Friday, September 21, 2007

Predestinarianism and Functional Arminianism

Calvinism sees our freedom to be like that of water flowing down a hill

I've recently been confronted with this assertion: those who rely on something other than faith alone for salvation are Hell-bound. This is based on an interpretation of Galatians 1:8-10, (in part) "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (NKJV)" [these interpreters invert the curse on teachers of an other gospel and put it on followers of the same.]

Syllogistically, this assertion would look something like this. 1) The "gospel" is salvation by faith alone, 2) an adherent of any other "gospel" is damned, 3) any admixture of works to the "gospel" makes it an other "gospel", 4) the Catholics (as the assertion I faced went) rely on works in their "gospel", therefore 5) Catholics (and others with such admixture of works) are damned.

Soteriology (with the role of Predestination and Free Will as a subset) strikes me as one of the three most difficult doctrines of Christian theology (along with Trinitarianism and Ecclesiology). In the syllogism above, the purity of one's adherence to sola Fide becomes of paramount, soul-saving importance.

A question remains stuck in my craw: does a functional recognition of free will effectively become an admixture of "works" to the True "gospel" of sola Fide?

Of Free Will and Good Works, we cannot have one without the other. If sola Fide is not a "gospel" of works, then we have to reject the notion that it involves the good "work" of accepting Jesus. And in rejecting the view that accepting Jesus is to our credit (hence a work), sola Fide must be a "gospel" of strict predestination. Sola Fide then is simply (and beautifully, a Calvinist should add) a statement of on-the-ground facts that one indeed has True Faith which evidences one's predestined election.

I humbly posit that most Calvinists, lay and ordained alike, are Functional Arminians. We seem strained to avoid some notion of free will and the ability of individuals to reject God's offer at the onset or at some point during the faith-walk. Is our avoidance of rejecting God's grace - is the discipline (of our free will) to remain faithful, a creditable work unto salvation? If it is, then it would seem to be an admixture of beliefs other than sola Fide and, under the syllogism above, is damnable.

A clear example of this Functional Arminianism is our inclination to command those considering conversion to a heretical church to walk cautiously and pray about the dangerous ground on which they tread. Why? If God has strictly predestined that one is going to walk away from an outward appearance of sola-Fide faith, and if God is truly immutable, those prayers would be to no avail. But I doubt that any true red-blooded Evangelical will go there. Prayers move God to compassion, as we see time and again in the Scriptures. [Consider two other examples of our Functional Arminianism: 1) how predestinarians treat those who have left the faith, and 2) how we treat those who have lost an infant child.]

I for one think that Arminians and Calvinists alike can receive Salvation. I think we should show respect to those who believe that Christ may say "I know thee not" on the day of judgment unless we have fed the hungry and clothed the naked.


Joseph said...


I'm just curious. What is your definition of "salvation" and has it always been so?

Chad Toney said...

Calvinists say if you pray for your friend to get saved, you're already admitting Calvinism is true. Arminians say by praying at all, you're admitting it's not.

Or least that's my summation!

Thos said...


I'm gritting my law-student teeth at answering this question without knowing where you're going... (it's funny how much law school has messed me up!)...

Being saved - salvation (in the ultimate sense at the final judgment) is our being forgiven of our sins and receiving eternal life, right - freed from our original state of sin leading to damnation? That seems uncontroversial. But maybe I erroneously mix salvation with sanctification. I don't know.

I just know the Reformed formulation is that justification IS salvation because (thanks to 'assurance of salvation') we are guaranteed ultimate sanctification/salvation when we are justified. This gives James 2:24 some color: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." If we are assured that justification is followed up with full sanctification, then salvation is not by faith alone.

I said in my post something about "can receive salvation" (in the future tense) which may be in tension with my predestinarian/Calvinist background. This background tells me that salvation occurred once and for all at Calvary (so in the past tense). I don't believe that it happens at the instant we come to 'Jesus', and that we can gain and lose and gain and lose salvation throughout our life.

How do you define the term?

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


Can you flesh that out just a tad more - to make sure I'm with you?

Do you mean Calvinists say that when a Calvinist prays for someone to be saved, he's really just praying "God save or damn them as you have willed"? That's about as close as I can figure what the Calvinist in me does when I pray that my sons grow up to be godly men and believers. But if I don't mean that, then (as you say) the Arminian would be right in noting that I'm admitting Calvinism is not right...

[Then there's this for the Calvinist to think about: "Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Are there TWO WILLS, and how can other than the what-it-is-in-heaven will ever come to pass without the interplay of free will?]

Thanks, and peace,

Chad Toney said...

