"We henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men"
Arminianism has failed. We have ceased to succeed in defending biblical truth, especially in the realm of the issues of eternal security and holiness. There have been fine polemics that have been written, but for the most part their circulation has been restricted within the Christian retail marketplace. The main reason that these works are not offered is, to put it quite painfully, is that they do not sell. Their style tends to be considerably academic, which does not suite the modern mind. One reason for the low acceptance of Arminian ideas is that people by nature want to have their beliefs affirmed and not challenged. They want to be part of the comfortable majority because that is how "truth" is decided in our generation. We have failed to capture the heart of the public on television and radio since we do not emphasize an easy "feel good" version of the gospel. Telling people that they need to repent has never been a means of gaining popularity. So how do we reach these "churched" people who are comfortably resting in the hopes of false doctrine? We must find an effective way to approach this difficulty.
Our difficulty in reaching the eternal security crowd stems mainly from our refusal to change. We have used the same apologetic approach for over two centuries, and since then, all of our writings have been basically the same. The pattern has been to assail our opponent with biblical verses that posit the possibility of apostasy and confirm a conditional salvation. This for the most part has brought dismal results, but yet we refuse to change.
Were these technics at one time effective? I believe that they have been effective and are still effective to the one who has not already been grounded in an opposing theology. These types of individuals are certainly a minority. Most are grounded in eternal security within a few short weeks after a profession of faith. This theological indoctrination is extremely effective within the Baptist camp and should be an example of what we should be doing with our people also.
Since the average Calvinist will never pick up and read our literature, we must find a better approach. I feel that the key to our effectiveness is to first, and foremost, is to ground our people with sound theological moorings as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Secondly, I believe that we must find a more effective way of communicating our message to those around us.
The traditional approach to Calvinism has been predictable and unchanging. Calvinists are so well conditioned to our approach that they have standard works written to aid the eternal securist in refuting any difficulty that might come their way. Because of this, the seasoned eternal securist is more than able to counter the biblical passages that demonstrate that a believer can fall away from the faith. Even with all the overwhelming biblical evidence on our side, we seem to be unable to convince them of this biblical truth. How do we move the Eternal Securist from their stronghold? Are they all lovers of sin and haters of truth? Do they all cling to this theory so they can live a deplorable life of sin and have their salvation too? From my experience, I have found a small percentage in which this would be true, but for the most part, most Eternal Securists are not of this type.
Most eternal securist's are at least partially open to truth, and they honestly believe that their expositors are giving them sound exegesis. But even if convinced of their error, the road to change is difficult, but change is not up to us, it is up to them and God. Our job is to show them the truth in love and then let the Holy Spirit convince and convict them of truth. Winning an argument is not to be confused with winning souls.
So what needs to be done differently in order to be effective? The very thing we lack, a strategy that is different and unanticipated.
God is perfect. God cannot lie. God is a rational being. These statements lead me to the inevitable conclusion that God must be consistent. If God is inconsistent, then we must come to the conclusion that we can never know what is the truth about the Gospel of Christ.
If God is perfect, and cannot lie, then what is revealed to us in scripture must be true. If we perceive that there are contradictions in the word of God, we must conclude that the error is either in our understanding, or it is a transnational error, but it is certainly not the fault of God. I conclude that if I find verses that seem to be contradictory, I reevaluate my understanding and thinking since the problem is not the bible, but it is me.
Theology that is inconsistent with itself is clearly not the theology of God. If we must retain a policy of interpretation that demands that we do not cause the scriptures to contradict themselves, we can no longer assume that we can do otherwise when it come to theology.
