Using Logic in Theology:
The Fallacy of False Alternatives

June 3, 2011

By Steve Lemke, Provost and Professor of Theology and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

As a philosophically-trained theologian, it causes me considerable chagrin to see some of the most basic errors in logic committed over and over again in theological discourse.  This fuzzy thinking arises in every area of doctrinal from time to time, but (perhaps because of my interest in this area) I note it particularly in regard to soteriological discussions relating to Calvinism vs. Arminianism.  Over the next few posts, I want to identify several common logical errors which lead to ill-formed arguments, fallacious logic, and unsound conclusions. I apologize in advance that this discussion gets a bit technical at points, though I have attempted to convey it for a non-specialist audience. I beg for patience from those for whom it seems overly technical.

The Fallacy of False Alternatives (also known as the False Dichotomy Fallacy, False Dilemma Fallacy, All or Nothing Fallacy, or Black or White Fallacy) results when we simplify everything into an “either-or” choice, and thereby fail to take into consideration other viable alternatives. One of the common mistakes made by “shade tree” theologians is to oversimplify theology into Calvinism or Arminianism, as though those were the only choices regarding any given theological issue.  They are not.

In logic, an “either/or” statement can be described as a disjunctive syllogism (“either A or B is true”). The logic goes pretty easily from there – if not A, then B; or if not B, then A.  But many possible disjunctive syllogisms fall into the fallacy of false alternatives.  The syllogism works only if there are just two possible alternatives.  So, for example, the following argument might be proposed: “Either a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan.”  (Hence, if Yankee fan, then not Red Sox fan; or if Red Sox fan, then not Yankee fan). These teams are fierce rivals, of course, and to be a fan of one almost guarantees not being a fan of the other (a Yankees fan will not be a Red Sox fan, and a Red Sox fan will not be a Yankees fan) – but these are not the only alternatives.  I happen to be a Rangers fan, so I could not properly be said to be either a Yankees or a Red Sox fan.  At times I might cheer for either the Yankees or the Red Sox, but I would do so not because I am their fan, but because either of them winning or losing might afford some advantage to the Rangers (such as home field advantage in the playoffs).  So the argument that you must be either a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan commits the fallacy of false alternatives.

Likewise, it is simply mistaken to insist that Calvinism and Arminianism are the only possible options in soteriology.  The “Calminian” majoritarian Baptist perspective (which affirms the paradox of both strong divine sovereignty and meaningful libertarian human freedom) is among those possibilities.  Like the Rangers fan in relation to the Yankees or Red Sox, a Baptist might side with the Arminians at points and with the Calvinists at points, but we are not identified completely with either.  To put it differently, a person might disagree with aspects of Calvinism and yet not be an Arminian, and might disagree with some aspects of Arminianism and yet not be a Calvinist.

Although there were early Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists and General (Arminianistic) Baptists, the consensus among many Baptists in America is that the tension or paradox in Scripture between human freedom and divine sovereignty should simply be affirmed by faith, rather than attempting to impose a theological structure on it.  This “both/and” approach was voiced by Baptist pioneer John Leland, who described Baptist beliefs as he knew them in the churches in 1791:

“I conclude that the eternal purposes of God and the freedom of the human will are both truths, and it is a matter of fact that has been most blessed of God and most profitable to man is the doctrine of sovereign grace in the salvation of souls, mixed with a little of what is called Arminianism.”

[John Leland, “A letter of Valediction on leaving Virginia, 1791,” in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland; ed. Louise F. Green (New York: 1845) p. 172 quoted in Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 1992), p. 322; cited in “Congruent Election:  Understanding Salvation from an ‘Eternal Now’ Perspective,” by Richard Land, in Whosoever Will:  A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five Point Calvinism, ed. Steve Lemke and David Allen (Nashville:  Broadman and Holman, 46].

And thus we as Baptists can rightfully say, “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians, But Baptists”!

One of the somewhat frustrating aspects of the reactions to our book Whosoever Will, at least to those of us associated with the book, is that our reviewers have tended to label us as being either of two “either/or” extremes: Arminians or Calvinists. One book from an Arminian perspective described the perspective in Whosoever Will as ”moderate Calvinist.” [J. Matthew Pinson, “Introduction,” Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, by Leroy Forlines (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 4].  However, another Arminian labeled the contributors to Whosoever Will as “anti-Calvinist,” and that “all the authors are Arminian in the classical sense,” while at the same time questioning why the authors were at “so much distance from Arminianism” and objecting to their criticism of Arminianism. [Roger Olson, review of Whosoever Will, on the Baptist Theology website at http://www.baptisttheology.org/WhosoeverWill.cfm.  See also Olson‘s additional review, “A Good, New, Non-Arminian, Arminian Book,” available on the Roger Olson website at http://rogereolson.com/2010/09/02/a-good-new-non-arminian-arminian-book].

On the other hand, in an issue of the Founders Journal dedicated to critiquing Whosoever Will from a Calvinist perspective, one article sought to answer the “Arminian objections” presented in the book [Matthew Barrett, “Is Irresistible Grace Unbiblical?‘ A Response to Steve Lemke‘s Arminian Objections,” Founders Journal 82, rep. ed. (Fall 2010), 4]; while another opined that the authors should “accept the judgment that they defend a classically Arminian, or openness, position.” [Tom Nettles, review of Whosoever Will, in Founders Journal 82, reprint issue (Fall 2010), 44]. Likewise, in an otherwise balanced review of Whosoever Will in the online journal Themelios, Gary Shultz expressed the opinion that the contributors reduced to “simply Arminianism” (though he qualified that statement later by admitting that the contributors were not Arminian on at least one point).

That is quite a range – from moderate Calvinist to anti-Calvinist, from critics of Armianism to rank openness of God Arminians!  The critics refused to accept our mediating position designation as “Calminians” or “majoritarian Baptists,” but wanted to force us into either an Arminian or Calvinist mold.  This is not new. In fact, years ago I was once asked (seriously!) in an interview situation whether I was a hyper-Calvinist or an Arminian!  Such limited options are the product of the logical fallacy of false alternatives, which does not recognize mediating positions between two extremes.  Avoiding the fallacy of false alternatives can help bring clarity to theological discussions.


Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Chris Roberts

Agree: that there are positions other than Calvinism and Arminianism. Many non-Calvinists are not Arminians (though I note that the usual alternative is somewhere in the range of Pelagianism).

Disagree: that Baptist is an alternative position. The term Baptist does not identify a particular soteriological stance, particularly easy to demonstrate since Baptists, today and in the past, have demonstrated a variety of soteriological views. Some want to claim that the term Baptist is synonymous with a position other than Calvinism or Arminianism and that claim seems to be an attempt to say that one cannot be a true Baptist while claiming to be a Calvinist.

Question: Having read Whosoever Will and also having read Olson’s book Arminian Theology, I’m wondering what in particular would keep the various contributors of Whosoever Will from self-identifying as classical Arminians? As Olson discusses, classical Arminianism leaves open the question of security such as to allow room for people on both sides of that debate (both sides – false alternatives?), so what would prevent the label being accurate? Simply a dislike of that label or labels in general, other than the term Baptist?

Dave Miller

Excellent article. The whole Calvinism/Arminianism thing is a continuum anyway. While I might self-describe as a Calvinist, there are a lot of Calvinists who make me uncomfortable.

John

I have met quite a few Baptists that don’t believe in definite atonement, but I have never met one who didn’t hold to some form of perseverance of the saints. I would say that we have Calvinist Baptists, but I can’t understand why it seems to be such a divisive issue. Even if my pastor were one or the other, that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with him.

