Dear Prof. Engelsma:
In the April 2007 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, you reviewed a book entitled Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, by Roger E. Olson.
In this review, you wrote the following:
==Olson frankly recognizes, and spells out, the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, but denies that they are fundamental. Under the big tent of evangelical Christianity, Arminians and Calvinists should receive each other as proclaiming somewhat different, perhaps complementary, versions of the gospel. In fact, Arminianism, at least the Arminianism of Arminius himself, is nothing more than a variant of the Reformed faith. Arminianism corrects the extreme positions of "high Calvinism." It is a kinder, gentler form of Calvinism. Arminian theology that is true to Arminius (Olson freely admits the apostasy of such as Finney) is a mild Calvinism that makes the love of God rather than the power of God central to the gospel.
Roger Olson's book will meet with a warm, private reception in Reformed circles, even though prudence may dictate that the public display of enthusiasm in the journals and magazines be tempered.
Many Reformed and Presbyterian theologians have for a long time taught hordes of seminarians to respect and receive "evangelical Arminians" as spiritual brothers and sisters and even to welcome them into their churches. Their seminary boards have tolerated this, if not approved it. These seminary professors have made no secret of their esteeming Arminian theology as "another, if lesser, form of the gospel."
In his recent, glowing study of John Wesley and his theology, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2003), The Banner of Truth's Iain Murray has defended the message of the rank Arminian as the gospel of Scripture (see my article, "Wesley and Murray, Who Follows," in the Standard Bearer 80, no. 6 [Dec. 15, 2003]: 123-126).
Olson names prominent Presbyterian and Reformed theologians who are on record as judging Arminianism as a form of the gospel, rather than heresy. They include Robert Peterson and Michael Williams, professors at the Presbyterian Church in America seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, Covenant Theological Seminary (Arminian Theology, p. 78). Also, "[Michael] Horton, who teaches theology at Westminster Theological Seminary California, has changed his mind about Arminians since 1992. He now considers them evangelicals, although he still does not consider Arminianism consistent with Reformation theology" (Arminian Theology, p. 82). For Horton, Arminian theology is merely "faulty theology not consistent with the basic impulses of the Reformation" (Arminian Theology, p. 139).
If a synod of fifty or sixty of the most respected Reformed professors, ministers, and elders in the United States were to sit today in judgment on the theology of James Arminius, Simon Episcopius, and company, the result would be a thousand-page document of academic jargon and theological verbiage praising "the Reformed faith" to the skies (in order not to disturb the orthodox), while concluding that, although Arminianism is not always "clear" and "consistent" (this, by theologians whose theology is as paradoxical as Kierkegaard), nevertheless, Arminianism is essentially the gospel of grace taught in Scripture--"evangelical"--and should, therefore, be tolerated, and even respected, in the Reformed churches. The report would conclude, "Let us love one another."
And the people would swallow it.==
Yet there are leaders within your own denomination, the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, who say that there are some Arminians (who by definition believe the false gospel of Arminianism) who are their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Doug Kuiper wrote:
==Certainly calling Arminianism a false gospel is not radical; but calling someone who holds to it unregenerate is radical - that would be Prof. Decker's position, and is my position.==
Ron Hanko wrote the following in an article entitled "Can Arminians Be Saved?":
==But does this mean that those who hold to free will and other teachings of Arminianism cannot be and are not saved? We do not believe that. ... Nevertheless, many people inconsistently confess both grace and works ... Usually this is the fault of the teaching they have received - teaching which speaks along two lines. It is a teaching that affirms grace on the basis of works and free will. Those who teach such things have the greater fault. Nevertheless, those who think along these lines, though they may be saved, also need to realize that what they believe is not the truth, and need to repent of it.==
In the letters section of the February 15, 2005, issue of the Standard Bearer (the PRC's magazine), a reader wrote the following:
==In the November 15, 2004 issue of the Standard Bearer, the article 'The Role of Every Believer in Evangelism,' written by Rev. Jason Kortering, contained a disturbing quote. It was the quote from John Sittema. 'People get saved in Baptist or other fundamentalistic churches and then they learn good theology and become Calvinists.' Sittema stated that this 'correlative attitude' is 'acceptable' and 'popular' among Calvinists.
