My Arminian Upbringing . . .

About 15 years ago I stole my dad’s text book that he used for his Systematic Theology class in his Bible College days at then Southwestern Bible College in Phoenix, Arizona. They used Henry C. Thiessen’s “Lectures In Systematic Theology.” Southwestern is a Conservative Baptist College (now known as Arizona Christian University), I attended there for a semester when I graduated from high school back in 1992. I never totally read through Thiessen’s book, but I have flipped through it and read sections of it. One section was on Thiessen’s development of his doctrine of election. I wanted to quote what he says about election and foreknowledge:

(1) Election and Foreknowledge.  Election is a sovereign act of God; He was under no obligation to elect any one, since all had lost their standing before God. Even after Christ had died, God was not obligated to apply that salvation, except as He owed it to Christ to keep the agreement with Him as to man’s salvation. Election is a sovereign act, because it was not due to any constraint laid upon God. It was an act in grace, in that He chose those who were utterly unworthy of salvation. Man deserved the exact opposite; but in His grace God chose to save some. He chose them “in Christ.” He could not choose them in themselves because of their ill-desert; so He chose them in the merits of another. Furthermore, He chose those who He foreknew would accept Christ. The Scriptures definitely base God’s election on His foreknowledge: “Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained, . . . and whom He foreordained, them He also called” (Rom. 8:29, 30); “to the elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:1, 2). Although we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines His choice, the repeated teaching of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation necessitates or postulating that it is man’s reaction to the revelation God has made of Himself that is the basis of His election. May we repeat: Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His forknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. . . . (Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures In Systematic Theology, 344-45)

Thiessen articulates a pretty classic version of an Arminian understanding of election: God’s choosing of individual people for salvation is based upon His foreknowledge and ability to look down the corridor of time and see who will place their faith in Him; and it is on this basis that God elects these individuals, and as corrollary, reprobates those who choose to stay in unbelief. You’ll notice that Thiessen is careful to frame this in a way that underscorse the fact that the person’s capacity to place their faith in Christ comes from God’s grace given to them; which then opens up a person’s ability to deliberate whether they want Christ or don’t. So we have an Arminian version of prevenient grace at play as well.

This is what I was taught about election, and things from early on in my life. My influence was pretty much Arminian theology like that articulated by Thiessen. Yet, it was somewhat of a hybrid form of Arminianism, since it also had a strong doctrine of the eternal security of the believer; which of course is why I was taught that our view was simply an “Biblicist” approach 😉 .

15 thoughts on “My Arminian Upbringing . . .”

  1. Bobby,This helps explain why you cannot get to Federal Cavinism! 😉 I am kidding, but surely how we were taught as young, does matter. Mine was of course old school Irish Catholic, and my priest was from the Augustinian order. Now there’s providence! 🙂


  2. I remember Thiessen’s book. When I was a backwoods fundy a beloved preacher friend gave me that book. I read a little of it, but not enough to remember the whole thing.


  3. Fr Robert,

    I cannot go Federal Calvinism for the same reason I cannot go classic Arminianism; they are tied at the hip! I’m surprised you didn’t turn out Luther[an] 😉 .


    Yeah, it is somewhat of a Fundy Systematic Theology; my dad would even admit that 🙂 !


  4. Bobby,

    I love the man Luther! But not “Lutheranism”. Sadly I feel Luther is hardly read and seriously engaged biblically and theologically, save the Lutherans, and of course they have a lens over him. Btw, it is here that N.T. Wright needs to have some very serious study and engagement, i.e. Luther! Those that have never read his Galatians study are missing out! He is THE Reformer!

    *Btw, I have..and have read, Udo Schnelle’s: Apostle Paul, His Life and Theology. A fine and classic Reformational work on St. Paul. And Schnelle won’t let us forget the life and letters of Paul, in their real living circumstances!


  5. Fr Robert,

    I agree, Luther is his own man; and I highly appreciate him, and spent quite a bit of time studying him because of my prof, Ron Frost! He developed Luther’s theology and identified the lens that Lutherans read him through today. Frost wrote an excellent essay on Luther’s Reformation in the Trinity Journal 1996 contra Muller (they had an exchange there, actually, by rejoinder). Frost’s point is that Luther’s real concern was theological and his reformational points are tied to his Disputation Against the Scholastics vs. the Wittenberg door which just got it popular. Anyway, a lot there.

    Maybe someday I’ll read Schnelle


  6. Yeah leave your “scholasticism” on the floor with Luther! 😉 I would myself place John Wesley’s doctrine and “theology” close to Luther’s. Though somehow Wesley missed Luther’s doctrine of “election”?


  7. Bobby,

    In some sense I have come to see the RCC, i.e. the papacy.. as certainly anti-Christian at times and ways. I hope you get my meaning? I am sure for example, that the papacy will be helpful to the Antichrist, perhaps the last pope, or the pope at the time of the final Antichrist, will become the False Prophet? It is possible to me anyway.


  8. Yes, but some Lutherans like the Wisconsin Synod actually and formally make that a point of doctrine about the Pope. I think that that office will be used in deceptive ways (as it has).


  9. Yes, the papacy is hardly The visible Church of Christ on earth, as there is hardly any perfection in the Reformed Church on earth, even doctrinally. ‘WE know in part.’ And the true Church is always a pilgrim body on earth!


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