Chosen But Free: Geisler Rejects the Arminianism He Misrepresents

In Norman Geisler's tenth chapter of Chosen But Free, "Responding to Critics," he resists the charge of an "Arminian conundrum," and of Arminianism proper. He confesses that this charge is used by his "extreme Calvinist" detractors -- i.e., historic, orthodox, classical Calvinists -- as "a toxic connotation that poisons the well against it." (185) Now, pardon me, but that statement is too rich to quickly pass by. Norman Geisler is charging "extreme Calvinists" of poisoning the well while labeling historic, orthodox, classical Calvinists as misrepresenting John Calvin, Calvin's successors, and Reformed Calvinist doctrine. Few have poisoned the well of Calvinism as has Geisler in this book! Let me add: Geisler also poisons the well of Arminianism.

Dr. Geisler claims that his "balanced view" promotes the "biblical teaching" that God's election of some unto salvation is according to His foreknowledge; while Arminians posit that God's election of some unto salvation is based on His foreknowledge. The distinction is slight but important to his case. The latter theory proffers God "looking down through the corridors of time" to see who would believe in Christ, God "elects" to save them, and will secure their salvation if they persevere. The former view, Geisler's so-called balanced and "biblical" view, suggests that God's knowledge and foreknowledge are simultaneous. Hence neither His knowledge nor His foreknowledge are prior. "Thus, once again, He does not elect based on His foreknowledge, nor does He foreknow based on His election. Rather, He elects in accord with His foreknowledge." (181)

The splitting of hairs between "in accord with" and "based on" is merely one of semantics. For Geisler fails to expound on how God foreknew His elect. He merely insists that God's knowledge and foreknowledge are simultaneous. But so does the Arminian; so does the Calvinist. In other words, he has not proven his point by merely insisting on the manner in which God elects some unto salvation. He concludes: "God is sovereignly choosing our salvation through our free will." (182) Honestly, these appear as words on a page completely devoid of actual meaning, and leave us with more questions than answers. Moreover, his claim of the doctrine of election among Arminians being "based on" the foreknowledge of God, in lieu of "in accord with," is nowhere referenced. What Arminians are teaching this doctrine in said fashion?

Regarding the knowledge and foreknowledge of God, classical Arminianism insists that both belong to God by virtue of His nature, and, according to Arminius himself, this knowledge of God "is identical with the divine essence in its simultaneous wholeness."1 (emphasis added) Dr. Richard Muller states that, for Arminius, this knowledge and foreknowledge of God is, "first and foremost, a self-knowledge," so that "God's knowledge is neither abstractive nor discursive, compositive or dialectical. God does not know things, in other words, by first apprehending the idea or intelligible species of the individual thing and then applying it to or finding it in the thing."2 I think Geisler should have consulted Arminius on this subject before concluding with errors regarding Arminianism and the foreknowledge of God.

Adding insult to injury, Dr. Geisler confesses that his so-called balanced view is a form of "moderate Arminianism," or a false hybrid called "Calminianism." (185) But he rejects this nomenclature because, allegedly, Arminians reject the following:

  • Eternal security of all the regenerate.
  • Irresistible grace on the willing as necessary for salvation.
  • God's saving grace is effectual, always accomplishing the salvation of those who receive it [a reference to perseverance in the faith].
  • God is the Primary Cause of all our free actions; we are only the secondary cause of them.
  • All God's knowledge is independent, including His knowledge of future free acts; He has no dependent or "middle" knowledge of the future.
  • God is not in any way a passive recipient in the act of our salvation.
  • God does not base His election on foreknowledge. (186)

Norman Geisler not only misrepresents Arminianism in these seven points but he also, even if unwittingly, misrepresents standard Calvinistic terminology. He is claiming, by inference, that he holds to all seven positions stated above. As noted previously, some Arminians do hold to eternal security, so I will not argue the first and the third points. His charge, in the fifth and seventh points, about God's knowledge, and foreknowledge, with regard to Arminian theology, has already been proven inaccurate, so I will not address that again. Most Arminians are not Molinists (so mention of the same in the fifth point will be disregarded). Points 2, 4, and 6 must be confronted.

POINT 2: IRRESISTIBLE GRACE ON THE WILLING

This concept originates in Geisler's philosophy. (101-04) His view is that "God can be persuasive [emphasis added] as He desires to be, short of coercion [emphasis original]. In theological terms, this means God can use irresistible grace on the willing. But such divine persuasion will be like that of a courtship. God will woo and court so persuasively that those willing to respond will be overwhelmed by His love." (104) (emphases added) Dr. Geisler is using the term "irresistible grace" by redefining it to refer to "divine persuasion." This is not what historic Calvinists have offered as a proper definition of the term -- and Geisler is unfair in hijacking this concept.



Moreover, Geisler is using explicit Arminian language here by referring to divine persuasion. Arminian scholar Dr. F. Leroy Forlines writes: "Influence is brought to bear on their actions. Influence in personal decisions can never be equated with cause as in mechanical cause and effect relationships. Influence and response are more appropriate terms, where persons make decisions, than the terms cause and effect."3 Arminian scholar Dr. Robert E. Picirilli argues:
As already acknowledged, the unregenerate person is totally unable to respond positively, by his natural will, to the offer of salvation contained in the gospel. Pre-regenerating grace simply means that the Spirit of God overcomes that inability by a direct work on the heart, a work that is adequate to enable the yet unregenerate person to understand the truth of the gospel, to desire God, and to exercise saving faith.4 (emphasis added)
Incidentally, Dr. Geisler's view of the alleged "willing" responding by being "overwhelmed" by the love of God possesses characteristics similar to the Molinistic position as presented by Dr. Kenneth Keathley,5 a position Geisler rejects entirely. I view Dr. Geisler's position no stronger, no more "biblical," than that of the Arminian. As a matter of fact, Dr. Geisler fails to expound on exactly how one becomes willing to be overwhelmed by this alleged irresistible grace.

