Five Points of Arminianism?

| | Comments (21)

Jollyblogger is doing a series on the five points of Calvinism. It's excellent so far. It starts here. Part 5 has just appeared, and he finally gets to the first of the five points! I'll probably have more to say about the series when it's done, but you can check out what's there so far.

One commenter linked to the five points the Remonstrants (Arminians) came up with that spurred Calvinists to make their five points explicit. I was expecting a flat-out contradiction of each of the five points, but I'd never read the Remonstrants' five points before, and it isn't that at all. Unless I'm missing something in my reading of them, almost everything they say is fully consistent with a healthy Calvinism! Read on for why I think this.

The first point is fully consistent with all but the most hyper hyper-Calvinists, i.e. heretics who consider being elect unrelated to whether someone has a life reflecting the grace of God and persevering to the end. Calvinists rightly insist on everything in this point. I don't think I need to say more on this unless someone challenges me on it.

The second point, I believe, is fully consistent with a healthy limited atonement view, which I've tried to explain carefully here. I'll defer to my prior post on this and say no more.

Point 3 seems to be a statement of total depravity, which is the first of the five points of Calvinism. This one was easy.

Point 4 states a consequence of total depravity and the logical implication that God's grace is necessary for any human good work, including the work of believing in Christ. So far this sounds like what Calvinists say all the time. Then, so as not to be understood to mean something too strong, the last statement denies what some have crudely misunderstood irresistible grace to be, i.e. that no one can even for a time show signs of being resistant to God's grace. This point says nothing about ultimate resistance, just that there are cases when people do in fact resist God's grace, which seems obvious from the language of the scriptures. Calvinists better not deny that Acts teaches that some resist the Holy Spirit in some sense. Since no specific sense is specified, I see no reason to think this contradicts what the Reformers meant when they talked about our inability to resist.

The fifth point says that they need to think more about whether they believe in perseverance of the saints, which means they're pretending they have no view (or pretending that some of them have one view and some the other). That isn't a denial of anything Calvinists believe, of course, but it leaves it open. Unfortunately for them, they can't say this, because they already assumed that only those who will persevere are the elect. This is in point 1. So they have endorsed perseverance of the saints after all. This is the one element that the five points explicitly deny, but point 5 of TULIP denies this by asserting a view that's officially possible here (ignoring the fact that point 1 already said that this view is not just possible but true).

Given that the most objectionable thing to a Calvinist is something they only consider (after having already denied it above), I just don't see why these points could have been so objectionable to Calvinists that they needed a whole council to establish their own five points in response. After all this, it just seems to me that those who felt compelled to respond to this were pretty stupid compared to the Reformers they followed, who probably would have agree with almost everything I've just written.

21 Comments

Did you read the Opinions that went along with the articles? I don't know all the history, but I think that the reason they felt the need for the council was because of what the Arminian ministers were preaching - they didn't feel it lined up with Scripture. They were asked to come to the Synod with written statements of what they believed and they came with the articles and the opinions.

I hadn't read those.

The first seems to me to be barely consistent with Calvinism. I can hear an Arminian today saying this and meaning it one way, but I can also hear it as saying that God considers how he will predestine someone's whole life rather than predestining to salvation and then not worrying about whether they follow him. It's always with a mind to their becoming a Christian that anyone is predestined. The one hesitation I have of taking this point this way is the word 'preceding'. I don't know what that word is supposed to mean, but I can't imagine what it's supposed to mean according to modern Arminianism either. It's not as if Arminians think people first do good things and then God allows them to become Christians. That's what everyone in the Reformation was opposing, and this was supposed to be an in-house dispute among those who agreed on that. They wouldn't out-and-out say something that contradicted that stance.

