Friday, August 28, 2009

A Simple Distinctive

With the many discussions I have had, some enlightening and others divisive, regarding the distinctive differences we have as Arminians with our Calvinist brethren, I have struggled for the simple statement. Books have been written and tempers raised in trying to craft an understanding of these differences. I have lingered over election and predestination as the defining differences however I am moved to consider something else for now… I like old books. There is something treasured in a lot of them and I am especially drawn to 19th century writings, produced from a time when books were the medium of any significance. The 19th century produced a rich heritage of Wesleyan writings and in browsing through a few of them earlier, I came across this passage. It is taken from M.L. Scudder's American Methodism first published in 1867. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology has been gracious in providing several holiness works for research and enlightenment. This is one of them and I think the distinctives offered are right on the money.

The one controlling doctrine that gives distinctiveness to Methodism is, that the work of salvation by Christ depends on the enlightening, renewing, and sanctifying in-workings of the Holy Spirit; and hence, that the individual is saved, and saved only, as he becomes the subject of this work of the Spirit. In connection with this, it teaches also, that the atonement of Christ hath provided that every man may receive this Spirit, and become the subject of its sanctification.

Romanism asserts that sin can only be destroyed by the fires of purgatory. Calvinism and Lutheranism teach that it remains in the believer till death. Methodism asserts that the grace of Christ can "sanctify wholly," "here and now."

These distinctive doctrines that we have ascribed to Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Wesleyanism are not only true in their application to the churches that take their tenets from the men who give them names, but they can each be directly traced to the personal experience of the great Reformers themselves. Calvin sought for "subjection to the will of God," and taught his followers to seek more for submission to, than for reception of, the grace of God. Luther's struggle was for forgiveness of sin; but, with his interpretation, it was more "a work done for him than done in him," and his followers hold rather to "justification pro forma than pro spiritu." Wesley sought and gained a higher state, -- a religious consciousness that the " blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin:" he taught his followers that they were to know an inward, as well as outward holiness. - American Methodism, M.L. Scudder, S. S. Scranton & Co., Hartford, Connecticut, 1867, p.31

Monday, August 24, 2009

Arminius On Whether God Is Freely Good Or Through Necessity

On one of the fellowship boards I occasionally participate in, a discussion ensued around the question of whether God is freely good or good by the necessity of His Holy nature. It was related to another free will discussion but it spurred an exchange regarding Arminius sentiments on the matter. I tend to agree with Arminius regarding the source and existence of God's goodness. In the realm of truth and falsity, the LORD is the definition of goodness and the only yardstick by which goodness can be compared. Dare we ask can God sin? Can God be something other than what He is? If God can be something other than what He is by necessity and willfully depart from the truths and promises, then our hope and trust in an infallible LORD falls short of blessedness and instead becomes a mere convenience captive to the whims of a God freely able to be something other than our thrice Holy LORD. His Holiness is not a point in time. It is an eternal nature of an eternal LORD and unless we are willing to challenge His eternal nature then we cannot embrace the notion that God is free to pursue unrighteousness.

Arminius addressed this issue in detail below (from His Apology)

ARTICLE 22 (2.)

It is the summit of blasphemy to say, that God is freely good.


In this article likewise, our brethren disclose their own disgraceful proceedings, which I would gladly allow to remain buried in oblivion. But, because they recall this affair to my recollection, I will now relate how it occurred.

In a disputation, it was asked, "can necessity and liberty be so far reconciled to each other, that a person may be said necessarily or freely to produce one and the same effect?" These words being used properly according to their respective strict definitions, which are here subjoined. "An agent acts necessarily, who, when all the requisites for action are laid down, cannot do otherwise than act, or cannot suspend his acting. An agent acts freely, who, when all the requisites for action are laid down, can refrain from beginning to act, or can suspend his acting," I declared, "that the two terms could not meet in one subject." Other persons said, "that they could," evidently for the purpose of confirming the dogma which asserts, "Adam sinned freely indeed, and yet necessarily. FREELY, with respect to himself and according to his nature: NECESSARILY, with respect to the decree of God." Of this their explanation I did not admit, but said necessarily and freely differ not in respects, but in their entire essences, as do necessity and contingency, or what is necessary and what is contingent, which, because they divide the whole amplitude of being, cannot possibly coincide together, more than can finite and infinite. But Liberty appertains to Contingency.

