The Arminian Cannot Allow Freedom to God

At times I am unquestionably astonished and perplexed by the singular lack of good, accurate, and proper scholarship among Calvinists like James White. He prides1 himself on his book, The Potter's Freedom, so a Calvinist source informs me, having heard White's boast for himself, and yet he manufactures some of the most sophomoric fabrications of Arminian theology in that book of any other Calvinist in his camp; and that is taking into consideration the likes of R.C. Sproul, Mark Driscoll, and John MacArthur.

Commenting on St Paul's admonition for believers to consider the state in which they existed prior to God's gloriously saving them (1 Cor. 1:26-31), James White rightly insists that no one can boast before God about his or her salvation,2 to which all Arminians grant their hearty Amen! Only God can save. The fallen mortal cannot save him- or herself. Neither can the faith of the fallen mortal save him- or herself. Only God can save.

Moreover, we hold, with Scripture, that God has elected to save in Christ those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul really wrote those words; this really is Paul's theology of election and salvation; he really means that God has chosen to save believers, as did others (cf. John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). God does not save unbelievers, and has not elected unbelievers unto salvation. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13) What authors do not state is the Calvinistic theory that God has unconditionally chosen who will and will not believe in Christ.

White then singles out the 1 Corinthians 1:30 passage, a beloved verse of Arminians, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus." (NRSV) Or, as White's translation (NASB) offers, "But by His own doing you are in Christ Jesus." This corresponds with Jesus' half-brother James' statement: "In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures." (James 1:18) White asks: "Is it by my act of free will, or God's act of free will, that I am in Christ Jesus?" The obvious and orthodox answer in Reformed Arminian and, hence, biblical theology is that God's act of free will is the determining factor for one being in Christ. We both agree!

James White, along with R.C. Sproul, will not allow the Arminian this admission, however, insisting that, because we reject (the error of) unconditional election, then our "free will decision" to believe in Christ is the ultimate determining factor in salvation.3 White quips:
The question is not "Is God ultimately the source of the plan of salvation?" ... The question is, Who, ultimately, is responsible for my union with Jesus Christ? God is both the one who is the origin and source of salvation in general, and the one who powerfully, purposefully, and perfectly draws His elect people into blessed union with Jesus Christ. The Arminian simply cannot allow this freedom to God.4 (emphases original)
White is simply and, yet, embarrassingly wrong. The truth to which White is blind is that, the Arminian is not the one who cannot allow freedom to God in saving whom He desires to save, but the Calvinist who restricts God to the saving of some imagined unconditionally elect. We grant God all the freedom He possesses to save as many in and through Christ by grace through faith in the same to His utter delight and ultimate glory! We want God to have all the freedom that rightly belongs to Him, to express that freedom, and to glory in that freedom. We actually believe God when He insists, in no uncertain terms, that He genuinely desires the salvation of all people (1 Tim. 2:4), that He is the Savior of all people, but particularly of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10)

Moreover, the Arminian does not deny God's right to unconditionally elect some people to the neglect of others: we simply deny that this is, in fact, what Scripture informs us regarding what God has decreed from eternity past. We do not deny His right, nor His ability, but what the Calvinist actually insists regarding His actions. So, the charge of the Arminian denying God's freedom or omnipotence is entirely unwarranted.

More to the point, we believe that brand of Calvinism known as compatibilism -- yet the following truth also applies to the inconsistent hard determinist -- promotes not mystery, nor antinomy, but overt and uncontested contradiction. Daniel Whedon explains: "That a being should be left free to choose either of several ways, yet be previously secured by necessitative causation finite or infinite, to choose a certain one of those ways so there is no power of choosing otherwise than that one is a contradiction."5 (emphases added) Here is a denial of God's freedom. Calvinism cannot admit freedom to God in allowing His creatures freedom of choice. For them, if God has not decreed from eternity past the decisions of His creatures, then He cannot be sovereign. They have restricted the contours of God's sovereignty and backed themselves into an erroneous corner of pagan determinism.

