Pcirilli, Robert, E. Grace, Faith, Free Will. Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism. Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002. Reviewed by Steve Witzki.

Dr. Robert Picirilli is a Free Will Baptist scholar and theologian. He is a former professor of Greek and New Testament studies at Free Will Baptist College. For over 45 years he has been teaching, preaching, and writing Arminian theology. Picirilli stands for a very specific kind of Arminianism that he calls “Reformation Arminianism.” This type of Arminianism holds to the following beliefs: total depravity; the sovereignty of God to control all things for the certain accomplishment of His will; God’s perfect foreknowledge of, and the certainty of, all future events-including the free moral choices of human beings; the penal satisfaction view of the atonement, salvation by grace through faith and not by works, from beginning to end; and an apostasy that cannot be remedied. He demonstrates that these beliefs (apostasy being more implicitly implied than explicitly stated) are the teachings that Jacob Arminius defended from Scripture. He quotes from The Works of Arminius throughout the book and has provided a helpful index for each of these citations.

This book is not filled with emotional rhetoric but is rather a simple and straightforward stating of the facts. Therefore, for some people, this will not be an “exciting” book to read. Nevertheless, it does serve in accomplishing his goal “to present both sides, so that the reader will know exactly what those issues are: to clarify understanding of both positions and help readers intelligently decide for themselves” (Forward, p. i).

Picirilli begins by giving a brief biography of Arminius that helps to place the issues in their historical context. He then tackles the issues surrounding God’s sovereignty, predestination, human depravity, grace, atonement, and perseverance. Picirilli takes great care in accurately representing the Five Point Calvinist position. He quotes mostly from three highly respected Calvinists: Louis Berkof, William Shedd, and Roger Nicole. I would have liked to have seen Picirilli quote from John Calvin himself, yet the people he chose are fine representatives of his theological system.

Picirilli cogently defends conditional election and unlimited atonement. He wisely reminds his readers that “the extent of the atonement should be determined by Biblical exegesis rather than by the logic of one’s system” (p. 90). It is Picirilli’s detailed exegesis on 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:1-6 in chapter seven that I found to be extremely valuable. He concludes this chapter with an important observation:

All of us who handle God’s word do well to remember that we do not honor Him with our interpretive ingenuity but with submission to what He says. To say, even to show, that a given statement can be interpreted in a certain way does us no credit at all. The question is always not what the words can mean but what they do mean, here. In 1 John 2:2 and in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, the most obvious meaning of “world” and “all men” is universalistic. In these cases, careful exegesis supports the obvious meaning. [emphasis is his] (p. 137)

As to be expected, Picirilli defends the biblical doctrine of prevenient grace that Arminius so vigorously held to. He prefers to call the drawing and convicting work of God on all sinners as “Pre-regenerating Grace.” I take it as simply an oversight on Picirilli’s part, but he does fail to mention John 12:32 in his defense of pre-regenerating grace. This is unfortunate since this verse complements the drawing of the Father mentioned in John 6:44.

In the last two chapters of the book Picirilli gives a solid defense for conditional security. There is a perceptive response that he makes “to Scriptures prized by Calvinists as teaching the necessary perseverance of the regenerate” (p. 200). He writes,

Those passages, especially in the Gospel of John, which contain strong promises of (final) salvation to believers and are therefore thought to imply necessary perseverance can not be used for that purpose lest they “prove too much.” . . . For example:

John 5:24
John 3:36
He that believes...

shall not

come into condemantion

he that believes not...

shall not

see life

Grammatically, if the first means that the condition of the believer can not be changed, then the second means that the condition of the unbeliever likewise can not be changed. In fact, neither passage is even speaking to that issue. The unbeliever can leave his unbelief, become a believer, and see life—thus escaping from the promise made to the unbeliever who continues in his unbelief. Likewise, the believer can leave his belief, become an unbeliever, and come into condemnation—thus escaping from the promise made to believers who continue in faith. Each promise applies with equal force to those who continue in the respective state described. [emphasis is his] (pp. 200-201)

Picirilli goes on to convincingly argue from Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:18-22, that these two passages describe an apostasy that can not be remedied. His careful exegetical analysis has convinced me that he is correct in his conclusion. Therefore, I would agree with him that Robert Shank’s position, that the apostasy envisioned in Hebrews 6 could be remedied, is not exegetically capable of being defended.

A compelling case for holding to Classical Arminianism has been made by Dr. Picirilli. Anyone who is interested in a balanced discussion and a strongly argued case for believing in conditional election, unlimited atonement, and conditional security would do well to read this book. We need more books written from this perspective that provide a detailed exegetical defense for the possibility of apostasy. My God raise up other faithful men or women to do so.