Survey: Are You an Arminian and Don’t Even Know It?

, posted by SEA

Over the centuries, Calvinists have so successfully vilified Arminianism that people who are Arminian are afraid to say so. This is true even though Arminianism is the default theological position of Christian Protestantism; indeed, many people are Arminian and don’t even know it, and even deny it. Arminianism is so widespread that even the strongest Calvinist churches are filled with Arminians. It is ironic, then, that people are afraid to say they’re Arminian; for example, many Independent and Southern Baptists are typically Arminian, but nonetheless often call themselves Calvinists!

The purpose of this survey is to help people who have an Arminian theology realize that they are Arminians and to help them understand that it is okay to be Arminian. The questions deal with the most pertinent issues which define Arminianism and distinguish Arminianism from Calvinism.

1. Do you believe that Jesus died for every human being?
• If you answered yes to the question, then at least you agree with one of the central tenets of Arminianism, and you would be generally unwelcome in Calvinist circles
• This is perhaps the most glaring issue which divides Calvinism and Arminianism
• Most Calvinists believe that Jesus died only for certain people, although there is some debate whether Calvin himself held this view
• If you believe that Jesus died only for those who would eventually believe, then you truly are a Calvinist and not an Arminian

2. Do you believe that humans are so depraved that they can do nothing to earn salvation and that they cannot choose to believe in Jesus without the intervention of God’s grace?
• If you answered yes, then you agree with Arminius and Arminianism
• Calvinists affirm the same doctrine, but often claim that Arminians do not, despite near, if not complete unanimity among Arminian theologians in affirming the doctrine

3. Do you believe that a person can resist the convicting power of God’s grace?
• If you answered yes, then again you affirm another one of the central tenets of Arminianism, as reflected in Jesus’ words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing” (Matt 23:37)
• Calvinists argue that God has determined which individuals will believe; to make their faith possible, he calls them to salvation in such a way that their own wills are overpowered so that they cannot possibly resist the call to salvation
• Arminians believe that God truly wants every one to believe; but when God enables a person to believe, he does so in such a way that the individual still can resist the convicting power of the Spirit–faith is not a necessary outcome of God’s enabling grace

4. Do you believe that you are born again when you put your faith in Jesus?
• If you answered yes, then you hold to a major tenet of Arminianism and you probably are not a Calvinist
• Calvinists believe that God must first give a person new life to enable faith; without first being made to share the new life, they think that a person cannot believe
• Arminians argue that people are not given the gift of the new life until they believe
• Arminians hold that when a person believes, he is united with Christ and only then does he partake of the new life and is born again; a person does not share in the new life without first being united with Christ by faith, for “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

5. Do you believe in election?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• Calvinists believe in an election independent of faith
• Arminians believe that election is “in Christ;” i.e., anyone who is “in Christ” is elect, but that faith is essential to become united with Christ. Therefore, election is conditioned upon faith

6. Do you believe in predestination?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• Arminians assert that believers are predestined to final salvation, not that people are predestined to believe

7. Do you believe in eternal security?
• The issue is whether people who truly believe in Jesus for salvation can possibly shipwreck their faith and forfeit their salvation, or conversely, once people have genuinely put their faith in Christ, whether their final salvation is unconditionally guaranteed
• If you answered yes and do believe in eternal security, you might be an Arminian
• There is some question of whether Arminius himself ever actually taught that believers may make shipwreck of their faith and so forfeit their salvation
• The Remonstrants—the early Arminians, people who sided with Arminius in the theological debates of 17th century Holland—originally took no position on this issue, though they ultimately came to the conclusion that believers can make shipwreck of their faith and so perish
• If you answered no and don’t believe in eternal security, then you affirm something which many Arminians strongly affirm, and you certainly would not be welcome in the Calvinist camp
• The official statement of faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians only affirms that “persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation,” without commenting further on the possibility of making shipwreck of one’s faith.
• All Calvinists believe in unconditional eternal security (some without qualification and some because they think that faith and its continuance is due to unconditional election).
• Most Independent and Southern Baptists base their claim to be Calvinists on this sole issue and the traditional inclusion of the possibility of apostasy for genuine believers as an essential part of Arminian theology. However, in light of uncertainty among early Arminians on this issue and the fact that such Baptists agree with the Arminian position against the Calvinist one on every other point of disagreement, eternal security should not be a determining factor in the question of whether one is an Arminian or a Calvinist

8. Do you believe in the penal satisfaction view of the atonement?
• If you answered yes or if you answered no, you might be an Arminian
• The penal satisfaction view of the atonement asserts that Jesus’ death entailed a payment for sin. It assumes that the justice of God requires that sin be punished and that the just wrath of God was diverted away from deserving sinners and poured out instead upon Jesus as their substitute
• This view is held by most Calvinists and by a majority of Arminians (especially those who claim the nomenclature “Reformation Arminianism”), although some Arminians reject the notion that God punished his Son Jesus
• Arminius affirmed the penal satisfaction view of the atonement

9. Do you believe that God exhaustively knows the future?
• If you answered yes, you might be an Arminian
• Calvinists and most Arminians believe that God exhaustively knows the future.
• Some Arminians think that a denial of this doctrine is a rejection of basic Christian Theism, and that those who deny the doctrine cannot therefore be Arminian
• The Society of Evangelical Arminians affirms the doctrine, and one cannot belong to the society unless one is in agreement with it

10. Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• All Calvinists and all Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God, but they differ on God’s endowment of freedom to human beings
• Some Calvinists define sovereignty as God ordaining and predetermining all things and events, so that human choice is merely an illusion
• Some Calvinists don’t explicitly deny human freedom, but attempt to redefine it to fit their view of sovereignty
• Arminians affirm basic free will and that humans really do make genuine choices, undeniably affirming human culpability in sin
• The Arminian view of Sovereignty is that God has the power and authority to do anything he wants, and nothing can happen unless he does it or allows it;
• Arminians believe that God is sovereign enough to endow his creatures with free will
• The Arminian view of Sovereignty and human freedom is motivated by its understanding of the character of God as being holy so that 1) God is not the author of evil; and 2) humans are culpable for their sins

In summary, you can be an Arminian and believe
• the doctrine of unlimited atonement (Jesus died for everyone)
• the doctrine of total depravity (people are incapable of believing in Jesus apart from the intervention of God’s grace)
• the doctrine of resistible grace (God dispenses grace in such a way that people may resist his convicting grace)
• the doctrine of election (all those who are “in Christ” are elect)
• the doctrine of predestination (believers are predestined)
• the doctrine of eternal security or the alternative view that true believers can turn from their faith and so perish as unbelievers
• the doctrine of the penal satisfaction atonement (God punished Jesus for the sins of the world)
• the doctrine of omniscience (including that God foreknows the future perfectly)
• the sovereignty of God (God can do whatever he wants, including endow humans with a free will)

As I stated earlier, the default position of Christian evangelicalism is Arminianism. And as can be seen in this brief outline, it is okay to be Arminian.

For more reflection on these issues, read Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, which sets forth classical Arminian theology and debunks 10 myths about Arminianism.

Arminian Baptist
James M. Leonard