Tag Archives: Christianity

Arminianism and Penal Substitutionary Atonement: Doctrinal Inconsistencies

It is important to think of theological beliefs as a system rather than a series of isolated doctrines, otherwise we may hold positions that logically contradict in which case one ought to rectify such a contradiction. This is important as, assuming one takes a realist position as to the nature of truth, two propositions that are logically contradictory cannot both be true as it would violate the law of non-contradiction-one of the most basic laws of thought. If it is the case, as I intend to (briefly) demonstrate, that the soteriological position of Arminianism and the Penal Substitutionary theory of Atonement are logically incompatible, then it behooves Christians who hold to both theories to drop one (or both) or modify one (or both) of the theories in order to find a more consistent theological model. Now, a brief prefatory comment before beginning to lay out the doctrines; that the two are inconsistent by no either is incorrect, or that either is correct (cards on the table, I personally adhere to neither), merely that an intellectually honest Christian cannot adhere to both. Now then, prior to any attempt to demonstrate incompatibilities, it is necessary to lay out, in brief, what the respective doctrines teach.

The Penal Substitutionary theory of Atonement is a result of the Reformers expanding Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory to correct what they saw as inadequacies. Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory teaches (in brief) that Man’s rebellion offended the divine honor of God and Christ’s sacrifice afforded a surplus of honor as His life of perfect obedience to the Father afforded an unquantifiably large sum of honor. In contrast to this concentration of divine honor, Calvin and his Reformer brethren moved the emphasis to divine Justice believing that, while Anselm’s theory was good it had an insufficient view of sin. In this theory, Christ’s sacrifice is taking the guilt of the sinners’ upon Himself and bearing their punishment and taking upon Himself the Just Wrath of God towards the sins of the redeemed releasing them from the weight of their inequities.

Arminian soteriology (at least the parts relevant to this discussion) holds that, by His Prevenient Grace, God counter-acts the detrimental affects of the Fall allowing all people the possibility of responding to the gospel. Every person receives a “call” to salvation from God, it is up to their free-will to decide whether or not they would respond positively or negatively. While God, in His foreknowledge and atemporality knows who will respond how, He does not cause any to reject the gospel; the offer is truly open to all and the choice is made by each individual.

So, Whats the big deal? Well Penal Substitutionary Atonement necessitates a “closed” atonement- the sins of each individual sinner are placed upon Christ. This means that the redeemed, and only the redeemed, are covered by the Atonement of Christ On the other hand, in order for the offer to be open to all in a meaningful way, Arminianism necessitates an “open” atonement in which anyone can partake in it. Now, as is apparent by now, the contradiction lies in the one necessitating an open atonement whereas the other necessitates a closed one. It is possible to reconcile the two by changing Penal Substitutionary view to be Christ’s substitution for the Church (corporate Atonement) or for the penalty due to Sin in general rather than sins in particular; however, as is typically articulated Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Arminianism are incompatible.

 

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The Election of Israel: and what it says about Calvinism

The teachings of Calvinism can be summarized in the acronym
TULIP
T- total depravity
U- unconditional election
L- limited atonement
I- irresistible grace
P- preservation of saints

Each point is worthy of discussion, but for my purposes I will focus on “U”, unconditional election.

First, let’s define terms:

Unconditional election- the teaching that before God created the world, He chose to save some people for His own purposes apart from any conditions related to them. Or, in lay man’s terms, God chooses who is saved (“Elect”) independent of anything they do.

When discussing this topic, many self-professing Calvinists I have spoken too have made the point that Israel’s election as a chosen nation in the Old Testament foreshadows/mirrors/shows that God’s election is in fact unconditional. But was Israel’s election really unconditional? Let’s see what scripture says.

The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous then all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because He loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers.(Deuteronomy 7:7-8a)

So, Israel’s election was conditioned on the promise God made to their father (Abraham). What was that promise?

Then the Angel of The Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, by Myself I have sworn,” this is the Lord’s declaration: “because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gates of their enemies. And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed my command. (Genesis 22:15-18)

Thus, Israel’s election was not unconditional as some claim; but rather conditioned upon the oath God swore to Abraham, which itself was conditioned on the faith and obedience he had demonstrated!

