How evangelical Calvinism is not Arminianism et al.: Metaphysics Matter

Just because evangelical Calvinism affirms universal atonement some have concluded, or might conclude that we are essentially a sub-set of Arminian theology; if not, at the least, Amyrauldian—but this could not be further from the truth. Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, follow a thoroughly different prolegomenon (or theological methodology) than what we will find funding the arminiusprintthinking of Arminians, Arminius, or even the classically Reformed (who take their cues from scholasticism Reformed, and Thomist intellectualism [as did Arminius himself, in a modified form]). I have written on our dialectical approach to theology, and analogy of faith method, with Myk Habets and personally in our 2012 edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.

In order, though, to illustrate my point further let me highlight Arminius’ personal approach to how he thinks of knowledge of God and how that implicates God’s dealing with humanity in salvation in a God-world relation. I will appeal to a rather lengthy section from Richard Muller’s book on Arminius; in this section Muller elucidates Arminius’s appropriation of Molina’s (et al.) ‘middle knowledge,’ and how Arminius used this to foreword his own uniquely styled understanding of God, foreknowledge, predestination, and salvation. What this sketch from Muller should illustrate is how Arminius, much like his scholastic and Reformed contemporaries worked from within a logico-causal mechanistic and deterministic Aristotelian (if not Stoic) understanding of metaphysics (it is precisely this that evangelical Calvinists, following the lead of Barth and Torrance through their respective actualism[s], repudiate).

Muller writes (in full):

This problem, resident in Thomist theology, had become a focus of discussion at the University of Louvain after the publication of John Driedo’s De concordia liberi arbitrii et praedestinationis divinae in 1537. Driedo argued that divine grace and human freedom ought not to be severed in the work of salvation and, indeed, that “the right use of free will, foreknown by God, ought to be the basis for election to the grace of “justification” and that, therefore, predestination could be defined as the divine decree “to call and to aid human beings in such a way as to bring about their obedience.” Driedo found it necessary to distinguish between the prior divine intention to save all human beings which establishes the priority of grace and rests all salvific acts of human beings on the effective movement of God as first cause and the divine foreknowledge of the success or failure of that grace, inasmuch as those who are called do not respond equally to the divine offer of salvation. The ultimate ground of predestination is the divine good pleasure, but this ultimate ground cannot conflict with the divine demand that human beings freely choose to live rightly. Driedo’s views were carried forward by his students at Louvain and were, beginning in 1556, adopted by the Jesuit teacher, Fonseca, as the basis for his refutation of Calvin’s teaching, De praedestinatione, libero arbitrio et gratia contra Calvinium (Paris, 1556). By 1565, Fonseca had provided a full description of the concept of a divine scientia media, prior to the divine decrees and, therefore, having the character of a noncausal knowing, distinct from the categories of scientia necessaria and scientia libera.

It was precisely this ultimately causal character of the divine intellect—that God knows all possibilities and, granting the priority of intellect over will knowingly ordains which possibilities he will actualize—that Molina strove to overcome in his debate with the somewhat radicalized Augustinianism of Bañez and with the Dominican interpreters of Thomas Aquinas. Whereas Thomism generally and Bañez in particular “began with metaphysical principles,” with God “as first cause and prime mover,” Molina began with the problem of the free consent of the will and assumed as his task the explanation of “divine foreknowledge and the action of grace in such a way that the freedom of the will is not explained away or tacitly denied. Molina’s Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providential, praedestinatione et reprobatione, published in 1588, argued that God’s foreknowledge of future contingents must be understood not as a knowledge of contingencies created or ordered as such by the direct action of the divine will (and therefore a category of scientia libera) but as a knowledge of contingencies standing prior to “any free act of his will” and resting on a clear and certain knowledge of the act of the creature.

Thus , Molina argues the existence of a divine knowledge or foreknowledge

Mediate between the free and the purely natural knowledge of God by which … God knew, before any free act of his will, what would come to pass conditionally (ex hypothesi) by the agency of the created will in the order of things, granting that he had decided to place these angels or men in a particular situation; if, moreover, the created will were able to do the contrary, by [this foreknowledge] he would know the contrary.

This divine knowledge, therefore, rests entirely upon the acts of creatures. No divine determination enters into the scientia media. Thus, God is capable of foreknowing the way a given creature will act, given certain conditions—and capable, therefore, of acting upon this foreknowledge of future contingents by establishing those conditions accordingly. Molina refers specifically to the statement of Origen that “a thing will happen not because God knows it as future; but because it is future, it is on that account known by God before it exists,” as cited by Aquinas had categorically refused to view the future event as the cause of something in God or as standing outside of the divine causality.

