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Why I am Almost an Arminian!,
This review is from: Why I Am Not an Arminian (Paperback)
Robert Peterson and Michael Williams seek to answer the question as to why they are not Arminians in this book length treatment of the subject. This is not a difficult read although it is, no doubt, difficult subject matter. So the fact that history, theology and biblical studies permeate the text, one should not fear approaching it, as it is very accessible. Of course the title gives away its thesis, and moreover early on in the book that becomes abundantly clear as to what the authors intend, namely to steer all readers clear of any Arminian notions concerning God's ways, and to set forth the plain scriptural view of "Salvation is of the Lord" as believed in history as the orthodox position.
It is balanced in its appeal to historical debates, such as the free grace debate between Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century, and later the differences of definition between Calvinists and Arminians concerning several aspects of salvation that came to a head at the end of the Synod of Dordt in the seventeenth century. Chapters interspersed throughout the book deal with such doctrines as predestination, perseverance, freedom, inability, grace, and atonement. This is where the bulk of the authors' arguments center on the Bible's emphasis.
They present several passages in favor of what has become known as the "Calvinist" position. However, it is important to see their approach as a Calvinist view and not the Calvinist view! It is a foregone conclusion that any Calvinist that reads this book will find many, if not most, of the arguments compelling, and moreover, the conclusions to be the exact ones they espouse. But as a recovering Arminian myself, still ever learning and coming to greater and greater amounts of truth, I have a few places in the text where I wish things would be different. This does not take away the great value of this book, however. I just need to make it clear that this is not the last or best word on the subject!
For the biblical teaching on predestination, which so often is the focal point of many disputes, the writers' present well reasoned arguments citing several texts. From Abraham's election in Genesis 12, through Israel's election in Deuteronomy 4, 7, 10, & 14, the foundational OT basis is established. When embarking on the NT, they point to a few passages in the synoptics, with the bulk of their gospel support coming from the gospel of John 6:35-45; 10:26-30; 15:14-19; 17:2, 6, 9-10, 24. It is abundantly clear once one has studied this array of texts that "Arminian views of election do not fare well in light of the Gospel of John," (p. 51). In Acts the authors argue citing 13:48 & 18:9-10, showing ordination prior to belief and selection prior to evangelization respectively. The true teaching of scripture regarding election is, without doubt, clinched with the emergence of Paul's testimony. Here Peterson and Williams bring out the big guns of Romans and Ephesians. Calvinist election is shown to be the only result, maintaining a credible reading of Romans 8:28-30; 9:6-24; Ephesians 1:4-5, & 11.
In my estimate, the mistake is made when the authors add the notion of freedom within this argument! For example, they state: "Paul thus sets God's absolute sovereignty (Romans 9) side by side with genuine human freedom (Romans 10)" (p. 64). This is capitulating to the Arminian where we can least afford it. Precisely they go on to tie this concession of scripture's alleged teaching on freedom to the idea of our responsibility. Thus these two Calvinists are in principle agreeing with all Arminians that freedom is necessary for responsibility. Of course, the authors go on to define this freedom as a "compatibilistic freedom" but they will be halted in their tracks by all Arminians, as these writers have given here the qualifier, genuine! Opponents to Calvinism will see through this charade and begin to insist that only libertarianism or incompatible notions of freedom qualify as genuine, and as a ground for responsibility, if indeed some sort of liberty is actually required to constitute humans as responsible. I prefer to affirm that God's absolute sovereignty in reality renders man's freedom impossible, and the true ground of our responsibility is merely our creatureliness. We are accountable-which is what responsibility really means- to God our creator. We are under obligation to do His bidding. Responsibility does not require ability (freedom, libertarian or otherwise), it merely requires existence as a creature made in God's image. Dogs and rocks are not responsible/answerable to God, they will give no account on judgment day; the sons and daughters of Adam will all do so.
In another section of the book where Peterson and Williams are discussing grace there is another component where I must raise a red flag! Although I am surely in the minority here, it bears repeating that truth is decided by biblical and theological exposition and not by counting noses or any other body parts. It is a widespread view among many reformed thinkers that God has two types of grace: first, saving grace, which is really what this book is all about, and second, common grace. This latter is introduced into this book by the authors in another attempt at quieting the Arminian opposition, or to show the tacit agreement of reformed and Arminian persons on this matter (see pp. 189-90). This becomes problematic as this idea of common grace becomes fused with the doctrine of the atonement as they assert both good and bad theology in the same breath. ". . . [A]lthough certain benefits of Christ's death come to everyone [the context demands all without exception] and although God adopts a posture of love toward a world [the context demands a world of men and women without exception] that hates Him," state the authors', "Christ's atonement was designed not merely to make salvation possible, but actually to secure the salvation of those whom God has chosen" (p.202). What is positive is the explanation of the design or intent of the atonement, namely its limited intent to save the elect. What is not good is the misuse of John 3:16 to imply that there is a saving posture to all men without exception, and that there are saving benefits that proceed directly from the work of atonement that are also designed for all men (without exception). This, again, is a capitulation to Arminian exegesis of these passages and compromises the Calvinist view at the heart of the Atonement-its substitutionary nature, even as the authors are seeking to expound this very truth. This is curious indeed! If this were not enough, the penmen, explicitly say this in the same chapter. They give up the very ground they have fought so hard to win. "We agree, therefore, with the Arminians that John 3:16 and similar texts speak of God's love for every person. We understand," note the writers, "these passages to teach that God assumes a saving posture toward his fallen world" (p.212). The problem with our Calvinist friends is that they speak of both these aspects of God's love as "saving love of God for human beings," and "God's gracious posture toward a world that hates him." (212). No wonder Arminians sense this to be double-speak, and question the sincerity of God's love for the non-elect in this scheme. What do Peterson and Williams do in this matter? "When asked how we reconcile these passages with those that teach God's special love for the elect," explain the authors, "we admit that our theology contains rough edges" (212, emphasis added). Rough edges! This is not just rough edges-this is blatant contradiction. This is an incoherency and inconsistency that is ultimately to be projected onto God himself, as this is the content of His Word!
Clearly, this is not sufficient as a defense against Arminianism. We must be bold in our declaration that "God is angry with the wicked everyday", and that "the wrath of God is poured out on all ungodliness and wickedness," that is, on the ungodly and wicked people. We must re-assert that "God hates workers of unrighteousness" and His saving love is of one kind and it terminates on only one people, His people, the elect and only upon them. Let us do away with this misunderstanding of God's providential ordering of all things as if it were His grace-common to all! No, no, a thousand times No! God's grace is special, selective, and saving. It is according to His own purpose and for His own glory. His wrath and just judgment of all the unsaved wicked will serve that same glory. God does not have to love all, in some undefined, unspecified, and uneffective love for all people, to show His justice; He will show it clearly in both the justiication of unworthy sinners saved by grace, and, in perishing sinners worthy of condemnation, all according to His eternal plan.
Do I commend this book? Yes, I do. It is helpful where they get things right, and that is most of the time. I would, however, also recommend that one read along side this book the texts by R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty, and Gordon Clark's The Atonement as a complimentary and corrective approach to these errors of Peterson and Williams.