Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner, eds. Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation. Eugene, OR: Resource, 2015. 352 pages. ISBN: 978-1498200127.
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1-2. Spring & Fall 2015. Volume 33.
Posted Sept., 07, 2015
Over the past few years we have seen a resurgence in Calvinism. Much of this can be pointed to the number of Calvinistic books that have been on the market - from John Piper to John MacArthur. The number of books that promote a Calvinistic worldview has seen an uprise in the number of new Calvinists. The response among Arminians has been slow but is starting to gain some speed. Arminian publications are coming available and those who wrestle with the theology of Calvinism will no doubt have questions and will want answers.
For that, I am thankful for the recent publication of the book Grace For All. Edited by John Wagner and formally by the late Clark Pinnock, the book seeks to build a case for an Arminian understanding of salvation. With theological topics ranging from the doctrine of election to the doctrine of the atonement, the book seeks to bring together various Arminian theologians of multiple backgrounds to set up an Arminian view of the doctrine of salvation.
The book opens with the God-centered theology of Arminianism written by Roger Olson. Olson's own book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities was one of the recent books on Arminianism. This chapter focuses on the reality that Arminianism is not "Pelagian" theology or "man-centered" as so many Calvinists like to state. Using the works of Arminius, Olson builds his case that Arminianism is in fact very much focused on God. From beginning to end, the doctrine of salvation in Arminianism makes God our center and our focus. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and this is true of biblical Arminianism.
Vernon Grounds' chapter on God's universal salvific grace follows. The chapter focuses on the will of God to save the world as contrasted to Calvinism wherein God only desires to save the elect that He chose. The chapter reveals that the very heart of God is to save people. This is a point that all Christians agree on but Arminianism goes further by stating that God's heart is not just to save the lost sinner but He has actually provided for their salvation with the death of His Son.
One of my favorite chapters in this book was by Glen Shellrude. The chapter focuses on problematic readings of the New Testament if read through a Calvinist sense. Shellrude shows the inconsistency in the Calvinist view of divine determinism if in fact divine determinism is true. The chapter wrestles with the concept of free will as opposed to the compatibilistic view brought forth by Calvinist theologians. In essence, do people have a free choice with regard to sin or righteousness? The Arminian understanding is yes. The Calvinist answer is no. Calvinists argue that people make free choices only so far as their nature is determined by God so that a person chooses based on their nature which is sinful. Yet if God is sovereign in the Calvinist sense, then He has determined whatsoever comes to pass and even the sinful choices of men.
The mystery is how is God not guilty of sin since He cannot sin nor does He tempt to sin (James 1:12-15)? Arminians answer by pointing to the Scriptures and holding firmly the concept of prevenient grace where God works in the heart of man to do His will. God has given mankind free will yet He still exercises control over His creation. Thus while men freely killed Jesus, God willed it so yet He did not cause them to sin but rather He allowed the sin foreknowing it would take place based on their free will decisions (Acts 2:22-23). The divine determinism of Calvinism is not necessary when we understand the biblical concept of God's prevenient grace.
The book also features chapters dealing with the intent and extent of the atonement (Robert Picirilli), conditional election (Jack Cottrell), and deals with predestination passages in both the Old and New Testament. J. Matthew Pinson has a chapter on Jacobus Arminius from a "reformed Arminian" perspective in which he argues that Arminius is in line with the Reformers and their views.
Vic Reasoner's chapter on John Wesley's doctrines on the theology of grace focuses on what Wesley taught concerning not just Calvinism but why he rejected it. Dr. Reasoner then shows the grace-centered nature of Wesley's theology by focusing on three main doctrines emphasized by Wesley regarding salvation. First, Wesley taught preliminary grace. The biblical concept of prevenient grace kept Wesley from being Pelagian in his theology. Wesley emphasized that prevenient grace is a temporary condition and not a permanent one. God draws sinners to Himself by His grace. The Spirit of God works in the hearts of sinners to draw them to salvation (John 16:8-11). Because of the nature of our depravity, mankind does not choose freely to follow Christ and obey the gospel. Instead, our "free" will is free only to sin apart from the grace of God. Secondly, Wesley taught justifying grace wherein God saves the sinner who meets the condition that He has stated and that is faith (Mark 16:16). This work is not coercive but can be resisted (Acts 7:51). Wesley emphasized that we are justified though faith and not unto faith (Rom 5:1). This saving faith in the work of Jesus Christ assures us of our salvation (Rom 8:14-16). Lastly, Wesley emphasized perfecting grace. This teaching of Wesley has been largely misunderstood as Reasoner points out. Wesley wasn't teaching "sinless perfection" but rather an "ongoing life of wholeness." Even Calvinists have praised Wesley for his emphasis here on sanctification. The fact is that God has promised to save us from sin and its power and has given us promises of Christian perfection (2 Cor 7:1). Wesley himself did not use the term "sinless perfection" but instead "perfect love" where the believer loves God perfectly (1 Thess 5:16-18).
I must say that this book is a welcomed addition to books on Arminianism. I appreciated that the editors focused not just on Arminian theology but also showed how it contrasts to Calvinism. The Calvinist exegesis is shown to be faulty based on the Calvinist presuppositions. There is much to learn from here in this book and I am thankful to God for it.