Arminians Do Not Believe in Predestination?

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Roger Olson lists this as one of many myths leveled against Arminianism. He writes, “Few of Arminianism’s theological critics would claim that Arminians do not believe in predestination in any sense; they know that classical Arminianism includes belief in God’s decrees respecting salvation and God’s foreknowledge of believers in Jesus Christ.”1

Arminius himself grounded predestination in the providence of God. Calvinist Richard A. Muller notes, “The relationship established by God with his creatures in the act of creation carries over into the preservation and governance of the created order as described in the doctrine of providence. Arminius’ views on providence are set forth in four disputations . . . All in all, this is one of the more broadly documented topics in Arminius’ theology — and the only topic out of the group discussed here [in Muller’s book] that was drawn into controversy in Arminius’ lifetime.”2

Do Arminians believe in predestination? Of course they do. The subject is taught in the Bible. Arminians differ, however, with their Calvinist brothers and sisters as to the application of the teaching. And why the difference? Arminians differ with Calvinists in their view of predestination because the Calvinist interpretation, it is insisted, charges God with favoritism, from which the Bible claims God is exempt (Acts 10.34), and also contradicts various passages of Scripture which explicitly claims, in no uncertain terms, God’s desire that every person turn from his or her sins in repentance, come to the knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ, and be saved (Ezek. 18.23; 33.11; John 3.16-18; 1Tim. 2.4; 2Pet. 3.9).

Carl Bangs noted, “Arminius produced one more major writing during his Amsterdam ministry; in fact, it is in many respects his most important single composition. The story behind it crosses over to England and opens up the whole question of the relationship of English Arminianism to Dutch Arminianism . . .

“England was not unacquainted with the controversy over predestination. In 1555, some four years before the birth of Arminius, there had developed a polarity among the Marian exiles in Frankfurt — Puritans all, indeed, but with tendencies which would diverge and grow farther apart. The leaders were John Knox and William Whittington, on one side, and Richard Cox and John Jewel, on the other . . .

“The issue of predestination itself had arisen in England also at an early date . . . The controversy was to break out with clarity in Cambridge in the 1590’s. Cambridge had become a stronghold of Calvinist, Puritan sentiment, especially in the person of William Perkins.

“Perkins (1558-1602) was perhaps the first important English theologian since the Reformation. He was a moderate Puritan, a moral theologian of considerable importance, an Erastian in polity, and a predestinarian in soteriology.”3 Arminius corresponded with Perkins on the matter of predestination in his Examination of Perkins’ Pamphlet on the Order and Mode of Predestination. The two of them conducted themselves like true gentlemen, though they strongly disagreed with each other.

Fearing that Perkins’ brand of predestination made God the author of sin, Arminius argued that grace is given to sinners (and certainly not to an eternally justified elect person, as the hyper-Calvinists believed). Bangs wrote, “Perkins had begun his pamphlet with this definition of predestination: ‘Predestination is the counsel of God touching the last end or estate of man out of this temporal or natural life.’

“Arminius objects to this for a number of reasons, foremost of which is the point in question. He counters by pointing out that ‘the predestination of which the Scriptures treat is of men as they are sinners.’ It includes the means by which those who are predestined will be ‘certainly and infallibly’ saved, ‘but those means are the remission of sins and the renewing of the Holy [Spirit] and his perpetual assistance even to the end, which means are necessary and communicable to none but sinners.’

“Predestination must then refer to sinners, and it has its ground only in Christ. ‘Since God can love [in a covenantal sense] to salvation (ad salutem amate possit) no one who is a sinner unless he be reconciled to himself in Christ, it follows that predestination cannot have place except in Christ.’

“But Christ was given for sinners, so that ‘it is certain that predestination and its opposite, reprobation, could not have had place before the sin of man, I mean, foreseen by God, and before the appointment of Christ as Mediator, and moreover before his discharging, in the foreknowledge of God, the office of Mediator, which appertains to reconciliation.'”4

Thus predestination encapsulates all the knowledge which God possesses, including His overall plan for the ages, as well as the choices which free creatures make. Predestination involves that which God has predetermined based on His exhaustive knowledge of all events.

Remember, predestination carries the meaning of “deciding beforehand,” and not the more deterministic idea of deciding one’s destiny (i.e. to either heaven or hell). That unfortunate definition has been handed down to us since Augustine, and is the direct result of a restricted translation of the Greek word proorizo. What God has “predestined” (decided beforehand) is that believers will be His adopted children (Eph. 1.5) and conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8.29).

In closing, Olson offers, “In spite of widespread scholarly acknowledgment that Arminains do believe in predestination, popular Christan opinion has become firmly convinced that the difference between Calvinists and Arminians is that the former believe in predestination and the latter believe in free will. That has been elevated to the status of a truism in American pop theology and folk religion. But it is false.”5

1 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 179.

2 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 236.

3 Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), 206-207.

4 Ibid., 209-210.

5 Olson, 179.