Five point Calvinism is a thoroughly consistent system that could truly contend for the position as the genuine theology of God. It meets the criteria of consistency. Arminianism is the theological opposite of Calvinism. Arminianism is also thoroughly consistent forwards and backwards within itself. The Arminian system of theology is also a contender as the true theology of God since it is also non-contradictory. "It is conceivable that both Arminianism and Calvinism are wrong, but it is wholly impossible for both to be right. The Bible offers no contradictions, if one system is right, the other is wrong. There is no compromise possible." Chafer, Systematic Theology 3:274
There are only two systems available to the Christian that can boast of this consistency. All other theologies are not truly systematic and cannot have a legitimate claim as the system of God. Only pure Calvinism and Arminianism have the honor of this claim. The question is not which of these two systems is most appealing, but which system is biblical! Chafer argues that it is Calvinism that is the true theology of God, and that it is backed by the bible. Calvinists have written countless volumes of books in attempts to reconcile the bible to their system. Arminianism on the other hand, has not. To vindicate our position there is very little that one has to dig into like, original languages and historical sources. As one chooses a system they can have Calvinism which has to twist and turn the entire bible on its ear to maintain its scheme, or you can have Arminianism which has the whole of scripture on its side and only a handful of verses in which to deal with as difficulties. The question is not which theology appeals to our situation, but which plan is the plan of the Bible? Arminianism is the theology of the Bible!
Calvinism may be an appealing and popular system, but it is not biblical. Theology flavors and dictates our beliefs, which is important to know, but belief is only of value if it is based on truth. There is no virtue in believing a lie.
Calvinism's system is based on the presupposition that man is elected from all eternity apart from any foreseen morality or faith. Those who are " chosen" are considered "elect", and the elect are predestined to eternal salvation with God. But the Bible is clear that not all will be in heaven, so how does the death of Christ work? It is a payment that is limited only to the elect. The exhortation to man to "choose this day whom he shall serve" must not really be a choice but a verification of the elect and non-elect. How will we know who is elect since man's will has nothing to do with it? It is called irresistible grace, a calling of God the man cannot refuse. In their eyes it is "whosoever must" and not "whosoever will". Since salvation in Calvinism is not based on a moral transformation of the sinner, so God must receive the sinner on the bases of a moral transfer of the righteousness of Christ called imputation. This is where God is somehow blinded to the reality of our sin, but in return He can only see the holiness of Christ when He views our lives. This ignores the fact that morality is not transferable. I cannot transfer righteousness to you anymore than you can give me your sin. Vincent Taylor wrote "imputation" can never be anything else than an ethical fiction. Since it is not a commodity, but a personal state, righteousness cannot be transferred from the account of one person to another.
Righteousness can no more be imputed to a sinner than bravery to a coward or wisdom to a fool." (Forgiveness and Reconciliation P.57) In a Calvinist view though, if one is elected, predestined, paid for, irresistibly drawn, the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, then he must infallibly be saved. Calvin's perseverence is more than modern eternal security. Proof of one's election is that God ensures the elect will not leave the truth, and the self deceived will apostatize as evidence of their damnation prior to their death.
Notice the systematic continuity of this system. If you are elect, you will be saved in the end no matter what! Every essential in this plan supports the whole. As a design it is a superb one, but not a biblical one.
Arminianism presumes that God is genuine in his call to whosoever will. That in view of this, the atonement of Christ is provision made for all. God calls everyone in His own way and His own time. Man is free to accept this gracious gift or to resist and refuse the offer. This makes man and not God responsible for the final eternity of each individual. God hates sin, and the atonement he provides must by nature remove sin out of the believer in order to make man acceptable to God. The new birth, or regeneration, is designed to give us a new nature and not a covering for our sin. Ultimately we must endure in our faith unto the end to be saved. There is no reward for the quitter or backslider. Christ is who reforms us, works through us, and saves us. We are not earning our salvation through works, it is Christ working through us to salvation.
Baptists are the predominant partial Calvinists of our day. They are the norm of what we will most likely deal with. Their theological system is a conglomeration of Arminianism and Calvinism. They seem to believe that they have extracted the biblical truth out of both sides and have resulted in the true Gospel of Christ. They start with whosoever will, but deny the believer freedom after salvation. They preach a theory that their sins are "Paid in full" but seem to miss the point that if the atonement of Christ paid for sins forever, then we must accept Universalism.
If not, they are yet to prove biblically when and where these sins become "un-paid" in a persons life. Either these sins were paid for while Jesus was on the cross two thousand years ago in reality or they were not. Payment that occurs when one believes is just another unbiblical fiction in their theological rapporteur.
