The Arminianism of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism, as we believe everyone will agree, professes to believe in all the basic truths of the Bible. The Fundamentalist assumes a strong position over against the Modernist who denies all the basic truths of Scripture. The latter, it is well known, denies that the Bible is infallibly inspired, that Jesus is the Son of God, that the atonement of Christ is vicarious, etc. The Fundamentalist, on the other hand, believes in infallible inspiration, in the divinity of Christ, in the vicarious atonement and all the other basic truths of God’s Word. 

Yet the Fundamentalist, generally speaking, is guilty of embracing Arminianism. We realize that in Reformed circles this is generally accepted fact. It is also generally well known that not all Fundamentalists are willing to acknowledge this fact. Some purport themselves to be in some respect quite Calvinistic. Like one Fundamentalist we heard once who was asked whether he was Calvinistic or Arminian, replied: “When I preach I’m Arminian, but when I am on my knees I’m Calvinistic.” Such a statement can be quite deceptive to the uninitiated in doctrinal matters. And m&h of the speech or writing of the Fundamentalist will be deceptive to those who are not able to clearly discern. For instance, we refer to an article appearing in the January 19, 1959 issue of Christianity Todaywritten by Dr. John F. Walvoord, president of Dallas Theological Seminary. He writes on the subject : What is the Gospel? 

When you read his article, you will notice that he makes some very sound statements in answer to the question: What is the Gospel? Perhaps more particularly: What is Salvation? We give our readers a few snatches of his article to show what we mean. Writes he:

“The Christian faith holds to salvation by grace. It believes the Gospel to be the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, bearing substitutionally our sins and the sins of the whole world; that he was buried and that he also rose again as proof of his triumph over the grave, finished character of his work, and his true Sonship of God. The Gospel plainly stated then, is that a person can be saved for all eternity by simply putting his trust in Jesus Christ.” 

This answer to the question: What is the Gospe1? is not above criticism as we will point out presently. However, notice how the writer asserts some fundamental truths concerning salvation concerning which the Gospel is good news. 

He emphasizes, first of all, that salvation is unmerited. Writes he, “Scripture also describes unsaved people as ‘dead,’ spiritually dead. When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, he reminded them that before they accepted Christ they were ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ They were not just sick, they were ‘dead’ so far as spiritual life was concerned. Another word Scripture ascribes to unsaved people is ‘condemned’ or the state of living under ‘the wrath of God.’ Man is condemned before a righteous God; and as far as merit is concerned, he stands without hope. Paul speaks of the unsaved as ‘without God and without hope.’ 

“It is clear that if God has saved us, he did not save us because we deserved it. He did not save us because we were good. Everyone in heaven, Old Testament saints as well as New Testament saints, is there by grace, and through the merits of Jesus Christ. 

“Let us therefore reiterate: salvation cannot be deserved. There can be no appeal to innate goodness, character, culture, or education. These offer no ground for divine salvation.” 

In close connection with the preceding, the writer has this to say about “Unearned Salvation.” 

“At the same time, and this is the second negative,salvation cannot be earned. If a man’s character cannot deserve salvation, it is also true that there is nothing one can do to earn it. As I said before, the notion that salvation can be earned is a very common one. I think, with all fairness, this is the belief of the Roman Catholic church. Its whole appeal is to do something to be saved. If one does the sacrificial thing, gives his money, or even his life, he is promised salvation. 

“But by contrast, our Christian Gospel tells us we cannot earn salvation. I was a member of the church for many years before it dawned on me one day, through the ministry of a faithful Bible teacher, that I could not be good enough to be saved. I had assumed, in spite of all statements to the contrary in catechism, that if I went to church and did the best I could, and was faithful in attendance, and gave my money, and prayed, and did the normal Christian things, I could thus be assured of salvation. There are many people who are similarly confused. They do not understand that, while good works have their place in the Christian faith, they cannot be the ground of salvation. 

“We cannot earn salvation; we fall short of what God would have us be and do. There is indeed no righteousness in us that can possibly justify God’s saving us. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’ This is a tremendous passage; it makes abundantly clear that works, or anything that we do, can never earn divine approbation. There are many people in the world today trying to earn salvation. The Bible puts a blight on their whole system. We can neither deserve salvation nor earn it.” 