Steve Evans

Dr. Lemke, thank you for saying what I would otherwise have trouble articulating clearly. Praise God for your stand in what many of we Southern Baptists by choice have felt. Having been raised in a works salvation denomination – Roman Catholic – I chose to attend a Southern Baptist church for two reasons. 1. After reading the Word, I felt SB were closer to the truth than any other denomination due to the works issue. 2. The folks who shared the Gospel with me were SB and cared about my soul. Keep up the good work for the Kingdom.

Steve Lemke

John,
I prefer the nomenclature of “Calvinistic Baptists,” but that’s a subject for a future post.

Steve Lemke

Chris,
We’ll just have to agree to disagree about your second point. I do think that “majoritarian Baptists,” as we have described them, have a distinctive soteriology that is neither truly Calvinistic or Arminianistic in soteriology. In fact, we would not even want to allow that acrostic to define or provid the interpretive framework for our soteriology at all. There are other ways to approach soteriology than the framework of the TULIP.

About the identity of the contributors to Whosoever Will with Olsen and other classical or Reformed Arminians, I must take you back to my baseball team illustration. We might happen to agree at some points, but that does not make us an advocate or “fan” of that position. We happen to agree with Calvinists at many points, but that doesn’t make us Calvinists, either. Our theological identity is as Baptists.

    Chris Roberts

    But the question remains – on what point or points do you disagree with what Olson presents as classical Arminianism?

Ben Simpson

Alright, a logic class! I can’t wait until Steve addresses category errors.

Roger Olson

If Steve Lemke and the other authors of Whosoever Will do not want to be called Arminians, fine. I won’t put a label on them they don’t want to wear. But my concern is: Why don’t they want to wear that label when, so far as I can discern, their theology of salvation is perfectly consistent with classical Arminianism? I suspect it has to do with the way in which “Arminian” has come to be used especially in the South–to label people who believe one can fall from salvation. That is, of course, not necessary to classical Arminianism as I have shown in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. There really does not seem to me to be any consistent hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism or middle ground between them and “Baptist” doesn’t suffice because it includes both Calvinists and Arminians. Like another commenter here, I would like to know exactly and precisely wherein the authors of Whosoever Will disagree with classical, historical Arminianism.

Steve Lemke

Ben, you have anticipated a future article . . .

Steve Lemke

Chris,
I haven’t had the opportunity to read that Olson book yet (though it is on my list to read), so I can’t comment how many specific points I would agree with him. I imagine that I would agree with three or four of them, depending on how he defines them. But I can say that the different contributors to Whosoever Will would probably vary in the number of points affirmed with the Arminian side and the Calvinist side, hence our designation as “Calminians,” “moderate Calvinist/moderate Arminians,” or, preferably, “majoritarian Baptists.” The “majoritarian Baptists” label seems most appropriate because several scientific polls indicate that this is the perspective on these doctrines held by the overwhelming majority (perhaps 90 percent) of Southern Baptists. It is with that majoritarian Southern Baptist position that we identify ourselves, not with Calvinism or Arminianism.

    Chris Roberts

    Steve,

    I’m the sort that says if the shoe fits, wear it. If a label applies, it does no harm to be identified by that label (unless a particular label is demonized in some way). So I’m wondering why the Arminian label or classical Arminian label would not fit, particularly if security in salvation is not an issue. Humoring me with specifics could satisfy my curiosity.

Elliott Scott

You really should read Olson’s book. Classic Arminian theology does exactly what you want your “Calminian” theology to do.

Steve Lemke

Chris and Elliott,
You might enjoy reading Dr. Olson’s response to these comments at http://www.patheos.com/community/rogereolson/2011/06/04/is-there-a-middle-ground-between-calvinism-and-arminianism.

David Rogers

There is a useful assessment tool at the Society of Evangelical Arminians website.

http://evangelicalarminians.org/Are_You_an_Arminian_and_Dont_Even_Know_It

The survey is titled: “Are You an Arminian and Don’t Even Know It?”

In my experience those Baptists who do not embrace the Calvinist label actually turn out to hold positions that could rightfully be called Classical or Reformed Arminianism. It is important to note that this is different from Wesleyan Arminianism. So far, I’ve found so-called “Calminians” to actually be Classical Arminians who haven’t understood the Arminian position. Olson’s book is very helpful.

Those who embrace the label “Calvinism” tend to actually read John Calvin’s works, whereas those who believe almost exactly like those who believe the “Arminian” positions on different doctrines have not read Jacob Arminius. The resistance to the label may thus stem from unfamiliarity. That is why that survey mentioned above may very well serve to help one clarify what one believes.

I strongly encourage those who would call themselves “Majoritarian Baptists” to work through it.

Brian Abasciano

Steve,

The problem is that it seems that the only Arminian position you disagree with is over the question of eternal security, but that issue is not essential to Arminian theology. One can be on either side of it and be an Arminian (though it is true that most Arminians have taken the position that true believers can forsake the faith and thus perish). That seems like it would leave you and Southern Baptists generally as Arminians. The Society of Evangelical Arminians (http://evangelicalarminians.org/) does not require a position on the issue of eternal security for membership. One can believe in eternbal security and join the society.

You should be aware of our survey to help one determine if he is an Arminian or not: “Survey: Are You an Arminian and Don’t Even Know It?” (http://evangelicalarminians.org/Are_You_an_Arminian_and_Dont_Even_Know_It)

You should also be aware of our summary outline contrasting Arminian theology and Calvinistic theology using the acronyms FACTS and TULIP:

“An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism” (http://evangelicalarminians.org/Outline.FACTS-of-Arminianism-vs-the-TULIP-of-Calvinism)

Also, concerning your citation of Matt Pinson, first, Pinson is a committed Arminian who gave a strong positive assessment of “Whosoever Will” on the basis that he–as an Arminian–liked the theological arguments made therein. Certainly, he told all
his Arminian friends about this exciting new book which would promote
Arminian theology.

Secondly, by referring to the authors as “Moderate Calvinists,” he
had in mind the one and only theological position of eternal security–
the authors otherwise hold soteriological issues which Arminians
cherish. But as mentioned above, eternal security is not what determines whether one
is a Calvinist or Arminian. Indeed, one can be a member of the Society
of Evangelical Arminians regardless of one’s stance on eternal security.

Third, Pinson’s use of the term “Moderate Calvinism”
was probably a concession to Southern Baptists’ populist terminology.
Many SBC use the term “Calvinist” to distinguish their view of eternal
security from Wesleyan Arminians. Pinson’s non-technical usage of the
term is a shortcut way of saying that Southern Baptists are typically
Arminian, except that they are one-point Calvinists.

Brian Abasciano, Ph.D.
President of the Society of Evangelical Arminians
Adjunct Professor of New Testament
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Pastor, Faith Community Church (Hampton, NH)

Brian Abasciano

Perhaps I should add that I have heard that one of the authors of Whosoever Will, Bruce A. Little, has been persuaded by points such as the ones in my previous post, and now embraces the label Arminian, acknowledging himself to be an Arminian who believes in eternal security. Do you know anything about this?

David Rogers

No offense intended, but the term “majoritarian Baptist” is rather weak. It may well ignore the fact that Southern Baptists are not the only Baptist denomination. More devastating to it is that it does not describe anything other than some kind of perceived aggregate of what a “majority” of “Southern” Baptists believe at the present time about the issues of sovereignty and salvation. Well-disciplined theologians should recognize that numbers of adherents should not be the primary reason for adopting a particular position. Plus, what if the tide shifts, as I’m sure the Calvinists hope, and Calvinism becomes the “majority” position? Will the “Whosoever” authors then call themselves “minoritarian Baptists”?

