In their book The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn utterly misrepresent Arminianism on the subject of Total Depravity, stating that Arminianism teaches: “Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom.”1 Whatever they just described, it has nothing to do with Arminianism, which makes us wonder why the authors would intentionally caricature the system. Are we to imagine that they did so accidentally; and if so, then could not the editors and fact-checkers at P&R Publishing confirm the validity of what the authors wrote?
Unfortunately, misrepresentation of Arminianism is a well known practice among many Calvinists, both on the Internet and in publishing. This is actually the truth of the matter historically as well, beginning with the supralapsarian opponents of Arminius to the outlandish and despicable comments of Calvinists such as John Owen (and here), Augustus Toplady (and here), and Abraham Kuyper, to modern day Calvinists (one example among many which could be given). Calvinists have, if you will, a four-century legacy of misrepresenting Arminian theology.
Both Arminius and his followers the Remonstrants hold to Total Depravity and Total Inability, as has been time and again demonstrated on this site. Arminius admits that our fallen “free will” towards any spiritual act is “not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and . . . weakened; but it is also . . . imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.”2 He continues to describe our fallen condition in terms of being “dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God,” with not only our mind being affected but also the perverseness of our affections and of the heart, “according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil.”3 Such a despairing condition has given way to “the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good.”4 Is Arminius’s theology on man’s depravity any semblance of partial depravity?
Arminius’s successors and followers the Remonstrants also hold tenaciously to the doctrine of Total Depravity and Total Inability.5 In their Remonstrance of 1610, Article III, they affirm:
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ [a form of prevenient grace, not regeneration proper, as we think today], through His Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John 15:6: “Without Me ye can do nothing.”
Is the theology of the Arminians any semblance of partial depravity? Arminius and the Remonstrants established what we today call Arminianism. Statements which do not conform to theirs is not Arminianism. Hence authors Steele, Thomas and Quinn have not only constructed straw man statements with which no Classical Arminian can agree, but they have misrepresented Arminianism on this matter. If there are people who call themselves “Arminian” but deny this most significant doctrine, we assure everyone that such people are not Arminian but semi-Pelagian. What the authors described in their article is semi-Pelagianism, not Arminianism, and we wholeheartedly stand with them against such an error as semi-Pelagianism.
The authors, unfortunately, make other tragic caricatures other than this one on Depravity in describing Arminian theology. For example, they insist that Arminianism holds that God’s election to save man was based solely on His foreseeing who would believe in Christ. While that is certainly the case for some Arminians, it is not the case for all Arminians (link). Moreover, they state that salvation in Arminianism results “solely from man’s will.”6 That is not true, since all unregenerate sinners need the proactive, prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit in order to believe in Christ. Therefore, the positive “result” of what the Holy Spirit works in the heart, mind, and will of the sinner is not derived “solely from man’s will,” as they erroneously state.
Furthermore, they insist that in the Arminian’s doctrine of General Atonement, Christ’s redeeming work, while making salvation possible for all, “did not actually secure the salvation of anyone.”7 Such inconsistency on their part is, truly, telling. They admit that the Arminian view of God’s election unto salvation was due to His foreseeing that certain ones “would respond to His call,”8 so the atonement would at least “secure the salvation” of these, would it not? Five-point Calvinists are hypocritical to balk at the Arminian’s doctrine of the atonement when this subject is brought to the fore: they inform us of the alleged unbiblical nature of our doctrine of the atonement when four-point Calvinists believe and teach the same exact doctrine as do we! From what we gather, five-point Calvinism still remains the least held view in all of Christianity and Church history.
If this is what passes for Calvinist scholarship, then I, happily, predict a short-lived revival of Calvinism in our day. Should that revival be “cut short for the sake of the elect” (cf. Matt. 24:22), no one will hear me protest.
1 David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, updated and expanded (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004), 5. Arminius and the Remonstrants did not teach that “God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe,” since their view was that, only through the gospel and the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit could anyone be enabled to repent and believe (link). Moreover, they never suggest — nor would any Classical Arminian today — that God “does not interfere with man’s freedom.” That is a ludicrous statement, and I am embarrassed for the authors who write such nonsense. If God did not “interfere” with man’s so-called “freedom” by the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) then no one could be saved. Such caricaturing and construction of a straw man flourishes in Calvinist publishing.
2 James Arminius, “Disputation XI. On the Free Will of Man and its Powers,” in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:192.
3 Ibid., 2:192-93.
4 Ibid., 2:193.
5 They affirm, “Because Adam was the stock and root of the whole human race, he therefore involved and implicated not only himself, but also all his posterity.” See The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 65.
6 The Five Points of Calvinism, 6.
7 Ibid., 7.
8 Ibid., 6.