To disprove this my opinion, they brought forward an instance, or example, in which Necessity and Liberty met together; and that was God, who is both necessarily and freely good. This assertion of theirs displeased me so exceedingly, as to cause me to say, that it was not far removed from blasphemy. At this time, I entertain a similar opinion about it; and in a few words I thus prove its falsity, absurdity, and the blasphemy [contained] in the falsity.

(1.) Its falsity. He who by natural necessity, and according to his very essence and the whole of his nature, is good, nay, who is Goodness itself, the Supreme Good, the First Good from whom all good proceeds, throughwhom every good comes, in whom every good exists, and by a participation of whom what things soever have any portion of good in them are good, and more or less good as they are nearer or more remote from it. He is not FREELY good. For it is a contradiction in an adjunct, or an opposition in an apposition. But God is good by natural necessity, according to his entire nature and essence, and is Goodness itself, the supreme and primary Good, from whom, through whom: and in whom is all good, etc. Therefore, God is not freely good.

(2.) Its absurdity. Liberty is an affection of the Divine Will; not of the Divine Essence, Understanding, or Power; and therefore it is not an affection of the Divine Nature, considered in its totality. It is indeed an effect of the will, according to which it is borne towards an object that is neither primary nor adequate, and that is different from God himself; and this effect of the will, therefore, is posterior in order to that affection of the will according to which God is borne towards a proper, primary and adequate object, which is himself. But Goodness is an affection of the whole of the Divine Nature, Essence, Life, Understanding, Will, Power, etc. Therefore, God is not freely good; that is, he is not good by the mode of liberty, but by that of natural necessity. I add, that it cannot be affirmed of anything in the nature of things, that it is freely, or that it is this or that freely, not even then when man was made what he is, by actions proceeding from free will: as no man is said to be "freely learned," although he has obtained erudition for himself by study which proceeded from free will.

(3.) I prove that blasphemy is contained in this assertion: because, if God be freely good, (that is, not by nature and natural necessity,) he can be or can be made not good. As whatever any one wills freely, he has it in his power not to will; and whatever any one does freely, he can refrain from doing. Consider the dispute between the ancient Fathers and Eunomius and his followers, who endeavored to prove that the Son was not eternally begotten of the Father, because the Father had neither willingly nor unwillingly begotten the Son. But the answer given to them by Cyril, Basil, and others, was this: "The Father was neither willing nor unwilling; that is, He begat the Son not by will, but by nature. The act of generation is not from the Divine Will, but from the Divine nature." If they say, "God may also be said to be freely good, because He is not good by co-action or force:" I reply, not only is co-action repugnant to liberty, but nature is likewise; and each of them, nature and co-action, constitutes an entire, total and sufficient cause for the exclusion of liberty. Nor does it follow, "co-action does not exclude liberty from this thing; therefore, it is freely that which it actually is. A stone does not fall downwards by co-action; it, therefore, falls by liberty. Man wills not his own salvation by force, therefore, he wills it freely." Such objections as these are unworthy to be produced by MEN; and in the refutation of them shall I expend my time and leisure, Thus, therefore, the Christian Fathers justly attached blasphemy to those who said, "the Father begat the Son willingly, or by his own will;" because from this it would follow, that the Son had an origin similar to that of the creatures. But with how much greater equity does blasphemy fasten itself upon those who declare, "that God is freely good? For if he be freely good, he likewise freely knows and loves himself, and besides does all things freely, even when He begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What in blue blazes is a soul to make of this hard Calvinist statement?

In fact, the elect should desire and pray for the damnation of the non elect, for thats Gods appointment of them, and we should pray for Gods will to be done..

I don't know what to say about this other than if this is ever encountered in a scripture study or in the midst of a congregation, it should be tossed out without hesitation into the dank outside from where it came.

