The Universal Call of the Gospel Requires Universal Provision/Unlimited Atonement

The Universal Call of the Gospel Requires Universal Provision/Unlimited Atonement

(Society of Evangelical Arminians)

“How can we preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) if Christ did not die for every creature?  If the good news of the cross is only for some, then how can we preach it with sincerity to all?  As L.S. Chafer asks, “How can a universal gospel be preached if there is no universal provision?  To say on the one hand that Christ died only for the elect and on the other hand that His death is the ground on which salvation is offered to all men is perilously near contradiction” (Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct-Dec. 1980, p. 315).

Ask the Calvinist, “Should we commend the unbeliever for their unbelief?”  If Christ did not die for all men, then we should be commending the ungodly for their unbelief. Here’s an example. A Christ-denying infidel makes this statement, “I don’t believe Christ died for me!”  If what the extreme Calvinists teach is true, then he is correct not to believe that Christ’s death was for him.   “I do not believe that Christ did anything to save me.”  If Christ did not die for the unbeliever who made this statement, then what he is saying is accurate and we should commend him for his unbelief!  Charles Smith said it this way, “One who rejects the eternal life provided for us in Christ has made God a liar. According to God’s Word he has refused to believe the truth.  Yet those who teach a limited atonement would have us believe that one who goes to hell goes there because he does believe the truth – namely the “truth” that Jesus did not die for him!” (Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? p. 13).  He is correct in not believing that Christ died for his salvation. How can we condemn this man for rejecting the Saviour, if Christ did nothing to save him?

Then ask if the unsaved are commanded to believe a lie?

The Westminster Confession of Faith is a strong statement of the tenets of Reformed Theology. The Moderator of the Assembly that compiled this confession of faith, Dr. Twisse, had admitted that ”every one who hears the gospel (without distinction between elect and reprobate) is bound to believe that Jesus Christ died for him.” [Cited by Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, p.61.]  But if Jesus Christ did not die for him, is he bound to believe a lie?  When we preach the gospel message, what is it that we are urging lost sinners to believe?

When every sinner that hears the gospel is commanded to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” what is it that he is to believe?  He is to believe, say “the Marrow of Modern Divinity” [Chap. II, sect. ii] and “the Act of the Associate Presbytery of 1742,” and “be verily persuaded in his heart that Jesus Christ is his, that he shall have life and salvation by him, and that whatsoever he did for the redemption of mankind, he did it for him.” What? Is every hearer of the gospel to believe all this, if it be a fact [as limited redemptionists maintain] that for millions who hear the gospel he did absolutely nothing at all upon Calvary – shed no blood, made no atonement, gave no ransom?  Is he to believe a thing that is not true?  Is he to believe a LIE? He is invited to do so, he is urged to do so, he is entreated to do so, he is commanded to do so, he is threatened with eternal condemnation if he does not do so, provided it be indeed a truth that Christ did nothing on Calvary for him. [Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, p. 60.]

No, we are not urging sinners to believe a lie.  We are beseeching them, for Christ’s sake, to believe the truth of the gospel, that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3).

My friend, Christ died for you.
Believe it because it is surely true!
Reject this message of His all-embracing love shown at the cross
And you will suffer eternal death, everlasting punishment and terrible
loss!

Sinners do not perish for believing a lie but for rejecting God’s truth. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10).”

– Society of Evangelical Arminians (Link)

William Lane Craig on Universal, Divine, Causal Determinism

Five Difficulties With the Reformed View of Universal Determinism

“1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom. Determinists reconcile universal, divine, causal determinism with human freedom by re-interpreting freedom in compatibilist terms. Compatibilism entails determinism, so there’s no mystery here. The problem is that adopting compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.

2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.

3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.

4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.

5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame. I’m certain that Reformed determinists, in contrast to classical Reformed divines, will bristle at such a comparison. But why it’s inapt for the doctrine of universal, divine, causal determinism is a mystery to me.”

