Arminianism, Take 3

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Arminianism, like any major belief system, is frequently misunderstood by critics and would-be supporters. Among the common misconceptions:

Arminianism supports works-based salvation: To the Arminians, salvation is “by faith alone” and “by faith first to last”. This misconception is often directed to the Arminian possibility of apostasy, which critics maintain that it requires continual good works to achieve final salvation. To the Arminians, however, both initial salvation and eternal security are “by faith alone”, hence “by faith first to last”. Belief through faith is the condition for entrance into the Kingdom of God; unbelief is the condition for exit from the Kingdom of God - not a lack of good works.

Arminianism denies original sin and total depravity: No system of Arminianism founded on Arminius or Wesley denies original sin or total depravity. Both Arminius and Wesley strongly affirmed that man's basic condition is one in which he cannot be righteous, understand God, or seek God.

Arminianism denies Jesus' substitutionary payment for sins: Both Arminius and Wesley believed in the necessity and sufficiency of Christ's atonement through substitution. Arminius held that God's justice was satisfied individually while Hugo Grotius and many of Wesley's followers taught that it was satisfied governmentally.

Comparison to Calvinism

Ever since Arminius and his followers revolted against Calvinism in the early 17th century, soteriology has been largely divided between Calvinism and Arminianism. On the conservative side of Calvinism is Hyper-Calvinism and on the liberal side of Arminianism is Pelagianism, but the overwhelming majority of Protestant, evangelical pastors and theologians hold to one of these two systems or somewhere in between.

Total depravity: Arminians affirm with Calvinists the doctrine of total depravity. The differences come in the understanding of how God remedies this depravity.

Substitutionary effect of atonement: Arminians also affirm with Calvinists the substitutionary effect of Christ's atonement and that this effect is limited only to the elect. Classical Arminians would agree with Calvinists that this substitution was penal satisfaction for all of the elect, while most Wesleyan Arminians would maintain that the substitution was governmental in nature.

Nature of election: Arminians hold that election to eternal salvation has the condition of faith attached. The Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election states that salvation cannot be earned and therefore has no human conditions, and so faith is not a condition of salvation but the divinely apportioned means to it.

Nature of grace: Arminians believe that through God's grace, he restores free will concerning salvation to all humanity, and each individual, therefore, is able either to accept the Gospel call through faith or resist it through unbelief. Calvinists hold that God's grace to enable salvation is given only to the elect and irresistibly leads to salvation.

Extent of the atonement: Arminians hold to a universal drawing and universal extent of atonement instead of the Calvinist doctrine that the drawing and atonement is limited in extent to the elect only. Both sides (with a few exceptions among Calvinists) believe the invitation of the gospel is universal and must be presented to everyone without any distinction.

Perseverance in faith: Arminians believe that future salvation and eternal life is secured in Christ and protected from all external forces but is conditional on remaining in Christ and can be lost through apostasy. Traditional Calvinists believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which says that because God chose some unto salvation and actually paid for their particular sins, he keeps them from apostasy and that those who do apostasize were never truly regenerated (that is, born again). Non-traditional Calvinists and other evangelicals advocate the similar but different doctrine of eternal security that teaches if a person was once saved, his or her salvation can never be in jeopardy, even if the person completely apostasizes.

Comparison to Pelagianism

Pelagius was a British monk and opponent of Augustine of Hippo and Jerome in the early 5th Century AD. He preached justification through faith alone, but also believed salvation was finished through good works and moral uprightness. Furthermore, Pelagius completely denied the double predestination and irresistible grace affirmed by Augustine. Several of his students - notably Caelestius - went further than their teacher and rejected justification by faith. Through the influence of Augustine and Jerome, the teachings of Pelagius and Caelestius were rejected by the Papacy as heretical. Historically Pelagianism has come to represent any system that denies original sin, holds that by nature humans are capable of good, and maintains morality and works are part of the equation that yields salvation. Semi-Pelagianism is a variation on the original more akin to Pelagius' own thought - that justification is through faith, but that Adam's original sin was merely a bad example, humans can naturally seek God, and salvation is completed through works. Both systems reject a Calvinist understanding of predestination.

Many critics of Arminianism, both historically and currently, claim that Arminianism condones, accepts, or even explicitly supports Pelagianism of either variety. Arminius referred to Pelagianism as "the grand falsehood" and stated that he "must confess that I detest, from my heart, the consequences [of that theology]." David Pawson, a British pastor/theologian, decries this association as "libelous" when attributed to Arminius' or Wesley's doctrine. Indeed most Arminians reject all accusations of Pelagianism; nonetheless, partially due to Calvinist opponents, the two terms remain intertwined in popular usage.

Both systems reject doctrines of Calvinistic predestination and irresistible grace. Both systems accept the Biblical importance of works, morality, and striving to become more holy.

Arminianism maintains original sin, total depravity, substitutionary atonement, and salvation through faith alone. Arminianism maintains that works and holiness, while important, have no determining effect on salvation at any point in the process.

Picture of John Calvin from

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7 comment(s)

  1. Good stuff.

    • Total depravity: Arminians affirm with Calvinists the doctrine of total depravity. The differences come in the understanding of how God remedies this depravity.

    But don't try to sell this one to any Calvinists. :-)

    Arminians believe that through God's grace, he restores free will concerning salvation to all humanity


    Well, this explains some of my questions of late. This answer creates even more questions for me.

    So, people don't reject God by free will, until He gives them a free will?

    When does that happen?

    What makes it happen?

    Are there people for whom it never happens?

    Free meaning, "able to choose either option," how is man freer after God moves than he was before? In what way?

    Given that something changes in man to make him able to choose again, it must be that he is able to choose wisely. Why would he reject God?

    Please don't feel obligated to answer these questions. They just come to mind. I know that you have not yet begun to draw out your conclusions, and am happy waiting patiently.

  2. Maeghan,

    This is really helpful. Thanks for sharing this with me.

    I still don't think that anyone who thinks about it a little is either Armenian or a Calvinist. We are all around them, but both have a lot of wholes.

    I am thankful for your quests to understand them.

  3. Hi Maeghan,

    How about a musing? :) Just kidding - keep going - I want to hear what you think.

    "Good stuff" must be an Ohio saying. My sister in Columbus says that all the time! lol

  4. Jewels,

    I think you may be on to something. I'm from Ohio and use it all the time. lol

    God Bless

  5. CP,
    Please don't feel obligated to answer these questions.

    I won't then. LOL.
    I have a lot of questions myself, I can even begin to answer them.

  6. Doug,
    I still don't think that anyone who thinks about it a little is either Armenian or a Calvinist. We are all around them, but both have a lot of wholes.

    I agree with you. I can't say I am a Calvinist but if I say I am an Arminian, I cannot then answer a lot of questions raised.

  7. Julia,
    haha ... i know i have not been much a musing lately. I did think of just removing that blog but decided to keep it there as and when I do have a musing ;)