The Calvinism/Arminianism debate considers three essential issues: (1) The degree of God’s activity in human salvation, (2) the degree of human culpability, and (3) the degree of human activity in salvation. Historically Calvin placed strongest emphasis on God’s activity in salvation, whereas Arminius tended towards emphasizing human volition over God’s volition. Ultimately the two theological traditions are trying to resolve the apparent conflict between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, and they both attempt resolution by means of extra-Biblical rationalistic constructs. I suggest it is due to the artificial nature of these arguments that there has been no historical resolution to the debate. Because the base of authority for both sides is subjective (rationalistic theology) rather than objective (exegesis), neither side can, in my estimation, claim the full authority of Scripture. Hence, the longstanding and unresolved debate.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul expresses his desire that the Corinthians “learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.” In order to maintain the proper humility (and to ensure the highest degree of accuracy), it is best when dealing with the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1) not to expand their definitions beyond what God has revealed. This is an important principle broadly applicable throughout the Christian life, and certainly in resolving any theological difficulty.

arminius-calvinTherefore, preferring an exegetical approach to a strictly rationalistic one, I am willing to endure some uncertainly in theological conclusions insofar as the Bible does not address certain details, rather than to build a theological construct that answers every detailed inquiry but which is not grounded on the certainty of revelation. In other words, where the Bible is silent, I prefer to be silent rather than trying to extrapolate a theological system that can’t be exegetically defended. Still we are left with the question: if neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is sufficient explanatory devices, then how can we explain the Biblical data? Answering that question is the task of this third and final article in this brief series. A simple series of Biblical assertions is sufficient to accomplish that task.

Assertions #1 and #2 provide foundational data to address the questions.

Assertion #3 answers the Calvinistic concept of total depravity.

Assertion #4 answers the Calvinistic concept of unconditional election and the Arminian concept of conditional predestination.

Assertion #5 answers the Calvinistic concept of limited atonement and the Arminian concepts of universal atonement and saving faith.

Assertion #6 answers the Calvinistic concepts of irresistible grace and perseverance of saints, and the Arminian concepts of resistible grace and uncertainty of perseverance.

Assertion #7 answers the rationalistic premise underlying the entire Calvinism/Arminianism debate.

 

#1 The Biblical God Exists, and He is Holy

In the beginning God… – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. – John 1:1-3

…and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. – Genesis 1:3

Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last…And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.”  – Isaiah 48:11, 16

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” – Isaiah 6:3

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” – Revelation 4:7

 

#2 He Has Revealed Himself Authoritatively

Then God said… – Genesis 1:3

…that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. – Romans 1:19-20

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. – Hebrews 1:1-2

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten one (monogenes) who is God, in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. – John 1:18

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17

 

#3 He Has Described the Human Condition as Universally Fallen

The descendants of Adam did not choose to be born, and yet we are all held accountable for his sin – we are all condemned. The human condition was not chosen by anyone after Adam, yet we prove we are in Adam’s likeness and image by adding our own sin.

…for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. – Genesis 2:17

…she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6

When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image… – Genesis 5:3

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5

…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…by the transgression of the one the many died…through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men… – Romans 5:12, 15, 18

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. – Isaiah 64:6

…both Jews and Greeks are all under sin… as it is written, There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” – Romans 3:9-12

 

#4 He Engages the Human Condition, Based on His Own Will

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. – Romans 9:15-18

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. – Matthew 11:27

 

The Father Chose, Foreknew, Predestined

There is no order of process identified here, only statements that He is the accomplisher of these processes.

…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved – Ephesians 1:4-6

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30

 

#5 His Salvation is Legitimately Provided For and Offered to All

The Son Died as a Substitute For All

His death accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of everyone, except for personal application through belief.

…we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. – 1 Timothy 4:10

…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2

The Father Draws

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

The Spirit Convicts the World

And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; – John 16:8-9

The Son Redeems

As we are purchased with His blood, if He has indeed paid for all sin, then there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). In other words, by virtue of His blood, those who believe in Him are eternally secure.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace – Ephesians 1:7

Faith and Regeneration are Concurrent, Not Subsequent

There is no cause and effect time stamp discussed in Ephesians 2:5-9 that would justify either the belief that saving faith occurs at a time before regeneration takes place, or that regeneration precedes faith in order to make faith possible. Instead, belief and life are generally spoken of as concurrent happenings (e.g., Jn 6:47).

…even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; – Ephesians 2:5,8

The Spirit Seals

The Spirit’s sealing is a pledge, or down payment, and underscores the certainty of our ultimate salvation. This is not perseverance of saints, but rather preservation of saints.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

The Father Conforms Believers to the Image of Christ

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30

 

#6 He Is Sovereign Over Human Response, and Still Holds Humanity Accountable

Though God accomplishes the salvific work on His own, He demands that individuals believe in Him, and holds them accountable if they don’t. And whether or not we believe is within the sphere of His sovereignty (as is everything).

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that the believing one in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16

The personal application of salvation is conditioned upon belief. Once the belief is there, eternal life is there, in the present tense. One cannot possess eternal life at the moment of belief, if he could ever lose it at any point in the future (otherwise, it would not be eternal, but rather temporary).

Truly, truly, I say to you, the believing one has eternal life. – John 6:47

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. – Romans 9:15-18

Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. – Romans 9:22-24

…and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. – John 10:28-29

 

He Does Not Desire That Any Should Perish

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

Nonetheless, Some Do Perish

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:15

While there is no Biblical explanation for how these two seemingly paradoxical premises can both be true, the Bible asserts them both. Rather than redefine either premise to soften their meaning, it is better (more exegetically derived) to allow the two statements to stand on their own, and for us to recognize that God is the one determining what He wants and what He will get, and as Sovereign, He is the one determining what is possible and what is not. It is therefore possible for one to resist His desire or will in some respects (βουλόμενός, 2 Pet 3:9), though it is not possible to resist His will in others (βουλήματι, Rom 9:19). The Bible never explicitly discusses the difference, so any discussion on this point is merely speculative.

 

#7 There Is No Conflict Between God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

The premise that God cannot hold His creation accountable for something it did not choose is not an exegetically defensible premise (whether His creation chose or not is irrelevant to this point). Just as the potter has authority over the clay, God has authority over His creation to hold it accountable for whatever He wishes to hold it accountable. He is not caught in any contradiction for doing so. If we don’t like that He is sovereign and still holds His creation accountable, then that is a problem with our submission, not with His justice or righteousness:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:33-36

But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand. – Isaiah 64:8

Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’ – Isaiah 45:9

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