Craig, W. L., <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism>

The Corporate View of Election and Predestination: A Brief Introduction

The following is from Donald C. Stamps, Life in the Spirit Study Bible, pp. 1860-1

Election. God’s choice of those who believe in Christ is an important teaching of the apostle Paul (see Rom 8:29-33; 9:6-26; 11:5, 7, 28; Col 3:12; 1 Thes 1:4; 2 Thes 2:13; Tit 1:1). Election (GK eklegó) refers to God choosing in Christ a people whom He destines to be holy and blameless in His sight (cf. 2 Thes 2:13). Paul sees this election as expressing God’s initiative as the God of infinite love in giving us as His finite creation every spiritual blessing through the redemptive work of His Son (Eph 1:3-5). Paul’s teaching about election involves the following truths:

(1)    Election is Christocentric, i.e., election of humans occurs only in union with Jesus Christ. ‘He hath chosen us in him’ (Eph 1:4; see 1:1, note). Jesus Himself is first of all the elect of God. Concerning Jesus, God states, ‘Behold my servant, whom I have chosen’ (Mat 12:18; cf. Is 42:1, 6; 1 Pet 2:4). Christ, as the elect, is the foundation of our election. Only in union with Christ do we become members of the elect (Eph 1:4, 6-7, 9-10, 12-13). No one is elect apart from union with Christ through faith.

(2)    Election is ‘in [him]…through his blood’ (Eph 1:7). God purposed before creation (Eph 1:4) to form a people through Christ’s redemptive death on the cross. Thus election is grounded in Christ’s sacrificial death to save us from our sins (Acts 20:28; Rom 3:24-26).

(3)    Election in Christ is primarily corporate, i.e., an election of a people (Eph 1:4-5, 7, 9). The elect are called ‘the body of Christ’ (4:12), ‘my church’ (Mat 16:18), ‘a peculiar people’ (belonging to God) (1 Pet 2:9), and the ‘wife of Christ’ (Rev 19:7). Therefore, election is corporate and embraces individual persons only as they identify and associate themselves with the body of Christ, the true church (Eph 1:22-23; see Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers]). This was true already of Israel in the OT (see Deut 29:18-21, note; 2 Ki 21:14, note; see article on God’s Covenant With the Israelites, p. 316).

(4)    The election to salvation and holiness of the body of Christ is always certain. But the certainty of election for individuals remains conditional on their personal living faith in Jesus Christ and perseverance in union with Him. Paul demonstrates this as follows. (a) God’s eternal purpose for the church is that we should ‘be holy and without blame before him’ (Eph 1:4). This refers both to forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7) and to the church’s purity as the bride of Christ. God’s elect people are being led by the Holy Spirit toward sanctification and holiness (see Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16-25). The apostle repeatedly emphasizes this paramount purpose of God (see Eph 2:10; 3:14-19; 4:1-3, 13-24; 5:1-18). (b) Fulfillment of this purpose for the corporate church is certain: Christ will ‘present it to himself a glorious church…holy and without blemish’ (Eph 5:27). (c) Fulfillment of this purpose for individuals in the church is conditional. Christ will present us ‘holy and without blame before him’ (Eph 1:4) only if we continue in the faith. Paul states this clearly: Christ will ‘present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col 1:22-23).

(5)    Election to salvation in Christ is offered to all (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9) but becomes actual for particular persons contingent on their repentance and faith as they accept God’s gift of salvation in Christ (Eph 2:8; 3:17; cf. Acts 20:21; Rom 1:16; 4:16). At the point of faith, the believer is incorporated into Christ’s elect body (the church) by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), thereby becoming one of the elect. Thus, there is both God’s initiative and our response in election (see Rom 8:29, note; 2 Pet 1:1-11).

Predestination. Predestination (Gk proorizé) means ‘to decide beforehand’ and applies to God’s purposes comprehended in election. Election is God’s choice ‘in Christ’ of a people (the true church) for Himself. Predestination comprehends what will happen to God’s people (all genuine believers in Christ).

(1)    God predestines His elect to be: (a) called (Rom 8:30); (b) justified (Rom 3:24; 8:30); (c) glorified (Rom 8:30); (d) conformed to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29); (e) holy and blameless (Eph 1:4); (f) adopted as God’s children (Eph 1:5); (g) redeemed (Eph 1:7); (h) recipients of an inheritance (Eph 1:14); (i) for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12; 1 Pet 2:9); (j) recipients of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13; Gal 3:14); and (k) created to do good works (Eph 2:10).

(2)    Predestination, like election, refers to the corporate body of Christ (i.e., the true spiritual church), and comprehends individuals only in association with that body through a living faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:5, 7, 13; cf. Acts 2:38-41; 16:31).

