“Why Not Arminianism?” by Andrew Payne

As we mentioned before, Mr. Payne and I come from two different viewpoints on the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.  Mr. Payne is a classic Calvinist whereas I am more in line with Arminianism.  The following paper is a rebuttal to my previous paper “Why Arminianism.”  I will soon post my rebuttal to his paper on Calvinism.  As my professor at Liberty University, Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, stated in class, “At the scholarly level, we must understand that the critique of ideas is not a personal attack.”  This is why I post both sides of the equation to let you decide which conforms the Scripture the best.  It is in these papers that we seek to also show that it is possible and reasonable for us as Christians to be able to disagree and still show the love of Christ.  So, without further ado, here is the rebuttal to my paper by Mr. Payne.

Why Not Arminianism: A Critical Response to Arminianism

by J. Andrew Payne

            This essay is an attempt to refute the claims of Arminianism. It must be noted at the start that it is not intended as a personal attack to the individual ascribing to a more Arminian view, nor is it meant to incite anger. Its purpose is educational, with the hope that those who read it will be blessed by it and will be forced to delve deeper into their faith. It is the conviction of this author that, though Arminianism is mistaken in its view of God, it is not a heresy. Still, it does raise several points that when taken to their furthest conclusions, present the believer with some troubling conclusions.

As it is the fact that the current debate is one that has been fought by literally thousands of individuals over hundreds of years, producing thousands (if not millions) of pages worth of text espousing one view or another, I would urge the reader to not stop here, but rather to thrust themselves into the literature that has been produced. Considering the voluminous works that have been produced on this subject, the summary of the arguments presented here is hardly to be considered adequate. Instead, due to the constraints of the format, the issues here are only briefly described and deserve the much fuller treatment that they receive in, say, the works of John Owen. It would be best if the reader would delve into the literature of both sides so as to not be overly biased in their research and more prone to error. But finally, no matter what conclusion the reader finds themselves facing, it must be remembered and believed with the firmest of convictions, that God is the God of the Bible, and that He is good, loving, and worthy of our worship, no matter how He might momentarily appear to us. He is not subject to our judgment, but rather we are subject to His.

Limitation and the Power of God

            The seeming paradox that has consumed the majority of the discussion of the controversial issue of predestination often takes a turn to the discussion of the full limits and bounds of God’s omnipotence. That God can be all knowing and all powerful, controlling everything, seems to be at odds with the freewill of man. It seems that they are each on opposite sides of a scale with the increase of one entailing necessarily the decrease of the other. But how should one approach this issue? Wherever one falls on this issue, one should work out his salvation in the fear and trembling that Philippians 2:12 speaks of, recognizing the full consequences of the beliefs acquired through such a study. How one answers these issues impacts directly how one comes to view God.

The claim of Arminius and his followers is that Calvin extended the power of God beyond its natural employment, though not its natural ability. That is to say that, while it does not limit God’s power, it limits God’s actualized power, or rather, that power which He actually employs on a regular basis in the affairs of the world. Consider what Pastor Chilton wrote, “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?” Pastor Chilton goes on quote Philippians 2:5-8 to support it this view, claiming that Christ, upon taking human form, chose to limit Himself. But is this a proper example? Can such a view of God’s providence be accurate?

As a starting point for how I am going to treat Providence, consider this passage from Spurgeon:

“Providence is such a checkered thing, and you and I are so prone to misjudge God and to come to rash conclusions concerning His dealings with us, that perhaps this is the greatest stronghold of our natural atheism – a doubt of God’s dealings with us in the arrangements of outward affairs…We find most men very willing to confess that God is God of the hills, but they forget that He is also Lord of the valleys. They will grant that He deals with great masses, but not with individuals; with seas in bulk, but not with drops. Most men forget, however, that the fact which they believe of providence being in great things involves a providence in the little, for it were an inconsistent belief that the mass were in God’s hand, whilst the atom was left to chance; it is indeed a belief that contradicts itself; we must believe all chance or else all God.”[1]

As a basic starting point for viewing God’s providence, it is essential that the reader grasp the all encompassing nature of such providence. The will and power of God inundates every moment, not only causing it to be in a certain way, but causing it to be. As Spurgeon pointed out so well, it is an all or nothing game.

Such a view is not at all anathema to the view of God’s providence as set out in the Scriptures. Jesus Himself speaks of how a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the consent of God (Mat. 10:29-30). If a sparrow is subject to such intricate providential care, it would seem to be absurd that a man, whom Jesus says is “worth more than many sparrows,” somehow falls outside of God’s providential care – especially concerning the single most important event of a man’s life: salvation.

