Correcting Michael Marlowe

Michael Marlowe is a Calvinist Bible teacher who works as a free-lance writer and editor. He earned the M.A. in Biblical Languages, which captured and properly contextualizes his passion, from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. (link) His critical work and reviews on various English Bible translations is valuable, in my opinion, and he is certainly to be commended for not merely "towing the party line," as some would say, regarding the Calvinist-favored translation the English Standard Version (ESV). His aim at objectivity is impressive: "I might add many other things to this collection of criticisms. Some of the faults are quite annoying. But mostly they are the kind of minor faults that may be observed in any version." (link) We understand that all translations maintain difficulties.

Indeed, the ESV has its problems, as he rightly notes. In spite of the ESV being a relatively good English translation, there is bias, and I will note but one example among so many which could be granted. In the ESV, at almost every passage throughout the New Testament where "brothers" is translated, a footnote is typically included, stating: 
Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated "brothers") refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context [emphasis added: that is very important], adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God's family, the church.
This footnote is found consistently throughout the NT, with the exception of James 3:1 -- "Not many of you should becomes teachers, my brothers" -- where adelphoi is clearly noted in the Greek, but the complementarian ESV translators grant "brothers" without the usual footnote. Why? The answer is quite simple: in the above quote the translators note, "In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women." Through the eyes of complementarianism, the translators deem this context to refer solely to men, not to both women and men. This is called translational bias, inconsistency, and a singular lack of integrity with regard to the original languages. This is one example of how one's theology drives a translation. Marlowe, regarding the ESV, concludes: "So, for close study, the ESV is less suitable than the NASB or NKJV. These latter versions, despite their difficulties and obscurities, continue to be the most useful for detailed and careful study." (link) But this post does not concern Bible translations.

Michael Marlowe also wrote a brief article on Arminianism. Instead of resourcing primary materials, he chooses to regurgitate the misrepresentations of other Calvinists, and perpetuates only a caricature of Arminian theology. Had he employed this same method for critiquing English Bible translations then he would have lost all credibility. He builds an erroneous foundation regarding Arminianism and constructs arguments against a straw man he burns for the cause of truth. The problem is that the article is a betrayal of truth.

In his article, What is Arminianism? he begins, "The fundamental principle in Arminianism is the rejection of predestination, and a corresponding affirmation of the freedom of the human will." (link) (emphases added) Marlowe fails to accurately represent even the fundamental principle of Arminian theology. If a critic begins with false assumptions then he can only conclude with false summations. Arminius and Arminians in no sense whatsoever reject the doctrine of predestination; nor do they affirm an innate or inherent freedom of the will. A cursory read of Roger Olson's Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities corrects such errors. The underlying, fundamental principle in Arminian theology is the nature and character of God, not free will, not a rejection of predestination, not humanism.

Dr. Olson suggests: "Only the most cynical scholar could claim that Arminius and Arminians deny predestination, and the claim would be refuted immediately -- even by other non-Arminian scholars."1 Arminius insists: "Predestination ... is the Decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ by which He resolved within Himself from all eternity to justify, adopt, and endow with everlasting life, to the praise of His own glorious grace, believers on whom He had decreed to bestow faith."2 In what sense possible is this a rejection of predestination? As to free will, Arminius argues, "In this [fallen] state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and ... weakened; but it is also ... imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace."3 Is this an affirmation of free will?

When assessing the Remonstrance of 1610 Marlowe correctly notes the Arminian theology of the early Remonstrants on four points, but not the fifth, since the conclusion noted by him on the fifth point was not deduced until 1618. He has conflated the Remonstrance of 1610 with the Opinions of the Remonstrants of 1618. Regardless, he fails to accurately present Arminian theology, writing: "In essence, the Arminians maintained that God gives indispensable help in salvation, but that ultimately it is the free will of man which decides the issue." This is nonsensical, since only God can save, and God cannot give anyone help in salvation. We cannot contribute to our own salvation or regeneration.

By insisting on the biblical doctrine of conditional salvation, and hence conditional election, i.e., that God only saves the one who has faith in Jesus Christ (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), since God does not save the unbeliever (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), God does not grant to anyone help in His saving act. This is a very careless critique. Unfortunately, Marlowe chooses to read Calvinist misrepresentations of Arminianism instead of making the hard-work effort in reading primary sources. He quotes from David N. Steele and Curtis Thomas, whom I have corrected on several occasions, including the post: "The Five Points of Arminianism." I sense a need, yet again, to repeat myself: "If You're Going to Criticize Arminianism, Get It Right." No one deserves to be misrepresented.

