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The World is Gonna Change Tonight

Here is a Christmas song written and mixed by my daughter Heidi, age 14.  Hope you enjoy it.  The lyrics are Arminian, of course. Merry Christmas!

 

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Book Review: Arminian and Baptist, Explorations in a Theological Tradition by J. Matthew Pinson

Arminian and Baptist is a book about the history of Arminian theology in the General Baptist and Free Will Baptist tradition.  It is written by J. Matthew Pinson, a Free Will Baptist, and the president of Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee.

I enjoyed the book, and learned a great deal about the history of Arminianism in the Baptist tradition.  I recommend the book to Arminians and Calvinists alike, particularly to those who are interested in the history of Classical Arminianism.  As a Wesleyan, I came away with a better understanding of the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Classical Arminianism (or Reformational Arminianism) and why these differences are important.  I was sometimes irritated by the author’s passionate advocating of Classical Arminianism over Wesleyan Arminianism, however, he represents Wesleyanism fairly for the most part.  Classical and Wesleyan Arminians have slightly different focuses as to what we think is important.  These result in some minor in-house differences (which I’ll expand on at the end of the post).

The book starts with a history of Jacob Arminius and his theology.  Arminius’ theology was thoroughly Reformed.  He regarded Calvin highly.  Arminius’ theology was “a development of Reformed theology rather than a departure from it.”  In the time of Arminius there was also diversity on the doctrine of predestination in the Reformed church.  Both contemporaries of Arminius and some of his Reformed precursors held to non-Calvinistic views of predestination.  Pinson notes that “There was no consensus on the doctrine of predestination in the Dutch Reformed Church of Arminius’ time.”  While Arminius was Reformed, he disagreed with Calvinistic predestination.  He thought that Calvinism “inverted the Gospel” and that predestination did not properly focus on the work of Christ.  “It was as though Christ and his work were an afterthought”.

Chapter 2 deals with the view of the Atonement in Arminius’ theology, where again Arminius remained Reformed.  He was fully committed to the penal substitution (or satisfaction) view of the Atonement.   This is the view that Jesus went to the cross in order to fulfill the demands of God’s justice.  While God is merciful, he also is committed to justice.  A price had to be paid for our sin.  Jesus individually paid the price of each person’s sin.  So God imputed our sin to Jesus, and he also imputes the righteousness of Jesus to each person who believes in faith.  The  penal substitution view is contrasted with the Moral Government view (developed by Remonstrant Hugo Grotius, and held by many Wesleyans).  In this view Jesus suffered on behalf of humanity, but not individually for each person.  As Governor, God was displeased with the sin of man. By accepting the suffering of Jesus, God is able to forgive those who believe, reconcile them to Himself, and maintain justice and order.

Chapter 3 gives a historical sketch of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys – the founders of the General Baptist movement.  Both came from a Calvinistic Puritan background, and both adopted anti-Calvinist views.  They spent time in the Netherlands, as did many Puritans.  Around 1611 they separated because of differences.  Smyth wanted to adapt the views of the Dutch Mennonites, including a rejection of original sin, and a focus on imparted righteousness.  Helwys maintained an Augustinian view of original sin and held to imputed righteousness (Imputed righteousness is a forensic righteousness before God provided by Jesus.  Imparted righteousness is where Jesus makes us more like himself).

Chapter 4 is an overview of Thomas Helwys’ treatise “A Short and Plain Proof”, which was a criticism of Calvinistic predestination.  As all Arminians agree, Helwys argued that the atonement is for all – Jesus died for everyone.  Helwys was particularly concerned about where evil came from, and that it could not have come from God.  He argued that the original cause of the fall was Adam and Eve’s freedom, and that if it was instead decreed by God, then the fall was a deterministic necessity.  Describing Calvinism and it’s impact on God’s character he wrote: “Can men make freedom and bondage in one and the same action, all in one man, and at the same time? How will men be able with any good conscience make things so contrary hang together?

Chapter 5 is about the the General Baptist Thomas Grantham.  Pinson contrasts Grantham’s theology with that of John Goodwin.  Grantham was more conservative than Goodwin both doctrinally and politically.  Whereas Goodwin argued for the Governmental atonement view, Grantham held to penal substitution.  Grantham also didn’t care for the term “Arminian” because of the baggage that can be associated with the view.