"So, someone can be 'saved,' and still subscribe to 'bad' theology! 'Bad' or 'false' theology is a false view of God, whether from ignorance or heresy. What is being stated here is that one can worship an idol and still be 'saved.' If the churches maintain this, how can they condemn other heresies? The fundamentalists are just as guilty of making a 'god' of their own design as anyone else! Another problem with this view is that many people gave their lives for 'good' theology. If you can be 'saved' without 'good' theology, is it that important? The answer would be no.==
In the response, the Jason Kortering used Hoeksema to bolster his position:
==Even though the quotation of John Sittema was inserted in my article for a different purpose, that is, to illustrate a lack of zeal for mission outreach, the points that Brother Fultz raises can be drawn from the quotation and ought to be addressed.
I delineate three problems that the brother raises against the quotation and will address each one separately.
1. The theology of Baptist and Fundamentalist Churches is Arminian, it holds a false view of God, it is bad theology, it is idolatry. How can someone be saved through the ministry of such churches?
2. If we hold to the idea that people can be saved by such bad theology, how can we expose or condemn any heresy?
3. Finally, to allow such tolerance of Arminianism opposes the work of God in the history of the Reformed churches and implies that faithful saints of the past defended the Reformed faith in vain.
I want to begin with the last point, viz., what is a proper response to God's work done by our forefathers in their opposing Arminianism? Correctly, they viewed Arminianism as it was introduced in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands as a heresy that had to be exposed and rejected. The difficult struggle in the churches that led to the Synod of Dordt in 1618-19 demonstrates commitment to the truth of what has come to be known as Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace. I take my own signing of the Formula of Subscription seriously. It requires all Protestant Reformed office-bearers to express active assent to the contents of the Three Forms of Unity and a willingness to defend such truth and expose all errors that contradict them. Personally, I view the exposure of the error of Arminianism by the church in the past as a great gift of the Holy Spirit by which He also gave us the glorious truth of His sovereignty in salvation. This truth is vital to the well-being of the church today.
The first objection is the crucial one. How can one say what I do in the above paragraph and still say that God can save a soul by means of preaching that is tainted by the Arminianism of fundamentalist churches?
The answer lies in what we view as fundamental, that is, what components of the gospel as it is preached to unbelievers or non-Christians are necessary in order for them to be saved? Notice, I am not asking what fundamentals are necessary for a Reformed pastor or missionary to include in his message when he addresses the gospel to non-Christians. Our commitment is to the whole counsel of God, which is given on the pages of Holy Writ and which we hold to be the Reformed faith. Rather, when we assess the way in which the Arminian preacher presents the gospel, do we see there sufficient content to be used by the Holy Spirit to work salvation?
I am not speaking of all Arminian preachers. There is such a variety today, and there are so many distortions, that it can certainly be said that not every Arminian preacher is used by God. The question is, rather: Must we discredit all Arminian preachers, declaring them to be false prophets and beyond being used by God for salvation because of their Arminian theology? My answer is that in some instances the truth that they do proclaim may be used by the Holy Spirit to work salvation.
When a preacher or missionary holds to the fundamentals of Scripture, God uses him. These include the authority of Scripture; the fall of man into sin and his need for salvation; Jesus as the only Savior, who is qualified to make atonement for sin on the cross of Calvary because He is both God and man; the need for repentance and faith as the only way by which the benefits of Christ's death can be received by the sinner; and holy living as the proper response of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. These are the fundamentals that make up the message of such a pastor, and he comes with God's Word and quotes passages from it to support them.
