Monday, March 5, 2012

1888 and Arminianism

(Update: After further reflection, I disagree with myself that this post is simply for those who advocate the "universal justification" view of 1888 within Adventism. I think this is actually interesting insight for Adventists who oppose "universal justification" in that the Arminian view is actually a lot closer to the "corporate" Adam/Christ view espoused by Wieland, Short, Sequeira and Jones and Waggoner. See the latter half of the post especially for that discussion.)

This post has a very specific audience that will not apply to probably 90% of my readers. You are still welcome to read it, of course. But it is directed toward a group of Adventists who, along with me, subscribe to a specific paradigm of the gospel within Adventism.

It is specifically for those who have an appreciation for the message of justification by faith as presented by A.T. Jones, E.J. Waggoner and Ellen White. But not just any version of that message; it is the version that has been passed on - rather correctly, in my opinion - by people like the late Robert Wieland, who is one of my spiritual and theological heroes.

My goal in this post is to clear up a misconception that I believe Elder Wieland and others have, unfortunately, propagated. Whether intentional or not, Elder Wieland gave the impression that the theological paradigm known as Arminianism was an enemy of the "1888 message." I completely understand what he - and others - were getting at it in sharing this idea, but it was misled and very much exaggerated.

The truth of the matter is - and this cannot be stated enough - the "1888 message" is in agreement with Arminianism for about 99% of what the latter affirms, maybe even more! When Elder Wieland and others said that the "1888 message" of justification was neither Calvinist or Arminian (though it agreed with parts of each), this gives the uninformed person the impression that all things Arminian are to be avoided.

Without going into great detail, Adventism and the "1888" version of it are decidedly Arminian. Arminiansim teaches a picture of God that stresses God's love and grace for all people, and His self-limiting nature. This is over and against the Calvinist paradigm which stresses God's sovereignty and power to the point of determining everything. The Arminian view of the atonement is that it is universal in scope - it is on behalf of the entire world, the just and the unjust. The Calvinist viewpoint is that Christ's death applies only to the elect.

What Elder Wieland found repulsive about the Arminian view of the atonement is that the Arminian view allegedly teaches that Christ's atonement doesn't really do anything for anyone until a person believes first. Thus, the atonement is only effective for the believer.

Yet this is the only objection that could potentially be leveled against Arminianism, and even that is debatable (as I will show below) vis-a-vis 1888. So it would be well to realize that Arminianism is not the enemy - whatsoever - of the 1888 message.

Incidentally, Ellen White actually says nothing about Arminianism and Arminius himself. E.J. Waggoner is silent as well. A.T. Jones does, however, talk about Arminius and his followers in a number of places. None of his views on Arminianism are overwhelming either way. In a couple places, he simply recounts the history. But in two places he gives passing endorsement to this Reformer's views. Here's a snippet of one of his treatments:
Moreover, the truth of God is as much an exact science as any of those that are called the exact sciences. Therefore no true reform can deny, or be made independent of, any principle of true reform that may have gone before. Consequently, when this reform upon the principles of morality shall have come, it will deny the truth and efficacy of no single step in the progress of the Reformation. With Luther, it will hold justification by faith; with Zwingle [sic], it will hold the Lord's supper as a memorial of "the Lord's death, till he come;" with the genuine Anabaptist, it will hold that we are buried by baptism into the Lord's death; with Arminius, it will hold that the grace of God is free to all men; with Wesley, it will hold the genuine conversion of the soul, and the witness of the Holy Spirit; with the Puritan, it will hold simplicity of worship; with William Miller, it will hold, "Behold I come quickly," saith the Lord; with the general grand result of the Reformation as a whole, it will hold the most perfect toleration of religious belief, and the inestimable boon of freedom of thought and liberty of discussion (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 1, 1884).
Lastly, the objection that Wieland laid against Arminianism as it relates to justification may not be an area of disagreement at all. This still needs more study, but there may be more agreement between Wieland and Arminius than the former realized (and there may be more agreement between the two than Adventists who oppose "universal justification" realize as well). These things can be very nuanced, of course, but Wieland's uneasiness with Arminianism stems from the fact that in the sacrifice of Jesus, he believed the death of Jesus already applied to all humanity (which I fully agree is the biblical and truly Adventist view). Arminianism, he maintained, teaches that Christ's death is only effective for those who accept it.