Those familiar with the argument of First Causality or the Cosmological Argument, are well aware of the necessity of God’s continual sustaining of every existent thing’s Being.[2] Being, according to Aristotle, is predicated of a thing as an accident, that is, as something a thing possesses but which it possesses apart from its nature.[3] Thomist philosopher Joseph Owens states that, “An accident is a form or act that perfects a substance in a secondary way. It actuates the substance, tough in accidental fashion. The substance, consequently, is in this respect a potency for accidents.”[4] This brings up another important term distinction that needs to be elaborated on: act and potency. For purposes of simplicity, it is easiest to understand these terms by using other words. Act speaks to what a thing is in actuality, whereas potency speaks to what a thing is in potential.[5] A rubbery red ball is in current actuality just that: a rubbery red ball. However, being composed of a rubbery substance, containing the nature of rubber, if said ball were tossed on a grill, it would melt. This melting is the transition between one way of being – rubber being formed accidentally into the form of a red ball – into another potential way for rubber to be: melted goo.

To the rubber in the above example, the accidents were redness and ballness. Rubber is not of its nature red or of its nature a ball. These accidents did not exist within the rubber’s nature, but were given to it, or caused by another to exist in it. Because of this, accidental properties must be caused to exist within a thing. And if Being itself is predicated of a thing as an accident, then Being itself must be caused to exist in such a way. When one follows the chain of causes back, it quickly becomes apparent that one needs an uncaused cause. This is more than just motion moving things such as the expansion of the universe, but the very cause causing them to be as they are. This cause cannot be traced back forever and requires that there be a subsistent being – that is, a being that exists of itself causing itself to be. To those with any familiarity with the cosmological argument, this being is said to be God.

So if the subsistent being of Aristotelian metaphysics, affirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas, is God (though this tells us nothing of the person, or rather, persons of God), what implications does this have upon Providence? In short it means that without God’s causing a thing to exist, it would not exist. There is literally no “outside of God.” Outside of God is nothingness. As Norman Geisler put it, “The God of the Bible not only existed before all things, but all things also exist because of Him. He is Pure existence, who gave existence to everything else that exists. Without Him nothing else would exist.”[6]

It is a tendency for Christians to view this argument as the argument of the Unmoved Mover who first set all things that exist into motion. As such, it is common for the believer to adopt a more Deistic view, supposing that God set the universe in motion and merely lets it play itself out. From this point, in order to cause the precise ending that is desired (the ending prophesied about in Revelation), God merely reinserts Himself into creation and finagles with it to bring about the desired conclusion. Because of this we feel comfortable in adopting a view that He only overcomes the will of man on certain events of magnanimous importance, such as that of King Cyrus the Great releasing the Israelites. But what was presented before was not the argument of the Unmoved Mover, but rather, the argument from a First Cause. That first cause is not a linier thing, but rather that which causes all things at all times to exist – it gives being to all existence.

The Simplicity of God shows us that God is without parts, or indivisible.[7] As such, His knowledge is one with His causality. It is not incorrect to say that His very knowledge of things causes them to be.[8] This being true, no event can escape the providential hand of God, as it is through His sovereign power that all events are. The idea that God is limited in any way by His creation is by extension absurd, as it is instead creation which is limited by Him.

By consideration, then, is the claim that God chose to limit himself even tenable against such doctrine? Pastor Chilton’s question, “just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time?” becomes quite curious in such lights. Along with it, such an interpretation of Philippians 2:5-8 would be instantly ruled out. This is not to deny the Scriptures, but simply to deny one interpretation of them for the following reasons.

Firstly, it is inconceivable for God to merely set aside His power even for an instant as it is the very exercising of His power which grants being to all existence. Secondly, it must be recognized that the person of Christ adopting the form of a man in no way limited the being of God. Rather, since Christ contained within Himself the full power of God, whenever He calmed the storms with a word, it was in fact He who caused the storm but also who calmed it for He gave being to both. The incarnation of Christ was an event so mind boggling that theologians and philosophers have been grappling with it ever since. In the person of Jesus is contained the entirety of God, as a simple being.

As God is the cause of each moment, it follows that He is the cause of all future moments. His predestination is inescapable. But it is not incompatible with the freewill of man. As was pointed out in the previous essay on the ideas of John Calvin, Calvin in fact did not deny freewill when it is defined as the freedom to choose between alternatives. He merely denies that the choice between good and evil as a way of being existed within the prerogative of man. As freewill exists, then, as a property of created beings, it is not incompatible with God’s providence as it is God who gives being to such freedom. However as God is the only being who is not contingent upon another, it is only He who can be truly called free in the purest form.[9]

Restated and simplified, the proposed argument of Pastor Chilton, speaking for the Arminian position, was that God would have to limit Himself in order for man to have free choice. Since this free choice is something God endows each human being with, it would follow that what is claimed, in effect, is that God created a rock that He cannot move. Is such a proposition something that should be accepted by believers? If so, we can no longer speak of an Infinite God, but rather, simply, of a God who is limited by His creation and to some extent, now, Finite. Such conclusions should deeps perturb believers.

