We Respect Arminianism
March 14, 2012, 11:29 am
Filed under: Arminianism

written by Christopher Macfarlane

Against Ivory Tower Calvinism

Many who profess to be ‘reformed’ Christians regard Arminians as brothers in Christ – not Armenians, the guys from Armenia. But Arminians – those who hold to certain points they believe are Biblical. These points include views like 1) the free will of man to choose to ‘accept’ Jesus or reject Him, and 2) the view that Jesus died for every individual in the world so that salvation could possibly be a reality for every individual. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that Arminianism is heresy and even likened it to baal worship. At the same time, Spurgeon considered  John Wesley (who Spurgeon nicknamed, ‘the modern prince of Arminians’) to be one of the godliest men who ever lived. And although Spurgeon said he hated Wesley’s theology, he thought Wesley was godly because of the works he had performed. Check out this quote from Spurgeon’s “Defense of Calvinism.”

Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.”

In this same exact paper, Spurgeon refers to Arminianism this way:

“And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer?” 

Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. 

How in the world could Spurgeon say in one breath that Arminianism is the state in which all men are born, knowing that man is born in sin and hostile to God, referring to Arminianism as adding work to Christ, and in the next breath identify the “modern prince of Arminianism” as “second to none” when it came to godliness? Let’s look at his evidence: self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God. Totally based on Wesley’s works, and not his profession of faith, even though Scripture doesn’t tell us to judge men this way. The apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:1-2 that we are to test the spirits (those who claim to be Christians) by their profession of belief that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
1 John 4:1-3

John was dealing with folks called the gnostics, who believed the flesh was evil, and so Jesus could not have come in the flesh. This is obviously contradictory to the testimony of Scripture. So how does John say to test if someone is a brother? By doctrine, not works. Now, certainly just the affirmation that Jesus came in the flesh is not enough to ‘test a spirit.’ Why do I say this? Well, for one, many believed Jesus was in the flesh because they literally saw Him in the flesh. But, they hated Him and the gospel. There are also those who believe Jesus came in the flesh, but refer to themselves as Mormons or Roman Catholics. And there are tons of other competing versions of Jesus. Therefore, it’s important that we get our definition of Who He is right. Last week, I upset some people by putting up a status on Facebook that read this way:

Jesus is God. She became human, was born of a virgin, died on a cross, was buried for 3 days, and she rose again from the dead. And she did this to save those who believe in her from the wrath of God toward their sins. This is the good news of what she did for her people. Believe it and be saved.

I think some people assumed I was jumping ship on the faith. But I was trying to make the point that we can profess all of these points of Christian orthodoxy, and still have Jesus wrong. The gospel I had written above can’t save, even though someone could believe it and profess “Jesus was God in the flesh, and He died on the cross for my sins.” So let us then ‘test the spirits’, not by their actions, but by their profession of Who Christ is and what He has done. How many people could be considered super godly if we (like Spurgeon), though hating their doctrine, accepted them for their works?

Although I singled Spurgeon out, he is definitely not alone. Like I mentioned at the start of this article, a lot of ‘reformed’ folks consider Arminians to be brothers. Certainly, many of them will base it on the works of the Arminian. Some will also nuance their position a little differently than Spurgeon. See, he was willing to identify it as being “baal worship”, adding to the work of Christ, and the state that humanity is born into. Unfortunately, he was horribly inconsistent. Many of the guys you will hear now, though, will say that Arminianism is an ‘incomplete’ or ‘milk’ gospel, while reformed theology (or Calvinism) is the pure form of or ‘meat’ gospel. RC Sproul is famously quoted for saying of Arminianism:

“The real question is whether they are safe… Saved? Most are, barely… really the debate between Calvinists and Arminians is an intramural debate among Christians.”

For him, this is a debate amongst brothers as Sproul considers Arminians to be “barely saved.” This brings me to the point of this paper. Yes, all that blabbing I did so far was only building up to this point. Those who profess to be ‘reformed,’ who claim that Arminians are not brothers, will soon find themselves being accused of adding their “pet doctrines” to the gospel. We will also be accused of saying that everyone needs ‘an exhaustive knowledge of the doctrines of grace’ to be saved. These are both strawmen arguments, meaning they aren’t true, but only fake arguments that those making them can destroy and feel like they’ve won a debate. The latter argument about needing to have this vast knowledge, as though we are superior, is ridiculously hypocritical. Here’s why.

We actually respect the Arminians.

Granted, we don’t think they are brothers. But, if you are an Arminian, I want you to know that I don’t regard you the way many other Calvinists do

They will say that you are just an ignorant little studier. No matter how much you study your position, it is still only 20% gospel. Just enough to be barely saved. Hopefully, now that you are a brother, you can ascend the heights of the ivory towers of the ‘mostly saved’ Calvinists who are popping their collars in the 70% and above category. Don’t get me wrong, I think Arminians are ignorant of the Scriptures, but not the way other Calvinists say they are. I realize that Arminianism is a worldview that has been well studied and thought out. That’s why I reject it. To say that Arminianism is a lesser form of Calvinism is logically absurd, dare I say “crazy stupid.” Why? Because you can’t add anything to Arminianism to make it Calvinism, without removing major parts of Arminianism! It’s like saying, “Yah, Mormonism is a lesser form of Calvinism.” Do you know how much undoing you will have to do in order to get from point A to point B?

