BURNING (ARMINIAN) STRAW DUMMIES
by Randy Seiver
(Straw Man: Misrepresenting an opposing view in a way that is easy to refute.)
The usual way of arguing against one of the doctrines of grace is first, to misrepresent it so badly that no serious student of the Scripture would ever embrace it; then totally demolish it with arguments that have nothing at all to do with the issue. In matters of controversy, this practice is sometimes referred to as “burning straw dummies.”
A little honest investigation and serious study of the issues involved would cause the opponents of these truths to be far more reticent to speak against doctrines about which they understand so little.
Charles Spurgeon, addressing this very matter one hundred years ago, asked, “Why do they earnestly set themselves to confute what no one defends?”
It is the purpose of this booklet to clarify the issues in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. It is intended to be neither an exposition nor a defense of the doctrines of grace, since there is already an adequate supply of good literature on that subject (see bibliography.). It is rather intended to define the limits of the debate, so that those who shoot their venomous arrows at these poor, despised creates called “Calvinists,” will at least know what their target is.
It is said that Mr. Spurgeon was, on one occasion, invited to debate the issue of infant baptism. His opponent suggested that they each, in turn, quote a verse supporting their own position. To this, Mr. Spurgeon agreed. His opponent stood first and quoted Matthew 19:14 — “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.” When his opponent sat down, Mr. Spurgeon rose and quoted his first text — Job 1:1 — “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.”
“Mr. Spurgeon,” his opponent said, “I fail to see what your verse has to do with infant baptism.” To which Mr. Spurgeon replied, “So, too, I fail to see what your verse has to do with infant baptism.”
Scripture verses have been quoted (and misquoted) almost endlessly to disprove the doctrines of grace. Yet, in most cases, we would be no further from the real issue if we said, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.”
The first “straw dummy” that we need to consider is the charge that “Calvinists” are man followers, who elevate Calvin’s writings to (or above) the level of Holy Scripture. In reality, the “Calvinist” is no more a man follower than is the “Arminian.” These are merely theological labels which designate a particular doctrinal position. Were it not for the woeful ignorance of Church history that exists today, these theological labels might prove useful in distinguishing doctrinal positions. However, this is not the case. The truth is that through the efforts of zealous, but uninformed, Arminian preachers and writers, the term “Calvinist” has been so tortured and twisted that few (if any) Calvinists would be willing to wear it without explanation.
The so-called “five points of Calvinism” were not even formulated in answer to the five points of Arminianism (the Remonstrants) until over fifty years after Calvin’s death. Their relationship to Calvin or to Calvin’s writings is only incidental. It merely arose from the fact that both taught the same truths.
In regard to the charge that Calvinists exalt Calvin’s writings to the level of Scriptures, we find another clear evidence of willful ignorance of the subject at hand. If those who give this impression knew anything about the Reformation, they would know that all of the reformers and their followers believed that the Scriptures alone are binding in matters of faith and practice.
Consider the difference between the “straw dummies” and the REAL issues in each of the five doctrines of grace.
Straw Dummy 1
THE DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY (INABILITY) CANNOT BE TRUE BECAUSE:
1. The Bible teaches that all are responsible to believe and repent.
2.The Bible teaches that man has a will (choice). Man is not a robot or a puppet.
3. Every man does not act as sinfully as he is capable of acting.
4. Even wicked men perform acts which are good in the sight of other people.
1. The Bible teaches that men, controlled by a sinful nature, are not able to believe or repent. The person who believes in free grace has no argument with the truth that sinners are responsible. What he denies is that God requires no more than man is able to do. For instance, God requires perfect obedience to His law from those who possess no ability or desire to obey it (Romans 8:7).
Man’s inability springs from his sinful and rebellious unwillingness. He CANNOT (John 6:44), because he WILL NOT .
2. The Bible does teach that man has a choice and that he acts freely in the exercise of that choice. The issue concerns whether a person, controlled by a sinful nature, will ever make the proper choice. The Bible teaches that man’s will is bound and controlled by his sinful nature; so that he cannot and will not choose Christ, believe the gospel, or forsake sin unless God, in sovereign grace, changes his nature (John 3:19-21, 6:44, 6:65; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14; Romans 3:11).
3. Every man, left to himself is capable of the most heinous sins. Every man at heart is the same (Proverbs 27:19) — deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
4. Men are wicked in God’s sight and totally incapable of doing that which is well-pleasing to Him (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 14:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20, 29; Job 15:16; Jeremiah 9:3; Romans 3:10-18).
STRAW DUMMY 2
THE DOCTRINE OF “UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION” CANNOT BE TRUE BECAUSE:
1. Anyone who wants to be saved, can be. “Whosoever will May come.”
2. God does not delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), but desires that all men repent.
3. We should preach the gospel to everyone. If God has only planned to save some, why should we preach to and pray for all?
