Are you an Arminian? It is possible that your first reaction is to think of Armenians, an ethnic group of people whose homeland is near Turkey. But while the names are pronounced the same, the spelling is different and and they represent two vastly different groups. Your next thought is that Arminianism is anything other than Calvinism or that it is something that verges on heresy. But both of those are incorrect as well. Arminianism is frequently misunderstood by both its detractors and its supporters, and much is labeled Arminianism that is actually something else.
Arminianism is a system of belief that comes out of the Protestant Reformation, deriving from the teachings of Jacob Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560 to 1609. Arminius was educated in the reformed, or Calvinist, tradition, but struggled with the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination, that God has, according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to the affected people, elected some to salvation and, either directly or indirectly, condemned the rest of mankind to damnation. As a result of his study he came to reject the Calvinist teachings of predestination, limited atonement and irresistible grace.
Shortly after the death of Arminius, a group of his followers produced the Five Articles of the Remonstrance, A few years later the Dutch Reformed Church, at the Synod of Dort, labeled Arminianism as heretical and developed what has come to be know as the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP, in response to the Five Articles. But Arminianism did not die out. John Wesley later championed the teaching of Jacob Arminius, and today many, if not most Protestants are at least somewhat Arminian. Unfortunately most of what is read or proclaimed concerning Arminianism is coming from Calvinist preachers who seem not to really understand Arminianism and incorrectly associate it with semi-Pelagianism, a teaching that humanity comes to God via their own faith and only after that does God step in to help the believer grow via grace. This was identified as heresy in 529. But that is not what classic Arminianism (derived from the teaching of Arminius) teaches. It is true though that many people even in evangelical churches today are actually semi-Pelagianism and think that they are Arminian; and I have to admit that I was among them until recently.
Jacob Arminius and John Wesley after him were thoroughly Protestant and varied from the Reformed, or Calvinistic, tradition only in how they understood man comes to faith in Christ. The Calvinist doctrine of unconditional predestination, that God chooses to save or damn humanity solely on his own choice, is replaced with conditional predestination, where God chooses to save all to respond to him in faith. But this is not the free will faith of semi-Pelagianism. Rather God’s grace enables each person to be able to respond, but does not force the response. The other three points of difference derive from this one. The limited atonement of Calvinism, where Christ died only for the elect, is replaced with universal atonement, where Christ died for all, although it is only applicable to those who respond in faith. The irresistible grace of Calvinism, where the elect cannot resist God’s offer of salvation, is replaced with resistible grace, where the offer of salvation can be resisted. And finally, the possibility of falling from grace, which is missing in Calvinism, is accepted as a possibility by some Arminians.
Over the next few weeks, or months, I will be posting a series of blogs that will describe Arminianism as taught by Jacob Arminius and John Wesley. I will be focusing on 5 specific teachings of Arminianism: total depravity of humanity; unlimited atonement, Christ died for all of humanity; we are freed to believe by God’s grace; conditional election, God chooses those who come to him in faith; and our security in Christ. I am indebted to the Society of Evangelical Arminians for this outline and will be drawing much from their resources. I will also be using Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger Olson and Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden as resources for this study.
I have also invited a friend who is of the Calvinist persuasion to write a companion series of posts on the equivalent tenets of Calvinism. Hopefully these two sets of blog posts will enable you to clearly see the differences, as well as the similarities, between Arminianism and Calvinism.