Summary. Concerning election and predestination, we might use the analogy of a great ship on its way to heaven. The ship (the church) is chosen by God to be His very own vessel. Christ is the Captain and Pilot of this ship. All who desire to be a part of this elect ship and its Captain can do so through a living faith in Christ, by which they come on board the ship. As long as they are on the ship, in company with the ship’s Captain, they are among the elect. If they choose to abandon the ship and Captain, they cease to be part of the elect. Election is always only in union with the Captain and His ship. Predestination tells us about the ship’s destination and what God has prepared for those remaining on it. God invites everyone to come aboard the elect ship through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Stamps, D., (2003: Zondervan) Life in the Spirit Study Bible

Is the Human Decision to Accept God’s Grace a Meritorious Work?

Is the human decision to accept God’s grace a ‘work’ that we contribute towards our salvation? Roger Olson writes,

“Isn’t the bare human decision to accept and not resist God’s grace and mercy unto salvation a meritorious work?  Arminians respond with a resounding no.  In sum, and by way of preview, classical Arminianism argues that anyone who shows the first inkling or inclination of a good will toward God is already being influenced by grace. Grace is the first cause of genuine free will as liberation from bondage to sin, and grace is the source of anything good.  In its prevenient (going before) form, it is the ‘quickening ray’ Charles Wesley wrote about in his famous Arminian hymn ‘And Can It Be?’  It awakens the prisoner lying helpless in the dungeon of nature’s night and breaks off his chains so that he can rise up and follow Christ.  There is no hint in traditional Arminian theology of salvation by works righteousness; all good is attributed solely to God’s grace…  All that is required for full salvation is a relaxation of the resistant will under the influence of God’s grace so that the person lets go of sin and self-righteousness and allows Christ’s death to become the only foundation for spiritual life.  Was Arminius’s soteriology then synergistic? Yes, but not in the way that is often understood.  Calvinists tend to regard synergism as equal cooperation between God and a human in salvation; thus the human is contributing something crucial and efficacious to salvation.  But this is not Arminius’s synergism. Rather, his is an evangelical synergism that reserves all the power, ability and efficacy in salvation to grace, but allows humans the God-granted ability to resist or not resist it.  The only ‘contribution’ humans make is non-resistance to grace.  This is the same as accepting a gift.  Arminius could not fathom why a gift that must be freely received is no longer a gift, as Calvinists contend.  To explain the ‘concurrence and agreement of divine grace with free will’ he offered an analogy:

To explain the matter I will employ a simile, which yet, I confess is very dissimilar; but its dissimilitude is greatly in favour of my sentiments.  A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it?  Can it be said with propriety, that ‘the alms depended partly on the liberality of the Donor, and partly on the liberty of the Receiver,’ though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, because the beggar is always prepared to receive, that ‘he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?’  If these assertions cannot be truly made about a beggar who receives alms, how much less can they be made about the gift of faith, for the receiving of which far more acts of Divine Grace are required!

At this point, of course, some Calvinist critics still maintain that Arminius makes the free acceptance of the gift of salvation, including faith, the decisive factor in salvation; so the human act of acceptance, and not God’s grace, becomes the ground of righteousness. No Arminian, including Arminius, will agree with the formula that the person’s mere acceptance of redemption from Christ is ‘the decisive factor’ in salvation. For Arminius, as for all classical Arminians, the decisive factor is the grace of God – from beginning to end. Using Arminius’s analogy of the rich man and the beggar, would it be normal speech to say that the beggar’s acceptance of the rich man’s money was the decisive factor in his family’s survival?  Who would say that? All attention in such a case would focus on the benefactor and not on the poor receiver of benefaction.  We might extend the analogy a bit and suggest that the rich man bestowed the gift in the form of a check, which needs only to be endorsed and deposited in the poor man’s bank account.  What if someone claimed that the act of endorsing the check and depositing it was the decisive factor in the poor man’s family’s survival?  Surely even the Calvinist must see that no reasonable person would say that.  So it is with Arminian evangelical synergism; the bare act of deciding to rely totally on God’s grace for salvation and to accept the gift of eternal life is not the decisive factor in salvation.  That status belongs to God’s grace alone.” 1

J.P. Holding writes,

“And a point I have yet to see explained as well is how making a decision qualifies as a “work.”  The Jews were forbidden to work on the Sabbath; did this prohibit them from thinking or making a decision?  Is there any evidence that the Greek word behind “works” (ergon) ever refers to a thought or a decision?  It seems to me that this is a flawed premise upon which the Calvinistic case rests.” 2

So is the human decision to accept God’s grace a meritorious work that we contribute toward our salvation?  So far, all the evidence is to the contrary, but if making the decision to accept a gift is a work, the burden of proof is on the Calvinists to show how it is.

