Another Common Objection to Augustinian Soteriology
[It seems to be a current fad among Arminian laymen and scholars to attempt to refute Calvinism by claiming that since most of the early church did not believe in irresistible Grace, limited atonement, and unconditional election (before the time of Augustine at least) then it cannot be true. An Arminian yesterday wrote me an email appealing to this very line of reasoning. He said that since we cannot prove that the historic church before Augustine held this view, our appeal can only be to the early church of the Apostles which, they say, we exegete through an Augustinian or Calvinistic grid.
Three things we might say in response to this argument:
1) The early Church was rightly more concerned and focused on matters of the Trinity and Christology. There were more basic anti-Trinitarian, Christological heresies to contend with. Among believers at the time there was a simple faith in Jesus and further matters of soteriology had not been worked out. Soteriological heresies would later force the church to deal with the issues of grace and faith head on. At the time, the Holy Spirit, no doubt, moved in individuals to understand salvation by grace alone through faith alone as well as ideas of divine election on some rudimentary levels, but this was not yet hammered out church doctrine.
2) Trying to refute Calvinism by appealing to some early church fathers is a logical fallacy. Such arguments appeal to those persons in the early church, rather than the Apostles or Scripture text as authoritative. Appeals to less-than-ultimate authorities are always fallible and should, therefore, be avoided. This kind of argument is also know as a circumstantial ad hominem fallacy. i.e. The church father Origen did not believe in irresistible grace, therefore, we should not either.
3) lastly, the argument itself is fatal to the Arminians own belief system. Not only is this argument a classic logical fallacy (as noted above) but the argument itself, if accepted, is also a clear rejection of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone (if they wish to remain consistent in their argument). Why? because if they indeed believe this is a valid argument against Calvinism (and it appears they do), then they have no basis whatsoever to argue against a Roman Catholic who tells them that justification by faith alone was likewise not held or promoted by the church in the first three centuries. In fact, I have heard Romans Catholics also use this very argument against Protestants. And since Arminians believe this is a valid line of reasoning against Calvinists, then they must also accept the Roman Catholic line against their belief as equally valid. Otherwise if they use the argument against Calvinists but do not accept the argument when used against themselves by the Catholic it would obviously be more than a little hypocritical, no? This is, therefore, a fatal error.
So in other words, the Arminian would be wise to go back to the drawing board because, in this line of reasoning, they have just given up the baby with the bath water. I hope this is enough to stir some hearts to recognize how far people go to protect a system over the revealed text of Scripture. If one believes that justification by faith alone to be critical to their confession then they need to re-consider why they would use an argument that could just as easily be used (fallaciously) against themselves to undermine their own entire belief system just to prove a point.
Any more comments are welcome.