Who Is (or Might Be) an Arminian?

Who Is (or Might Be) An Arminian?

One of my favorite visitors and frequent commenters here has challenged me to say what I think is necessary to believe in order to qualify as an Arminian. I hesitate to do that because I want as many people as possible to qualify! I fear excluding anyone who genuinely believes he or she is an Arminian and even comes close to qualifying.

So, the approach I’ll take is threefold. First, characteristics I think are minimally necessary to qualify as an Arminian. This is my “generous Arminianism” definition. Second, additional characteristics I think are very valuable for an Arminian to possess. Third, characteristics that I think disqualify a person from being considered an Arminian.

Before launching into it, however, I should reveal how I go about making these decisions. First, I study the history of Arminianism beginning with Arminius himself and his immediate followers, the first generation Remonstrants (up through the 1620s when all the Remonstrants seemed to be faithful to Arminius’ own teachings). Second, I consider what scholars, theologians, leading ministers who regard themselves as Arminians believe. Third, I look at what scholars who are not Arminians say about it. My “anchor” tends to be Arminius himself.

I completely omit “Arminians of the head,” those Remonstrants and their heirs who veered off into rationalism, deism and liberalism. For the most part they stopped identifying as Arminians anyway.

Also before continuing with this rather dubious project, I must say that being an “Arminian” does not mean agreeing with Arminius about everything. Arminianism has always been understood, and the label treated , as a soteriological category. In other words, it is a belief system about salvation and not everything else in theology. The practical consequence of that caveat is that just because Arminius happened to believe something extraneous to soteriology does not make it necessary for Arminianism.

So, once again going where angels fear to tread…what are the minimally necessary characteristics of an Arminian? What MUST a person believe for ME to consider him or her authentically Arminian? (Notice that “necessary” and “sufficient” are not the same. This first list is of what’s necessary for me even to begin to consider whether someone might be Arminian. These are litmus tests.)

  1. Commitment to a basically Protestant theology: sola scriptura, sola Christi, sola gratia et fides, justification as a declaration of righteousness by God’s grace alone because of  Christ alone, through faith alone.
  2. Commitment to corporate election, conditional predestination, universal atonement,  resistible prevenient grace, and the necessity of freely accepting God’s saving grace for salvation.
  3. Belief in the universal love of God and God’s desire that all be saved.

If someone passes those criteria, I am willing to at least consider that he or she may be an Arminian.

Those three minimal criteria, however, may not be sufficient for me to go on to consider the person a true, classical Arminian.  I will harbor doubts about the genuineness of the person’s Arminianism (at least as I understand that category) as long as the following characteristics are in doubt. These are not exactly litmus tests but norms.

  1. Belief in total depravity such that the natural person, apart from supernatural prevenient grace, cannot respond to the outer or inner call of the gospel.
  2. Belief in non-compatibilist free will as power of contrary choice restored by means of prevenient grace in matters of salvation.
  3. Belief that God is not the designer of evil or innocent suffering in the world, but that these exist only because of the fall which God permitted but did not desire or plan.

Finally, there are a few characteristics that would cause me to exclude someone from being considered an Arminian.

  1. Denial of the supernatural and miracles (as in liberal theology, not cessationism).
  2. Denial of the deity or humanity of Jesus Christ.
  3. Denial of the unique inspiration of the Bible.
  4. Denial of God’s omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence.
  5. Denial of God’s eternal, unchangeable character as loving and just (nominalism).

Why the third list? Because Arminianism has always been a belief system among biblical, orthodox Protestants. (Here by “orthodox” I mean basic, generous orthodoxy, not some system of theology.)

Could someone be Arminian and not call himself or herself that? Yes. But I won’t call them Arminian if they don’t want to be called Arminian. But I reserve the right to say that their theology is consistent with Arminianism. (For example, most Anabaptists and Lutherans would not call themselves Arminians, but they might pass all my criteria, in which case I would say their theology is consistent with Arminianism.)

Might someone call himself or herself an Arminian and not truly be one? That’s the whole point of listing these criteria. Yes. Many people who think they are Arminian are really Pelagian or semi-Pelagian or simply liberal theologically.

What are some theological views held by people who are authentically Arminian that not all Arminians hold? They are too numerous to list! Cessationism. Open theism. Christian perfectionism. Subsequence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Dispensationalism, different views of the atonement. Etc., etc., etc. I think the Arminian tent is big and has room for lots of different secondary theological views under it. And I think it’s detrimental to the Arminian cause in the present context where Arminianism is so under attack for Arminians to divide or argue about secondary matters not essential to basic Protestant orthodoxy or Arminian soteriology.

  • Sam

    Mr, Olson, I’ve generally thought of myself as basically Arminian, at least by your most minimal criteria. As to meeting the levels of your second list, I’ve always been solidly with #3, but only first heard about #’s 1 & 2 a couple of years ago, and I’m still working on figuring out where I fall as to those ideas (although I find myself leaning heavily in their direction; but it needs more thought, and further instruction.)

