Arminianism is a school of theology based on the teachings of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, for whom it is named. It is perhaps most prominent in the Methodist movement and found in various other evangelical circles today. It stands in contrast to Calvinism, with which it has a long history of debate. Arminians as well as Calvinists appeal to various Scriptures and the early church fathers to support their respective views, however the differences remain — particularly as related to the sovereignty of God in salvation and the ideas of election and predestination.

Arminian theology

The Arminian party suggested five anti-Calvinist corrections, articulated in the Five articles of Remonstrance of 1610, which gave rise to the historic controversy and are summarized as follows:

Universal prevenient grace

This grace purportedly restores man's free will which was impaired by the effects of original sin and enables him to choose or refuse the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ. Some would say that freedom of will is man's natural state, not a spiritual gift — and thus free will was not lost in the Fall, but cannot be exercised toward good apart from the grace of God. In either case, God's universal prevenient grace works upon all alike to influence them for good, but only those who freely choose to cooperate with grace through faith and repentance are given new spiritual power to make effectual the good they otherwise impotently intend. As John Wesley stated more forcefully, humans were in fact totally corrupted by original sin, but God's prevenient grace allowed free will to operate. Universal prevenient grace is the "hair's breadth" that separates Wesley from the Calvinist view of total depravity.

See main articles: Universal prevenient grace, John 12:32

Conditional election

This point holds that man is the final arbiter of his election, and that God elects him on the basis of foreseen faith which is exercised by libertarian free will, thus making man ultimately decisive.

God has decreed to save through Jesus Christ, out of fallen and sinful mankind, those foreknown by Him who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in Christ; but God leaves in sin those foreseen, who are incorrigible and unbelieving. This is in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

See main articles: Election and Foreknowledge of God

Unlimited (or universal) atonement

Christ's death was suffered on behalf of all men and benefits all men alike. God then elects for salvation those whom he foresees will believe in Christ of their own free will. This is in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of Limited atonement.

Arminians believe that whatever the atonement accomplished, it did so universally for all alike, not just the elect. This point rejects that the atonement has any component which is decisive or effectual in gathering of the elect. Rather, the atonement is seen as a universally effective propitiation and the basis for a universal offer of salvation. The key verse used for this position is 1 John 2:2.

See main articles: Universal atonement and Atonement of Christ

Resistible grace

This point holds that God never overcomes the resistance of man to His saving grace. While both Calvinists and Arminians hold that men often resist God's grace, Arminianism teaches that this resistance is rarely conquered by God because this would be a violation of man's libertarian free will. The grace of God works for good in all men, and brings about newness of life through faith. But saving grace can be resisted, even by the regenerate. This is in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible grace.

See main article: Irresistible grace

Uncertainty of perseverance

Those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith have power given them through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit, sufficient to enable them to persevere in the faith. However, it may be possible for a believer to fall from grace. This is in contrast to the Calvinist's Perseverance of the saints.

See main articles: Perseverance of the saints and Assurance of salvation Not all Arminians have historically embraced this fifth point as stated. Some have embraced a form of eternal security which does not require perseverance in the faith and an attitude of repentance for final salvation. The majority of Arminians, regardless of their position on this point, still affirm that man retains libertarian free will throughout the entirety of earthly life.

The following are also distinctive doctrines and emphases of Arminianism:

Libertarian free will

A key tenet of Arminianism is libertarian free will. This means that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. All "free will theists" hold that libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility, for if our choice is determined or caused by anything, including our own desires, they reason, it cannot properly be called a free choice.

See main article: Libertarian free will

Equal, impartial, and undifferentiated love

Arminianism emphasizes God's equal, impartial, and undifferentiated love for all individuals and denies that God has any sort of electing, particular love that secures one's redemption from the foundation of the world. It infers from this universal love that God would never predestine anyone to hell or hate anyone without reference to their wickedness.

See main articles: John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, Romans 9:13, Love of God

The universal call of salvation

Arminians hold that God calls all people to Himself through Christ, whether or not this call is effectual depends upon the individuals libertarian free will.

History

Arminianism, as mentioned above, is based on the theology of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). His opposition to some of the teachings of the Belgic Confession was formalized into five articles of Remonstrance published by his followers in 1610, on the heels of his death. This Remonstrance was the basis for formal debates in the Reformed churches and resulted in the national Synod of Dort (1618-1619) where Arminianism was condemned by the State church. Arminian theology later received official toleration by the State and has since continued in various forms within Protestantism.

John Wesley later adopted Arminianism and it has become the theological position of Methodism and the Wesleyan tradition. It was propagated in America through the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening and the burgeoning Methodist movement. It is also found today in other denominations such as the Nazarene, the Pentecostal, the Assemblies of God, the Churches of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventist and many Baptist groups. Elements of Arminianism (or its older sister Semi-Pelagianism) may also be found in Roman Catholicism.

"Moderate Arminianism" or "moderate Calvinism"

In Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free, Geisler describes popular Arminianism as "moderate Calvinism" (also called "moderate Arminianism"), because it holds to the perseverance of the saints. This is a confusing and misleading label, however, as Arminianism has not historically been settled against this point. Arminians have held a variety of positions on the certainty/uncertainty of perseverance, and being "Arminian" doesn't necessarily imply that one holds to the uncertainty of perseverance.

Those who hold to Geisler's categorization sometimes also consider belief in the five points of Calvinism to be hyper-Calvinistic. ^[1]^

Quotes

  • "The providence of God is subordinate to creation; and it is, therefore, necessary that it should not impinge against creation, which it would do, were it to inhibit or hinder the use of free will in man." The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2, p. 460

  • "God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [going before] grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere . . . by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere." The Works of James Arminius, Vol 1, p. 248

Notes

  1. "Q: How do you define hyper Calvinist? A: If a person holds to reprobation, this is a clear sign. If anyone believes that God has created souls damned to hell, and predestined them to hell, then they would be a poster child for Hyper Calvinism." - Ergun Caner, President of Liberty Theological Seminary. URL: http://www.erguncaner.com/site/?p=138. Also see Caner's sermon, "Predestined not to be a Hyper Calvinist". URL: http://boss.streamos.com/wmedia/liberty/trbc/20060409p_hi.wvx

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