I have friends and family who are Arminians (or semi-pelagians). They are not evil, nor demonic. They are nice, lovely, and most truly love Jesus. I like them. I don’t think true Arminianism is heresy or evil (though semi-pelagianism is leaning there), but Arminianism(and semi-pelagianism) is very inconsistent, especially when it comes to understanding the sovereignty of God over evil. It does not stand its ground, but switches positions, ever so softly. I was reading a few essays by Roger Olson, and noticed this in his writings, specifically about how Arminius framed this discussion. Arminius is quoted as saying “I openly allow that God is the cause of all actions which are perpetrated by the creatures,” but Olson elsewhere affirms a contradictory idea “ I, for one, would rather believe God limits his power than believe that God’s power is the ulterior reason for whatever is happening.” The second contradicts the first. Both men are “Arminian” but don’t have a truly unique “Arminian” answer, merely a contradictory blended answer borrowed from Calvinism and a Open Theism.
4 DIFFERENT VIEWS OF GOD AND EVIL
Below is a chart showing four different views about Gods attributes, and how people from each group answer the question “why did God not stop this particular evil event or action?” Notice that the first three views are very different in their presuppositions and thus different in their answers. Also notice the theology of last two views is exactly the same, the only difference is the answer to the “why” question. Think of it as a math problem, the first three views (Open Theism, Deism, Calvinism) are like 1×1=1, 1+1=2, 1-1=0, they are fully different problems, with fully different answers. While the last two views (Calvinism and Arminianism) are like 1+1=2 and 1+1 =7, they are the same problem, but with a different answer.
ARMINIANISM DOESN’T KNOW WHERE IT BELONGS: 3 Common but different answers to the “why” question.
The Bible says that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. He can do literally anything and he knows literally everything. I would argue that in light of these two attributes, Arminianism is unfair. It accuses Calvinism of making God the author of evil, accuses Deism of making God uncaring, and accuses Open Theism of making God weak. Yet different statements by Arminians appear to be coming from each of those same views. All of those views contradict each other, yet Arminianism states all of them at different times. And it much choose only one to avoid contradictions. There is really only those three positions. A fourth is not permitted by the laws of reason.
Arminianism or semi-pelagianism does not have a full and consistent answer to the question of “why did this specific evil to happen?” Rightly so, they will point to the agents of evil, satan, demons, or sinners. But then, when asked “where was God? Is he not powerful enough to stop those agents?” their answers diverge, and they borrow one from either Calvinists, Open Theists, or Deists. One of the reasons for this is because many would first override God’s supreme sovereignty, or his involvement, rather than human free will.
So lets ask Arminians “Why did God allow Kennedy to be shot?” Did God not have the power to make the wind move the bullet 3 inches left? Sure, all four views agree its the shooter who is morally responsible for his action. Yet, what was God’s role? Why did he not stop it?
1. Deism: God did not get involved to not override free will, a natural law
Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that evil happens because God permits humans to have free will. They say God is present and cares but He let humans run the place by virtue of free will! While He wants to intervene, He can’t because that would take over free will. This pays lips service to all God’s attributes, but is ultimately deism. If this God who is near doesn’t interact or change situations, then whats the difference with a deist God who is far away? None. If God does not overrule human choices, because that would deny them free will, God is not involved, for all human choices are said to be free will! So basically in terms of affecting the earth He is gone and can’t change or stop evil that a human decided to do, because that’s against their free will. Deists are free to use this answer, but its unfair for Arminians to say they believe God is sovereign, gets involved, and then say he doesn’t.
2. Open Theism: God limited Himself to not override free will
Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that this evil happened because God limits Himself. If he was truly sovereign, then all people would become robots. They say God chooses to limit his power to allow them to make their choices, and then he can risk and respond to them. He may want them to stop but wont overrule them, because then they would be automatons. He is very present, and pleading with them, but limits Himself from actually intervening and Sovereignly changing events. God wanted the shooter to stop, and pleaded with him to stop, but ultimately limited Himself from stopping the bullet, because God wanted the shooter to choose good by free will. This view is the most fair and consistent type of Arminianism. It is also not Arminianism, but actually open theism. I don’t think its Biblically accurate, and really diminishes God’s attributes, but at least its more intellectually honest than the common inconsistent answers Arminians/Semi-pelagians usually give. It’s fine for Arminians to give this answer, but its unfair of them to say they are not Open Theists and that they do believe in God’s complete sovereignty over every molecule of this universe.
3. Calvinism: God allowed this specific evil to happen for some good reason
Sometimes Arminians will try to argue that evil happens because God allows it. Sometimes they affirm omnipotence and omniscience (or that God is all-powerful and all-knowing). Arminians very wisely say that God, being sovereign, chose to allow this specific evil to happen for some good reasons only He knows. I would argue that this is pure Calvinism. Arminians often tell Calvinists that we make God to be Satan, for in our view God is the ultimate cause of evil in this world. But how is this “Arminian” idea that God’s choice to permit each specific evil different from Calvinism? If I have the COMPLETE power and opportunity to save someone from robbery, yet I CHOSE to allow the robbery to happen, you would, in part, try to blame me. Arminians and Calvinists have the same exact situation, but the Arminians just deny it!
For God, to ordain or to permit, is the EXACT same thing, in both cases God makes a choice that ultimately determines the way events unfold. If God ordains an already-evil man to steal, or if he permits and already-evil man to steal, it is the same thing! In both cases God does not make a neutral man into an evil one, but coordinates events that are for our good and His glory. If a king watches two men fighting, and holds up his hand to stop his soldiers from breaking it up, Calvinists say that king “ordained” that fight. Arminians will say he “permitted” that fight. Yet how are the two different, except in our wording? In both cases, the king makes a choice, his choice means the fight happens. While it is the men who are guilty of hating each other, yet the king is sovereign over the fight, can stop it, but chooses to ordain/allow it for some good reason. It’s fine for Arminians to say God permits evil for a good reason, but its unfair of them to call Calvinists evil for the exact same belief, with a different word.