Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Perfect Arminianism...

Actually, I can strategize a little for Calvinists reading Hebrews. What you have to do is take a "phenomenological" approach. You have to say that not all Hebrews thinks as being "in" are really in. They only appear to be "in" from the author of Hebrews' perspective.

But the language and argument of Hebrews reflects an unambiguously Arminian perspective on the part of the author, "perfectly" expressed in the perfect tense in Hebrews 3:14: "We have become and remain partakers of the Christ if indeed we hold fast the beginning of substance firm until the end."

There is no wiggle room here on what the author is thinking, although again, if I were a Calvinist I would suggest that he is expressing this truth in his own paradigm, not fully understanding how predestination works. But I am not a Calvinist, so I can take what he says at face value.

To partake is not to dabble, any more than Jesus only dabbles with flesh and blood in 2:14. It is to become or assume what you are talking about. Jesus fully became human. These individuals have fully become "Christians."

The perfect tense implies something that was completed in the past. They partook of the Christ and it was done, like someone who gets married, and you are married. It is the remaining married or the remaining partakers that is in question in the verse. The perfect tense implies not only that you were married, a completed act, but that you have remained married ever since. So this verse says that they became a partaker of the Christ and so remained ever since, if indeed they hold fast.

What this verse clearly states, as does the image of the wilderness generation it talks about, is that one's continuance as a partaker of the Christ is contingent on holding fast, on going all the way to Canaan. Those who disbelieved in process, they did not make it, did not persevere to the end.

The perfect tense here is thus "perfect Arminianism," as is the entirety of the book of Hebrews.

13 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, structuralism, functionalism and behaviorism...pertains to those of faith because those that have right thinking and belief about Christ, his person, etc. behave in a way that responds to that faith. I understand this.

But, there are still those who cease, as this passage says, to believe these things as real realities. What then? The judgment of the Church?

One must understand reality and the real world as a process. And the way in which one individual understands such is a developmental process.

A child believes that fairy tales are really real. But, as the child becomea teen-ager, they give up that "story". Then, the adult comes to a point of enjoying the story for it's value of universal principles...or they give up fairy tales and read scientific or more practically oriented books...

Ken Schenck said...

The "aha" moment for much evangelicalism is when we own up to the fact that theology is a necessary glue in the appropriation of the Bible. The only path from multiple time-and-situation-bound revelations to a present or even universal theology requires an integrating point of view, which by definition will always be outside of the biblical text.

So once we have determined what Hebrews likely meant, we must still integrate it into an overall theological perspective. As an Arminian, I have less work of this sort to do with Hebrews, but more to do with Romans 9.

As to the relation between salvation and knowledge, I trust God to do what is right, which may go well beyond the kind of simplistic thinking we humans function with.

My thoughts...

Ryan Howard said...

Question I've always wondered from you..

Have you met any Calvinists you like? :)

Also, would you agree with Professor Drury in this statement: "Rather than seeing Calvinists and Arminians as opponents facing each other in some sort of theological football game, perhaps we should see them as the left and right flanks of Christendom. After all, the enemy is the Enemy, not each other."

Ken Schenck said...

Lots of them :-)

Actually, I didn't mean there to be any emotional edge in this post at all. I'm teaching Hebrews this semester and sincerely strategized with the class for the Calvinists in it with my phenomenological suggestion. This post is just an observation about the meaning of Hebrews, which I assume is fair game. :-)

Craig Moore said...

Ryan...I am a Calvinist that Ken may not like much. Ken, you take the Bible at face value? Since when? I thought all was relative and nothing can be interpreted as absolute. Aren't you violating your own hermeneutic by being so certain that you are right and have discredited Calvinism with this one verse?

I am not sure I "feel" you are right here, that is not what the verse you refer to means to me:)

Ken Schenck said...

You found me out Craig... I'm a closet modernist :-)

Scripture Zealot said...

Does the verse really hinge on the perfect?

Take away our perception of time--If we hold firm until the end, we (will) have become and will remain partakers of Christ. Holding firm shows that we really did become.

Does that make sense or am I way off?
Jeff

Andy said...

Alright Mr. Arminian ;)...Hebrews causes you lots of problems as well. How are you gonna deal (this time) with all the references to Esau not coming back, trampling on the cross and not coming back, etc (6, 10, 12? I'm coming to a point where I don't think we can have it one way or the other. I think we have to take the ideas of both Arminianism and Calvinism to understand salvation. It's like what Rob Bell says in Everything is spiritual: "When you look at the marker from the side it's a rectangle. When you look at it from the end it's a circle. God doesn't have to look at the universe from one side. He can turn it around and see: Is it a circle or a rectangle? Yep. Is it Calvinism or Arminianism? Yep. What say you?

Marc said...

Since when does a clear Bible verse refute anyone's theology? 1 John 2:2 hasn't knocked down Limited Atonement and I've got quite a few verses in my backpack which speak of Universalism which nobody wants to hear...

Ken Schenck said...

Andy, yes, Hebrews is problematic for a Wesleyan-Arminian like me because it also indicates that once one has apostasized, one can never return.

Marc, yes, I was only addressing what Hebrews originally meant. As in my reply to Angie and in my strategizing for the Calvinist, getting to a theological position is a bigger task than just interpreting Hebrews.

Scripture Zealot, I guess linguists debate whether the future perfect tense was in use at the time of Christ (e.g., Matt. 16:19). But I think that is the tense that would have the connotations you're thinking of.

As per Craig and Marc, there are certainly verses that play much better into Calvinist hands than Arminian. Romans 9 comes to mind.

Ryan Howard said...

"Andy, yes, Hebrews is problematic for a Wesleyan-Arminian like me because it also indicates that once one has apostasized, one can never return."

Hebrews 6:4-6? So, what are your thoughts on that verse? Has the potential to be "naughty" for both sides..

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, in my understanding, the consistent teaching of Hebrews is that once one "falls away,"

1. 6:4-6-it is impossible to renew to repentance,

2. 10:26--there remains no more sacrifice for sins,

3. 12:17--like Esau we will not be able to find a place of repentance even if we seek it with tears.

Scary, naughty stuff, although again, theology has to take the entirety of the Scriptures into consideration...

Anonymous said...

Have you had the chance to read Con Campbell’s works on verbal aspect? He views the perfect as imperfective with intensification or prominence (doesn’t see time involved semantically, but pragmatically). With this understanding in mind, gegonamen could be translated “we really are.”
“We really are partakers of the Christ, if indeed we hold fast the beginning of substance firm until the end.”
In this sense, time is not involved. When one “became a partaker of the Christ” does not matter, but what matters is if we are continually partakers of the Christ, i.e. “we hold fast til the end.” Do we finish the race or drop out?
I’m not necessarily disagreeing or agreeing with you, but you mentioned the perfect tense as a basis for your understanding, so I thought I’d make a comment regarding the perfect tense.