A Classical Arminian Doctrine of Sin: Select Bibliography

In recent times, Arminianism has been typically caricatured by the Reformed as a form of Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagians have an optimistic view of fallen human nature. Humans beings retain some moral or spiritual good in them, and they have the power to make the first move towards God on their own. God then responds to our faith by his grace and draws us in the rest of the way.

Not so with Arminianism! Even a cursory reading of the primary sources for classical Arminianism will yield quite a different, pessimistic, and Reformed view of fallen human nature. For Arminians, human beings, in their lapsed and sinful state, are not even able to think the true and saving good, much less have the power actually to will and to do the good. Everyone is hopelessly lost, and in total need of God taking the first move; everyone needs the empowering, prevenient grace of the Spirit through the Gospel to quicken their hardened hearts and draw each one personally to faith in Christ.

But what are these “primary sources”? To help those who want to look into this topic, I have compiled, below, a brief bibliography of some of the major readings for a classical Arminian doctrine of sin and depravity. Especially recommended is the chapter by Stanglin and McCall (2012), which treats the relevant primary source material found in Arminius particularly well.

All the best!

PDF: Arminianism-doctrine-of-sin-readings


Extreme Love: Jesus’ Death on the Cross

The death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of Christianity.

Throughout Easter, Christians remember the sacrifice and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ when he died for our sins and rose again for us.

In reflecting on the Lord’s death, I came across this post, below, describing the physiological elements of Christ’s death.

Frankly, I was shocked to silenced as I read through it. My Lord did the ultimate for me.

I’ll let Dr C. Truman Davis’ account speak for itself:

1. List of anatomical and physiological details by Davis.

2. Extended written explanation by Dr Davis.

3. Video by physician Dr David Acuna on the physiology and significance of the Crucifixion. 

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Limited Atonement and the Fallacy of Negation

I recently read a blog by a blogger named theidolbabbler arguing for Limited Atonement (see here). He argues that Limited Atonement is a doctrine so obvious that it is scandalous that anyone shouldn’t see it in scripture. His proof? Two texts (Colossians 2:13-14 and Romans 6:5-7) in which the Apostle Paul teaches that Christ died for the sins of God’s people, the church, or believers. This somehow supposed to prove “the teaching within Calvinism which states that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect… and that He did not bear the sins of every individual who has ever lived.” But is it at all obvious?

As I commented on the blog, the author is simply engaging in the so-called “fallacy of negation” and therefore deriving a faulty inference from the data.

You see, the text where Paul teaches that Christ took on himself the sins of believers, “having nailed them to the cross,” is certainly true. But does that prove that Christ did not die for the sins of unbelievers (or, more precisely, those who will/can not ever become believers, as per divine predestination)?

The faulty inference to Limited Atonement comes from saying that because Paul intends, in that context, to pick out a particular set of people’s sins who were nailed to the cross (namely, the elect/believers), that therefore it was only and particularly those who are believers/elect that Christ died for, and nobody else.

A similar mode of thinking is employed whenever people point to texts from Matthew, Ephesians or John saying that Christ for the sins of “his people”, “his Bride” or “the sheep.” The idea is that because the text speaks restrictively, therefore it speaks exclusively and only to the negation of all other people.

But that’s completely wrong-headed. That basically commits the fallacy of negation.

For example, say I have three children — Chris, Tom and Emma — and I’m talking to a friend and say, “Gee, I’m proud of Tom; he’s done so well in school,” do I therefore mean to communicate to my friend that I am NOT proud of either Chris or Emma, and that Chris and Emma have NOT done well at school? Of course not! Just because I restrict my speech in a context to Tom alone does not mean the opposite is true for Chris and Emma; I’m just restricting my speech in a context for a purpose of talking about Tom; I say nothing neither here nor there about the others.

So if, in the world, the numbers {1, 2, 3} represented all people, and {2} in the set is the elect, then it does not follow that because Paul teaches Christ died for {2} that therefore he did not die for {1, 3} also. That will not follow on any rule of logic. What you will need is a more specific text teaching that it was the elect and the elect alone, with nobody else, that Christ died for. But I think you will find that difficult, especially given the universal language of Christ’s provision apparent elsewhere (e.g. 1 Jn. 2:2).