    My brother, who is that odd combination that pops up here and there and might be labelled “Charismatic Calvinist”, is convinced that I am semi-Pelagian. I’m curious – - what things would lead you to label a person as a semi-Pelagian as opposed to Arminian?

    • rogereolson

      A semi-Pelagian is someone who believes the initiative in personal salvation is with the sinner, not God. In the words of John Cassian (early Christian semi-Pelagian)
      God waits to see the exercise of a good will and then responds with grace.

      • Sam

        So that would be where the concept of “prevenient grace” separates the two.

        • rogereolson

          I think your question is in reference to the difference between semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Yes, the difference is prevenient grace. Arminians stand with Calvinists on that. The difference is that Arminians believe prevenient grace is resistible and Calvinists believe (for the elect) it is irresistible. Semi-Pelagians believe the only grace of God before saving grace is a general or common grace that is not supernatural.

  • Charming Billy

    I’ve always wondered what’s your take on the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They lay claim to a “medium theology”, i.e a dynamic intermediate position somewhere between Calvinism and Arminianism. As far as I can tell, you’d call them Arminian, (which is fine with me) although you would argue that such a “medium theology” is impossible (which I’m not so sure about).

    I no longer live close enough to a CP church to attend one, but I would still consider myself a CP theologically.

    • rogereolson

      When my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities came out I received several communications from Cumberland Presbyterians telling me their theology, although Presbyterian, is closer to Arminian than to Calvinist. I admit that I haven’t looked into the matter closely enough to make a judgment about that.

  • Dan

    My intro to Arminian thought came through a Wesleyan influence. That was followed by some Pentecostal theology, which (ironically) led to Wayne Grudem and Calvinism (via spiritual gifts) Some additional college studies introduced me to Jack Cottrell, whom I have enjoyed. Planning to get your new book and Horton’s counterpoint, but apart from yourself (and Cottrell) are there some other modern Arminian scholars you would recommend to help sort out some of these pesky theological knots in my brain? Thanks!

    • rogereolson

      Read The Transforming Power of Grace by Thomas Oden. It’s the best relatively simple, one volume presentation of Arminian soteriology available. (Oden doesn’t call himself an Arminian, but he is a Methodist, so I’m not sure why he resists the Arminian label.)

      • Dan

        Thanks!

    • Jeremy

      I’m working my way through Picirilli’s Grace, Faith, and Free Will and it has been good so far. I’ve also heard good things about Forline’s Classical Arminianism, but I have not read it myself.

      • rogereolson

        Both are good if a little on the conservative side.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    “What are some theological views held by people who are authentically Arminian that not all Arminians hold?”

    In my case, I consider myself an Arminian and agree with your two lists totaling six points. Also, I believe that the Bible teaches about the possibility of postmortem conversions and the hope of all eventually accepting salvation.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see that as any problem for being Arminian, but some would.

  • Justin Meek

    This is the first time I have posted a comment on your blog. I just recently finished catching up by reading all of your postings. That endeavor was very worthwhile and stimulating. This most recent posting is very interesting. I wonder if you might comment a little further on the importance of cooperate election. I come from the Free Will Baptist tradition and claim the title of “classical arminian”, but I must say that, in my experience, corporate election got very little attention. I am not arguing against the idea. Obviously, election has both corporate and individual aspects, but among F. W. B. the emphasis was on the individual aspect of election. I would love to hear from other F. W. B. on this too.

    Thanks for all your thought provoking posts Roger. I wish we had more evangelicals willing to engage in this type of open and non-combative conversation.

    • rogereolson

      By “corporate election” I mean what Paul obviously is talking about in Ephesians 1–that God chooses to have a people (Israel and the church). I realize the Bible does not use these terms this neatly or precisely (i.e., distinguishing them this way), but I say that “election” is corporate and unconditional and “predestination” is individual and conditional (based on foreseen faith). I think that is what Arminius believed as well.

      • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

        Hmm, I suppose that Arminians can believe in conditional election. The view of corporate election gets confusing to me.

        • rogereolson

          At the beginning of every school year the chapel worship leader announces “We are going to have a chapel choir. Auditions are Saturday morning.” She already knows several students who will show up and join the choir. Corporate election and conditional predestination. :)

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger, is it possible for someone who believes in Christian Universal Redemption to be an Arminian?

    • rogereolson

      Great question! Actually, there have been such believers among both Calvinists and Arminians for a long time. But, in both cases, they are considered unorthodox. It is certainly not part of classical Arminian theology and, I think, touches on more important issues than does open theism. I have called “universal redemption” “the most attractive heresy of all.” I also happen to think it is one of the least heretical of all heresies. Certainly some early Christian “fathers” believed in it (Origen and Gregory of Nyssa among them).

