Why I Am Not An Arminian | Part One

March 14, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
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I’ve often told people that I am not an Arminian, but that is not because I dislike Arminians; nor is it because we disagree over that many issues.  In fact, Traditional Southern Baptists, like myself, agree with much of what many good Arminian brothers teach. But, there are several differences I have with my Arminian friends that should be noted. For instance, some classical Arminians believe one can be genuinely reborn and later lose their salvation by apostasy.  I explain why I reject this view HERE.

Also, some Arminians teach the “foresight faith view” in order to explain God’s eternal plan of election. When I was a young Calvinist, I had been lead to believe the only real alternative to Calvinism was this seemingly strange concept of God “looking through the corridors of time to elect those He foresees would choose Him.” Notable Calvinistic teachers almost always paint all non-Calvinistic scholars as holding to this perspective. Once I realized other scholarly views were available, I became more open to consider them objectively.

I found a much more robust and theologically sound systematic in what is called “The Corporate View of Election,” which so happened to be the most popular view among the biblical scholars of my own denomination (Southern Baptists). Therefore, I have come to affirm the unified declaration of the author’s in the book titled Whosoever Will:

“We are neither Calvinists nor Arminians; we are Baptists!”

Even among Traditional Baptists, there exists various nuances over the nature of fallen humanity in response to God’s revelation. However, the Traditional statement, signed by many notable Traditional scholars, clearly denounces the concept of “Total Inability,” a view maintained by most classical Arminian scholars.

“Total Inability” is the belief that all humanity is born incapable of willingly coming to Christ for salvation even in light of the Holy Spirit wrought truth of the Gospel, unless God graciously works to empower the will of lost man (effectually by way of regeneration for the Calvinist, and sufficiently by way of “prevenient grace” for the Arminian). Traditionalists simply do not accept the presumption that the libertarian freedom of man’s will was lost due to the Fall. As article two of the Traditional statement says,

“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”

Notable Arminian scholar, Roger Olson, critiqued the Southern Baptist Traditional statement by calling it “Semi-Pelagian” (which I addressed HERE). Recently, another Arminian brother and friend, William Birch, has posted a critique of my perspective on this matter.

In the past, William has posted links to my articles on his feed and I’ve re-blogged his articles here, so we agree on many (if not most) theological matters. He is a kind, intelligent brother with a far greater gift in writing than I could ever hope to possess.  I prefer a personal discussion over dueling blog articles any day. Nevertheless, this is my response to his well crafted critique of my views on the subject of Total Inability.

For the sake of brevity, I will only respond to the most pertinent issues, as I see them.  I welcome William (or other readers) to point out any issue that I fail to address which is germane to our disagreement. I will put William’s quotes in red, not because his teachings are to be compared to Christ’s ;-), but because I firmly believe that Christ’s words are at least as believable upon their reading as are his words.

Traditionally, there are a host of scriptural passages referencing an inherent inability within the depraved individual, relegating the individual as naturally deficient in properly responding to the grace of God.

One must wonder what is meant by the term “naturally deficient” in a world where all that is “natural” is ultimately of God’s permission or design? When a Christian theist speaks of what is “natural” are they not, in some way, referencing what is of God’s design or permission? Allow me to explain further…

“What do you have that you did not receive?” was the apostle’s question to the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 4:7). My next breath is at God’s pleasure (Is. 42:5). My abilities to reason, or think, or make choices are all from God, my Maker (Is. 1:18). As AW Tozer is famously quoted for saying:

“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice…the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it.”[Link]

Why would this be any different with regard to my “natural ability” to respond willingly to God’s own word? It is not as if I (or any Traditionalist who agrees with me on this point) attempts to say that mankind’s ability to respond to the Holy Spirit wrought gospel is of my own making (like I went out into my tool shed and built a nature that was capable of willingly responding to God). Instead, it is a common ability built in us by our Maker, who created in His own image (this image, though marred, was graciously preserved even through the Fall…at least there is no biblical reason to think it was lost, as far as I can see). God was not required to create within us this ability, nor is He obligated to exercise His patience with us in waiting for us to exercise that ability (2 Pet. 3:9).  He could have justly allowed each of us to suffer the immediate life-terminating consequences of our first sin.

At this point, the differences between William’s position and my own seem to be inconsequential. He argues that God supernaturally intervenes (by a work of “prevenient grace”) to grant all of fallen humanity an ability they supposedly lost in the Fall of Adam (something never explicitly or implicitly suggested in scripture as far as I can tell). Whereas, I believe God graciously preserved our human responsibility (the ability to respond) to God’s graciously revealed truth by letting us live, even though He had every right to simply destroy us.

In other words, the hair being split is God’s “common grace” in preserving man’s life and thus his God-given ability to respond willingly to His own word–versus God’s “prevenient grace” in supernaturally restoring man’s lost ability to respond willingly to His own word. I hardly see why any scholar would make the conscience effort to label one of these perspectives a “heresy” (Semi-Pelagian) in defense of the other.

In such a confession, however, we are not referring to an inability to hear the audible voice of God, as with Adam and Eve in the Garden after the Fall (Gen. 3:8, 9), or, obviously, the audible voice of Jesus while on earth. The Fall does not render a person physically deaf but spiritually deaf.