A crucial element, therefore, in the transition from Aquinas’ view to the modified Thomism—on this point, radically modified—of the Jesuit theologians, was the denial of the causal nature of the divine knowing. Molina insisted on the utter omniscience of God and rested the divine foreknowledge of future contingents on the “unlimited perfection of the divine intellect.” In other words, God so utterly knows the entire realm of possibility that, beyond his willing some things to be and other things not to be, God also knows, simply because of his own infinite cognitive powers, the actual results of all contingent causes prior to their actualization. Suárez, whose formulation of the problem Arminius also probably read, chose not to rest his argument purely upon the nature of divine cognition. Suárez argued that God, in foreknowing the nature or character of his creatures, foreknows how creatures will be disposed to act in any given situation, and therefore foreknows with certainty the actual result of a future creaturely choice.[1]

While this represents interesting historiography and theological development relative to the Protestant scholastics (inclusive of the Reformed and Arminius in particular), it should be illustrative of my point which I made to start this post out. Evangelical Calvinism does not think from the type of a priori speculative metaphysics and theory of causation we see funding this sketch by Muller. I don’t really think critics of evangelical Calvinism (if they have engaged at all) get this, not at all. Roger Olsen’s engagement with evangelical Calvinism (i.e. our book) doesn’t get this; Kevin Vanhoozer in his engagement with evangelical Calvinism (in published form) doesn’t really appreciate this (he thinks our appeal to a “Barthian” or “Torrancean” mode of dialogical/dialectical theology does not serve as the pressure valve we think it does). I say this because these critics of evangelical Calvinism continue to try and force us to operate from the type of metaphysics we see funding what Muller just described of the scholastics Reformed, the Molnisits, Arminius et al. But to me this is thoroughly disingenuous, especially if both Olson and Vanhoozer, among others can recognize that we do indeed work from other theological methodological grounds (which attendant to that comes with its own set of self-referential criterion of coherences).

Evangelical Calvinists, at least this one (me), after Barth think from the scandal and particularity of Jesus Christ. Instead of thinking a priori from ad hoc speculative metaphysics and schemata, we attempt to think all things theological from the depth dimension of God Self-revealed and interpreted in Jesus Christ; so we think a posteriori. We aren’t attempting to think out all of these types of abstract causal relations in a tightly wound conception of a God-to-world relation that is informed by a mechanical theoretical conception of causation (from God to humanity). Thomas F. Torrance gets at how an evangelical Calvinist understanding of causation, if we have one, is totally at odds with what we find funding classical Calvinism and Arminianism. Torrance writes:

It is this interweaving of natural processes and human agencies, of nature and rational intention, that gives history its complicated patterns. The course of events has often quite unforeseen results, for human acts may fail to achieve what would have been expected or may achieve far more than would or could have been anticipated. But in our interpretation of history we must never forget that in the heart of historical events there is free happening which bears the intention in which the true significance of history is to be discerned. Thus while we must appreciate fully the physical factors involved, we must penetrate into the movement of time in the actual happening in order to understand the event in the light of the intentionality and spontaneity embedded in it. The handling of temporal relation has proved very difficult and elusive in the history of thought, for it has so often been assimilated to logical relation and so transposed into something very different. The confusion of temporal with logical connection corresponds here to that between spontaneity and causal determinism in natural science. We can see this error recurring, for example, in notions of predestination where the free prius of the divine grace is converted by the scholastic mind into logico-causal relation, while the kind of time-relation with which we operate between natural events is imported into the movements of divine love and activity. It is a form of the same mistake that people make in regard to the resurrection, when they think of its happening only within the logico-causal nexus with which they operate in classical physics.[2]

In other words for the evangelical Calvinist, there are unseen, unknown contingencies built into the nature of things themselves that make it impossible to accurately infer a stable causal chain of events from the event back to the cause itself. The answer to this, in relation to knowledge of God, is to see the event and cause conjoined together in the person-act of Jesus himself. It is from this vantage point that we then are set up to know God, in Christ, but no longer as some sort of deterministic causal agent; but instead, as personal, triune Divine agent who apocalyptically breaks into the contingencies of history re-creating them towards their telos or created purpose in Christ (cf. Col. 1:13ff) — the resurrection, then, being the instantiation of this within time-space history. So we are forced to think from the mystery of God made flesh itself. What this does is to set up a whole other set of questions, ones that have to do with Godself and Christ revealed, rather than abstract speculative questions that cause thinkers to construct the types of theories of causation and metaphysics that we see funding classical Calvinist and Arminian theologies (among others).