The Arminian pastor or missionary adds many distortions to the above. He talks about a general love of God for all men, about the Savior's blood shed for everyone, about the need for man to accept Jesus as Savior, with the emphasis upon man's free will. If you observe carefully, however, these additions address the scope of salvation and the power by which one is saved, but not the need or way of salvation itself. When a non-Christian comes under the gospel, foremost on his mind is not the question of scope or power but of fact and way. He must come to know the God of Scripture, his own sin before that God, the way of salvation in Jesus, the need for repentance and faith. How many are saved, and by what power they are saved, usually are questions he addresses as he matures in his faith. This explains why many who are converted through the preaching of Arminian pastors or missionaries ask hard questions as they read their Bibles and learn more of what the Bible says.
Many who come to love the Reformed faith and who get their theology straightened out view their own growth in faith as a spiritual pilgrimage. They were saved by means of a simple childlike faith, and as they grew in understanding the Bible, they realized that God was sovereign in their own salvation. Their eyes were opened when they came to learn that God loved them from eternity; that Christ shed His blood for them as a very special act, which was limited by God's own good pleasure; and that when they came to faith it was not of their own doing, but a wonderful drawing of the Father. Many Christians who experience such spiritual growth testify of this.
Here we must say something about such converts. Some of them may very well stay within the confines of an Arminian church and continue to possess such childlike, simple faith. They may not even be in an environment in which anyone challenges them to think of God and His sovereignty. They may see no conflict at all between their supposed free will and salvation as God's gift. I have had the opportunity to ask them, 'Are you saved because of what you have done for your salvation or because of what God has done for you?' I have yet to meet one who does not insist on the latter. It isn't true that everyone who professes Arminianism is a hard-core opponent of the Reformed faith. Rather than judge their spiritual state, we ought to be charitable and leave them to God who judges hearts.
It is a different matter with Arminians who have been exposed to the truth of God's sovereignty and then oppose that truth as it applies to the salvation of sinners, as that is so beautifully expressed in Scripture and the Reformed confessions. Some of these men have become bitter enemies of the Reformed faith. The Conclusion of the Canons of Dordt addresses a warning to such men. 'Moreover, the Synod warns calumniators themselves to consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits them for bearing false witness against the confessions of so many churches, for distressing the consciences of the weak, and for laboring to render suspected the society of the truly faithful.' In our day as well, many pastors, professors, and leaders in Arminian churches who adamantly reject the truth of God's sovereignty in salvation have greater accountability before God for defending such heresy and lies.
One lesson we ought to learn is that all heresy is not alike, and all who hold to heresy are not alike. This will warn us not to judge others rashly. We have to ask ourselves, does an error actually threaten a person's salvation, or might it lead to a person's denial of the faith? Some errors that are willfully confessed by men contradict the faith in such a way that a person cannot hold them and be a true believer. A denial of the divinity of Christ is such an error. An insistence that man saves himself, without the prior working of divine grace, comes close to such error as well. Other people may hold to errors out of tradition: they were taught these things from their youth and they never questioned them. Such persons are more open to correction than those who have been challenged in their error and defend it.
Now, to say a few words about the second objection. I paraphrase it thus: If we allow the possibility of God's using Arminians to save souls, we will be soft on exposing error and upholding the truth, for the effect will be that we will expose no error.
It seems to me that the best way to address this objection is to refer to history. The Canons of Dordt did not employ the methodology of the Roman Catholics in their Council of Trent, when they heaped anathemas upon their adversaries. Rather, the Canons of Dordt set forth the truth of what we often call the Five Points of Calvinism in both a negative (rejection of errors) and positive manner. The Canons are pastoral throughout, cautioning the adherents of error, showing to them the consequences of such heresy, exalting the name of God for His faithfulness and sovereignty.
In the subsequent history of the Reformed churches, we do not find them consigning all their opponents to hell for their heresy. They did not concern themselves with such, for this is God's domain. They concerned themselves with the error, and with the impact it had on the cause of the gospel.
Our own history as churches testifies to the same. A couple of anecdotes will suffice. I recall well when, one time, Herman Hoeksema was preaching on infant baptism and showing the differences between infant and believers' baptism. Carefully he demonstrated the differences in the theology, especially as Arminian theology distorted the doctrine of the covenant. Towards the end of the sermon he said words to this effect: though now we have differences, when we get to heaven, we will all be Protestant Reformed. He did not mean that only Protestant Reformed (or Reformed) people will go to heaven. He meant that both the believing Baptist and the believing Reformed will arrive in heaven, but in the glorious presence of Christ and with the heavenly illumination that we will receive in such a perfected state, we will all agree that the Reformed faith is right.
