An honest Christian must be willing to examine the arguments of those who disagree with him. I desire to be an honest Christian, and as a biblical Calvinist, it is imperative that I represent the position of those Arminian minded folks who would dissent from what I believe the Bible teaches. The reformed Calvinist has the bad reputation of hunting down and slaying the "windmill" view of Arminianism. Dave Hunt's horrific book obviously offers such an easy target. An honest Christian, particularly an honest Calvinist, should avoid such vain battles, and actually interact with the Arminian's core beliefs.
That is why I appreciated Robert Picirilli's book, "Grace, Faith and Freewill." He classifies himself as a Reformed Arminian, and he articulates his position well. His book lays out his case by first giving the historical background to Arminius's theology, and the Remonstrant's disagreement with traditional Calvinism. Picirilli then proceeds to outline Arminian theology and provide a biblical exegesis for his case. His book is finely written. It is not one of these pseudo-researched books against Calvinism with pages of superfluous footnotes. Larry Vance's monstrosity, "The Other side of Calvinism," basically an 800 page doorstop, comes to mind.
Moreover, I appreciate the fact that Dr. Picirilli boldly proclaims that he is an Arminian. Many of the folks writing against Calvinism put up this disingenuous aire of "I'm not an Arminian, nor a Calvinist; I only believe the Bible." That just indicates to me that such a person usually has no clue about the fundamental issues surrounding the debate. Also, I was pleased that he wrote respectfully and honestly when examining the disagreements between the two systems. His discussion didn't spiral down to a mournful remembrance of Servetus's burning, as if that event some how discredits the theology of the Reformers. He wasn't trying to hunt down any Calvinistic conspiracies with his work, and the tone he took when writing was pleasant; not the shrill, nails on the chalkboard tone of the likes of Peter Ruckman.
Then finally, I was refreshed that he bathed his book in a reasonable amount of exegetical study. The books I have read in the past critiquing and actually blasting Calvinism, are devoid of any meaningful exegesis. Some authors try to do some exegesis, but it is painfully obvious that they are ignorant of the original languages, or lacks any true theological sophistication to interact with any of the exegetical arguments of the proponents of Calvinism. Dr. Picirilli was not like this and I felt that he had some good work to consider.
Where I felt that the book disappointed, however, was in two areas. First, his over all study of election, the atonement, regeneration and perseverance, operates from the presupposition of libertarian freewill; a presupposition I believe he assumes outright, with out question, before proceeding to outline his arguments. There wasn't any in-depth study on this subject, and I believe that is what he needed to establish before he could make a case for his brand of reformed Arminianism. Granted, he does discuss freewill in the section on the application of salvation, but most of his discussion was philosophical, not biblical, and what biblical study he did give to faith and belief, was neither thorough, nor compelling in my opinion. Even his lengthy study on prevenient grace, what he redefines as "pre-regenerating grace," left a lot of critical questions unanswered.
The second area I felt the book lacked was in the interaction with Calvinist writers and thinkers, particularly modern day ones. He does interact with classic Calvinistic theologies such as Berkhof and Shedd and interacts with Roger Nicole's various journal articles and books defending particular redemption. However, I believe he needed to recognize the works of Bruce Ware, Thomas Schriener, James White, John Piper, RT. McGregor-Wright, Robert Reymond, and the late James Boice to just name a few contemporary writers. In fact, I was rather surprised that he totally overlooked any reference to John Owen's Mount Everest work on the atonement.
Overall, though the book is well written, it is just not thorough enough in answering solid objections of Calvinist thinkers. However, Dr. Picirilli's work is worth the time for an honest Calvinist to consider; if he desires to know the ins and outs of his opponent's beliefs.
See James White's "The Potter's Freedom" for a wecomed response to Norman Geisler's Arminian positions.