I think it was Packer in "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" where I first read the mostly convincing (for me) argument that if you pray for your friend to get saved, you are already acknowledging God's power over an individual's salvation (Monergism/Calvinism).

But tying in somewhat to your post, if you're praying at all and "prayers move God", you're involved in the process and are already aknowledging Synergism/Arminianism.

Does that make more sense? It's very rough and probably neither Calvinists nor Arminians would care for it. haha.

Joseph said...


Scripturally, I define "salvation", as it applies to the individual, liberation from sin and its consequences (separation from God, destruction, death). That is the same definition in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The actual Christian definition of the word is "to deliver (one's soul) from sin and its consequences".

In that sense, one does not experience complete salvation while a pilgrim on this earth, since none of us can claim to be completely free from sin or its effects.

I think that is very close to your definition. I was tempted to reply to the other points you brought up (where justification and sanctification fit in), but I think that the Catholic Encyclopedia explains what I would say with much more clarity. I hope you don't mind my posting the link in your combox.

I've said this before, I think that most of the disagreements between Protestantism and Catholicism exist in definitions. That's why I asked.

I've asked many of my friends what they mean by salvation and I have received similar answers to your reformed version, where justification equals salvation (that used to be my definition even though I didn't know what I was actually saying - it was merely a regurgitation). I have also received the response that it means "going to Heaven".

Thanks for clarifying.

Thos said...

The catalyst for writing this post was considering whether any notion of our acting to accept God was also our "work" - if this holds, then the people with whom I debated about all True Catholics going to hell would (by their structure) be condemning many many more Christians than just True Catholics. I hope that I've made this point clearly enough.

My theory is:
***Accepting God is a work, unless there is no free will***.

***If accepting God is a work, then we are not justified by faith alone***.

Chad, I appreciate the clarification - I think we've hammered out the tension created by this example of asking God to have mercy on someone nicely.

Joseph, Please always feel free to post such links. I found the Cath. Encyc. entry to be very informative. I did not know that Catholics do not separate between justification and sanctification - very interesting! Your request for a definition turned out to be quite challenging. I agree that a great deal of theological dispute comes from disagreements about language (which raises a side note about individual interpretation of the ancient text of Holy Scripture, but I'll leave that be). If we continue to hammer out definitions and (more importantly?) explore their implications, hopefully we will have taken a step closer to ecumenicity!

Peace in Christ,

Jim said...


Regarding your comment, "If sola Fide is not a 'gospel' of works, then we have to reject the notion that it involves the good 'work' of accepting Jesus. And in rejecting the view that accepting Jesus is to our credit (hence a work), sola Fide must be a 'gospel' of strict predestination."

I've noticed this difference in how Calvinists and Lutherans define "works."

For Calvinists, a "work" is anything you do. So, as I think you correctly point out, "faith in Christ" is a work for Calvinists because it's something you need to do affirmatively.

So in order to avoid "salvation by works," Reformed Christians need to move the focus away from faith and onto the secret move of the Spirit. Hence, all of the focus on "regeneration" as a move prior to "faith" and "baptism." And that's why the FV guys get in so much trouble affirming the historical affirmation that we are born again (regenerated) in baptism. It makes absolutely no sense and, in the Reformed system, is necessarily a form of works righteousness.

Lutherans, on the other hand, define a "work" as something you offer to God. (I could provide you the citation in the Apology, but I don't have the BoC with me right now.)

For the Lutheran, since faith only receives Christ's righteousness, then it is not a work. Same with baptism and the Supper. Sure, these are things that we "do," but there are means by which we receive Christ's forgiveness, we do not "offer" God anything in these sacraments.

Maybe all that sounds obvious. But it took me a long time to figure out why Calvinists thought baptism and the Supper were "works" when Lutherans thought of them as means by which we received Christ's forgiveness.

Also, if you haven't already, you might be interested in taking a look at the Council of Orange (529 AD), which combines a high sacramentology with a high view of predestination (although rejecting double predestination).

Joseph said...


I wish I had more time, but, since I don't, you may find these articles interesting as well: Justification and Sanctifying Grace

Thos said...


Thanks. This different use of the word "works" is a fascinating point. I should clarify a little here - those who presented the position that I was addressing in this post are Reformed Baptist, so hold to a Calvinistic view of works and predestination - I was admittedly short-circuiting my argument, since they would see works the way I described.

You are right that there are different ways to view "works", and it's an essential definition to hammer out before saying something so bold as 'those who believe in works-righteousness are going to hell' (not my position, but theirs).

