Two Book Reviews of Matt Pinson’s Arminian and Baptist at the Helwys Society Forum

, posted by SEA

Here are two book reviews of Matt Pinson, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition that were posted at the Helwys Society Forum:

(1) Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition: A Book Review by Dustin Walters (original review here)

Many view Jacobus Arminius with an inaccurate perspective, interpreting his theology as some form of semi- or outright Pelagianism. This common error among Calvinists and others stems from a refusal to interact with Arminius’ actual writings. Dr. J. Matthew Pinson provides readers with a healthy corrective to the mainstream understanding of Arminius’ theology in Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition.

Dr. Pinson serves Welch College’s fifth president (2002-present). After attending Welch College in the 1980s, he graduated from the University of West Florida (B.A. in humanities, M.A. in history), Yale (M.A.R.), and Vanderbilt (Ed.D.). He has authored and edited numerous books including Perspectives on Christian Worship (B&H), Four Views on Eternal Security (Zondervan),, and A Free Will Baptist Handbook (Randall House).[1]

Summary

Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition is a healthy blend of history and theology within the Arminian Baptist tradition. Readers will be surprised to find that one can be Arminian, Baptist, and confessional at the same time. Some Arminians are afraid to speak of their theological persuasions because of what others associate with the term Arminian. Error exists when people view Arminians as Pelagians or at least semi-Pelagians. This book serves as a healthy corrective by encouraging readers to engage with the writings of Arminius himself. Within the pages of this book readers will revisit Reformational affirmations, such as sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. Such doctrinal imperatives must be preached for the church to defend heresy properly and foster spiritual vitality in the contemporary church.

Chapter 1: “Jacobus Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming”: Many might be surprised to find that Jacobus Arminius had a Reformed understanding of original sin and total depravity. His main divergence concerned predestination, something for which Arminius’ followers are known. Pinson labors to show his reader than Arminius viewed himself as a development of Reformed theology and not a radical departure from it.[2] Arminius adhered to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. One does not treat Arminius justly if they only view his theology through his followers. Pinson urges readers to revisit Arminius himself rather than some Wesleyan or Pelagian interpretation of Arminius.

Chapter 2: “The Nature of the Atonement in the Theology of Jacobus Arminius”: Various elements of Arminius’ theology receive frequent attention, but his views on the atonement are discussed less frequently. Arminius adhered closely to the views of the Reformation in the 17th century. Arminius’ views on the atonement of Christ were based largely on his understanding of Christ’s three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King.[3] Arminius adhered to a Reformational penal substitutionary atonement for the believer based on Christ’s active and passive obedience. Pinson’s summary is helpful: “God satisfies His love for the creature by forgiving sins, while at the same time satisfying His love for justice by inflicting the punishment for sin (‘inflicting stripes’) on His son.”[4] For Arminius, the atonement is necessary because God’s demand for holiness must be met, and it is met solely in the person and work of Christ.

Chapter 3: “Sin and Redemption in the Theology of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys”: John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were both forebears of the modern Baptist movement, but eventually they would diverge in their soteriology and ecclesiology. Helwys strikingly adhered to similar views of Arminius. Pinson provides an historical sketch of Smyth and Helwys, with careful attention given to the theological distinctives later held by each. Some of the key doctrines held in tension by Smyth and Helwys were original sin, depravity, human ability, free will, and justification.

Pinson concludes that Arminius had a direct influence on Helwys, who came to have anti-Calvinistic persuasions similar to Smyth, but diverged theologically. Helwys was far closer to Arminius’ thinking than was Smyth. This chapter is helpful because of Helwys’ contribution to present-day Reformed Arminians. A careful reading of this chapter better informs the reader about sin and redemption in Arminius as mediated through Thomas Helwys.