Notes

1 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p. 161-66; According to Olson, the Arminius quote is from ‘The Apology or Defence of James Arminius, D.D.,’ Works [Of Arminius], 2:52

2 Holding, J. P. ‘On Unconditional Election’ (Link)

Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?

Often cited as a proof text for the doctrine of Total Inability is Jeremiah 13:23, which reads,

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?  Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer. 13:23; ESV)

The purpose of this post is to explain my reasons for rejecting Jeremiah 13:23 as a good proof-text for the doctrine of Total Inability.

I believe in the depravity of man, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t believe that Jeremiah 13:23 is the best proof-text for such a fundamental truth as this. When considered in context, I believe that this verse is not teaching that it is literally impossible for unsaved man to do any good. Needless to say, I don’t believe this verse is teaching mankind’s ‘Total Inability.’

Consider:

» The context is that of God threatening Judah and Jerusalem (v.9), aka, the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah (v.11) with exile, in response to their continual rebellion – their refusal to hear God’s words, their stubbornly following their own heart, and their going after other gods to serve and worship them (v.10). This fact leaves the application of this verse to all mankind without foundation. The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.**

» The question of whether the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots reminds me of the statement made by Jesus that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25) We wouldn’t take Jesus’ words to mean that it is literally possible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, nor should we take His words to mean that under no circumstances can a rich man enter the kingdom of God, simply because he is rich. Jesus isn’t stating that a rich man, because he is rich, cannot, under any circumstances, enter the kingdom of God. Money, in and of itself, is not evil, nor is the mere possession of money, in and of itself, evil. What is evil, and indeed, a root of all kinds of evil, is a wilful heart condition, namely the love of money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus’ statement comes immediately after the rich young ruler refused to forsake all his riches to follow Christ. What Jesus is doing is illustrating what riches do to a man’s heart. Jesus knew that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil; He knew how money would corrupt a man’s heart so as to make him proud, self-sufficient, and unwilling to forsake all to follow Christ, hence Jesus’ statement in verse 25. The case in point: the rich young ruler, who went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, the passage says. Given what riches do to a man’s heart, it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it would be to get a rich man to forsake his riches and follow Christ. The ‘inability’ of the rich is a wilful condition, not a necessary one.

And so it is with Jeremiah 13:23. We shouldn’t take the words to mean that it is literally impossible for an unsaved man to do anything good. But rather, we should consider the context: Israel and Judah hadn’t simply fallen into sin; they were reveling in sin; they were continuing in steadfast rebellion to God; continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words; continuing in steadfast idolatry. And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard. What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God. Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.

As Jesus was illustrating what riches do to a man’s heart, so God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

In both cases, the ‘inability’ is a wilful condition of the heart, not a necessary one. The question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard illustrated what happened to men’s hearts as a result of their continued unwillingness to turn to God.


** I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages using universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.

Do Arminians Believe in the Sovereignty of God?

Do Arminians believe in the sovereignty of God?  If one has only ever read Calvinistic books, the answer would seem to be a no-brainer, for according to most Calvinists, an Arminian is by definition someone who denies God’s sovereignty. For example, notable Calvinist exponent Edwin H. Palmer (1922 – 1980) explicitly declared that “the Arminian denies the sovereignty of God”.1

Funny though it may seem, there are even those who reject the tenets of Calvinism, yet try and take a middle road between Calvinism and Arminianism. These so-called ‘non-Calvinists’ are usually known by the maxim, “I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, but simply a Bible-believer.’  I should know; I used to be one.

Anyhow, these non-Calvinists (who for the most part seem to be nothing more than un-informed Arminians) will sometimes fall into the belief that Arminianism, by definition, entails the denial of God’s sovereignty.  Even the ‘Twentieth-Century Prophet,’ A. W. Tozer fell into this error, saying:

“ANOTHER real problem created by the doctrine of the divine sovereignty has to do with the will of man.  If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice?  And if he cannot exercise freedom of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct?  Is he not a mere puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the strings as it pleases Him?

The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man.” (Bold emphasis added) 2

The implications are clear: Tozer is saying, among other things, that Arminians deny the sovereignty of God.

