(It was very strange to leave Love Field in Dallas following my layover last night to head “home” to Amarillo. Amarillo is my home. Strange. I found myself in the Love Field terminal defending the merits of living in Amarillo to a guy who just moved here from Denver four months ago. I was defending Amarillo. Strange. And when I got off the plane at Rick Husband and smelled the little bit of “cow” in the air, it felt… comfortable. Familiar. No cowboy boots or ten gallon hat. No belt buckle yet the size of a cookie platter. But Amarillo is home. Strange.)
Following four days with the world’s foremost scholars on Arminian theology, I have a new appreciation for Jacob Arminius and, surprisingly, the way he has shaped us. Most of us don’t even know his name. But we are deeply connected to his ways of viewing God and thinking about salvation. The longer the conference went on at Point Loma, the more I came to realize that I’m preaching this stuff. I’m already teaching this stuff. These are the things I’ve believed most of my life.
Keith summarized Arminian thought by laying out the five articles of the Remonstrance of 1610 — basically a defense of Arminius’ teachings by his students and followers just a few weeks after his death:
1) God chose to save through Jesus Christ all those who through grace would believe in him and persevere to the end.
2) Jesus Christ obtained forgiveness of sins sufficient for all.
3) Fallen humanity can think or do nothing that is truly good by free will.
4) God’s grace, which is not irresistible, is necessary for thinking or doing any good.
5) True believers are enabled by grace to persevere to the end, and it may be possible to lose this grace.
These five articles became the focus of almost a full decade of disputes and debates and conferences aimed at refuting them point by point, resulting finally in the canons of the Synod of Dort in 1619 that became for all of the Netherlands and much of Europe part of the confessional creeds. In the 400 years since, today, and for the next 400 years, I suppose, the discussions between Calvinists and Arminians will be along these same five lines.
Why does this matter? How is any of it really important? Well, how do you think about God? How do you respond to your salvation from God in Christ? The ways you view Christ’s salvation and God’s love and grace will, in large part, determine your Christian response.
These points of Arminian theology have everything to do with the questions we wrestle with all the time. For example, we know that our God is active and involved in our lives; we also know we are not just programmable robots. How do you reconcile that? We’ve all known wonderfully sacrificial servants of Christ, true disciples of our Lord, who, at death’s door, are not certain they are really saved; and others who are so certain of their eternal salvation that they believe their continued lives of sin and refusal to repent will result in no ill consequences. Where’s the correct ground between this hopelessness and carelessness?
The way we think informs the way we live.
God loves all mankind. He created us out of love and he desires that all men and women be saved to live with him in eternity, face to face. God provides the atonement for our transgressions in the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the atonement for all mankind. Every sin that’s ever been committed or thought and every sin that will ever be committed or thought has been paid for. Forgiven. Completely. And God’s grace to believe the Gospel story, God’s grace to put faith in Christ Jesus, God’s grace to live a life worthy of that salvation is available to all. To everybody. In equal measure. But God loves us too much to force us to do anything. He’s not going to make you. He’ll push you and compel you, his grace will cause you to know you must put your trust in him, his grace has opened your eyes to him. But he won’t force you. He won’t possess you to make you do something against your will. He loves you too much.
God loves and desires and works to save all; not just some. That’s the Christian confession. From day one.
And it motivates me to live for my Lord. It moves me to live a life of eternal gratitude to my Father. It pushes me to be serious about forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead; pressing on; attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; adding to my faith in increasing measure. It means I, too, love and desire and work to save all; not just some. It challenges me to live in God’s grace every moment of every day, to accept his grace every hour, to give glory to God for this grace that saves me. To me, it puts all the focus and glory on a gracious Father who moves heaven and earth, who breaks through the barriers of time and space, to deliver me in all my sin. I live for that God.