Friday, November 24, 2006

Jacobus Arminius -- the Calvinist's whipping boy

Jacobus Arminius (aka Jacob Arminius, James Arminius, and Jacob Harmenszoon) may have been more "Calvinistic" (or at least Reformed) than many modern Calvinists. Nevertheless, his name has become indelibly attached to the anathema of "Calvinistic" Sovereign Grace believers. Arminius this and Arminian that, we say and write. But did Arminius really believe what is often attributed to him? And does it really matter? Well, for the sake of polemics, argument and debate, it probably doesn't matter. After all, folks are debating particular opposing beliefs and not really the man Arminius. But for the sake of history and honesty, I think it does. To permanently represent Arminius with the errors of those that followed him is historically incorrect, and, if we know better, dishonest as well.

"Whenever the Calvinist...fervently sets his pen (or keyboard) against the writings and thoughts of the Arminians, he is usually arguing against secondary ideas based upon his knowledge of the subject. What do I mean by this? I mean to say that instead of hearing the doctrine of repentance from Arminius himself, or from the Remonstrants (his followers), the Calvinist will refute the Arminian doctrine of repentance based on preconceived notions, assumptions, other books written about other authors who say they are Arminian, and the like...Let us all stop arguing about these secondary issues and first have a real handle on what the Arminian actually believes and teaches. But we are only able to do this if we understand the intricate root system of classical 'Arminianism'." - Rev. C. Matthew McMahon, pastor of Christ Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church

A Puritan's Mind on James Arminius

"It is evident that such accounts of Arminius assume a definition of Arminianism which cannot be derived from Arminius himself." - Carl D. Bangs "Those who see predestination as the essential core of Reformed or Augustinian-Calvinistic theology find it easy to say that, since Arminius did not articulate predestination in the same way Calvin did, he is a semi-Pelagian. Then they transfer this alleged semi-Pelagianism to all of his theology." - J. Matthew Pinson (Integrity: a Journal of Christian Thought, Summer 2003, No. 2)

I'm not a big fan of Arminius, or all that much of Calvin. But what little I have discovered about Arminius in the past few years makes me believe that much of the "Christian" world labors under a false conception of what Arminius really believed. That doesn't mean we would necessarily agree with Arminius, just that we might be surprised just how un-Arminian some of his theology seems when we actually read it. Again, does it really matter? In the grand debate between "Calvinism", "Arminianism" and all points between -- probably not that much. I wouldn't want someone naming a theology after me; but if they did, I would at least want it to represent what I believed!! ;-D

In the spirit of the holiday season, give the ol' boy a break. Why not pick on someone else for awhile?


Anonymous said...

It must be noted "historically" that the five points, in Calvinistic circles, we call the tulip originated with the heretic Arminius. John Calvin was refuting these false doctrines in his works.

I think the notion that Arminius was some sort of angel comes from those who bastardize calvinism and insert their own false notions about calvinism, such as the false introduction that election is the result of God's natural, eternal attribute of foreknowledge. This was carried over from the plymouth Brethren into the 1900's turn of the century baptists.

The end result of arminianism is the cult of free-willism or liberalism. One naturally leads to the other as has been noted down through history as it strips God of His divine sovereignty.



R. L. Vaughn said...

Bro. Jim, this is somewhat of how I would run down the "Calvinist/Arminian" history. This that follows is historically accurate as far as I am able to tell.

Calvin was a Frenchman who settled in Switzerland and lived from 1509–1564. Arminius was a Dutchman who lived from 1560–1609, born four years before Calvin's death -- Calvin would have never known anything about Arminius or his doctrines. What we know as the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) was not developed by Calvin, but by the Synod of Dordt (or Dordrecht) replying not to Arminius, but to his followers in the Dutch Reformed Church, called Remonstrants.

In 1610 these Remonstrants presented five articles formulated to present their points of doctrines.
These were (according to Wikipedia):
1. that the divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute
2. that the Atonement is in intention universal
3. that man cannot of himself exercise a saving faith
4. that though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort it does not act irresistibly in man
5. that believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.

Tulip represents a response to the five points of the Remonstrants. Calvinism, in the minds of most people, is inextricably identified with these five points of T(otal inability) U(nconditional Election) L(imited Atonement) I(rresistible Grace) P(erseverance of the Saints). Truly they do not serve as a summary of John Calvin's writings, and some would argue that Calvin was never explicit on some of these issues, e.g. limited atonement. Modern Arminianism, it seems to me, has more in common with the teachings of Pelagius -- free will, no total depravity, morality ability not to sin, etc. -- than with the teachings of Arminius. It seems that Arminius accepted the idea of original sin, denied "total inability" but not "total depravity", rejected "irresistible" grace but did not embrace free will, and though he did not believe all men would persevere in grace also rejected the "moral ability" to keep from sinning. Maybe still a "heretic", but a heretic who believed what he believed and not what is often ascribed to him.

I don't think Arminius was any sort of angel. I doubt Servetus would think much angelic about Calvin either -- except as the angel of death perhaps! The exact part that Calvin played in his death will be debated as long as the world turns. But it is evidently accurate that Calvin wrote to Farel that if Servetus took it upon himself to come to Geneva, he (Calvin) was "...unwilling to pledge my word for his safety, for if he shall come, I shall never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail."

Noting points 1 and 3 in the positions of the Remonstrants above, I tend to think that most present-day Calvinism agrees with the Remonstrants on those points, if I properly understand what they mean by them.

I don't think I would disagree with your observation that Arminianism tends to lead to free-willism or liberalism. But I would note that any venture by the fathers one way or the other off the center of Biblical truth tends to lead to an extreme viewpoint in the children.

As always, thanks for your comments. Have a nice night up there in the cold country.

amity said...

Yes, let's pick on Pelagius!

Our pastor has recently been asking what we believe the most abused scripture in the Bible is. I vote for Romans 6:23.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Yea, Pelagius would probably be glad to take the credit back that's been going to Arminius all these years! ;-)

On that other thing, I wasn't surprised on the PB-MB listserve to see all those who responded give John 3:16. Romans 6:23 -- For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord -- is an interesting choice. How come?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, folks..I goofed and reversed Calvin and Arminius....Calvin did pen the five points, but it was when Holland adopted Calvinism as the state religion that Arminius spoke up with his objections and the Council at Dort assembled the TULIP in opposition to Arminius............Just proves, when you get to my age don't trust your memory straight off......My sincere apologies. I shall try to get it right in future.