Calvinism and Arminianism 9

One of the greatest differences between the evangelical Calvinists and those they deride as “Hyper-calvinists,” is the evangelical Calvinists believe Arminians and Pelagians are otherwise sound “Christians,” and refer to them as their brothers and sisters. The Hyper-calvinists believe that as long as one is unconverted from his natural freewill state by the operation of the Spirit of God, and converted to the free grace of God by the Gospel of the grace of God, there is insufficient evidence to consider such as a “Christian,” or a “brother or sister.” This is not to say that they consign them to hell–that is not their desire, for by their own experience they understand that before that gracious divine call out of darkness, they, too, were “vessels of wrath even as others.” Arminians and Pelagians are as much in need for the gospel as any “heathen” or pagan. Calvinists would do well to “evangelize” their Arminian or Pelagian “brothers and sisters.”

A modern editor of Luther’s great work underscores this fact: “Whoever puts this book down without having realized that evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain.”

In the first quote above the author is trying to get people to see that what is known as Calvinism in the modern day is not the Calvinism of the old days. He is trying to get people to see that when the modern Calvinists believe in a wholesale way that Arminians and Pelagians are sound Christians and are brothers and sisters, they are not in line with the older teaching. Packer and Johnson wrote the introduction to the 1957 publication of Luther’s Bondage of the Will and they assert quite strongly that evangelical theology (at the time, theology of the Reformation) stood or fell with the doctrine of the bondage of the will and the failure to realize that was to read Luther’s work in vain. This is a very important statement as it is quite right. But of course the term “evangelical” has also changed from the time of the Reformation until today as well.

If I understand things correctly, it was the Calvinists of the day (Reformation time) who were referred to as evangelical. This is to say, then, that biblical Calvinism stands are falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will. When people do not see it as important or even vital, as indeed Luther and Calvin did, then evangelical theology has changed from what they taught and is something else. It has to be clear to all that what was once evangelical theology in the Reformation is not the evangelical theology of the 1900’s, but even worse what is thought of as evangelical theology in the modern day is not even close to that of the 1900’s. What we simply must see (and “must” is not used lightly at this point) is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ (evangelical theology) is not the same teaching when one denies the bondage of the will as it is when one holds to it strongly.

The doctrine of depravity as understood by the Reformers was that men are so depraved that they are helpless and have no ability to do one thing in the spiritual realm. Just below is how the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 6, Sections II & IV put it):

II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

The bondage of the will is not just a nasty doctrine that Luther dreamed up to bash Erasmus over the head with, but instead it is the heart of the doctrine of depravity that the Reformers had and that the men at Westminster agreed with. Holding to the bondage of the will is a necessary teaching if one is to believe and sincerely hold to the depravity of man. Unless a person holds to the bondage of the will (Total Depravity of man), a person cannot consistently or even honestly believe in justification by grace alone as the Reformers articulated it. But again, the doctrines of the Reformation stand or fall along with a robust holding of bondage of the will. The teaching of free-will is not just a little wrong, it is the chink in the dyke that when removed the whole dyke will collapse. This is not just a diatribe against Arminianism, it is an effort to defend the Gospel of grace/Christ alone as set out by Scripture and trumpeted in the Reformation.

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