But perhaps there is more commonality than realized. In his book, Arminian Theology, Roger Olson shares this interesting tidbit:
Arminians believe that Christ's death on the cross provides a universal remedy for the guilt of inherited sin so that it is not imputed to infants for Christ's sake. This is how Arminians, in agreement with Anabaptists, such as Mennonites, interpret the universalistic passages of the New Testament such as Romans 5, where all are said to be included under sin just as all are included in redemption through Christ. It is also the Arminian interpretation of 1 Timothy 4:10, which indicates two salvations through Christ: one universal for all people and one especially for all who believe. Arminian belief in general redemption is not universal salvation; it is universal redemption from Adam's sin (p. 33, emphasis added).
Olson also shares this view:
Because God is love (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4:8) and does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), the atoneing death of Christ is universal; some of its benefits are automatically extended to all (e.g., release from the condemnation of Adam's sin) and all of its benefits are for everyone who accepts them (e.g., forgiveness of actual sins and imputation of righteousness) [p. 34, emphasis added].
I am not saying there is complete agreement on the atonement between Wieland, Jones, Waggoner, Arminius, and Arminianism, but they are probably closer than some realize. And they certainly need to be fleshed out more.


Blake Jones said...

Shawn, do you think that it boils down to semantics? Universal justificationists believe that a person mustn't reject the gift in order to be saved. The more standard Armenian view (at least as Weiland understood it) sees that a person must accept the gift to be saved. It really can sound like different sides of the same coin. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

Shawn Brace said...


I wouldn't claim to be an expert on Arminianism, but I think it is more than semantics. The "1888" view is that Christ's death actually did save the world from something already (ie., the wages of sin - otherwise we would all be dead) even before a person has a chance to reject/believe. Although, as I said in the post, there does seem to be a hint of that idea in Arminianism as well, and some have shared with me that it is, in fact, there, I do not think it goes as far.

Blake Jones said...

From my understanding (and correct me if I'm wrong) the 1888 view isn't universalism. So from the 1888 perspective, why will some people not be in heaven?

Shawn Brace said...

I will just let E.J. Waggoner speak to that, who specifically addressed the universalism claim!

"'What! do you mean to teach universal salvation?' We mean to teach just what the Word of God teaches,--that 'the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.' Titus 2:11, R.V. God has wrought out salvation for every man, and has given it to him; but the majority spurn it, and throw it away. The Judgment will reveal the fact that full and complete salvation was given to every man, and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession" ("The Glad Tidings," p. 22).

Some might call it only semantics, but according to Waggoner, it's not that the lost never received salvation (in which case, it never would have been effective), but that they throw it away (which would allow for it to be effective on some level).

Frank Z. said...

What Arminius brought to the Reformed churches was a better understanding of God's character as it worked out in the plan of salvation.

Some of Calvin's interpretations tended to put the character of God in an uncertain or questionable light. Whether Calvin intended it that way or not is another issue, but the men who came after him definitely crystallized these views into a system of doctrine that Satan could easily turn to his advantage.

This Calvinist system, in opposition to Arminius' interpretations, became known by the dutch acronym as TULIP:
- Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

After the dutch theologians rejected Arminius' views, the treatment of Arminius and his followers was deplorable. (It would be interesting to investigate the connection between the Calvinist view of the character of God, and their treatment of heretics!)

One hundred years after the controversy between Arminius and the Dutch Reformed leaders, John Wesley chose to call his church magazine "The Arminian" because he felt the Calvinist views made God into "a tyrant". He once wrote to some Calvinists, who wanted to argue about predestination, and were going to "prove it from the Bible": "what will you prove to me? That God is a tyrant? That can never be!"

With the rise of Adventism, the growing light brought a deeper understanding of the character of God in relation to the "great controversy." This naturally fit better to the Arminian view, and so although Adventists didn't usually think of themselves as Arminian or Calvinist, their views of the character of God, and the law of God, were more compatible with the Arminian view, and tended more in that direction. It would probably be more accurate to say that they went beyond these old labels.

In many ways, the Adventist emphasis on the law of God as a reflection of God's character and will, answers many of the controversies raised by Calvinism.

For example, the idea that God "wills some men to be saved and others to be lost." But what is the "will" of God? It is His law (Ps. 40:8). Therefore, those who keep the Law are predestined to be saved, and those who break the Law are predestined to be lost. Calvinists today would probably not accept this, but it is a very simple and sufficient answer to the problem, and puts God's character in a clear light.

Or, as Ellen White later wrote in PP 207: "There was no arbitrary choice on the part of God by which Esau was shut out from the blessings of salvation. The gifts of His grace through Christ are free to all. There is no election but one's own by which any may perish. God has set forth in His word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected to eternal life--obedience to His commandments, through faith in Christ. God has elected a character in harmony with His law, and anyone who shall reach the standard of His requirement will have an entrance into the kingdom of glory."

Waggoner wrote a few times on predestination, and definitely supported the Arminian view. Likewise with Romans 7/8.