidence in something.”[15]  The usage in this text seems to indicate that people choose to accept or reject the light of God once exposed.  This seems to strengthen the case for Arminianist theology.

 Fall From Grace       

This is the only element of Arminianism in which I struggle to accept.  I believe that salvation can be “locked in” by God.  But to be fair, let’s look at the Arminian belief in falling from grace.  Many Arminius’ believes to mean that salvation becomes a doctrine of works.  Unfortunately, many Pentecostal advocates do seem to make salvation that way.  However, Jacob Arminius simply showed that it was possible for one to reject the faith that saved him.  So, “falling from grace” meant to Arminius that one could come to a point in which a person rejected the faith and not that a person committed a sin that denied them salvation.  If the latter is true, then Arminius would have been promoting a work-based salvation.

Despite this possibility, Arminius believed in an assurance of salvation.  However, he also believed that if one fell from grace, that person could not be “re-saved.”  This is where the great evangelist John Wesley differed from Arminius.  He believed that one could be “re-saved” multiple times.

As I said earlier, this is one area that I have to agree with Calvin.  I do believe that when God saves, He saves thoroughly and completely.  But this does not necessitate that a person has no say in the process.  If love is forced, the act no longer becomes an act of love.  The moment it is forced, it is not love.

 Conclusion:

This debate will not be solved on this side of eternity.  From the paper of Mr. Drew Payne, you have read the strengths of Calvinism.  In my paper, you have read the strengths of Arminianism.  Now it is up to you to research and decide for yourself what the Bible teaches.  In some strange way, it could be that the truth is found somewhere between the two theological doctrines.  I heard a preacher quote the great Charles Spurgeon once, who said that salvation may be like a doorway.  Above the entrance to the doorway reads the words “Whosoever will, let him come.”  After the person passes through the doorway, he looks back to the door and sees these words over the back of the doorframe, “Only the elect of God shall pass this way.”  It could be that in the great schemes of things that this could be the end result.  Such are the difficulties for us finite beings struggling to understand the infinite Creator.


[1] The use of “man,” unless explicitly used otherwise, refers to all of humanity.

[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 3:10–11.

[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Is 55:6.

[4] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 1:20–23.

[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Php 2:5–8.

[6] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Pe 3:9.

[7] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[8] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 10:21–22.

[9] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 8:28–30.

[10] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[11] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16.

[12] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[13] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Romans 2:11.

[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16–21.

[15] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

2 thoughts on ““Why Arminianism?” by Pastor Brian Chilton”

  1. Fantastic post however , I was wondering in the event you could create a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Bless you!

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