In the second point, I don't know what "not a descree of the end absolutely intended" means. It might mean God doesn't intend the salvation or reprobation of any individual as of utmost importance in his hierarchy of goals. It might be logically lower on the list, in other words. I also don't know what "subordinated to that same decree" means. It might mean necessitated by that decree, i.e. God doesn't have to foreordain one particular path to the goal to foreordain the goal. A Calvinist can say this. A Calvinist doesn't usually but can say that God will guarantee the person's salvation but will allow different paths to that salvation as long as the end is guaranteed. I don't believe that's true myself, but I believe it's consistent with Calvinism, which is a doctrine about God's sovereignty in salvation, not a doctrine about God's determination of every single event in history.

I think point three is a confusion about what Calvinists believe. They're assuming Calvinists think the only reason someone is saved is election and that there aren't primary and secondary causes, the causes through which God works. It's possible they're just saying that there are these causes through which God works and then concluding that God isn't really the direct cause. The way they word it is unfortunate if that's what they mean, but I could imagine an uncareful person holding that view saying it that way.

4 just says that sin is what prevents people from believing. Calvinists believe that.

5 states something a healthy limited atonement view should heartily accept. Then it concludes that such a view requires rejecting limited atonement. That's just an error in logic, one Calvinists make just as often (or perhaps more often). It's not something worth holding a conference over and declaring the people who say it heretics.

6 seems to me to be affirming human roles in whether they are rejected or receive the Spirit. That seems to me to be what a decree not being absolute means, given the clarifying statement. God's decree isn't absolute in that it works through human means. Calvinists believe that.

I need to go now, so I'll have to return to this later, but it's not looking so far as if it's obvious that these things are all that problematic for Calvinists. I haven't read the rest yet, though.

I just don't see why these points could have been so objectionable to Calvinists that they needed a whole council to establish their own five points in response.

Of course, those who responded understood the points of the Remonstrants in the context of the whole teaching of the Remonstrants, so they understood what was behind each of those points.

The first point is really a denial of unconditional election. Here is the first part of it, without the extra phrases:

That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose .... hath determined....to save .... those who.... shall believe...

God's decree in this statement is general--an open ended ruling only. God determined that he would save all those who believed--which is true enough--but underneath it all is a denial that God determined to save certain sinners, whom he would bring to faith. It's the indefinite nature of the decree that the Synod of Dordt rejects.

In the Remonstrants' statement, it is a person's belief that puts them in the group of people God determined to save, whereas in the statement of Synod of Dordt, God chose to salvation "a definite number of particular people", whom he would bring to faith.

Superficially, it seems like a small difference, but it's a small hole that a truck could drive through.

And when the Remonstrants say "through the grace of the Holy Ghost", it's important to understand that this is what we call "prevenient grace" --a sort of equal for everyone work of the Holy Spirit, which--according to the Remonstrants--gives everyone the ability to believe, but some (actually, most!) chose to reject that grace.

Anyway, if I remember my history right, it's not really accurate to say that the Calvinists convened a whole council to establish their own five points in response. The remonstrants wanted their articles to be adopted by the church. The church declined to adopt them and drew up the five points in clarification, really, of why they rejected them.

I don't have time to read through all the five points right now, but if I remember right, they are all indefinite only, and this is what was objected to.

Jeremy--I haven't read all the opinions yet (Greek test on friday prevents me :), but I want to take issue with your interpretation of Article 1.

To my mind, it argues that God elects, before all time, a group of people. Yet, he does not elect the particular persons that will fall into that group. He elects "all those who believe." Then, it will presumably be a matter up to each individual person whether or not he will make that description true of himself. Hence, this is a denial of Unconditional Election. Election, according to Arcticle One, has the condition of belief.

Hey, Rebecca--JINX!!!

And ditto the prevenient grace part, too.

Ha David!

Here's a quote from the Rejection of Errors portion of the first point of Dordt, which shows, I think, that those who drew up Dordt interpreted that first point of the Remonstrants similarly to what David and I did:

Rejection of the Errors by Which the Dutch Churches Have for Some Time Been Disturbed

Having set forth the orthodox teaching concerning election and reprobation, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

Who teach that the will of God to save those who would believe and persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith is the whole and entire decision of election to salvation, and that nothing else concerning this decision has been revealed in God's Word.