The term “Calminian” only works if its adherents articulate which specific ideas they pull from “Calvinism” and which they pull from “Arminianism” and thus demonstrate how the hybridization of “Cal-minian” occurs. It is important to note that perseverance of the saints is not absolutely contrary to Classic Arminianism. There are a number of Arminians who hold to it, so if that concept is the only perceived “Cal-” part of “Calminianism” then one could rightfully transform the term to “Ar-minianism”.

It would be helpful to have the specifics of this hybridization teased out. I suspect that it may very well turn out to be something that could legitimately labeled “Arminian” whether one uses the term or not.

Jeremy Patterson

I am very confused, and it is probably my fault (but I have tried to read carefully through this post, Roger Olson’s post, and the comments). What points of Arminianism do you disagree with, Dr. Lemke? And if your position could be described as, say, Amyraldianism, how is that position not a “middle ground” between Calvinism and Arminianism? Just trying to understand why some people say there is “Calminian” middle ground and others say there is none at all.

Job

This article repeats the same fallacy of false alternatives as many, which is that a person must choose between being a Calvinist and a Baptist; that such a creature as a “Particular Baptist” either has never existed, or for some reason cannot exist in a modern context. It does so by erecting “Arminian” as a straw man to serve as a make-believe foil for Calvinism. So, it contrives “Calvinism” as doctrinal error on one side, “Arminianism” as doctrinal error on the other side, and “Baptist” as the theologically correct option. The truth is that “Arminianism” should be removed from the discussion, as actual Arminians are just as rare in the SBC as are extreme or hyper Calvinists.

For practical intents and purposes, there are – and have not been – Arminian Baptists or Calvinist Baptists. There have been and will be General Baptists and Particular Baptists. It is the attempts to deny this – on either side – that are, among other things, faulty in logic, including the spurious claim that it is only the Particular Baptists that impose a theological structure on soteriology, and the General Baptists are the “Biblicists”.

I repeat, this “Likewise, it is simply mistaken to insist that Calvinism and Arminianism are the only possible options in soteriology” is itself a faulty argument, because it relies not only one but TWO false, straw man choices. In practical terms, no one in the SBC follows Beza, let alone Calvin, and no one in the SBC follows Wesley, let alone the Remonstrants. So, end the faulty arguments with the straw man choices, and have a real debate with the true choices, which are General Baptist and Particular Baptist, and yes Particular Baptist does currently and has historically included those who some are now attempting to redefine as “extreme Calvinists” or “hyper-Calvinists.”

“Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians, But Baptists!” is (or should not be) an affirmation of “the ‘Calminian’ majoritarian Baptist perspective” but rather of both Particular and General Baptists. Any other position is false and dishonest. As is the idea that it is only the General Baptists who “affirms the paradox of both strong divine sovereignty and meaningful libertarian human freedom”, for Particular Baptists do the same. Not only that, but so do non-Baptists who hold to a “Calvinist” soteriology. The Calvinistic Methodist George Whitefield said “Let man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance before he goes to the university of election and predestination.” The Anglican J.I. Packer dedicated more than half of his book Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God to the seeming paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility (I say “seeming” because Packer rejects the idea that it is a paradox at all … Packer instead refers to it as an “antinomy”, a logical construct where two ideas should not be seen as opposing each other, but instead are separate truths that should be accepted on their own terms and actually wind up complementing each other in some mysterious way … Packer used for example the seeming paradox that light is composed of both waves and particles, my own example is the Holy Trinity, where Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct yet One).

No debate, civil and constructive or otherwise, is going to take place if one group insists on relying on spurious positions to marginalize the other, because the “other side” is not going to – and indeed should not for the sake of their own integrity – cooperate. Particular Baptists are not going to go along with the idea that their soteriology is some non-Baptist theological construct artificially superimposed on the Bible. Also, Particular Baptists are also not going to pretend as if nearly 400 years of Particular Baptist history either doesn’t exist, or is somehow obsolete or irrelevant.

General Baptists’ being the overwhelming majority of the SBC is no excuse for Particular Baptists to be expected to just submit to and go along with something that they know to be a lie. Also, the question should be why anyone, General or Particular, should desire someone to do such a thing even if they would be amenable to such an outrage.

    David Rogers

    Are you saying that Particular Bapstists believe in “meaningful libertarian human freedom”? I thought their position was compatibilist human freedom (or, soft determinism). I would appreciate a clarification and citations from Particular Baptist authors. Also, what do you mean by “strong divine sovereignty”? Does the concept of “sovereignty” necessarily include meticulous foreordination or does the concept only imply the ability to meticulously control but not necessarily the actual exercise of it? In other words, do Particular Baptists articulate an opinion with regard to whether God foreordain and determines absolutely all things or at times he allows other agents to initiate some sequences that lead to certain events (like sin)?

    Thanks, for whatever you have time to provide.

      Job

      Brother David Rogers:

      Yours is a most fair and appropriate question. In response to it, I will state that I am most unqualified to speak on behalf of Particular Baptists in general, or for that matter anyone else but myself, in this matter. Evidence of this was my using Lemke’s words in my own comment above in a manner that in retrospect can only be described as careless on my part.

      With that in mind, I will make an attempt to answer your question.

      “In other words, do Particular Baptists articulate an opinion with regard to whether God foreordain and determines absolutely all things or at times he allows other agents to initiate some sequences that lead to certain events (like sin)?”

      I personally do not agree that God foreordains and determines absolutely all things at all times. I believe that God allows other agents to initiate some sequences that lead to certain events, including sin.

      I believe – or should I say I know – that God is the only perfect being possessing total knowledge, power, righteousness and holiness. All other beings, or at least all others gifted with agency, will at some point or some way fall short of the mark, and thereby sin, unless God acts to prevent it. Because of the limitations of all other said beings, God does not have to act to cause them to sin; they will inherently sin. Also, God does not have to act in order to condemn them; God does not have to “predestine them” to destruction or “choose those who go to hell.” Instead, God merely has to not to act to save them, which will cause them to be condemned for their own sin, their own imperfection, their own state or status of unrighteousness.

      Knowing that Adam would fall – as God certainly did – is different from causing or foreordaining Adam to fall – as God, according to my belief, certainly did not. Creating Adam knowing that he would fall – as God certainly did – is different from foreordaining Adam’s fall, as God certainly (again according to my belief from reading of the Bible) did not. I also believe that God had the power to prevent Adam from falling, but was under no obligation or compulsion to. We cannot, for instance, charge God with unrighteousness, injustice, cruelty etc. for refusing to prevent Adam from falling as He prevented the elect angels from falling (1 Timothy 5:21).

      I hope that this answers your question. If this is the “soft determinism” of which you speak, then it appears that you estimated my beliefs correctly with regards to this area. However, again I should point out that I am only qualified for and suited to speaking for myself on this matter.

      Thank you.

        David Rogers

        Thank you for taking the time to respond.

        Your answers are not consistent with “soft determinism” or “compatiblism” which is the view of Calvinism or, as I thought, that of Particular Baptists, which have been associated with “calvinisitic” tendencies.

        Your expressed understandings are more consistent with those expressed by Arminianism and what I conceive what General Baptists would hold.

        I, like you, am no historical expert on Particular or General Baptist intricacies, and I will quickly retract any errors I have made in associating beliefs with them when I am made aware of my misrepresentation.

