A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Makes Us Free to Believe? (Freedom In Christ, 2)

Earlier this week I posted the first in this series and briefly summarized some basic Roman Catholic beliefs about one's freedom to make the decision to have faith in Christ. I found the specific doctrines as worded in the Catechism to be true to Scripture. 

Today, I want to consider the ideas of the two prevailing views of freedom in Protestantism: Arminianism and Calvinism (A&C). Today's disclaimer: This isn't simple stuff. It can get extremely complicated, because God, frankly, is pretty complicated, but his entry level requirements for us are actually fairly simple. I hope and pray I can present some clear thoughts here. Ask questions for clarification if you want to. This'll be a slightly long post, so thanks for reading the whole thing. I'll try to keep the rest of the series briefer. 

Technically, A&C are both products of the "Reformed" faith tradition, which refers to the Protestant Reformation in general, but distinguishes them from similar, but not identical, Lutheranism, and specifically ties them together as efforts to deal with the doctrine of Man's Total Hereditary Depravity (THD) in a Biblical way as contrasted with Roman Catholicism's hybrid Bible + church tradition approach. Typically these days, "Reformed" is applied only to Calvinism, but historically it applies to both.

The idea of THD is that the sin of Adam corrupted his nature so fully that he passed it on to all his descendants down through the ages up to and including us. That's the doctrine of original sin, typically attached to Romans 5 (but I'm convicted Romans 5 doesn't teach anything of the sort). But, THD doesn't just say human nature is corrupt, It says it's "totally" corrupt so that the individual is not naturally free to do any good thing, whether thought or act, that would commend him to a holy God as a candidate of his loving favor in any way. The doctrine doesn't mean every person is as corrupt as he or she can possibly be, but that every person is in fact corrupt in every part of his or her nature. 

So, here's the part both Arminianism and Calvinism agree about: Corrupted human nature has rendered man free to choose his thoughts and actions within the limitations of his nature, which is totally corrupt, meaning, anything you want to do that's consistent with a corrupt nature is there before you to choose. However, you are not free to decide to have faith in Christ on your own, because that would commend you to God as having done something to commend yourself to his perfect holiness. Why's that a problem? Well, because it is perceived to be at odds with Ephesians 2:8-10 and the Protestant doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone through Grace Alone. I'll come back to that in a future post, Lord willing.

Calvinism's solution: Unconditional Election (UE)--the idea that God "unconditionally" chooses some to be saved, and leaves others unelected. Think it through. If THD is right, and no one can do anything to commend himself to God, and there are some who are commended by God as saved and holy--as his special people, then it follows God must have chosen them unconditionally. This ultimately means saved people have done absolutely nothing at all to make themselves any more viable a candidate for salvation than unsaved people. It means no one is free to choose faith in Christ unless God has first "unconditionally" chosen him by his own unsearchable sovereignty. UE forces Calvinists to accept the doctrine of Limited Atonement, that Jesus' death wasn't for everyone, but just for those God chose. However, the Scriptures make it very clear Jesus' death was at least potentially for everyone (2Cor 5:14-15; Heb 2:9), and than anyone who wants to can come to him in faith (John 3:16; Acts 10:34-35). Calvinism says none of us are free to choose salvation in Christ. I'm not a Calvinist. Calvinism isn't consistent with Scripture. 

Arminianism's solution: Prevenient Grace (PG)--the idea God restores the gift of free will to all fallen humans so that each person is free to choose or reject his offer of salvation in Christ. Like Calvinism, it's based in the idea mankind has lost full free will in the Fall (Genesis 3). Unlike Calvinists, Arminians believe what the Bible says about Christ's atoning death being potentially for everyone, and that salvation is available to everyone. If I believed in the doctrine of Original Sin, I'd be strongly drawn to Arminianism, it's much more consistent with Scripture than Calvinism. But, the doctrine of Original Sin is not Scriptural. The "original sin" of Adam and Eve really happened, and the partial corruption of Creation and humanity resulted from it, but Adam's sin wasn't passed on naturally through procreation to his descendants. I challenge anyone to find a Bible passage that says it was. 

So, Calvinism denies true free will. Arminianism affirms true free will, even though it supports the false idea of Original Sin. Neither system is entirely wrong, but neither is entirely right either. So, I'm not Roman Catholic, Calvinist, or Arminian in my understanding of Scripture. I believe every man, woman and child has true free will, and I'll start explaining why in the next post, Lord willing. 

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