For they deceive the simple and plainly contradict Holy Scripture in its testimony that God does not only wish to save those who would believe, but that he has also from eternity chosen certain particular people to whom, rather than to others, he would within time grant faith in Christ and perseverance. As Scripture says, I have revealed your name to those whom you gave me (John 17:6). Likewise, All who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48), and He chose us before the foundation of the world so that we should be holy... (Eph. 1:4).

So I think that it's the incompleteness of the Remonstrants statement that is being rejected. They see, I think, that where it's incomplete, it's rejection of certain truths purposefully left out.

And if you look at the rejections of errors in the Dordt statement, you should be able to find out what they objected to on every point--in most cases I think it's that the statement is indefinite only.

I need to correct something I wrote:

And when the Remonstrants say "through the grace of the Holy Ghost", it's important to understand that this is what we call "prevenient grace" --a sort of equal for everyone work of the Holy Spirit, which--according to the Remonstrants--gives everyone the ability to believe, but some (actually, most!) chose to reject that grace.

"Everyone" should be "everyone who hears the word".

In the Remonstrants' statement, it is a person's belief that puts them in the group of people God determined to save, whereas in the statement of Synod of Dordt, God chose to salvation "a definite number of particular people", whom he would bring to faith.

Whereas a more careful Calvinist asserts both wholeheartedly.

I don't have time to read through all the five points right now, but if I remember right, they are all indefinite only, and this is what was objected to.

Except for the limited atonement one, which states something true and then falsely says a false thing follows, there's no language in the five points that precludes the view that there is both a definite and an indefinite aspect to God's offer of salvation and the possibility of the unelect receiving that salvation. I just don't see it there. That may have been behind what they meant, but I'm talking about the words themselves.

On electing all who believe, my point is that the language is ambiguous. It can mean electing whoever turns out to believe without considering who that will be, but it can also mean simply electing those who will believe, choosing them specifically to believe. The difference between the two is only of logical ordering anyway and doesn't amount to Arminianism vs. Calvinism but rather Amyrauldism vs. Calvinism, but my main point was that you can read this either way, and therefore Calvinists shouldn't object to the way it's worded except that it's not a complete statement of what the Bible says. As such, I'm not even sure (because I don't know the history) that these people wanted to offer up doctrines as opposed to Calvinism except what they saw as extremes (most of which I also see as extremes except the limited atonement bit) and just wanted to move toward something many of them on both sides could agree on.

7 seems to me to be closer to violating what some people mean by unconditional election. Perhaps this is what some of the comments above were getting at. I don't think the kind of unconditional election this violates is biblical. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that our salvation is dependent on our belief, our continuance in our faith, and in our perseverance to the end. There's absolutely no question about that, and I've previously argued that this is perfectly consistent with a Calvinistic view of perseverance of the saints, which I don't want to rehash now except to say that the biblically justified view behind unconditional election isn't that there are no conditions for election. If someone will not believe, that person will not be elected. It's that there are no conditions that earn election. I'm just not sure if this language on #7 requires rejecting the Calvinist view here but just, as many of the things above, only tells half the story. The same is true of #8.

9 and 10 are something a lot of Calvinists believe that I think has virtually no biblical support, but it's not a matter of heresy either. It's certainly not a rejection of Calvinism.

Those were all under A, clarifying point 1 of the five points. For B, the term 'pay for' and other terms are sufficiently ambiguous as to be unclear whether it's in violation of limited atonement or whether it's just the caveat that anyone expressing the point of limited atonement should almost always make to make it clear that there isn't also the potential and universal sense of the atonement that the Bible clearly talks about in many places and that Calvinists ignore too often to make their system fit together the way they want it to.