Chapter 6 is about the theology of John Wesley, and the areas where Wesley differed from the Classical Arminian view.  Wesley’s theology is described as an amalgamation of views that cannot be pigeonholed (I agree).  Wesley’s theology is also described as more in the mold of John Goodwin and Hugo Grotius than that of Jacob Arminius.  For example, Wesley rejected the idea of forensic justification, and called the view a cover for unrighteousness.  “He (Wesley) found it difficult to conceive of a gospel that would allow a believer to commit sin with impunity because he has been imputed with the righteousness of Christ”.  Pinson also argues that even though Wesley technically held to the satisfaction view of the atonement, he was influenced heavily by the governmental view: “[Wesley’s] theory of atonement relies on the logic of penal satisfaction but on the spirit of governmentalism.”

Chapter 7 is about the Free Will Baptist movement.  It is described as confessional, Baptist, and Arminian.  In contrast to most Baptist groups, FWBs have a high regard for historical Christianity and the creeds.  Also in contrast to most other Baptist groups, FWBs believe that apostasy is possible.  When apostasy occurs, it is permanent, and comes about because of a loss/rejection of faith in Christ, and not because of sin in the life of the believer.  This is in contrast to most Baptists, who believe that apostasy is impossible (once saved always saved), and the Wesleyan view – who believe that a continued pattern of sin can also result in separation from God, but it’s still possible for the person to repent / be restored again.

I want to close with what I see as the key differences between Classical Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism.  As noted earlier, Pinson is passionate about Classical Arminianism.  Since I’m Wesleyan, I want to comment on these differences as seen from a Wesleyan perspective (for more details, see this post: A Comparison of Wesleyanism and Classical Arminianism).

Wesleyans tend to be less scholastic.  An example of this is views of atonement (but it extends to other topics too).  Classical Arminians always hold to penal substitution as the primary view of the Atonement.  Wesleyans tend to hold to the governmental view, but also see value in the penal view, as well as the “Christus Victor” view (that Jesus defeated Satan at the cross).  I personally lean to the penal substitution view, but I think all the views of the atonement add value and understanding to what Christ did for us on the cross, and even weak views (like the moral example theory) add to the tapestry.

Wesleyans are more ecumenical. We really like the saying “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  We downplay doctrinal distinctness, and focus more on Christian unity.  Even when reading about the history of Smyth and Helwys, I found myself identifying more with Smyth than Helwys.  I admired his desire to find commonality with the Dutch Mennonites.

Wesleyans have more of a focus on the Holy Spirit.  Another way of putting it is we are more Pietistic.  We believe that the Holy Spirit fills us, speaks to us, and works in our lives.  It’s the difference again between imputed and imparted righteousness.  Wesleyans believe that not only are we forensically right before God, but as the Holy Spirit lives in us, he begins to change us deep inside, and we become more like Christ.

Lastly, Wesleyan theology tends to be more pastoral.  We are interested in how the application of theology applies to our daily walk with God.  I think all Arminian theology tends to be more pastoral than Calvinist theology.  That’s because we all believe God is relational and loves us.  But at the same time, Wesleyanism takes this a step further.  Wesley himself was this way, and it’s why his theology was an amalgamation.  Wesleyans are skeptical of theology that detracts from our daily walk with Christ.

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Disclosure:  I was provided a copy of the book, and agreed to write a  review.

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Calvinist Christmas Songs – Humor

Some of these are mine, but most are stolen from the twitter hash  #CalvinistChristmasSongs.

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Joy to the Elect

Deck the Shelves With Books by Piper

Good Christian Men Read Boice

Oh Come All Ye Chosen

Servetus Roasting on an Open Fire

All I want for Christmas is my ESV

I Saw Edwards Dissing Santa Claus

Last Christmas You Gave You My Heart

Grandma Got Run Over Because It Was Predestined

I’m Dreaming of a James White Christmas

Little Driscoll Boy

“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gunna decide who’s naughty and nice.”

Have Yourself a Merry Little Conference (for MacArthur fans)

 

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Are Methodists Becoming More Conservative?

Here’s an article on how United Methodists are becoming more theologically conservative.  This is in contrast to some of their  mainline brethren: Methodists Behaving Conservatively.

From the article:

 By some measures, the United Methodist Church is becoming more theologically conservative. The denomination’s Book of Discipline affirms that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” At their 2004 General Conference, United Methodists endorsed “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” It wasn’t close; the motion passed with 70 percent of the vote. The Methodists’ generally pro-choice position on abortion has been revised in a more pro-life direction.

This conservative trend of the UMC contrasts with the liberalizing trend of other American mainline denominations (Presbyterians, Episcopals, etc).  The reason is that Methodists outside the USA have full voting rights in the general convention.  One third of UMC delegates now come from Africa.  African Methodists are  more orthodox than their American counterparts.  Because of this African movement, conservative Americans are also more likely to stick around (in other mainline denominations these sorts of people have already left).