I could share more, particularly with reference to how actualism works, at least in my style of evangelical Calvinism. But hopefully what has been shared will allow the reader to appreciate how at odds evangelical Calvinism is with its kissing cousins in the classical forms of Calvinism and Arminianism (and other so construed expressions of classical theistic theology). I know it is tempting for folks committed to the classical metaphysic to force evangelical Calvinists into their conceptual playground, but that’s just simply a dishonest requirement. We all work within and from self-referential coherentist constructs of thought, as such it is appropriate that we recognize that and then test the “coherence” of said frameworks from within the parameters of their own conceptual houses. Having said that, not all conceptual frameworks are equal; I contend that evangelical Calvinism has the capacity to think more responsibly from the implications and conceptual impositions of the Gospel itself, in contrast to what we find in the classical frameworks, which work from a prioris not necessarily related to the God of the Bible or the Gospelself.

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 158-61.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009, 249-50.

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Miscellanies on the Thomist Intellectualist Tradition and its Impact on Reformed Theology

westminster

Something that I don’t think most Reformed theologians, whether yet budding, or senior are all that concerned with or cognizant of is the role that their respective anthropology plays in their theological prolegomena. I would say that most if not almost all of North American (and Western) Protestant Reformed theologies are funded by thinkers who are committed, in one form or another, to what is called an intellectualist anthropology. The originator of this type of anthropology, for Christian theological consumption, is most prominently, Thomas Aquinas; indeed Norman Fiering, in his index of medievally derived anthropologies, calls Thomas’s anthropology Thomist intellectualist—which would be a general label for anyone who receives Thomas’s intellectualist anthropology after him, in one way or the other. Here is how Aquinas describes the centrality of the ‘intellect’ or reason as definitive for what it means to be human:

In the original integrated state of man reason controlled our lower powers perfectly and God perfected the reason subordinated to him. This state was lost to us by Adam’s sin, and the resulting lack of order among the powers of our soul that incline us to virtue we call a wounding of nature. Ignorance is a wound in reason’s response to truth, wickedness in will’s response to good; weakness wounds the response of our aggressive emotions to challenge and difficulty, and disordered desire our affections’ reasonable and balanced response to pleasure. All sins inflict these four wounds blunting reason’s practical sense, hardening the will against good, increasing the difficulty of acting well and inflaming desire.[1]

For Thomas, the intellect, in a faculty psychology, is the defining component of what it means to be human. As we can see from his Summa Thomas does not believe that, during the fall, the ‘intellect’ was touched[2], instead it is only the ‘disordered desire [of] our affections’ that corrupts the rest of our humanity; as such the mind/intellect becomes central to what it means to be human relative to God as ultimate mind/intellect and Creator.

Ron Frost develops this further, and the impact this type of intellectualist anthropology had on the theology/soteriology of Post Reformed orthodox theologian William Perkins:

… William Perkins was answering the question of how God reaches humanity—the relation of grace to nature—by reengaging Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth-century cooperative approach to salvation. Aquinas, with Aristotle, believed that morality is determined by the will, so that virtue is gained by making the virtuous choice. In its Christian expression the human will must be engaged in a saving choice to believe. But Aquinas also held, with Augustine, that the will is crippled by sin. Aquinas’s solution was to synthesize the moral axiom of Aristotle and Augustine’s axiom of disability: God places a newly created gift of grace in the souls of the elect that enables the will to operate once again. By this means of gracious enabling the will receives the necessary power to embrace salvation by an act of faith. This enabling “habit of grace” allows a person to make the saving decision, a decision God crowns with merit.

This cooperative scheme featured the human and divine wills working together, with the mind using the information offered by God. When the will has a set of operations set before it, its challenge is to overcome distracting affections. The greater power of the properly informed will, the greater its ability to defeat faulty passions. The act of believing is thus the premier work of the will, and is only accomplished by the prevenient enabling grace God provides.[3]

It is the mind/intellect that is given primacy in Perkins’s theological anthropology, and we can see (as reported by Frost) how this gets cashed out in Perkins’s soteriology.

Perkins was not alone, he was simply expressing what was common fare among the Post Reformation Protestant scholastic theology he was a part of during his period of history. Richard Muller speaks to the reality of this Thomist intellectualist tradition as he describes Arminius’s context as a theologian of his time:

The enlightenment of the intellect that draws man spiritually into final union with God leads to the “enlargement” of the will “from the inborn agreement of the will the intellect, and the analogy implanted in both, according to which the understanding extends itself to acts of volition, in the very proportion that it understands and knows.” Arminius, in summary, places himself fully into the intellectualist tradition.

