I recently tried to post the following comment to a blog that wouldn’t allow posts unless you had a Google account. Because I spit on Google accounts (long story), I decided to write my own post.
BTW, Arminius himself never taught the possibility of apostasy, though he admitted he had some questions about it. (This according to an excellent book by Picirilli.) I stand very comfortably with Arminius here, and thus with the label (Orthodox or Reformed) Arminian. My chief concern is not the degree of comfort — we tend to be comforted most by what we already believe to be correct, it seems to me — but the weight of Scripture. And despite some passages (particularly the Hebrews one) that do seem to be saying believers can apostatize, I believe the weight of Scripture supports perseverance. And…I do find that more comforting!
The comment was in response to a post written and responded to by several Arminians who call themselves non-Calvinists and talk about their distaste for Arminianism. Why do they dislike “Arminianism” so (when they are clearly Arminian in belief)?
Could it be for the reasons Roger Olson cites in his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, the highly inaccurate (and of course negative) portrayals of Arminian theology presented so often by Calvinists (probably often as not unintentionally, because that’s what they were taught too, without going back and reading orthodox Arminian works) — to the point that even some theologians began calling themselves “non-Calvinists” or “moderate Calvinists” or “Calminians” to avoid that label?
Could it be because esteemed Christian writers such as R.C. Sproul have compared the two by holding up people like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeons as good examples of Calvinist leaders and people like Joel Osteen (and others I pay no attention to) as good examples of Arminian leaders?
Frankly I think for many of these folks it’s pretty simple — it’s all about the P. Arminians are the ones who think every time you sin you lose your salvation, right? Wow, no. Not at all. Not that I’m saying there aren’t a few out there who believe that — you can find a few out there who believe just about anything. (I have come across someone online whose comments I very much enjoy reading, who is a 4-point Calvinist whose missing 4th point is not the L but the P!) There are without a doubt many Arminians who don’t believe in P. I think it includes most Methodists. It includes some (I’m really unsure of the percentages) in the remaining orthodox Restoration Movement churches. I’m pretty confident it doesn’t include too many Baptists. If I had to guess, in fact, I’d say more Arminians believe in the security of the believer than not. Now, if you first asked all of America’s Christians to stick their hands up if they were Arminians, and only ask that crowd, you would get a much lower percentage of saying they hold to P.
I blame the close association of non-P with Arminian theology on John Wesley and Methodism. (I don’t mean that in a harsh way — it’s not like that was their goal!) It seems like really Christians who are not Calvinists but don’t want to be associated with non-P should say “I’m not a Methodist” or better yet “I’ll keep the P” — that would be more accurate.
“Moderate Calvinism” is bunk. It usually means keeping the “T” and the “P.” Two major problems — (1) “U” is the heart of Calvinism. If you don’t have Unconditional Election, you don’t have Calvinism. Period. Arminians believe in Conditional Election (the condition being faith). (2) Arminius — that’s right, the theologian after whom the theological understanding is named — also kept the “T” and the “P.” (I am going on Picirilli’s word here — I am not claiming to have gone back and read Arminius’s writings; I am not a theologian and don’t lose sleep at night over what people in the 16th or whatever century thought about the Bible. I’m not saying I have no respect for or curiosity about it — I’m saying I have a job and dishes to wash and can only read so many books. 🙂 )
Frankly, from just the quotes (sometimes lengthy) I have read from Arminius, I think many of today’s Arminians (perhaps especially those who are strongly anti-Calvinist) would read Arminius and reject him within a paragraph or two as too Calvinist. His rhetoric was virtually identical to Calvinist rhetoric — this was long before the days when (at least according to many Calvinists) only Calvinists believe in a sovereign God and when (sigh…according to many uninformed Arminians…who haven’t read their Bibles all the way through) predestination is a Calvinist fabrication.
“Calminianism”…goodness gracious. I definitely appreciate the spirit of unity that I presume lies behind such a label — we all need to yearn for Christian unity far more than we do now (another reason why heaven will be wonderful!). But this doesn’t embrace unity. It basically says “I’ll keep the P, and maybe the T.” This is not Calvinism. No “U” = no Calvinism. You know what it is? You guessed it. Arminianism.
