Friday, April 9, 2010

J. I. Packer's Zeal against Arminians

I was cruising along at a fine rate in J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life until I hit ch. 8, which is declared to be an introduction to John Owen’s work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

I did not find as much Owen as I expected, but instead I found a vigorous defense of Calvinism over against Arminianism. (But that’s okay, because Calvinism = gospel, according to Packer: “But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel” [p. 134; see p. 137].)

I have come to halfway expect this from my Calvinist author-friends. For instance, I remember enduring a chapter of preaching the gospel of Calvinism in John Piper’s otherwise fine book, The Pleasures of God. And Spurgeon, my favorite preacher, has nothing good to say about Arminians.

Even though I expect an attack on Arminianism from Calvinist authors, Packer’s attack has irked me a little more than most. I’m not sure why. I feel misrepresented, and I think Packer himself is somewhat inconsistent. Probably mostly because I don’t think Packer is charitable. (Although I understand his lack of charity, too, because I think he believes Arminianism is a heresy rather than a differing perspective within orthodoxy.

So I will respond a bit to Prof. Packer in this post and in the next.

In all fairness, I should say that I do not class myself intellectually or spiritually with J. I. Packer. I have enormous respect for his mind and his heart. I freely confess that I may misunderstand Packer at points in ch. 8 and may possibly misrepresent him. But I will proceed on the assumption that I understand him.

Packer says that Arminian evangelism leaves us in a “mental muddle” because we preach that salvation all depends on God one minute, and then the next minute we claim that it all depends on man. “We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Saviour; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviours” (137).

Arminians proclaim that Christ has left us to become our own saviors? Maybe some do. But there are many who don’t and wouldn’t dream of it. The saving was all of Christ. He’s the one who saves. Our salvation totally depends upon him.

If I fall over the edge of an ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic and I begin to drown, and someone tosses me a life preserver, and I grab on and am pulled to safety, who saved me? I didn’t save myself, and I’d be nuts to say so. The man who tossed me the life preserver saved me. I merely grabbed onto the salvation that was freely offered. The faith that we place in Christ is grabbing the life preserver.

Caveat: This analogy, while a helpful picture, actually breaks down in a couple ways when applied to salvation. First, it doesn’t adequately address the depth of Christ’s work of salvation—Christ did far more to accomplish our salvation than fling a life preserver and pull us aboard. Second, the analogy fails to show the Arminian belief that even faith is a product of God’s grace. To make the analogy more true to form, my arms would be broken so that I would be unable to even grasp the life ring. Christ would jump into the water and heal my arm so that I could grasp it. Then he would pull me in. Arminius taught that we could not even respond to God’s gift of salvation freely offered apart from his grace enabling our faith.


j.scantlin said...

Hmmm... so does God choose certain people to enable their faith, or is everyone's faith enabled? It seems to me that the broken arm theory is either the same as unconditional election, or if we still choose with broken arms, then it's really just free will as most Arminians understand it, isn't it? I guess what I'm asking is, does God enable our faith before or after we choose, and if before, then isn't that unconditional election?

j.scantlin said...

Acts 16

30He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

31They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."

I note the implied "you" in verse 31--which seems to indicate something that the jailer himself could actually do to be saved.

Kent S said...

He enables all, but doesn't force all. I believe in the bondage of the will apart from grace. But God gives grace to all to believe in the Lord. Whether they choose to do so, though, at that point is up to them.

Grace preceded the jailer's decision to believe. If not grace, the jailer could not have responded.

The difference between Arminians (at least those who follow Arminius) and Calvinists is that Calvinists believe grace comes only to the elect and it is irresistible. Arminians believe that prior grace (grace prior to faith) comes to all, and it is resistible.