Arminianism: A Wide Grace

Dr. Joseph R. Dongell is professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, and in his brief article, "10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew about Arminianism," Dr. Dongell presents the truth that Arminians subscribe to a wider view of God's grace than do Calvinists who, ironically, promote "the doctrines of grace," which amounts to a restrictive, limited, arbitrary grace. In Calvinism, the grace of God is restricted to those whom God unconditionally pre-selected to be recipients of that grace, and is limited in scope via divine decree. But this grace is arbitrary in nature, as well, given that there is no reason why God should unconditionally pre-select one sinner as recipient of His grace than another, given that all sinners are, well, sinners. When a Calvinist insists that God graces His unconditionally pre-selected ones "for His glory," the notion utterly fails to address or answer the core question, Why this person and not another? Or, Why this many and not more, or all? Why a restrictive, limited, arbitrary grace unconditionally for only some?

Dongell attests that the Arminian is "convinced by the witness of Scripture that God's love for the whole world (and therefore for every human being -- see John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, John 1:9) entails the inescapable conclusion that God actually pursues every person, through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, in the real desire to save every person." (link) All the Calvinist can offer is a benign understanding of God "loving the world" (John 3:16), or desiring to save all in the world (1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10), but not a God whose desire is to grace all in the world. Some Calvinists even mock the Arminian regarding the love of God for each and every person as emphatically noted at John 3:16, the apostle also stating that love is part of God's very nature, not wrath but love (1 John 4:8). Even Calvinist scholar D.A. Carson argues, from the Greek text, that God loves each and every person and not merely the so-called unconditionally elect: "I know that some try to take κόσμος ('world') here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the suggestion."1

However, Dr. Carson then qualifies one aspect regarding the love of God as "a particular, effective, selecting love" toward His unconditionally elect.2 He uses God's election of Israel as a nation, and as His people, as an inference toward supporting God's alleged "particular, effective, selecting love" toward His supposed unconditionally elect people -- i.e., those whom He has arbitrarily chosen to save, relegating the rest of humanity to an eternal separation from Him, His Christ, and His blessed presence. First, not all within the corporate nation of Israel belonged to the God of Israel, but only those who personally trusted in the LORD. The purpose for God choosing Israel was also to bring forth the Messiah through that people. Thus the Jewish people were not unconditionally elected for salvation. The Calvinist's connection, then, is falsely contrived. The individuals who trusted in the God of Israel were considered the redeemed among the corporate and elect group of Israelites. The same is true today. God has elected the Church, in and through Christ Jesus the Head and Cornerstone of the Church, to be His people. The individuals who trust in Jesus Christ are considered the elect and redeemed among the elect corporate body called the Church. So, the Calvinists' inference does not work for a proper support of the theory of unconditional election -- the unconditionality actually being unwarranted and absent within the pages of Scripture.

Second, if God loves "the world" salvifically, as Dr. Carson has plainly stated, then suggesting that God has a particular, effective and selecting love for only certain people and not others -- the majority (cf. Matt. 7:13, 14) -- is a most obvious contradiction of terms. We believe that not only plain logic but also Scripture supports this challenge to Calvinism. If God desires that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but has unconditionally elected to save only some people particularly, effectually, and selectively, then He is acting against His own alleged desire. Is there confliction within the psyche of God? Apparently so, within a Calvinistic scheme, since God wants all to be saved but has only unconditionally (i.e., arbitrarily) elected to effectually save only some people.

But we have scriptural evidence in support of this challenge against Calvinistic notions of the particular love of God for selective people. St John informs us that the nature of God includes the absolute attribute love. Briefly, ἀγάπη (love), mentioned at 1 John 4:8, is a noun referring to goodness, good will, a preference toward morality. In other words, God's nature, as love, is good, and desires goodness; expresses good will toward humanity, or, expresses goodness to people of a good will (Luke 2:14), as a longing for people to be good and to exist in goodness; and prefers, at all times, an absolute moral existence. When we suggest that God is love, by nature, we include all of these notions as one reality in the mind and heart of God. But we think this nature of God -- this good and moral-loving nature of God -- is expressed universally and not selectively. Why?