Chapter 4: “The First Baptist Treatise on Predestination: Thomas Helwys’ Short and Plaine Proofe”: To a fault Thomas Helwys is often overshadowed by his mentor, John Smyth. Helwys is responsible for establishing the first Baptist church on English soil. Helwys authored A Short and Plaine Proofe to explain why he separated from Smyth. Smyth’s doctrines on original sin, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and his acceptance of Hoffmanite Christology stand in opposition to Helwys, who accepted the positions of the Magisterial Reformers. Along with these issues, the chapter discusses determinism, the free will of Adam, divine reprobation, and infant salvation. Helwys’ Arminianism stands in stark contrast with Pelagians’ and Waterlander Mennonites’. It’s more grace-oriented, emphasizing salvation by grace through faith. Helwys is a “vital resource for understanding Arminian and Baptist approaches to soteriology.”[5] Readers will be compelled to appreciate the Arminianism advocated by Thomas Helwys.

Chapter 5: “Thomas Grantham and the Diversity of Arminian Soteriology”: Reformed Arminian soteriology is further developed by Thomas Grantham. Grantham is the foremost English General Baptist of the latter half of the 17th century and is the quintessential representative of Arminian soteriology.[6] Pinson diligently labors to demonstrate this, albeit with some qualifications. Grantham provides us with a unique middle ground between orthodox Calvinism and what has become known as Arminianism. He is considered an Arminian because his views on election, atonement, the resistibility of grace, and the perseverance of the saints is much closer to Arminius’ views than Calvin’s.

Another prominent theologian of the late 17th century was John Goodwin, who was known as an Arminian, but departed much further from Calvinistic thinking than did Grantham.[7] In short, Goodwin and Grantham were distinct in their understandings of sin and the nature of divine justice. Goodwin had been influenced by Hugo Grotius’ governmental view of atonement, whereas Grantham adhered to the penal satisfaction view promoted through the Reformers before him. Grantham believed he was advocating a via media position between Calvinism and some form of Pelagianism. He believed this was the “way of the Bible and of the primitive churches.”[8]

Chapter 6: “Atonement, Justification, and Apostasy in the Theology of John Wesley”: Pinson’s purpose in writing this chapter is to show that Wesley’s views cannot be nicely lumped into any theological category. Although he was influenced by Anglican Arminianism, Calvinistic Arminianism, and Catholic Arminianism, none of these positions can safely claim Wesley as one of their own. Wesley viewed Christ’s atonement as sufficient for past sins, but not future sins. This led to his understanding of justification and apostasy. Wesley believed in two types of apostasy, which I found interesting. He believed in final apostasy and what came to be known as backsliding. Pinson distinguishes Reformed Arminianism from Wesleyan Arminianism, and urges readers to view Reformed Arminianism in a more positive light, given its connection to Arminius thought.

Chapter 7: “Confessional, Baptist, and Arminian: The General-Free Will Baptist Tradition and the Nicene Faith”: This chapter is worth the purchase cost. Pinson moves Arminian Baptist readers to consider the importance of their confessional history. Some have contended that the only creed to follow is Scripture itself, but readers will be surprised to find that one of the early General Baptist leaders, Thomas Grantham, was confessional. One can be confessional, Baptist, and Arminian at the same time (for more, see articles by Jesse Owens and Jeremy Craft). If we continue the tradition of defending the church against heresy, we must revisit the church’s creeds and confession. There is no greater breath of fresh air for Free Will Baptists than Pinson’s words at this chapter’s close:

The task at hand for contemporary Arminian Baptists is to re-connect with their past: their own scripturally permeated tradition, the tradition of the Reformation, and the Reformation’s rooting of itself in and appropriation of the consensual orthodoxy of the creeds, councils, and fathers of the early church.[9]

Strengths and Challenges

Arminian and Baptist can read from cover to cover, or in parts. The book is a collection of previously written and/or published essays, making it more user-friendly. Readers will appreciate Pinson’s careful approach to understanding Reformed Arminianism for what it is: a development of the Reformation, not a departure from it. This book highlights Arminius’ views and traces how the early English Baptists upheld those views. Arminian and Baptist balances the history and theology behind the movement known as Reformed Arminianism. Each chapter is followed by a brief conclusion, enabling readers to grasp more fully what is being said.