I'm largely or even entirely persuaded to give full deference to the Lutheran definition of "works" when in the context of sola Fide, since that is a doctrine of Lutheran origin. You said, "we do not "offer" God anything". I find your view persuasive especially when noting the context of the condemnation of "works" in the Scriptures. It was the judaizers that were being addressed - those who thought we could hit the mark ourselves through conformity to the law. Christ and His Apostles, of course, had the simple message that we cannot hit the mark on our own (sin = missing the mark) -- even our thoughts are murder or adultery -- so we are not "saved" by "works". I think so long as any type of Arminian view (i.e., one wills to accept God's grace) steers clear of believing that the individual managed to "hit the mark" through accepting the Gospel, it is not damnable heresy.

But mine is a much more liberal position than the Reformed Baptist would take up!

Peace in Christ,

Jim said...

I probably should have addressed the main issue of your post regarding the Gospel, which is rather more important than narrative differnces between Calvinists and Lutherans (however significant those differences may be).

First, without at all saying that "sola fide" is not important, nonetheless, as any good Lutheran will tell you, and contrary to your interlocutor's assertion, the "gospel" is not the affirmation of "salvation by faith alone."

Lutherans are very insistent to distinguish the Gospel, which concerns the objective work of Christ, from the subjective appropriation of his work by faith.

The Lutheran confessions state: "[T]he Gospel, strictly speaking, is the doctrine that teaches what a man who has not kept the law and is condemned by it should believe, namely, that Christ has satisfied and paid for all guilt and without man's merit has obtained and won for him forgiveness of sins, the 'righteousness that avails before God,' and eternal life." (Epitome of the Formula of Concord, art. V.)

The Gospel, properly speaking, is objective -- the fact that "Christ has satisfied and paid for all guilt and without man's merit has obtained and won for him forgiveness of sins."

To be sure, we appropriate the Gospel by faith, but faith believe the content of the Gospel, faith is not, properly speaking, the content of the Gospel.

As I mentioned, it's of course not irrelevant to ask whether we appropriate the Gospel through faith alone or through faith and good works. But if the RC church teaches that "that Christ has satisfied and paid for all guilt and without man's merit has obtained and won for him forgiveness of sins," then she has the Gospel.

While I might quibble with a characaterization here or there, nonetheless it seems clear to me that the RC church teaches the Gospel, properly conceived.

As for Galatians, I think the book has little directly to do with the Reformation-era disputes.

Galatians is a book about Christology -- about what Christ accomplished for us and how that transforms the relationship to the works of the Law of Moses.

The Galatian heresy precisely implicated the Gospel -- the belief in the continuing mediatorial role of the works of the Law of Moses necessarily implies the insufficiency of Christ's work on the cross (Gal 5.4). (Hence, the stuff about "angels" in Gal 1.8, because the law was given through the mediation of the angel of the Lord, Gal 3.19, Acts 7.53, Heb 2.2.)

I do think that there are points of concern about entering into communion with the Roman Church (e.g., "traditions of men"), but it seems nonsense to me to claim today that she does not offer the Gospel, strictly understood.


Jim said...

I was writing my last comment when you posted your comment directly above. You made substantially the same point about Galatians as I wanted to. (I didn't want you to think I was trying to add something to your remark. I think they're essentially identical.)

And, yes, about the Reformed Baptist thing. I figured it was someone like that. It's just that Reformed churches and Lutheran churches have a different "feel" about them. So I've been trying to figure where some of the less obvious differences lie. (There are obvious differences in the Supper, baptism, and liturgy.)

Thos said...


Thanks again. I would agree that double election is an important difference between Lutherans and Calvinists that is not so obvious on the surface (say, in a simple Bible study or at Worship). It has 'ripple' effects throughout the remainder of Calvinist doctrine.

Peace in Christ,

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thos - you stole some of my thunder on this one. I wrote a post last week that I haven't published yet because I need to make some graphics for it and haven't had time yet.

But my underlying point is that in a world where sola fide is true, those who reject sola fide may also be saved as long as they have faith (since it is faith alone and not correct doctrine which saves you).

I'll post it later this week.

Thos said...


Well don't let me slow you down. I know there are some sola scriptura-ists who would say if you don't believe in sola scriptura, you cannot be saved. They would say that everything such a person does is in fact, you know, filthy rags, no matter how moral their actions seem to be. They would say that the sola fide-ist that is not a sola scriptura-ist would not be able to (without a complete devotion to the sufficiency and meaning of scripture) have the proper kind of faith - they would admix works or some such thing.

It gets fairly abstract in a hurry.

I look forward to reading your post!