Bemused By Wesleyan-Arminianism (Un)merited Mercy

John Wesley

Roger Olson, following Wesleyan-Arminianism tradition, quoted John Wesley concurring with the notion that God choice on who receives His mercy did  “not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part.”(Olson 2011: 128-9), yet Olson contended,

For him [Wesley], salvation is given by God to the person who freely responds to the gospel with repentance and faith, which are not gifts of God or “good works” but human responses to God’s gift of prevenient grace.(ibid. 129)

Thus“[e]lection”, namely God bestowed mercy on whomever He has mercy, “is simply God’s foreknowledge of who will freely receive this grace unto salvation (Rom. 8:29)”(ibid. 129).

If God salvation is given to those who response to God’s gift of prevenient grace, then contrary to Romans 9:16, God’s mercy depends on human will i.e. “the restore[d] freedom of the will” and God who has mercy viz., bestowing the “enabling grace: “The very power to ‘work together with Him’ was from God.”(129).

I agree with Bob Utley when he averred,

It must also be stated that God’s sovereign choices are not based on foreknowledge of human’s future choices and actions. If this were true then ultimately individual’s choices and actions and merits would be the basis of God’s choices (cf. v. 16; I Pet. 1:2)(Utley 1998: n.p)

In Olson’s synergism, an elect can boast in his salvation since it partly depended on his response toward prevenient grace.  Michael Horton begged to differ with Olson and contended for monergism. He argued,

Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, redeemed by Christ in history, receiving an inheritance in Christ, and being sealed in Christ by the gospel, we receive our salvation from start to finish as the work of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. 1:3–14).(Horton 2011: 102)

From this, I believe, an elect cannot boast since his salvation did neither depend on his will nor exertion, but on God, who has mercy. I could be missing something, so I am welcoming correction and edification from my fellow theologians who hold Wesleyan-Arminianism traditional understanding of the doctrine of election.

Bibliography:

Horton, M. (2011). For Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Utley, R. J. (1998). Vol. Volume 5: The Gospel According to Paul: Romans. Study Guide Commentary Series (Ro 9:14). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

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About Prayson Daniel

Prayson Daniel is a Tanzanian, married to Lea and a father to Eloise. Reformed theology, philosophy of religion, apologetics and church history are areas he enjoy reading, pondering and sharing with a motto "when love comes first, disagreement follows at its right and proper place".

8 comments

  1. Roy

    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”. Ephesians 2:8-9

    “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!” 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

    So I think you are correct Prayson, about not boasting in ones salvation.

    In setting forth the infinite and eternal blessings that God has bestowed upon the believer, Paul begins with the doctrine of predestination.

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6

    One cannot help but to notice the complete lack of any mention of man’s involvement in the process of salvation. God is the One who is seen accomplishing salvation; man is seen only as the receiver of such blessings.

    In the same way in which God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, so also in that same way He chose us. Just as He is the source of our every blessing, so also He is the source of our election. As we did not bring the blessing upon ourselves through our action, so also we did not bring our election upon ourselves. It was God who chose us.

    If we are to understand that man’s salvation is predetermined by God, then is it necessary for man to hear the message of the gospel and to respond to it in faith and repentance? Shall men not be saved solely on the basis of whether they have been predestined and quite apart from their faith and repentance?

    This is visibly illustrated in the book of Acts when we read of the salvation of the Gentile believers in Antioch.

    “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:38).

    These Gentiles heard the message of the gospel and a number of them believed the message and were saved. Luke describes this number as those who had been appointed to eternal life.

    God has predestined the evangelistic process just as He determines those who will respond to that process. Rather than being a hindrance, this can serve as a great incentive to evangelism.

    Paul sets forth this principle in his last epistle to Timothy. He writes this epistle from a prison in Rome. He has been arrested and is awaiting trial before the Emperor Nero. He knows that he will soon be put to death. He has suffered great hardships for the cause of the gospel. In the midst of this situation, he writes of HIS MOTIVATION in enduring these sufferings:

    “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE WHO ARE CHOSEN, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:8-10

    Paul endured all of these things for the sake of those whom God had chosen. He saw himself as an instrument which God was using to bring those chosen ones to salvation. Thus we see that in the very context of his teaching on election, Paul proclaims his own responsibility in bringing men to Christ.

