Friday, August 10, 2012

Here is a review of a book on a particularly important aspect of the theology of Jacob Arminius. The book was based on the doctoral work of Keith Stanglin. It is well written and easy to follow, in spite of its nature.


Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation. The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. By Stanglin, Keith D. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007, xviii + 285 pp., $143.00 hardback.
            A number of studies on Arminius have come out in the last few decades. The author of this published dissertation gives us a survey of these works in the following online report: The present study focuses on the pastoral concern of assurance of salvation that was of great importance to Jacob Arminius. It is based on Stanglin’s Ph.D. work in 2006 at Calvin Theological Seminary in conjunction with research done at Universiteit Leiden in 2004.
            Part one begins by focusing on the public and private disputations of Arminius in the context of his teaching at Leiden University. He is compared and contrasted with his colleagues and identified as a scholastic theologian in the early years of the Reformed orthodoxy. The author demonstrates why Arminius was motivated to speak, write and defend his position against Gomarus, Kuchlinus and Trecaltius, colleagues who held superlapsarian views on predestination. Arminius was concerned that God would be accused of being the ultimate author of evil and that believers would fail to find assurance of salvation in a deterministic system of theology, hidden and inscrutable to the logic of humans.
            Part two of the study looks at the ontology of salvation and part three at its epistemology. Arminius wanted the doctrine of predestination to be formulated in such a way that it led the believer to assurance. He defined assurance not as security but as certainty, based on simple faith primarily and by evidence of good works secondarily. Security was seen as a “lack of care,” a definition going back to Augustine and traced through to John Calvin, who called it “carnal security.” Security and despair are twin evils that war against assurance. Security leads to overconfidence or pride in the Christian walk, while despair goes in the opposite direction toward doubt and disbelief.
            Arminius recognized that one’s views on predestination influenced one’s entire soteriology, especially regarding the history and order of salvation. His desire was to harmonize the twofold love of God, that is love for justice and for humanity, in such a way that the ways of God could be defended with mankind. The connection of all of this with assurance was obvious to him. Predestination was conditioned on God foreseeing human faith, while at the same time balancing faith as a pure gift from God, capable of being resisted yet accepted by the human will. Assurance was the normative consequence of such faith (p. 100).
            Because humans can resist the will of God, apostasy is possible. David’s killing of Uriah presents an example for Arminius of one true believer who did for a while fall away from God. If David had not repented prior to his death, he would have been damned (Works 2:725). There is thus a certain class of sins that effect apostasy (p. 137). Nevertheless, Arminius believed that true believers persevere in the faith, and hence distinguished between believers (false or temporary?) and the elect (pp. 140-41).
What undermines assurance in believers is false security. In general, the Reformed, according to Arminius, contributed to this problem through the doctrine of unconditional election. If God’s good will and particular predestination is unconditional and unknown, this leads to agnosticism. How does one know that God is willing to save anyone? If God truly loves all of humanity, however, and his election is conditioned on human faith, there can be no question regarding favoritism or injustice (p. 232). For Arminius, doubt remains for the believer as to the future. Only God can know for sure who will persevere in true faith. For the Reformed, however, the future is guaranteed, but is the believer truly elect? Did God will to save a certain person? An answer is impossible, undermining assurance for one’s status on assurance from an a priori perspective (p. 233).
            Keith Stanglin concludes his study with an interesting question: “Can we number Arminius among the Reformed?” He was in virtual agreement with his colleagues at Leiden on the operations of grace, with the exception of its resistibility. In addition, he believed that election was conditioned upon a person’s acceptance or rejection of God’s grace, which was in contrast to what his colleagues taught. Arminius believed that he was faithful to his Reformed tradition and confessions. He died in good standing as a Reformed theologian at the University of Leiden. He believed that he was broadening the scope of Reformed tradition, and that his view of “conditional predestination had a chance for survival” (p. 242). His overall impact on evangelicalism is immeasurable, and this essay does an excellent job of informing us of its place within the historical and theological context of his times.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


The link on PBS below is a good one to use to get a feel for an excellent film on fracking for natural gas. The film received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.

The producer of the movie was in the news yesterday, as he was arrested in Congress for trying to tape a session on the new fracking bill. His crime was that he did not have press credentials. Meanwhile, the other media people seemed uninterested in the session -- no news when it comes to pollution.

The head chemist with So Methodist University was interviewed in Gasland. He is employed by the government to monitor emissions by the natural gas industry. Apparently, the Clean Air Act enacted by Nixon only targets large facilities. This is why the natural gas industry has literally thousands of small sites all over the country in over thirty states. They are left unmonitored by the Clean Air Act. Public domain laws allow the natural gas industry to  start up a field, whether the owner of the property approves or not. They compensate the owner so much a year with a usage fee. The chemist, mentioned above, states that for Texas alone, the volume of emissions into the air from the natural gas fields equals or surpasses the emissions for all cars and trucks in Texas. So this is no minor problem, especially if you believe like I do that climate change is no hoax.

The film shows people on their own lands lighting the gases from streams and indoor faucets. This occurs because the fracking process emits fissures from one underground cavity of natural gas into another cavity holding ground water. All ground water in the immediate area is polluted. The natural gas industry people say there is no problem, while also refusing to drink samples of the water for themselves.

What gets me is that this is touted as the national solution to protect us from terrorism, i.e. we will not have to buy oil from the Arabs. Now this is partly the result of the Cheney Oil Policy that the US Supreme Court was protecting us from in the discovery process, or is it the other way around?


Thursday, January 26, 2012

William W. Birch: Total Depravity and Total Inability: A Biblical Case Study

William W. Birch: Total Depravity and Total Inability: A Biblical Case Study

Arminius and Free Will

Arminius went too far when he said our free will is destroyed. "In this [fallen] state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and . . . weakened; but it is also . . . imprisoned, destroyed...(Works 2:192-93, emphases author's original).

If the will is freed by God's prevenient grace, then it could not be previously destroyed. The images do not work well. Better to say that human will was corrupted and imprisoned to sin. Being dead in sins in Ephesians 2:1 is understood as separate from fellowship with God. It is drawn by the Holy Spirit through God's prevenient grace to accept the truths about Jesus Christ, freed to accept or reject. But before faith, the will is not yet regenerated. Otherwise, regeneration would come earlier in the order of salvation than faith. This is one of the weak arguments of Calvinism, as it places regeneration not only before faith but also before justification. Yet at the same time, the same Calvinist would place regeneration as first in the doctrine of Sanctification--a teaching which follows from Justification.

Hoitenga's book "John Calvin and the Will. A Critique and Corrective" is right to point out that Calvin went too far in depicting the unregenerate man's will. He points out that even Augustine painted a more positive picture. Interestingly enough, Richard Muller wrote the forward to Hoitenga's book.