Finally, two comments. I think the motivation behind this kind of thinking for Limited Atonement is either systematic attraction to make Calvinism seem whole and cohesive (divine predestination and election of a particular people: election of them alone, grace for them alone, Christ for them alone, etc.) and a subsequent fear of its opposite, namely, Universalism. However, I think Limited Atonement is a problem for both these purposes:

(1) Limited Atonement makes Total Depravity redundant. Even if sinful people had full fee will, with no need of grace to believe, then they could not be forgiven anyway if there was no atonement for them, so Limited Atonement is not necessarily harmonious with other Calvinist doctrines, and;

(2) Christ’s providing atonement for all does not necessarily mean effectually atoning for all. There is a difference between provision and application in the atonement. Interestingly, Universalists and Limited Atonnement advocates both deny the distinction between provision and application, taking them to be virtually synonymous or at least co-extensive, such that everyone Christ provided for is also a necessary effectual recipient of that provision. However, Unlimited Atonement proponents always make a distinction between provision and application, the latter being a subset of the former, as application is conditional on belief, whereas provision is made for all anyway. Unlimited Atonement is the position that Christ provided atonement for all, by atones effectually and really for believers alone. In making this distinction, Unlimited Atonement is thus wholly different to both Limited Atonement and Universalism.

So I see no reason to infer Limited Atonement from those texts.

Some passages on the Trinity and the Incarnation

I thought it might be helpful to think through a couple of passages that teach how Jesus Christ pre-existed before he came into the earth, and that he came from Heaven where he lived with the Father to be among us. I will cite passages in bold and you should look it up on your Bible and then read on.

First turn to John 1:1-18. In this passage we see this thing called “the Word” with both existed “in the beginning that was both “with” and “was” God. Put another way, this thing, from the creation of the world, was somehow both “with” the Father (“with God”) and “was” of the same stuff as the Father, i.e., the Word shared in the Father’s deity (“was God”). So this thing, the Word, was with God and is also divine just like God is. Verse 14 then teaches that this thing, “the Word” was “made flesh” (was made “incarnate”, literally, “enfleshed” form the Latin: carnem = flesh; compare the English word “carnal” or being “fleshly”/”worldly”) and pitched a tent/dwelling among mankind in Israel, as it says in verse 14; and in that same verse, this “Word” is identified as “the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

There are other reasons to think that “the Word” figure is a personal agent. Two passages spring to mind. Genesis 15:1 depicts a figure called “the Word of the LORD” appearing to Abraham in a vision and referring to himself in the first person pronoun (“I”). And in Revelation 19:13, the Heavenly Rider (who is Jesus Christ) is explicitly named “the Word of God.”

Secondly, Philippians 2:6-11 is an ancient creed (or statement of belief) from the early church. In it, in verse 6, we are told that Jesus Christ is “in very nature God”, that is, is truly divine, who is also “equal” with God. Verse 7 then describes how this person did something to themselves, namely, “made himself nothing” and took on a “human likeness.” In other words, this is an act that the subject of the sentence (Jesus Christ) did to himself; Jesus Christ made himself nothing and entered into human form. And that is what we call the incarnation: God the Son entering into our world into a human body and nature and becoming one with our race so as to be made the bringer of our salvation through the sacrifice of himself (compare Hebrews 2:14-18).

Third, I would point you to a couple of simple statements in John from Jesus that indicate that he believed he had come from heaven and was returning there. In John 6:38 Jesus says he has “come down from Heaven” (compare the crowd’s reaction in verses 41-42). Then, later on, in John 6:62, Jesus speaks of his “ascension” (going up) to where we “was before” clearly indicating a prior existence in Heaven before coming to earth, so as to make it possible not merely to “go” there but to “go back” or “return” there via “ascending” upward towards it. Last,  in John 17:5, at the beginning of his great and final prayer before crucifixion, Jesus speaks of having had “glory with” the Father “before the world began.” Jesus existed with the Father in the unity o the Holy Spirit prior to the creation of all things, and Jesus asks to return to that state, which he does after his resurrection from the dead. This is in perfect tandem with later on in John 17:24, when Jesus mentions how he was “loved” by the Father before the world began. Of course, you can only love a person. And Jesus was loved by the Father before the world began. Why? Because Jesus existed with the Father in the unity of the eternal godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — which Christians call “the Trinity”: one God in three persons; not three gods, not one person in thee different ways: but one God who is a great unity of three.

Hopefully, these passages are interesting to you and help you think through who Jesus is, according to the Scriptures. Hey, you might also like to check out this neat video.* It gets to the heart of the Christian faith, in how the Trinity and the incarnation illustrate most supremely the great love of God in the Word of God’s entering into our world into human flesh to dwell among us.

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you and dwell in your hear through the Son, who entered into our world, and gave himself up for our sins, and conquered sin and death on our behalf so that we might not die the death we deserve, and that we, in him, may too share in the newness of life.

