Came across an old post (2006) by Sam Storms today as I was drinking my coffee. Storms, a Calvinist and contributor to Parchment & Pen, notes that the two traditions – Calvinism and Arminianism – “share a considerable amount of common theological ground, even when it comes to the issue of salvation.”
In sum, the Wesleyan Arminian analysis of fallen human nature does not differ fundamentally from the Calvinistic one. So wherein do they differ? Why do Wesleyan Arminians affirm conditional election and Calvinists affirm that election is unconditional? The answer is what is called prevenient (or preventing) grace
Throughout the post Storms is fair and accurate in his presentation. He quotes from several Arminian theologians (Wesley, Oden, Thiessen) as he accurately describes prevenient grace as providing “people with the ability to choose or reject God.”
Presenting prevenient grace properly does not mean Storms agrees with it. As he sees it there are numerous problems. Most are rooted in suspending God’s sovereign work “on the will of man” and giving people a reason to boast about their part in salvation.
As he moves to his conclusion, Storms provides the following quotation from Charles Spurgeon:
What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, ‘I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit’.
Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm all that is written here, as long as we understand the “gift and working” of the Spirit as describing convicting, opening, drawing, enabling, and illuminating. So, I was not sure what Storms meant by this quote. Where we part ways, and where I assume that Storms (and Spurgeon) are coming from, is seeing this work of the Spirit as being regeneration.
Concluding with an open question to his Arminian readers, Storms seems to drift back to Calvinist presuppositions on decision making.
The question, asked by Storms a few different ways, is:
If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn’t he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe?
The question is rooted in rightly noting that God “knows the secrets and inner motives of the heart” and thus knows why people accept or reject the Gospel. Where Storms goes wrong is importing a (soft) deterministic view of decision making and free will into Arminian theology (ie compatibilism). The assumption being made here is that God can control all the circumstances and decision making factors (which He can) to bring about the scenario where every person would accept Him. This is (or at least seems to be) based on the assumption a decision is determined by factors other than agent’s will.
It is true that there are numerous factors that can strongly influence a decision, however, in the Arminian view, they do not determine the decision. The agent does, having “significant freedom” to decide. Now it is certainly true that God, as an all powerful being, could step in and control the will of a person thus determining the decision that is made. But, absent God overpowering the will, events cannot be orchestrated in such a way as to cause all to accept Him.
In the movie, Bruce Almighty, God gives Bruce the chance to play God. There are a few rules Bruce must abide by. One of them is “you can’t mess with free will.” It is clear in the movie that a non-compatibilistic view of free will is assumed. This stumps Bruce who asks the question Storms is posing from another point of view.
Bruce: How do you make so many people love you without affecting Free Will?
God: Heh, welcome to my world, son. If you come up with an answer to that one, let me know.