The fourth point makes the same error I've already acknowledged with misunderstanding limited atonement. Without that, they would not say anything problematic in here. The most worrisome issue here for me is the covenant stuff. They say there's a general offer to all, which is true. They consider that the covenant, which makes it parallel to the covenant with all that Paul basically assumes when talking about the Gentile in the first few chapters of Romans. For that reason I don't consider this heresy, especially because the covenant language doesn't come up much in the New Testament when it could be made more explicit that only believers are in the new covenant under that language. I'm not sure anywhere says that. It may also be that there is a new covenant with everyone in the universal and potential sense of the offer in addition to the new covenant with believers. I don't see that as heresy. So I'm still not moved to see any of this as extremely bad. Again, I have to stop for now, so I'll come to C and D later.

For C, 1-2 and 4 seem totally unobjectionable.

3 just says that God's grace works through our own desires, actions, etc.

It isn't until C 5 that we finally have a statement that actually explicitly denies irresistible grace in its reasonable form. It calls it effectual and then basically says it's not always effectual. It strikes me as an odd view, though. How can it be that God causes someone to believe who doesn't believe? This has nothing to do ith God or believe. It's about causation. If X causes Y, then Y happens. That's what causing something means. The only thing I can think of is that God is causing it to be generally the case that some among man believe and yet some men do not believe through resistance. If so, then this might be just indefinite and universal language and thus not false but just incomplete. If you only mean by 'election' that there's a general call in the way the word 'call' is used in the Synoptic gospels as opposed to the more specific call in Paul, then this way of putting it could be just an explanation of how it's still someone's fault for not believing.

The wording for 6 is crucial. Its "or is ready to confer" makes all the difference, and it shows that they do not think God's grace is bestowed upon those who will not believe in the same way it is upon those who will. Then it's just saying that sufficient grace is available to all, just that not all avail themselves of it. That's entirely consistent with the Calvinist's view and in fact guaranteed by scriptural statements that anyone who repents and believes will be saved, which is as true of the reprobate as it is of the elect.

7 is about our thwarting God's will and is not about salvation and thus on one reading goes back to the view that a Calvinist could but probably doesn't have, i.e. that not every event is predetermined as long as the salvation events are. Another reading of this consistent with Calvinism is to remember that potentiality terms (able, can, possible) and terms about God's will are ambiguous between God's providential will, according to which if something is willed it happens, and God's moral will, according to which if something is wrong it's not in God's will. On the second reading, this point is something Calvinists should believe.

8 seems ok, with the general meaning of 'call' and the reminder that limited atonement does not mean that there's no sense in which the atonement is potential and thus the call serious. You can't read the language in Ezekiel 18 and 33 as not serious, and the context is fairly clear that this is talking about Israel who will die, with God wondering why they insist on dying when they really don't have to if they repent.

9 is a clear denial of the view I've been saying is consistent with most of this. There's no way around that except that they start using 'properly named' as a modifier for 'the will of God', which means they're disagreeing about whether the term 'will of God' applies when dealing with God's sovereign will. That's now a semantic dispute and probably not grounds for heresy. It's still a disagreement with Calvinism, but even so it doesn't mean I'm wrong that most of the language in this document is relatively unproblematic. I believe 10 denies Calvinism in some way also, so that's in the same category, one of the more rare statements to be flatly contradictory of Calvinist beliefs.

Some of what 11 is saying can be justified by Romans 9 in that the verb for what God does with the elect is active voice and the very for what God does with the reprobate is middle voice. The stuff about ability is clearly doing the same thing that I already explained can be fine if a certain sense of 'able' is meant. The rest of it denies the same thing #9 denies on the more straightforward reading.

12 has the same issues in redefining 'the will of God' to exclude providential will, not that they believe God's foreknowledge limits what God can do given his prediction of what other things would happen, so the metaphysics may or may not be the same even with the language restriction. It has involves the issues of God impelling anyone to do anything, which Calvinists think does not normally happen. God's election is not one that we would accurately call compelling or impelling if we're sticking to what the word normally means.

