Saturday, April 10, 2010

J. I. Packer's Zeal against Arminians, Part 2

(See my previous post for the occasion of this critique.)
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Packer goes on to claim that the Arminian preaching of today not only pollutes and cheapens the gospel, it also produces worldly “converts.” “And it is, perhaps, no wonder that our [contemporary] preaching begets so little reverence and humility, and that our professed converts are so self-confident and so deficient in self-knowledge and in the good works which Scripture regards as the fruit of true repentance” (138).

This may be the case in some instances, but is that attributable to the tenets of Arminianism, or to their misrepresentation from some pulpits?

Further, has not the same charge been laid at the feet of Calvinist preaching? Has it not been observed that the Calvinist emphasis on eternal security has produced in some “professed converts” a lackadaisical attitude toward holiness and rigorous fruit-bearing? Yet in this regards I think I may be more charitable than Packer, for I do not charge Calvinist theology with an anti-holiness stance based on their carnal converts; I think the problem lies in the misrepresentation of Calvinism.

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One of Packer’s charges is that Arminians believe one thing but often resort to Calvinist language when they preach the gospel.

But Packer seems to do the reverse. He uses what we might call “Arminian language” in his presentation of the gospel. Does he not do so every time he calls for a response to the gospel? He refers to saving faith being “exercised” (139). “The task to which the gospel calls him is simply to exercise faith, which he is both warranted and obliged to do by God’s command and promise” (140). Is it not the believer who exercises faith in that last statement and not God? (Of course, faith comes from God’s grace. But Arminians believe that, too.)

When Packer answers the question, “What must I do to be saved?” he includes such words as “repentance” and “believe” and “confess” (144). Does this mean that salvation is completely dependent on us? “No,” I think he would argue, “because God compels us to do these things. But if we were free to choose or not to choose, then salvation is of our own doing.”

I don’t believe so. Because to choose for Christ is made possible (but not inevitable) by God’s grace. We would not be able to even choose for Christ if God’s grace had not already come and worked in us (contra Packer’s accusations of Arminians being Semi-Pelagian, p. 127). And if we choose against Christ, it is utter foolishness; it reflects on us, not Christ.

If we are, as Calvinists argue, compelled to trust Christ apart from our volition, why would Packer urge, “So do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better …” (emphasis added)? This action that we take, this confession we make, this surrender we perform—why call for them if it’s inevitable we’ll give them anyway?

Okay. I’m done. I love J. I. Packer. He has taught me much. I just think he’s wrong about the Arminian perspective on salvation.

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