John Bugay of Triablogue posted a comment from Stephen Wolfe’s Facebook page that suggests Roman Catholicism should be the Calvinist’s greatest focus and opponent, not Arminianism; that the latter should be reduced merely to its five points, but, conveniently, Calvinism should not, and that Arminianism is not a way of life, as is Calvinism. (link) Is this even close to being accurate with regard to Arminianism? Not surprisingly — though not from the Calvinist’s errant perspective of Arminianism — the answer is no.
The points of doctrine demanded of the Remonstrants (lit. “Protesters,” i.e., early followers of Arminius) by the Dortian Calvinists of the early seventeenth century surrounded five main subjects of contention — four, really, since both classical Arminians and Calvinists agree on the issue of total depravity and total inability. But in no sense whatsoever did the contentious five subjects comprise theologically the totality of classical Arminianism.
One considerable subject, which was not just addressed in the five points, regarded the sovereignty of God, or better, the character and nature of God. Another primary subject for Arminius and the Remonstrants was religious toleration. Only if one revises history can the notion be maintained that Arminianism should be reduced to merely five theological points among irrelevant and easily-dismissable religious “enlightenment” philosophers.
Moreover, Arminian theology is a way of life, since it guides not only one’s thinking but, as a result, one’s everyday behavior with regard to personal responsibility and holiness of life before God (even if one’s actions are not always consistent with one’s beliefs), how God acts and reacts to our choices and actions, and how we are to interact with the world and with other believers in Christ’s church. In other words, Arminian theology cannot be reduced to five theological points debated by philosophers and ignored by Arminian laypersons. Such a notion is entirely unfounded.
For example, in the Article “On the Knowledge of the Essence of God,” the Remonstrants confess: “Furthermore, our entire religion contained in these sacred books [Scripture] can be summarized in the correct knowledge of the one true God and Jesus Christ the mediator whom He has sent, and in a legitimate worship of both, under the hope of life eternal and immortal after death, to be certainly obtained in heaven according to the free promise of the same.” One can see, then, that Arminian theology affects one’s life: 1) in the scope of one’s worship of God in Christ; 2) with regard to one’s continual hope of eternal life with Christ; and 3) with a mind set concerning God and His promises.
Moreover, the Remonstrants write, “He [God] is infinite and immense, because He so fills heaven and earth that He cannot be limited to any certain space of places, nor confined within any boundaries, but He is present everywhere in all places, although most hidden or remote, in a general and incomprehensible manner.” The mystery of the omni-present Godhead is a consolation when one is lonely, or afraid, and is in need of the God of all comfort. Furthermore, God is
omniscient, and certainly of infallible knowledge, because He not only intimately knows absolutely everything which has being, just as they are individually in themselves, whether good or evil, past, present, future, likewise possible and hypothetical, indeed even the most intimate thoughts of the heart, the most secret words, the most hidden deeds (under which also we will include matters of omission), but also because He keeps them most present in memory, and sees whatever is done by us, correctly or otherwise, as if set before His eyes, so that this knowledge cannot be erased either by ignorance or oblivion, nor fraud or trickery, nor any deceit or deception. Finally, He most wisely knows how to order, dispose, direct and manage all things, and so perpetually.
To the one who lacks wisdom, or the knowledge of what to do — which path to take, what choice is most wise to make — classical Arminians turn to the Lord, knowing that He is infinitely wise, can lead and protect us along our journey, and knows the plans He Himself has from eternity past always known would most benefit us and please Himself. Our theology is not a collection of esoteric and benign colloquialisms that do not affect reality. Quite the contrary, classical Arminian thought in particular opposes such and vies instead for practical theology which can be lived out in one’s daily life.
Theology is, according to Jacob Arminius himself, the
doctrine or science of the truth which is according to godliness, and which God has revealed to man, that he may know God and divine things, may believe on Him, and may through faith perform to Him the acts of love, fear, honour, worship and obedience, and may in return expect and obtain blessedness from Him through union with Him, to the Divine glory.1
Who could ignore the practical aspects classical Arminian theology brings into one’s experience: godliness, revelation of divine truths, faith, love, fear, honor, worship, obedience, and the reception of divine blessings from God in Christ? Arminius explicitly admits that theology is “not a theoretical science or doctrine, but a practical one, requiring the action of the whole man, according to all and each of its parts.”2 (emphases added) Classical Arminian theology is a way of living life in Christ, not a speculative musing of multiple philosophical possibilities, nor a reduction of merely five theological points.
But let us assume, for the sake of benevolence, the faulty presupposition of Stephen Wolfe: even the five points of classical Arminianism themselves affect our thinking processes, which in turn affects our living. We understand total depravity and total inability, thus we understand to a better degree our fallen human nature, the state of nature itself, and sin. We also understand our absolutely desperate need for the proactive, enabling grace of God in Christ through His Spirit toward helpless sinners.
We understand that God has elected to save the one who believes; thus we preach the necessity of faith in Christ, by the grace of God, and we do not rely on law-keeping or merit; meanwhile we encourage one another to faith and good works. We understand Christ’s atonement for the taking away of the sin of the world in order to reconcile fallen humanity back to God; so that if anyone will, by grace, trust in Christ, that one can be saved — this is what we tenaciously preach. This affects our own faith, our preaching, and our trust and understanding of God in Christ through His word and Spirit.
We know that God’s grace can be and is often resisted, and hence we encourage the unredeemed all the more to trust in the working of God through His word and His Spirit, by His own enabling grace. We warn sinners of the consequences of rejecting Christ, and encourage them to trust the Holy Spirit to enable them to freely choose to trust in Christ when pierced to the heart by the word of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know from His character His desire to see all saved, even though all will not be saved, due not to lack on God’s part but on the part of stubborn sinners.
We have learned that perseverance in the faith in Christ is absolutely necessary if one is going to be saved from the wrath of God and eternal separation from Him. To this end, then, we pray daily to be pleasing to the Lord, repent of sin if or when we stray, and encourage others toward the same. In other words, our theology is practical, and can in no sense be reduced to merely five philosophical or theological points of view. Our theology is comprehensive in all of reality, both temporal (earthly) and eternal (heavenly).
Even if, however, one rigidly insists that classical Arminianism must be reduced to the five points mentioned here, and is “just a narrow set of doctrine fitting for analytic philosophers” (link), such a notion would be proven inaccurate at best, given that the system of the five points is practical, and is a “comprehensive view of living in the world.” All that Wolfe and Bugay have accomplished in their brief critique of Arminianism is to further support my thesis that the vast majority of Calvinists are incapable of rightly representing Arminian theology, accurately framing Arminianism contextually and historically, leaving we who are Arminians wondering why this is the case.
1 Jacob Arminius, “The Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation I. On Theology,” in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:319.