Tag Archives: Arminius

Symposium Recap: Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election

by Kevin L. Hester

In his presentation, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” J. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, introduced his personal reflections on the nature of predestination and its placement in modern Arminian theological circles. At the heart of his discussion is the common misconception that Arminians reject predestination – the concept of the election of individual believers and the reprobation of individual unbelievers.

Far from rejecting individual election, Arminius taught that God

wills that single men should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, that is, all and each, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, male and female, &c. As the knowledge of the truth and salvation belong to single human beings, and is, in fact, prepared, by predestination, for the salvation of single individuals, not for classes, and is denied, by reprobation, to single individuals, not to classes, so, also, in the more general providence of God, antecedent, in the order of nature, to the decree of predestination and reprobation, the divine will has reference to single individuals of classes, not to classes of single individuals.[1]

Pinson argues that Arminius, Wesley, and other foundational Arminian theologians taught conditional, individual election. He asserts that this is a more biblical model than the concept of corporate election introduced to Arminianism by Shank and others.[2] The idea of corporate election has attracted numerous Arminian adherents because of its rejection of particular Calvinist themes and the growing popularity of corporate emphases on salvation expressed in N.T. Wright and other New Perspective authors.

In contrast, Arminius’s view of election as individual was characteristic of the Reformed theology of his time. He distinguished himself by offering a correction to a misplaced ordering of election that “inverts the order of the gospel” and diminished Jesus Christ’s office of mediator of the covenant of redemption.[3] He posited an ordo salutis that emphasized 1) God’s unconditional election of Christ as Mediator, 2) God’s unconditional decree to save those who repent and believe, 3) God’s unconditional decree to “administer the means of salvation,” 4) God’s unconditional decrees “to save and to damn certain particular persons according to his foreknowledge.”[4]

This foreknowledge is more than mere prescience of repentance and belief, but introduces an intimate relationship of love and grace. In predestination and election, we see “an eternal administration of what is taking place in the lives of the elect and reprobate in time.”[5] For Pinson this is a Biblical model and a theological expression of the “natural reading of the predestination and election passages in the New Testament.”[6]

Whereas traditional Reformed theology’s emphasis on unconditional election misplaces the centrality of Christ’s mediatorial role, new Arminian currents toward corporate election miss important themes that are scripturally related to individual piety. If election is corporate, then “election and predestination are abstract concepts that are not in themselves salvific… (but are rather) a vehicle through which God procures salvation for people.”[7]In this light, passages like Ephesians 1, which focuses on the benefits of individual believers as they are united to Christ against the backdrop of election and predestination, are wrested from a natural reading to become theological exposés rather than worshipful reflections on God’s redemption in the lives of individual believers.

We should be thankful for the balanced and pastoral approach that Pinson employs in this article. His approach to Scripture, like that of Arminius, is alive with a spirit of worship and awe of God’s grace. Too many evangelicals on both the Calvinist and the Arminian side of the election debate have abstracted the discussion without reference to the implications of the doctrine for individual piety. It is a mistake to subtract biblical terms and concepts from their biblical context. What then are some of these implications?

Implications

The doctrine of conditional, individual election allows us to trust in God as the author of our salvation. As we remain united to Christ through faith, we can rely on his enduring love. Belief in the gospel brings the seal of His promise and the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[8]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election assures us of both God’s redemptive desire for the salvation of all persons and His eternal affection for those whom He has foreknown. God’s eternal decrees manifest themselves in time in the context of real relationships with fallen human persons. God works to make these sinful, rebellious creatures like His Son.[9]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election should awaken our praise and worship. God lavishes us with the riches of His grace so that we might live “to the praise of his glory.”[10] May our theology be as rich as our inheritance in Him and may it drive us to our knees as it leads us to praise in the heavenly places.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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[1] Arminius, Works, 3:461, Examination of the Treatise of Perkins on the Order and Mode of Predestination. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 3.

[2] Robert Shank, Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election (Springfield, Missouri: Westcott, 1970); see also Paul Marston and Roger Foster, God’s Strategy in Human History (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2001; reprint).

[3] Arminius, Works, 1:632, Declaration of Sentiments. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 5.

[4] Arminius, Works, 1:653-4, Declaration of Sentiments. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 6. Italics his.

[5] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 8.

[6] Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 9.

[7] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 10.

[8] See Ephesians 1:13-14.

[9] See Ephesians 1:4.

[10] See Ephesians 1:12.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Word “Synergist”?

by Matthew Pinson

A Theological Dirty Word

Recently I’ve noticed that, over the past century, Arminians have increasingly used the word “synergist” to describe themselves, rather than seeing it as a negative epithet, as most Christian theologians have. I have blogged before here about how Arminians are “not necessarily synergists,” and reprinted here some kind dissent from my friend Brian Abasciano of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. As I’ve said before, I believe Carl Bangs was absolutely right when he said that Arminius would never have described himself as a synergist [1]! Synergism has always been a theological “dirty word” associated with semi-Pelagianism.

