Definition of Arminianism

Arminianism is a theological system developed by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). It is a form of Protestant Christianity that emphasizes God’s love for all people and human free will in salvation. It rejects the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. It holds that salvation is available to everyone, but that individuals must choose to accept it. For the Arminian, Jesus died for all people, not just for the elect. Arminians believe in conditional election (God chooses those who choose Him) and the ability to resist the grace of God.

 

Distinct Doctrines

1. Human Free Will: Arminians believe that, through God’s prevenient grace, all people have free will to choose or reject salvation in Jesus Christ.

2. Conditional Election: Arminians believe that God chooses those who will be saved based on his foreknowledge of their faith and obedience.

3. Universal Atonement: Arminians believe that Jesus’ death was for all people, and not just for the elect.

4. Resistible Grace: Arminians believe that God’s grace can be resisted, and thus it is possible for a person to reject the offer of salvation even though God has extended it to them.

5. Assurance of Salvation: Arminians believe that believers can have assurance of their salvation as long as they remain faithful in their faith and obedience to God’s word. Therefore, salvation can be lost.

 

Important Arminian Theologians Through Time

(In No Particular Order)
1. Jacob Arminius (1560–1609)
2. John Wesley (1703–1791)
3. John Miley (1813–1895)
4. Thomas Oden (1931–2016)
5. Clark Pinnock (1937–2010) (Pinnock was an Open Theologian)
6. H. Orton Wiley (1877-1962)
7. Charles Finney (1792-1875)
8. Roger Olson (b. 1946)
9. Gregory A. Boyd (b. 1955) (Boyd is an Open Theologian)
10. Craig S. Keener (b. 1960)

Arminian Works You Should Know

1. Jacob Arminius (John D Wagner, ed), Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God

2. The Canons of Dort of 1610

3. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley

4. Thomas C Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace

5. Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

6. Robert Shank, Elect in the Son

7. Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, After Arminius

8. Clark Pinnock, The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism

9. Roger Olson, Against Calvinism

10. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, Why I’m Not a Calvinist

11. Robert Shank, Elect in the Son

12. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (Yes, Geisler was Arminian though he called himself a Calvinist)

 

Misconceptions About Arminianism

1. Arminians don’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Arminians believe very much in the sovereignty of God. To say that God gives people freedom does not necessarily mean that God relinquishes his authority over mankind. To be sovereign does not mean that one always has to be in meticulous control over everything that happens. God, for the Arminian, could shape all human events according to his will, he just chooses not to. This is still sovereignty.

2. Arminians believe that Christians could lose their salvation if they commit a really bad sin.

This is not true. Mainstream Arminianism has traditionally taught that the only way one can forfeit their salvation is through a permanent loss of faith. All sins, no matter how bad, are covered by the cross of Christ. Roman Catholicism is the only mainstream tradition that teaches that really bad sins (“mortal sins”) can cause one to lose their status in heaven.

3. Arminianism is Pelagianism. 

This is one of the most widely taught misrepresentations, primarily among Calvinists. Pelagianism is the belief that man is born morally neutral. As well, Pelagianism teaches that man’s will is neutral from birth. Therefore, according to Pelagianism, man does not need the grace of God to live according to his will. Arminianism, on the other hand, believes that man is completely dependent upon God’s grace in order to be saved.

4. Arminianism is Semi-Pelagianism. 

Unlike Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism is the belief that man is born in a state of moral brokenness but, in his natural state, is still able to call upon God for aid. Arminianism, on the other hand (like Calvinism), does not believe that man can do any good whatsoever outside of God’s intervention. Man, in his natural state, is at enmity with God. It is only the prevenient grace of God that gives man the ability to call on Him for mercy.
Arminians believe in the doctrine of total depravity to the same degree that Calvinists do.

5. Arminians follow a man, Jacob Arminius.

Arminianism represents a system of theology that has roots all the way back to the early church. In fact, it could be easily argued that the earliest Christians after the Apostles were more Arminian than Calvinistic. The designation “Arminianism” is named after Jacob Arminius. Arminius was a Protestant leader who rejected many of the beliefs of the Calvinists of his day, offering an alternative to the prevailing Reformed thought.

6. Arminianism is heresy.

Many passionate Calvinists call Arminianism heresy, but this is normally due to a misunderstanding of both Arminianism and heresy. A “heresy” is a departure from a central belief in historic Christianity. Simply believing something is really wrong does not automatically make it heresy. Most people believe heresy can only apply to issues involving the person and work of Christ. Arminianism is in no way a departure from Christian orthodoxy. It represents beliefs that have always been legitimately debatable in the church.

