Heresies are born out of the mindset that one’s theology and only one’s theology can possibly be the sole orthodox position viable for Christians. When an individual cannot at least acknowledge that he or she could be wrong on some theological points, the cult-mindset has set in. But know this, friends, only God’s Word is completely accurate. Our understanding of his Word can be inaccurate. Russell Henry Stafford writes:
- I was brought up in the Arminian tradition, and those early influences confirmed the natural abhorrence which I take it that all who know the living Christ in the living pages of the Gospels must feel for the distinctive dogmas of Calvinism.
The mind of Arminius was a force and a source both corrective and creative in the fashioning of an evangelical theology generally acceptable in its day. . . . No matter how much we still venerate Arminius . . . we can no longer use his language, save within quotation marks, unless we are talking thoughtless singsong. Neither he nor any other is the definitive theologian. There can never be a definitive theology. I am induced to wonder at the limitations of man’s conceptual knowledge of God, as the poet of the 139th psalm wondered at the magnitude of God’s immediate and concerned knowledge of his creatures everywhere in the world he has given them.
Does that mean that we can have no theology? But as thinking Christians we must have a theology, at some points each his very own; and we must trust our several theologies for their aptness to minds of our type, yet with modest recognition of their probable inadequacy for general and exclusive acceptance. We are reminded of the scholastic tenet that all knowledge of God, and hence of man in relation with him, is by analogy. It is as if God were thus and so; yet God is more and other, also, than this analogy can convey. To know him and ourselves wholly as he and we are known to him ~ such knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is high, we cannot attain it.1
It is not a little disturbing encountering an individual who thinks that his or her theology is the only orthodox Christian position. For example, we know that Charles Spurgeon once stated, “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else” (emphases added). Were he alive today he should rightly be castigated for using such language.
Unless one think that I am vying for the relevancy or subjectivity of Truth, I add that the gospel pertains to Jesus Christ and not to Calvinism (nor Arminianism for that matter). How embarrassing for some Calvinists to misunderstand the simple gospel, not only equating their systematic theology with the gopsel, but replacing the Savior of mankind with their system.
There is only one truth. What I find alarming is when one branch of Christianity (i.e. Calvinism) claims to be the sole essence of divine Truth. Why did Paul teach that God will send a strong delusion so that some will believe the lie of the Anti-Christ and thus perish (2 Thess. 2:11)? Paul writes: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). What is truth? Jesus, in his intercessory prayer for his disciples, prayed thus to his Father: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 TNIV). Truth is presented in all that God has revealed in his Word. To not believe his Word is to deny Truth.
Truth, however, is not synonymous with Calvinism any more than Calvinism is synonymous with the gospel. Truth is synonymous with God’s Word. Spurgeon’s erroneous statement (and those who agree with him) breeds a cult-like mentality, and there are many Calvinists who have adopted this dangerous idea. Moreover, many Calvinists have erred concerning the objective truth of Arminianism as well. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell write:
- According to the Calvinist analysis, Arminianized Christianity has pushed God to the edge of the stage and has shoved the human being to the center. In this revolution, human beings have now assumed the role of judging truth by their own reason, conscience or personal taste. Humans have assumed the power of determining their own destinies by making autonomous choices, and they have thereby assumed the right of overriding God’s will by rejecting God’s salvation plan. The marginalized God can now only hope for the best resolution to the drama of redemption; he occasionally negotiates or intervenes in the play but is unable to overcome the foundational principle of all reality ~ human autonomy!
It is rather difficult for one to believe that Calvinism could encapsulate the Truth of the gospel (or be synonymous with it) exclusively when Calvinists constantly misrepresent the truth of classical, Reformation Arminianism. If they cannot even analyze Arminian theology properly, what makes anyone think that they can rightly divide the Word of Truth in such a manner as to be synonymous with God’s inerrant Truth?
It behooves all Christians to humbly acknowledge that we have been entrusted with God’s Word; and with humility we are called to rightly interpret his Word. Paul confesses: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10-11 TNIV). Jesus Christ is the foundation of Christianity (let alone the gopsel), not Calvinism, and not Arminianism. But Paul warns us to be careful how we build on that foundation.
Also, Peter instructs: “If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11 TNIV). Concerning the sufficiency and perfection of the holy Scriptures in opposition to human traditions, Arminius comments:
- The word “Tradition,” according to its derivation, signifies the act of delivering; but having been enlarged through usage to denote the object about which the act is occupied, it also signifies the doctrine itself that is delivered. We ascribe this epithet, in either or both of its senses, to a Divine acceptation, on account of its cause which is God, to distinguish it from that which is human (1 Cor. 2:12, 13): And we say, “That is excellently Divine which is such at the same time in its act and in its object:” We define it, Divine doctrine, manifested by a Divine act, with less excellence, by men; because, however Divine it is in its object, still it is human in the act of tradition (2 Pet. 1:21).
Arminius’s theology was in no wise an effort to cast God from the center stage of Christian life and witness, replacing him by throwing the spotlight on man. Such nonsense only exposes the ignorance of the one who makes such a statement. The Object of one’s theology is found solely in God. For Arminius, theology is defined thus: “[It is the] doctrine of 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.4
For Arminius, the gospel has as its Object the Lord Jesus Christ, working in and through the Holy Spirit. Man cannot in an autonomous fashion choose to believe in Jesus Christ as the Calvinist erringly promotes. To admit such is to either ignorantly or intentionally misrepresent classical Arminian theology; which means that either 1) Calvinists have not studied Arminius or Arminian theology in order to verify that what they presuppose is true; or 2) they are intentionally lying in an effort to promote Calvinism as the only orthodox position for Christian theology. Arminius writes:
- The Efficient Cause of this Vocation [of man unto salvation] is God the Father in the Son. The Son himself, as appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the King of his Church, calls men by the Holy Spirit; as he is the Spirit of God given to the Mediator; and as he is the Spirit of Christ the King and Head of his Church, by whom both “the Father and the Son hitherto work” (John 5:17; Eph. 2:17, 4:11-12; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 3:20).
Likewise, the Remonstrants (followers of Arminius’s theology) note:
- Faith in Jesus Christ is a deliberate and firm assent of the mind placed in the Word of God (Rom. 4:18; Heb. 11:1), joined with true trust in Christ by which we not only firmly assent to the doctrine of Jesus Christ as true and divine, but whereby we totally rest in Jesus Christ himself as our only prophet, priest, and king (John 14:1; Eph. 3:12, 17; Heb. 4:16), given to us by God for salvation purely by grace, so that we do not doubt to expect from him alone, as our only redeemer (Acts 4:12, 13:39; Heb. 5:9, 10:15), salvation and eternal life, but unobtainable except by reason of that way which he himself has revealed in his Word.
I learned quite a number of years ago that Calvinist scholars and theologians (to say nothing of Calvinistic laymen, whether in the Church or on the internet) cannot, generally speaking, be trusted with objective facts concerning Arminius, Arminian theology, or even with what constitutes the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. For if they insist that Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else, then they have relegated themselves to the very fringe of Christianity itself.
1 Russell Henry Stafford, “Faith and Wonder,” in Man’s Faith and Freedom: The Theological Influence of Jacobus Arminius, ed. Gerald McCulloh (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 113-15.
2 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 44. For that Calvinistic defective assessment, see R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 215-32.
3 James Arminius, “Disputation III. On the Sufficiency and Perfection of the Holy Scriptures, in Oppositioin to Human Traditions,” in The Works of Arminius, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 2:104.
4 Ibid., 319.
5 Ibid., 232.
6 The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 78.