“Synergistic” Lutherans?

I’ve been reading a lot of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Lutheran dogmaticians lately, and the fear of being labeled synergists is especially true of them. Despite the fact that we moderns neatly divvy Lutherans into “monergistic” and “synergistic” Lutherans, no good Lutheran ever wanted to be known as a synergist. This includes famous scholastic Lutherans such as Aegidius Hunnius, Johann Gerhard, and Johannes Andreas Quendstedt.

It might surprise us evangelicals who rub shoulders with Missouri Synod Lutherans that most Lutherans throughout history have believed that election is intuitu Christi meriti fide apprehendi (in view of the merit of Christ apprehended by faith). In other words, election and predestination, as described for example in Ephesians 1, are always in view of Christ and his mediatorial work, which is of course apprehended by the individual’s faith.

Most of the Lutheran scholastic theologians of the seventeenth century believed in the personal election of individuals in eternity past intuitu Christi meriti fide apprehendi. This is precisely what Arminius believed. Scholars such as the Danish Henrik Frandsen are helping us see the fluidity between Lutheran Scholasticism and the less-Calvinistic wing of Reformed Scholasticism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century [2].

It’s no surprise that the Lutherans who opposed unconditional election in the Lutheran Predestinarian Controversy of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries weren’t fond of the label “synergist.” Their opponents called them that because of their belief that God elected individuals in eternity past in view of the merit of Christ apprehended by faith. They also believed that divine grace could be resisted even after conversion, and that one could fall completely from grace. Yet they strenuously contended that they were not synergists [3].

Second-Guessing

At any rate, I have picked up on an increasing tendency of self-described Arminians who view the term “synergism,” not as a term of opprobrium to be avoided at all cost, but as a word by which they wish to describe themselves positively.

So often, when a large chorus of Arminians begin to repeat the same thing, we Reformed Arminians start to wonder, “What’s wrong with us?” just because we’re hearing so many people echo the same thing—e.g., “Arminians are synergists,” “Election is corporate,” and so forth.

But Reformed Arminians shouldn’t really be surprised to see that our good Arminian friends are aghast and open-mouthed when we don’t want to be called names like synergist, or when we want to say that election is individual. It’s not always fun being in the minority of a movement. But, quite simply, it’s where Reformed Arminians are. So we shouldn’t be surprised when our good Arminian brothers and sisters find our views on these matters odd.

Wesley and Synergism

However, Reformed Arminians aren’t the only Arminians who have been averse to being labeled synergists. Wesleyans like John Wesley himself as well as John Fletcher of Madeley would have been concerned about such a label. I recently came across a little comment from the eminent Wesleyan theologian Kenneth Collins that confirmed my suspicions that Wesley himself wouldn’t feel comfortable being called a synergist. Collins avers:

“Wesley, as with Luther and Calvin, understood quite well that God is remarkably gracious and at times acts alone in the face of human impotence, for not only is justification not a human work but also the gift of grace is not given on the basis of a prior working. . . . The conjunctive style of Wesley’s theology is not, after all, fully or aptly expressed in the divine and human roles found in an overarching synergistic paradigm even if the stress is on divine initiative (as in the model of responsible grace). . . . On the contrary, more accurate readings suggest that a synergistic paradigm, which contains both divine and human acting, must itself be caught up in an even larger conjunction in which the Protestant emphasis on the sole activity of God, apart from all human working, is equally factored in—not simply co-operant or responsible grace. . .” [4].

W. F. Warren on Synergism and Wesleyan Theology

This was strongly confirmed in a Methodist Review article I recently came across by the famous Methodist theologian and founding president of Boston University, W. F. Warren. He argued that synergism contradicts the Wesleyan view that “no man can come unto Christ without a divine drawing; none can even call Jesus the Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Further, he said, synergism “conflict[s] with all those representations of Scripture which trace our awakening, regeneration, and sanctification to a divine inworking.” It also militates against “the standing testimony of the Christian consciousness, which in all lands and ages bears witness to the truth of Christ’s declaration: ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’”

Warren says that, even though man is not “a passive material to be transformed and recast by simple omnipotence” and we can resist God’s grace, we “must not regard this great work as the product of a joint action of divine and human agency viewed as independent factors. God does not stand over against the natural man, and merely co-operate with him in precisely that degree in which the individual himself operates to secure salvation.”

“This is the error of synergism,” Warren warns. “It springs out of a false deistic conception of the relation of God to the creature, and of man as a moral agent. It predicates of man a natural and ethical independence which he does not possess; it ignores the fact that in God we live, and move, and have our being.” Warren describes various stripes of synergism, noting unequivocally that “All these varieties Methodism rejects as inconsistent with what the Bible teaches.”