7. Arminians believe that Christians can be perfect.

Christian perfectionism is a doctrine that is held by Wesleyan-Arminians, not mainstream Arminianism. Most Arminians do not believe that man can be perfect until the resurrection.

8. Arminians deny God’s transcendence.

God’s transcendence is his timeless, spaceless, matterless existence. Open Theology believes that God is bound in time and, therefore, not transcendent. While Open Theology is an Arminian theology, it is a very radical form. Mainstream Arminians are not Open Theologians and have always believed in God’s transcendence.

9. Arminians deny predestination.

All Christians believe in predestination, including Arminians. Predestination cannot be denied, as it is very clearly taught in Scripture. Arminians deny unconditional predestination, believing that predestination is conditioned on the free-will choice of man.

10. Arminians cannot have assurance of their salvation.

The idea here is that Arminians can never know with certainty whether or not they are saved, since it is possible that they may, at some point in the future, lose their faith, and with it their salvation. But Arminians can have at least as much assurance as Calvinists. Calvinists cannot really know whether or not they are truly elect except through enduring. So Calvinists and Arminians are in the same boat. Both of them have to rely on the current state of their faith in order to gain assurance.

11. Arminians believe that man’s freedom is the controlling force in the universe.

This is a straw man put together by many ill-informed Calvinists who seek to associate Arminianism with a compromise to liberalism. For the Arminian, freedom is not the controlling force of the universe; God’s love is. It is God’s love that gives man freedom so that he has the ability to choose him.

12. Arminianism is a compromise with Roman Catholicism.

Arminians believe in all five solas of Reformed thought, including sola Scriptura (Scripture is the final and only infallible guide for the Christian) and sola fide (justification is by faith alone). Both of these are expressly anathematized by Roman Catholicism. Arminianism is a legitimate option within the Protestant tradition.

13. Arminians are from Armenia. 

Armenia is a country and has nothing to do with Arminianism.

 

The Base Weakness of Arminian Theology

First, let me say that Arminians are staunch believers and defenders of basic Christianity. They know and worship the same Jesus as Calvinists and we will all be with Christ for eternity. They may be taken out to the theological woodshed, but I will too. We do our best as fellow believers in Christ and members of his body.

Here is the problem: Arminianism seeks to reconcile the mystery of divine sovereignty and human freedom by relieving the tension between the two. Both unconditional election and human freedom are clearly taught, emphasized, and celebrated in the Scripture. There is a great mystery here that Arminians do not allow. They attempt to turn the “secret things of the Lord”—that which is theologically classified—and relieve the difficulties. Arminians need to learn to trust the Lord in that He is the effectual Caller and Lover of mankind. Maybe he will pull back the curtain one day and help us understand, but maybe he won’t.

Throw in a Tip for Michael


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    36 replies to "The Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism (from a Calvinist)"

    • Terry Douglas

      Just a little typo note: it’s Joseph Dongell (not Dingell).

    • Kevin Simonson

      Michael, what does God think of the Calvinist / Arminian debate?

      • C Michael Patton

        Well, there’s a couple ways to think about it. And one sense. God obviously doesn’t like it because somebody’s wrong. I don’t think it’s necessarily soon to be wrong but in an ultimate sense, God loves what’s right. And we should too. But, in another sense, Disagreements and debate or what drives learning. And God loves learning. He doesn’t just give us full information on our brains, part of what it is to be human will forever be to learn and grow. Therefore, I think that even in heaven, there will be some debate. It will be gracious debate understanding debate, and something that pushes us and drives us to learning on our own so that our understanding of information is real, it’s really ours.

        I have no idea where any of that. Make any sense. I’m doing voice to text because I’m doing something else..

    • Anonymous Coward

      Your explanation of Arminianism sounds like you would be included (doctrinally). Which I suppose is why the editorial in the last paragraph was tacked on the end, so that people will know you still identify as a member of the Calvinist clique and shouldn’t be shunned by them. 😛

      • C Michael Patton

        Well, I felt no need to explain Calvinism on this blog! Just want to make sure we are fair and give a good treatment, knowing how to disagree without creating straw-men.

    • Nelson Banuchi

      Arminius, as Reformed, argued against Reformed Calvinism because he felt it impugned God’s character. ULI were obstacles to maintaining the nature of God as good and just. Free will was not the primary issue or emphasis, as many Calvinists, even you in the way you framed the Arminian beliefs here, seem to suggest. For Arminius it was, above all, maintaining the Biblical revelation of God’s goodness and justice.