There are definitely different streams of thought within both Calvinism and Arminianism, some are larger streams and some are little tiny brooks with just a few odd-looking fish in them. Neither is a monolithic system. Some of them I view as creeping to the edge of Christianity, if not already flying off it. I would include here Open Theism, which of course itself has several different streams and branches. Followers of OT would probably call themselves Arminian…and maybe they are, in that they reject the “U.” But they’re pretty far from Arminius’s views, and when I think of what Arminianism is I’m definitely not thinking of OT. Calvinists, BTW, have the same “problems” — the “father of liberal theology” was a Calvinist…and maybe he really was, if we mean that he accepted “U” (“U” in and of itself, BTW, does not rule out universalism).
None of this really matters, only one label (Christian!) is of real importance. And yet labels do remain important to us. Especially in times when “Christian” may be used to mean “I believe in God and I think Jesus had some cool things to say and, well, I’m not Muslim or Jewish.” And we can’t help but use labels to find people who think like us (thus proving how smart they are and how well they’ve studied their Bibles) and to distance ourselves from people who don’t think like us (thus proving how dumb they are, or how poorly they’ve studied their Bibles). I resisted labels for a long time. I knew I wasn’t a Calvinist, because I knew I didn’t believe in “U” or “L” (I was fuzzy on what exactly “T” and “I” meant in the Calvinist system at the time). But I really had no idea what Arminianism was. I never heard of it until one day discussing theology (basically U-L-I concepts) with a Calvinist friend I was told I was an Arminian. Huh? Well, okay, if you say so! She seemed to know more about the labels than I did. It was only when I read Picirilli’s book that I was able to really get a fuller picture of what the labels meant, and realize that I was in fact a “Reformed Arminian” (who stands with Arminius on “P,” unlike Picirilli, actually).
And that got me to thinking about the word “Reformed,” which was a new word to me as well. Why does “Reformed” tend to be used by Calvinists as a synonym for Calvinism? (I understand from a very interesting book by a Calvinist author that for some Calvinists there is in fact a distinction, but I don’t think this is a majority.) After all, what did Calvinists “reform” from? I’m pretty sure it was Catholicism — the error that had crept into and been enshrined in the Catholic Church. In any event it wasn’t Arminianism (both “Calvinist” and “Arminian” thought did long precede the Reformation — and oh how proponents of both love to argue over how their theology came first in church history! — as if that’s what proves it’s correctness). So shouldn’t “Reformed” be a synonym for “Protestant,” rather than “Calvinist”? It was my Reformation, too. It is a critical part of my (Arminian) church history, too. I am Reformed, too — I am not Roman Catholic; I believe in Bible only, Christ only, by faith through grace only. I reject indulgences, purgatory, the equivalence of any church culture and any mere human with the Word. If I am not Reformed…am I unreformed? Doesn’t that make me Roman Catholic, and an acceptor of indulgences, purgatory, etc.? And yet Arminians on the whole don’t seem too bothered by this. My friend’s church in Texas celebrates Reformation Day every year. How cool is that! Do any Arminian churches celebrate the Reformation? We should! It doesn’t mean we embrace Calvinism or TULIP. It doesn’t even mean we embrace everything Martin Luther believed. (He is inspiring and so much of what he wrote sounds exactly like what I hear in the pulpit and from other believers today, but he wasn’t perfect and I can’t agree with everything he said. He basically agreed with the Catholic Church on transsubstatiation [okay his view was closer to “consubstantiation,” but the point is his is not the view held by the vast majority of Protestantism], he at one point advocated bigamy, and he said some pretty anti-Semitic things during a later period of his life.) But all Protestants (and frankly all Catholics too — some things within Catholicism were cleaned up because of him) owe a great deal to the courage, faith, and persistence of Martin Luther and to other figures of the Reformation (Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli…). My church did actually once recognize the anniversary of the 95 theses and sang “A Mighty Fortress” in honor of the event, but I’m pretty sure this is the closest any of my churches (all Arminian in theology) ever came to saying much about the Reformation.
So, this Christian (Reformed Arminian) gal is eager to honor the Reformation — to mourn the division and the violence but to celebrate the resulting freedom and the return to Scripture as the ultimate source of Truth.
I desire to ramble further but I more strongly desire to go to sleep. And my kitties more strongly desire to be fed. Good night and God bless you whether you are Arminian, Calvinist, or non-Calvinist and I just haven’t convinced you you’re really an Arminian. 😉 Can’t wait ’til all those labels disappear in heaven.
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