Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Why I Am Not a Calvinist/Why I Am Not an Arminian

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Why I Am Not a Calvinist/Why I Am Not an Arminian

Article excerpt

Why I Am Not a Calvinist. By Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004, 230 pp., $14.00 paper. Why I Am Not an Arminian. By Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004, 224 pp., $14.00 paper.

Theologians do not want to miss this classic match-up, and interested pastors and laypeople will also enjoy it. Released as a pair of texts with opposing views, the Why I'm Not duo presents an up-to-date and stimulating treatment of a timeless impasse. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell are professors of philosophy and biblical studies respectively at Asbury Theological Seminary; Robert Peterson and Michael Williams are professors of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. These two works are not exactly parallel in structure, but each team of authors freely challenges the opposing theological stripe while validating its own. They highlight what they perceive to be flaws, inconsistencies, and biblical misinterpretations in the opposing theological view, especially in the arena of salvation, in order to construct a case for their preferred model. Both teams rightfully call readers to decide which theological paradigm best represents Scripture, and all strive for collegiality in the context of shared faith. The approaches and issues are somewhat predictable but still insightful; the authors strive to be irenic yet judicious. Despite improved diplomatic measures, each book can still draw the ire of readers from the opposing perspective.

Peterson and Williams portray the Calvinist view by first introducing the formative debate between Augustine and Pelagius and then presenting the Reformed perspective on predestination and perseverance in separate chapters. The seminal Synod of Dort is next examined, followed by a Reformed treatise on freedom, inability, grace, and atonement in four separate chapters. Throughout the process, these Calvinists herald the preeminence of Scripture, the absolute sovereignty of God, and the need for a compatibilist position. They recognize the role of grace in the opposing view of salvation but show how Calvinists part company with Arminians by affirming that God's grace is efficacious, particular, and irresistible. As compatibilists, they present God's sovereignty as the ultimate cause of things, while "human freedom, although not ultimate, is significant and considerable" (p. 64). They distinguish between Calvinist compatibilists who believe an ultimate/immediate cause theory (e.g. Feinberg) versus those who advocate an antinomy theory that allows for plain contradiction (e.g. Packer). Perseverance is a biblical necessity and inevitability; the authors view Hebrews apostasy passages as describing non-believers in the church while warning passages function to foster faithfulness. Prevenient grace gets special attention as universal opportunity and conditional election require biblical justification. The authors present the doctrine accurately but find its exegetical evidence thin. Predestination is buttressed by data from every major section of Scripture; the authors prefer an asymmetrical election to salvation. The bottom line for Peterson and Williams in this debate: "Divine sovereignty and human responsibility cannot be pitted against one another" so that libertarian free will is unnecessary (p. 151).

This treatment of Arminianism has an ongoing flaw. Peterson and Williams forget that Arminians believe that Scripture governs their view and not merely an "anthropocentric and abstract view of human freedom" (p. 145). They thus misrepresent the Arminian position when they claim it "enshrines an almost idolatrous doctrine of the autonomous human being" (p. 117) and that "the human will is free and the divine is not" (p. 140). They sometimes exaggerate the Arminian view of saving faith as if it were meritorious: "Rather than affirm a boot-strap doctrine of merit, the Calvinist insists upon the effectiveness of divine grace" (p. …

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