Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Works of Arminus

The Arminian Springboard

I have been reading Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text and I must say that I have been enjoying what I read.  Once again I am struck by how much we classical Arminians have in common with our Calvinist brethren when it comes to theology.  We are much closer than we like to realize.  First cousins would surely apply here.  We must remember that Arminius studied under Beza, the successor of Calvin in Geneva and Calvin’s son-in-law.  Arminius was a Calvinist theologian until he was commissioned by the Calvinists in Geneva to combat the theology of the Anabaptists.  Through his own studies, Arminius became convinced of the errors of Beza.  He still had high regard for Calvin and even noted this about Calvin’s commentaries:

Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, 1551–1608]; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men.

Arminius believed that the problem was that Calvinists of his day were preaching the catechism without first regarding what Scripture has to say.  In other words, the final question for doctrine was not “what does the Scriptures teach?” but instead it was, “what does the catechism teach.”  Arminius wanted the Synod of Dort to establish that Scripture was to be the final authority and that if the catechism is found in error, we should be willing to change the catechism to reflect sound doctrine.  Few in his day were able to stand against his knowledge and ability to debate the Scriptures.  His early death prevented him from being able to argue at the Synod of Dort and the rest they say is history.

I do take exception early on in my reading with Grudem however.  He notes in passing that if we begin our systematic theology study of salvation with the sovereignty of God, we will no doubt end up Calvinists.  If we begin our studies with the free will of mankind, we will end up as Arminians.  I disagree.  I believe that this is a typical view of Arminianism, they we hold first and foremost to libertarian free will and thus we end up teaching what we teach about God, Jesus, salvation, and man.  This, I believe, is a wrong view of Arminius.  Arminius noted the following in regard to predestination:

1. The first in order of the divine decrees is not that of predestination, by which God foreordained to supernatural ends, and by which he resolved to save and to condemn, to declare his mercy and his punitive justice, and to illustrate the glory of his saving grace, and of his wisdom and power which correspond with that most free grace.

2. The object of predestination to supernatural ends, to salvation and death, to the demonstration of the mercy and punitive justice, or of the saving grace, the wisdom, and the most free power of God, is not rational creatures indefinitely foreknown, and capable of salvation, of damnation, of creation, of falling, and of reparation or of being recovered.

3. Nor is the subject some particular creatures from among those who are considered in this manner.

4. The difference between the vessels to honour and those to dishonour, that is, of mercy and wrath, does not appertain to the adorning or perfection of the universe or of the house of God.

5. The entrance of sin into the world does not appertain to the beauty of the universe.

6. Creation in the upright state of original righteousness is not a means for executing the decree of predestination, or of election, or of reprobation.

7. It is horrid to affirm, that “the way of reprobation is creation in the upright state of original righteousness;” (Gomarus, in his Theses on Predestination;) and in this very assertion are propounded two contrary volitions of God concerning one and the same thing.

8. It is a horrible affirmation, that “God has predestinated whatsoever men he pleased not only to damnation, but likewise to the causes of damnation.” (Beza, vol. I, fol. 417.)

9. It is a horrible affirmation, that “men are predestinated to eternal death by the naked will or choice of God, without any demerit on their part.” (Calvin, Inst. l. I, c. 2, 3.)

10. This, also, is a horrible affirmation: “Some among men have been created unto life eternal, and others unto death eternal.”

11. It is not a felicitous expression, that “preparation unto destruction is not to be referred to any other thing, than to the secret counsel of God.”

12. Permission for the fall [of Adam] into sin, is not the means of executing the decree of predestination, or of election, or of reprobation.

13. It is an absurd assertion, that “the demerits of the reprobate are the subordinate means of bringing them onward to destined destruction.”

14. It is a false assertion, that “the efficient and sufficient cause and matter of predestination are thus found in those who are reprobated.”

15. The elect are not called “vessels of mercy” in the relation of means to the end, but because mercy is the only moving cause, by which is made the decree itself of predestination to salvation.

16. No small injury is inflicted on Christ as mediator, when he is called “the subordinate cause of destined salvation.”

17. The predestination of angels and of men differ so much from each other, that no property of God can be prefixed to both of them unless it be received in an ambiguous acceptation.

Notice that Arminius did not start this with a view of free will.  He begins with the nature of God.  In his writings, Arminius often would begin with the authority of the Scriptures and then move to the doctrine of God.  It was his view of God that led him to reject the Calvinist view of unconditional election.  I don’t doubt that free will does come into factor in Arminius’ view.  But this is after he has established his view that God is first loving toward all of His creation and from this, the love of God for the world, we find Him granting humans free will.

Arminius then begins his theology with the love of God.  In no way does Arminius reject the sovereignty of God.  He affirms it over and over again.  He states this about the creation of mankind:

God can make of his own whatsoever he wills. But he does not will, neither can he will, to make of that which is his own whatever it is possible for him to make according to his infinite and absolute power.

Concerning the free will issue and God’s sovereignty, Arminius wrote,

The infinite wisdom and power of God, by which he knows and is able out of darkness to bring light, and to produce good out of evil. (Gen. i, 2, 3; 2 Cor. iv, 6.) God therefore permits that which He does permit, not in ignorance of the powers and the inclination of rational creatures, for he knows them all, not with reluctance, for he could have refrained from producing a creature that might possess freedom of choice, not as being incapable of hindering, for we have already seen by how many methods he is able to hinder both the capability and the will of a rational creature; not as if at ease, indifferent, or negligent of that which is transacted, because before anything is done he already [“has gone through”] has looked over the various actions which concern it, and, as we shall subsequently see, [§ 15-22,] he presents arguments and occasions, determines, directs, punishes and pardons sin. But whatever God permits, He permits it designedly and willingly, His will being immediately occupied about its permission, but His permission itself is occupied about sin; and this order cannot be inverted without great peril.

So I contend that Arminius doesn’t begin his theology with a focus on the free will of man but instead the doctrine of God.  And I contend further that Arminius doesn’t begin his soteriology with a focus on the free will of man but on the infinite love of God given toward us in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:8-9).

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