Is it, however, accurate to say that Arminians deny the sovereignty of God?  It is my contention that there are only two types of people who could make such a claim: those who have no idea about the issue, and those who are dishonest about the issue.

Contrary to the charges, Arminian theology strongly affirms the sovereignty of God in all things. Arminian scholar Roger Olson3 writes,

“CLASSICAL Arminianism goes far beyond belief in general providence to include affirmation of God’s intimate and direct involvement in every event of nature and history.  The only thing the Arminian view of God’s sovereignty necessarily excludes is God’s authorship of sin and evil.  Faithful followers of Arminius have always believed that God governs the entire universe and all of history.  Nothing at all can happen without God’s permission, and many things are specifically and directly controlled and caused by God.  Even sin and evil do not escape God’s providential governance in classical Arminian theology.  God permits and limits them without willing or causing them.” 4

The point of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is the definition of sovereignty.  On the Calvinistic view, sovereignty means meticulous control (i.e., theological determinism),5 while on the Arminian view, God’s sovereignty necessarily means His complete freedom and authority (or right) to act any way He so wills.  On this view, God certainly has the freedom and authority to exercise meticulous control over every minute detail (though the Arminian can’t see how this doesn’t necessitate God’s authorship of sin), but He also has the freedom and authority to not exercise meticulous control.  For the Arminian, if God chooses to not exercise meticulous control, that decision is itself a sovereign decision.  As (Arminian) apologist J. P. Holding writes,

“SOME Calvinist commentators point to various passages of specific events such as the selling of Joseph into slavery (Gen. 45-50), the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23), and the military actions of the Assyrians (Is. 10).  And they are not wrong to do so.  Yet one cannot falsely generalize from these particulars and assume that God chooses to exercise His right of sovereignty in the same way for things like the moving of a finger.  Perhaps He does, but perhaps He does not; perhaps He does at some times, but not at others.

Yet to suggest such a thing hardly removes any sovereignty from God, for a simple reason that I have yet to see dealt with by a Calvinist commentator (though I may see it in the future): The decision to do nothing is itself a sovereign decision.” 6

Thus, the Arminian concludes that even if God decides to do nothing in a given scenario, that decision is an exercise of, rather than an abdication of, His sovereignty.  Arminian theologians Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell write,

“NOTE that God is no less sovereign in a world where he chooses to grant his creatures libertarian freedom than he is in a world where he determines everything.  Sovereignty cannot simply be equated with meticulous control.  Rather, sovereignty is the freedom to choose as one will and to accomplish one’s purposes.  If God chooses to create people who are free and to accomplish his purposes through their undetermined choices, it is his sovereign right to do so.  Less control is not the same as less sovereignty if God chooses to have less control.  A perfectly good and wise God will exercise just the amount of control appropriate for the sort of world he chooses to create.” 7

This view is described in terms of ‘divine self-limitation’:

“THE main alternative to this [i.e., Calvinism’s determinism] strong doctrine of God’s sovereignty is divine self-limitation.  First, let it be clearly understood that those who appeal to divine self-limitation and passive permission as the explanation for sin and evil in the omnipotent, creator God’s world do not say God never manipulates historical circumstances to bring about his will.  What God never does is cause evil.  God may and no doubt sometimes does bring about some event by placing people in circumstances where he knows what they will freely do because he needs them to do that for his plan to be fulfilled.  Such seemed to be the case with Jesus’ crucifixion.” 8

Thus, the Arminian contends that God “could exercise deterministic control, but he has chosen not to do so.”9  He limits Himself.

Olson further writes,

“DOES God govern by meticulously determining the entire course of every life, including moral choices and actions?  Or does God allow humans a realm of freedom of choices and then responds by drawing them into his perfect plan for history’s consummation?  Calvinists (and some other Christians) believe God’s control over human history is always already de facto – fully accomplished in a detailed and deterministic sense; that is, nothing can ever thwart the will of God.  Arminians (and some other Christians) believe God’s control over human history is always already de jure – by right and power if not already completely exercised – but at present only partially de facto.  God can and does exercise control, but not to the exclusion of human liberty and not in such a way as to make him the author of sin and evil.  After all, Jesus taught his disciples to pray ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Mt 6:10 RSV).  If God’s sovereignty were already completely exercised de facto, why would anyone need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth?  In that case, it would always already be done on earth.  The distinction between God’s sovereignty de facto and de jure is required by the Lord’s Prayer.” 10