POINT 4: GOD IS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF ALL OUR ACTIONS

Had Dr. Geisler bothered to read Arminius on this subject, he would have learned "the Arminian position" regarding God as the Primary Mover and Sustainer of all mortals, and avoided yet another misrepresentation. Arminian scholar Dr. Roger Olson writes: "Arminius said of God's providence: 'It preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things, and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance.'"6 Indeed, there is much, much more:
Arminius was puzzled about the accusation that he held corrupt opinions respecting the providence of God, because he went out of his way to affirm it. He even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God's cooperation! This is simply part of divine concurrence, and Arminius was not willing to regard God as a spectator. . . .

Arminius argued that when God has permitted an act, God never denies concurrence to a rational and free creature, for that would be contradictory. In other words, once God decides to permit an act, even a sinful one, He cannot consistently withhold the power to commit it. . . . But that does not mean God is the efficacious cause of them or wills them, except according to His "consequent will." God allows them and cooperates with them unwillingly in order to preserve the sinners' liberty, without which sinners would not be responsible and repentant persons would not enter into a truly personal and loving relationship with God.7
Clearly, from even a cursory reading, Dr. Geisler is, yet again, mistaken about what constitutes Arminian theology on the sovereignty and providence of God, and also on the freedom of the will. God by necessity is the Primary Mover of all events, rendering His creatures as secondary movers, within the context of God's divine concurrence. After all, God, in and through Christ, sustains whatever exists by the power of His word. (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3) That includes our actions.

POINT 6: GOD IS NOT PASSIVE IN SALVATION

That Geisler perceives of Arminian theology as suggesting that God is passive in our salvation merely demonstrates his ignorance of Arminian theology. Even with all that has been stated in this post thus far one can deduce the absurdity of the comment. Of course God is not passive in our salvation. Stated in another manner, God must be proactive from beginning to end in the salvation of depraved sinners, and no one understands this truth more clearly than the Arminian (other than the Calvinist). As a matter of fact, due to the clear truth we have discovered thus far, when comparing the semi-Pelagianism of Dr. Geisler on the matter of free will, total depravity and total inability, Arminians understand all the better -- better than the proponents of Geisler -- the aggressive nature assumed by God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit regarding our salvation.

Arminius argues, as have Arminians since his time, that salvation, and the call of God unto salvation, "contains also whatsoever is necessary, through the appointment of God, for obtaining salvation or life eternal."8 (emphasis added) The Efficient Cause of this call unto salvation is "God the Father in the Son. The Son Himself, as appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the King of His church, calls men by the Holy Spirit."9 The Inwardly-moving Cause is "the grace, mercy, and (philanthropy) 'love of God our Savior toward man' (Titus 3:4, 5) by which He is inclined to relieve the misery of sinful man, and to impart unto him eternal felicity."10 The "External Cause," which "outwardly moves God, is Jesus Christ by His obedience and intercession" on behalf of sinful human beings. But "the Instrumental Cause is the word of God, administered by means of men, either through preaching or writing."11 All this activity toward the salvation of humanity: Does this derive from a supposed Arminian passive view of God?

Dr. Geisler believes that his doctrines, as outlined in this book, are "very 'Calvinistic' doctrines." (186) Calvinistic? Geisler is a one-point Calvinist at best (holding to eternal security)! Am I being harsh? When he redefines Calvinism, misrepresents Arminianism, and posits his own redefined theology as "the balanced (biblical) view," how are Calvinists and Arminians supposed to react to this book other than with shock, disgust, and utter frustration? Norman Geisler has rendered the Church such an injudicious disservice by his blatant redefining of historic Calvinism, misrepresentations of Arminianism, and offering believers a falsely-imagined "balanced view" that is really only repacked semi-Pelagianism. Allow me to offer readers a few resources that are sound theologically for rightly representing both Calvinistic and Arminian theology:

Calvinism:
Arminianism:

Granted, within the pages of the books just mentioned, the reader will encounter arguments against the opposing positions: either against Calvinism from the Arminian source or against Arminianism from the Calvinist source. This is to be expected. What is most important for these sources is not their counter-arguments but that they rightly represent their respective positions. We must always seek to be faithful in representing a view with which we disagree. Tearing down a straw man that one constructs is not only foolish but causes others to distrust the author. Norman Geisler's distorted, clumsy, and confused work, Chosen But Free, cannot be trusted as accurately representing classical Calvinism or classical Arminianism.

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1 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 147.

2 Ibid., 147-48.

3 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2012), 12.

4 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002), 154.

5 Kenneth D. Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 101-37.

6 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 120.

7 Ibid., 121-23.

8 Jacob Arminius, "Twenty-Five Public Disputations: Disputation XVI. On the Vocation of Men to Salvation," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:231.

9 Ibid., 2:232.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.