Saturday, December 27, 2008

Arminian Myth #1

One of my favorite reads this year was Roger E. Olson's Arminian Theology. The book is helpfully organized around 10 myths about Arminianism. It is my intention to summarize each myth and its correction over a series of posts.

Myth #1: Arminian theology is the opposite of Calvinist/Reformed theology.

Truth: Jacob Arminius and most of his faithful followers fall into the broad understanding of the Reformed tradition; the common ground between Arminianism and Calvinism is significant.

Arminius considered himself Reformed and often underscored his common ground with the teachings of Reformed theology.

Arminius studied under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, and Beza gave Arminius a letter of recommendation to the Reformed church of Amsterdam.

Reformed theology at that time was generically Protestant with room for theological diversity in the particulars of salvation.

Controversy reared its head when Franciscus Gomarus, a colleague of Arminius at the University of Leiden, started tightening up Reformed theology and attacking the moderates, including Arminius.

John Wesley, an Arminian, saw his own theology as “within a hair’s breadth” of Calvinism (p. 55).

Common ground between Arminius’s theology and Reformed theology:
Both assert “that the supreme purpose of God in creation and redemption is his own glory, and that the creature’s greatest happiness lies precisely in enjoying God” (p. 51).

Both teach covenant theology. “According to Arminius, all the ways of God with people in history begin with the covenant of works that God established with Adam and his posterity” (p. 52). The second covenant “centers around Jesus Christ as the mediator and grace as the means of redemption” (p. 53). “For Arminius, ‘legal theology’ correlates with the covenant of the law with Adam as head of the race, whereas ‘evangelical theology’ correlates with the covenant of grace with Christ as the head of the race--insofar as people accept him by faith” (p. 53).

Both teach total depravity, that every aspect of human nature is tainted by sin. Arminius believed that sinful man could not choose to follow God without grace first being exercised in his life. He believed that sinful man had no free will to follow God, that his mind was darkened, and that he was dead in sins.

To be sure, there are differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, but it is important to see that they share much in common, too.

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