      On the Calvinist teaching of predestination, Arminius states that, along with this teaching was never brought forward or approved by any Church Father or in any Church council for the first 600 years after Christ, adds that it is “repugnant to the nature of God,” in particular, His justice and goodness. Arminius defines divine goodness as “an affection [or disposition] in God to communicate his own good so far as his justice considers and admits to be fitting and proper. But in this doctrine (i.e., Calvinist predestination) the following act is attributed to God – that, of himself, and induced by nothing external, he wills the greatest evil to his creatures… even before he resolved to bestow upon them any portion of good” (Works 1:624-625, London edition).

      Arminius even see Calvinist predestination as “diametrically opposed to the act of creation” because “creation is a communication of good”; but creation in the Calvinist program “is not a communication of good… a preparation for the greatest evil both according to the intention of the Creator and the actual issue of the matter.” Further, Arminius explains, “If Creation be the way and means through which God willed the execution of the decree of his reprobation, he was more inclined to will the act of reprobation than that of creation; and he consequently derived greater satisfaction from the act of condemning certain of his innocent creatures, than in the act of creation” (ibid., 1:626-627).

      In your concluding remarks, you claim, “Both unconditional election and human freedom are clearly taught, emphasized, and celebrated in the Scripture.” While I agree the latter, rightly understood, is taught, I would strongly disagree that the former, an unconditional election to damnation is taught, explicitly or implicitly, in the Bible. My reading of the Bible informs me that such an assertion is reading into the text what is not stated rather than reading out of the text what is stated.

      You also claim “[t]here is a great mystery here that Arminians do not allow.” First, respecting man’s obtainment of salvation, we need not allow mystery because there is none. Second, if it legitimate for a Calvinist to appeal to mystery in order to defend their doctrine, then an Arminian can appeal to mystery when affirming that man freely choosing salvation is not meritorious; that is, man exercising faith is compatible with grace –– as faith is not a work –– rendering salvation wholly as the unmerited gift of God. If the Arminian cannot object to Calvinist predestination by virtue of it being a mystery, neither can the Calvinist object to free will as a condition of salvation.

      You also suggest, with it seems an air of hubris, that “Arminians need to learn to trust the Lord” –– as if only Calvinists do and we don’t –– “in that He is the effectual Caller and Lover of mankind.” This is not denied by the Arminian. But, for the Calvinist, God is emphasized as the “effectual Caller and Lover” of damning souls to eternal torment for some unfathomable reason that even Calvinists know except that it is God’s good pleasure to send how many millions of individuals to eternal misery without any reference to deserts.

      I anticipate that should the curtain be pulled back, Calvinists could be mighty disappointed.

      • Abby Walsman

        I really appreciate this!! Thank you! I’m a believer coming out of 20 years discipled in Calvinistic churches. It is hard now to be stepping away from that for I want to “fit in”- I’m even attending a reformed theological seminary – but I must stand on the Word of God – all of it. I am grateful for people like you who help me see I’m not crazy!

    • Duane L Burgess

      Those whom God has sovereignly redeemed do not always get the theology right. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
      Dr. J D Watson was a firm Arminian pastor for twenty years. Then he studied Romans and corrected his theology. He has written, Salvation is of the Lord.
      While Scripture teaches twin truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, which should cause us to marvel in awesome wonder, the bottom line remains that salvation is divine sovereign grace.
      Jesus was crucified to satisfy God with regard to sin so He may justly give everlasting life.
      God gives eternal life to those upon whom He will have mercy.

      In the Arminian free will view essentially God cannot save anyone without their permission.
      We have tolerated error in the Church for centuries in the name of so-called orthodoxy.
      God is sovereign in salvation, not man.
      We see it in Saul on the road to Damascus.
      Jesus told Nicodemus that we have no part in our physical birth or our spiritual birth. We must be “born from above.” (See God’s “I will”s in Ezekiel 36).

      This is not about “Calvinism.” Calvinism simply affirms the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace. It is humbling and God exalting. We do not have to study Calvin, Calvinism, or Reformed theology to find the doctrines of grace in Scripture. All can be demonstrated in the Gospel of John alone.

      Arminian theology is man centered theology, reflecting the arrogant pride demanding autonomy in Genesis 3.
      It is, indeed, heresy.

      • Matthew

        Duane,

        That is a strong charge. To conclude from a careful reading of Scripture, prayerfully seeking to understand the full breadth of Scripture, that the sovereign God doesn’t compel men to surrender and receive His grace but calls him and invites him to do so can reflect a sincere attempt to understand the Word and to glorify Him, rather than man, through that understanding. We should be humble and exceedingly careful in condemning anyone as heretical for taking a position that has support both explicitly within Scripture and implicitly through what the Word teaches us of God’s character.

    • […] The Ultimate Balanced Guide to Arminianism (from a Calvinist) […]

    • Nelson Banuchi

      Just want to correct a typo in the last paragraph wherein a sentence should read, “But, for the Calvinist, God is emphasized as the “effectual Caller and Lover” of damning souls to eternal torment for some unfathomable reason that even Calvinists DON’T know except that it is God’s good pleasure to send how many millions of individuals to eternal misery without any reference to deserts.”