Election by Foreknowledge

            If what was written above is true, and God is the creator and sustainer of every moment – the One who gives being to every moment – then what would election by foreknowledge even mean? God’s foreknowledge would be the same as His current knowledge, thus election would not be election by foreknowledge but simply election. As Pastor Chilton has affirmed, God is not limited by time, and as such it would seem inconsistent to predicate of Him that He chooses out of His knowledge of the future.

God’s knowledge is now seen to not only know, but to cause. This does not allow for the Arminian’s attempt to assert that God’s choosing is merely His allowance of events to play out in a certain way. All events must now exist as God wants them to exist for His purposes, and this means that He created this world and chose upon its creation who would be saved and who would not. He is in complete control and, short of limiting God, there would seem to be no way to escape such conclusions. God is the cause of the future equally as much as He is the cause of the now for there is no future for God. Thus election cannot be by foreknowledge.

Now inevitably one is going to bring up the problem of evil as a trump card to refute such a claim. As this question is a complex question that falls outside of the scope of this immediate debate, I will have to leave it unanswered for the moment. Suffice to say that the problem of evil is still a problem for the Arminian as much as it is for the Calvinist. The answer, unsurprisingly, is merely different for each. However, as it is equally a problem for each, it is unsuitable as an argument urging the reader towards Arminianism.[10]

Providence in Salvation

            2 Peter 3:9 (as well as Matthew 23:37 and 1 Timothy 2:4) is often quoted in order to establish that God’s salvation is contingent upon man’s own will. As Pastor Chilton expressed, he can see no alternative interpretation to that passage apart from the freedom of man to choose salvation. The argument is made that though God could force man to come, He simply chooses to leave that choice up to man alone. While admittedly a sticky verse to navigate for the professing Five Point Calvinist, it must not be taken as a statement by itself. It is merely one part of the cumulative revelation of God found in the Bible. Other verses seem to make contrary statements such as John 6:65, “(Jesus) said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”[11]  Ephesians 1:11 states, “In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will.” Philippians 2:12 has already been mentioned, but consider the following verse, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” Romans 9 is a rather infamous passage in this debate as it is a powerful testimony to the destitute state of the will of man with regard to choosing between good and evil. This passage reminds the reader that God is righteous in choosing some and not others (9:7-13) establishing that the righteous judgments of God are not things subject to the judgments of man but rather that man is indeed subject to God’s judgment. It quotes Exodus 33:19 to great effect declaring, “I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (9:15) My purpose in quoting all of these passages is not to call some ‘contrary’ verses into question but rather to illustrate that taking individual verses and holding them above others will never accurately depict how one should approach interpretation. The fact is that all verses exist as a part of the whole. Such an interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 is only further exacerbated when one takes into account the metaphysical constraints as outlined in the above section on the freedom and the power of God. What might seem to be a more favorable interpretation that is concomitant with the other passages is that though God desires all, He does not call all to salvation, but instead made some as objects of His wrath. It is an important distinction to make.

Conclusion

As affirmed in the previous essay on the ideas of Calvin, this author must then continue to affirm that salvation is not a choice but a state of being that exists as a creative act of God. With this the believer is forced to reconcile within themselves the full extent of their faith. Just how far are they willing to follow God? The individual who affirms the infallibility of the gospel must simultaneously affirm that God’s righteousness is no more contingent upon our judgment than the salvation of man is contingent upon man’s will.

This is no small issue that is reconciled within the heart of man. It requires that the individual grasp the hand of God and hold tightly to it in faith even when the answers to our problems are not readily made available. Our knowledge of God must maintain, in spite of a world full of pain and heartache, that He is still providential. And though such a world seems at times irreconcilable with a God of grace, we maintain that there is an answer, even if we as individuals don’t see it in the present moment. But the problem of pain is never something that should be answered in the minds of man by limiting the power of God that we hold to, for it is the very same power of God that our very faith is tied to. A limitation of the power of God that we allow for in our minds is simultaneously a limitation on our faith. As brothers and sisters in Christ we must not do this, but rather turn to the One who is our salvation, and trust in His faithful Word.


[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Providence” in Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5 (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 372-373.

[2] Though this is not a proper philosophical definition, the word “being” is here termed to mean all things existing as they are. As this paper is not predominately a philosophical treatise on Being or Metaphysics, I will try to keep the explanation here as basic as possible without employing too many technical terms.

[3] Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Milwaukee, University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), 74.

[4] Ibid, 76.

[5] Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginners Guide (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2009), 10-11.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Bloomington, MN, Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31.

[7] Ibid, 39.

[8] Reginald Garrigou-Legrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (United States of America, Ex Fontibus Co., 2007), 83-84.

[9] An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 99.

[10] This author would be more than willing to, at a further date in time, continue this debate further with a discussion of the problem of pain and the problem of evil. It too is a subject of much controversy that merits a Christians attention but that must be treated delicately.

[11] All references taken from the HCSB.

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