The Author of Sin, POE … To Be or Not to Be

Paul Copan, in writing on Parchment and Pen, recently commented on the controversial position of R.C. Sproul Jr. regarding the authorship of sin. It has made the rounds on various blogs and discussion groups, some behind closed doors, and as expected it has fueled objections and comparisons in several corners. The premise of God being the author of sin has been suggested countless times and objected to as many. Most Calvinists I have dialogued with take pains to distance themselves from the idea that God could be the author of sin. Others, whom I generally have little interaction with other than to become familiar with some of their writings have either openly embraced the idea or done so with the mask of avoidance. Vincent Cheung addresses the issue by asking an obvious question, why not? Of course asking the question in such a manner allows him to avoid in print what lays on his mind. John Frame is somewhat more direct in openly stating that God brings about sin rather than merely allowing it however even he shapes the discussion by reflecting the impetus of the inquiry choosing to qualify sin as something other than that which is authored or created in some sense. On the other hand, Sproul Jr. comes to the table with clear and unambiguous direction. God is the "culprit". God is the author of sin, I took that thought to one of the more carnal Calvinist discussion boards (one supposedly affiliated with John Frame or so that is the claim made by some). My perspective on this matter is shared by a lot of non-Calvinist observers. Sproul is merely stating openly what his supralapsarian leanings require if one is to be honest about what they believe. Lapsarian doctrines of the order of decrees regarding the fall of man provide the fodder for fueling Calvinist speculation of when God decreed the fall. Depending on how one defines decree, we end up with a disjointed presentation on the "problem of evil". Calvinists tend to view decree in absolute terms. A decree is an immovable determination , a defining of sovereign action, in many Calvinist minds. As such the question of whether God is the author of sin is inevitable.

It is not a new question nor can it be attributed to the modern Neo-Calvinism that has polluted the faith in so many quarters. We have to step back to Beza at least to understand how the idea of decrees can be carried away to making God the author of sin. Calvin was in theory a Supralapsarian theologian. Beza took it steps further and Calvinists following in their footsteps went further giving cause for Arminius, perhaps the most knowledgeable Reformed theologian of his day, to state the following regarding God and sin.

If it be said, "that God, by his eternal decree, has determined and governs all things and every thing, even the depraved wills of men, to appointed good ends," does it follow from this, that God is the author of sin?

Is "to determine or direct all things and every thing, even the depraved wills of men, to appointed good ends," the same thing as "to determine that man be made corrupt, by which a way may be opened for executing God's absolute decree concerning damning some men through wrath, and saving others through mercy?"


Sin is the transgression of the law; therefore, God will be the author of sin, if He cause any man to transgress the law. This is done by denying or taking away what is necessary for fulfilling the law, or by impelling men to sin. But if this "determination" be that of a will which is already depraved, since it does not signify the denying or the removing of grace nor a corrupt impelling to sin, it follows, that the consequence of this cannot be that God is the author of sin. But if this "determination" denote the decree of God by which He resolved that the will should become depraved, and that man should commit sin, then it follows from this that God is the author of sin.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Deterministic Coin Toss

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? …

I doubt Hamlet pondered over the musings of Calvinistic determinism and certainly Ophelia failed to measure the man against one man's truth versus another. "To be, or not to be" or restated as to do or not to do seems to go to a certain inquiry. Why do Calvinists pray? The question has been asked numerous times in uncountable circumstances. To do the will of God or to suffer in obedience seems to be the common reply in so many other words. How can the elect be outwardly known is another refrain. I have asked a question numerous times that never satisfies me with regard to the replies. What happens to men's souls if you refrain from prayer, from entreaties to the LORD, from seeking his favor with regard to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? One fellow replied in honest amazement "why would we not do that?". I considered his answer thinking of a coin toss. Should the coin land on its face, what would be the result? Did God determine how the coin should land and if the decision to evangelize or pray or do any of the things we consider Christian rests on the result of the toss, does it matter at all whether we evangelize or not, that decision also being a determined fate of our existence.