  • http://www.opentheism.info William Huget

    As usual, I appreciate your wise and balanced comments. If I recall reading your ‘myths’ book, I was surprised that Arminius retained some Reformed values (I think total depravity is not total inability, etc.). It might not be fair, but I felt he did not go far enough much like Luther retaining some Catholic ideas despite his radical Reformation (infant baptism, etc.). I can concur with the gist of your principles and share an opposition to hyper-Calvinism/Calvinism. I feel Open Theism is a more biblical, coherent free will theism, but still compatible with the gist of Arminianism vs Calvinism/Molinism (exhaustive definite foreknowledge being one issue as well as ‘eternal now’ vs endless time views). I am also Finney-friendly and classical Pentecostal. I appreciate your faith journey, genius, but not infallibility. I trust you will continue to rule out Open Theism (if you can) and not overreact against your Pentecostal roots because of charismania (throw baby out with bath water).

  • http://highroadkokko.blogspot.com Bruce Kokko

    Prof. Olson, I’ve come to greatly admire your work, and continue to learn much from your posts. This post is no different. But I am troubled by the concept “Arminian cause”. The reason is too elaborate for this space, so I have attempted to explain why in my latest blog at http://www.highroadkokko.blogspot.com. I reference you and this posting there, and I hope I have been fair.

    • rogereolson

      By “Arminian cause” I simply mean correcting the prevalent misconceptions and misrepresentations of it together with attempting to change the anti-Arminian attitudes of those especially evangelical leaders who are biased against Arminians.

  • http://www.semillabiblica.org JP

    Mr. Olson. I’m a Calvinist. Before a came in to the presbiterian church I was part of the Nazarene church and I was studied in an arminian institute. I have a question: what its the position of the arminian historical theology upon the sinless or Christian perfection? All arminians believe in the “second work of grace”? Thanks.

    • rogereolson

      Have you read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities? You should, if you want to understand classical Arminianism. I brief, no, not all Arminians believe in “Christian perfection” in the Wesleyan sense (whatever that is, exactly). There are varieties of Arminians; some are Wesleyan and some aren’t.

  • Dmitriy

    What about falling away from grace or going into apostasy or loosing your salvation? Would not that also be part of Arminian theology?

    • rogereolson

      We’ve discussed that a lot here. No, not necessarily. In his Sentiments (one of his last public statements) Arminius said he was not sure because Scripture “wears both aspects” (amissable and inamissable grace).

      • http://www.opentheism.info William Huget

        Arminianism is usually not associated with OSAS. Calvinism is associated with POTS. I would suggest that free will theisms would affirm conditional vs unconditional eternal security (believers are secure, but apostasy/falling away is possible).

  • Greg Milford

    I recall one of your Christianity Today pieces talking about the doctrine of “Irresistible Grace” being the watershed point at which soteriologies end up being compatible with Arminian or Calvinist thought. So I assume this effort is more closely geared toward those who specifically want to claim the Arminian title rather than those who are compatible with it.

    I am a long time Arminian who is moving toward Catholicism, and so I suppose I would be moving into the “Compatible With” category rather than “Is A”. Is there any chance I could talk you in to softening your first point so that I can be (with your blessing) an Arminian Catholic or a Catholic Arminian? It has been a few years since I read Arminius himself, so I am likely to find your placement of basic Protestant convictions essential to his arguments and thought, so I’ll be content to be a kissing cousin with regards to defending God’s gratuitous Love and God’s respect for Man’s Dignity.

    • rogereolson

      It just seems historically odd, to say the least, to refer to a Catholic as an “Arminian.” It would be like calling a Catholic a “Calvinist.” Within Catholic history and theology there have been movements parallel to these Protestant categories. So, just to keep things relatively clean, I think it would be best to talk about Catholic synergism as the analog to Protestant Arminianism. Kissing cousins? Yes. But I think there is enough difference between Protestant theology and Catholic theology that anything closer (e.g., siblings) would be a confusion of categories.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    I appear to fit comfortably into the Arminian mold, although I will admit that I feel a desire to study Open Theism to find where my beliefs fall in that regard. My primary interest is with regard to foreknowledge and the will of God, versus soteriology.

    That said, I truly want to thank you Mr Olson for helping me to begin to label myself and the people around me. Rather than fumble around in the dark and take offense to the other (confusing) voices around me, I can now confidently identify why certain opinions offend me, and offer them the grace needed to continue in conversation. It is quite a relief to assume nothing about someone and discover ‘something’, rather than assume complete agreement with someone and discover disagreement.

    • http://www.opentheism.info William Huget

      I believe Open Theism is a more biblical, coherent free will theism than classical Arminianism (though both share commonalities).

      • rogereolson

        Okay, but why?

  • Bob Brown

    Looks like I’m an Eleven-Point Arminian. Thanks Roger for the distinctions.

  • gingoro

    Roger I know that you do not think that an intermediate position between Calvinism and Arminianism is possible but I find that I can not agree. Calvinists mostly argue that the cannons of Dort (Tulip) define a minimal definition of Calvinism. Some Calvinists seem also to demand God’s total advance planning of all that occurs. I hold 4 of the points of Calvinism but also hold that salvation can be lost but that such is a rare occurrence further I am also not a determinist although I do believe that God can intervene should He so desire. In that sense only, God is in control of all that happens.