Olson further elaborates on the concept of sovereignty de facto and sovereignty de jure:

“EVANGELICAL theologian Stanley Grenz (1950 – 2005) offered a helpful distinction in God’s providence… It is the distinction between ‘sovereignty de facto’ and sovereignty de jure.’  According to Grenz, with whom I agree, due to God’s voluntary self-limitation he is now sovereign de jure (by right) but not yet sovereign de facto (in actuality).  His sovereignty de facto is future.  This reflects the biblical narrative in which Satan is the ‘god of this age’ (2 Cor. 4:4) (where ‘world’ clearly means ‘this present evil age’), and God will defeat him in the coming age to become ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28). The entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 can be interpreted in no other way; it assumes the distinction between God’s sovereign rule de jure now and de facto in the future.  This is not to say, of course, that God is not actually sovereign now at all; it only says that God is allowing his sovereignty to be challenged and his will to be partially thwarted until then.” 11

In reading Dr. Olson’s chapter on Arminianism and the sovereignty of God in Arminian Theology, only one conclusion can be drawn: Arminians (that is, true Arminians, as opposed to semi-Pelagians) strongly affirm God’s sovereignty.  In fact, their affirmation of, and beliefs about, God’s sovereignty are so strong so as to be scarcely weaker than that of Calvinists.  The one exception is the issue of sin and evil, for Arminians believe that if God were to exercise meticulous control and cause everything, then He would be the author of sin (a Biblically untenable position).  It is on this basis (and also on the basis that Arminians believe it is everywhere assumed in Scripture) that the Arminian posits the concept of divine self-limitation.

Quoting notable Arminians such as Arminius, Episcopius, Limborch, Wesley, Pope, et al., Olson is able to conclude that,

“FROM Arminius on, Arminians of the heart, as opposed to those Arminians who veered into deism or later liberal theology, heartily embraced and promoted the concurrence and governance of God, even in the details of history.  But they sought to develop a concept of God’s sovereignty that would avoid making God the author of sin and evil, something they believed Calvinism could not do.  This necessarily involved the idea of God’s voluntary self-limitation in relation to creation for the sake of human liberty.  They believed that this does not detract from God’s sovereign oversight of human decisions and actions; thus God is able to make everything work together for the good in his plan and purpose.  Above all, these Arminians affirmed that nothing can happen apart from God’s permission.  God is sufficiently powerful to stop anything from happening, but he does not always exercise that power, because to do so would be to rob his free and rational creatures, created in his image, of their distinct reality and liberty… Every classical Arminian shares with every classical Calvinist the belief that God is in charge of and governs the entire creation, and will powerfully and perhaps unilaterally bring about the consummation of his plan.” 12

To sum up, I think it would be accurate to say that the Arminian view of God’s sovereignty is just as strong as the Calvinist view, with the one exception being the denial of meticulous determinism, for on the Arminian view, this would seem to necessitate God’s authorship of sin and evil.  The Arminian thus sees God’s reputation and character as being at stake.  In order to rescue God’s character, the Arminian, while holding to a strong view of sovereignty, will posit that God sovereignly limits Himself (He is thus exercising, and not abdicating, His sovereignty).  This is seen in the distinction between sovereignty de facto and sovereignty de jure, where, as Olson says, at the present time, God is allowing His sovereignty to be challenged, and His will to be partially thwarted.

Notes

1 Palmer, Edwin The Five Points of Calvinism (2009: 27th Printing, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI), p. 85
2 Tozer, ‘The Sovereignty of God,’ in The Knowledge of the Holy
3 Dr. Olson is, in my opinion, one of the more articulate representatives of Arminianism in our day.
4 Olson, Roger Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (2006: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL), p. 116
5 Granted, there are some individual Calvinists who do not necessarily believe in divine determinism, but determinism appears to be the traditional view among Calvinists, being especially affirmed by John Calvin himself.  See also Are Calvinists Determinists?
6 Holding, J. P., ‘On Unconditional Election’ (<http://www.tektonics.org/tulip/ulip.html&gt;)
7 Walls, Jerry and Dongell, Joseph,  Why I Am Not A Calvinist (2004: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL), p. 145
8 Olson, Roger Against Calvinism (2011: Grand Rapids, MI), p. 99
9 Ibid., p. 101
10 Olson, Arminian Theology, pp. 117-118
11 Olson, Against Calvinism, p. 100
12 Olson, Arminian Theology, pp. 132, 135