I thought about wearing brown socks today and having scrambled eggs but thinking the LORD had determined otherwise, I settled for no socks and fried eggs over easy. I should have flipped a coin and rolled over.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Continuing with E.M. Bounds

The last portion of his book, Power Through Prayer, is entitled "A Praying Pulpit Begets A Praying Pew". It is one of those crucial instructions made by men of God that bears witness to the truth long after they have passed. Its short words follow …


"I judge that my prayer is more than the devil himself; if it were otherwise, Luther would have fared differently long before this. Yet men will not see and acknowledge the great wonders or miracles God works in my behalf. If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith." - Martin Luther

ONLY glimpses of the great importance of prayer could the apostles get before Pentecost. But the Spirit coming and filling on Pentecost elevated prayer to its vital and all-commanding position in the gospel of Christ. The call now of prayer to every saint is the Spirit's loudest and most exigent call. Sainthood's piety is made, refined, perfected, by prayer. The gospel moves with slow and timid pace when the saints are not at their prayers early and late and long.

Where are the Christly leaders who can teach the modern saints how to pray and put them at it? Do we know we are raising up a prayerless set of saints? Where are the apostolic leaders who can put God's people to praying? Let them come to the front and do the work, and it will be the greatest work which can be done. An increase of educational facilities and a great increase of money force will be the direst curse to religion if they are not sanctified by more and better praying than we are doing. More praying will not come as a matter of course. The campaign for the twentieth or thirtieth century fund will not help our praying but hinder if we are not careful. Nothing but a specific effort from a praying leadership will avail. The chief ones must lead in the apostolic effort to radicate the vital importance and fact of prayer in the heart and life of the Church. None but praying leaders can have praying followers. Praying apostles will beget praying saints. A praying pulpit will beget praying pews. We do greatly need some body who can set the saints to this business of praying. We are not a generation of praying saints. Non-praying saints are a beggarly gang of saints who have neither the ardor nor the beauty nor the power of saints. Who will restore this breach? The greatest will he be of reformers and apostles, who can set the Church to praying.

We put it as our most sober judgment that the great need of the Church in this and all ages is men of such commanding faith, of such unsullied holiness, of such marked spiritual vigor and consuming zeal, that their prayers, faith, lives, and ministry will be of such a radical and aggressive form as to work spiritual revolutions which will form eras in individual and Church life.

We do not mean men who get up sensational stirs by novel devices, nor those who attract by a pleasing entertainment; but men who can stir things, and work revolutions by the preaching of God's Word and by the power of the Holy Ghost, revolutions which change the whole current of things.

Natural ability and educational advantages do not figure as factors in this matter; but capacity for faith, the ability to pray, the power of thorough consecration, the ability of self-littleness, an absolute losing of one's self in God's glory, and an ever-present and insatiable yearning and seeking after all the fullness of God -- men who can set the Church ablaze for God; not in a noisy, showy way, but with an intense and quiet heat that melts and moves everything for God.

God can work wonders if he can get a suitable man. Men can work wonders if they can get God to lead them. The full endowment of the spirit that turned the world upside down would be eminently useful in these latter days. Men who can stir things mightily for God, whose spiritual revolutions change the whole aspect of things, are the universal need of the Church.

The Church has never been without these men; they adorn its history; they are the standing miracles of the divinity of the Church; their example and history are an unfailing inspiration and blessing. An increase in their number and power should be our prayer.

That which has been done in spiritual matters can be done again, and be better done. This was Christ's view. He said "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." The past has not exhausted the possibilities nor the demands for doing great things for God. The Church that is dependent on its past history for its miracles of power and grace is a fallen Church.

God wants elect men -- men out of whom self and the world have gone by a severe crucifixion, by a bankruptcy which has so totally ruined self and the world that there is neither hope nor desire of recovery; men who by this insolvency and crucifixion have turned toward God perfect hearts.

Let us pray ardently that God's promise to prayer may be more than realized.

The Power of Prayer

There is an interesting post at the Society of Evangelical Arminians today that addresses the objections some of our Calvinist brethren have with the causal impact prayer has in the life of the saint and those he or she interact with. I have long had difficulty grasping why Calvinists in general fail to understand the importance of prayer and the cost of lacking a prayer life. To be sure, this is not a problem limited to Calvinists as the same lack of insight into prayer is found in many corners. I can do nothing but marvel at the notion that failing to pray, to intercede, to petition are mere determined courses of events. How can one avail much if he fails at the means through which God responds? The short article is interesting as is the dialogue on the associated blogs.

One resource I have always turned to regarding prayer is E.M. Bounds, especially his work The Power Through Prayer. It is timeless and truly the work of a saint in love with the LORD.