Arminianism: A Theology of Grace

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Is God’s grace irresistible? The answer to that question will be determined by your theological convictions. If God must first regenerate people (whom He has pre-selected for salvation) in order for them to believe, then the answer to the question is yes, God’s grace is irresistible.

However, if you believe that the Bible teaches that faith precedes regeneration, then the answer to the question is no, God’s grace is not irresistible.

Arminius stated, “[The Internal Work of salvation] is by the operation of the Holy Spirit illuminating the mind and affecting the heart, that serious attention may be given to those things which are spoken, and that faith or credence may be given to the word.

“The efficacy consists in the concurrence of both the Internal and External [Work] (Acts 16:14; 2 Cor. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:22). But that distribution is not of a genus into its species, but of a whole into its parts, or of the entire [work] into partial acts which concur to produce one conclusion ~ which is obedience yielded to the call: Hence an assemblage, or congregation of those who are called, and of those who answer to the call, is denominated ‘the Church’ . . .

“But we must be cautious lest with the Mystics and the Enthusiasts we consider the word which is propounded by the ministry of men as only preparatory; and believe that another word is inwardly employed, which is perfective:

“Or, (which is the same thing), lest we suppose that the Spirit by His internal act illuminates the mind into another knowledge of God and Christ than that which is contained in the word outwardly propounded, or that He affects the heart and the soul with other meanings, than those which are proposed from the very same word (Rom. 10:14-17; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 3:3-6; 1 Pet. 1:23, 25).

“The ‘Accidental’ Consequence, and that which is not of itself intended by God is the rejection of the word of grace, the contemning [contempt] of the Divine Counsel, the resistance offered to the Holy Spirit: The proper and per se Cause of this Result is the malice and hardness of the human heart.

“But this consequence is not seldom succeeded by another ~ the just judgment of God avenging the contempt shown to His word and call, and the injury done to his Holy Spirit; and from this judgment arise the blinding of the mind, the hardening of the heart, ‘the giving over to a reprobate mind,’ and ‘the delivering unto the power of Satan’ (Luke 7:30; John 12:37-40; Acts 7:51; 8:46; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Thess. 3:2).

“But, because ‘known unto our God are all His works from the beginning of the world’ (Acts 15:18), and as God does nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do, this [work] is likewise instituted and administered according to God’s eternal decree: So that what man soever is called in time, was from all eternity predestinated to be called, and to be called in that state, time, place, mode, and with that efficacy, in and with which he was predestinated.

“Otherwise, the Execution will vary from the Decree; which charge of mutability and change cannot be preferred against God without producing mischievous effects (Eph. 3:5, 6, 9-11; 2 Tim. 1:9; James 1:17-18).”1

Roger Olson, acknowledging the charge that Arminianism is not a theology of grace, comments, “That Classical Arminianism is not a theology of grace is a frequently expressed myth; we can find it in most books by Calvinists that touch on Arminianism.

“Calvinism is said to include ‘the doctrines of grace’ as if other traditions of Christianity know little of grace. A widely held misconception is that Arminian theology focuses on free will to the exclusion of grace; its soteriology is believed to revolve around the human’s choice of God rather than God’s saving mercy and power. Once again the specter of semi-Pelagianism rears its ugly head . . .

“Anyone who reads Arminius’s theology with a fair and open mind cannot miss his passionate commitment to the grace of God. Nowhere did he attribute any casual efficacy for salvation to human goodness or even will power. William Witt rightly says that ‘Arminius’s theology is throughout a theology of sola gratia. It has nothing in common with Semi-Pelagianism or Lutheran synergism.’

“Also, according to Witt, ‘Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God’s redemption in Christ, not through human effort.’

“Arminius went out of his way to elevate grace as the sole efficient cause of salvation and even of the first exercise of a good will toward God, including the desire to receive the good news and respond positively to it. Internal grace as an inward calling rather than outward, common or general grace was his focus. According to Arminius no person can even desire God apart from a special interior, renovating operation of grace.”2

1 James Arminius, “Twenty-Five Public Disputations,” Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 234-235.

2 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 158-162.