Marlowe quotes from his erroneous sources: "Free-will or human ability. Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness." Neither Arminius, the Remonstrants, nor classical Arminians today affirm this semi-Pelagian confession. (See "The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminiain Theology/The Biblical Doctrines of Grace.") The quote continues: "God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe but does not interfere with man's freedom." The phrase "but does not interfere with man's freedom" is a bit ambiguous. Even the Holy Spirit's convictional ministry (John 16:8-11) is an "interference" with humanity's so-called freedom, given the fact that no one asks for the Holy Spirit's conviction, or work of grace. The notion is a mere caricature of Arminianism and absolutely nothing else.

The quote continues its smear campaign: "Man's freedom consists in his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature." Any cursory read of Arminius or the Remonstrants on this matter easily contradicts this claim of "Arminianism." The Remonstrants, in their Arminian Confession of 1621, argue:
Because Adam was the stock and root of the whole human race, he therefore involved and implicated not only himself, but also all his posterity (as if they were contained in his loins and went forth from him by natural generation) in the same death and misery with himself, so that all men without any discrimination, only our Lord Jesus Christ excepted, are by this one sin of Adam deprived of that primeval happiness, and destitute of true righteousness necessary for achieving eternal life, and consequently are now born subject to that eternal death ... and manifold miseries.4
Moreover, they explicitly argue, quite contrary to what is espoused by the Calvinists quoted above, "Man does not have saving faith of himself, nor out of the powers of his free will, since in the state of sin he is able of himself and by himself neither to think, will, or do any good (which would indeed to be saving good, the most prominent of which is saving faith)." (emphases added) Could that statement be any more clear? They continue: "It is necessary therefore that by God in Christ through His Holy Spirit he be regenerated and renewed in intellect, affections, will, and in all his powers, so that he might be able to understand, reflect upon, will and carry out the good things which pertain to salvation."

Marlowe then quotes Church historian Philip Schaff, to the effect, "Calvinism represented the consistent, logical, conservative orthodoxy; Arminianism an elastic, progressive, changing liberalism." This is, simply, untrue. Calvinism represents consistent Augustinian orthodoxy, but not necessarily consistent conservative orthodoxy, as there are many sects within Christianity that are both conservative and non-Calvinistic. Furthermore, if Arminian theology is deemed "elastic," whatever that means, as well as "progressive" and a "changing liberalism," then that comment only betrays the early Church, since what can be named "Arminianism" is the anachronistic theology of the early eras prior to St Augustine in the fifth century.5 Since Augustine is the father, the inventor, of what would later be called Calvinism, then we can be most certain that Augustinian-Calvinism was not the theology of the early Church fathers, which also means that the theological tradition of the early apostles, including St Paul, did not teach Augustinian-Calvinism.

Marlowe quotes Schaff as suggesting that Arminianism is a "moderated semi-Pelagianism." But even after this quote his summary is faulty: "The Arminians merely reverse the order, saying that man must respond out of his own free will after God first prompts him with 'prevenient grace.'" (emphasis added) We believe nothing of the sort. Even through the Holy Spirit's gracious activity within the sinner, in the freeing of the sinner's will from its bondage to sin, the enabling of the will by the Spirit, including the faith-response which follows, are noted as gifts of God. Arminius and the Arminians' language on this matter are closer to Calvinism than to semi-Pelagianism -- that is, if one will just pick up Arminius, the Remonstrants, and classical Arminian scholars and read. Marlowe then concludes: "In both, the decisive thing is the will of man, not the will or decree of God."

This is an old and infamous argument against Arminianism about the so-called "man-centered" nature of Arminian theology. But this, too, fails to convince any biblically-rational thinker. Salvation is God's idea; salvation belongs to God. He longs to save. He decreed to save. He alone saves. He alone saves the one who believes in Christ (1 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 7:25). The so-called decisive thing in salvation is not "the will of man," as Calvinist critics want others to believe, but in God Himself, in His own will and decree to save the believer. Salvation is of God's grace from beginning to end. But Marlowe and other Calvinists want you to believe: "Churches in which Arminianism prevails tend to become humanistic and liberal, after having rejected the authority of the Bible." This is not only uncalled for but is entirely wrong. Has he never heard of the Pentecostal movement?

The Pentecostal / Charismatic / Third Wave movement is largely in a broadly-defined Arminian or non-Calvinistic framework. These movements -- all of them -- consider God's Word to be inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Neither of them is humanistic or liberal. Mind you, Calvinistic churches like the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) must be quite the conundrum for Calvinists like Marlowe. How is it, then, that this Calvinist flagship embraced both humanism and liberalism if Calvinism is the safeguard against the same? While I appreciate Marlowe's work on Bible translations, I do not at all appreciate his misrepresentative article on Arminianism, and hope for better in the future.


1 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 179.

2 Jacob Arminius, "Twenty-Five Public Disputations: Disputation XV. On Divine Predestination," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:226.

3 Ibid., 2:192.

4 The Arminian Confession of 1621, ed. and trans. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005), 65.

5 Kenneth D. Keathley, "The Work of God: Salvation," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 703.


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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.