When I was a student in seminary, Hoeksema was explaining certain aspects of the doctrine of the catholicity (or, as he called it then, the multiformity) of the church. To the right, on the chalkboard, he wrote PRC, and on the left he wrote Roman Catholic. Between these two extremes he inserted other Reformed and Presbyterian churches. He inserted also Baptist and Lutheran churches. Terms he used to describe his illustration were 'degrees of apostasy' and 'manifestations of the truth.' He loved to speak of the PRC as a church that possessed the 'purest manifestation of the truth.'
A recent quotation from Rev. Herman Hoeksema, which Rev. Woudenberg furnished to a pastors' newsgroup on the Internet, demonstrates the same charitable attitude. It is a quotation taken from the Banner, January 2, 1919. 'You know, a Calvinist (excuse the term; I am not any too fond of it myself. Never do I use it if I can help it. I don't think I have used it a half dozen times from the pulpit, which is not very frequent in three years and a half), I say a Calvinist is after all a distinctive Christian. Not all Christians are Calvinists. Mark, I say: "not all Christians are Calvinists." They may be Christians all right. Sure! Dear children of God, with whom I love to shake hands. I don't believe that there is a Calvinist that denies this. I don't think that there is a Calvinist who maintains that the Calvinists are the only Christians. And those who love to waste paper (and that in this time when paper is so valuable!) by fighting against Calvinists who maintain that they are the only Christians on earth, are fighting a shadow, a product of their own imagination. No, but I claim that a Calvinist is a Christian of a distinctive type, with distinctive principles and views, in distinction, namely, from other Christians. Never let any method of reasoning lead you to the belief that all Christians are Calvinists, for then things will be getting so dark, that you lose all power to distinguish. The Methodist is a good sincere Christian, all right. Of course he is! A dear brother. But he is not a Calvinist. The same is true of the Anabaptist, the Lutheran, etc. All together they constitute the church of Jesus Christ on earth, as long as they confess that Jesus is the Christ. But within that large circle there are different shades and forms of faith, and the Calvinist also maintains his own distinctive world and life view in their midst. Now, what I mean to say is that to maintain your distinctive character as a Calvinistic Christian, you must not merely be able to discern clearly what distinguishes you from the rest, but you must have the courage of your conviction such as can be the fruit only of the faith in the Word of God. Only the conviction that our form of faith is the purest expression of Scripture (again, mark, I do not say: the only form or expression) can give us the courage to refuse amalgamation. And therefore, it is necessary, that we are conscious of the relation between our Reformed Faith and the Word of God.'
I think the life of our founder demonstrated quite well that one doesn't have to believe that all Arminians are lost in order to be a good defender of the true gospel, the Reformed faith. We do well to carry on such faithfulness.==
Based on these quotes, Prof. Engelsma, are the theologians, professors, ministers, and elders in your denomination any less heretical, any less haters of God, any less unbelievers of the true gospel of grace, than those Reformed and Presbyterian theologians, professors, ministers, and elders whom you mention in your review? Is your denomination any less an abomination, a synagogue of Satan, than the denominations from which these Reformed and Presbyterian theologians, professors, ministers, and elders come?
If you truly held to the convictions that you portray in your review, then you would have to judge your denomination and its leaders to be anathema. Of course, you won't do that, because you are not true to your convictions. All of your supposed boldness against Arminianism is nothing but a sham. You are a tiger with no teeth. You are nothing but vanity and wind. You're all billows of bombastic bluster with no backbone.
Prof. Engelsma, we who are Christians can see right through your facade. You sound so bold against Arminianism, but you are in bed with those who would call Arminians their brothers and sisters in Christ. That, Prof. Engelsma, is vile spiritual whoredom.
To God alone be the glory,
Marc D. Carpenter
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