Monday, January 15, 2007

Contrasting Reformed/Calvinistic Theology with Arminianism (Related Views)

This is the third post in my series on Reformed vs. Arminian theology. The first post described the main purpose for this series: I want to examine whether being Reformed or Arminian in one's theology is important; specifically, to find the practical difference one's theology makes to living faithfully as a Christian. In the second post, I provided brief historical background and definitions for Calvinism and Arminianism. You will recall that "Calvinism" (after John Calvin) is the name by which the views of the "Reformers" and their theology has come to be known, and that Arminianism (after Jacobus Arminius), is the name by which the theology based on the teachings of Arminius and his followers has come to be known.

Although I am very eager to get into the meat of this series-- a deeper examination and contrasting of the views of Calvinism (Reformed Theology) and Arminianism, I think that examining first some of the related theological/historical views would benefit our understanding.

Although Arminianism and Calvinism have become the most well known and the predominant theological systems in Christendom, we should note that they have developed over hundreds of years as a result of conflict and debate (sometimes extremely heated). Various alternative views, for example, Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, have arisen and were denounced as heretical by the official church councils of their times. And within the Calvinistic and Arminian traditions, there have been, and still exist today, numerous strains. Classical Arminianism, for example, sees Arminius as its figurehead, while Wesleyan Arminianism (as the name suggests), is more influenced by the teachings of John Wesley. Among Calvinists, there are those who describe themselves as "four-point" Calvinists (Amyraldism), although strict Calvinists would argue that the 5 points (T.U.L.I.P.) of the Calvinistic scheme all hang together and therefore must be taken as a whole. There are other views in Calvinism as well.

Within the broad scope of church history, Arminianism is closely related to Reformed theology, and the two systems share both history and many doctrines in common. In fact we will remember that Arminius was originally a Calvinist himself, and that while in his teaching he sought to correct what he saw as its errors, he was in agreement with much of Calvinism. Sometimes Arminianism is even referred to as a "moderate Calvinism." Nonetheless, today they are often viewed as arch-rivals within Evangelicalism because of their disagreement over the doctrines of predestination and salvation.

[The following information is culled from articles found at Theopedia(Order of God's Decrees, Semi-Pelagianism) and also at Wikipedia (Pelagianism), which include resource links for further study.]

Other Theological Views

Little or nothing is known about the life of Pelagius. Although he is frequently referred to as a monk, it is by no means certain that he was one. Augustine says that he lived in Rome "for a very long time," and that he was originally from the British Isles. (St. Jerome suggests he was Scottish or perhaps from Ireland.) He was certainly well known in the Roman province, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life, as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. Until his more radical ideas saw daylight, even such pillars of the Church as Augustine referred to him as “saintly.”

Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as "setting a good example" for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, since man is no longer in need of any of God's graces beyond the creation of his will, the Sacrament of Baptism is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christians.

Pelagianism was opposed by Augustine of Hippo, who taught that a person's salvation comes solely through the grace of God, and only by God's pleasure to whomever he chooses to bestow it, with no need of participation on the person's part.

This led to Pelagianism's condemnation as a heresy at several local synods. It was condemned in 416 and 418 at the Councils of Carthage. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus in 431, although it was not considered a major act of that council. Pelagianism as a structured heretical movement ceased to exist after the 6th century but its essential ideas continued to cause dispute.

Pelagianism is essentially a naturalistic view of salvation as opposed to a supernaturalistic view. Man thus has a free will and the ability to justify himself before God. The primary issue between the naturalist and the supernaturalist may be summed up in one question: Does man save himself or does God save him? Pelagianism affirms that all the power exerted in saving man is native to man himself. It could be called a "salvation-by-works" scheme, and it is one that continues to show up in various forms today.

Semi-Pelagianism, a moderated form of Pelagianism, taught that man has retained the ability to seek God in and of himself apart from any movement of God's grace. Pelagianism denied any real effect of original sin on human nature. Semi-Pelagianism admitted that man's nature was "injured" by original sin, but maintained that man still has free will and the ability to cooperate with God's grace in the salvation process.

The word appears to have been coined between 1590 and 1600 in connection with Molina's doctrine of grace, in which opponents believed they saw a close resemblance to the heresy of the monks of Southern Gaul at Marseille in the fifth century, which they termed Semi-Pelagianism. This teaching, which aimed at a compromise between Pelagianism and Augustinianism, was condemned as heresy at the second Council of Orange in A.D. 529 after disputes extending over more than a hundred years.

Although the church generally agreed that Pelagius' teachings were not correct, Augustine's teachings were not universally accepted either. Whereas Pelagius was condemned for being too positive in his views concerning human nature, Augustine was said by some to be too negative.

Vitalis of Carthage and a community of monks at Hadrumetum, Africa (about 427 A.D.), contested some of Augustine's principles, asserting that they destroyed freedom of the will and all moral responsibility. The issue became heated in the fifth century when some monks in southern Gaul, led by John Cassian, joined in the controversy. These men objected to a number of points in the Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace, namely, the assertion of the total bondage of the will, of the priority and irresistibility of grace, and of rigid predestination. Hence a compromise was sought, leading to what later became known as "Semi-Pelagianism." On three primary points of issue, Semi-Pelagianism settled for the following positions:

* Human nature is neither good nor bad, but injured. Just as an injured person can't quite do whatever he'd like to do, so likewise because of original sin, man's moral abilities became restricted. His free will remained, but was weakened by the Fall. Man, then, can still decide to seek and receive help.

