Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 9

Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 9 October 27, 2006

Myth #9 from Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology is appropriate for me today: I’m at Westminster Theological Seminary, one of America’s foremost bastions of reformed theology. The myth is this: that Arminians deny justification by faith alone through faith alone. At issue: Is Arminianism genuinely reformational or is it a retreat toward the Catholicism out of which the reformers broke?
Olson’s response is a robust denial: Arminians don’t deny justification by grace alone and through faith alone. And a robust affirmation: Arminianism is a Reformation movement.

Olson quotes some who contend that Arminians teach that what is imputed for righteousness is not Christ’s righteousness but the merit of faith. Imputation, rather than being solely a forensic declaration, it is argued by some Calvinists, is understood by Arminians to involve a moral change.
Olson argues that Arminians have always been uncomfortable with a declaration-only righteousness; Luther, Olson, argues sees two kinds of righteousness: alien and transforming. Arminians stand with Luther.
It is true that Arminians — I add along with Genesis 15:6 — have spoken of a faith imputed for righteousness, but they have also always taught that grace can’t be merited or earned and that it is received solely by faith. Olson suggests that what is at stake is a monergistic theory of justification.
Arminius himself: several have concluded that Arminius was thoroughly Reformation on justification (APF Sell, A Skevington Wood, H Slaatte, C Bangs). Arminius said he could sign off on what Calvin says in Book 3 of Institutes on justification. And faith, Arminius stated, is the work of the Holy Spirit, not the effort of a human being. It is instrumental, not material/efficient cause. Arminius distinguished justification from sanctification.
Oden says that Wesley was Calvinistic in his understanding of justification.
The secret is that consistent Arminians have always believed in justificaiton as imputed righteousness (not imparted).

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  • Scot, again. . .thanks for the series on this. It really enables many of these issues to be clarified. In regards to this particular one, it is interesting to me that on BOTH sides of the coin there are those who simply assume that Arminianism is the direct *opposite* of Calvinism. By this I mean to point out that even adherents of Arminianism will go along with such thinking simply because that is what it is ‘supposed’ to be. Alas, such is not the case.
    Problematically, this issue highlights how many theological elitists (many of whom are Calvinist) assert that Arminianism is not a thoughtful position to take as the *opposite* of everything Calvin can be easily added up to incoherence. But Arminius himself defies this (as does the larger system of thought which bears his name) even though certain individuals have abandoned a consistent worldview. What Olson is doing (among other things) is restoring the idea that Arminianism is a thoughtful position.
    And to tie this in with PART 9: Is it any surprise that when Arminianism as a whole is looked-down-upon that the same ecclesiastical culture would snub its nose at questions such as Openness?

  • Justin D

    And to Gen you can of course add Paul in Rom 4–his language there is pistis logizetai eis dikaiosunen or something like that as I recall.
    I’m sure you had that in mind though.
    Its funny, the WCF explicitly denies speaking of justification in terms of faith imputed for righteousness, even though that’s exactly what Gen and hence Paul says.

  • Art

    The Standards do not deny speaking of Justification in terms of faith imputed for righteousness.
    WCF 11.1-2
    11.1. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
    11.2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love
    WSC Question 33: What is Justification?
    A: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

  • Tangentially related to this topic: I talked to a Calvinist this weekend who said the Calvinist/Arminian debate is totally theological and that practically speaking it all plays out Arminianistically (sp? i.e. the offer and invitation must be made and preaching must happen regardless of position because we cannot make hyper-Calvinist assumptions that whatever you do or don’t do, God will take care of getting his elect).
    Any thoughts? (FYI I’m not advocating either side; just curious–never heard this before!)

  • Jake

    I attended an Arminian college (Asbury) for 2 years when I was a Calvinist. Imputed righteousness what the only option ever offered.
    The argument against imputed righteousness these days tends to come mostly from Calvinst New Perspective authors, although they are not offering any of the alternatives mentioned above. Read N. T. Wright.