Myth #5: Arminian theology denies the sovereignty of God.
Truth: Classical Arminianism interprets God's sovereignty and providence differently than Calvinism without in any way denying them; God is in charge of everything without controlling everything.
Different notions of sovereignty
- Calvinism -- God ordains everything, control everything; absolute control
- Arminianism -- God ordains much, and this sometimes extends even to human choices and actions. But he doesn't stipulate all choices and actions, especially sin. He allows sin, permits it, sometimes prevents it, sometimes limits it. But sovereignty doesn't mean absolute control. And this is by God's sovereign choice to extend to men some freedom.
God's sovereignty is in some sense analogous to the sovereignty a monarch exercises over a nation. His power is great, and there are many things that people do or don't do as a direct result of his control. But he does not control everything everyone does.
Jacob Arminius argued that there are some things God can't do--sin. "God's character as supreme love and justice make certain acts of God inconceivable. Among them would be foreordaining sin and evil" (Olson's words, 120).
Arminius was puzzled by accusations against him regarding providence, "because he went out of his way to affirm it. He even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God's cooperation!" (121).
Arminius affirmed concurrence. God is the first cause of all actions, because human beings couldn't even lift a finger without his power. God commits to cooperating with a man in his actions, even in his sin, thought the guilt of sin belongs to the man, because the man has decided to use his God-given power to commit sin.
Later Arminius added, along with sinful acts, calamities to occurrences that God allows and controls but doesn't plan or decree.
John Wesley held to a specific, particular providence.
"Either, therefore, allow a particular providence, or do not pretend to believe any providence at all. If you do not believe that the Governor of the world governs all things in it, small and great; that fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, fulfill his word; that he rules kingdoms and cities, fleets and armies, and all the individuals whereof they are composed (and yet without forcing the wills of men or necessitating any of their actions); do not affect to believe that he governs anything." (John Wesley; in Olson 127)
Olson writes concerning Arminian theologian John Miley: "For Miley, and most if not all later Arminians, God's primary way of ruling over human affairs is though persuasion, but God's persuasive power is greater than any creature's. God's influence lies directly on every subject so that nothing can happen without being pulled or pushed by God toward the good. However, free and rational creatures have the power to resist the influence of God. This power was given to them by God himself. Miley's theology assumes a divine self-limitation for the sake of human liberty" (131).
"One thing should be absolutely clear from all these examples of Arminian accounts of divine sovereignty and providence--the common accusation that Arminianism lacks a strong or high view of God's sovereignty is false. Every classical Arminian shares with every classical Calvinist the belief that God is in charge of and governs the entire creation, and will powerfully and perhaps unilaterally bring about the consummation of his plan. Arminians demur from Calvinism's divine determinism because it cannot avoid making God the author of sin and evil" (135).