Now, this doesn’t disprove unconditional election, but it does provide support for the idea that God’s election is predicated upon our faith.

Continue reading The Election of Israel: and what it says about Calvinism

Creation Stewardship

Earlier today I went to the lake with my girlfriend and some friends for her birthday. We ate dinner, had some cake and played around… it was a great time! Both for us having fun and just enjoying nature.

While we were there at least three families, with a lot of little kids, were also enjoying the lake. Fishing, swimming, Marco Polo (old school fun!), and otherwise just having a great day.

But then I looked at the shore. There were bottle caps, busted bottles, empty beer cans and other assorted trash and pollutants. And I began to wonder, If we treat nature like this how long will these beautiful environments be around for our enjoyment?

Environmentalism, justly, has some stigmatism about it. The stereotypical environmentalist is a hippy or some form of new-age neopagan earth “mother” worshippers who put nature above man, believing it to be divine. This is false and Christians, rightly, have separated themselves from this movement. But have we gone to far?

The bible says: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

Now, what does “dominion” mean? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “Controlling power or influence over others”. Man loves this. We have authority over the earth it is ours to do with as we please. Accept its not. We are given dominion over the earth to glorify God. Since the fall of man, we have forgotten our purpose in having dominion.

God is the true King of the world, and just as the stewards of Gondor kept the kingdom running and dealt with upkeep and governing while awaiting the true king (Lord of the Rings), So man must be for God. It is not our place to ruin God’s creation but to look after it awaiting the return of the king.

Thus, while we should reject environmentalism all christians should engage in “creation stewardship”. We must take care of the earth but acknowledge the reason, Not because it is divine but because we are God’s stewards.

Apologetics: What is it and why should we care?

“Apologetic” is a word we derive from the Greek word “apologia” which means “to give an answer or defense” and carries the connotation of a courtroom defense. When used within the context of Christianity it is the intellectual discipline of offering an intellectual (usually philosophic, scientific, or historic in nature) defense of Christianity and the process of explaining to Christians the nuances of Christian doctrines; more specifically explaining to Christians how to articulate and defend their own faith.

When dealing with “why should we care” the first question to answer is “what does the bible have to say?” Well in 1 Peter 3:15-16 scripture says, “but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.  However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame (HCSB). So there answer to that is: scripture clearly mandates the use. More than that, in Acts 17:22-34 Luke (the author of Acts) describes Paul providing a robust apologetic defense of Christianity centering around natural theology (God making heavens and earth) and reason (God made all therefore He cannot be images fashioned by human hands). These are the two most famous passages of scripture dealing with the issue of apologetic ministries but they are by far not the only ones (see: 2 Corinthians 10:5, Colossians 4:5-6, Acts 18:4, Titus 1:9, Acts 18:28, Acts 19:8-10, and Acts 2:14-41)

So scripture mandates it but, on a more pragmatic level, is it needed? Yes! A proper apologetic ministry is absolutely necessary in the modern church. We currently live in an “enlightened” age, where “science” and “reason” are put forth as more authoritative than “faith”, young Christians going off to college are leaving the church in vast numbers because they have no rational grounding for their faith to stand on and, once challenged, they cannot defend or explain what they believe or why. More than that, apologetics can be used in evangelistic methods; for example, in his testimony C.S. Lewis cites philosophic apologetics (namely objective morality) as an important tool in his eventual conversion from atheism to Christianity. 

Rational apologetics is clearly a ministry that is commanded by scripture and needed in our society, unfortunately our Church culture has failed in this aspect due to the trend of anti-intellectualism that stems from a rejection of the age of enlightenment. The Christian Church must cease to hide itself behind this wall of anti-intellectualism and reclaim the rational grounding for our great faith.


 

If anyone is interested in more on Apologetics I recommend:

  • C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, Problem of Pain, and Miracles
  • Website Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig (Podcast, Scholarly articles, and Q&As)
  • Douglas Groothuis: Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith