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 of 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.” Free Will Baptists 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 Pelagianism (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.

 

2 Reasons Why Theology Matters

 

January 1, 2016, I started my fourth year in ministry. The past three years have been some of the most rewarding, yet most difficult times of my entire life. Over these past few years, I have come to love theology. In fact, most of my spiritual gifts deal with theology. Not to say that I am chosen by God to be some great theological mind, but the Lord has given me a desire to study and learn about Him and His Word.

The study of theology is (or should be) a vital part of a Christian’s life. Your theology determines your worldview, Christian or not. For us as Christians, we sometimes devalue theology and categorize it to only academia. Let me just say: Don’t do that! Theology is the Christian’s way of life.

Over the past few years of studying theology and discussing it with fellow believers, I have found two main reasons why theology is necessary for the Christian.

1) Theology involves knowing God.

One definition of theology is the study of God and divine truth. There may be some confusion seen with the above statement because if we are fair in our thinking, we also see that you can have an understanding of theology and not know God. James wrote it, plain and clear, saying even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). What James is saying is crucial in understanding theology; you can know theology and not know God. The fact of the matter is that there are some who view theology as nothing more than an academic knowledge of the Bible. In some sense, they are correct.

Theology is the study of God. When we deal with theology, we are dealing with God. When we study theology, we are studying God. As such, when we know theology, we should know God. But it is not the case all the time. In some cases, theology means nothing more to the Christian than any other knowledge.

It ought not to be this way.

The study of God ought to include a life that is pleasing to God. Because we study and learn God, we ought to make what we learn applicable in our lives of growing in grace. The primary goal in our theological endeavors should be knowing God. If not, our endeavors of studying theology are in vain, in my opinion.

2) Theology invokes an application.

Because there is a possibility to know theology and not know God, it is necessary for those studying theology to properly apply it to their lives. When we do not properly apply our theology, sometimes it becomes academic rather than an act of worship. Yes, you read right. Studying theology is an act of worship to God. We read our Bible to know God. We go to church to know God. We live our lives to know God. Our entire lives exist primarily for one reason: to know God truer and better.

In comparison, it is completely realistic of me to think similarly of my relationship with my wife. Dating has a common goal of trying to understand a person and their personality/attitude/goals in life to figure out if they match the standards you have for your future spouse. While I was dating my wife, we had many conversations about marriage and what we would do in certain situations of disagreement and conflict. These conversations are necessary to any couple considering marriage. However, it is equally necessary to talk about your “love languages.” Generally, your love language is going to be different than that of your significant other’s love language. My wife’s love language is dramatically different than my personal love language.

But let me pose this question:

What would it look like if I knew my wife and what her goals were in marriage, her love languages, and her personality thoroughly but never catered to any of those areas in her life? Of course, my marriage would not be strong, possibly even non-existent because I would never interact with my wife on a personal level. We think of marriages similar to this example and almost cringe to the idea of that much neglect of attention, communication, and the pursuit of your spouse, yet when we view theology, in some cases, we deem it alright to treat God this way.

Conclusion

When we study theology, we should treat it as a relationship, if you will. We wouldn’t dare accept it when our spouse treated us in a similar manner, but sometimes we do this with God whenever we do not effectively and correctly apply our theology.

It must be our main goal to know God. The Westminster Short Catechism’s first question in its contents asks “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is that man should “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God, we must know Him. We cannot know God without learning and studying about Him. In the same way, I must know and enjoy my wife’s companionship (if we can compare the two relationships), I must extend the effort to know God and reciprocate the same love He has shown us through His redeeming grace.