F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism . Nashville: Randall House, 2011. 379 pages ISBN: 9780892656073
Dr. Vic Reasoner with James O. Jones, Jr.
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted Dec. 06, 2011
In 2001 Forlines wrote The Quest for Truth, which was a readable systematic theology written at a popular level. Classical Arminianism has omitted his discussion on such topics as revelation, inspiration, the nature and attributes of God, the Trinity, creation, and the Incarnation to focus on the Calvinistic-Arminian controversy.
A graduate of Free Will Baptist Bible College, Jim Jones studied under Forlines while there from 1977-1981. "Brother Forlines taught at Free Will Baptist Bible College for 39 years. Although officially retired, he still teaches an occasional course. I had him for Systematic Theology and Biblical Ethics and have the upmost respect for him as both a man and a theologian."
Forlines articulates what is termed "Classical Arminianism" or "Reformed Arminianism." Classical Arminians agree with Calvinism on the sinfulness of humanity and the way God accomplished redemption through Christ, but disagree with Calvinism on how redemption is applied.
This label also distinguishes them from Wesleyan-Arminianism. While the agenda of this magazine is to articulate and defend classic Wesleyan-Arminian theology, before we raise our hackles, let us identify our common ground.
Therefore, we in the Wesleyan-Arminian camp appreciate the contribution of Forlines in Classical Arminianism to the cause of truth. His four chapters on a biblical theology of election are very helpful.
However, we cannot avoid the areas of tension between classical and Wesleyan Arminianism.
Thus far the tensions between the two brands of Arminianism may be better understood as tensions within the Wesleyan-Arminian camp. However, a review of Forlines' position does reveal at least two substantive differences.
Other early Methodists also weighed in. Joseph Sutcliffe concluded that if the active and passive righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, we do not need the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit to make us righteous. John Fletcher explained that we are made righteous, not by speculative imputation of the works of Christ, but by being made partakers of the divine nature, begotten of God, and clothed with righteousness and true holiness. Richard Watson concluded that imputation is never used in scripture "in the sense of accounting the actions of one person to have been performed by another." Instead, the imputation of righteousness is the non-imputation, or pardon, of sin.
As late as 1891, J.J. Butler and Ransom Dunn were teaching that Free Will Baptists did not believe in active imputed righteousness. That teaching did not enter the denomination until 1940 with the FWB Bible College in Nashville. Even now, there are those in Oklahoma who want to introduce a motion at their State Association stating that active imputed righteousness is not a prescribed FWB doctrine.
Yet there is an inherent danger in teaching that we can sin and not lose our salvation. How else would we lose it? According to Galatians 5:19-21 the works of the flesh listed can rob the believer of the kingdom of God. Thus, we must walk in the Spirit.
Classical Calvinists hold that no saint will die in sin. Thus, they have no assurance of their election unless they persevere. The popular once saved, always saved position teaches that one can have both assurance and security — even if the believer dies in his sin.
The early Methodists took sin and holy living seriously. Adam Clarke said, "Apostasy begins in the closet: no man ever backslid from the life and power of Christianity who continued constant and fervent, especially in private prayer."
However, this is mis-characterized by Ashby as having to get saved all over again each time we commit sin. Ashby declares that we all sin and the implication is that we must do something much worse in order to lose our salvation. According to Ashby we must cease believing. Forlines declares that Christianity is not lost every time a believer sins. But the real question is whether an unrepentant believer can maintain faith while living in a state of continued disobedience and sin.
Arminius declared that if David had died after his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, he would have been condemned to death eternal [Works, 2:725]. "True believers are capable by their own fault of falling into flagrant crimes and atrocious wickedness, to persevere and die in them, and therefore finally to fall away and perish" [The Five Points of the Remonstrants," Article 5, Proposition 4].
But the Remonstrants also taught that one can be renewed should he fall away. "Yet though true believers sometimes fall into grievous sins, and such as destroy the conscience, we do not believe that they immediately fall away from all hope of repentance; but we acknowledge this to be an event not impossible to occur, that God, according to the multitude of His mercies may again call them by His grace to repentance" [Proposition 5].
Southern Methodist theologian, Thomas Summers, defended the thesis that saints may and do fall from grace — some partly but not totally or finally, some totally but not finally, and others both totally and finally. While some would attempt to make a distinction between backsliding and apostasy, Forlines thinks that the term "backsliding" creates confusion and does not like to use the term. While his view of apostasy is climatic and irreversible, yet we must also understand that the journey to apostasy in usually progressive. Apostasy is the culmination of backsliding and that backsliding is the result of sin.
There is not complete unanimity within the Wesleyan-Arminian camp on this question and perhaps further dialog would reveal less divergence between Wesleyan and Classical Arminianism. However, it seems that the classical position starts by assuming too much of a Calvinistic definition of sin and salvation. Wesley held that the standard of the new birth was victory over sin.
In their defense, they are guarding against legalism. Jones added, "Forlines helped me by showing that my assurance of salvation comes not from my performance, but through believing and trusting in the work that Jesus did for me. Up to this point in my life I had tried to trust my performance as the condition for my salvation. This came from being raised in an environment where one could never be sure he or she was saved. And Wesley's teaching also helped me to understand, that the direct witness of the Holy Spirit of my acceptance by God is the birthright of every believer."
But we must also guard against lawlessness, while at the same time trying to avoid the opposite ditch of legalism. Sin is the road to apostasy and one cannot continue to practice sin without losing faith in Christ.