    • O

      Amazingly kind and accurate representation, much appreciated!
      As an Arminian, I find it really rare (even amongst great Calvinist celebrities or classical writers) to have such a clear view and not arguing against straw men.
      I appreciate many Calvinists and would like it to be clear that we love the same Christ and fight for the same glorious Gospel.

    • Mike B

      Shouldn’t Pinnock be noted as an Open Theologian?

      • C Michael Patton

        Good on ya, mate. I added him later and forgot that I set Boyd aside as one.

    • Francis Szarejko

      This is an excellent summary of Arminianism. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran we seem to fit somewhere between Calvinism and Lutheranism. I will certainly be “stealing” this post when I teach the new members class for our church.

    • Dave Martin

      Thanks for these charitable remarks, Michael. I live mostly among Calvinists, but I can’t bring myself to use that label. I know and follow many Arminians who are godly and are doing great work in the Kingdom. When properly understood, I don’t think the two camps are as far apart as many think. We have the most important things in common, and we can and should work together to advance the Kingdom.

    • Brad Eckerley

      Thank you SO MUCH for writing this article! I have an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and a ThM from Southern Seminary. I am currently planting an SBC church, and I am an adjunct professor with Grace Theological Seminary. I share all of that to explain why I like to think I have a good grasp on both “sides” of the debate, and it is unfortunate how many rocks get thrown between the two camps. What you explain above in the article is exactly what I was taught at Asbury, and you are the first I have read to clearly – and perhaps bravely – state it fairly and accurately. Yes, Arminius does NOT represent very well the camp that has been given the name “Arminianism.” Interestingly, there are members in BOTH “camps” who can be quoted in an attempt to undermine the other as heretical (come on, let’s be honest and real with one another). Meanwhile, I have found very godly people residing in both “camps.” My ultimate takeaway from investing time and truly hearing from both camps is that they could really be helped by one another if they could humbly listen to one another. However, there is far more in common with the two camps than most want to care to understand and admit, and I think that is very sad – especially at a time when we as a culture are experiencing such spiritual decline (the enemy is not flesh and blood). I love the fact that George Whitefield could ask John Wesley to conduct his funeral despite their differences, and John Wesley could provide George Whitefield such a glowing, respectful eulogy. I think we could learn much from those two.

      • C Michael Patton

        Thanks Brad. I have always loved that Whitefield quote as well. I need to find it someday so I know I am actually telling a true story. But, either way, the spirit of the story is perfect and inspireing.

      • SETH STILES

        “However, there is far more in common with the two camps than most want to care to understand and admit, and I think that is very sad – especially at a time when we as a culture are experiencing such spiritual decline.” AMEN!!!! This is the direction I think we need. Have our separate convictions but remember how much we have in common and that we are allies in the spiritual war fields.

    • James Durbin

      Another typo, “Pinnock was and Open Theologian.”

      I think you meant, “Pinnock was an Open Theologian.”

    • Theo K

      Salvation by grace alone is incompatible with arminianism, since, in this scheme, God’s grace saves no one. It all depends upon man’s acceptance or rejection of said grace.

      Salvation is either by grace alone or by God’s grace plus man’s contribution no matter how small it may be. So, no, arminianism cannot affirm the Reformation’s rallying cry of Sola gratia.

      Monergism versus synergism is in the heart of what separates these two systems of theology.

    • […] The ultimate balanced guide to Arminianism (from a Calvinist) […]

    • SETH STILES

      A very helpful Christian-acceptable philosophical category to apply in this “debate” is the idea of Concurrence – That is “the way in which human decisions are made under the sovereign will of God’s decisions without destroying the reality or responsibility of the human decisions.” – Millard Erickson, Christian Theology. This has helped me as a fair-minded Calvinist.

    • SETH STILES

      “However, there is far more in common with the two camps than most want to care to understand and admit, and I think that is very sad – especially at a time when we as a culture are experiencing such spiritual decline.” AMEN!!!! This is the direction I think we need. Have our separate convictions but remember how much we have in common and that we are allies in the spiritual war fields.

    • Terry Douglas

      Michael,
      I’m finding, after several decades of identifying (blindly?) as an Arminian, that I seem to fall somewhere between Arminian and (whispered) Semi-Pelegian. It is what I find to be what the Bible teaches (overall). How do you you evaluate this
      ‘space’ along the continuum?

      • C Michael Patton

        You heading to Eastern Orthodox?

        • Terry Douglas

          Not at all. I do not lean toward ritualistic expressions.

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