In Arminian theology, God is the ultimate determiner of who is "in Christ," for He has elected to save those who believe (Rom. 3:21-26; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 2:15-16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 7:25). Even faith itself is a gift and an enablement of the Spirit of God, working within the individual, so that the faith-response to the grace-enablement of God derives not from the will of the person, but from the influential, spiritually-enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. (cf. John 16:8-11; Rom. 2:4; John 6:44, 65; Phil. 1:29)

Indeed, for Arminius, God's freedom is inherent and cannot be minimized in actuality by any creature no matter what is confessed or denied:
Infinity of Being is a pre-eminent mode of the Essence of God, by which it is devoid of all limitation and boundary ... whether from something above it or below it, from something before it or after it. It is not bounded by any thing above it, because it has received its being from no one: Nor by any thing below it, because the form, which is itself, is not limited to the capacity of any matter whatsoever that may be its recipient. Neither by any thing before it, because it is from nothing efficient: Nor after it, because it does not exist for the sake of another end.

But His Essence is terminated inwardly by its own property, according to which it is what it is and nothing else; Yet by this no limits are prescribed to its Infinity; for by the very circumstance -- that it is its own being, subsisting through itself, neither received from another nor in another -- it is distinguished from all others, and others are removed from it.6
Truly, before any Calvinist charges Arminius, Arminians or Arminian theology as inevitably disallowing freedom to God, he should first read Arminian primary sources in order to attain a proper perspective and avoid embarrassing one's self in a public venue. We in no sense conceivable disallow freedom to God. As a matter of fact, we believe we frame God's freedom in its fitting context, granting Him the prerogative to save, by grace through faith in Christ, whomever and as many lost and depraved souls as He wills.

White also takes issue with the notion of the Cross event and Christ's atonement making salvation possible. For him, and other Calvinists, Christ did not merely make salvation possible but certain -- certain for those whom God allegedly unconditionally pre-selected from eternity past to save. White complains: "It is not enough to limit God's free will to making a plan [of salvation] available."7 Elsewhere, he states that "it is an empty cavil to say that Paul speaks here [at Ephesians 2:8-10] only of the bare provision of the possibility of salvation. He says his readers have been saved by grace through faith, not 'made savable.'"8 (emphases original) This is a trite reply.

The apostle is writing a letter to believers who are in Christ. (Eph. 1:3, 4) Why would he refer to their salvation in an abstract manner, mentioning "the bare provision of the possibility of salvation," since his intent was to write to them about their personal salvation by grace through faith in Christ and the accompanying spiritual blessings to all in Christ? How puerile to argue that because the author did not mention universal provision in this case then the concept of provision is unbiblical.

Though, we all realize, the apostle Paul has done so elsewhere: "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'" (Rom. 10:12-13) Where is White's efficacious grace and limited atonement here?

Or what of another of Paul's confessions? "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them." (2 Cor. 5:14-15) Where is White's efficacious grace and limited atonement here? Why did Paul not frame their salvation in the past tense: have been saved? To require of Paul at Ephesians 2:8-10 to write of "the bare provision of the possibility of salvation," that is, if prevenient grace is true (and particular grace is false), is to demand inanity and the fallacy of arguing from silence. This is inept scholarship.

No, friends, Arminians do not limit the freedom of God. God Himself has already declared His desire that all without qualification be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), irrespective of what Calvinists like James White argue to the contrary, and His willingness to save all who will by grace respond through Spirit-enabled faith in Christ Jesus His Son. We are delighted to rejoice and trust in a God who says exactly what He means and means exactly what He says. We do not have to apologize or utilize hermeneutical gymnastics to declare God's glorious salvation in and through Christ our Lord. The real tragedy is when Calvinists like James White demean his brothers and sisters in Christ by creating misrepresentations and overt lies about our beliefs. We pray and hope for better scholarship in the future.


1 Ironically, White remarks, "Sovereign grace is offensive to the Arminian for it crushes human pride and exalts the Potter's freedom." (emphasis added) Were I James White, I would avoid judging Arminians regarding pride, arrogance, and boasting. See James R. White, The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 291.

2 Ibid., 289.

3 Ibid., 290. See also R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 23-26.

4 White, 290.

5 Daniel D. Whedon, Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, ed. John D. Wagner (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009), 265.

6 Jacob Arminius, "Twenty-Five Public Disputations: Disputation IV. On the Nature of God," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:115-16.

7 White, 290.

8 Ibid., 295.


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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.