What is more, Arminius’ argument for the priority of intellect in the final vision of God perfectly reproduces the classic intellectualist thesis of Thomas Aquinas. For Aquinas, intellect is higher or nobler than will inasmuch as the intellect does not merely address an object that is external to itself (as does the will) but, in addressing the object, also in some sense receives the object into itself and possesses in itself the form of the object. In the final vision of God, according to Aquinas, the soul has direct vision of the divine essence that is higher and nobler than the will’s love of God.

The juxtaposition of an intellectualist philosophical perspective with a practical orientation in Arminius’ theology represents, as noted earlier, a significant departure from the major medieval paradigms and a use of the scholastic past that is best characterized as eclectic. Praxis is, typically, associated with love and will, speculatio or contemplatio with intellect: the intellectualist model will, therefore, advocate a theology that is either primarily or utterly contemplative while the voluntarist model will define theology as primarily or utterly practical. Thus Aquinas assumes that theology is primarily contemplative whereas Scotus defines theology as practical. The Reformed tended toward a compromise that respect the balance of intellect and will but recognized the underlying soteriological issue as voluntaristic and, therefore, defined theology as both speculative and practical with emphasis on the practical….[4]

An Evangelical Calvinist Response

As we have just surveyed—I fear too fragementedly—what was predominate in Post Reformed orthodox theology was a mind/will centered anthropology that reflects (through an analogy of being) upon who God is conceived to be in this frame. The intellectualist tradition presumes that God as eternal ‘being’ implicates (as reflection as it were) what it means to be human being; and thus reasoning from the effect back to the cause, the intellectualist tradition believes that what it means to be God is someone who exists a se as a big intellect. This shapes the way classically Reformed (inclusive of Arminians) thinkers think of God, and it follows then that ‘feeling’ or ‘movement’ in God, which love presupposes upon, is simply an anthropopathism; in other words, love is not real, in an ontological sense. What defines God is something like an ultimate-Spock like being of existence, as such this God relates to humanity in a God-world relation in very impersonal ways (like through decrees).

The evangelical Calvinist after Barth and Torrance, on the other hand, does not think of God from within an intellectualist speculative tradition. Instead evangelical Calvinists along with Athanasius think it is better to think God, and as consequent, theological anthropology, from the eternal relation of Father-Son revealed by the Holy Spirit in Christ in the incarnation of the Son. As Athanasius famously asserts, “Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.” Evangelical Calvinists don’t attempt to think God from an analogy of being (analogia entis) in and from an abstract humanity; we think God from a center in God, in His Self-exegesis in the Son, Jesus Christ.

As we have illustrated in this post, if someone is committed to an intellectualist anthropology and tradition it gets cashed out in interesting ways; particularly with reference to how a thinker conceives of God, and how salvation is understood and given shape after that conception of God. As is the case in all instances, how God is conceived in the first order, will have subsequent and second order consequences for every other theological loci following.

I am afraid I have only started to pull on a whole bunch of threads all at once in this post, but I wanted to start pulling those threads so that maybe someone’s curiosity might be piqued to the point of doing further research themselves. I realize this post has a kind of palpable incoherence to it, but I am simply wanting to provide soundings for you as you come to realize that there are alternative traditions available to you, even in the Reformed world of thought.

What evangelical Calvinism does is to eschew thinking from a center within an abstract humanity; in other words we repudiate the idea that there is an analogy of being between God and humanity. There is no point of contact, then, between God and humanity from whence God can be conceived of apart from God’s own Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. If this is true, evangelical Calvinists have the advantage of the ground of all theological grammar, anthropology, and worship being the Triune life of God itself as ‘mediated’ to humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. We do not have to think God from a faculty psychology as the ground of being from whence we think God. We can eschew thinking God from the accidents and effects that we discover and observe in the created order[5], and instead think directly of God, mediated in the hidden-ness of God in the humanity of God enfleshed in Jesus Christ.

 

 

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Concise Translation, 270-71.

[2] This is an important point because it keeps it keeps the imago Dei intact, and an analogy of being can be interconnected between God’s being (who is ultimate intellect) and human being (who is penultimate intellect).

[3] Ronald N. Frost, “The Bruised Reed: By Richard Sibbes (1577–1635),” in The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, eds. Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 88-9.

[4] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 78-9.

[5] See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 7.: “. . . the proposition that “God exists” is self evident in itself, for, as we shall see later, its subject and predicate are identical, since God is his own existence. But, because what it is to be God is not evident to us, the proposition is not self-evident to us, and needs to be made evident. This is done by means of things which, though less evident in themselves, are nevertheless more evident to us, by means, namely of God’s effects.”

