Friday, February 19, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, First Rebuttal

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

First rebuttal

Prefatory Comments

Although I will take the opportunity to reference a multiplicity of passages – hopefully not at the expense of quality exegesis and necessary inference – I will concentrate on developing only one or two central arguments per relevant doctrine in the hope and expectation that any rejoinders must interact with the best I have to offer. If I miss any arguments Robert thinks are important, I am sure he will bring them to my attention in his rebuttal(s) or cross-examination. I plan to primarily focus – as I said in my opening statement – on Robert’s points most pertinent to the nature of man’s will in relation to God’s will.

Firstly, however, I wish to note three statements Robert makes with which I agree:

“[God] cannot **force** us to love Him…”
“God cannot do certain things!”
“[God is not] a respecter of persons.”

The context in which Robert made these statements imply that I disagree with them. Let me make it clear: I do agree with them and even anticipated the first in my opening statement. Robert will have to show that these statements are logical extensions of what I do believe if he wishes to object to Calvinism upon these grounds.

Fallen Man’s Nature

It appears Robert agrees with Arminius: fallen man’s will is such that, apart from prevenient grace, it is unable to do any good thing. If that is correct, the primary distinguishing factor between the Calvinist and Arminian becomes whether or not regeneration is logically prior or subsequent to faith. The Calvinist states the former is true, the Arminian typically states the latter.

Regeneration is the doctrine that through Christ’s death (Romans 8:32, 1 Peter 1:3), the Holy Spirit is sent to indwell the elect who, while unregenerate, cannot otherwise please God or submit to His law (Romans 8:7-9). We are thusly said to be spiritually born again by God’s will alone (John 1:13). The means of regeneration is the word of truth (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23), words to which we cannot submit unless we escape from sin’s power (Romans 3:9-12) – to which we are enslaved – by the [word of] truth [made flesh] (John 8:32-47). 

But doesn’t faith please God? Is faith not submission to gospel propositions? If man’s faith logically preceded his regeneration, Paul’s arguments are invalid. Our belief, then, should be that faith is inevitable and immediate product of regeneration, not the catalyst for it.

A secondary disagreement is whether or not the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his ancestors. Robert seems to think that one inherits a sin nature which, only after one is of such an age that he can “personally” disobey God’s law, is one guilty of sin. A brief refutation of this is found in Romans 5:18. Paul, drawing an analogy between those in Adam and those in Christ, argues that just as Adam – the federal head of mankind – brought condemnation to all men in him, so also Christ – the federal head of believers – brings justification to all men in Him. The analogy breaks down if we assume infants are not guilty for being in Adam. As this disagreement seems relatively minor, however, I digress.


It is not a little important that Robert agrees election is from eternity and that God cannot learn. Consider: for God to know a given proposition – say, “Robert is a believer” – is true apart from His own determination would necessitate a succession of thoughts in the mind of God, as God’s knowledge would be contingent on contingencies (viz. Robert’s will). Such would deny His eternal omniscience, as contingencies (like Robert’s will) are temporal; hence, God’s determination of all things is the only position consistent with His eternal omniscience. 

In fact, Scripture affirms that God causes all things according to His good pleasure (cf. Job 23:13-14; Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Isaiah 46:10-11; Lamentations 3:38; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11). While God can use instrumentalities or “second causes” to achieve His purposes as well as direct efficiency, the ultimate or first cause of all things – even these secondary causes – stems from God’s determinative purpose. The extent of God’s proactive determination is borne out in specific cases as well as general testimony (cf. Deuteronomy 2:30; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Psalm 105:25; Isaiah 10:5-15, 19:17; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). When Robert and Arminius state election is conditioned upon faith, then, they implicitly deny God is eternally omniscient. Whatever Robert’s reply may be, so long as he asserts the relation between God’s will and man is such that God knowledge is contingent upon our will (because we are allegedly “sovereign”), Robert will have to deal with this problem. Apropos, when Robert says God “lets evil people live only to be punished,” we should rather instead notice Proverbs 16:4 actually says God “made… the wicked for the day of evil.” We are all made to be as we are by God. This is an active, not passive, molding (Romans 9:18-23). While I could digress further into an explanation of how this framework answers the problem of evil and related questions, I will cross that bridge when (or if) we come to it.

