A word about the parable…

A word about the parable… August 11, 2010

Returning to the parable I posted here Monday: A parable is a story that is intended to make one single point.  In that a parable is different from an allegory.  This parable of mine (viz., the Calvinist professor and the ungrateful student) makes one point and one point only: that a gift freely received is no less a gift.  Many Calvinists are fond of claiming that Arminians diminish the sheer graciousness of salvation by saying the person must freely accept it.  They claim this free acceptance of the gift is “the decisive factor” in salvation (in Arminian soteriology) and that implies salvation is not entirely of God’s grace alone.  The parable simply demonstrates the counter-intuitive nature of this claim.  Even the Calvinist who makes it would be furious if someone he or she saved from ruin claimed credit for merely accepting the gift.  Nobody thinks there is any credit due a person who merely receives a gift.  Merely receiving a life-saving gift is never considered “the decisive factor” in the person having been been rescued.  To say otherwise would simply cause most people to scratch their heads in bewilderment.

The parable is not intended to deal with other Calvinist objections to Arminian theology.  It is aimed at one point only.  Some of my dear readers here have tried to minimize the effectiveness of the parable by claiming it misrepresents the ability of the sinner to accept the gift.  That can be dealt with by another parable.  And the objections overlook the crucial Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace.

I get frustrated by a frequent experience in debating Calvinists.  They often argue AS IF they did not know the whole of Arminian theology.  For example, some who object to my parable have responded at length about total depravity AS IF they did not know the Arminian answer to this.  But some of their messages seem to demonstrate a rather broad acquaintance with Arminian theology.  If you are going to criticize the parable on those grounds (viz., that it allegedly does not take seriously enough total depravity) at least mention the Arminian way of handling that–prevenient grace.  You don’t have to think that’s an adequate answer, but please be fair enough to mention that Arminians do have an answer–whether you think it is adequate or not.

Arminians, of course, should do the same with Calvinism.  We Arminians should not argue against a point of Calvinism without at least mentioning the Calvinist answer that we know very well.  Then we can argue against that.  But to argue against Arminian belief in a sinner’s ability to respond freely to the gospel without mentioning prevenient grace seems a bit disingenuous–unless, of course, you really don’t know about it!

I would hope that Calvinists who undertake to argue against Arminianism would at least read some classical Arminian literature such as Thomas Oden’s The Transforming Power of Grace.  Of course, Arminians should do the same with Calvinism.  I’ll leave it to Calvinists to recommend what they think is the book  in print that best represents their theology.  For my own edification, I found R. C. Sproul’s What Is Reformed Theology helpful.  But I have also read Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Warfield, Boettner, Hoekema, Horton, Piper, and Helm helpful (among many others).

I often wonder how many Calvinists have read as much classical Arminian literature as Arminians have read Calvinist literature?  How many Calvinists who consider themselves well-informed about Arminian theology have really read any classical Arminian theologians?  How many have read Arminius himself or could name even one of his treatises?  My experience of talking with Calvinists has led me to suspect that most of them, even Calvinist theologians, know about Arminianism only through secondary literature–usually Reformed.  I urge people of both camps to read primary sources truly representative of the other one.  My recommendation is Oden.  His book is extremely clear, completely orthodox and biblical.  He uses the term “Arminian” sparingly, but his theology in that book is completely consistent with classical Arminian thought.

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