Karl Barth, I wonder if Jacobus Arminius would have been interested? A Proposal.

arminiusprintBoth of these quotes are going to be significant for some research I intend on doing in the very near future; significant towards a proposal I will be submitting some down the line. A proposal that will have to do with Karl Barth and Jacobus Arminius. (I will get into what I am talking about, as far as a proposal after it has been submitted, and the conclusion to it reached). Here is Karl Barth:

…the perfection of God’s giving of himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ consists in the fact that far from merely playing with man, far from merely moving or using him, far from dealing with him as an object, this self giving sets man up as a subject, awakens him to genuine individuality and autonomy, frees him, makes him a king, so that in his rule the kingly rule of God himself attains form and revelation. How can there be any possible rivalry here, let alone usurpation? How can there be any conflict between theonomy and autonomy? How can God be jealous or man self assertive? (CD I I/2, p. 179)

And,

Genuine freedom as it is realized in Jesus is not a freedom from God but a freedom for God (and, with that, a freedom for other human beings). ‘ To the creature God determined, therefore, to give an individuality an autonomy, not that these gifts should be possessed outside Him, let alone against Him, but for him and within his kingdom; not in rivalry with his sovereignty but for its confirming and glorifying’ (CD I I/2, p. 178).

Be Quiet! Move Slowly! Arminius is not ‘semi-Pelagian’! Take More Time!

arminiusprintWell, I have just received word from an Arminius scholar (not Roger Olson) that my recent post on Arminius is very under-informed, and that my conclusions about Arminius being somewhat (if not full-blown) semi-Pelagian are, well, under-informed (or just not the case). I was told that I should be more cautious before basically wading into waters that I don’t yet understand. I can appreciate that, coming from the scholar it is coming from. But I am not at all convinced, yet, that my conclusions about Arminius are totally aloof (if at all!). It is true that this is a blog (which is part of the point, I’d like to add!), and so the thoughts communicated here are BLOGGY. Even though they are just bloggy, I agree, that does not mean I am not responsible for what I write; but the readerly expectations of this genre should be such that this is a blog. It is where I throw out thoughts (not usually argue them). It is where I think out loud with the rest of you. I suppose the irony, to me, of this scholar contacting me, and telling me to be more careful and slow in regard to my reading of Arminius, is that this whole discussion about Arminius happened because I posted something about him on my blog. And, for me, this is the way that I use blogging. I don’t have an actual physical location, or a network of physical bodies around me to go to the coffee shop with and talk out my theology; that’s what this space is for. So actually, if anything, I am only more encouraged to continue to place my raw thinking out in the ‘sphere’ if in fact it results in having certain scholars contacting me, and telling me to cool it. As long as they give me constructive feedback on why they think I should “cool it;” then for me, taking the risk of coming off looking wet behind the ears is worth it. And as of yet, based on what I read directly from Arminius, I am not persuaded that my conclusions were totally unfounded or wrong. I I have more time, I will engage with a few more passages from Arminius; ones that will illustrate further why concluded that Arminius was semi-Pelagian. As my interlocutor informed me, my conclusion in this regard is an old and tired reading of Arminius; and I realize it is the common charge and reading of Arminius (especially from the “Reformed” side of things). But, again, as I read Arminius directly, it is totally obvious that he endorsed a cooperative model of salvation; and there are only finite theological frameworks and grammar, in his scholastic period especially, that can fund that type of model of salvation—and as far as I am concerned, that takes us to a very semi-Pelagian/Augustinian locus. 

I am not done with Arminius. You will hear more about him in the days to come right here at my blog.

Jacobus Arminius, The Theologian of Law: Miscellanies on Moralism and the Priority of Justice

There is so much I would like to communicate through this post; Jacobus Arminius is just that kind of rascal! Unfortunately, because of space limitations and blog attention span disorder, I will have to delimit myself to the
arminiusbare minimum of what I would really like to cover in regard to Arminius’ conception of duplex amore Dei (i.e. God’s ‘twofold love’), and how that is taken captive by a ‘Legal theology’ of the sort that I would think ought to heal any Arminian of being Arminian (if they actually followed the actual teachings of Arminius–which I don’t think most know). I am really having a hard time knowing how to whittle this down, much of what I am going to provide will just be straight quotation of Arminius from his Declaration of Sentiments, and then maybe some commentary from his translator W. Stephen Gunter.

We will jump into the discussion that involves Arminius Legal Theology. I will quote Gunter’s lead into Arminius, and then we will hear directly from Arminius.

