Do we need an Arminian Defense League?

Do we need an Arminian Defense League? August 24, 2011

Okay, so I used that title to get your attention.  No, I don’t really think we need an Arminian Defense League (although sometimes I feel like the only person doing anything to defend Arminianism from its enemies and could use some help!).

Earlier, here, I talked about a video on youtube.com (it might also exist on DVD or something, but I’ve only seen it on youtube.com) that viciously attacks Arminianism.  It’s a slick video–well produced (not a home-made talking head video like so many).  I understand it is part of a longer series on Reformed theology.

To view it, just go to www.youtube.com and enter “Arminianism.”  It’s usually the first thing that comes up.  It’s called “Arminianism: The Root of ‘Christian’ Liberalism?”  It’s filled with unsupported innuendos about the seemingly (to them) inescapable results of Arminianism.  The producers strongly imply that Arminianism leads to denial of the deity of Jesus Christ.  That’s something I want to address here now.  Later I’ll take on some other claims of the video.

So, near the beginning of this clip, the narrator talks about Jacob Arminius, the Remonstrants (his followers after his death in 1609) and the Synod of Dort (1618/1619).  The narrator (reading from a script) says something about how the Reformed delegates to Dort loved their Arminian brothers and hated to judge them, but it had to be done (to protect orthodoxy).  In fact, anyone who reads an objective historical account of Dort knows that many of the leaders of that synod (really a kangaroo court) hated the Remonstrants passionately.  Their vituperation against them was personal.  They forced them to sit at a table in the middle of their meeting while they berated them.  Sometimes some of them were in chains–not because they were a danger but because the real power behind the synod, Prince Maurice of Nassau (the Stadthalter of Holland, the most powerful of the United Provinces) viewed them as enemies of the state (which they were not).

Before I continue, let me cite my immediate source for what I say above and below.  It is Socinians and Arminians: Antitrinitarians, Calvinists and Cultural Exchange in Seventeenth-Century Europe edited by Martin Muslow and Jan Rohls (Brill, 2005).  This is a volume of scholarly historical essays, not theology per se, but it deals with the theological views as well as the political beliefs and motives of all parties in these early 17th centuries debates mostly in the Netherlands (then called the United Provinces).

One of the great historical ironies is that the Remonstrants were accused of wanting the civil authorities (magistrates) to rule the church (the Reformed Church of the United Provinces), but their enemies were the ones who actually relied on the state (Prince Maurice) to enable their synod and enforce its decisions (which included the exile of all Arminians who refused to be silent about their beliefs).  Some of the leading Remonstrants were thrown into prison (including Hugo Grotius, a leading European jurist and statesman).  One was beheaded.

Somehow or other, some of the leading Reformed divines (pastors, theologians) convinced Prince Maurice that the Arminians/Remonstrants were a threat to the independence of Holland and the United Provinces generally because, allegedly, they were in cohoots with the Jesuits of Spain.  Spain had dominated the “Low Lands” (what are now the Netherlands and Belgium) for decades and the United Provinces (now the Netherlands) had just recently thrown them out and become independent.  There is, of course, absolutely no evidence of any collaboration between Spain and the Jesuits, on the one hand, and the Arminians/Remonstrants , on the other hand.  These were trumped up, false charges, but they swayed the Prince against the Remonstrants.  (When Prince Maurice died in 1625 his brother succeeded him and allowed the Remonstrants to return to the United Provinces.)

The particular claim made in the video clip that I want to challenge as tantamount to a lie is where the narrator (again, reading from a script written by someone whose identity I don’t know) strongly suggests that Remonstrant leader Conrad Vorstius denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity (i.e, was a Socinian).  I think he uses the word “almost” so that what he says isn’t a bald faced, total lie that can easily be shot down.  But what does that even mean?  The IMPRESSION given by the video is that Vorstius (and perhaps other Remonstrants) were secret Socinians or in league with the anti-Trinitarian Socinians (17th century unitarians).

The volume I cited above clears things up beautifully.  Apparently Vorstius (not the leader of the Remonstrants but a leading Remonstrant thinker who was recommended to succeed Arminius as professor of theology at Leiden) was not particularly astute with some of his statements.  He admitted to “learning from” the Socinians and that was enough to get him condemned as a heretic by the Reformed party leaders.  However, he NEVER denied the deity of Christ or the Trinity.  What he “learned” from the Socinians related to their arguments against high Calvinism.  Nevertheless, he was accused, wrongly, of being anti-Trinitarian and denying the deity of Christ.  (This was a false charge brought up against Arminius, as well, but before he died he cleared it up decisively.)  And he publicly defended those doctrines.