Christ is a Bulwark in the Storm

Here’s a little poem I wrote a few days ago. I think it goes well with the tune of When I Behold the Wondrous Cross. I was feeling down at the time and then I remembered that Christ is my firm foundation through the war of life. Hope it blesses you. God bless.

Christ is a bulwark in the storm,
A buttress ‘gainst the Devil’s snare;
A fortress in the raging winds,
To fend against the Prince of Air.

And all who in His royal halls,
Take up their stand amidst the fight;
Shall not in Him e’er suffer want,
Nor fail to outlast the night.

So in the hold the saints stand strong,
Armed armoured in the Father’s care;
For in the stronghold sounds the horn,
Of vict’ry everlasting there.

And when the battle is complete,
With Enemy and ilk undone;
Then shall banner of our praise,
Rise high to hail the Holy One.

So trust in Him with all your heart:
Lean on your understanding not!
For Christ the Lord by His own blood,
Has thus for us salvation wrought.

A. W. Tozer on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) was one of the finest Christian thinkers and preachers of the relatively recent past. I have only just become familiar with him quite recently, but have been delighted to share in some of the insights of his writings.

One such insight that I have particularly appreciated is that found below on the topic of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

As an Arminian, I have never understood the Calvinist insistence that divine sovereignty and control implies that human beings cannot be granted (libertarian) free will. I have always thought it rather obvious that a God who may do whatever he pleases with the powers of the heavens and the earth can make man such that he does possess free will.

I have never encountered a quotation such as Tozer’s that so perfectly encapsulates and summarises my view on this topic at current.

Thus, without further ado, here it is; the quotation from A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Authentic Media, 2008), pp.144-145:

[p.144] “Another real problem created by the doctrine of divine sovereignty has to do with the will of man. If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice? And if he cannot exercise freedom of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct? Is he not a mere puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the strings as it pleases Him?

“The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man. It appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing violence to either, although the effort that follows may prove deficient to partisans of one camp or the other.

“Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will [p.145] of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”

Notice that Tozer first acknowledges the real difficulty in discussing divine sovereignty and human freedom. He therefore does not so presume to state his opinion lightly. Nor is he so proud or dogmatic so as to suppose that his word shall be the final and all-encompassing say on the matter.

Yet, to me, what he then goes on to say is simply masterful. He asserts that it is possible — nay, that it is, indeed, the case — that God has sovereignly decreed that mankind should have free will. Whatever choice man then makes in this capacity God has given him, man fulfills that original decree, not in that God causally determined and thus necessitated any one particular choice any given man should make, but that in so making the choice, that man has thereby exercised that rational capacity of free agency that God, by his sovereign free will, has decided that mankind should have.

The one quibble I would have with Tozer is that it seems implicit in his quotation that he believes that this is a middle ground between two extremes of Arminianism and Calvinism, one which denies divine sovereignty and the other that denies genuine human free will, respectively.

Yet if one were to compare what Tozer says to what writers such as Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley say, then it would actually become apparent that how Tozer has explained his position falls squarely within the Arminian camp. For on Arminianism, the freedom of our will just is a sovereign gift of divine grace in creation and salvation — in creation, as subsisting in the nature of man in original righteousness (that which was lost in the Fall); and in salvation, as God draws us who are totally depraved and thus unable of ourselves to come to him by His Spirit, and softens our hearts through Prevenient Grace in order to enable us sinners freely to come to Himself.

So rather than being a middle way through Arminianism and Calvinism, I believe Tozer’s point of view is an example of genuinely classical Arminianism. Perhaps what Tozer thought was Arminianism was actually Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. For that, we can forgive him. For it is a common misconception among those who are not sufficiently acquainted with the original writings or Arminius, Wesley or the Remonstrants that Arminiainsm is Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian.

Nevertheless, classical Arminianism is genuinely a theology of grace — grace from beginning to end — with a sovereign God who loves his creatures, and gives each one a libertarian free will to make genuine, moral choices, and we fulfill his sovereign decree for us to have a free will whenever we exercise that moral capacity that God has given us by his grace.

Are Catholics in the Kingdom?

I had a conversation with my minister in at my local Anglican Church last night about the Christian status of Roman Catholics. Are Catholics in the Kingdom?

That is, could Roman Catholics be saved or born-again, despite the teaching of that Church about relics, icons, the Mass, tradition & the Bible, Mary & the saints, the Papacy, indulgences, Purgatory, justification, faith & good works and so on? The same question could be asked of Eastern Orthodox or the Coptic Orthodox in a slightly alternative form. Still, the essential concern is the same.

