Calvinists often accuse Arminians of being Pelagian, or Semi-pelagian at best, when it comes to original sin and the depravity of man. And it’s no wonder, as many Calvinist websites paint quite an inaccurate picture of what true Arminian theology teaches. This begs the question: Are these people really this uneducated about Arminian theology, or is this an intentional misrepresentation? I hope that the first clause is the case here.
Here is the “first point of Arminianism” as explained at carm.org, which is operated by Calvinist apologist Matt Slick:
Human Free Will — This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God. His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
This may very well be the first point of Semi-pelagianism, but is quite a departure from pure Arminian theology. I also find it interesting how some of the other points are worded/presented on the site, almost appearing like a willful attempt to make Arminianism seem as unbiblical as possible. But for now, we’ll just discuss the first, most blatant misrepresentation of the five points.
Unfortunately, Carm isn’t the only source that paints Arminianism in an inaccurate way. The following misrepresentation of Arminianism can be found on the Calvinist/Arminian comparison chart at graceonlinelibrary.org, which states the following regarding the Arminian view of Total Depravity:
Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness … Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature … Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
With websites like these, promoting such a false view of Arminian theology, it’s no wonder that we Arminians are often accused of denying the spiritual state of fallen humanity. But anyone who desires an accurate view of what Arminianism teaches does not have to look very hard. Arminius himself makes the following statement concerning man’s free will:
Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. (The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2)
Now let’s take a look at the Articles of Remonstrance. The Five Articles of Remonstrance (the actual “Five Points of Arminianism”) were theological propositions advanced in 1610 by followers of Jacobus Arminius (who had died in 1609), in disagreement with interpretations of the teaching of John Calvin then current in the Dutch Reformed Church. Forty-six preachers and the two leaders of the Leiden state college for the education of preachers met in The Hague on January 14 to state in written form their views concerning all disputed doctrines. The document in the form of a remonstrance was drawn up, and after a few changes, was endorsed and signed by all in July (from Wikipedia). The third article clearly states the following:
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John xv.5: “Without me ye can do nothing.”
This was later reaffirmed, more than once, in the Arminian Confession of 1621:
Man therefore does not have saving faith from himself, nor is he regenerated or converted by the powers of his own free will, seeing that in the state of sin he cannot of himself or by himself either think or will or do anything that is good enough to be saved. (Chapter 17, paragraph 5)
We think therefore that the grace of God is the beginning, progress and completion of all good, so that not even a regenerate man himself can, without this preceding or preventing [i.e., prevenient grace — the grace that precedes or comes before], exciting, following and cooperating grace, think, will, or finish any good thing to be saved, much less resist any attractions and temptations to evil. Thus faith, conversion, and all good works, and all godly and saving actions which are able to be thought, are to be ascribed solidly to the grace of God in Christ as their principal and primary cause. (Chapter 17, paragraph 6)
It was from this that the highest necessity and also advantage of divine grace, prepared for us in Christ the Savior before the ages, clearly appeared. For without it we could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves. (Chapter 7, paragraph 10)
(See the entire Arminian Confession of 1621 here.)
On the comparison chart at graceonlinelibrary.org, it claims that Arminianism believes that “faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.” Where are these ideas coming from? Since when does Arminian theology teach that we can contribute anything to our salvation? This was certainly not an idea that Arminius (who affirmed all five solas of the Reformation, including sola fide) held to, nor his followers the Remonstrants. Arminius believed that faith is “a gracious and gratuitous gift of God” (Works, Vol. 2).
Perhaps one reason Calvinism was on the rise is because a false view of pure Arminianism is being promoted and believed by many. Some non-Calvinists even shy away from the label “Arminian” because of the false accusations that surround it. If the view of Arminianism that is held by many Calvinists today were true, then Arminianism would indeed be close to, if not, total heresy. But the truth is, Arminians hold to the doctrine of Total Depravity and affirm the five solas, including justification by faith alone, and anyone who denies these facts are either misinformed, or are just being dishonest.