Matt Pinson

Dr. Lemke,

Jim Leonard told me about this post, and this morning I read it and the responses above and wanted to contribute to the discussion. Now, in one way, I “don’t have a dog in the hunt.” I’m a confessional General/Free Will Baptist and am not going to get into the business of telling Southern Baptists how to describe themselves. Still, there are several reasons my kind of Arminian wants to refer to once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) Baptists as “moderate Calvinists,” “mild Calvinists,” or something similar.

[1] The first is simply the question of historical provenance. Southern Baptists (and all other Baptists in America except Free Will Baptists, General Baptists—we’ll leave out the Seventh-Day Baptists) emerged from a Calvinist historical lineage, and they have simply moderated their Calvinism. This seems to be supported by that great Leland quotation in Dr. Richard Land’s chapter in your book. This leads directly to the second reason:

[2] The possibility of apostasy from the faith is at the essence of historic confessional Arminianism. Despite the fact that a few Remonstrants in the very early transitional stage affirmed unconditional perseverance, all Arminian denominations since the early seventeenth century have been confessionally committed to some form of the possibility of apostasy from the faith.

Even though Arminius had questions concerning perseverance, it is a mistake to argue, as some still do, that he believed in unconditional perseverance. He stated unequivocally that (1) not all believers are elect but only those who persevere in faith, and (2) believers can commit the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, after those early, uncertain years of transition, the Remonstrants themselves, as early as the 1620s, affirmed that a true believer is able to apostatize from the faith. Of course, there are many ways that the Remonstrants very quickly moved away from Arminius, and affirmed things I would not affirm, such as the possibility of believers repeatedly losing their salvation and regaining it. Yet I will quote the Remonstrant confession at length simply to show that all Arminian churches or denominations, even the Remonstrants, publicly confessed the possibility of apostasy. Allow me to quote at length from the 1676 English translation of the Remonstrant Confession:

It says, for example, that “Believers, as by an earnest and certain pledge received, are more and more assured of their Adoption, Justification, and finally of their following Glorification, and unless themselves hinder it, they may be preserved even unto the end. . . .” The faith of some believers, “when Persecution, or the Cross and Afflictions or other dangerous Temptations do arise, doth immediately again grow weak, or sometimes also vanisheth, and wholly decayeth.” Some Christians, “for some time remain constant in the true faith, and this same holy resolution and purpose, and for a while also demonstrate the truth of their Faith by good works: but yet notwithstanding at length, what through the enticement of the World, or the Flesh, or of Satan, or by some violent Tyranny, they defect and revolt from the faith. . . .”

Now, as I said, I don’t agree with the Remonstrants on a lot of things, the possibility of repeated apostasies and restorations being one of them. But the above quotation shows that even the early Remonstrants publicly confessed the possibility of apostasy. And this of course goes without saying with regard to the General/Free Will Baptist tradition as well as the Wesleyan tradition (with tiny aberrations every few hundred years, such as the Orthodox Creed of certain Midlands General Baptists and the wording of the original 1812 Abstract among Southern Free Will Baptists—yet even these were anomalies that never took root and disappeared almost immediately).

Arminian religious bodies have always publicly confessed the possibility of apostasy. So it’s no accident that Baptists who arose out of a Calvinist theological heritage and gradually moderated their Calvinism over the centuries would not think of themselves as “Arminians.” That’s something that’s foreign to them both historically and theologically, and it makes sense to them that Arminians are people who believe one can defect from the faith—all the Arminian denominations they’ve ever known growing up, every self-proclaimed Arminian they’ve ever talked with—believes that.

[3] A third reason to think of most Baptists as “moderated” Calvinists and not Arminians is that they are more Calvinistic on some points than many self-proclaimed “Moderate” (i.e., four-point) Calvinists. Moise Amyraut, Richard Baxter, and the Moderate Calvinists represented by the Amyraldian Society don’t seem to be as Reformed on many points as most Southern Baptist once-saved-always-saved people I have met. These self-proclaimed Moderate (four-point) Calvinists don’t believe in justification by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and some believe in the governmental view of atonement. OSAS Baptists are certainly more Calvinistic than that!

What it comes down to is that both the above-mentioned groups have moderated their Calvinism on the extent of the atonement. However, one group (Amyraldians) has moderated its Calvinism to a much greater degree in one area (atonement and justification) but not as much in another area (predestinarianism). The other group (OSAS Baptists) has moderated its Calvinism to a much greater degree in one area (predestinarianism) but not at all in another area (atonement and justification). Who is the arbiter of how far one can moderate something?

The possibility of apostasy if simply too tied up in Arminianism to refer to OSAS people as Arminians. Maybe I’m wrong about nomenclature and it’s a stretch to call them moderate Calvinists. Maybe they’ve moderated the Calvinism of their past way too much to be still called “Calvinists,” and so maybe they’re right that they’re “neither Calvinists nor Arminians.” (Of course, naturally, I’d be opposed to Southern Baptists saying “neither Calvinists nor Arminians but Baptists,” because I’m a Baptist too!—there were Arminian Baptists before there were Calvinist Baptists.) But it doesn’t make sense to me to call once-saved-always-saved Baptists Arminian, when Arminian denominations have for four-hundred years consistently and publicly confessed the possibility of apostasy.

    Brian Abasciano

    Matt,

    Your I think you comments are a little misleading, though not intentionsally so I am sure. You emphasize that the Remonstrants confessed the possibility of apostasy early on. But that ignores the fact that they at first explicitly said in their famous 5 Articles (around 1609/1610) that they were unsure about the matter and needed to further examine Scripture about it to come to a conclusion, as did Arminius himself. So both Arminius himself and the early Arminians were undecided about the issue. It is true that some years later, less than a decade, the Remonstrants came to the conclusion that true believers can forsake the faith and perish. But it seems strange to deny the label “Arminian” to those who agree with Arminus and the Remonstrants on each major soteriological point except that they have certainty about the one point that Arminius and the early Remonstrants said they were undecided about.

    You also mention that it is a mistake to argue that Arminius believed in unconditional perseverance. That is true. But it is equally a mistake to argue that he believed in the possibility of apostasy. In his “Declaration of Sentiments,” written less than a year before his death, Arminius denied ever teaching that apostasy is possible for the believer and explicitly indicated his uncertainty on the issue. (See his words quoted below.) Now I myself believe strongly that true believers can forsake the faith and so perish. But again, it seems strange to deny the label “Arminian” to those who agree with Arminus and the Remonstrants on each major soteriological point except that they have certainty about the one point that Arminius and the early Remonstrants said they were undecided about.

    Let me leave off with a quotation of Arminius on the topic of perseverance, and suggest that readers ask themselves if belief in the possibility of apostasy should be considered essential to Arminian thought:

    “My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies — yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible
    for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual. Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.”

    Brian Abasciano, Ph.D.
    Adjunct Professor of New Testament
    Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
    Pastor, Faith Community Church (Hampton, NH)

    Brian Abasciano

    Perhapsd I should have quoted the Remonstrants initial statement about perseverance from 1610:

    “That those who are in­corporated into Christ by true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well un­derstood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was deliv­ered them, of losing a good conscience, of be­coming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, be­fore we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our mind.”

    P.S. I should have included my position as President of the Society of Evangelical Arminians in my last post.

      Matt Pinson

      Dear Dr. Abasciano,

      Thank you for commenting on my thoughts. I deeply appreciate your scholarship, work, and ministry.

      I think there is too much of a tendency to focus on that one statement in the Declaration of Sentiments which seems to contradict the numerous other unequivocal statements Arminius made to defend the ability of regenerate people to cease believing and thus apostatize. We need to talk in terms of an apparent contradiction but cannot ignore the myriad clear statements in Arminius’s writings that regenerate believers do not necessarily persevere to the end of life.

