That is a dangerous title. Arminianism Today is not, generally speaking, what Arminius espoused in his day. Yet, there is a growing number of theological Arminians who are trying to correct that problem. That is one reason why I named my blog Classical Arminianism, and also the reason why many modern Arminians call themselves Reformed Arminians; they are doing their best to distance themselves from the practical and theological ideologies which many label as “Arminian,” but have little to do with classical, Reformation Arminianism.
So, what’s the difference between classical, Reformed Arminianism and what many people hear from “Arminian” pulpits in churches today? I offer the following. Keep in mind that I am only speaking from my point of view. I have been given no authority to speak on behalf of all classical, Reformed Arminians. I am simply offering my opinion.
The errant theology spewing forth from many “Arminian” pulpits today comes not from a result of reading Arminius or the Remonstrants, but from the likes of Charles Finney and others who took classical Arminianism and nuanced it in such a way as to, in later generations, leave it open to suspicion of heresy. And no wonder; much of what is preached in sermons today leaves little that Arminius himself would approve.
For example: The notion that people are basically good would be rejected outright by Arminius. He wrote, “That which is committed against the Law provokes the wrath of God against sinners; that against the Gospel causes the wrath of God to abide upon us; the former, by deserving punishment; the latter, by preventing the remission of punishment” (Works, Vol. II, 157). By declaring that people are by nature sinners excludes Arminius from the modern “Arminianism” promoted by its adherents. People are not good by nature, they are sinners.
The teaching that people can accept Christ by their free will whenever they choose would warrant the wrath of Arminius. He wrote that “the Free Will of man towards the True Good [God, and/or faith in Him] is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and . . . weakened; but it is also . . . imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace” (Works, Vol. II, 192). If a preacher says that a person can believe in Christ whenever he or she wants, through the use of one’s free will, understand that that preacher is not a classical Arminian, but is a Pelagian.
Moreover, the preacher who instructs a people to be a good person or to do good things for others in an effort to merit God’s saving favor is not a classical Arminian in any sense of that name! Those preachers bring shame not just to the name of Arminianism, but on Christianity as a whole and on the accomplished work of Christ Jesus Himself. Arminius wrote, “For how can a man, without the assistance of Divine Grace, perform anything which is acceptable to God, and which He will remunerate with the saving reward either of further grace or of life eternal?” (Works, Vol. II, 20)
Furthermore, he wrote that “we conclude that Justification, when used for the act of a Judge, is . . . purely the imputation of righteousness through mercy from the throne of grace in Christ the propitiation . . . made to a sinner, but who is a believer (Rom. 1.16, 17; Gal. 3.6, 7)” (Works, Vol. II, 257).
You ask, Then is Arminianism closer to Calvinism than it is to this modern “Arminianism” found in many pulpits today? The answer is Yes, and No. Arminians agree with Calvinists on human depravity, and even that God must first do a work on the sinner before he or she could ever trust in Christ Jesus for salvation. However, the Calvinist will say the work that is performed on the sinner is the work of regeneration; the Arminian will say the work that is performed on the sinner is a freeing of the will from its bondage to sin in order to freely choose Christ Jesus as Savior. The difference is paramount and has all sorts of implications and results, which explanations are far more than this post will allow.
Beyond human depravity, the Arminian will not agree with much else (except perseverance of the saints by some classical Arminians) as far as Calvinistic soteriology is concerned (the doctrine of salvation). The Calvinist believes that God elected whom He would save before He created the world, and this He did unconditionally and irrespective of any choices His creatures would make. He or she will also believe that Christ Jesus died solely for the elect and no one else, that God “draws” His elect to Himself irresistibly (via regeneration, we are left to concede?), and that His elect could never fall away from that faith in Christ which was granted to them and to them alone.
The classical, Reformed Arminian believes the Bible teaches that God has elected to save those who will believe in Christ Jesus (1Cor. 1.21), and that their election is based not on a decree, but on his or her union with Jesus, the elect One (Eph. 1.4). Considering that Christ died on behalf of the whole world (1John 2.2), God “draws” and convicts those who hear the gospel (John 12.32; 16.8-11; Rom. 1.16; 10.14-15), freeing that person from his or her sinful bondage to freely choose Christ, though this drawing is not irresistible.
In many respects, where classical, Reformation Arminianism differs with modern “Arminianism,” it also, for other theologial reasons, differs greatly from Calvinism. And while Calvinism and classical, Reformation Arminianism, in my opinion, are both viable, biblical theologies, modern “Arminianism” is not. When one’s doctrine of human depravity is softened, that person is on a slippery slope towards the playground of heresy. If a person is basically good, then why can he or she not be good enough or do good enough to earn God’s favor? And why would a “good” person need a Savior? Good people don’t need a Savior, sinners do.
If you want to be a good and accurate, biblicaly sound Arminian, you will believe that a sinner is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. He or she will attribute his or her salvation to the grace of God alone; for no one can have faith in Christ apart from His grace. Even the free choice to believe in Christ was granted through God’s grace when that person heard the gospel and believed.
A person cannot work up faith, nor can he or she work for faith, for faith is not a work (Rom. 4.4-5). You did nothing to earn your salvation, so you can do nothing to keep your salvation; you are being “kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude v.1) by your present faith in Him. This does not mean that you are not to do good works, for God has called the believer to such (Eph. 2.10), and also to work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12).
What it does mean is that Jesus Christ was the only One who could ever perfectly accomplish our salvation; He alone pleased God. And now, in, on account of, and through Him, God can be pleased with us.