The Baptist rationale is based solely on the assumption that eternal security is true. They built their self contradictory theology starting with eternal security on back. They work from the end result they desire, on backwards to whatever else meets their fancy. If eternal security as a doctrine can be disproved, their whole theological system falls with it. If one is found to be wrong in one area, and adjustment of belief is crushing, then what must the failure of an entire system be like? This is a higher cost that most will be willing to pay. They cling to their comfort and pride in exchange for truth and salvation!
Notice the inconsistency of starting with the freedom of Arminianism but ending with the fatalism of Calvinism. An atonement that they say is a payment that guarantees security, but somehow unpays itself somewhere and somehow in the unbeliever. The payment must be real to support unconditional security, but it must be fictional if all are not ultimately saved... Curious.
No unbiased person left alone with the Bible could ever come up with the conclusion of eternal security. "There never was or ever can be" a born Securitist." You, or any other truly born again Christian, cannot read Eternal Security verses and get Eternal Security out of them. The only way that Eternal Security can be attached to these verses is to "read it into them." "People are "educated into" Eternal Security, just as truly as an atheists are "educated into" atheism." (Henry Shilling, The Gift Of The Gods).
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PARADIGMS
A paradigm is a term that is used much in modern psychology. It may be well defined as the glasses in which we see the world. It is the filter of presupposition that everything must pass through to enable us to understand. Once an Eternal Securist is taught that certain verses prove the doctrine of unconditional security, it is mentally untenable for any verse to contradict it. They must contort any text that defies what they believe to be the "gospel". This all seems so rational to then since "Eternal Security is the gospel". Since all of the Arminian "proofs" must pass through the filter of their thinking, the verses must be brought into alignment with there presuppositions about the believers security. Many an Arminian has been frustrated in his inability to find a scripture to convince the Securist of the truth. The Securist has a "bunker theology". That is, if every attack can be deflected, even if by mental trickery, then the Securist feels that he must have the truth since you could not stump him. If they can destroy all of the numerous verses that oppose them, they feel vindicated in their doctrine. In view of our current method, this is why we usually fail in our task.
Breaking the paradigm is the only way we can break through to some of the most stubborn of securists. We must avoid our old tactics and adopt a new. I suggest that we should put the fire into their "bunker". Make them "prove" Eternal Security! Stop bombing them with "Arminian" verses, only to harden their position by our defeat. We should make them perform the impossible, that is, to prove Eternal Security to be a fact. If we take refuge in our own "bunker" we can devastate every proof they have, and by doing so, we gain an opportunity to convince them of what these verses really say without a Secrists presuppositions.
Refuse to move from this posturing until they give in and are defeated. Do not fall for their usual ploy of diversion and distraction when they are about to crumble. Remember, it is their false doctrine that is on trial, and not any doctrine of ours, so do not be tempted to give them an upper hand in the discussion. They want you to argue their way, the way they are prepared to defeat you.
I have found that an Eternal Securist is quite taken back when approached this way. Most will become very frustrated with themselves in there inability to convince me. The fact that I am "trying to understand" encourages them to try even harder. I tell them " I would not base my salvation on assumptions, but on sound, biblical proof." Doubting their own belief is the doorway to victory. The rest is up to God.
To be effective in this tactic, one must be ready to give a sound exegesis of all their "proof" texts. We must be able to show what the text does say, and what it doesn't say!*
Am I saying that this is the only way to deal with this issue? Of course not! Is this strategy always effective? No, but it has been ten times more effective than the old "Arminian" approach. I would be curious as to others input and experiences on this issue. Is there a better way to communicate the truth to those who are deceived? I hope so. I would welcome and encourage a continued dialog on this issue.
* See the article Eight Pillars of Eternal Security on the editorial page of this web site for more information This article was written by Mr. Jeff Paton. Mr. Paton has read and studied many of the classic Methodist and Wesleyan theological writings. He is a supporter of Bible Believing Methodism and IMARC. We thank God for his insight and ministry. If you would like to contact Mr. Paton, you may feel free to do so.