4.”Election” and “predestination” are terms contrived by the Calvinists to cause confusion, bring division, and excuse a lack of evangelistic zeal (The issue is whether election ever took place or not).
1. The true believer in free grace will never deny that God has extended a free offer of mercy, in Christ, to all who hear the Gospel. To deny that “Whosoever will may come,” is to deny the clear teaching of God’s Word. The real issue, however, is whether any will desire salvation (in God’s way and on God’s terms) unless God gives him that desire (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:11; Psalm 58:3-5; John 3:14-21, 5:40).
2. Has God purposed to save every man? Since the Bible plainly teaches that God’s plan or purpose is always accomplished (Isaiah 46:10-11; Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 19:21; Psalm 115:3), It should be clear that He has not purposed to save everyone. If He had, everyone would be saved.
On the other hand, the Bible sets forth God’s elective purpose according to which He calls and saves His elect (Romans 8:28-30, 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-5, 9-11; 2 Timothy 1:9).
3. God has commanded us to preach to (witness to) every creature and pray for their salvation. We are not to be governed by what God has planned (which is secret to us), but by what God has commanded.
God has ordained to use means to accomplish His purpose (Romans 10:14-15). He does not save people apart from the use of means. Gospel preaching is one of the means that God has ordained to bring the elect to faith in Christ. Since we do not know who the elect are, we must preach to and pray for all.
The primary purpose for witnessing the gospel is that we might glorify God in our obedience and faithfulness to Him.
4. Every Christian who has carefully studied the Bible must believe in election and predestination. These are biblical words. The issue is whether election is conditional (based on foreseen faith) or unconditional.
STRAW DUMMY 3
THE DOCTRINE OF “PARTICULAR REDEMPTION” CANNOT BE TRUE BECAUSE:
1. Jesus’ death was sufficient for all men.
2. Jesus’ death was not limited, but was intended for all men.
1. The all-sufficiency of Christ’s death is not denied by the true believer in free grace. The Canons of Dort, which is the historical statement of the so-called “five points of Calvinism” formulated at the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht) 1618-1619, state:
“The death of the Son of God is the only and most
perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and
is of infinite worth and value, abundantly
sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”
The real issue concerns the intent of Christ’s death. Did Christ intend to accomplish redemption, propitiation and reconciliation for every man? Did He intend to make salvation possible for all men? The free grace believer replies that, though Christ’s death is of infinite value and is sufficient to redeem every man (had this been God’s intention), the true intention of Christ’s death was to accomplish effectively the full salvation of the elect, and the elect only.
2. Since all men will not be saved as a result of Christ’s death, a limitation must be admitted. It must be limited either in its extent (in that it was not intended for all) or its effectiveness (in that it did not actually secure salvation for any). The real issue is not so much, “For whom did Christ die?” but “What did He do for those for whom He did die?” If we view Christ’s death as an accomplishment, then it could not have been intended for every man.
STRAW DUMMY 4
THE DOCTRINE OF “IRRESISTIBLE GRACE” CANNOT BE TRUE, BECAUSE:
1. Men often resist (and resist successfully) God’s offers of mercy in Christ (Genesis 6:3; Acts 7:51). They even resist and finally reject the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit Himself (Acts 24:25).
2. People have a choice in coming to Christ. God does not force them to be saved against their will.
1. While it is true that sinners always resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), the issue is whether the sinner’s continual rebellion is able to thwart the eternal purpose and powerful grace of God.
If at God’s appointed time (Galatians 1:15-16) He did not subdue the sinner’s rebellion, and make him willing to embrace Christ in saving faith (Psalm 11:3), then none would ever believe (John 6:44-45).
2. The issue is not whether God forces people to believe against their will but whether any would ever be willing without a prior work of God in their souls. Those who believe in free grace, believe that God, not man, is in control in the realm of salvation (Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30, 4:7; I1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 1:15-16; 2 Timothy 1:9; Matthew 11:20-27).
STRAW DUMMY 5
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Many who are otherwise Arminian in doctrine, claim to believe this truth. But, in reality, they believe neither the Calvinistic nor the Arminian doctrine at this point.
If the opponents of free grace argue against the proposition that God will preserve all who profess faith in Christ no matter what they do (totally apart from the necessity of perseverance), then they are “burning a straw dummy.”
This is not a Calvinistic position, but a four-point Arminian position.
The real issue has nothing to do with the necessity of perseverance. Both the Arminian and the true Calvinist are agreed at this point. The point of controversy is the certainty of perseverance.
The Calvinist believes that God so preserves and supports His elect in a state of grace that they will certainly persevere in faith and holiness unto the end. This perseverance is due not to the strength of their will or the tenacity of their faith but to the power and grace of God working in them.
Those who fall away and perish in their sins, give evidence that a work of grace has never occurred in their hearts. (Consider John 10:27-29; Romans 8:28-29; Philippians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 3:6, 14).