The Truth of Arminianism: Part 1
The purpose for these next few months of articles is to clear up some misconceptions about Arminianism as well as show historically that Calvinism is not the bar which every Christian must aspire to. The point being that we do not need to gauge our theology on how many points of Calvinism we hold. We find that even Calvin himself had very deep reservations about the logical conclusion of his belief system. Calvin writes in his commentary of the bible,
“We believe and are assured that God does not desire the death of sinners, because he calls all equally to repentance and promises that if they only repent he will be ready to receive them.”
This is a far cry from current Calvinist view of limited atonement, but with that said, I am not writing articles on the logical problems within Calvinism or how modern Calvinist have “out-Calvined Calvin.” My goal is simple, I want to help people better understand their theologically Arminian brothers and sisters.
A Short History
Many folks will be shocked to know that Jacob Arminius (which is the Latin version of his Dutch name, Jakob Hermanszoon) was a reformed pastor. His “controversial” teachings began to manifest themselves while at the University of Leiden where he studied theology and received his pastoral training. Through the study of scripture, the writings of the early church, and conversations with others, he began to have doubts about what some called the “tyrant and executioner” God of Calvinism (a colleague's words, not his).
Soon after graduation, Jacob decided to answer the call of a local church by becoming a full-time pastor. Jacob was not intending on starting a movement, but rather was simply teaching scripture as he saw it presented throughout the gospels and epistles. His un-Calvin like teachings found some notoriety and he was sucked into a controversy that he had no intention of starting. It was not long before anonymous writings began to circulate bringing to light many of the “heretical” teachings of Arminius.
As cowards often do, some authors hid behind a mask of anonymity while they spread exaggeration and lies pertaining to the pastor's views on salvation, grace, and faith. Before Jacob could be brought before a counsel to answer for his teachings he was struck ill. He later died as a reformed pastor in good standing. (For a much better and more in depth study of the life of Arminius purchase the book, “Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace” by Keith Stranglin and, one of my professors from Trinity (TEDS), Thomas McCall.)
Arminianism was a correction in our theology. It was a counter to the idea of determinism that had infiltrated the Christian tradition. In my opinion, the fall into determinism comes way before Calvin. I would argue that we see the decline of a biblical understanding of faith, grace, and salvation being introduced into Christian theology by Augustine and later into protestantism by, surprisingly, its founder, Martin Luther. Luther's desire to rid himself of the works-based religion of Catholicism sent him to the far end of the spectrum, putting the responsibility for every action into God's hands. This is what pagans and Luther called “fate.”
Luther thought is was ironic that the pagan poets such as Homer and Hesiod understood the concept of fate and its effects on human existence better than most believers. Most Christians denied fate and embraced the naive idea that we are in control of our own choices and actions, for Luther this was a problem. Luther states, “This is the highest degree of faith--to believe that He is merciful, the very One who saves so few and damns so many. To believe that He is just, the One who according to His own will, makes us necessarily damnable” (Luther, The Bondage of the Will).
Such statements, as we will see over the next few months are completely absent from the biblical record and were denied by the prophets and the founding fathers of our faith. Consider this quote from Justin Martyr written in response to the idea of fate 1400 years before the birth of Luther,
“We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man's actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it is predestined that one man be good and another evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed...if a man were evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for” (quote from The First Apology).
We know today that Justin Martyr was the first Christian apologist. In the above quoted book, Justin was arguing against the pagan view of fate that was creeping into the church by those refusing to relinquish their polytheistic roots. Views such as fate, karma, reincarnation, and pluralism are all equally unbiblical and all find their origins in pagan writings. The problem is that Catholic theologians such as Luther and Augustine embraced the pagan and philosophical view of fate with open arms. Today we see that this paganism has infiltrated all aspects of our culture. Evolutionists call it “determinism,” pagans call it “fate,” and Christians call it “Calvinism.”
With that said, over the next few months I am going to deal with the most controversial and misunderstood aspects of Arminian theology. Enjoy.