Robert also argues that predestination is not unto faith, but rather subsequent spiritual blessings. In actuality, predestination is unto, not conditioned upon, [foreseen] faith. That we cannot be predestined unto anything according to a foreseen faith is proven by Romans 8:29-30. Paul rules out that very possibility in his depiction of the ordo salutis: foreknew -> predestine -> call… If God is foreseeing individuals come to faith, He must necessarily be foreseeing people respond positively to His call. But if God’s calling is logically dependent upon His foreknewledge and predestination, how can He foresee anyone come to faith? That is, if God’s call is conditioned upon predestination, how can predestination be conditioned upon a foreseen faith which is conditioned upon God’s call? The Arminian’s argument is circular.


An important qualification I wish to make before I proceed in my rebuttal is that I too believe “[Christ’s] blood is sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived” and noted as much in my opening statement. The difference between our positions is that Robert believes Christ died for all men without exception. Robert seems to believe Christ intended to save everyone but fails, an interpretation validated by the fact Arminius repeatedly says Christ’s sacrifice “might” do things – it is a mere possibility the cross is successful in fulfilling God’s purpose.

Is this what we find in Scripture? Did Matthew write that Christ would save His people from sins, or that he would possibly save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)? Did Paul not write that those for whom Christ died will freely be given all things (Romans 8:32)? Would “all things” not include the desire to come to and remain in Christ? If Christ died for all men, then, would Robert not have to purport the false doctrine of universalism? Indeed. There is no evidence God intends to save those who do not come to be saved.

But what of the texts Robert cites? 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 2:1 are texts often cited against the concept Christ’s intended to save a particular people. But here I feel I can do no better than to cite Dr. Gary Long’s response to the Arminian’s use of each:

Commenting on 2 Peter 2:1, Dr. Long writes:

“Concerning this second Greek word and the issue whether or not agorazõ is to be understood redemptively or non-redemptively, the following points should be made. First, in the Greek Septuagint agorazõ and its related noun forms are used some twenty times to translate three Hebrew words (sabar, qanhh, and laqah); yet it is never used to translate the two great redemptive words —— those translated “redeem” (gã’al) and “ransom” or “purchase” (pãdãh). Second, of its thirty occurrences in the New Testament, agorazõ is never used in a salvation context (unless II Peter 2:1 is the exception) without the technical term “price” (times — a technical term for the blood of Christ) or its equivalent being stated or made explicit in the context (see I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rev. 5:9; 14:3-4). Third, in each of the latter five references the context clearly restricts the extent of agorazõ (regardless of what it means) to believers—never to non-believers. Fourth, a word study of agorazõ, in both the Greek Old and New Testaments, reveals that the word itself does not include the payment price. When it is translated with a meaning “to buy,” whether in a salvation or non-salvation context, a payment price is always stated or made explicit by the context. Fifth, in contexts where no payment price is stated or implied, agorazõ may often be better translated as “acquire” or “obtain”. Sixth, agorazõ is never used in Scripture in a hypothetical sense unless II Peter 2:1 be the exception. Rather it is always used in a context where the buying or acquiring actually takes place… The sovereign creation view interprets II Peter 2:1 non-redemptively as referring to the creation of the false teachers by Christ their sovereign Lord… First, this interpretation gives proper significance to both the Greek Old and New Testaments’ usage of “Lord” (despotes) and “bought” (agorazõ). Second, this view seeks to interpret this verse in the light of the context, historical background, and purpose of the epistle including Peter’s use of the Old Testament, especially Deuteronomy 32:5-6… Third, the sovereign creation view is supported by the context of II Peter 2 and its parallel in Jude 4-19 (see II Pet. 2:12; Jude 4)… That Peter is alluding to Deuteronomy 32:6 in II Peter 2:1 may be seen by observing the context of both passages. This is further supported by the fact that Peter alludes to Deuteronomy 32:5 in verse 13.”

With regards to 1 John 2:2, Dr. Long, citing Arthur Pink, notes that John signified that:

“Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the Gentile believers too, for… "the world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of I John 2:2 with John 11:51-52, which is a strictly parallel passage.”