Dr. Robert Picirilli is a Free Will Baptist scholar and theologian. He is a former professor of Greek and New Testament studies at Free Will Baptist College. For over 45 years he has been teaching, preaching, and writing Arminian theology. Picirilli stands for a very specific kind of Arminianism that he calls "Reformation Arminianism." This type of Arminianism holds to the following beliefs: total depravity; the sovereignty of God to control all things for the certain accomplishment of His will; God's perfect foreknowledge of, and the certainty of, all future events-including the free moral choices of human beings; the penal satisfaction view of the atonement, salvation by grace through faith and not by works, from beginning to end; and an apostasy that cannot be remedied. He demonstrates that these beliefs (apostasy being more implicitly implied than explicitly stated) are the teachings that Jacob Arminius defended from Scripture. He quotes from The Works of Arminius throughout the book and has provided a helpful index for each of these citations.
This book is not filled with emotional rhetoric but is rather a simple and straightforward stating of the facts. Therefore, for some people, this will not be an "exciting" book to read. Nevertheless, it does serve in accomplishing his goal "to present both sides, so that the reader will know exactly what those issues are: to clarify understanding of both positions and help readers intelligently decide for themselves" (Forward, p. i).
Picirilli begins by giving a brief biography of Arminius that helps to place the issues in their historical context. He then tackles the issues surrounding God's sovereignty, predestination, human depravity, grace, atonement, and perseverance. Picirilli takes great care in accurately representing the Five Point Calvinist position. He quotes mostly from three highly respected Calvinists: Louis Berkof, William Sheed, and Roger Nicole. I would have liked to have seen Picirilli quote from John Calvin himself, yet the people he chose are fine representatives of his theological system.
Picirilli cogently defends conditional election and unlimited atonement. He wisely reminds his readers that "the extent of the atonement should be determined by Biblical exegesis rather than by the logic of one's system" (p. 90). It is Picirilli's detailed exegesis on 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:1-6 in chapter seven that I found to be extremely valuable. He concludes this chapter with an important observation:
All of us who handle God's word do well to remember that we do not honor Him with our interpretive ingenuity but with submission to what He says. To say, even to show, that a given statement can be interpreted in a certain way does us no credit at all. The question is always not what the words can mean but what they do mean, here. In 1 John 2:2 and in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, the most obvious meaning of "world" and "all men" is universalistic. In these cases, careful exegesis supports the obvious meaning. (p. 137)
As to be expected, Picirilli defends the biblical doctrine of prevenient grace that Arminius so vigorously held to. He prefers to call the drawing and convicting work of God on all sinners as "Pre-regenerating Grace." I take it as simply an oversight on Picirilli's part, but he does fail to mention John 12:32 in his defense of pre-regenerating grace. This is unfortunate since this verse complements the drawing of the Father mentioned in John 6:44.
In the last two chapters of the book Picirilli gives a solid defense for conditional security. There is a perceptive response that he makes "to Scriptures prized by Calvinists as teaching the necessary perseverance of the regenerate" (p. 200). He writes,
Those passages, especially in the Gospel of John, which contain strong promises of (final) salvation to believers and are therefore thought to imply necessary perseverance can not be used for that purpose lest they "prove too much." . . . For example:
He that believes...
come into condemnation
he that believes not...
Grammatically, if the first means that the condition of the believer can not be changed, then the second means that the condition of the unbeliever likewise can not be changed. In fact, neither passage is even speaking to that issue. The unbeliever can leave his unbelief, become a believer, and see life-thus escaping from the promise made to the unbeliever who continues in his unbelief. Likewise, the believer can leave his belief, become an unbeliever, and come into condemnation-thus escaping from the promise made to believers who continue in faith. Each promise applies with equal force to those who continue in the respective state described. (p. 200-201)
Picirilli goes on to convincingly argue from Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:18-22, that these two passages describe an apostasy that can not be remedied. His careful exegetical analysis has convinced me that he is correct in his conclusion.
A compelling case for holding to Classical Arminianism has been made by Dr. Picirilli. Anyone who is interested in a balanced discussion and a strongly argued case for believing in conditional election, unlimited atonement, and conditional security would do well to read this book. We need more books written from this perspective that provide a detailed exegetical defense for the possibility of apostasy.