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.
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
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.