Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Calvinism vs Arminianism in the context of Historic Christianity

Wyatt Houtz, former pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle (2011-2013), and now member of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and Senior Contributor to, writes:

George Hunsinger referenced B. B. Warfield's famous "Orders of Decrees" chart in a footnote of his recent book: Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Warfield's chart is famous and influential, and the following footnote caused me to have a paradigm shift regarding it, because I once saw it as the clearest assessment of Calvinism's superior Plan of Salvation, but now I understand it as symptomatic of Rationalistic Calvinism:
An interesting chart drafted by B. B. Warfield unwittingly reveals how much of an outlier rationalistic Calvinism has been within the context of World Christianity. See Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, 30.)
Hunsinger, George. Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Xiv-Xv. Print.

(His full post, including the chart, is here.)

Hunsinger is correct. Not only is Calvinism an outlier today (as Warfield's chart demonstrates), but it is also absent from the church fathers pre-Augustine (link). Even after Augustine, at the second Council of Orange in 529 AD (which Calvinists often cite approvingly for its refutation of semi-Pelagianism, yet seem to ignore otherwise), one Calvinist idea which we see popping up today--the idea that there are people "foreordained to evil by the power of God" or double predestination/divine reprobation--was called "with utter abhorrence... so evil a thing" and those who hold this view "anathema" (link, bold mine): [i]
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

On this Council, William Birch, of I, Jacobus Arminius, writes (link -- including footnote):
At the Second Council of Orange (529 CE), not only were the errors of semi-Pelagianism refuted, and rightly so, but so were some of the errors of St Augustine, father of both Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. Thus what is referred to below regarding St Augustine can also be inferred regarding Calvinism, historically and presently. Edward Harold Browne, who would not consider himself an Arminian, strictly taken, in his An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, writes (all emphases added):
In the year 529 was held the second Council of Orange, at which C├Žsarius of Arles presided. Its canons and decrees bear the signatures of fourteen bishops, and were approved by Boniface II., Bishop of Rome. They are chiefly directed against the errors of the Semi-Pelagians. But to the twenty-five canons on this subject there are appended three declarations of doctrine. 
1.      That by the grace of baptism all baptized persons can, if they will, be saved.   
2.      That if any hold that God has predestinated any to damnation [e.g., supralapsarian Calvinism], they are to be anathematized.   
3.      That God begins in us all good by His grace, thereby leading men to faith and baptism, and that, after baptism, by the aid of His grace, we can do His will.   
These propositions of the Council of Orange, coming immediately after canons against Semi-Pelagianism and exaggerated notions of free will, express as nearly as possible a belief in Ecclesiastical Election (i.e., [corporate] election to the church and to baptismal privileges), but reject the peculiar doctrines of St. Augustine.1
History itself verifies that Augustine's soteriological views were quite unorthodox and novel -- views adopted by some of the early reformers, as well as Luther and Calvin, whose theology is grounded upon that of Augustine, to the degree that Calvin considered himself an apt and faithful interpreter of this fifth-century church saint whose theology (and not ecclesiology) he expounded and reflected.

What about Arminianism?

Dr Roger Olson, Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology of Ethics at George W Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, in his post, “Must One Agree with Arminius to be Arminian?”, writes (bold mine): [ii]
In fact, I would argue that Arminianism was already believed and taught long before Arminius. Arminianism is simply a Reformed Protestant version of the soteriology of the ancient Greek church fathers (Thomas Oden makes this point in The Transforming Power of Grace). Years ago when reading the Anabaptist theologians Balthasar Hubmaier and Menno Simons (who lived before Arminius) I found their accounts of soteriology basically the same as Arminius’—at least in terms of ethos and general impulses.  
When I promote Arminianism I am not promoting the whole thought of Jacob Arminius. I am using “Arminianism” as a handy (because well known even if often misunderstood) synonym for “evangelical synergism” (a term I borrow from Donald Bloesch). It revolves around certain theological beliefs about God’s character, grace, election, free will (“freed will!”), conversion, regeneration, etc. It’s simply a Protestant perspective on salvation, God’s role and ours, that is similar to, if not identical with, what was assumed by the Greek church fathers and taught by Hubmaier, Menno Simons, and even Philipp Melanchthon (after Luther died). It was also taught by Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen (d. 1600)—independently of Arminius. (Arminius mentions Hemmingsen as holding the basic view of soteriology he held and he may have been influenced by Hemmingsen.)  
I frequently refer to Hubmaier and Menno Simons, for example, as “Arminians before Arminius.” I fully realize that’s anachronistic and might offend some Anabaptists. In their presence I will gladly admit that it really goes back to their founding theologians if not before. It’s truth rests not on Arminius or Hubmaier or any other theologian; it rests on Scripture alone.