[P]oint nineteen is a tightly woven sustained argument exhibiting a fine example of Arminius’ scholastic inclinations. He starts where his opponents start, with Legal Theology in the pre-fall situation, logically irrespective of Christ’s saving work. God is characterized by justice, which produces a hatred for sin, and God is characterized by his “love for humanity” as creatures endowed with reason…. At this juncture he invokes Hebrews 11:6, because in Arminius’ theological dialectic, election is God’s free decision to save those who by grace come seeking and believing: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Regardless of where one encounters the doctrine of election in Arminius, one finds also the dimensions of uncoerced, non-necessitated freedom. It is important to keep this in mind, even as we see how Arminius weaves his notion of the duplex amor Dei:

[Here is Arminius]A mutuality exists between those two kinds of love. The love that God extends to humanity cannot come into play unless it is permitted by God’s love of justice. This implies that God’s love for justice is the more excellent of the two; however, love for the creature abounds, except where the love of justice would prohibit its expression. The consequence of this is demonstrated by God’s condemning humanity on account of sin. God clearly demonstrates this love relationship in the original created order; however, this does not imply that God’s love for the creature supersedes his love for justice. Had this been the case, God would have manifested a stronger aversion to the eternal misery of the creature than to the creature’s disobedience. The abundant place for divine love is clear because God condemns no person for any reason other than sin, and God saves the multitudes of humanity who are converted from sin. In the divine dispensation, this salvation would not be possible unless it was God’s will to allow an abundant scope for his love toward the creature under God’s judgment, to the extent this is permitted by his justice (p. 124).[1]

For Arminius, then, God loves His justice more than He loves creation. The consequent of this is that for Arminius, God’s own life is shaped and given co-inherence through a relation of Law and Justice; and thus not a conception of God as Triune, ‘personal’, self-giving love. Love of Law precedes Love (of people) and Grace in the theology of Jacobus Arminius, and this is played out–in my view–in the most heinous of ways as it relates to God’s love for humanity.

As an aside [I don’t have the time to get into this here], Arminius intentionally operates with a subordinationist conception of the Divine Monarchia (or God-head); which makes perfect sense, given His ‘Legal Theology’, and thus the priority of Law being met prior to Love being given (so in order for this to happen, Jesus, then must become the ‘instrument’ by which God’s [the ‘Father’s] ‘Just’ requirements are met, prior to Love being given. So Law is always the orienting pole of salvation, and then the subsequent Love for the sinner. Law becomes the control that leverages the continued obedience of the sinner, and thus salvation and relationship with God continues to be shaped by God’s ontological character as a Lover of Justice, more than a Lover of the Person. Note Arminius:

[…] This prioritizing of justice is the only adequate protection against carelessness. At the same time, the foundation for the latter kind of faith, one that dares to believe that God will undoubtedly reward those who diligently seek Him, is that great love for humanity which neither can nor will prevent God from effecting salvation for the sinner—unless God be hindered by his greater love for justice…. God’s twofold love, and the mutuality that each part bears toward the other, serve together to form the foundation of religion, without which no true religion can possibly exist. Any doctrine, therefore that is in open hostility to this twofold love and to the relationship that mutually exists between them, subverts the foundation of all religion. (pp. 126-28)[2]

Okay, so this aside has gotten a little out of control. What this illustrates, though, is the utter contingence that God’s own life and then subsequent relation to His creation has on Law/Justice (and the voluntarism therein). Beyond that, what this also demonstrates is that Arminius suffered from a terrible case of, at least, semi-Pelagianism. As corollary with Arminius’ conception of God’s love of justice as primary, this becomes the rule by which humanity sustains their salvation, and it becomes the motivation for personal holiness; fear of damnation. So Arminius, in good Pelagian form has constructed a soteriology that is a principled moralism; one that starts in God’s life and works all the way down to ours, and back up to God’s again.

There is much more to say, but let me end by quoting Arminius’ final summarization of his view of predestination and election; the final summation that he gives to his opponents and detractors in his Declaration of Sentiments (which represents Arminius’ mature and final statements on his positions). Here is Arminius, and with this we end:

  1. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest, and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

  2. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith. Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

  3. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

  4. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its own foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere.[3]

It is fitting that Arminius ends his summary with an article (IV) grounded and framed by keeping the conditions of the Law, meeting God’s standard and definitive form as Lover of Justice more than Lover of People.

Roger Olson (contemporary evangelical Arminian theologian, par excellence), has written more than once (online and elsewhere), that most Arminians nowadays are nothing more than semi-Pelagian; he communicates this with the triumphalism that if Arminians today really followed and knew what Jacobus Arminius actually taught, they would cease all  semi-Pelagian activity, and become ‘orthodox’. Really?

