Where's the Arminian?

Responding to Roger Olson's post, "Needed: Robust Arminian Theology for Lay People (Especially Youth)," John Piper was asked if there remains an inherent reason within Arminian theology itself that "undermines passionate and persuasive preaching." (link) Thank you, Piper, for noting that there have been passionate and persuasive and powerful Arminian preachers throughout what we would note as Arminian history: he mentions by name John (and let us not forget his brother Charles) Wesley, Charles Finney (though we would place him in the semi-Pelagian category), and Francis Asbury. Piper rightly notes that Calvinists are not the only of God's people who can or even do have passion for Christ and for His glory. 

Dr. Piper agrees with Dr. Olson that theology matters, that theology makes a difference in our lives, and that both sides of this debate need to be passionate about their theology. If there are weak Calvinists and strong, theological Arminians, then theology should matter all the more for the ones in lack. If there are weak Arminians or "non-Calvinists" and strong, theological Calvinists, then theology should matter all the more for the ones in lack. The first half of this ten-minute segment is answered in a responsible and commendable fashion, and we are very grateful. Then we reach the four and a half minute mark.

Piper then speaks what is really on his mind with regard to Arminianism: "Arminianism, at its essential, distinguishing core gives man the final, ultimate decisive role in who gets saved." (mark 4:38-4:48) This reductionist reaction is entirely unfounded. God, in and through Christ Jesus, gets the "final, ultimate decisive role in who gets saved," and God has chosen to save the one who will trust in His Son Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:21); and even that faith is a gracious enablement of the Holy Spirit, as He convicts the sinner of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8), leading one to repentance (Rom. 2:4), granting such a one an ability to respond with faith in Christ (Phil. 1:29). What Piper and all other Calvinists really disagree with is our insistence that the Bible does not teach that such grace is irresistible, due to Christ only dying for the unconditionally elect, because God chose to save only some, unconditionally, before the world was created. 

Stated another way, God has elected to save sinners, and He has elected to save them in and through Christ. Salvation is God's idea, His decision, and He wants to save sinners. "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15 NRSV). God also decides who "gets saved": the believer in Christ "gets saved." How does the believer "get saved"? She gets saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus -- an "act of the human soul," as admitted by Piper himself. (mark 5:36-5:50) This, however, Piper confesses "does not produce wonder and worship." (mark 5:04-5:10) Odd that this has produced wonder and worship since the time of the apostles and the early Church fathers -- that is, until the time of St Augustine in the fifth century when Augustinianism, and hence Calvinism, was crafted. 

But the dialogue denigrates further when Dr. Piper continues: "In Arminianism, the core of their theology -- I'm talking about that essential, distinguishing core -- is based on a philosophical presupposition that man cannot be accountable if God has final control of his will. It's not based on the word of God. That presupposition is not taught in the Bible." (mark 7:36-7:54) This presupposition, so he alleges, cannot produce a zeal for exegesis or a solid and passionate worship: it is "man-centered." He qualifies the statement by noting that he is not insisting that we Arminians are not genuine worshipers of God. So, may we not respond to his remarks inappropriately. He has done us one better than either R.C. Sproul or J.I. Packer, who note that Arminians are "barely saved" and "unChristian" respectively. (link)

The "man-centered" charge is an old canard of the Calvinist with regard to Arminian theology, due in large measure to the pride of the Calvinist that God preselected him and not others unto faith and salvation, the vast majority of others. First, let me bluntly respond with candor. Given the idolatry problem among the "Young, Restless and Reformed," I don't think I'd bark too loudly about any other Christian group being "man-centered."

Calvinist Carl Trueman writes: "One striking and worrying aspect of the [then-growing Calvinist] movement is how personality oriented it is. It is identified with certain big names [John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, The Gospel Coalition], rather than creeds, confessions, denominations, or even local congregations;" stating further that "the hype surrounding today's leaders of the YRR movement far outstrips anything these earlier heroes [like Luther] enjoyed in their lifetime." (link) There exists an unhealthy obsession of Calvinism among Calvinists -- so much so that even one of their own renowned leaders, John Piper himself, wrote a "man-centered," narcissistic poem entitled "The Calvinist."

Second, Arminians acknowledge that the power to believe in Christ derives from the Holy Spirit Himself, and not from our own self-autonomized will as Piper is guilty of charging. Roger Olson argues, "Arminians do not believe that salvation is ultimately in their own hands. It is all of grace."1 That Arminius maintained a negative, Reformed anthropology has been noted on this site and elsewhere ad nauseam. Sproul himself confessed:
Arminius not only affirms the bondage of the will, but insists that natural man, being dead in sin, exists in a state of moral inability or impotence. What more could an Augustinian or Calvinist hope for from a theologian? Arminius then declares that the only remedy for man's fallen condition is the gracious operation of God's Spirit. The will of man is not free to do any good unless it is made free or liberated by the Son of God through the Spirit of God.2
Dr. Olson comments, "Clearly, then, Arminius did believe people are totally dependent on grace for any and every good they have or do. Grace is the beginning and continuation of spiritual life, including the ability to exercise a good will toward God."3 If Arminian theology inevitably leads one to boasting in her salvation, then where are the boasters? Why do we never find an Arminian boasting in her salvation, in her faith in Christ, in that, because of her faith, God owed her salvation? If the charge bore any semblance of reality then we should find at least one example of the effects of such a charge.

No, we may not have an Arminian John Piper, and I, for one, am glad of it. For me, it represents something far more grand than the celebrity-status of the neo-Reformed. We are far too numerous to have eight or ten celebrities in our midst. We are Methodists and Wesleyans and Anglicans and Baptists and Nazarenes and Pentecostals and Charismatics and Third Wave and Messianic Jewish and Eastern Orthodox and Church of Christ and Seventh-Day Adventist and a host of others far too numerous to be represented by a few celebrity theologians. Calvinists, being relatively small in number, are at an advantage at being more visible; but what of it? We, mainly, receive the same type of theological arguments from the same few Calvinist celebrities week after week and month after month -- to no effect.

Then again, let's not miss the forest for the trees, either. Arminians have plenty of resources from which they draw upon perpetually. We often glean from the following small sampling: Roger Olson, Ben Witherington, F. Leroy Forlines, Matthew Pinson, Robert E. Picirilli, William Klein, Michael Brown, Jerry Walls, Scot McKnight, Larry Hurtado, Keith Drury, William Willimon, William G. Witt, the Society of Evangelical Arminians' Brian Abasciano, I. Howard Marshall, Craig Keener, James D.G. Dunn, Grant Osborne, Keith D. Stanglin, Thomas C. Oden, John D. Wagner, J.P. Moreland, Thomas McCall, and "non-Calvinist" Southern Baptists like Drs. Steve Lemke, Bruce Little, David L. Allen and Paige Patterson. Where are the Arminians? asks Piper. They're everywhere! 


1 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 140. 

2 R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 128.

3 Olson, 144.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.