Arminianism presents a different Jesus, because their Jesus has different plans and motivations. We also may both affirm that He died on a cross, but we believe that He was accomplishing two different things. The Arminian believes that Christ died for every single individual. The blood of Christ is ready to be used by those who accept that it can cover their sin. Otherwise, it is ineffectual. There is no power in the death of Christ without someone coming along and making it powerful by believing in it. This makes man the hinge by which his salvation swings. We, on the other hand, believe that the reason anyone believes the gospel is because Christ died for them. His death on the cross actually accomplished the cancellation of our debt against God (Col. 2:14). All of those for whom it was made, will be saved. The Arminian believes that the Spirit convicts men, and then they have a choice to make. We don’t believe we have the ability to choose to believe the gospel because, naturally, we hate it and are hostile to it. Without God bringing us from the dead, we will always reject it. These are two competing worldviews, not a lesser or greater form of the same thing. Therefore, don’t treat it that way. Those who profess to be “Calvinists” while understanding and affirming Arminianism and all her horrible, Christ defeating tenets, shouldn’t be regarded as brothers. This might sound harsh, but affirming two contradictory worldviews is illogical, and a sign that someone actually doesn’t believe either, but that they have a knowledge of both. They might be able to defend reformed theology amazingly. But they can defend it like a teacher of world religions might be able to defend the religions he is knowledgeable of, but doesn’t assent to.

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8 Comments so far
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Chris, good essay. Did you ever notice that it always come down to that one little thing, the cross, the death of Jesus Christ, one person in human flesh? One little thing, did this Jesus die for everybody or anybody?

The reason we must insist on talking about the gospel to the enemies of the cross is NOT a macho thing to convince ourselves again that we believe the gospel or to persuade ourselves that we have courage. We must talk abut the true gospel because the gospel is the only way that other people can be saved. Romans 1:16; I Cor 1:18. The doctrine of the gospel is itself the message with God’s power to save.

In other words, we need to respect the true God more than we love God’s enemies. According to Phil 3:18-19, those who remain enemies of the cross will perish, will be destroyed. Only God can save anybody, and God has not promised to save anybody without teaching that person the gospel. The promise of God is not to “all your children”, but to your children, as many as God will call”. Acts 2:39.

God calls by the gospel. Not all who are externally called by the gospel are effectively called by God. But all who are effectually called by God are called by the gospel. (Romans 10:14-17).

Comment by markmcculley

Seems to me like the Calvinist are the ones who are building strawmen

Comment by pam knight

That’s the point. The tolerant Calvinists are the ones building strawmen against those who are not tolerant against contrary worldviews.

– Chris

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

Pam, I would be delighted to hear more about why you think Calvinists are the ones building strawmen. Unfortunately, the limitations on this type of environment make it difficult to have more than a one or two note conversation. However, we have created a Facebook group precisely for this reason. You are more than welcomed to express your questions and concerns there.

– David Bishop

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

American Churchians are convinced that Christ died for everyone, while at the same time they are also convinced that not everyone will be saved. The inevitable conclusion to this way of thinking is that what separates the lost and the found is not Christ’s death, but rather something else.

But the American churchian is also very careful to always point out that Christ’s death is the basis for a person’s justification. They mean this though, in the same sense that they mean tomatoes are the basis for spaghetti sauce. Add a bit of garlic, some oil, a little wine and some meaty sausage and – presto-magnifico! – what began as tomatoes alone is now a thick and hearty way to save myself.

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

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Dave,
once I was Arminian. In my limited knowledge I believed that I was saved by Jesus only, even if I had to “keep” my salvation by being “good.” Then, in my pursue of God and the desire of know him more, I found myself studying and discovering the doctrines of grace. It was very hard to accept them until I gave up before the evidence of the Word of God and became, as result, Calvinist. What happened? Was I born again until I “accepted” and believed these precious doctrines and recognized that my salvation belongs to the Lord? Or was I regenerated previously but, due to my flesh, I still believed that I had to “cooperate” with God even if I was really saved and God, fulfilling His promise, took me to right knowledge of Him and His Grace?

Comment by Oswald

James White (Calvinist) calls Michael Brown (Arminian) his brother because they agree on key doctrines such as the trinity and penal substitution. As you say, monergism and synergism are diametrically opposed to each other. I wrote about James White and Michael Bron here. http://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/free-willy-amazing-grace-and-the-the-grrrrr-ammar-of-bible-interpretation-inspired-by-james-white-and-michael-brown/

Comment by bography




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