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  • « Three Common Objections to Election Addressed | Main | Must Reading for your Theological Edification & Education »

    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.

    J.W. Hendryx

    Posted by John on April 12, 2006 12:39 PM


    The battles I have had with non-Reformed people in this area have nearly all centered on Divine Election and the fact that they are convinced of their Arminian view because it "makes more sense" to them.

    Reformed Theology has God in the complete control of all aspects of our salvation while the Arminian view puts it into their hands. Perhaps that "makes more sense" to them, but why can't they understand that God's ways are not our ways?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

    I would add another common Armininian objection.

    "Calvinism is derivative of Greek philosophy, not the Bible." (Open Theists frequently use this.) Usually, they make a comment about Platonism.

    When pressed Arminians simply repeat this, but they never follow through on their objection with evidence. There are a number of conditions to meet before the charge can be made to stick.

    A. Libertarian free will also comes from the same root, so the objection involves some hypocrisy on their part.

    B. What parts of Neo-Platonism are unbiblical and which are not? Second, since Neo-Platonism shows up in the creeds through their words on the nature of God and Christ, the objection could prove too much or too little. At least Open Theists are being somewhat consistent, in that they deny more than Calvinist soteriology, but rather all orthodox Theology Proper with respect to God's decrees and knowledge.

    C. Historically, there are several links in the chain from Neo-Platonism to Calvin. What is the Platonic doctrine of God with direct quotes from Plato? What is Philo's doctrine of God, since Philo was a pre-Christian Jew? Did Philo keep his Judaism intact? If not, how? Is his Platonism also colored by his Judaism, not merely his Judaism by Platonism?

    Then there's Plotinus. What was his doctrine of God. He was a post-Christian philosopher who studied uner Ammonius of Saccas what is derivative of him? Then he needs to summarize the doctrine of God in Origen, Pseudo-Dionyus, Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers, preferrably with counter-exegetical arguments. This is just the Eastern Church.

    The West has a doctrine of God too, and it interacted with the Eastern Church. One would have to trace the doctrine of God through Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas. That gets us to Maimonides and Avicenna. This feeds into the Middle Ages and Scholasticism. From there, we get to Calvin and the Reformers and their doctrine of God and then Reformed Scholasticism.

    The product would be the documentation of an evolution with direct quotes that show direct dependence. So, unless the Arminian can show this work, the claim should be dismissed.

    That was right on, I have heard that kind of reasoning used often to support different theological views. The Early church fathers didn't believe (X), therefore we shouldn't believe (X). This is as you noted opposed to supporting ones theology via scripture alone. Very good thanks.

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