Arminianism and the Sovereignty of God

 

If you saw my previous post, you notice that I do not claim to be any type of theologian or profess to have a great intellect. In case you did not see it, you can find it here. I really want to make this clear that I am in no way trying to boast for anything written from me on this blog.

However, in the time that I have been in college (and some of high school) and in full-time ministry, I have noticed that there are a number of different people who have deemed Arminian Theology unbiblical. I have heard some say it should even be considered “pagan.” I cannot understand this premise to which people come to understand Arminian theology as an unbiblical, pagan theology.

In this post, I will give two specific reasons proving why Arminian theology, specifically dealing with the sovereignty of God and in light of the Free Will Baptist tradition, is biblical.

1) Arminian Free Will Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Specifically speaking, Free Will Baptists are a large number of ones who hold a classical Arminian view of soteriology. Sometimes, the simple reading of our denominational title poses questions to others who do not hold to the same view. Some associate FWB (Free Will Baptist) to a doctrine called repeated regeneration which claims essentially that every time man sins they become lost and must become saved again, and then the cycle repeats. FWB do not hold to this view of salvation/sanctification. Also, some seem to find FWB to be related to an incomplete view of total depravity; meaning FWB’s believe man has some part in the salvation process. This viewpoint is also incorrect. In his book, Classical Arminianism, Leroy Forlines exclaims “There must be a move toward man on God’s part before there will be any response on man’s part.” FWB’s and classical arminians hold to the doctrine of total depravity and the fact that, as John wrote, “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).”

Because classical Arminianism affirms total depravity, there is some common ground between the two sides (Calvinism and Arminianism) in their soteriology. But the disagreement comes when we start talking about election. Calvinists have always had a problem with “free will” in salvation. Calvinists believe that God chose or “elected” some to be saved. Forlines writes, “This election was in no way related to God’s foreknowledge of faith on the part of the individual.” This is why Calvinists deny any idea of free will. Their belief system totally and completely denies the idea that man has any specific role in salvation (And in all fairness, this viewpoint of salvation is a valid interpretation of Scripture. There is some logic in these statements from verses in Scripture. However, I do believe that Arminianism is a more logical view that Calvinism). Furthermore, the Calvinist system of belief has nothing to do with men and everything to do with God (Divine Determinism).

Arminians do not believe in a free will that makes man the sole authority in salvation. This belief is the doctrine known as Pelageanism (pə-lā′jē-ə-nĭz′əm), which is basically salvation by works. Forlines has a great explanation of free will in light of Arminian theology. He says, “Freedom of will is a freedom within a framework of possibilities. It is not absolute freedom. We cannot be God. We cannot be angels. The freedom of a human being is in the framework of possibilities provided by human nature.” The reason Arminians believe in freedom of the will is because of our human nature. Our free will is simply the choice to do or not to do when the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts. When the Holy Spirit works on lost people’s hearts, it is in the framework for that person to either say yes or to say no to the Gospel. Whichever they choose is their choice.

2) Arminianism affirms God’s Sovereignty; not Divine Determinism

Of course, the question of God’s sovereignty goes much deeper than only coming to God through the drawing of the Holy Spirit, or the freedom of the will to choose in salvation. What do I mean when I say “God’s sovereignty”? God’s sovereignty is viewing God as the sole commander and authority in the universe. God, in His sovereignty, controls all events in all lives; past, present, and future. God is sovereign because He knows all things; past, present, and future. Within Calvinist circles, the view of God’s sovereignty seems much larger than that of Arminianism because calvinism holds the view that God literally has control of everything that goes on in our lives. This doctrine is called divine determinism. Calvin referenced this viewpoint best when he said, “No wind ever arises or increases except by God’s express command.”

I won’t get much further into the calvinist system of belief; hopefully there is enough information in the above paragraphs to surface their viewpoint. However, the problem that classical Arminians have with this viewpoint essentially exists with the problem of evil. If God controls every single thing that happens in the world; if God is responsible for everything that goes on, then God is responsible for the problem of evil. In Against Calvinism, Roger Olson said, “Someone has said that no theology is worth believing that cannot be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz. I, for one, could not stand at those gates and preach a version of God’s sovereignty that makes the extermination of six million Jews, including many children, a part of the will and plan of God such that God foreordained and rendered it certain.” What classical arminians believe about free will and God’s sovereignty is said best by Robert Picirilli in Grace, Faith, and Free Will, “The classic Arminian views affirms that the future is perfectly foreknown by God and yet is, in principle and practice, “open” and “undetermined.”

 

In Arminian theology, we affirm God’s Sovereign rule over the universe, but also affirm the choice He freely gives humankind in regard to the gospel.

Conclusion

The freedom of the will and the sovereignty of God go hand in hand within the boundaries of classical Arminianism. Obviously, God has sovereignly placed man’s freedom of will in the universe. We see a perfect example in Adam and Eve. These two individuals walked with God day and night. They had a perfect relationship with Him. When God gave the command to not eat of the tree, they disobeyed. Disobedience to God is a product of man’s freedom of will. It is in no way a product of God’s sovereignty and cannot ever be. To blame God for our choices in life is utterly unthinkable. The sanctification process is a difficult one, whether you are Calvinist or Arminian. However, we can rest assured that even in our deepest times of despair and disobedience, Christ has deemed us righteous before God the Father. Not from anything we have done, but because of what He accomplished on the cross through his death and resurrection.

 

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