    Clearly I am not an Arminian! But many/most Calvinists also say that I am not a Calvinist. In fact one such individual called me an Arminian.
    Dave W

    • rogereolson

      My point is and always has been that there is no logically stable, consistent intermediate position between C & A on the crucial dividing issues of the U and I of TULIP. Of course there are Calvinists who reject the L and Arminians who embrace the P. But the crucial difference is the U and the I. On those there is no middle ground that I know of.

  • http://www.solobizcoach.com Fred

    Roger,

    Can you explain why Total Depravity is so important to Arminian Theology? When I look at the human race, I see a natural desire to believe in a god. While all of these people are not Christian, this draw to religion seems to contradict my understanding of Total Depravity. The only way I have been able to reconcile this experience with the doctrine of Total Depravity is through prevenient grace, but this makes me uncomfortable as billions of people are drawn to a religion different from Christianity.

    Can you help me with this?

    Thanks,
    Fred

    • rogereolson

      So far as I know we both (Calvinists and Arminians) believe with Luther that there is in every human being a “sensus divinius”–a natural desire for God. Arminians agree whole heartedly with Augustine that God made humans so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. But Arminians also agree with Augustine, Luther and Calvin (and virtually all orthodox Christians) that we cannot find God on our own without God’s supernatural assistance. That’s what total depravity means. The “total” in it means simply that every part of us is affected by sin, not that we are all as sinful as possible.

  • Robert

    Hello Roger,

    Thank you for taking up my “challenge”. I believe that you are eminently qualified for such a project. I also believe that this post will help clarify some things for people.

    “So, the approach I’ll take is threefold. First, characteristics I think are minimally necessary to qualify as an Arminian. This is my “generous Arminianism” definition. Second, additional characteristics I think are very valuable for an Arminian to possess. Third, characteristics that I think disqualify a person from being considered an Arminian.”

    Good distinctions and helpful categories.

    “Before launching into it, however, I should reveal how I go about making these decisions. First, I study the history of Arminianism beginning with Arminius himself and his immediate followers, the first generation Remonstrants (up through the 1620s when all the Remonstrants seemed to be faithful to Arminius’ own teachings). Second, I consider what scholars, theologians, leading ministers who regard themselves as Arminians believe. Third, I look at what scholars who are not Arminians say about it. My “anchor” tends to be Arminius himself.”

    I especially appreciate your statements here. I really believe that what you say here is the best way to go about this project.

    “I completely omit “Arminians of the head,” those Remonstrants and their heirs who veered off into rationalism, deism and liberalism. For the most part they stopped identifying as Arminians anyway.”

    Unfortunately those who dislike Arminianism will often argue a slippery slope that Arminianism leads to these things.

    “Also before continuing with this rather dubious project,”

    “Dubious project”? What? :-)

    “I must say that being an “Arminian” does not mean agreeing with Arminius about everything.”

    That is important because in my opinion I do not hold Arminian beliefs simply because Arminius espoused them, but because they are true and best fit what the bible properly interpreted presents. This also means that in some areas if the bible properly interpreted presents one thing and Arminius holds another, then I go with the bible over Arminius. A good example is infant baptism (the bible properly interpreted presents believer baptism, Arminius held to infant baptism, but I hold believer baptism).

    “Arminianism has always been understood, and the label treated , as a soteriological category. In other words, it is a belief system about salvation and not everything else in theology. The practical consequence of that caveat is that just because Arminius happened to believe something extraneous to soteriology does not make it necessary for Arminianism.”

    This is a very important point: Arminianism deals primarily with issues of soteriology. This means that Arminians may hold different eschatological views (e.g. Amill, Premill, etc.). However when it comes to soteriology, Arminians are not going to deny justification through faith, limited atonement or universalism.

    “So, once again going where angels fear to tread’”

    And yet theologians often tread there! :-)

    Besides isn’t that why you guys get the big bucks! :-)

    “…what are the minimally necessary characteristics of an Arminian? What MUST a person believe for ME to consider him or her authentically Arminian?”

    I agree with your three points here.

    “Those three minimal criteria, however, may not be sufficient for me to go on to consider the person a true, classical Arminian. I will harbor doubts about the genuineness of the person’s Arminianism (at least as I understand that category) as long as the following characteristics are in doubt.”

    Again I agree with you about these three as well.

    “Finally, there are a few characteristics that would cause me to exclude someone from being considered an Arminian.

    1. Denial of the supernatural and miracles (as in liberal theology, not cessationism).
    2. Denial of the deity or humanity of Jesus Christ.
    3. Denial of the unique inspiration of the Bible.
    4. Denial of God’s omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence.”
    5. Denial of God’s eternal, unchangeable character as loving and just (nominalism).”

    #1 , #2 and and #5 are obvious.

    #3 may generate some discussion as there may be disagreement on inerrancy.