      With regard to the Remonstrants, I believe your statements on them proves my point. Their earlier (1610) statement said they were unsure about apostasy and needed to study it more; they said that whether a believer can apostatize “must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our mind.” Yet their statement a decade later shows that they studied it and came to the conclusion, with full persuasion of their mind, that unconditional perseverance is incorrect and that a believer can indeed apostatize from the faith. And they and every other Arminian denomination thereafter stuck with it.

      I must return to my statement in my earlier comments, that Arminius does not teach unconditional perseverance and that the equivocation of the very early Remonstrants on this subject was later conclusively disavowed when that group publicly confessed the possibility of apostasy.

      Thank you for your stimulating comments.

      Matt Pinson

        Brian Abasciano

        Dear Dr. Pinson,

        Thank you for your gracious and thoughtful comments. I appreciate your scholarship, work, and ministry as well. I am glad to have you on the Arminian side!

        I think there is so much focus on Arminius’ statement in the Declaration of Sentiments because (a) it is directly about the question of perseverance, and in a very focused way, rather than gleaning his position from his interpretation of this or that biblical passage; (b) it is defintively stated and emphatic (Arminius states unequivocally, “I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish”; (c) it was made at the end of his life, and so represents his mature thought; it is not as if there is any evidence he changed his mind; indeed, the Remosntrants initial stance seems to reflect Arminius’ stance up until his death. It would seem that such a direct and focused statement must be given priority over gleanings from less direct statements. Indeed, Arminius’ own statement seems as though it might give the key to understanding the dissonance between statements such as you mention and his more direct and considered opinion as we have it in “Sentiments”. He seems to have seen both sides of the issue supported by different passages, and had not settlted in his mind how these harmonized. Thus, exegetically, he may have seen some passages as supporting the possibility of apostasy as best he could tell, though with the thought that there could be some explanation for them he was unaware of that would harmonize them with OSAS. But at the same time, he seems to indicate that some passages ware produced for OSAS that look like they support it. Thus, he was undecided about the issue and says so, as well as making it clear that he never taught the possibility of apostasy. Clearly, for Arminius himself, the possibility of apostasy was not essential to his sytem of thought or his soteriological stance. How could we then insist that it is essential for the label “Arminian”?

        As for the Remonstrants, I acknowledged that they came to conclude that true believers can can forsake the faith and perish after further examination of Scripture (and rightly so!). But that does not undo the fact that they were originally undecided about the issue when they first laid out the Arminian position, just as Arminius had been when he was alive. So it then forces the question on us, how can one insist that belief in the possibility of apostasy is essential to Arminian theology when the earliest Arminians, including Arminius himself, were not committed to the position, but were uncertain about it vs. OSAS? The fact that after first laying out the Arminian position the Remonstrants searched the Scriptures and eventually concluded apostasy is possible, does not seem to suggest that that conclusion is essential to Arminian theology (were they not Arminian before reaching that conclusion when they drafted the famous 5 articles? Or was Arminius not Arminian?). Indeed, you yourself pointed out that the Remonstrants drew other conclusions that moved away from Arminius and that you disagree with, which presumably you would not consider essential to Arminian theology. It just seems that any position that would exclude from being Arminian Arminius himself or the earliest Arminians, who first laid out the Arminian position, is unjustified.

        God bless!

        Brian

          Matt Pinson

          Dear Dr. Abasciano,

          Thanks for your thoughts. Let me begin by clarifying two things: My original statement was that the doctrine of the possibility of apostasy was at the essence of “historic confessional Arminianism.” That statement is talking about the entire tradition, not just confusion over a statement made by the tradition’s founder. I tend to think more in terms of faith communities and traditions, and it just seems odd to me that OSAS Baptists would want to take on the nomenclature of Arminian when the broad sweep of that historic confessional tradition over four-hundred years confesses something directly at odds with the Baptist Faith and Message.

          Notice also that I didn’t suggest that I wanted to “deny” anyone use of the term “Arminian,” as you put it. I am not interested in denying OSAS Baptists the usage of any term. I was simply defending my use of phrases like “Mild Calvinist” and “Moderate Calvinist” when speaking of people who came out of the Calvinist tradition yet have moderated their Calvinism considerably. But I am not wanting deny anyone usage of terms. Even though I think many Arminians have diverged too far from some of the more-Reformed categories in Arminius’s thought, I don’t want to deny them the term Arminian either. But, then again, the term has taken on a life of its own over the past four hundred years, so Arminians who are non-predestinarians and believe in the resistibility of grace to the end of life fit that four-hundred year usage of the term, whether Wesleyan Arminian or Reformed Arminian.

          However, back to our dialogue. The trouble with your line of thought on Arminius is that you are simply clinging to the one equivocal statement that Arminius made on apostasy and not addressing the myriad unequivocal statements he made that affirm the possibility of apostasy. We must reckon with the fact that this is an apparent contradiction.

          You don’t seem to disagree that Arminius makes other statements that indicate his belief in the possibility of apostasy. Thus what we must acknowledge is that we have an apparent contradiction: Arminius does not state in the Declaration of Sentiments that he merely doesn’t CURRENTLY THINK Christians can apostatize. Rather he says he “NEVER TAUGHT that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish” (emphasis added). Yet, we know that this is not true. This is why some of his detractors called him a liar and a dissimulator. So we have an apparent contradiction here, if Arminius is not a liar and a dissimulator.

          This approach to the apparent contradiction in Arminius has many supporters throughout history. See for example Nichols’ footnote to the Declaration of Sentiments in the Works of Arminius. In chiding the Calvinist Thomas Scott, who said that Arminius differed from his followers on the question of perseverance, Nichols says Scott is “far from being correct when he wishes to prove, from a brief and garbled statement of an insulated occurrence, that Arminius was on this point opposed to his modern followers. The assertion is not true as it regards our author, who was far from being the rash and truce-breaking man that Mr. Scott has represented.”

          The current debate about Arminius’s doctrine of perseverance is not whether he affirmed the possibility of apostasy, but whether it is sin or simply unbelief that causes it. Keith Stanglin, for example, holds to the former position (i.e., sin can cause apostasy). Steve Ashby and I, for example, hold to the latter position (i.e., only unbelief causes apostasy). But these scholarly interpreters of Arminius are univocal in thinking that Arminius affirmed that believers can decline from faith. They are saying his statement in the Declaration of Sentiments is equivocal, or an apparent contradiction, which seems to conflict with stronger statements he made elsewhere that indicate his affirmation of the possibility of apostasy.

          I think this is a much better approach. It is better simply to find a way to make sense of one isolated statement, which is quizzical and confusing in light of several other statements to the contrary, and seek to resolve the apparent contradiction in other ways, rather than say: (1) Arminius affirmed the possibility of apostasy in several places, and (2) Arminius stated in the Declaration of Sentiments that he never taught it. One can’t have it both ways. Either he taught the possibility of apostasy in several places, and we’re misunderstanding the one statement in the Declaration of Sentiments, or it’s mistranslated (which it is), or it’s a misprint. OR Arminius is contradicting himself, because you can’t teach the possibility of apostasy and then later say you never taught it. Again, Arminius did not say simply that he “doesn’t” teach it, but that he “never” taught it.

          Arminius’s answer to articles 1 and 2 in his Apology against Thirty-One Theological Articles helps us to see that it is conceiveable that there’s a way to account for this apparent contradiction and see why Arminius in other places clearly taught the possibility of apostasy. In his answer to articles 1 and 2, Arminius makes a scholastic distinction between the possibility and actuality of falling away:

          “In this way I have hitherto discriminated these two cases: And at one time I CERTAINLY DID SAY, with an explanation subjoined to it, THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR BELIEVERS FINALLY TO DECLINE OR FALL AWAY FROM FAITH AND SALVATION.’ But at no period have I asserted, ‘that believers do finally decline or fall away from faith and salvation’” (1:677, emphasis added).