For instance:

"He is the propitiation for our sins." 
"He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation." 

"And not for ours only." 
"And not for that nation only." 

"But also for the whole world" 
"He but also for the scattered children of God "

John, whose letters often contain the teaching that Christ died for all men without distinction, is here stating that Christ is the basis of propitiation for both the Jewish nation and the Gentile nation, as He is the indiscriminate Advocate for believers without distinction (1 John 2:1); that is, regardless of nation, tribe, tongue, or people (cf. Revelation 5:9). It is, as Augustine ironically observed:

“John says in his epistle: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world.” The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hateth the Church. The world therefore hateth the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.”

Prevenient Grace

Arminius’ quote provided in this sections offers a definition of “sufficient grace” not compatible with sola gratia. Grace is sufficient to its purposes – with which I agree – but God’s purpose is, in Arminianism, to merely allow the person to actualize one of two possible contraries: belief or disbelief. Here, the differentiae between Calvinism and Arminianism is sola gratia vs. synergism. Is prevenient [and regenerative] grace such that men will come, or only such that they may come if they “freely” will?

John 6:37-45 yields the answer: everyone (not “only some”) whom the Father gives to Christ will (not “might”) come to Him. That this unconditionally selected group of people the Father gives to Christ will actually all go to Christ practically needs no explanation. Moreover, did Jesus fail to do the will of the Father? That’s the scary conclusion one would have to affirm if one wants to deny that not all who are first given proceed to come. Jesus, whose ultimate purpose was to fulfill the Father’s will, would have failed in His mission if the Father’s will was that everyone should be save whom He intended to save, implying universalism.


Robert’s definition of conditional perseverance is a bit of a misnomer. All Calvinists believe that a man must possess faith in order to be justified, so one could say that Calvinists believe perseverance is conditioned on faith. The root difference between my position and Robert’s pertains to whether or not God fulfills the condition(s) of justification [for His elect]. If He does, then it is obvious one who believes will continue to believe precisely because God’s grace is a sufficient condition to sustain belief as well as cause it:

1 Corinthians 4:7, 15:10 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? By the grace of God I am what I am… not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Arminians, on the other hand, condition faith on a synergistic co-operation between God’s grace and man’s will – a rejection of the biblical expression of sola gratia – and thus believe a truly regenerate man can forfeit his justification. Robert, however, seems to be conflicted regarding whether or not a regenerate can forfeit his salvation. To be honest, I don’t know why. If Robert believes man is free such that he can choose to counter-factually disbelieve in God before justification, and if man retains his freedom after justification, is it not obvious that the logical end of such a belief is synergistic perseverance? Moreover, since one who is justified has been regenerated (Titus 3:5-7), Robert must then concede Arminians should believe regenerates can forfeit salvation.

Concluding Remarks

Notwithstanding my immediately preceding statements, it is more intellectually honest to reserve one’s judgment on a particular subject than to argue for a position which contains propositions one perceives to be contradictory or paradoxical. Of course, as long as there is potential to grow in grace and knowledge, every Christian can learn something new, but admitting this is a sign of humility rather than necessarily a concession that one doesn’t understand what he believes. The important difference lies in that fact that yielding to propositions without understanding is an insult to one’s conviction. It is a disservice to the faith – a sentiment I would hope Robert shares – when one insists on purporting as valid seemingly contradictory beliefs. I will close with this thought: while Robert is concerned that participants in debate should be open-minded, I am more concerned that if Robert and I are not convinced we is positing biblical theology, this debate will be a fruitless exercise.

Soli Deo Gloria

(Word count: 2,493 with quotes)


Nick said...

Would you be up to a debate on Catholicism versus Calvinism? (topics can be narrowed down or a general debate over TULIP or something)

Ryan said...

Get back to me when I'm finished with this debate.

Nick said...

How soon till you're done?

Ryan said...

Sorry. My debate opponent is super slow. We have 6 more cross-ex questions/answers each, then closing statements. When you see a blog post on my closing statement (it will be mentioned in the title), then I'll be done.

Nick said...

Dang, it appears the debate still isn't done.