For the makers of this video to drag out this old canard against Vorstius and use it to IMPLY that Arminianism inclines towards denial of Christ’s deity and the Trinity is simply nothing other than vicious calumny.  They should be ashamed of themselves and fair-minded evangelicals of all flavors (including Calvinists!) should shame them for it.  They admit that not all Arminians went on to deny the deity of Christ or the Trinity (or, for that matter, the inerrancy of the Bible), but the implication is left that Arminianism leads in that direction.  Why else bring it up?

I am publicly calling out the author of the script of this video clip and its producers and asking them to take it down.  I’ll talk about other reasons in later posts here.  Stand by….


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  • The video you reference is pure propaganda! As you say, it is slick and had some money and professional production behind it. Of course, it tells just one side of each and every point, but all propaganda is like that. While you are citing scholarly sources, your opponents are cherry picking quotes using pseudo-scholarship. Of course, most of their time is spent passionately pouring out slop fit for swine.

    I was not surprised to find that mixed in with the bomb throwing at Arminians was the careful development of the idea that the Republican Party represents God, while the Democratic Party — as you may have astutely guessed — represents every evil in society today. According to this twisted idea, it is impossible to be a true Christian unless you vote Republican.

    You are not alone in defending Arminian ideas, but you are certainly the most well known person doing so. A lot of people are afraid to speak out against Calvinism of the rabid type depicted in the video because they don’t want to be attacked. Not that I am telling you anything new!

    Keep up the great work, Dr. Olson. Your efforts are having greater effect than you think. Otherwise, your opponents would ignore you.

    -Barry

    • rogereolson

      I truly appreciate your support and encouragement.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    I cringe when I hear of such conflicts between Christians (in the past as well as the present). I recently watched an animated retelling of William Tyndale’s story with my wife and kids. We did not discuss how tragic it is when people of the Christian faith misrepresent and abuse good-willed people of the same faith, but the kids are still pretty young.

    Maybe my “must believe” doctrines are fewer than these involved – and that gives me the flexibility to embrace both of these groups as co-workers and brothers in Christ.

    • rogereolson

      Disagreement is fine; what riles me is dishonesty in slamming those with whom you disagree. That’s what I see in the video–no real attempt to be fair.

  • Who knew that Arminianism is responsible for Enlightenment skepticism, Darwinism, statism, tyranny, and the Madonna/Britney kiss? Brilliant!

    Dr. Olson, I’d love to agree with you here but I’m compelled to agree with the video’s ironclad chain of logic.

    I’m sorry, but sometimes all you can do is laugh at this kind of foolishness.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, my classes laugh out loud at it! But I’m afraid some people will be swayed by it’s logic (however invalid) because there’s no one among evangelicals standing up and saying it’s wrong (except me). I wish some spokespersons for evangelicalism (and it would be especially helpful if it would be Reformed evangelicals) would speak out against stuff like this. That they don’t tells me they are afraid of offending part of their constituency.

  • Ross B

    Hi Roger, this really isn’t a comment on the above, just a great big thank you for all your posts. In the last month or so, I have most all of the last year of posts. Incredibly helpful, and no exaggeration. I love the thoughtful, referenced, even handed insights. Your thoughts have opened my mind and informed my views on many of the controvercial issues that also plague my faith. I just finished both A Proper Confidence and The Myth of Certainty which you had recommended. Wow. Restorative to me. A thousand thank you’s and may you be blessed.

  • Roger,

    I’ve not yet been persuaded to join the Arminian Defense League. I am willing, however, to be counted among those fighting the Calvinization of Evangelicalism. Since both Arminianism and Calvinism are systematic constructs, is it a viable option for me to say that I’m not either one? I am truly wondering whether these are the only two options?

    • rogereolson

      Whether one calls oneself an Arminian or not doesn’t especially matter to me. (Although, I have wondered why some who clearly are Arminians shy away from the term.) But many of us do and have always identified as Arminians (e.g., virtually all Wesleyans and Free Will Baptists) and we bristle when Calvinists misrepresent what we believe. As for whether these are the only two options: I happen to think they are the only two options among Protestants, even though Lutherans don’t identify with either. Still, in my book, anyway, if someone is a Protestant (i.e., embraces sola gratia et fides) and does not accept the U, the L or the I of TULIP, they are Arminian whether they call themselves that or not.

      • Joseph McCall

        But if a person does not adhere to the T of TULIP, and does not believe in prevenient grace as is nessesitated if you do believe in Total Depravity as is taught in Arminianism, a person is not (at least, as I understand the teaching) an Arminian.

        • rogereolson

          True. But what’s your point? (I don’t mean that sarcastically; I just don’t understand the relevance of your comment to the film clip.)

  • I should have added that your book recommendations are keeping me hopping to Amazon.com. At a minimum, I have bought at least four books you touted, including one you wrote, and have several on my “wish” list. That is another measure of your favorable influence!

    -Barry

    • rogereolson

      Thanks!

