Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calvinists on Arminians

In their book Why I Am Not an Arminian (IVP, 2004) authors Robert Peterson and Michael Williams (both of Covenant Theological Seminary) begin with some good words on how they as Calvinists view Arminians.
Calvinism and Arminianism do disagree regarding significant issues having to do with salvation, issues that we believe Calvinism rightly addresses and Arminianism does not.  We believe that at certain points Arminianism presents a skewed picture of the gospel.  The Synod of Dort was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God.  Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate.  You see, calling someone a heretic is serious business.  Heresy is not merely doctrinal error; it is damnable error.  The heretic so mangles the gospel of Jesus Christ that it no longer communicates the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Heresy is such a corruption of the grace of God in Christ that it invalidates either Jesus as the Savior or grace as the way of salvation.  The Arminian tradition does neither.  The Arminian Christian believes that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to save sinners and that the saving work of Christ comes to the sinner by way of the grace of God received through faith.  Whatever issues relevant to salvation we disagree upon, let us agree on this: the Calvinist and the Arminian are brothers in Christ.  Both belong to the household of faith.  The issue of debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contributions of both God and man in human history.  (p. 13)
Later they go on to write:
Polemics often degenerate into name calling or use descriptors in association with Arminians that Arminian theologians do not themselves employ.  Rather than resort to name calling, we will seek to let people name themselves.  Such a goal also demands that we refrain from making charges without clear evidence or from ascribing to Arminian theologians conclusions that they themselves refuse to draw.  We should not push an adversary's position to what seems to us to be a natural consequence of the position.  At best, such consequences might be a danger or tendency of belief if overly emphasized.  People usually live in the middle of their commitments rather than at their logical periphery.  This is so because it is usually the case that one theological commitment within a tradition is moderated by other commitments.  To no small degree, the very heart of the Calvinist-Arminian debate is about the nature of the relationship between divine action in salvation and history, on the one hand, and human responsibility in salvation and history, on the other.  Both traditions seek to relate the human to the divine.  Thus what is said about human agency in history will necessarily moderate statements about God's historical relationships.  It would be easy to take the Calvinist commitment to the sovereignty of God in all things, push it to some "logical conclusion" through inference, and conclude that human beings have no proper role or agency in history, that they are but puppets trapped within an utterly amoral and deterministic stage play.  Yet the characterization would not be one that many Calvinists would want to claim as their own. Indeed, the vast majority of us would strenuously object that we have been misrepresented.  (p. 16)