St Paul teaches us what is and what is not considered as the core nature of love in a chapter many name "the love chapter" within a letter written to self-absorbed believers in Corinth. Since God's nature is love, we can rightly substitute each notation of "love" written in this text with "God," and make the exact same conclusion: God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on (His) own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8 NRSV) We are not naming love "God," or reducing God to our own notions of love, but are assessing what the inspired authors of Scripture convey about love, God, and love as a natural attribute of the divine Triune God.

REMONSTRANTS ARE PLACED TO THE LEFT WITH ARMINIUS AND THEIR THEOLOGICAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO THE LEFT OF THE SCALE. CALVINISTS ARE PLACED TO THE RIGHT WITH PRINCE MAURICE AND HIS SCEPTRE POINTING AT HIS SWORD ATOP CALVIN'S INSTITUTES TO THE RIGHT OF THE SCALE. THE RELIGIO-POLITICO MESSAGE IS THAT, AS LONG AS MAURICE HAS A VOICE, THE PARTY WHOM HE FAVORS, THE CALVINISTS, WILL WIN THE DAY.

What is striking to me is how this inspired and biblical conception of love and the nature of God opposes the underlying principles of Calvinistic presuppositions or hermeneutics. If love "does not insist on its own way," and "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth," then the über-deterministic notion of the sovereignty of God proffered by Calvinists, whereby He has decreed all that should come to pass by His own eternal desire, choice, and will, including sin and evil from sinners and demonic hosts, is rightly condemned as heresy. But, also, the loving nature of God being gentle or kind (1 Cor. 13:4) undermines any semblance of unconditional election, since unconditionally (and arbitrarily) selecting some souls to spend eternity in His presence and the majority in a tormenting and eternal fire, is any other notion than kind, gentle, and loving.

When we deliberate on the subject of the wide 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 own Triune being is grace, and we need Him and God's graciousness regardless of sin or evil.

But God's grace is also particular -- only in that God's grace 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 hermeneutic, 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 throughout the entire world by the Spirit. 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 unconditionally and arbitrarily 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 Arminians argue for the wideness of the grace of God and cannot in any sense abide a doctrine that contorts the Word of God by suggesting that God demonstrates His grace to some, unconditionally and arbitrarily, and not to others, and this because of some alleged decree of unconditional pre-selection of said grace that He allegedly made in eternity past toward only some people. We think that this position is not only unbiblical, even abiblical (without biblical support), but anti-biblical (against Scripture) -- a graceless philosophical man-made position.

Dr. Joseph Dongell states that, often Calvinists will insist that they, too, advocate for universal grace, in what they call Common Grace. He responds: "But we must note that this claim about Common Grace stops short of allowing that God actually wills [by desire and gracious action] that all people be saved. Under close examination, classical Calvinists must admit that their theology prevents them from simply declaring that God loves every person and therefore wants to save every person." (link) No, a wide grace is not what Calvinists can admit, but the Arminian must admit and proclaim its truth! If St Paul is true, inspired of the Holy Spirit to write, and God has indeed appeared, in Christ, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2:11); if God truly was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, but granting to the apostles the message of reconciliation, calling upon all to be reconciled salvifically to God by grace through faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-21); then insisting that God has unconditionally pre-selected only some people to be recipients of this grace-filled and grace-fueled salvation is not merely counter-intuitive, not merely unbiblical, but also an affront to the grace and love of God Himself.

The universal aspect of God's love and grace is a cosmic phenomenon larger and wider than the created universe itself. This love and grace is the experience of each and every human being, to one degree or another, and is personally, practically, and 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 wideness in God's 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."3 Grace is not an arbitrary and 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 D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 9.

2 Ibid, 17.

3 Vernon C. Grounds, "God's Universal Salvific Grace," in Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, eds. Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2015), 21.