Augustine, Arminius, and R.C. Sproul on Christian Perfection

Matthew Pinson

Sometimes Arminius has been (inaccurately) interpreted as laying the groundwork for a doctrine of Christian perfection. With regard to perfectionism, Arminius said in his Declaration of Sentiments that he “never actually stated that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life.” Nor did he deny it. He left it as an open question, contenting himself with the sentiments of Augustine. In short, citing Augustine, Arminius believed that, through grace, perfection was a logical possibility but that an individual who had attained it had never yet been found! [1].

Given how many times I’ve heard Calvinists say this about Arminius, I found it interesting when my friend Chris Truett, in a sermon on why God calls us to rely on Christ’s work and the gospel, not on our own standards of perfection, quoted staunch Calvinist R. C. Sproul as saying what Augustine and Arminius said. I went and looked up where Sproul said this, and here’s the quotation:

“Can a person be perfect? Theoretically, the answer to that is yes. The New Testament tells us that with every temptation we meet, God gives us a way to escape that temptation. He always gives us enough grace to overcome sin. So sin in the Christian life, I would say, is inevitable because of our weakness and because of the multitude of opportunities we have to sin. But on a given occasion, it is never, ever necessary. So in that sense, we could theoretically be perfect, though none of us is. [2]

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[1] Gunter, Declaration of Sentiments, Kindle locations 3313-3314; cf. Arminius, Works, 1:677-78. Keith Stanglin, in his book Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation appears to agree with this interpretation of Arminius on perfection (Leiden: Brill, 2007, p. 140).

[2] R. C. Sproul, “Be Ye Perfect,” Ligonier.org, July 28, 2010; https://www.ligonier.org/blog/be-ye-perfect/

 

2 thoughts on “Augustine, Arminius, and R.C. Sproul on Christian Perfection”

  1. Thanks for this clarification. I was once in a classroom setting where a student challenged a professor by asking if a Christian could live above sin (without sinning) for various increasing periods of time…one minute? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? One hour? Two hours? Twelve hours? One day? One week? To each of which the professor responded, “I suppose it may be possible?” Having carefully laid the logical trap, the student then said, “If it is possible to live a ’sinless’ life for a briefer period, would it not be logically inconsistent to say that one could not do so for a lifetime?” Nonplussed, the professor simply retorted, “Could you, sir, hold your breath for ten seconds? Could you hold it for thirty seconds? One minute? Two minutes?” After displaying visual assent to the professor’s questions up to that point, when the professor asked if the student could hold his breath for 5 minutes, the young man conceded that he likely could not. Then the professor made the unambiguous declaration, “Some things which at first seem seem to be theoretically possible are in the final analysis practically impossible.”
    It is all but certain (or so I think) that not only Augustine, and Arminian, and Sproul, but all honest men who have struggled to diet, or control spending habits, or for sure, those who have sought to discipline the mind, have universally and unequivocally found repeatedly that perfectibility in this life is a phantom. “We are all fallen creatures living in a broken world.” Interesting stuff you write, sir. Please, pivot and proceed.Thank you.

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