    Now #4 is obvious, but it could also be controversial. Here is why. Most Christians that I know (and that includes Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Independents) affirm that God is omniscient. But they also would oppose open theism as both unorthodox and false. So here it will depend on whether by “omniscient” you mean the ordinary and common understanding or whether you allow in open theist conceptions of foreknowledge.

    “Why the third list? Because Arminianism has always been a belief system among biblical, orthodox Protestants. (Here by “orthodox” I mean basic, generous orthodoxy, not some system of theology.)”

    This rules out say a “Catholic Arminian”.

    Here I share what I consider an important distinction. While only some people are self consciously confessed Arminians: there are many, many who while not confessed Arminians, nevertheless hold to ARMINIAN BELIEFS. These Arminian beliefs would include unlimited atonement, resistible grace, libertarian free will, that God desires the salvation of the world and provides Jesus for the whole world because he loves the world, etc. looked at it this way, one may be a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and hold Arminian beliefs.

    “Could someone be Arminian and not call himself or herself that?”

    Yes, that is what a Southern Baptist who is not a calvinist is! Right? :-)

    “Yes. But I won’t call them Arminian if they don’t want to be called Arminian. But I reserve the right to say that their theology is consistent with Arminianism. (For example, most Anabaptists and Lutherans would not call themselves Arminians, but they might pass all my criteria, in which case I would say their theology is consistent with Arminianism.)”

    Which is where my distinction comes in. These may not be self confessed Arminians but they do **hold to Arminian beliefs**.

    “Might someone call himself or herself an Arminian and not truly be one? That’s the whole point of listing these criteria. Yes. Many people who think they are Arminian are really Pelagian or semi-Pelagian or simply liberal theologically.”

    There are some who call themselves Arminian or confuse Arminian beliefs with Pelagian beliefs. They are not the same.

    “What are some theological views held by people who are authentically Arminian that not all Arminians hold? They are too numerous to list! Cessationism. Open theism. Christian perfectionism. Subsequence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Dispensationalism, different views of the atonement. Etc., etc., etc.”

    This is important to note as well.

    “I think the Arminian tent is big and has room for lots of different secondary theological views under it.”

    This may be the bottom line here.

    While we can easily recognize some Arminian beliefs. With some doctrinal positions there is room for disagreement while still being considered an Arminian.

    “And I think it’s detrimental to the Arminian cause in the present context where Arminianism is so under attack for Arminians to divide or argue about secondary matters not essential to basic Protestant orthodoxy or Arminian soteriology.”

    True.

    My own approach is that I get along with most other Christians because they are saved persons and hold to Arminian beliefs. I understand what are secondary matters and where there is room for disagreement. I also understand where some views are not orthodox and should not be held by Arminians (including open theism, universalism, annihilationism, post mortem salvation, etc.). The challenge is that some who hold these unorthodox and false beliefs want to be seen both as orthodox and as Arminians.

    I also think that C. S. Lewis had a point with his concept of “Mere Christianity”. I look at the bible and church history and the views held by most Christians have actually been pretty consistent (i.e. one must be in personal relationship with Christ to be saved, the trinity, the deity of Christ, the Incarnation, final judgment heaven and hell, God’s desire for all to be saved, Jesus dying for the sins of the whole world, etc.) These are all Arminian beliefs and are also held by all who are orthodox whether they come out of Catholicism, Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy. What is excluded by church history as a whole as well as proper interpretation of the bible includes calvinism, determinism, open theism, annihilationism, universalism, Unitarianism, antinomianism (i.e. the idea that you can be a believer but never ever do any good works).

    Robert

  • Kyle Carney

    Would you categorize open theism as a philosophical position that can be either Arminian or semipelagian/Pelagian somewhat like Molinism can be considered a philosophical position that can be thought of with either Arminian or Calvinist soteriology?

    • rogereolson

      Yes. But it is only called “open theism” when it is held by evangelicals. When the same view of the future is held by a non-evangelical it is called something else. Among process theologians it has been called “neo-classical theism.” But the reasons for the view and especially beliefs about God’s power differ so radically that they can’t be lumped together.

  • Kyle Carney

    I agree with the general sentiment that we should strive to be gracious with all other Christians, especially Arminian brothers and sisters, but I think we still need to talk about other things. I think one thing I have learned from this post is that we should realize that these other issues, while some perhaps are very important, are not systematically effecting Arminian soteriology in a way that damages it and, therefore, we should not shy from connecting with each other on a significant area of agreement. Open theism for example would be a touchy issue in this area, where I would want to be loving towards such a brother or sister and yet would want to clarify the soteriological part to avoid the pelagian accusation that is so far off the mark.

    • rogereolson

      How does open theism affect soteriology?

      • Kyle Carney

        I was kind of asking the question in a bit of a leading way. I think from a Calvinist pov it destroys soteriology–but that isn’t my paradigm either. However, it does seem to me that Open Theists, or Neo-classical Theists, could possibly have a tendency toward denial of total depravity, although not inherent in their thought itself, based on their philosophical commitments to a theism where God can’t know how someone would respond.

