Grace, Faith, Free Will—Contrasting View of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism. By Robert E. Picirilli. Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2002. pp. Paper, $19.99.
Normally we do not review books that were published more than a few years ago. However, I just came across this book. It is by someone who calls his view Reformed Arminianism (e.g., pp. i, iii, 1, 17, 140, 235). Since Jacobus Arminius was a Reformed pastor, that makes sense.
Picirilli shows that the Reformed version of Arminianism is somewhat compatible with modern Reformed thought. The Reformed Arminian view is essentially Calvinism without determinism and with free will.
Rather than a corporate view of election as held by many Arminians, Picirilli advocates for individual election based on God foreseeing faith in a person (pp. 48-58, 83-84). Election is conditioned upon foreseen faith.
He has an excellent discussion of unlimited atonement (pp. 123-38). He also has excellent material discussing whether John Calvin himself believed in limited or unlimited atonement (pp. 87-88). He seems to hold the view, in agreement with Bell, that Calvin was unclear on the question, but that he taught that Christ’s death “was offered for all” and that “more than that is difficult to state with certainty” (p. 88).
Picirilli defines faith as most Calvinist do, including “more than mere intellectual persuasion or convincement [sic] of truth” (p. 167). “It requires a ‘decision,’ a positive commitment, a willful entrusting of one’s circumstances and destiny into the hands of God in Christ” (p. 167). (He does say that the Spirit works “to convince and persuade the sinner of the nature of his condition and of the truth of the gospel,” p. 181, emphasis added. But he immediately indicates that such conviction “is required before faith,” p. 181).
Eternal security is also conditional. One’s eternal salvation will be lost if one is guilty of “neglect, indifference, or unbelief” (pp. 201-202).
In the Reformed Arminian view, apostasy is possible and if one apostatizes, then he loses everlasting life (pp. 199-208). Interestingly, since Calvinists agree that apostates cannot get into the kingdom, Picirilli shows from Scripture that apostasy is possible (pp. 199-200). However, he fails to prove that apostasy results in loss of everlasting life.
Like Lordship Salvation Calvinists, Picirilli says, “the Bible offers us no encouragement to provide assurance of salvation to those whose lives are characterized by sinful practices” (p. 207).
Picirilli makes this excellent point in the Afterword:
We must make no mistake on this: the traditional Calvinist position is that salvation is not by faith, and the various elements in the theology of salvation make this clear. When the Calvinist looks back into eternity to explore God’s plan, he sees salvation by election without regard to any decision by man. Having made such a decision, God sends Christ to ransom those chosen and those only. When it comes their time, in human history, to experience that redemption, God’s Spirit first regenerates them so that He can give them the faith He requires. Certainly the summary is overly simplified, but it is accurate (p. 235, emphasis added).
The author talks about people whom he calls sub-Calvinists (pp. 193-96). He says these people affirm eternal security even if a person fails to persevere. While he specifically mentions “many Southern and Independent Baptists” (p. 193), Free Grace people certainly would be included in the people he is discussing. In fact, he may have Free Grace people in mind when he cites Gerstner as “blaming dispensationalism for all the problems (including that which is caused by the so-called ‘anti-Lordship’ salvation view) he lays at its doorstep” (pp. 195-96). That he calls our view “the so-called ‘anti-Lordship’ salvation view” is encouraging.
It is easy to see that the key element in both 5-point Calvinism and Reformation Arminianism is the idea that only those who persevere in faith and good works until the end of their lives will make it into Christ’s kingdom. Eternal security apart from perseverance is an alien doctrine for both.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society