          He goes on to say:

          “There is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH ;’ and (2.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted;— it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. . . . On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation. . . .” (1:677-78).

          Arminius also stated, “Since election to salvation comprehends within its limits not only Faith, but likewise Perseverance in Faith . . . believers and the elect are not correctly taken for the same persons” (2:68).

          The quotation on 1:677-78 comes from a section in which Arminius is explaining the difference between saying that (1) it’s impossible for believers to decline from FAITH and (2) it’s impossible for believers to decline from SALVATION. Arminius’s scholastic distinction between these two concepts goes a long way at clarifying his seemingly confusing statement in his Declaration of Sentiments that he never stated that a true believer can fall away from faith. In essence, what Arminius is saying is that, to say that a true believer can decline from faith is a self-defeating proposition. Of course a true believer, who remains a true believer, cannot decline from faith or belief. That is a tautology. However, a true believer can cease to be a true believer and thus decline from salvation.

          Furthermore, Arminius states that a logical consequence of his view that believers and elect persons are not the same category of persons (2:68), and that “faith is not peculiar to the elect” (1:678) is that “Some believers finally decline from the faith.” In other words, if one defines elect people as true believers who have persevered in faith to the end of life, and makes it clear several times that there are true believers who are not elect, then it logically follows that some believers do not persevere.

          So we have a problem on our hands. An apparent contradiction. And we need to find a way to resolve the problem. It looks like you’re saying, “I choose to believe his statement in the Declaration of Sentiments that he never taught the possibility of apostasy and discount his statement in the Apology that he did.” And it looks like I’m saying, “I choose to believe his statement in the Apology that he did affirm the possibility of apostasy and discount his statement in the Declaration that he never taught it.” But this would be just “prooftexting” (like people often do from scripture)—citing one text while simply ignoring the other. But if we treat this as an apparent contradiction—where we have one isolated statement that flies in the face of several other clear statements to the contrary—and seek to figure out how to harmonize or reconcile the two seemingly contradictory statements, then that seems to be the better way to go about it (and I believe this about seemingly contradictory statements in Luther or Calvin or Edwards or Wesley as well).

          So what are some ways people have accounted for (1) Arminius’s numerous statements that seem to affirm the possibility of apostasy and (2) his statement in the Declaration that he never taught it? Well, for one thing, the word for “can” or “is possible” does not appear in the original Latin of the Declaratio Sententiae. It is more properly translated “I never taught that a true believer totally or finally falls away. . . .” That’s one possibility. And it’s in line with Arminius’s statements in the Apology where he distinguishes between possibility and actuality. It’s a scholastic distinction that’s rather hard for moderns to understand. Another way of handling this is that Arminius never publicly taught the possibility of apostasy as official church doctrine, owing to the tradition in the Reformed churches of not officially teaching anything that goes against official church teaching, but being able to write about it and discuss it among brothers and colleagues. This is a possibility.

          I haven’t satisfied myself on how to explain this apparent contradiction, but I think it’s not an option just to play up this one isolated statement, which seems to contradict an abundance of statements to the contrary in other writings.

          Your comment that the statement in the Declaration is a clear statement and the others are just less direct statements culled out from other writings is not the case: The places where Arminius clearly states that it’s possible to decline from faith and thus apostatize are mostly made in contexts where he is directly, and at length, dealing with perseverance, apostasy, and assurance: His statements on articles 1 and 2 in his Apology, his writings on the sin against Holy Spirit, his lengthy arguments against William Perkins’s views on perseverance—all these are direct discussions of the doctrine of perseverance, assurance, and apostasy. It cannot be said that his statements that affirm the possibility of falling from grace are just indirect and culled out from other contexts.

          As for the Remonstrants, again, I stand by what I said previously. A religious group who says, “We’re not sure” and then later says, “We’re now sure” and sticks with that for centuries proves my point about the historic confessional tradition.

          I guess I can summarize my position by repeating that I’m not denying the term Arminian to any individual who wishes to use it. But I can see why the Southern Baptists would not be eager to identify themselves with an Arminian tradition that for four-hundred years has stood in opposition to their Baptist confession of faith.

          Thanks so much for this dialogue and the kind spirit in which you have engaged in it!

          Matt

          Brian Abasciano

          Dear Dr. Pinson,

          I posted a response below in this thread, neglecting to hit the reply button to group it with your last response to me. So I am reposting it here:

          Dear Dr. Pinson,

          Thank you for your stimulating comments.

          First, let me say that I did address the issue of apparent contradiction. I did not say that we should accept Armininus’ statement in the Declaration of Sentiments that he never taught the possibility of apostasy and discount his statement in the Apology that he did. Rather, I suggested a harmonization of the statements that take their lead from his explicit statement that some passages appear to support the possibility of apostasy and that some appear to support the impossibility of apostasy. I was suggesting that he may have taken the exegetical approach of teaching passages according to how he could best understand them (one sees this in a number of more exegetically oriented scholars and even preachers who sometimes sound like they support one side of an issue, and at other times the opposite side, because they are simply trying to exegete texts that, at least on the surface, look like they support opposite theological positions; e.g. some scholars or preachers might sound OSAS when preaching on Rom 8, but like a believer in the possibility of apostasy when preaching on John 15 or the warning passages of Hebrews), but without being decided on how such passages harmonize, i.e. without settling in his mind whether apostasy was possible or not.

          However, you have given much foood for thought for other ways that the seeming contradiction can be resolved without concluding (implausibly) that Arminius was a liar on this point. One or more of these may be better explanations than my suggestion. I need to think further about Arminius’ position in the light of your comments. Again, I believe that apostasy is possible and think that Arminius should have too. So, honestly, there is some personal attraction for me in your alternative explanation. But I am now uncertain about what Arminius’ vew of apostasy was.

          But concerning the Remonstrants, I must continue to remonstrate! You say, “A religious group who says, “We’re not sure” and then later says, “We’re now sure” and sticks with that for centuries proves my point about the historic confessional tradition.” But since they were not sure in the drafting of the original statement of Arminian theology (the 5 articles of the Remonstrants), surety on the issue of the possibility of apostasy can’t be essential to Arminian theology on the conceptual level, or else they were not Arminians when they drafted the 5 articles of the Remonstrants. I see your point about the *overall* historic confessional tradition. But that tradition began with uncertainty on the issue of the possibility of apostasy. Moreover, I am not as interested in the historic confessional tradition as I am in the identification of theological positions. I see nothing incompatible between the Arminian view of total depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement, and resistible grace on the one hand, and OSAS on the other. Honestly, I do find some tension between them, but not irreconcilable contradiction. Of course, the many SBC’ers and other non-Calvinist Christians who believe in all the Arminian points except for the possibility of apostasy probably do not find any tension there at all.

          And that leads to a critical observation. If we think of Arminianism and Calvinism as each having 5 basic points (it’s a little more complicated than that, but this is how they are traditionally contrasted), and someone agrees with 4 out of 5 of the Arminian points (as most SBC’ers do), then it seems that he or she would be a 4 Arminian. Such people are not even 1 point Calvinists, because they disagree with Calvinism’s foundation for perseverance (unconditional election). But it would be absurd to think of them as half point Calvinists or even 1 point Calvinists. To say that such peole occupy some sort of middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism also seems unjustified. They agree with Arminianism on everything except for 1 point (and that includes other issues besides the 5 points, such as the nature of God’s sovereignty, human free will, rejection of exhaustive determinism, etc.)! Theologicaly, such people are 4 point Arminians and simply not Calvinists. Just as there are 4 and 5 point Calvinists, there are also 4 and 5 point Arminians.

