One more quick sidebar about clarifying Arminianism

One more quick sidebar about clarifying Arminianism August 22, 2010

I have forwarded posts with which I strongly disagree, but I don’t have time to correct every misconception or misrepresentation of Arminianism or other theological systems.  However, I would like to clarify a couple points about classical Arminianism. 

Classical Arminianism does NOT say God never interferes with free will.  It says God NEVER foreordains or renders certain evil.  This relates to the issue of Arminianism and inerrancy.  An Arminian COULD believe in divine dictation of Scripture and not do violence to his or her Arminian beliefs.

Contrary to what a couple of posters here have implied, Arminianism is not in love with libertarian free will–as if that were central in and of itself.  Classical Arminians have gone out of our way (beginning with Arminius himself) to make clear that our sole reasons for believe in free will AS ARMINIANS (a person might at the same time have philosophical reasons) are 1) to avoid making God the author of sin and evil, and 2) to make clear human responsibility for sin and evil.

Arminianism is completely orthodox Christologically.  Classical Arminianism affirms the two natures of Jesus Christ.  To say otherwise is simply to display ignorance of classical Arminianism.  And to say that orthodoxy denies Jesus’ human free will (even to resist God) is to ignore the entire monothelite/dyothelite controversy and its outcome at the Third Council of Constantinople in 678 (the sixth ecumenical council).  There and at later councils the unified church condemned belief in one will and affirmed as orthodox belief in two wills of Christ.  The major interpreters of dyothelitism such as Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus taught that although it was theoretically possible for Christ’s human will to resist God’s will it could not actually happen in practice because of the deification (theosis) of the humanity of Christ.

One does not have to affirm the later councils to be classically Arminian.  (Luther and Calvin and other leading reformers affirmed only the first four councils as orthodox.)  However, to argue that orthodoxy denies that Christ, in his humanity, could resist the will of God is to go against historical orthodoxy.  One is more orthodox in affirming that he could (theoretically).

Please be careful about charging any opposing viewpoint held by evangelicals as unorthodox.  To accuse classical Arminianism of being Christologically unorthodox is so far off target as to border on incivility (because it could mislead evangelicals who hire and fire to think Arminianism is actually against historic Christological orthodoxy when it is not).

Finally, about libertarian free will: Arminians generally do NOT believe in what is usually labeled “libertarian free will” (in the strong philosophical sense of the term).  We do believe in situated free will–free will within limits and within contexts.  No Arminian believes that a person with free will (restored by prevenient grace) is capable of doing simply anything he or she wants to do.  Calvinists who argue that incompatibilist free will is incoherent need to decide whether they believe God has that kind of free will or not.  Jonathan Edwards (again) was most consistent in denying it.  The result, of course, is that God’s creation of the world is not of grace but of necessity AND that God is in some sense dependent on the world (thus inadvertently denying God’s aseity which most Calvinists claim to believe).  Now, neither Edwards nor contemporary Calvinists admit all these things, but they seem to us to be logically entailed by any denial of God’s incompatibilist free will.  And if God has it, it can’t be strictly logically incoherent.  It may be mysterious, but that’s a different matter.

Every theology affirms mystery at some point.  The issue often comes down to which mysteries one can live with.  I, for one, can live with the mystery of free will much more easily than the mystery of how God can be good and predestine a significant portion of humanity to hell even if only by “passing over” them (as explained in an earlier post).

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