This article is an introduction to Arminian soteriology, or the study of salvation. It is the first in a series of articles. It serves as both an introduction and an index to the rest of the articles in the series.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Table of contents
What is an Arminian?
Are you an Arminian? Take the test to see. It is possible that your first reaction is to think of Armenians; an ethnic group of people whose homeland is near Turkey. But while the names are pronounced the same, the spelling is different. And they represent two vastly different groups.
Your next thought is that Arminianism is anything other than Calvinism. Or that it is something that verges on heresy. But both of those are incorrect as well. Arminian soteriology is frequently misunderstood by both its detractors and its supporters. And much that is labeled Arminianism is actually something else.
As an aside, it is worth pointing out that Arminianism is not a complete theological system like Calvinism. Arminianism only deals with soteriology, the study of salvation. Apart from that, it is compatible with any other Christian theological framework. And that includes Calvinism as a theological framework; not just the soteriological aspects.
Arminianism is a system of belief that comes out of the Protestant Reformation. It derives from the teachings of Jacob Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560 to 1609. Arminius was educated in the reformed, or Calvinist, tradition.
But Arminius struggled with the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination. The doctrine that God has, according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to the affected people, elected some to salvation. And, either directly or indirectly, condemned the rest of mankind to damnation. As a result of his study, he came to reject the Calvinist teachings of predestination, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.
A false claim is that Arminius’s primary objective was to promote human free will. But that is not the case. He was primarily concerned with the nature of God. He viewed the Calvinist soteriology of his day as diminishing the love of God and replacing it with a God who arbitrarily chose to save some and damn others. Acknowledging human free will moved the responsibility for human sin from God to man. And it made it possible for God to make a real offer of salvation to all who would receive it. But an offer that could also be rejected.
The Remonstrants and John Wesley
Shortly after the death of Arminius, a group of his followers produced the Five Articles of the Remonstrance. A few years later, the Dutch Reformed Church, at the Synod of Dort, labeled Arminianism as heretical. And they developed what has come to be known as the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP, in response.
But Arminianism did not die out. John Wesley later championed the teaching of Jacob Arminius. Today many, if not most, Protestants are at least somewhat Arminian.
Unfortunately, most of what is read or proclaimed concerning Arminianism is coming from Calvinist sources. Sources who seem not to really understand Arminianism. Generally, they incorrectly associate it with semi-Pelagianism.
Semi-Pelagianism claims that humanity is able to come to God via their own faith. And, once that happens, God steps in to help the believer grow via grace. This was identified as heresy in 529.
But that is not what classic Arminian soteriology (derived from the teaching of Arminius) teaches. It is true, though, that many people, even in evangelical churches today, are actually semi-Pelagianism. And many of them think that they are Arminian, and I have to admit that I was among them until recently.
Differences Between Calvinism and Arminianism
Jacob Arminius and John Wesley after him were thoroughly Protestant. They varied from the Reformed, or Calvinistic, tradition only in their understanding of how man comes to faith in Christ.
They rejected the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional predestination; that God chooses to save or damn humanity solely based on his own choice. Instead, they held to conditional predestination, where God chooses to save all to respond to him in faith. But this is not the free will faith of semi-Pelagianism. Rather God’s grace enables each person to respond but does not force a positive response.
The other three points of difference derive from this one. The limited atonement of Calvinism is replaced with universal atonement. Universal atonement does not mean that all are saved, though. This atonement is only applicable to those who respond in faith. But it is made available to all people, not just the elect.
The irresistible grace of Calvinism, where the elect cannot resist God’s offer of salvation, is rejected. It is replaced with resistible grace, where the offer of salvation can be resisted.
And finally, the possibility of falling from grace, which is rejected in Calvinism, is accepted as a possibility by some Arminians.
This article was an introduction to a series of posts that will describe Arminian soteriology as taught by Jacob Arminius and John Wesley. I will be focusing on six specific teachings of Arminianism:
- Total depravity of humanity;
- Unlimited atonement, Christ died for all of humanity;
- Sovereignty of God and free will.
- We are freed to believe by God’s grace;
- Conditional election, God chooses those who come to him in faith;
- Our security in Christ
- A concluding summary
I am indebted to the Society of Evangelical Arminians for this outline and will be drawing much from their resources. And I will also be using Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger Olson and Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden as resources for this study.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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- August 7, 2017 – Original post
- September 23 2019 – Mostly formatting with some content addition and clarification.