Arminius’s Reformed Doctrine of Justification
This should be read ONLY in light of my previous post here “Arminian Doctrine of Justification Again Disputed” (May 28, 2015). There I expressed dismay at the continuing Reformed misrepresentation of Arminius’s and classical Arminians’ doctrine of justification—as closer to a Catholic understanding than to a classical Protestant and Reformed doctrine.
Some commenters have responded to my blog post by asking whether Arminius himself believed in the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness” or whether he would agree more with N. T. Wright’s concept of justification.
Let me reiterate first how frustrating it is that Reformed critics and interlocutors continue to ignore my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (InterVarsity Press) where I cleared up this and many other confusions and misrepresentations about Arminius’ beliefs and the consensus beliefs of classical Arminianism. If the critics would read the book they would have to stop repeating the common misrepresentations and criticisms based on them. Sometimes I suspect some of them simply choose to ignore the book because they are obsessed with attacking Arminius and Arminianism. What I mean by that is that, for some of them, anyway, so it seems to me, attacking Arminius and Arminianism is a settled part of their Reformed faith such that they cannot envision ceasing and desisting without giving up being fully and truly Reformed. In other words, so it seems me, for some of them, attacking Arminianism is such an ingrained habit that they simply cannot help themselves. The only alternative to that explanation I can think of is that they are being intellectually dishonest—intentionally bearing false testimony. I don’t want to think that of them. I choose to believe they are simply unable to stop themselves because attacking Arminianism, even misrepresenting it, is so deeply ingrained in their Reformed identity that they cannot stop it even though the refutations of their criticisms are available to all.
This is not the case with all Reformed theologians. There are many exceptions. For example, Alan P. F. Sell, former theological secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (now re-formed as the World Communion of Reformed Churches after amalgamation with another Reformed group) has written correctly that “On the question of justification, Arminius finds himself at one with all the Reformed and Protestant Churches.” (The Great Divide [Baker, 1983], 12)
So did Arminius believe in justification as God’s imputation to believers of Christ’s righteousness? Some Reformed critics point to earlier writings of Arminius to prove he did not. I do not think they have succeeded even based on Arminius’s early writings, but critics should not base their response to the question on early writings but on Arminius’s later, even final, statements on the subject. Everyone agrees that Arminius’s definitive statement of his doctrines is the document that has come down to us under the title “The Declaration of Sentiment” or “A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius” which is found in English in The Works of James Arminius, volume 1. Here is what Arminius said there:
“I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions.” (p. 695)
“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers [italics added], I conclude that in this sense it may be well and properly said, To a man who believes Faith is imputed for righteousness through grace,–because God has set forth his Son Jesus Christ to be a propitiation, a throne of grace [or mercy-seat] through faith in his blood.” (p. 700)
What more or different could Reformed or any other critics want from Arminius on this subject? This statement blatantly contradicts the common Reformed calumny that Arminius did not believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in justification. It even affirms, as Reformed critics want, that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to believers in justification.
Then, of course, some Reformed critics will say “Oh, yes, but since Arminius believed faith is a human work and not itself a gracious gift of God, he could not really mean what he said there.” In other words, they will charge him with inconsistency.
Oh, if only they would read Arminius himself or at least Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities! In Arminius’ “Certain Articles to Be Diligently Examined and Weighed” (Works, volume 2), Arminius said that “Faith is a gracious and gratuitous gift of God….” (p. 723)
In Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities I provide an entire chapter on the myth that Arminius did not and Arminianism does not believe in justification by grace through faith alone (pp. 200-220). There I quote from Arminius and Arminian theologians to demonstrate conclusively that this is a myth and not a fair criticism. Why do some Reformed critics continue to promote the myth when it has been publically demonstrated to be false?