One huge practical and pastoral issue that comes up and is of great concern among many if not all believers is that of apostasy. The question, “Can I lose my salvation?” comes up quite often in all theological circles and all denominations. Different theological systems answer this question differently and all of their answers will tell you something about their view of election. The theological system of Arminianism runs into a logical dilemma when they articulate their view of apostasy. I will unpack this dilemma briefly here.
**Before I begin, I want to assert something I have recently learned from a reader of this blog; that some Arminians actually affirm perseverance of the saints. What follows should not be applied to all who identify themselves as Arminians. Even Arminius himself was undecided on apostasy and perseverance, maybe as a result of some of these dilemmas. The last thing I wish to do is to paint Arminians with such a broad brush that I inaccurately represent them. So, when I mention Arminians or Arminianism in this post, I am referring to those who believe in conditional election, libertarian free will, and true apostasy.**
The practical issue at hand can be summed up in this situation: A man professes to have faith in Christ and then decades later ultimately denies Christ. Arminians understand election to be conditional as God elects those individuals who positively respond to prevenient grace by freely choosing Christ. On the condition of faith, God elects. Man therefore has the freedom to “get in” salvation or “get in” Christ. Logically, man must retain his freedom once he is in Christ and therefore he or she can “get out” just as easily as he or she “got in.”
But how does this work with election? This is where the dilemma comes into play. When an individual places faith in Christ, God then elects him or her. He or she is then given saving grace and is effectually saved, so it seems. Due to the Arminian emphasis of free will, an individual can then decide to not be saved and “get out.” So, the question becomes, “How can they not be saved if they were elect?” A greater question is “How can someone who has received saving grace perish in hell if they do not choose positively again?” It is scary to think that God gives a saving grace that doesn’t save. This places too much emphasis on the actions of humans in salvation. In this understanding, humans hold the determining factor of their salvation.
Returning to the dilemma between Arminian election and apostasy, it is difficult to understand election in the way that it is stated in light of their belief in apostasy. If an individual who has placed faith in Christ, then decided to not believe in Christ, only to return later in life to believe in Christ has an Arminian understanding of election, then which time of belief were they elected?
Logically, they are elected when they believe in Christ. Well, they have done this anew twice. Were they elected twice? The first time only? The second time only? If they were only elect the second time when they would presumably persevere, then were they really saved the first time? According to Arminianism, they were. So many logical issues come up when you stand the Arminian view of election and apostasy up against one another. The emphasis of free will leads to logical dilemmas within the doctrine of election and affirmation of true apostasy.
The most frightening scenario in Arminian theology is that of an individual who has genuinely placed saving faith in Christ and is in fact genuinely saved who later in life leaves the faith and ends up in hell. This would be the case of an individual who had genuinely been elected, predestined, and saved only to perish eternally. This would be a person who would break the golden chain of salvation found in Romans 8:29-30. How did God “in love predestine” this individual (Eph. 1:5)?
This Arminian theological possibility is appalling and unthinkable. The issue here is that God had predestined and elected this individual to be saved based on their faith before the foundation of the world. How can God make such an election only to not achieve the salvation of the one whom he elected? If this Arminian assertion is true, then we must claim that part of God’s elect is in hell.
The Arminian view of election vis-à-vis apostasy raises many logical questions that are worth discussing and thinking over due to their direct contradiction to Scripture when viewed together. Arminians can only defend by saying that the elect are those who freely choose Christ and persevere, but this is not the way most Arminians present the doctrine of election and furthermore, in saying this they are equating election to perseverance since election is not election without perseverance.
Simply stated, Arminians struggle making sense of election, free will, and apostasy. In this theological system an apostate either was never saved or never part of the elect, but not both. Upholding the free will of man seems to lead to many logical issues in salvation and the Arminian system does not provide an adequate solution to this issue.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.