    But this is not all. Paul also realized that the message of the gospel would not be imprisoned just because he was now in a Roman dungeon.

    Paul knew that God’s plan would not fall apart just because Paul was not there to oversee it. He knew that God would not fail. He knew that God had planned for Paul’s imprisonment and that, by enduring that imprisonment, the cause of the gospel would be furthered.

    If it is true that God has predestined men to be saved and, if it is also true that God has ordained the means through which they will come to Christ (ie., the hearing of the gospel), then predestination is a guarantee that my faithfulness in the preaching of the gospel will bear fruit. The reason that the Lord can say that His word shall accomplish what He desires (Isaiah 55:11) is because He has determined the fruitfulness of the presentation of His gospel.

    This has a very practical application. It means that whenever we share the gospel, God has ordained both the fact of our being there to do that service, as well as the result which the gospel will have on those who hear. If we have a correct view of election, then we will realize that we have the guarantee of success in our presentation of the gospel.

  2. @ Peter B. & gratiaetnatura

    I respect your opinion, but your looking at it through human eye’s and not Godly eye’s.

    You put unwarranted attention on human nature that the bible does not.

    Your theology is not biblical and cannot be found in scripture but instead in human and religious traditions.

    Look at it this way:

    After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect.’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but not you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction towards hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish. – Mark Webb

    • Roy

      Wow Troy. Very simple to understand explanation. I Like It.

      I searched the web and found the entire article by Mark Webb.

      http://www.gracesermons.com/hisbygrace/difference.html

      also in part…

      “In time, I think I have come to a better understanding of why people respond to these doctrines as they do. I think the answer is this: These teachings threaten the very righteousness they are trusting in for their salvation! If you think you are saved because YOU decided, YOU chose, YOU walked an aisle, etc., and if you are resting the hope of your soul upon YOUR decision, YOUR choice, YOUR action, whatever it was, these doctrines will be downright deadly to such a hope! Either you’ll have to turn away from your false hopes, admitting your lost condition, and cast yourself on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, OR you must attack the doctrines (and the one proclaiming them) that are robbing you of the very ground of your hope before God!”

      “Now what’s to prevent you from doing so? Election? Predestination? Hardly! You’ll not receive any sympathy in the day of judgment by pleading “election” as the reason you didn’t come to Christ! Friend, ALL men are invited to come to Christ! God’s eternal decrees do not BAR you from approaching Christ’s throne! No, if you do not come, it’s not “election” that’s the problem, but something else. It’s your old sinful, Satanic heart of pride that just cannot bring itself to abandon yourself and your own supposed works of righteousness as your hope before God. If you cannot stand before God in Heaven singing “I did it MY way,” you would just as soon not go there! But the song of saints in Heaven is NOT “Worthy am I,” but “Worthy is the LAMB!” No other song is known, desired, or allowed there! Why not turn from your false hopes, humble yourself before God, admitting what you are and the game you’ve been playing, and turn to Christ? Give up on yourself, no matter how self-abasing that might be, and look to Christ and Christ alone.”

      “Yes, there is a faith in Christ that SAVES the soul, praise God—but there is also a faith in ourselves that DAMNS! Which is it, dear reader, in your case?”

    • Peter B.

      I’m not entirely sure where you found a problem with what I said. I’m not a Calvinist, but I put a lot of emphasis on the sovereignty of God. I merely pointed out that the Arminian point of view tends to call God’s character into question in the case of Calvinism, however, I disagree with that view that many non-Calvinists take. I agree that even on a Calvinist point of view that God doesn’t “send” people to hell, but rather they send themselves. However, I do not feel that Calvinism is an accurate description of God’s plan for salvation, and how could it be? The New Testament has within it all we need to know God’s plan. I see no reason to wait more than 1500 years for a reformation thinker to suddenly enlighten the world to the mind of God.
      In my humble opinion, it is those who try to place the power of God into a limited understanding that don’t approach to topic Biblically.