[T]here is nothing in that reasoning of Calvin that I cannot heartily approve, if all things (in it) are rightly understood. For I confess that the grace by which the Holy Spirit is given, is not common to all men; I also confess that the origin [fontem: source, principal cause] of faith can be said to be gratuitous election of God, but it is election to bestow faith, not to communicate salvation. For a believer is elected to participate in salvation, a sinner is elected to faith. ~Jacobus Arminius[4]


[1] W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 176-77.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] Works, 1:747 cited by Gunter, p. 181.

Jacobus Arminius’ Twenty Theses on Predestination [In His Own Words]

This is a follow up post to the recent post I just put up that shared Jacobus Arminius’ view of Predestination (in contrast to his interlocutors, or more, examiners whom today we would know as classical or Westminster Calvinists; you can read that post (if you haven’t already) hereThe content of this post shares once again from Arminius; these are the twenty points and implications that Arminius shared (from his Declaration of Sentiments) immediately following the four points on predestination I shared from him in that last post. So here are the positive (and negative) implications that Arminius thinks flows from his view on predestination:

arminiusprint[T]his doctrine of predestination declares:

1. The foundation of all Christianity, both with regard to salvation and to the certainty of salvation.

2. The essence of the Evangel. Indeed, it declares the Gospel itself, which must be believed for salvation (as far as the two articles above are concerned).

3. Because predestination is a clear and explicit Scriptural teaching, it has never been examined by a general or particular Council of the Church, nor has it ever been contradicted by any orthodox divine.

4. Predestination has been consistently acknowledged and taught by all well-informed teachers.

5. Predestination is consistent with the harmony of all the confessions of faith made by the Protestant churches.

6. The Dutch Confession and [Heidelberg] Catechism are of one accord on this doctrine. This agreement is such that if in the sixteenth article of the Confession the two expressions “those persons who” and “others’ be interpreted as “believers” and “unbelievers,” my position on predestination will be comprehended in that article with the utmost clarity. For this reason, when I held a public disputation at the university, I required that the article of faith under consideration be composed in the exact words of the Confession. When compared, it is evident that there is a complete harmony with the [Heidelberg] Catechism, specifically questions 20 and 54.

7. Interpreted in this manner, predestination is in full harmony with the nature of God—his wisdom, goodness, and justice, because it enshrines their primary content in the clearest possible witness to God’s wisdom, goodness, and justice.

8. This predestination is in harmony with the nature of humanity at every level—in the primitive state of creation, in its fallen state, as well as in its restoration.

9. It is in complete accord with the act of creation. It affirms that creation is a genuine communication of goodness, both with regard to the intention of God as well as with regard to the actual creative act. Predestination has its origin in the goodness of God, so that whatever has reference to its being fully preserved and carried out proceeds from divine love. The act of creation is itself a perfect and appropriate divine act in which God is well pleased and through which humanity has received the requisite means to avoid falling into sin.

10. This predestination is in accord with the nature of eternal life and all the Scriptural nomenclature by which it is designated.

11. It also agrees with the nature of eternal death and all the names by which that death is described in Scripture.

12. This predestination underscores that sin is actual disobedience and therefore the meritorious cause of condemnation. For this reason predestination must be understood in the context of the fall and sin. [Jacobus Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, trans. by W. Stephen Gunter, 137.]

Okay, so this is twelve of the twenty theses. Let me provide the remaining eight later.

I think one thing (of many) that stands out to me from Arminius’ view of predestination is how he explicitly ties it into creation. This is different from the way that us Evangelical Calvinists articulate this. We believe that Pre-destination finds its primary referent in the life of God, in particular, in God’s elected life for us in Jesus Christ; and we see, as corollary of this, election as Pre-destination’s outworking in and through the history of redemption. Arminius’ view falls prey to collapsing God’s life into the creation in a way that ultimately presents a fissure between the Father and the Son. When the Son becomes flesh (incarnate), he begins to play out the purposes that Arminius believes are for a humanity that is abstracted out from the life of God; once Jesus enters into this situation (of predestination), he simply becomes (adopts) a humanity (like ours) that is given shape by this decree of election/reprobation. And which ultimately has nothing to do with God’s Self-determinate life. Jesus becomes a creature, and subordinated from God’s life as the means or instrument through which God saves the elect; but He ceases to have a necessary bearing on the shape of God’s life.