        I understand from your explanations that this is not inherent to their theology, that it’s philosophical about what can or can’t be known. However, it does seem that to define God’s knowledge in such a way would seem to limit the power of God in the influencing, preventing grace. Where in Arminianism God is graciously, lovingly, generously liberating the will for a second chance at life yet allowing the sinner choice based on knowledge, it seems that losing the base of this knowledge would have a God working as hard as he can yet ineffectively as opposed to God working as hard as he can while reserving himself from enforcing his will completely over ours based on his justice and righteousness in that decision as our creator and, perhaps, the desire to have a free relationship of genuine love (which I agree with but use “perhaps” as it is more of a broad synthesis from scripture rather than a clear teaching). I could see Open Theism guarding against this by saying that God decided to engage himself in something, salvation, that he would not know while yet deciding to do many other things along the way that he would certainly accomplish.

        I hope it’s clear that I’m not set on excommunicating Open Theists from evangelicalism as I don’t fully understand the position. However, I feel this difference in basis of knowledge in salvation work might be a significant difference between Arminianism and Open Theism. I am just musing whether or not that is irreconcilable. However, I do suspect that the philosophy with abundant caveats and might be able to fulfill the basic requirements of Arminianism. I’m just not sure. That’s why I was comparing it to Molinism.n

  • Jason Wheat

    Thank you very much for a helpful and insightful article. I am in the middle of a bit of a theological journey right now. I was brought up in an Arminian baptist context and had only known about reformed theology from a hyper-calvinist perspective which I readily and easily rejected. Recently, when trying to articulate my believes and theology biblically, I was forced to ask myself, why I believe this and not that on a number of issues. I have come to find out that most Calvinists have a caricatured understanding of Arminian theology and vice versa. After studying the points and counter-points for both sides, it seems to me that the main sticking point in regards to the TULIP is not the L so much as it is the I. After all, if extended saving grace is irresistible, then it would stand to reason that the other points fall into place, if it is resistible, then the rest of the house falls down. But I have found that both sides use some of the same verses to describe both irresistible grace and prevenient grace, and in different contexts they both make sense, (See both John 6:37 and 12:32) so I am still up in the air on things.
    My frustration is that, at the end of the day, both sides of this debate come to their conclusions based on an unreconciled philosophical question. The Calvinist cannot see how a person can resist God’s grace, and therefor provide the deciding element of salvation, and not be able to boast and claim some partial credit for salvation. The Arminian cannot reconcile see how God could unconditionally predestine only some for salvation and still be just and right and good and not the author of sin. Both sides end up appealing to mystery.
    All that to say that I guess I wouldn’t fit into either category right now until I can get this all sorted out.

    • rogereolson

      As I have said many times, this issue cannot be settled definitively from Scripture passages alone. It has to be settled using a synoptic vision of God’s character revealed in Jesus Christ (God’s self-revelation in person) and the whole of Scripture (organically interpreted keeping progressive revelation in mind). As I have said many times, IF high Calvinism is true, then God has to be a moral monster. Calvinists don’t know this because they are inconsistent. But SOME of what they say, especially about reprobation, absolutely conflicts with any sense of love which is God’s essence.

  • Jared Hanley

    Roger, after reading this article I have a couple of things to say.

    First, I think it’s interesting that you believe that prevenient grace is necessary in order for people to respond to the outward call of the Gospel. I just never really considered that aspect of Arminian theology.

    Second, the statement you make about suffering and the sovereignty of God is something that I always thought went hand in hand with Arminian theology but I have found that in practice that is not always the case.

    There are many self-professing Arminians who can read all of the Calvinistic statements on that Rick Warren makes in his book “The Purpose-Driven Life” and agree with nearly every word. When I read that book as an Arminian I found very little that I disagreed with.

    Also, you find more of a Reformed view of suffering and the sovereignty of God in the African-American and Pentecostal church traditions in spite of the fact that persons hailing from those traditions rarely if ever identify with a Reformed worldview.

    I think T.D. Jakes is a perfect example when it comes to his view of suffering. In fact, in a recent radio show where James White was engaging in polemics against Jakes and his view of the Godhead, he made the statement that he heard Bishop Jakes preaching on the sovereignty of God in suffering and he agreed with what he heard Jakes saying on that particular subject.

    It is because of this latter observation that I don’t feel so out of place being a Calvinistic Pentecostal. There are a number of people that I look up to in this respect including Evan Roberts, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, R.T. Kendall, Ern Baxter, and even Otis Moss III to some extent. I’m not alone. There are others out there.

  • Jared Hanley

    You still haven’t answered my comment.

    • rogereolson

      I’d say it’s you who haven’t answered mine. Once again, do you think that a person who only freely accepts a gift has merited it?

      • Jared Hanley

        No. I don’t think receiving a gift amounts to meriting that gift.