Readers are encouraged to be aware of theological jargon, most notably in chapter three. Thomas Helwys and John Smyth discussed sin and redemption and used terms such as creationist, traducionist, visible church, natural headship, and so on. Also, I would have liked a chapter on what Free Will Baptists can do in their ministries to carry on this great tradition of faith that has been handed down to us.

Recommendation

I recommend this book to future pastors, lay leaders, and students. College students can appreciate this work as a treasure trove of Arminian Baptist thought because so little has been published previously. If we are to engage seriously in defending the church against modern day heresies, we must revisit our past, or as Pinson puts it: renewal through retrieval.

About the Writer: Dustin is an Alabama native who recently completed a degree in Pastoral Ministry at Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys riding motorcycles and discussing theology with friends over a great cup of coffee.

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[1] http://www.welch.edu/blog-bio

[2] J. Matthew Pinson, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House,

2015), 3.

[3] Ibid, 38.

[4] Ibid, 43

[5] Ibid, 99.

[6] Ibid, 101.

[7] Ibid, 105.

[8] Ibid, 123.

[9] Ibid, 173.

 

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(2) Arminian and Baptist: Explorations of a Theological Tradition: A Book Review by Tim Campbell (original review here)

For many years, Arminianism has struggled to assume an accepted place at the theological table. The primary reason is not that Arminianism has simply been trumped by the popularity of Calvinism, but that many scholars hold a very limited and biased view of Jacobus Arminius and his theological progenies. In addition, only a few Arminians have attempted to articulate a full-orbed examination of Arminianism, particularly of Classical or Reformed Arminianism, and most particularly Arminianism in the Baptist tradition. J. Matthew Pinson has done this.

Author

Early in his theological training, Pinson did extensive research about Arminius and his doctrinal descendants, particularly in relation to the English General Baptists. With his exceptional scholarship, passion for history, and tenacious devotion to the truths of his theological tradition (Free Will Baptists), he has proven to be a key scholar in this moment in history in which many are experiencing renewed interests in the Arminian system of thought. While this collection of essays is a testimony to his scholarship, it is still only a microcosm of his work. The collection is also an articulate statement that addresses the recent broader acceptance of the validity of Arminian (particularly Arminian Baptist) tenets among evangelical scholars.

Summary

Arminian and Baptist is largely a collection of Pinson’s essays presented in various venues, including ones published in several theological journals and presentations at theological seminaries. Only one essay is previously unpublished. The appendix offers three additional excerpts from book reviews by Pinson that speak to the book’s subject of the book. [1]

The chapters are:

Jacobus Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming (ch. 1)

The Nature of Atonement in the Theology of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys (ch. 2)

Sin and Redemption in the Theology of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys (ch. 3)

The First Baptist Treatise on Predestination: Thomas Helwy’s Short and Plaine Proofe (ch. 4)

Thomas Grantham and the Diversity of Arminian Soteriology (ch. 5)

Atonement, Justification, and Apostasy in the Theology of John Wesley (ch. 6)

Confessional, Baptist, and Arminian: The General Free Will Baptist Tradition and Nicene Faith (ch. 7)

The appendices are:

Introduction to Classical Arminianism

Whosoever Will: A Review Essay

A Review of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

The order of these essays, as well as the flow of the writing, make them conducive to a logical stream of thought that engages the reader. Pinson is adept in delineating the historical, doctrinal, and polemical elements in his essays. He does so by examining key figures in Arminianism and chronicling the people and theological circumstances that influenced their thinking, both positively and negatively. This is especially helpful in understanding the formation of their individual viewpoints, as well as mapping the broader evolution of Arminianism.

