Arminianism FAQ 5 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…)
This is the final installment of this series. I realize that I will not have answered every conceivable questions about Arminianism. “FAQ” means “frequently asked questions,” but not even every frequently asked question about Arminianism can be answered in one series such as this. Readers should realize that these are my answers, not necessarily the answers every Arminian would give. However, I have been researching, speaking and writing about Arminianism for well over twenty years now. I beg my fellow Arminians’ indulgence. If you disagree with something I say about Arminianism here, please don’t over react and go on a rant. Just state your own opinion and give your reasons for it. I am sure there will never come a day, short of the eschaton, when all Arminians cross every “t” and dot every “i” of Arminian theology exactly alike.
FAQ: Where is “prevenient grace” taught in Scripture? A: Of course there are individual passages that point to it, but the term itself is not there. It is a theological concept constructed (like “Trinity”) to express a theme found throughout Scripture and to explain what would otherwise remain seemingly contradictory. John 12:32 is perhaps the clearest Scriptural expression of prevenient grace which is the resistible grace that convicts, calls, illumines and enables sinners so that they are able to repent and believe in Christ and be saved. There Jesus says that if he be lifted up he will draw all people to himself. The Greek translated “all” is pantas and clearly refers to all inclusively, not to “some” (e.g., “the elect”). The Greek word translated “draw” is much debated. Calvinists usually argue that it should best be translated “compel.” However, if that were its meaning here, the result would seem to be universalism. However, belief in prevenient grace does not depend on proof texts. The concept is everywhere taught implicitly in Scripture. It is the only explanation for the following clearly Scriptural chain of ideas: 1) No one seeks after God (total depravity), 2) The initiative in salvation is God’s, 3) All the ability to exercise a good will toward God is from God, 4) salvation is God’s gift, not human accomplishment, and 5) people are able to resist God’s offer of salvation. All of that is summed up in the phrase “prevenient grace.” Arminians disagree among ourselves about the details such as who is affected by prevenient grace and under what specific conditions. All agree that the cross of Jesus Christ mysteriously accomplished something with regard to prevenient grace, but there is some disagreement about the necessity of evangelism (communication of the gospel) for the fullness of prevenient grace to have its impact upon sinners.
FAQ: Doesn’t classical Arminianism really say the same thing as Calvinism when it comes to the sovereignty of God?After all, if God foreknew everything that would happen and created this world anyway, wasn’t he foreordaining everything simply by virtue of creating? A: This is a very good question but one based on a misunderstanding of divine foreknowledge. Classical Arminianism does not imagine that God “previewed” all possible worlds and then chose to create this one. God chose to create a world and include in it creatures created in his own image and likeness with free will to either love and obey him or not. God’s knowledge of what happens in this world “corresponds” (is the best word) to what happens; it does not cause it or even render it certain. Admittedly we cannot fully explain God’s foreknowledge without slipping into determinism. But the mysteries of free will (power of contrary choice) and divine non-determining foreknowledge are mysteries much more easily accepted than any form of divine determinism which, given the shape of this world, would inevitably cast shadows on God’s character.
FAQ: Can an Arminian explain the few crucial ideas that distinguish Arminianism from Calvinism for non-scholars? A: Yes. There are three of them. First, God is absolutely, unconditionally good in a way that we can understand as good. (In other words, God’s goodness does not violate our basic divinely-given intuitions about goodness.) Second, God’s consequent will is not God’s antecedent will except that God antecedently (to the fall) decides to permit human rebellion and its consequences. All specific sins and evils are permitted by God according to his consequent will and are not designed or ordained or rendered certain according to God’s antecedent will. Third, salvation of individuals is not determined by God but is provided for (atonement and prevenient grace) and accomplished by God (regeneration and justification by grace through faith).