I think this issue can be particularly emotional and volatile. I myself have had friends leave Evangelical Christianity to join a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church. So I am often subject to the waves of the passions when thinking about the issue.

But in moments of honest reflection, I think there are a few fair things one could say from an Evangelical perspective that may allow one to give a qualified answer in the Affirmative in distinct, individual cases. What follows are a few thoughts in that regard.

1. God is not the God of any particular church denomination or tradition, but He is the God of Jesus Christ. Now this assertion, ironically, is almost certainly inconsistent with Roman Catholic belief. For Roman Catholicism teaches that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, established by Him, and governed by the successor of St. Peter, the Pope of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ, so-claimed (currently Pope Francis, b.1936, Pope from March 2013). However, I, as an Evangelical, would reject that. God is never called the God of Rome. Yet neither is God called the God of the Anglicans, nor the God of the Baptists, nor the God of the Pentecostals and so on. God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever belongs to Christ belongs to Him, and whoever belongs to Christ belongs to Him by faith alone in Him (Rom. 8:9). But in that case, one could imagine a person going frequently into a building called a ‘Catholic Church’ and who, in the midst of the false rituals of that place, nevertheless has a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. A person could be a member of the truly universal and elect Church of Jesus Christ — which knows no denomination or other such human dividing walls (e.g. Eph. 2:14) — and be a person who is born-again and saved despite the failings and weaknesses of the church that they go to on a Sunday.

2. God is faithful to us in our ignorance, our failings and mistakes. Say there is a person sitting in a Catholic Church who calls themselves Catholic but who also has a simple, personal faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, and who seeks to follow him. This person may believe and practice all kinds of falsehood. That would be sin, and people involved in that practice most certainly need to be sanctified of that sin (Rev. 22:15). But as I honestly reflect on this, I realise that in my religious life there may be all kinds of false ritual and idolatries still present in my heart. For example, pornography remains a massive problem in my life. I’ve gotten better with it over the years. But I still struggle with it. Is pornography any less sinful than asking a deceased saint’s help? God is patient with all who trust in him and is working slowly toward their sanctification. God may take many years to show someone something wrong in their life and their need to submit to Him in that area. God took forty years with Israel in the wilderness so they would learn their own heart (Deu. 8:2). Is the worship of the Mass any less sinful than pride? Is the doctrine of auricular confession any less harmful than the love of money? Is trusting in Mary or some other wrongly and exceedingly exalted saint to help with something any less sinful than trusting in oneself to do that very same thing? We all stumble in many ways. But God is patient with us all. Why, then, are we so quick to point the finger at others? “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9.)

3. We are not saved by believing true doctrines, but by faith. If we truly believe justification is by faith, then surely we are not saved by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith, but by the faith itself.  I do not believe that we are saved by believing a doctrine per se, but by trusting in a divine-human Person — Jesus Christ. Obviously, it is not okay in God’s sight to deny biblical doctrines (1 Tim. 4:16). I think false teaching and heresy is destructive, and that it can indeed lead people away from the truth and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Believing the wrong thing and stubbornly going on believing it under correction is obviously not okay. But I think there can be a difference between being ignorant, on the one hand, and being truly defiant on the other hand. I believe that many Roman Catholics and others may be truly ignorant of the glorious freedom and assurance of the biblical teaching about divine justification by faith alone through grace and without good works, and yet their church leaders guide them wrongly away from this doctrine. This probably leads many if not most Roman Catholics to hold to a false gospel, which is really no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-10). But that doesn’t mean there cannot be some Roman Catholic who is simply misguided but who is nevertheless born-again in faith. A person might believe the wrong thing but still have a living faith in Jesus that shows itself in love and good works. Many early Christians did not even have the privilege of possessing a full Bible. Who knows how many misconceptions about God they must have had? Even today with full Bibles it is often hard to understand, or it can be misapplied. But our God is a loving Father who is patient with us and who disciplines us over time that we might be his children, built up and mature, like strong men, and not as infants (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 12:7-10).