          God bless,

          Brian

Dr. James Willingham

Funny, is it not? That we should throw out the theology that produced the First and Second Great Awakenings and launched the Great Century of Missions and initiated the making of America into a Baptist nation (more baptized by immersion on professionof faith) whose religious doctrine of religious liberty became part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? And here it is beginning to come back once more. Perhaps in answer to 38-50 + years of prayer for another, a Third Great Awakening?

Brian Abasciano

Dear Dr. Pinson,

Thank you for your stimulating comments.

First, let me say that I did address the issue of apparent contradiction. I did not say that we should accept Armininus’ statement in the Declaration of Sentiments that he never taught the possibility of apostasy and discount his statement in the Apology that he did. Rather, I suggested a harmonization of the statements that take their lead from his explicit statement that some passages appear to support the possibility of apostasy and that some appear to support the impossibility of apostasy. I was suggesting that he may have taken the exegetical approach of teaching passages according to how he could best understand them (one sees this in a number of more exegetically oriented scholars and even preachers who sometimes sound like they support one side of an issue, and at other times the opposite side, because they are simply trying to exegete texts that, at least on the surface, look like they support opposite theological positions; e.g. some scholars or preachers might sound OSAS when preaching on Rom 8, but like a believer in the possibility of apostasy when preaching on John 15 or the warning passages of Hebrews), but without being decided on how such passages harmonize, i.e. without settling in his mind whether apostasy was possible or not.

However, you have given much foood for thought for other ways that the seeming contradiction can be resolved without concluding (implausibly) that Arminius was a liar on this point. One or more of these may be better explanations than my suggestion. I need to think further about Arminius’ position in the light of your comments. Again, I believe that apostasy is possible and think that Arminius should have too. So, honestly, there is some personal attraction for me in your alternative explanation. But I am now uncertain about what Arminius’ vew of apostasy was.

But concerning the Remonstrants, I must continue to remonstrate! You say, “A religious group who says, “We’re not sure” and then later says, “We’re now sure” and sticks with that for centuries proves my point about the historic confessional tradition.” But since they were not sure in the drafting of the original statement of Arminian theology (the 5 articles of the Remonstrants), surety on the issue of the possibility of apostasy can’t be essential to Arminian theology on the conceptual level, or else they were not Arminians when they drafted the 5 articles of the Remonstrants. I see your point about the *overall* historic confessional tradition. But that tradition began with uncertainty on the issue of the possibility of apostasy. Moreover, I am not as interested in the historic confessional tradition as I am in the identification of theological positions. I see nothing incompatible between the Arminian view of total depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement, and resistible grace on the one hand, and OSAS on the other. Honestly, I do find some tension between them, but not irreconcilable contradiction. Of course, the many SBC’ers and other non-Calvinist Christians who believe in all the Arminian points except for the possibility of apostasy probably do not find any tension there at all.

And that leads to a critical observation. If we think of Arminianism and Calvinism as each having 5 basic points (it’s a little more complicated than that, but this is how they are traditionally contrasted), and someone agrees with 4 out of 5 of the Arminian points (as most SBC’ers do), then it seems that he or she would be a 4 Arminian. Such people are not even 1 point Calvinists, because they disagree with Calvinism’s foundation for perseverance (unconditional election). But it would be absurd to think of them as half point Calvinists or even 1 point Calvinists. To say that such peole occupy some sort of middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism also seems unjustified. They agree with Arminianism on everything except for 1 point (and that includes other issues besides the 5 points, such as the nature of God’s sovereignty, human free will, rejection of exhaustive determinism, etc.)! Theologicaly, such people are 4 point Arminians and simply not Calvinists. Just as there are 4 and 5 point Calvinists, there are also 4 and 5 point Arminians.

    Matt Pinson

    Dr. Abasciano,

    My first observation is that, whenever Arminius actually does discuss perseverance passages, he seems to me to handle them in a much more typically Arminian way. So your statement that he was undecided on how such passages harmonize cannot be established by his actual reference to such passages. Thus, again, we’re thrown back just on his statement in the Declaration of Sentiments.

    My second observation concerns your statement: “I am not as interested in the historic confessional tradition as I am in the identification of theological positions.” The difficulty here is that this is the very thing we’re dealing with in this conversation! The entire discussion is about people who take very seriously a confessional tradition (i.e., broad SBC Baptist-Faith-and-Message OSAS, the origin of which dates back at least into the mid-nineteenth century) not wanting to take on the nomenclature of another confessional tradition that conflicts at key points with their theology (Arminianism).

    If we confessional Arminians want to work together theologically with OSAS people on common theological concerns, I think that’s wonderful. That’s exactly what I want to do! And if we’re only concerned about identifying theological positions, as you are, then let’s use a more precise term without all the historical, confessional, and traditional baggage. So, instead of taking the term Arminianism out of its historical context over the past 400 years, it might be better to use a term like “libertarian freedom” or something else. I think there’s a real need for there to be some sort of umbrella under which all people opposed to unconditional election and irresistible grace can stand. I am genuinely sympathetic with you on that, my brother.

    Perhaps the trouble is that (as you already gather) I *am* interested in historic, confessional Arminianism and am under the care of a presbytery that requires me to subscribe confessionally to the possibility of apostasy. That doctrine is a key part of my tradition’s confessional identity, theology, indeed our piety. I say all this because I want you to see where my heart is, and that I’m not trying to deny labels to people, and I do want to find a way to bring non-unconditional election and non-irresistible grace people together (which is why I gave such a positive review to *Whosoever Will*). I’m just having to be honest with the way I see things theologically and historically. If what I have said in these comments over the past few days gets in the way of bringing such people together for mutual theological endeavors and encouragement, I sorely regret that, because that is something I want to see happen more and more.

    My third observation is related to the one above, and that is the notion that because a belief occurred in the early, transitional stage of a confessional tradition, even though it was declared an error after those first few transitional years, it still speaks for the tradition. You stated that, even though the Remonstrants publicly, confessionally declared their earlier ambivalence on apostasy to be an error, and their descendants forever thereafter held the latter position, they were still Arminians when they made the earlier ambivalent statement, so that makes it not being sure about apostasy a valid Arminian option. (By the way, let me say at this point that I don’t even know that your argument supports what you want it to; maybe your argument really leads to “not being sure about perseverance” being a valid Arminian option. But even if that’s true, would that automatically make “being sure” that perseverance *is* unconditional a valid Arminian option?)

    Again, please understand that I’m not trying to deny the appellation Arminian to individuals if they want it (maybe semi-Arminian would be a better term). However, saying that just because the Remonstrants were called “Arminians” before they changed their position to the possibility of apostasy, thus rendering their earlier position incorrect, doesn’t reckon with the fact that most movements go through an earlier transitional phase before settling on key confessional commitments.

    Using that logic, one could say that “Helwys was a Baptist before Baptists accepted immersion; therefore people whose mode of baptism differs from immersion can call themselves Baptists even though the Baptist tradition, after that very early transitional stage, has been confessionally committed to immersion as the only valid mode of baptism.” Or you could say, “Wesley was a Wesleyan before he accepted entire sanctification; therefore people who do not accept entire sanctification can call themselves Wesleyans even though the Wesleyan tradition, after that very early transitional stage, has been confessionally committed to entire sanctification.”

