I do not normally write two posts back to back so quickly. But this has been on my heart and mind for about a week now and I believe it needs to be said.
Recently, I was watching a video on YouTube and it was a prominent preacher and teacher of different soteriology than I speaking about God’s sovereignty. During his sermon, he mentioned that he went to seminary as a “flaming free-willer” and began to explain how Arminianism limits God to its own little free will box. Out of respect, I will not mention his name or ministry in which he serves.
But this really bothered me. I mean, really bothered me. I listened to the entire clip of this message and realized this overwhelming truth. In my opinion, Calvinists have a misinterpreted representation on Arminianism. Within this post, I want to help those who may be on the other side of the salvation fence understand the core beliefs of classical, reformed Arminianism.
Myth #1 – We believe man initiates the salvation process
Calvinists often confuse the doctrines of Arminius with that of a man by the name of Pelagius. Pelagius was born in the 400’s A.D. He lived around the same time as those like St. Augustine and Homer. Pelagius was a person who believed works could buy you salvation. He believed man is the initiator in asking God for salvation and once salvation was offered, we would willingly accept it by telling God we would like to be saved. Obviously, I am paraphrasing this, but hopefully, you get the idea. It is essentially works-based salvation by the human condition and will alone. This idea was known as Pelagianism.
In the 6th century, there was another belief system that stemmed off of Pelagianism called Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism was very similar to the belief noted above, but it was more of an equation of God and man working together to help man attain salvation. Man initiates the conversation and asks God for salvation and can cooperate with God to attain it. One writer says,
“This would mean that God responds to the initial effort of person, and that God’s grace is not absolutely necessary to maintain faith.”
True, reformed, classical Arminians do not believe this. A lot of our Calvinist brothers and sisters believe Arminianism is Semi-Pelagianism and it is not. Arminianism is a totally different system of belief. Arminians accept the doctrine of total depravity and the truth that as John writes, “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Classical, reformed Arminianism accepts that man, in and of himself, is wicked and deceitful. The only way for a man to be saved is for the Holy Spirit to draw them to God the Father. There is nothing good enough in ourselves as humans to bring us to God on our own. Arminians depend on the Holy Spirit’s guiding and drawing for salvation.
Myth #2 – Free Will means a man-centered view of salvation
Several months ago, I wrote a post about Arminianism and God’s sovereignty. You can find it here. Here is an excerpt from that post that may help clear up the free will issue.
“..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.”
Calvinists seem to immediately relate “free will” to Semi-Pelagianism or a man-centered view of salvation. Arminianism is solely dependent upon God for justification, salvation, sanctification, and glorification. The only difference between Arminians and Calvinists is that Arminians believe God in His sovereignty allows humankind the choice to accept or reject his drawing and conviction. Arminians believe the problem of evil is a direct consequence of original sin from the garden of Eden. We do not believe it was God’s sovereignty that made Adam and Eve sin, but their freedom of will. Roger Olson puts it this way in his book, Against Calvinism. He says,
“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.”
In no way, shape, form, or fashion do I claim to be an expert or scholar in this area, but I wish there was more clarity from both sides on issues such as this. More than anything else, I want to be known by Calvinists as a believer who’s enamored by the glorious grace and mercy of a great Redeemer who has sought me out and brought me out of my sinfulness and rescued me from sin and darkness. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what His Son accomplished on the cross.