What Is Classical Arminianism?

, posted by Martin Glynn

I’m frustrated with how so many treat Arminianism today. Many Calvinists have so poisoned the well that most people have no idea what Arminianism is. When they enter the debate, they allow the likes of J. I. Packer and John Piper to define what the Arminian stance is, who had gone to Spurgeon, Owen, and Van Til, who in turn were describing Finney’s beliefs instead of actual Arminianism. But no one seems to go to Arminians to find out what Arminianism is, and so everyone seems to have the wrong idea. Even those who truly are Arminian think that they are something in the middle because they have such a poor understanding of what we stand for.

Let me explain a few things real quick about what Arminianism is:

  1. Arminianism is not the opposite of Calvinism: Do not just list the five points of Calvinism and then describe Arminianism as the opposite of each one of these. Arminianism holds Total Depravity, is tolerant of Preservation of the Saints (though most reject it) and believes in the necessity of God’s grace.
  2. The defining tenant of Arminianism is prevenient grace: not free will! We don’t even believe in free will as many seem to define it. We don’t hold that each person is born with a neutral free will, and has the power to effect their destiny. We hold that each person is incapable of coming to God on their own and it is only through the prevenient grace of God that our wills are freed to turn to God.
  3. Arminianism is a grace-based theology: Salvation is from the beginning to the end a work of grace by God alone. The only part that we have to play is only possible because of God’s grace, and that part is a passive action, rather an effectual one. Faith is all that we do, and faith is trusting in the work of Christ to save us rather than doing it on our own.
  4. Arminianism is not a system: So often Calvinism and Arminianism are projected as two opposing systems, but neither Arminius nor Wesley ever wrote a systematic theology. Arminianism is a pastoral theological bent: it is a collection of various positions that hold certain perspectives about grace. However, every aspect of Arminian theology has radically different viewpoints on it represented under the label.
  5. Arminianism is a historically Reformed movement: The Reformation was not based around TULIP, but was based on the centrality of Scripture and the high view of God’s role in salvation. Despite recent historical revisionists, Jacob Arminius worked and wrote within the Reformed tradition, and Calvinism was never the definitive view of Protestantism (though at first it was the most popular). It merely had a lot of scholastic power due to Geneva.
  6. Arminianism is most properly defined historically: Anyone can claim what a position is. I can claim that Calvinism believes that the Calvin and Hobbes comic books represent a fifth gospel, and if it’s said often enough, people will believe it. The only objective way to define what Arminianism is, is to evaluate the historical standards: Jacob Arminius, the Remonstrants, and the Wesley brothers. If you are not basing your definition on them, then you don’t know what you are talking about.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any links. This was more of a rant to get this off my chest. But please, do not reject Arminianism because it is an “ism” or because of what opponents claim it to be. To do so is unfair.