These are clear negative statements which positively imply that salvation is God’s work alone. Dr. Walvoord further confirms this position by positing two positive statements concerning our salvation: 

“In contrast to these negatives, I believe there are two positive affirmations that can be made which are very clearly taught in Scripture. The first of these is that salvation is a finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, there are many things God lets us do for him, but salvation is something that God does for us. It is a work of God, made possible by the grace of God and by the work of Christ. 

“When Christ died on the cross he said, ‘It is finished.’ He was declaring the fact that when he died, the full price of our redemption was paid. His death was of infinite or forensic value; it was sufficient in its provision for the sins of the whole world. He had provisionally, as we read in II Corinthians 5:19, reconciled the world unto himself. 

“The death of Christ, however, does not in itself save anyone. It is God’s abundant provision, which must be applied. So we are told that we are ‘not redeemed . . . with silver and gold (that which represents human attainment and value) . . . but with the precious blood of Christ’ (I Pet. 1:18-19). How clear this should be in our own thinking, and in our preaching. If we are saved at all, we are saved by the blood of Christ. And it is Christ’s sacrifice that is the basis of our salvation . . . 

“Salvation is a finished work. When Christ died on the cross he did all that was necessary to save you and me. There is not a single good work we can offer in addition to God’s. After we are saved, then is our chance to do good works; but those works are not our guarantee of salvation, they are the fruits of it. They do not substantiate salvation; they are the testimony. The ground of redemption is wholly the finished work of Christ. 

“The second affirmation I should like to mention is,salvation is a gift. We see how these four facts, the negative and the positive, fit together: 

Salvation cannot be deserved; 

Salvation cannot be earned; 

Salvation is a finished work of Christ for us; 

Salvation is a gift. 

“Many people cannot grasp that salvation is a gift, but there are few facts more obvious. Man could not possibly pay for an infinite salvation. He was morally bankrupt, dead in trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God; what resources had he? Could he lift himself by his own bootstraps? If God saves anybody at all, he does it out of his own mercy, and gives salvation as a gift. Scripture testifies specifically to this point: ‘Being justified freely (literally, without cost) by his grace through the redemption (i.e., the price paid) that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 3:24). 

“This redemption cost God his Son; it cost Jesus Christ the agony of dying on the cross; it was an act of infinite worth, infinite merit, a total gift of God. If we are not saved today, there is only one reason. It is not because we’ve done bad things, because all of us are bad. There is just one reason why a person is lost, and that is he has not received God’s gift of salvation . . . . 

“Who could imagine anybody giving away anything of value without getting something in return. It is a hard thing to persuade a lost soul that God wants to do something for him, that God is a God of grace, who has paid for his salvation, and now offers it to him, needy as he is, as a gift. 

“The greatest question in all the world is simply, have we received the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior? One can never sit on the fence. If one is not saved, he is lost. If one is saved, then he is not lost. There is no one in the middle . . . 

“If there is one who is aware of any uncertainty, any failure to come to grips with this greatest of all decisions, the challenge is to accept the gospel invitation and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Then rest on the authority of the Word of God. The Word says that if anyone believes on the Lord Jesus Christ he is saved, saved for all eternity. The divine program is to hear the Gospel, believe the Gospel, then preach the Gospel.” 

We call attention especially to two things concerning this article which we could quote only in part. In the first place, the reader will agree with me that the four things Dr. Walvoord emphasizes in respect to our salvation are certainly true. We do not deserve salvation, and we cannot merit salvation. Salvation is indeed a finished work of Christ for us, and salvation is a gift of grace. To all this we must most certainly subscribe. You would think that Dr. Walvoord would close his article by saying: “You see, salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. There is nothing of man in it.” That would be indeed the good news of the Gospel. But Dr. Walvoord does not Say this. 

And therefore in the second place we point out that here is exactly where his Arminianism comes in. Like all Arminians he tells us that God makes salvation possible for us, but he doesn’t save us unless, and until we accept the gift of salvation. He tells us that God in Christ made salvation possible for all men, “for the sins of the whole world”; and “a person can be saved for ail eternity by simply putting his trust in Jesus Christ.” Indeed, according to Dr. Walvoord, God makes salvation possible for all men, but he really doesn’t save anybody. Rather, “the challenge is to accept the Gospel invitation and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.” This is the doctrine of Arminius, pure and simple. 

—M.S.