Citing the Methodist Articles of Religion and the great Wesleyan theologian John Fletcher of Madeley for support, Warren emphasizes that “any undue stress upon the human element in the appropriation of salvation logically leads to a Pelagian anthropology, and a doctrine of salvation by the merit of good works,” and he says there are “fatal consequences” that result from the teachings of  “Calvinistic monergists on the one hand, and by Pharisaic moralists and synergists on the other” [5].

Thinking Out Loud

These musings are offered for just what they are—thinking out loud about whether we Reformed Arminians should continue feeling insulted when our Calvinist friends call us synergists. These ramblings aren’t intended as definitive. They’re just a scratching of the surface. But the more I cast about, the more it seems we Reformed Arminians who are afraid of the word “synergist” are in good company. We learned this sensibility from Jacobus Arminius and Thomas Helwys and Thomas Grantham and Carl Bangs and Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli—but also, it seems, from some of Lutheranism’s and Wesleyanism’s leading lights.

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[1] Bangs boldly states, “Arminius was a monergist.” (Carl Bangs, “Arminius and Reformed Theology,” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1958, 166).

[2] Henrik Frandsen, Hemmingius in the Same World as Pekinsius and Arminius (Praestoe, Denmark: Grafik Werk, 2013). See also Frederick Calder, ed., Memoirs of Simon Episcopius (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1835).

[3] For a fun read on the Lutheran Predestination Controversy from the vantage point of the non-unconditional election side of the debate, see George H Schodde, ed., The Error of Modern Missouri: Its Inception, Development and Refutation (Columbus, Oh.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1897). Much of this book was translated from the German by the Lutheran biblical scholar R. C. H. Lenski. It contains a helpful compilation of anti-Calvinist material from the vantage point of Lutheran Scholasticism.

[4] Kenneth Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Abingdon, 2007). 163-64.

[5] W. F. Warren, “The Methodist Doctrine of the Appropriation of Salvation,” The Methodist Review 68 (July 1886), 594-97.

Listening to Arminius–and Not Just His Opponents–on Justification

by J. Matthew Pinson

I often enjoy reading Reformation21, a blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. But I recently read a blog post by Mark Jones entitled “Arminian vs. Reformed on Justification” that diverged from the very careful analysis usually found on that Calvinist blog and in Mr. Jones’s other posts.

In an endorsement of my forthcoming book, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition, Leroy Forlines says, “Our first obligation to those with whom we disagree is to find out what they are actually saying. If this happens, Arminianism will be given a new face in the theological world.” This is so true, and the place where there seems to be the most prognosticating about one’s theological opponents without actually taking their views seriously is in some Calvinist quarters.

Please understand that not all Calvinists are like this. Russell Moore and Timothy George, for example, have both endorsed my forthcoming book. However, the sorts of caricatures one sees in Mark Jones’s blog post are still all too common. Mr. Jones goes on and on about Arminius’s views on justification without actually quoting Arminius! He merely quotes what several Calvinists of Arminius’s day said about Arminius.

I have reprinted below some brief quotations from chapter one of Arminian and Baptist, entitled “Jacobus Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming.” I hope the reader will see from reading these excerpts Arminius’s genuineness when he stated that he agreed with Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession of Faith on the doctrine of justification.

Arminius’s view of justification is summarized in his Public Disputations. There he said justification is that act by which one, “being placed before the throne of grace which is erected in Christ Jesus the Propitiation, is accounted and pronounced by God, the just and merciful Judge, righteous and worthy of the reward of righteousness, not in himself but in Christ, of grace, according to the Gospel, to the praise of the righteousness and grace of God, and to the salvation of the justified person himself” [1].

Justification for Arminius was forensic or imputative in nature. Arminius states: “In his obedience and righteousness, Christ is also the Material Cause of our justification, so far as God bestows Christ on us for righteousness, and imputes his righteousness and obedience to us” [2].

Arminius went as far as to say in his letter to Hippolytus à Collibus that God “reckons” Christ’s righteousness “to have been performed for us” [3].

In his Declaration of Sentiments, he averred: “I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ, and that the obedience and righteousness of Christ constitute the only meritorious cause through which God pardons the sins of believers and accounts them as righteous, as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law” [4].

Arminius states his full agreement with what Calvin said with regard to justification in his Institutes. Calvin wrote: “We are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation. . . . You see that our righteousness is not in us but in Christ, that we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ; indeed, with him we possess all its riches” (Institutes, 3.11.23).

Arminius’s statements regarding justification place him well within the mainstream, not only of the broad Reformed movement of his day, but also of post-Dort Calvinism on both sides of the English Channel.

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[1] Arminius, Works, 2:256. Public Disputation 19, “On the Justification of Man before God.”

[2] Ibid., 2:406. Private Disputation 48, “On Justification.”

[3] Ibid., 2:702. “Letter to Hippolytus à Collibus.”

[4] Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), Kindle location 3433-3435; cf. Arminius, Works, 1:700.