    All in all, when you use contextually grounded historically meaning-laden words like “Arminian,” “Baptist,” “Wesleyan,” “Mennonite,” “Calvinist,” etc., you’ve moved out of the realm of “identification of theological positions” and into the realm of “historic confessional traditions.”

    Your statement “I see nothing incompatible between the Arminian view of total depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement, and resistible grace on the one hand, and OSAS on the other” moves us a little away from the conversation we’ve been having—from historical theology into more of a doctrinal discussion. And maybe this is really the heart of the problem. You see, I *do* see a great incompatibility between being Arminian on the other points and believing in OSAS. That, again, is not tangential or an “add-on” to my theology and confessional identity and piety. It is part and parcel of it. I want to hasten to say that I think my good friends who are OSAS are just as intelligent and intellectually virtous as my good friends who are five-point Calvinists. But I do think it is incompatible to hold to resistible grace before conversion and not after conversion. I try to convince Dr. Lemke of this every third time I see him (ha!). That does not preclude me and him, of course, from working together on things we agree on theologically. But this is precisely what I fear when we decontextualize Arminianism from its four-century history—we risk watering down our belief in the possibility of apostasy.

    I believe you and I are on the same page in wanting to bring OSAS people together with Arminians to do more research, encouragement, and so on, with respect to our united opposition to unconditional election and irresistible grace. Yet my confessional loyalties and historical sensibilities cause me to be more cautious about decontextualizing these historic traditions and the labels that go along with them. And furthermore, I just don’t know many OSAS Southern Baptists who are going to go for the title “Arminian.”

    I think the task at hand is to find a term that you, me, and Dr. Lemke can all agree on that fits our common theological concerns and ends.

Brian Abasciano

MATT SAID: “My first observation is that, whenever Arminius actually does discuss perseverance passages, he seems to me to handle them in a much more typically Arminian way. So your statement that he was undecided on how such passages harmonize cannot be established by his actual reference to such passages. Thus, again, we’re thrown back just on his statement in the Declaration of Sentiments.”

MY RESPONSE: But in his statement in the Declaration of Sentiments, he explicitly says not only that he never taught that apostasy is possible, but also that he sees passages that support the possibility of apostasy and passages that seem like they support its impossibility.

MATT SAID: “The entire discussion is about people who take very seriously a confessional tradition (i.e., broad SBC Baptist-Faith-and-Message OSAS, the origin of which dates back at least into the mid-nineteenth century) not wanting to take on the nomenclature of another confessional tradition that conflicts at key points with their theology (Arminianism).”

MY RESPONSE: But they don’t conflict at key points, but only one. They accept 4 out of 5 Arminian points, not to mention other key Arminian points about God’s sovereignty, human free will, etc.). That sounds like 4 point Arminianism to me! You suggested “semi-Arminian” as a possible designation. Why not 4 point Arminian? That is similar to the 4-point/5-point Calvinist nomenclature. (The “libertarian freedom” term you mentioned wouldn’t do, because it is not enough of an umbrella term encompassing the lultiple points embraced. But if one says “4 point Arminian”, then that is very specific and invokes the specific points believed.)

MATT SAID: “I think there’s a real need for there to be some sort of umbrella under which all people opposed to unconditional election and irresistible grace can stand.”

MY RESPONSE: Yes, there is, but it really ought to be about what we positively stand for, and not what we’re against or what Calvinism is as if Calvinism is the standard or the natural or default view. It ought to be about those who hold to total depravity, conditional election, resistible grace, and unlimited atonement. But “Arminian” seems to be the best term for such a positive theology. Those who disagree with the possibility of apostasy could just be considered a certain type of Arminian, a 4 point one as opposed to a 5 point one.

MATT SAID: “By the way, let me say at this point that I don’t even know that your argument supports what you want it to; maybe your argument really leads to “not being sure about perseverance” being a valid Arminian option. But even if that’s true, would that automatically make “being sure” that perseverance *is* unconditional a valid Arminian option?”

MY RESPONSE: I don’t think your point here follows. It is too rigid. That would make belief in apostasy also not a valid Arminian option at that point. Are we to think that the original statement of Arminian theology forbade belief in the possibility of apostasy?I would think that their conviction when drafting the original statement of Arminian theology that they were not sure about its possibility left the option open for individuals within their group to take a non-binding stand on one or other side of the issue.

MATT SAID: Using that logic, one could say that “Helwys was a Baptist before Baptists accepted immersion; therefore people whose mode of baptism differs from immersion can call themselves Baptists even though the Baptist tradition, after that very early transitional stage, has been confessionally committed to immersion as the only valid mode of baptism.” Or you could say, “Wesley was a Wesleyan before he accepted entire sanctification; therefore people who do not accept entire sanctification can call themselves Wesleyans even though the Wesleyan tradition, after that very early transitional stage, has been confessionally committed to entire sanctification.”

MY RESPONSE: I think this misses the point that the Remonstrants were formally defining their theology in the original 5 articles. If Wesley drew up a statement for others to know what Wesleyan theology is that indicated uncertainty about whether entire sanctification is true, then it would make sense to say one can be a sort of Wesleyan without believing in entire sanctification.

All in all, when you use contextually grounded historically meaning-laden words like “Arminian,” “Baptist,” “Wesleyan,” “Mennonite,” “Calvinist,” etc., you’ve moved out of the realm of “identification of theological positions” and into the realm of “historic confessional traditions.”

MATT SAID: “You see, I *do* see a great incompatibility between being Arminian on the other points and believing in OSAS. . . . I do think it is incompatible to hold to resistible grace before conversion and not after conversion.”

MY RESPONSE: let me note that I said I do see tension, but not irreconcilable contradiction. While there may be a tension between resistible grace before conversion but irresistible grace after, this is not an outright contradiction. Indeed, as Arminians we believe that prevenient grace is irresistible on the level of its granting freedom to the will to accept the offer of the gospel. I.e., one does not get to successfully resist his will being freed to believe or not believe, so that his will remains unable to believe the gospel despite God’s prevenient grace. But this is not at all in conflict with the resistibility of God’s prevenient grace that draws people toward Jesus/faith in him/salvation. It is conceivable to think (though I believe it to be false) that one of the blessings that believers get is the inability to forsake faith and therefore perish as unbelievers. Or to put it another way, that God will not allow anything to so assail his children so that they would give up their faith and cease to be his children. This could be taken as one of the promises God gives to those who believe or a promise implicit in the promise of salvation. I think this is a faulty reading of the biblical text, but not an impossible one.

I do appreciate your heart for cooperative unity among those who hold 4 out of 5 points of Arminian theology in common, and your graciousness in discussing this issue.

Dr. James Willingham

One thing that seems to be missed is that the very nature of each of the doctrines of the tulip outline as well as the truths of predestination and reprobation are invitations, intensely interesting, provocative invitations, designed to deliver the hearer from indifference and apathy. Another way of putting it is that each of these truths is a therapeutic paradox intended to restore a sense of responsibility and accountability to the fallen sinner. Dr. Eusden in his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (United Church Press, 1971) (first text in theology used at Harvard) remarked” “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilprimage….” Since these are the truths that constitute the theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings as well as that which led to the launching of the Great Century of Missions and since prayer has been made for nearly a half century and so many are beginning to reaffirm the fount of such theology, it follows that the Third Great Awakening might be exceedingly near – even looming over us like a Tsunami of spiritual reality rushing to transform all of society and to win ever soul beginning with this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations. After all, God surely did not waste his breath by breathing, I Chron.16:15.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available