4. Of all the false beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, we Protestant Evangelicals tend to tolerate doctrines among those we consider to be brothers our circles which are just as bad if not worse than Roman Catholic doctrines. Take the worship of the Mass or the veneration of icons and relics. Are not such practices heinous? I sincerely believe that they are offensive to God. Now consider what God said to Eliphaz the Temanite concerning what he and his two friends Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite were saying to God’s righteous servant Job about the nature of God and the explanation for Job’s suffering earlier in the dialogue of the Book of Job:

“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about Me…” (Job 42:7)

Now consider this: God immediately provided atonement and forgiveness for these three men (42:8-9). What I mean is this. There are people in Protestant churches today who actually hold doctrines that are probably just as heinous in God’s sight as certain distinctive Catholic doctrines. For example, classical Calvinists actually believe (contra 1 Tim. 2:4 and other clear texts) not that God is willing that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, but rather that God has simply and unconditionally predestined where every human being will ultimately end up for eternity before they are born — and that based on nothing good or bad they have done. That’s right! They actually interpret the biblical doctrine of Predestination in such a way that precludes God’s saving love and desire for every human being. Or take early American Protestantism for example. Segregationist churches split Christian believers into separate black and white skinned racial congregations that either could or would not mingle. Or take Martin Luther. Luther was a rabid anti-Semite at the end of his life (Von den Juden und ihren Lügen). Racism has been rampant among churches and leaders within Christianity — not that such attitudes come from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. My point is, is that not all a blasphemy? Is it not all a mockery of the love of God to believe so? What I’m saying is that there are all kinds of beliefs and practices that we have or do that are not okay, but God our Father is unimaginably forbearing and long-suffering toward us, his people, who so often stuff up. Hence, I could imagine an individual Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Calvinist or perhaps even maybe — just maybe — even a Unitarian (someone who denies the Trinity) who yet has a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, who therefore belongs to Christ, yet who nevertheless perseveres in absurd doctrines that are harmful to their sanctification and others’. Hopefully, God would bring them out of their deception soon. But can one not be mistaken and yet belong to Christ?

5. If there is a Roman Catholic who is born-again, it is not by virtue of their Roman Catholicism that they are so. The Roman Catholic Church surely has a high view of itself: that it is the Mother of all churches, the Bride of Christ, who alone has supreme authority to interpret scripture, forgive sins, exercise teaching and disciplinary authority and to determine the meaning and implications of church tradition, and to minister through her priesthood the saving sacraments, and so on. As I hope is clear by this point, I think the lot of this to be a foolish myth, and surely the vast majority of people who gather in that church are nominal Catholics who are not born-again, and those who truly, truly trust in their own good works to save them before the Throne of Judgement on the Last Day. But of the 99% of Roman Catholics in the world who may be lost, is it not possible that perhaps 1% of the people who meet in a Catholic Church and do Catholic things may indeed have a mustard seed of true faith and dependence on Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation of their souls, even in the midst of the false hustle and bustle of the Mass, the relics, the icons, the bishops, the Papacy and the priests?

Well, I think so. And I think the way one thinks about this will profoundly impact the way one approaches one’s Roman Catholic friends. Here’s few suggestions:

First, we mustn’t judge by mere appearances (Jn. 7:24). We can’t simply paint everyone with a broad brush because they give themselves the title “Catholic” or even “Anglican” or “Christian.”  Anyone can claim a title. It’s the Spirit that counts: Is the person born-again? That’s the question. Do they have a living faith in Jesus Chris? Do they ultimately depend only and ever upon Him? What we should be interested in is where that particular individual’s heart is at with God and Jesus Christ, not what title they have or what building they go to.

Second, we need to be conscious of our own weaknesses (Matt. 7:1-2; Rom. 2:1-4, 21-22). Sure, your Roman Catholic friend might have a lot of problems, and in the course of their Christian life it may turn out that they need to leave that Church at the prompting of the Spirit who is in them. But in the meantime, why not be conscious of your own pride, your own anger, your own lust, your own possible false beliefs and traditions and have some charity towards another person who, for all intents and purposes, is seeking to know and serve God rightly?

Third, we need to be strong in our convictions, and tentative in our fellowship (2 Cor. 6:14). I have a mate who is a Roman Catholic but who to me seems to exhibit a genuine faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. Whenever I meet up for him for coffee and we start to talk about Christianity and the Bible, we seem to get along quite well on most things. I’ve even gone with him to visit the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney. In my heart of hearts, I hope that he is my brother in Christ, and not just because he’s a good friend, but because I’ve talked with and listened to him on many things. But I must confess that I have reservations about him because of my knowledge of what Roman Catholics believe and do. Essentially, I don’t know. So in my lack of knowledge, I couldn’t minister alongside him in Gospel work. But I can hope to God and pray for him. I can ask our friendship grows stronger, and that God would give me true discernment, based on the Spirit and in truth.

What do you think? Are Catholics in the Kingdom? As far as I have thought about it, I would say: Maybe. It depends on the individual person you’re talking about. May the God of grace grant us the grace to love each other and to judge and divide properly and impartially, not based on mere appearances.

St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Sydney.

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Sydney.