Jacobus Arminius’ View of Predestination [In His Own Words], and Some Commentary by Me

Here are Jacobus Arminius’ own words on how he conceived of a doctrine of predestination; this is following a lengthy argument, made by him before his ecclesial examiners against double predestination (and against both
supra and infra lapsarianism):

arminian1

I. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

II. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith.  Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

III. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

IV. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere. [Jacobus Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, trans. by W. Stephen Gunter, 135.]

Arminius immediately follows these points up with twenty implications of these theses; which I will have to share at a later time. Suffice it to say, it becomes quickly clear that Arminius was just as much a son of his time as any of us are. He is using the same kind of formal and material methodological and conceptual matter that his antagonists have available to them, in other words he is a classical theist who is also a conceptually formed scholastic. In other words, Arminius and his detractors are really not all that far a part.

It should be noticed, that Arminius offers these points after he has just offered direct argument against both supralapsarian and infralapsarian positions; declaring that in both situations, God is still seen as the decreer and antecedent cause of evil (even the infralapsarian position). Thus, Arminius, argued, creation was not ultimately created as ‘good’, but as evil, since it was the theater intended for God to cause evil that his justice might be displayed (he also makes an argument from God’s love of  justice juxtaposed with God’s love of humanity).

So for Arminius, he believes that the supra/infralapsarian positions (the now Westminster Calvinist positions) both stumble over themselves because he thinks that God has caused salvation (antecedent or previous to) the ‘fall’ and sin. And thus repentance, justification, the incarnation, etc. become arbitrary middle terms that aren’t really necessary for salvation for the elect to be accomplished. In other words, Arminius’ point of attack focuses on the Calvinist position offering a ‘metaphysical’ salvation far away that does not really need the ‘physical’ (like the historical fall, etc.) in order to become reality. So Arminius is trying to offer a conception, in contrast to this, that offers a view of salvation that is (dare I say) actualistic and concretely particularized and realized in the ontology of the world, and within the parameters of salvation or redemptive history (i.e. not all predetermined back up in the absolute decrees of God somewhere in eternity).

Out of time, more to say, but this should do for now.

Jacobus Arminius’ Argument Against Supralapsarian Double Election From Creation

Here is one of many ways that Jacobus Arminius sought to undercut the supralapsarian double election teaching of some of the Calvinists of his day (and it should be noted that Arminius was of their number, ecclesially). This is Arminius finally offering his self-defense of his views on such things, which up until now had only been caricatured by his detractors as they made inferences from what some of Arminius’ students taught and preached from arminiustheir respective pulpits in Holland. Here is Arminius in his Declaration of Sentiments:

IX. This Predestination Is Diametrically Opposed to the Act of Creation

1. By virtue of its intrinsic nature, creation is a communication of that which is good; however, creation is not a communication of good when its purposive intent and design is set up to attain a predetermined reprobation. That which is good may be judged and determined to be good according to the mind and intention of the donor and according to the goal or purpose for which it is bestowed. In this instance, the intention of the donor would have to been to damn, an act that could only affect created beings, and the goal of the creative act was the eternal damnation of those beings. In which case, creation was not a communication of any good, but rather a preparation for the greatest evil—according to the very intention of the creator and the actual result of the event as designed. For such an event, the words of Christ are appropriate: “It would have been better for that one not to have been born” [Matt 26:24]. [W. Stephen Gunter, translator, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, 116.]

This is representative of one of many arguments and articles that make up this particular article on predestination and creation. Arminius is offering a series of arguments from different angles that seek to undercut supralpsarian double election teaching. You can see how his argument is very scholastic, syllogistic, and succinct—Arminius was no dummy!

What do you think about Arminius’ argument against double election from creation? Do you think his major premise, i.e. that creation is a communication of that which is good …, is the best way to argue against this doctrine (if you are so inclined to in fact argue)? And what does this reveal about Arminius’ own theological orientation, relative to his methodology? I mean, what does making a primary argument from creation say about Arminius’ chosen theological methodology? [Hint: It is something I have argued against more than once, and as a theme of my blogging against classic Calvinism]

One thing is for sure, though; to read Arminius, directly, throws him into a light that really overshadows what has become known as Arminianism today. Arminius was really more of a Calvinist than anything else (methodologically, conceptually, and so forth). He moved and breathed within that context (the Calvinist or Reformed one), and he sought to work with the same material datum that his opponents worked with; that is, working from an Aristotelian based metaphysics and conception of reality (or now known as classical Theism today). This is why I usually lump classical Arminians in with classical Calvinists; their approaches aren’t dissimilar at the material principled level (de jure), but instead, their disparity comes at the level of chosen emphases and referent. They both work from a conception of God that is heavily decretal (a God who works through a set of predetermined decrees).