  • Russ

    Hi. Unfortunately, I think each of the statements within the film will need further elucidation. You may wish to nudge Scot McKnight and Christianity Today for further response as well.

    Too, true emergency will look past these vid clips as pointless rhetoric and continue to seek the lost and establishing justice in the world. Thus, after a response or two I’d recommend moving on. Knowledgable people in the know will understand this clip for what it is, and the rest simply don’t care… they have deeper problems to solve than a denomination’s “clipped” wings.

  • Russ

    I forgot to mention that this video leads to the very statism they accuse Aminians of (ironically witnessed as well in the Calvinist’s STATE court of judgment at Dort). Here they play the republican v. democratic state card on cultural immoralities, creating fear through dis-information, and providing all the hot buttons they can think of to heap on their version of the “truth”.

  • Steve

    Hi Roger
    Havn’t visited for a while. I must admit I enjoy finding holes in the ‘iron clad’ logic of any theology but especially Calvinists and those who jump up and down about it. And with Calvinists and the Synod of Dort etc etc it is nice and easy to do. It is possible to carry on about it until the cows come home but I also must admit to being a little jaded over the whole Calvinist v Arminian thing. Calvinist reformed people seem to be almost irrational about their version. Here in Australia it has taken on a personal vitriolic nonsensical shade. Very strange stuff indeed. There are extreme right-wing political overtones where disucssion about gender, sexuality, environmental topics are loony. Oh yes and Catholicism is just a no no. Just can’t talk about anything with them any more. If you aren’t part of Club Calvin then you are not saved. Simple as that.
    I asked a question somewhere else on this blog (can’t remember where) about what is a good Arminian Bible. I mean, what do you read? I have recently started to feel uneasy about some of the more popular translations at critical points and thought maybe there was something a little better.

    • rogereolson

      I read the New Revised Standard Version. I don’t need an “Arminian Bible” because the whole Bible is Arminian! 🙂 (Just thought I’d parody what I hear Calvinists say about their theology and the Bible.)

      • Perry Powell

        Hi Roger,
        Read “Arminian Theology” and soon to listen to your new book. I prefer the 1611 KJV or David Daniell’s version of the Tyndale NT of 1534.

        My wife are sitting here discussing our bible study aid “The Arminian Confession of 1621” old and new version and an interesting question arose. Thought I would ask you.

        What version were Arminius and the Remonstrants likely using?
        Thanks,
        Perry

        • rogereolson

          As they all knew Greek, they would have been referring to the Greek text–probably Erasmus’ (which even Luther used). They wrote in Latin, so quotations from the Bible may have been from some Latin text (probably not the Vulgate, however). In short, other than the Greek text, I don’t know.

  • You should move to Sweden were I live, here you will have a hard hard time to find a person who even knows what Calvinism is. And finding videos like this is in Swedish would be rather hard. 😉

    By the way, is it onlu me or is the grafix on the blogg messed up? It looks rather strange on my computer.

    • rogereolson

      I know patheos.com is working on my blog. It should be fine soon. Keep me informed.

  • Roger – Something is wrong with how your blog is being presented in web browsers. It looks like an RSS feed rather than an actual web-blog.

    • rogereolson

      I’ll let the blog gods know. Thanks!

      Roger

  • Steve

    Oh no…don’t tell me the Calvinists have gotten hold of this blog site.

  • CarolJean

    FYI, Prof Randall Rauser has written some good blog posts in the month of July against Calvinism on his blog. http://randalrauser.com/2011/07/

    • rogereolson

      Rauser wrote a great book entitled Finding God in the Shack. Oh, wait. I wrote a better one by that title! 🙂 Seriously, we did not know of each others’ books until it was too late for one of us to change the title.

  • Anna

    The video was written by Jerry Johnson of http://www.theapologeticsgroup.com and there is quite a history on the internet of his under-handed dealings with the original group who did the production from his script.

  • david hess

    Roger,

    I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your work. You books are helping so much to defend the primitive Church understanding of election/predestination. I continue to direct many young aspiring theologians towards your blog and writings.

    can you send me a personal email, as I would love to connect some of these guys with you personally. I feel like some of these guys need mentoring from afar – as they finish seminary and even pursue doctrinal work.

    I personally want to thank you for your fair assessment of Open Theists like Boyd, Sanders and Pinnock. I know many who attack these men really believe they are upholding Orthodoxy, but their lack of love, their misrepresentation has been countered by your accurate portrayal of a position that you personally do not hold to. You have honored Christ when others clearly have not.

    Dave

  • Ken Anwari

    Heaven help us! You mean (Hyper-) Calvinists would stoop so low as to use lies, slanders, half truths and innuendoes in order to destroy anyone whose theology dares to differ from their own plenary, verbally inspired, divine wisdom?!? Hmmm. Things haven’t changed much in 1400 years, have they? KYRIE ELEISON!