* Man's need for grace: Although Semi-Pelagianism believes in man's need for God's grace (for man is too weak to help himself), man by his own free will is able to decide whether he wants God's grace. Whereas Pelagius taught that salvation is totally man's own doing, and Augustine taught that salvation is totally from God, Semi-Pelagianism teaches that salvation is a combination of the efforts of both man and God. According to Semi-Pelagianism, salvation is accomplished when man decides to cooperate with God and accepts the grace God offers him. This is often viewed as a synergistic concept of salvation.

* God's sovereignty: Semi-Pelagianism essentially maintains that the sovereignty of God is limited by man's decision to co-operate with God or not. God's gospel of salvation in Christ can be rejected by man and so return to God empty. Though God may wish to save someone, He can only do so if that person chooses to accept it and cooperate with grace. Like Pelagianism, it is a naturalistic view of salvation that has man saving himself with God's help.

Over the course of time, Semi-Pelagian doctrine (although couched in terms of grace) became the dominant theological perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, and essentially remains so today.

Like Pelagianism before it, Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange in 529 in favor of a moderate Augustinian view. Even though the sovereignty of God's grace in salvation was upheld by Augustinianism to this point, compromises made at the Synod of Orange left an incipient semi-Pelagianism which was eventually revived and accepted by the church at large during the middle ages.

The Amyraldian view
Amyraldism developed historically following the Synod of Dort as a compromise between Calvinism and the early Arminianism by giving up what was perceived as some of the harshness of Calvinism. The Amyraldian view, named after French Theologian Moses Amyraut, 1569-1664, is associated with Calvinism because it retains a particularistic element by acknowledging God's distinguishing grace in the election of individuals.

Amyraldians, however, place divine election after the decree to provide an atonement. This makes the atonement universal in nature and the application of the atonement particular in nature through divine election. This view is sometimes referred to as Four-Point Calvinism since it gives up the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement in favor of a universal atonement. It is also known, perhaps more descriptively, as Hypothetical Redemptionism. Although Amyraldianism may be a recognizable form of Calvinism because it retains the principle of particularism in election, it is not necessarily a good form of Calvinism. According to B. B. Warfield, "it is a logically inconsistent and therefore unstable form of Calvinism. For another more important reason, it turns away from a substitutionary atonement, which is as precious to the Calvinist as his particularism," (Plan, p. 98).

This view maintains that Christ died for all men alike, making all men savable, with actual salvation conditioned on individual faith. Then God, seeing that no one would respond because of their depravity, chose (or elected) some to receive the grace to believe. Some see this as inconsistent, for how is it possible to contend that God gave His Son to die for all men alike and equally, and at the same time to declare that when He gave His Son to die, He already fully intended that His death should not avail for all men equally, but only for some which He would select.

The primary characteristic of the Amyraldian scheme is the placement of election after the atonement. However, opponents contend that Scripture indicates Christ came in order to execute the purpose of election. He came to die for and give eternal life to as many as the Father had given Him (see John 10:15 and 17:2, 9). If this point is true, then the decree to elect some of mankind should necessarily precede the decree to provide an atonement. The Amyraldian scheme assumes the reverse to be true.

I have created the chart below to compare various points of the systems we have discussed (click to view/print a PDF version of the chart, or view the chart online here).

As seen in this chart and the discussion above, there has historically been a wide range of thought and debate concerning these important theological issues-- the nature of humanity in relationship to the Fall, the capacity/freedom of the will to choose God, what the atonement of Christ actually has accomplished, and God's modus operandi in election.

It is my conviction that the Bible provides revelatory answers on these critical questions, and yet, it has not necessarily revealed, in a way that satisfies the human need for logical, linear explanation, all of the mysteries involved. For example, the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility is an ancient discussion, and the Bible answers that God is fully sovereign and yet man fully responsible for his actions. In this and other theological issues the Bible addresses, the realities described are so complex that as finite humans we must be careful to guard against the tendency to demand neat answers. The answers we find in the Bible are perhaps incomplete from the standpoint of human ability to understand them, nonetheless, Christians are called to faithfully proclaim the truths the Bible does reveal, fully embracing the tension produced by their antinomic nature, and allowing our thoughts to be guided by what is revealed rather than apriori assumptions.

As we interpret these truths accurately, we will be building a sound foundation for living out these truths correctly, with important implications for how we share the gospel, how we are to fight against sin, and how we are to pray, among other things.

In my next post, I will finally launch into deeper comparison/contrast the two systems, and begin moving towards conclusions about which of these two systems I think is has more support from Scripture. I will contrast the five points of Arminianism against the Reformed "T.U.L.I.P":

  1. Universal Prevenient Grace vs. Total Depravity (Inability)

  2. Conditional Election vs. Unconditional Election

  3. Unlimited (or Universal) Atonement vs. Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption or Definite Atonement)

  4. Resistible grace vs. Irresistible Grace (or Efficacious Grace)

  5. Uncertainty of Perseverance vs. Perseverance of the Saints (or Preservation of the Saints)

Other posts in this series: Reformed or Arminian- What Difference Does Theology Make?(Introductory Post), Reformed or Arminian- Theological Definitions

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