Dr Jack Cottrell, Professor of Theology at Cincinnati Christian University (who did his MDiv at Westminster Theological Seminary), writes (link --including footnotes):
Though this is called “the Arminian view,” it has actually been present in Christian thought almost from the beginning.

Philip Schaff observes that up until Augustine, all the Greek fathers “had only taught a conditional predestination, which they made dependent on the foreknowledge of the free acts of men.”[1] Some second-century fathers acknowledged God’s foreknowledge,[2] with “The Shepherd of Hermas” relating it to predestination in a general way. In explaining why all do not repent, he says that to those whose hearts God “saw were about to become pure, and who were about to serve him with all their heart, he gave repentance; but to those whose deceit and wickedness he saw, who were about to repent hypocritically, he did not give repentance.”[3] At about the same time Justin Martyr speaks of the end times as the time when “the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous is complete.”[4] Equating Scripture with the mind of God, Justin says, “But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so.”[5] 
In the third century A.D. Origen strongly defends God’s foreknowledge in reference to predictive prophecy, saying that it does not affect free will since it is not causative and implies only the simple futurity of an event, not its necessity.[6] He says that Romans 8:29 shows “that those whom God foreknew would become the kind to conform themselves to Christ by their sufferings, he even predestined them to be conformed and similar to his image and glory. Therefore there precedes a foreknowledge of them, through which is known what effort and virtue they will possess in themselves, and thus predestination follows, yet foreknowledge should not be considered the cause of predestination.”[7] 
Fourth-century writers affirming this view include Ambrosiaster, who says, “Those who are called according to the promise are those whom God knew would believe in the future.”[8] Concerning Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11 Ambrosiaster says, “Therefore, knowing what each of them would become, God said: The younger will be worthy and the elder unworthy. In his foreknowledge he chose the one and rejected the other.”[9] Also, “Those whom God foreknew would believe in him he chose to receive the promises.”[10] Another fourth-century writer, Diodore of Tarsus, says God does not show mercy to one and harden another “by accident, for it was according to the power of his foreknowledge that he gave to each one his due.”[11]  

Further Reading:
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[i] Of course, we don’t have to look very far to find modern Calvinists embracing what the Council called anathema; see for example, DesiringGod, "What does Piper mean when he says he's a seven-point Calvinist?" where, on divine reprobation it is argued (underline mine):
Just as God chooses whom He will save [...] so also he decides whom He will not save without regard to any distinctives in the individual (John 10:26; 12:37-40; Romans 9:11-18; 1 Peter 2:7-8). By definition, the decision to elect some individuals to salvation necessarily implies the decision not to save those that were not chosen. God ordains not only that some will be rescued from his judgment, but that others will undergo that judgment.
For some critiques of Calvinists who hold and teach that God foreordains all evil, see Paul Copan, “Taking Calvinism Too Far: R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Evil-Creating Deity”; Home Brewed Theology, “John Piper – God Ordains Evil and Sin”; Roger Olson, “John Piper, God’s Sovereignty, and Sin”; and Arminian Perspectives, “John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First ‘Question’”.

While the Council also links grace with baptism, note that this was not a controversial issue at the time, and therefore was not the focus of their study of Scripture.

[ii] Dr Olson makes a similar point in Arminian FAQ 1, which is also available as a FREE EBOOK.

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