Thursday, March 5, 2009

Arminianism and the Unreached

How does an Arminian perspective address the question of the unreached? Whole swaths of peoples in various ages have lived and died without the gospel. If Paul is right, if God has "determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" (Ac 17:26), is he not implicated in their condemnation? If God really does chose that certain persons are born in places where the gospel is not and will not be in their lifetime, is he not condemning them?

Some would argue that this is the church's fault, not God's, that there are unreached peoples. This does not answer the question. Regardless of whose fault, if God determines someone to be born where he knows the church has and will continue to fail to bring the gospel, is he not still condemning them?

Others argue that all people have general revelation and those who respond to this will receive special revelation. Ignoring the fact that the Scriptures' most explicit language about general revelation is its rejection not its acceptance (Rom 1), there are still two problems with this. First, it harbors implicit racism. Certain ethnic groups have responded to God's general revelation and received missionaries, while other whole races have utterly failed to respond at all. Are there cultures and peoples more hardened to God than others? Second, it does not scratch an Arminianist itch of fairness. How is it fair that I heard the gospel a thousand times before I accepted it while someone else must obey God generally for a season to prove their desire to hear the gospel for the first time?

The illusion of Arminianism is that God's sovereignty is a sliding scale. But the moment you tamper with the dial, even just a hair, you lose everything. If God does not elect some for salvation, how can he possibly become untangled from the web of temporal, cultural, geographical, cultural, personal factors that formulate each person's decision to respond? If God retains any control at all his hands are instantly soiled in determining eternal fates.

God either elects who will be saved and ordains how this comes to pass or he sets creation in motion and butts out. You can't have it both ways.


P.D. said...

well said. i always liked Tim Keller's short response to a question about free will and election.

He says why are we saved and our unbelieving roommate isn't? Is it because we're smarter? We read the right books? We are more consistent? It seems the arminian answer is that yes, some cultures are a little smarter, a little more intelligent and therefore saved.

Jon Furst said...

Whoa, I'm with you on the election thing, but I think some of this could be fleshed out more. For instance, how is Arminianism putting God's sovereignty on a sliding scale? I think I understand what you mean, but it would be worth stating.

Moreover, it may just be a break down in the human attempting to define an attribute of God in finite terminology, but it would seem that an Arminian might make the claim that God's sovereignty is such that He has defined whole cultures and peoples to not hear the gospel in a salvific capacity and God would not be wrong for doing so. It's only racism if a man makes that call, not God. However, an Arminian would have to-- if he were being consistent-- concede that such knowledge is not attainable to men (i.e. no more sermons about the "sons of Ham" being Africans).

John Paulling said...

I agree with Furst on this one. I'd like to see you flesh some of that out, David.

david gentino said...

I think sovereignty is an all or nothing doctrine, especially when it comes to God's relationship with a person's decision for Christ. This is because none of us are blank slates or objective islands ready to make fully rational decisions with some kind of neutral logic. If this were the case you could take God's sovereignty out of election and he would still be 90% sovereign over his creation (a sliding scale).

But of course, by creating a world complexly interwoven, where individuals are enmeshed in "the web of temporal, cultural, geographical, cultural, personal factors that formulate each person's decision to respond" God cannot give up the 10% that determines our actual decision and remain 'untainted' by the factors that shape our decision.

Does that make sense? There's more to a decision than a decision. So its not helpful to speak about a pseudo-sovereignty that somehow has control over creation inasmuch as it does not relate to our perfect decision-making autonomy with regards to the gospel.

John Paulling said...

no, that helps. i see what you're driving at now. I was confused about what you meant by the sliding scale.

P.D. said...

i thought the sliding scale was the attempt of trying to weigh a rock so big that couldn't move it.