        However, I do think that Arminianism leaves room for boasting. If you can say that you are the deciding factor in your salvation, there’s room for boasting there.

        Most Arminians don’t argue the fact that the doctrines of grace help protect the concept that we don’t save ourselves. Calvinism is further away from claiming that we can earn our salvation because it is further away from leaving room to boast that we contributed something to our salvation.

        The question is, why did you receive the gift of salvation? Was it the sheer grace of God or your own choice? If it was the sheer grace of God then all of the praise will go to Him. If it was partially due to your choice then part of the praise goes to you. There’s no way around that.

        The charge that most Arminians level against Calvinism is that it doesn’t seem fair. But Paul deals with that in Romans 9. Furthermore, Arminians don’t say that Calvinists come close to saying that salvation can be earned. Sometimes they argue that Calvinists feel special because they’re chosen. But Israel was God’s special people. So why shouldn’t we as the Bride of Christ feel special, cherished, and loved? We are His chosen remnant. We have been chosen to go behind the veil into the holy of holies. But we don’t deserve it. And the doctrines of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election help us keep that in proper perspective.

        I don’t see why you wouldn’t see these doctrines as beautiful. In each of them we see God’s love.

        Total Depravity – God our Redeemer says “I see you helpless alone and afraid. But I won’t leave you out there all alone and in the cold. I will come to you.”

        Unconditional Election – God our Redeemer says “I love you with an everlasting love. I love you because I love you. Though you are unworthy of my love, though you are unlovable, I will love you. You are a peasant but I The King will love you and make you my princess.”

        Limited Atonement – God our Redeemer says “I will lay down my life just for you.”

        Irresistible Grace – God our Redeemer says “I will pursue you relentlessly with my love. I will never give up on you, no matter what. You are my priceless possession.”

        Perseverance of the Saints – God our Redeemer says “I will protect you and keep you safe.”

        It’s the greatest love story ever told. So, not only do you protect the Gospel doctrinally by holding the doctrines of grace, you protect the beautiful narrative of the Gospel as well.

        God’s love is the strongest motivation for me to hold the doctrines of grace. If not for this, I would probably be an Arminian. It’s difficult to believe that God’s love is truly unconditional if Arminianism is true. The doctrine of Unconditional Election protects the unconditional love of God. As Michael Horton says so well in his systematic theology, the dogma is the drama.

        • rogereolson

          You obviously are not familiar with Arminian literature. The point against TULIP is not that it makes God unfair but that it portrays God as unloving. I have never read an Arminian theologian who used “fairness” as an argument against Calvinism. But Calvinists keep claiming that this is Arminians’ argument. It isn’t. Sure, if you want to move as far away from “being able to boast” as possible, then you’ll have to say that God saves everyone. So long as you believe God chose YOU and not someone else, you have ground to boast. Even more ground than an Arminian has. Saying you don’t know why God chose you doesn’t help because God had to have a reason. Otherwise it would just be arbitrary. Ruling out arbitrariness requires that God chose you to be one of his elect because of something about you. Then you have room to boast. Back to my analogy. You admit that you don’t think receiving a gift amounts to meriting that gift. Well, the only thing a person receiving a gift could boast about is meriting a gift in some measure, however small. Arminians adamantly deny that we merit any part of salvation. Therefore, based on your admission about the analogy, you have to admit that Arminianism does not require the possiblity of boasting. You need to go back and read some Arminian literature. Before commenting further, please state what Arminian theology books you have read. I can tell you haven’t read much or haven’t absorbed much when you say anything about Arminianism or Arminians.

          • Jared Hanley

            I have read the section of your book on historical theology concerning Arminianism and its attempt to reform Reformed theology. I have read John Wesley on Prevenient Grace. I have read the position statement of the Assemblies of God, the denomination that I was raised in, on Arminianism versus Calvinism. I have also read Collin Hansen’s book “Young, Restless, Reformed” where he interviews you and you discuss Arminian theology.

            That’s about it I guess other than bits and pieces of D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, Mark Rutland, Charles Finney (who was probably more Pelagian than anything else), Jack Hayford, Adam Clarke (who may have been an Open Theist), A.W. Tozer, and Leonard Ravenhill.

            I have tried to listen to lectures on Arminianism but they were so dry I couldn’t stay awake.

            When people preach from that perspective sometimes I can’t even tell they’re Arminian but when they try to defend Arminianism it gets really boring for me. To me, it’s exciting to think that God is in total control, He’s unstoppable, He ordains whatsoever comes to pass as Ephesians 1:11 says and the Westminster standards affirm, He makes all things work together for my good.

            When I hear people like Andrew Wommack a WoF preacher say that God is in charge but He’s not in control, which is something I’ve heard you say, that just feels really dry to me. Coming from a Pentecostal background, I like to listen to preaching that’s anointed by the Spirit and I just don’t think the Spirit will anoint sermons that include statements like that. I always thought of black preachers as some of the most anointed preachers and no black preacher worth his weight in salt would make a statement like that.

