Jacob Arminius. Theologian of Grace– Part One

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Of late there has been an attempt, rightly in my view, to clear away a lot of misconceptions and in fact misrepresentations of Arminian theology, including the misrepresentation of Arminius himself as either a Pelagian on the one hand, or some kind of hybrid between Calvin and Wesley on the other. Neither of these things are true. The two books which have done the most to clear away the clutter and misrepresentations are Roger Olsen’s 2006 book Arminian Theology (2006), and more recently the book by Keith Stanglin and Tom McCall (Oxford, 2012, 240 pages), which will be the subject of a variety of blog posts in the coming days, and thereafter I intend to provide the same for Olsen’s book. Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) was a Dutch Reformed minister as well as a scholar and teacher in the Reformed and Scholastic traditions. Unlike the later caricature of Wesley as a mere ‘lay theologian’, Arminius could never be accused of not being systematic and profound in his theological expositions. He was a force to be reckoned with and it is a great pity the primary sources of his writings are not more generally available in good English translations with scholarly annotations. Fortunately, both Stanglin and McCall and Olsen as well deal in detail with the original sources in Dutch etc.

What we intend to do in the following blog posts is not merely to summarize the major points of Arminius’ thought, and how it differs from what we have come to call Calvinism, but also to interview these scholars who have written about Arminius and ask some questions. One must bear constantly in mind, as Olsen has reminded me, that Arminius lived and worked in a contention Reformed environment, in which he was regularly being examined, and disputed with, and even attacked by the more hyper-Reformed of his colleagues. If you want a modern analogy, the milieu is rather like the way Tom Wright’s Reformed Evangelical views on Justification and other subjects have been attacked by the hyper-Reformed. The irony is that Wright is not an Arminian or a follower of Arminius. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose in the contention world of Reformed theological debates.

Especially in the wake of the recent resurgence of certain very conservative kinds of Reformed thinking in America among the ‘young, the restless, and the newly formed Reformed’ even evident in some Inter Varsity chapters on major university campuses, thanks to the Passion movement and theologians such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem, it is a good time to take a careful look once more at Arminius and his heirs. It will be worth our time.