It’s an interesting read, and also encouraging.

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Good-bye to the Internet Monk

Thanks for all the good reads, even if I didn’t always agree. Michael Spencer 1956-2010

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Hello world!

I’m currently blogging at wesleyanarminian.blogspot.com

God bless,

Kevin

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Can Salvation be Lost?

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23

In this post I want to look at some of the different views on the possibility of losing salvation. Before looking at each view it’s important to ask two questions:

1) How is Salvation “gained”? By works, by faith, or by decree?
2) How is Salvation “kept”?, By works, by faith, or by decree?

I’m going to propose 5 views, that come about through the way we answer these two questions.

View #1) Salvation is gained by works, it is kept by works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
This view says salvation is dependent on what we do. If we do enough good and avoid enough bad then God gives us get a ticket to heaven. This view is popular among nominal Catholics and Protestants. It is also popular among some heterodox groups like the LDS.

The main problem with this view is that it makes Jesus’ death unnecessary. If we can make it on our own why did he need to die? And a practical concern with this view is that one never knows how much work to do to obtain salvation. As a result there is no security. Scriptural support for this view is essentially zero.

View #2) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, it is kept by good works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
One can become a true Christian, but if he sins once he loses his salvation and must repent again to get it back. One must be in a “state of grace” to get to heaven. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. This view is common among Catholics and also some Arminians.

The problem with this view is there is no security for the believer. One accidental sin can cause you to forfeit your salvation. In its more extreme forms this view also leads back to a “works” view of gaining salvation. It envisions a “Santa Claus” type God, who’s making a list and checking it twice. This view leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we’re no longer saved. It can also actually encourage sin. Just confess it after the fact and you’re good to go again (Romans 6:1-2)

View #3) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by faith in Jesus. Net result: Salvation can not be “lost”, but it can be forfeited.
In this view losing Salvation is a possibility, but it only comes about by a deliberate choice and doesn’t happen by accident. It must be walked away from. This is the view of many Arminians.

Problems: this view must be reconciled with passages which seem to imply that salvation can not be forfeited (like John 10:28). And like view #2 it also potentially leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we have lost faith and committed the unpardonable sin.

View #4) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost one we have believed.
In this view we must believe to be saved, but once we have believed we are “sealed” by God, and there is no longer a possibility that salvation can be lost. This view is popular among some Arminians, Southern Baptists, and some other groups groups like Calvary Chapel.

The strength of this view is that the believer has both full assurance and security in Christ. The weakness is that it discounts the many warning passages in scripture. It can also result in believers thinking they have a license to sin.

View #5) Salvation is gained by decree of God, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost.
Faith in Jesus is an inevitable result of God’s eternal decrees. It does not come from anything in the believer. Those whom Jesus died for will certainly be saved. This view is often called “monergism” and is popular among Calvinists.

Problems with this view: First, it has the same weaknesses of view #4 (discounts the warning passages, gives a license to sin). Secondly it denies assurance. Those whom God decrees will certainly be saved, but no one knows what God has decreed. This view can cause us to doubt the good character of God, and can easily lead to a fatalistic attitude.

Works, Faith, and Decree
It’s important to note that while there are at least 5 views on the possibility of losing salvation, there are really only 3 views on how salvation is given to us by God, and only three views on how salvation is kept. In each case it is by works, by faith in Jesus, or by unconditional decree.

The Arminian distinctive – We all agree on question #1: Salvation is given by God through faith in Jesus.
For Arminians, we all agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, however, there is disagreement on how is salvation kept. It has often been assumed by Calvinists (and others) that all Arminians believe salvation can be easily be lost. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The heart of Arminianism is that salvation comes by faith in Jesus. However, there is diversity on the second question: How is salvation kept? As a result, out of the 5 views described, Arminians can logically hold to view #2, #3, and #4.

It has been my observation that some Christians (Southern Baptists in particular) don’t want to be labeled Arminian because they strongly disagree with view #2. This aversion to the Arminian label is unnecessary. One can hold to view #4 and still be Arminian. The root issue for Arminians is that salvation is genuinely offered by God to all, and the means he has ordained for us to be saved is through our faith in Jesus Christ.

My point here is not that this issue of losing salvation is unimportant or irrelevant to Arminians. It clearly is very important, but there is disagreement on the issue because of the way we answer the second question, not the first one. As Arminians we need to allow room for differences of opinion on the matter, and we need to teach others that not all Arminians hold to view #2 or even view #3.

Conclusion:
There are several scripturally reasonable positions that can be taken on this issue. And to be fair, none of the views are without difficulty. No matter what our understanding, may we show love to those believers who disagree with us.

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