Grace for All

Given that Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) was born (Oct. 10) and died (Oct. 19) in the month of October, I have a standing tradition that the month of October is solely dedicated to the history and theology of Arminius, the Remonstrants, and Arminian theology, and this year I will include such even on Sundays in The Sunday Liturgy. All posts this month will be new posts, no repeats, and there is much to write! This first post will briefly interact with a chapter from a recent Arminian book, Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation. I think the subject of God's relationship to His fallen creatures is as good a place to begin theologically as any -- God's universal grace extended to all His creatures.

In the recent book edited by John D. Wagner and the late Clark H. Pinnock, Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, the late Dr. Vernon C. Grounds underscores the inescapable theological fact of God's proactive grace, in Christ and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, expressed in and toward all of God's creation; whether related to the exhaustive caring for and sustenance of His universe, His careful eye on animals, or His providence among the human beings He created in His own image. Though each exists within a fallen context (Rom. 8:19-23), God's grace is evident in the sustaining of life (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), as well as in the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). Dr. Grounds begins:
Behind, beneath, beyond, and yet within the evanescent phenomena of space-time, we Christians believe, is God -- the ultimate reality, the eternal, infinite, perfect, self-subsistent [self-sustaining] being -- a trinity of three persons all of whom cohere [associate] in an indivisible unity of essence and purpose. God, we believe, is the source and sustainer of whatever exists, the life in all life, the truth in all truth, the goodness in all goodness, the beauty in all beauty, the love in all love.1
When we deliberate on the subject of the grace of God we must begin with God, not humanity, and not with fallenness or sin. The reason being because, even prior to the fall, the grace of God predominates all of life. Creation itself is grace. Life is grace. God's love is grace. God's sustenance is grace. God's provision is grace. The Garden of Eden is grace. The Tree of Life is grace. The Tree of Knowledge attests to grace. The animals are expressions of grace. Food is grace. Grace does not begin when we fail. For us, God's existence and God in His being is grace, and we need Him and His graciousness regardless of sin or evil.

But God's grace is also particular -- it reaches each individual within these universals. For God to sustain and provide for the human race indicates His sustenance and provision for each one of His creatures. When we insist, from a biblical heremeneutic, that God's grace and love are universal, we are also insisting that the universal nature of that grace and love reaches to each individual, to one degree or another. When Jesus confesses that the Holy Spirit is sent out by Him and the Father to convince "the world" to being wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment, He grants us no license to infer that He means "the world of the unconditionally elect whom God pre-selected to grace and to love from eternity past," but actually to each individual in the world throughout all ages. The same principle applies at John 3:16, 17 and 1 John 3:16; 4:8.

You see, then, why we Arminians cannot abide any doctrine that contorts the Word of God by suggesting that God demonstrates His grace to some, and not to others, and this because of some alleged decree of unconditional pre-selection He made in eternity past toward only some people. We think that this position is not only unbiblical, even abiblical (without biblical support), but antibiblical (against Scripture) -- a graceless position.

Why do we Arminians primarily refer to God, in His very nature, as a God of love instead of any other attribute, as a God of justice, a God of holiness, or a God of righteousness? The answer is simple: St John teaches us that God, by existential definition, is love:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NRSV, emphases added)
The apostle continues: "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." (1 John 4:16b, emphases added) Note the qualifying and conditional order in which he arranges the matter: not, those who abide in God abide in love, but those who abide in love abide in God. He qualifies this primary order by writing: "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot [δύναται, lack the power or ability to] love God whom they have not seen." (1 John 4:20, emphases added)



If God's very nature is one of love, and born-again believers share in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), that would include the divine nature of love. Hence those who abide in love abide in God; and, if God's very nature is conceptualized and actualized within the context of love, then unconditionally pre-selecting some to love (and save) and not others would be a betrayal of God's own nature. Here, in the subject of God's nature, we find biblical and theological support for Arminian theology. Here, as well, we discover the errors of Calvinism -- a theology that betrays God's loving nature, and redefines the very nature of love itself, by restricting that so-called love to only some people unconditionally (and, we suggest, arbitrarily) pre-selected for this "electing love."

Martin Luther (1483-1546) rightly confesses: "Anyone who regards Him as angry is not seeing Him correctly, but has pulled down a curtain and cover, more, a dark cloud over His face."2 This lone confession is the undoing of the Calvinistic philosophy of Calvin, Edwards, Piper and all other Calvinists. God's wrath is a mere expression or reaction toward sinners who pervert justice, righteousness, holiness and love. Love demands justice. But the authors of Scripture do not teach us that God's nature is wrath; they do, however, teach us explicitly that God's nature is love. Since this is the truth of Scripture, then we are obligated to defend the loving nature of God against anyone who teaches the contrary, including Jonathan Edwards' and John Piper's angry God.

A scriptural view of God's loving nature informs our view of God's salvific relationship toward humanity. Dr. Grounds writes:
We believe, moreover, that because he is love, God freely chooses to expand the orbit of beatitude [blessedness, happiness, a graced life] by creating persons who are centers of consciousness and choice whom he wills to share his own eternal fellowship of love through the convicting, drawing, and salvation of God's grace. This purpose, inexplicable except on the ground of God's free decision, is announced by Paul at the beginning of his Ephesian letter [Eph. 1:2-12].3
In case this fact escapes notice, I think the primarily God-centered context here ought to be highlighted, as the notion of grace, love, and free (or freed) will begins with God and not with human beings. God chooses to establish a creation-order, free will theodicy. God chooses to grace. God chooses to show mercy. God chooses to save -- to save to the uttermost those who approach God through Christ. (Heb. 7:25) St Paul argues that God chooses to save those who believe and not chooses who will and who will not believe. (1 Cor. 1:21) One must maintain a faulty and unbiblical a priori in order to advance the notion that God, from eternity past, unconditionally chooses who will believe and who will not believe in Christ.

The love and grace of God motivates Him to share His existence "of infinite love with finite experients," so that "God has created ex nihilo all that is. Grace is thus the revealed explanation of the whole space-time complex. The act of creation, like everything the triune God does, James Daane reminds us, has grace as its dynamic."4 In the estimation of Arminians, no other theological system relishes in and magnifies more so the love and grace of God as does Arminian theology, as is evident even in traditional Southern Baptist, Free Will Baptist, and Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave "non-Calvinistic" theology.

The universal aspect of God's love and grace is a cosmic phenomenon larger than the universe itself. This love and grace is the experience of each and every human being, to one degree or another, and is experientially accomplished in those who by that love and grace trust in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. As St Paul testifies: "For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (1 Tim. 4:10, emphases added) This grace is not a separate entity, operative among fallen and redeemed mortals, but is "God redemptively in action through Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit. Personal through and through, grace, let it be repeated, is God acting."5 Grace is not an unconditional electing grace. Grace is not a regenerating grace. Grace is not an irresistible act of the Spirit of God. Grace is God in redemptive action on behalf of each and every individual without qualification. 

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1 Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, eds. Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2015), 18.

2 Luther continues: "But in Scriptural language 'to see His face' means to recognize Him correctly as a gracious and faithful Father, on whom you can depend for every good thing. This happens [or is fully realized] only through faith in Christ." Luther's Works, Volume 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, eds. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 37.

3 Grace for All, 18-19.

4 Ibid., 19.

5 Ibid., 21.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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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.