  3. If I had to list people in hell (knowing it is not my right), John Calvin would be one of the first. The notion that God arbitrarily predestines some people to salvation and others to damnation makes God evil, and has to be one of the most demonic versions of Christianity ever invented by a schismatic. God knows our future choices, but that does not imply they are not choices. As a high-church Anglican, I believe that God responds to human acceptance of His offer of salvation which is normally done through faith and baptism in the name of the Trinity for the remission of sins. Then God gives us the grace and strength to do good works–yet a Christian can later reject the gift he has received and be lost. Otherwise God is an arbitrary tyrant who is utterly unworthy of worship. I would rather be in Hell than worship the God of Synod of Dort Calvinism.

    • Peter B.

      anLet me start out by saying that I am not a Calvinist. If pressed, I would say that I agree with about 1.5 points of Calvin’s doctrine (Total depravity and depending on the context of the position, perseverance of the saints). I think that Calvinism is grossly misrepresented by the vast majority of it’s opponents. Likewise, I feel the same thing happens with the traditional (and Wesleyan) Arminianist beliefs. As such, most of the debate on this subject ends up devolving into attacking straw men and engaging in merely verbal disputes.

      gratiaetnatura, I think you raise a good point that if Calvinism is the case, the character of God comes into question. I for a very long time have struggled with the idea that God willingly sends people to hell – that is my greatest objection to Calvinism. However, I am often brought back to the sovereignty of God. While I hate resorting to such phrases as “God is above our understanding” and “God works in mysterious ways”, I am not opposed to saying “who are we?” God has the sovereignty to operate the world as he sees fit, and if our finite minds disagree with a way he operates, then it becomes a battle of moral high ground with Mankind vs. God. Personally, I would side with God. If he so chooses to operate in a way that I deem unsavory, it seems quite pathetic for me to shake my fist at God and tell him he’s doing things the wrong way – Remember when Peter tries to rebuke Jesus in Matthew 16? While I believe that God would be perfectly sovereign and justified to operate the universe in a way that he sees fit contrary to our own view, I do not feel that this is the case. I would have no problem worshipping God if he were to truly operate in a Calvinistic sense because he would still be God, and the God of the universe deserves our worship regardless of our feelings; it is very nature as Divine that should cause us to bow in worship, not whether we agree with his methods. While I would still worship God as Calvinistic, I do not see this as the case. Then again, I feel he Arminianism view of God is also inadequate. While extreme Calvinism tends to devolve into fatalism and deterministic anti-evangelism, extreme Arminianism tends to devolve into anthropocentric view of the universe (as if the universe were created just for us, ignoring the fact that everything that happens is for God’s glory and not our own).

      I think both views have serious flaws, and that tends to happen when we take an unlimited God and try to limit him so that he fits into our man sized boxes. Worst of all, we declare that others are evil because they simply try to put God in a different box, – and at the end of the day, we’re all just sinners sinning against sinners. This is actually the last topic I preached on at my church, so it’s something I’m quite passionate about.

      Finally, to say that Calvin would be on the top of the list of people in Hell is a wretched thing to say. Calvin was a Christian who loved and followed Jesus Christ. On your own Church’s – and assuming your own – Those who claim the name of Christ and respond to his offer of acceptance will be saved. While Calvin may have a very different doctrine than you, he still responded to the same Savior.

      It is important to remember that Calvinism says nothing on what it takes to BE saved, it simply addresses the method of HOW one comes to be saved. It is by many denominations (mine included) to be a non-essential doctrine, or one that does not affect the CORE of Christian beliefs. I think when we put it up on such a pedestal that it is a great disservice to our God and King.

    • Devon Mobley

      This is a particularly concerning comment (beginning with the first sentence), especially from a professor at a Christian university. Your argument lacks any scriptural backing and the anti-Calvin(ist) passion is easily read into it, showing your bias. That is not to mention that it is overly simplified and, if you’re wanting to stay in the realm of philosophy, inconsistent. As an academic I’d expect you to be more fair, have an exceptional argument/reason for rejecting the above ideas, and resist the temptation to beg the question. Not to mention that it makes me concerned for the students whom God has entrusted you with.

      Prayson, I noticed that one of your comments echoed the whole free will and foreknowledge dilemma. I wanted to forward a book to you by a professor at my university who has done some great work on the issue. She is coming from a Catholic perspective, however she stay mostly in religious philosophy that we can all agree on, rather than theology that we wouldn’t. It’s linked below.

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