            I was raised with a Word-Faith understanding of scripture so that probably colors my understanding of this discussion.

          • rogereolson

            You need to read real Arminian theology. Read Thomas Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace. If you find it dry or boring I pity you. So you think God has to be controlling everything? Answer this for me: When a small child is kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered, did God foreordain and render that certain? If you can say so, I doubt you have children. If you say so and you do have children, I pity them. If you say so, you have made God the author of sin and innocent suffering.

  • http://www.godcamedown.com Christ Centered Teaching

    I have a question.
    Christ said, he who has been forgiven much loves much, and he who has been forgiven little loves little.
    Please don’t take this wrong, but it sounds like Arminius could never love Christ as much as Calvin.
    Any thoughts in regard to this?

    • rogereolson

      Please cite chapter and verse for that. Assuming Calvin was forgiven for agreeing to the execution of Servetus I agree that he was forgiven more than Arminius. I question whether Christ said exactly what you say. Please give chapter and verse and translation.

  • Jared Hanley

    I believe Ephesians 1:11. It says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Or as the Puritans said God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. So my answer would be yes. And I do have children. But God has a Son and He gave Him up for us. If God gave Christ for us, and ordained that, then what makes us think that it’s more atrocious for God to ordain the death of other children? Acts two and four could not be more clear that God predestined the death of His Son. That’s far worse than any atrocity that has ever happened in human history.

    • rogereolson

      Jesus’ death was voluntary on his part. And God did not have to manipulate anyone to do it. Jesus’ triumphal entry made it inevitable. I’m sad that you think the man I saw on TV yesterday who kidnapped, raped and murdered a two year old girl did it because God willed it and rendered it certain. To compare that with Jesus’ voluntary sacrifice is ridiculous, in my opinion.

  • Jared Hanley

    What about Isaiah 53:10

    Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    Isaiah 53:10 ESV

    ?

    From Peter’s sermon on Pentecost:
    “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-
    this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
    Acts 2:22-23 ESV

    And:

    for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
    to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
    Acts 4:27-28 ESV

    Scripture is very clear on this point. This is the basis for the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. It is mocked and ridiculed by liberal theologians as “divine child abuse” but it is clearly taught in scripture. Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because I owed a debt I couldn’t pay. He took my place on the cross. Because God is just, someone had to be punished for sin. Jesus propitiated the wrath of God by His active and passive obedience. Now, by faith, I am reckoned the righteousness of God by faith in Christ. When God looks at me, He no longer sees my sin but the perfect sinless life of Christ. That’s the Gospel.

    • rogereolson

      Huh? Is that supposed to be a response to something I wrote? I have defended the penal substitution theory here many times. Maybe you should take the time to go back through the archives and read on a subject before assuming what my view is.

  • Tyler Geffeney

    Hey Roger,

    Thanks for this helpful article. I had a few questions regarding doing further study.

    First, Do you have a good article or resource that would better articulate what is meant by corporate election and conditional predestination?

    Second, is there a good book / resource that discusses Arminianist like soteriology that was held by church fathers before Arminianist.

    Lastly, I understand that Wesley held to a modified form of Arminianism and in his own words said “I do not differ a hairs breath on my views of justification from Calvin.” Do you have an article or a good resource for understanding Wesley’s form of Arminianism and how it differs from what Arminius specifically taught?

    Thanks for all your help.

    • rogereolson

      Wesley’s form of Arminianism did not differ at all from Arminius’. Look at the writings of Thomas Oden, a Methodist theologian who writes much about the church fathers. There are good resources on all aspects of Arminian theology, including corporate election, at http://www.evangelicalarminians.org.

  • Francesco C.

    Dear Roger,
    I read the post and I agree about everything, except this part:

    “3. Belief that God is not the designer of evil or innocent suffering in the world, but that these exist only because of the fall which God permitted but did not desire or plan.”

    Obviously this sentence is more arminian than calvinist, but it seems almost open-theist. Does not arminian doctrine of concurrence entail that God “in some way” desired and planned everything that happens?

    • rogereolson

      No. Concurrence only means that a creature is metaphysically unable to act totally independently of God. In concurrence God “loans” ability to act to creatures who cannot lift a finger without God’s sustaining power. Were God to withdraw that power, the creature would cease to exist. Concurrence does not imply God’s agreement with what the sinful creature is doing in his or her evil.

      • Francesco C.

        I always thought that God decided a list of “IF A THEN B” sentences and is able to antipate, by His divine foreknowledge, which A1, A2, A3… free choices human beings will do. In this way, he is able to make coherent and put in armony according to His plan the B1, B2, B3… events that will happen in consequence of A1, A2, A3… So he designed, planned and in some way even desired B1, B2, B3 even if He didn’t desire and He is not responsible for A1, A2, A3…
        Is this coherent with classical arminianism? I think so, even if I don’t think that all true arminians reasonate in this way (and they fall in too similarity with open-theism, not caring about some clear verses of the Bible that calvinists often repeat).

        • rogereolson

          Sounds right.


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