Whether Arminius, John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Thomas Grantham or John Wesley, the life experiences of these men provide a helpful backdrop for the reader. I know of no other work where this could be found in one book.

Undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of the book is seen in the author’s cited defenses of Arminius himself. Pinson gives well-founded theological evidence that Jacobus Arminius was not simply “broadly Reformed,”[2] but was indeed “loyal to Reformed categories.”[3] He was not completely antithetical to Calvinism, but held Calvin in the highest esteem. He was not a semi-Pelagian. In fact, the author goes to great lengths to quell the theological presumptions hoisted upon Arminius and his doctrinal descendants, especially in regards to the doctrines of original sin and prevenient grace.

Pinson takes great pains to state accurately and correctly Arminianism’s tenets. At the same time, he equally traces various people and doctrinal offshoots that emanated from the broader Arminian movement. I found chapter six very illuminating as Pinson outlines Wesley’s somewhat distinctive views of atonement, justification, and sanctification.

Several unexpected discussions will no doubt appeal to a pastor’s doctrinal pallet. The author’s writings on Arminius’ view of divine justice and mercy were fascinating in chapter 2. Also, Free Will Baptists will find particular kinship with the position of Thomas Grantham and his views about soteriology.

But perhaps the most important chapter for Arminian Baptists in the entire work is chapter seven where Pinson makes the case from Scripture, positional tradition, and practice, for confessionalism. Dr. Pinson writes in the conclusion to the chapter: “The greatest temptation of modern-day Arminian Baptists, as it is of all evangelicals, is to make Christianity acceptable to its ‘cultured despisers.’” He continues:

Our greatest threat is not to reject our orthodoxy in favor of heterodoxy, but to water it down in our craving after the spirit of this present evil age, which is passing away with its desires. Instead we need to tap into the powers of the age to come, which are enduring, which transcend our passing moment with its consumerism and narcissism and amusement. Engaging in the ressourcement of our tradition will aid us in this task.[4]

Analysis

While space will not permit even a complete summary of the essays, I will simply say that this is Arminian scholarship at its best. It offers a superb resource for the advocates and the scholarly critics of Arminian thought.

Pros

  • Dispels long held myths and popular misunderstandings about Arminianism
  • Gives significant attention to the doctrinal stances of key Arminians, not only in areas relating to original sin and predestination, but also various salvific tenets
  • Contains historically rich essays
  • Traces Arminian Baptist line—theological, historical, and otherwise—without bias
  • Includes an excellent subject and name index

Challenges

  • May cause some difficulty to novices in theology, who may find navigating through some of the concepts to be difficult

In my opinion, this book is not only an excellent volume, but is representative of a breakthrough for Arminian thought. For years Arminian theologians have vied for acceptance as a valid theological system. This book validates that struggle and accurately speaks to the issues that have hindered acceptance of Reformed or Classical Arminianism. This book should occupy a place in the library of every serious evangelical.

Arminian and Baptist is a must read of every Arminian pastor. True, it is a hard read. The theological terms and concepts used may not be familiar to the novice and even are apt to challenge the cognitive skills of pastors. Many of the doctrinal discussions are profoundly detailed and deep. Yet the book is not obscure. This work, in fact, should stand as a challenge to each and every pastor to take up the mantle of true theological scholarship.

Conclusion

Historically, Arminians have had only a few people to defend competently their beliefs. Many have faithfully labored not only to delineate Arminian doctrines, but also to place them alongside other traditions in Evangelicalism. Pinson and his work stand on the shoulders of such men and their labors.[5] Arminian and Baptist is a work of passion by a man who has devoted his life to his God, his heritage, and his theological tradition. J. Matthew Pinson is arguably one of the most qualified and informed Arminian scholars currently living. We would all do well, to whatever degree we can, to emulate his dedication, and most certainly to read his book.

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[1] Matthew J. Pinson, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House, 2015), x.

[2] Pinson, Arminian and Baptist, 27.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] Ibid. ,173.

[5] Ibid., ix.