We are reading and blogging through the book Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Amazon). Originally the plan was to start with chapter 1, but some SEA members suggested that we start with the Forward, so we will open up the discussion there.
John Wagner, the editor, opens the book describing one of the primary theological underpinnings that drives Arminian thought and thus the articles that are presented in the book. God wants everyone to repent and be saved. Several of the passages that describe this idea are presented throughout the forward (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9; Matt 11:28; John 3:17; 6:51; 2 Cor 5:14-15,18-19; 1 John 2:2).
As surely as I live, declares the sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil deeds! (Ezek 33:11 NET)
God’s universal desire for all to be saved is present throughout both the Old and New Testament. It was also the view held by the early church before Augustine offered his views of a “limited unconditional election”. This causes Wagner to ask:
Why would a theologian like Augustine or Calvin conceive of the idea that God does not desire to save all and that Jesus did not die for them?
The reason given is that the Reformed theologian comes to the Scriptures with presuppositions on what is meant by such important theological concepts as election, faith, and predestination. The definitions drive Reformed theology and interpretation including the rejection of God’s provision to save all people.
John rightly suggests that the Reformed understanding of election, faith, and predestination are not the only possible way of comprehending these ideas.
[Calvinism] is a theology burdened with extraordinary difficulties of every kind, and we believe it important to show the Christian public that it is not the only way Holy Scripture can be read.
To be fair we all come to the Scriptures with presuppositions. Whenever we approach a text we come with a set of those things that we assume before we even begin to interpret what we are reading. However, when a view is confronted with paradoxes, historical novelty, and every answer must be qualified or nuanced then it may be time to revisit those presuppositions.
John Wagner goes on to describe each of the difficulties the Reformed definitions create. For example, the Reformed definition of election states that God has unconditionally chosen a fixed and limited number of people to be saved leaving the rest to perish. If this is true then one must either reject the plain reading of the texts that describe God’s desire to save all – or – accept the “paradoxical notion of two wills regarding salvation” in which God desires to save all sinners while also desiring to save only a few (see John Piper’s article here).
An alternative, that was taught in the early church prior to Augustine, is to accept the expressed intent of God which is for all to be saved. The reason some will perish is not because they were rejected by God before creation but because in time they rejected God and the gracious offer of salvation (John 3:16-18, 36).
In the end, Grace for All aims to provide a collection of articles that help readers understand that Arminianism offers a sound theological framework for interpreting Scriptures that does not present the paradoxical problems of Calvinism.