For D, 1-2 and 7 seem fine. 3-5 deny what they explicitly say in the first set of five points, which was part of my original basis for saying there was little that's problematic here. There they said quite clearly that they won't take a stance on this issue even though in an earlier point they'd agreed with Calvinists on it. Here they contradict that earlier agreement and their claim that they have no view. I don't understand what's going on here, but this just shows that they've now contradicted what originally most won me over to thinking there wasn't that much in the first set of points that was a problem worth calling heresy. 5 even denies an explicit statement in Hebrews that's usually used as a justification for Arminian views on risky perseverance, which is odd. Much in 6 is bad for the same reason. Most of 8 is great but the main point it all leads up to is highly objectionable.

So at the end of all of this it seems their clarification shows that, in a few places, the Remonstrants meant something that does conflict with Calvinism. This is particularly true when it comes to perseverance of the saints, though that's only clear by the very end of the second document. Limited atonement is the only issue that clearly appeared in the first five points, and it seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding many Calvinists have about limited atonement. Irresistible grace is once denied flatly. I have trouble seeing any of this as worthy of the heresy charge, and the vast majority of the language is at worst incomplete and in places misleading. I do think many places the intention was more strongly opposed to what people could easily take it to mean, and that's why I thought the reaction to the five points was too strong. So I stand by my claim about the original five points and think much of this longer statement is similar.

"my point is that the language is ambiguous"

I think your point points to the point of Arminianism. Remonstrants such as Episcopius carefully chose language that embraced a broader diversity of opinion, than their opponents. They postured themselves as the party of moderation, who sought to swing the Reformed back away from the extremes of philosophical rigorism promoted by men like Gomarus (as they characterized it).

The Remonstrants used intentionally ambiguous language because they believed that this kind of doctrinal restraint is a virtue. They argued then, as they argue now, that quality of life is what counts, not assent to dogma.

The Remonstrants used intentionally ambiguous language because they believed that this kind of doctrinal restraint is a virtue

Isn't that what all the creeds did? I would have thought that moderation is a virtue when it comes to matters that shouldn't divide, as this is. Instead, the Reformers called this heresy, themselves placing a theological system much but not all of which can be derived from scripture using plausible but not absolutely certain principles, thus to at least a small degree raising the doctrines of men above the word of God. When stating your theological views, this is fine. When teaching the scriptures, this is fine and even necessary. When stating a creed for the sake of ruling something else as heresy, this is way over the top.

I would have thought that moderation is a virtue when it comes to matters that shouldn't divide, as this is.

It's not the orthodoxy which the liberal party was anxious to assert, that caused the problem; but, what they were unwilling to affirm, concerning which they began their objections in the first place. And, their criticisms of the established teaching were less moderate than their positively stated views.

Besides, the issue was entangled in the political crisis of the time, so that the decision to follow one party or the other was practically unavoidable.

Anyway, I agree with you that the points of the Remonstrance are not stated in such a way that they immediately raise any red flags. It's only in the context of the controversy that the significance begins to appear (which is why the Canons of Dort are more informative than the Remonstrance is).

Anyway, I agree with you that the points of the Remonstrance are not stated in such a way that they immediately raise any red flags. It's only in the context of the controversy that the significance begins to appear (which is why the Canons of Dort are more informative than the Remonstrance is).

I'll second this. Read the Canons of Dordt and you begin to see the particular teachings that Dordt was drawn up to oppose. Those who drew up Dordt understood the specific controversies behind the particular statements of the Remonstrants.

It's sort of like an open theist putting forward a statement like "God knows everything there is to know" and wanting the church to adopt that in some sort of official statement. There's nothing wrong with that statement, but you and I know exactly what the open theist means by that, and we might want to tighten things up a bit before we'd sign on the dotted line.

Similar to that, I think that a lot of Dort is a tightening up of the particular wording of the Remonstrants, so as to disallow the various false teachings being bandied about that could happily coexist with the Articles of the Remonstrants.

Anyway, read Dordt.

I do think it's important to point out (as I think you are doing) that the statements of Arminianism and the statements of true Calvinism are often not diametrically opposed, but rather, that the Arminian statements don't tell the whole story, and the statements of Calvinism are more specific statements added on top of the more general statements of Arminianism. The statements of Arminianism are often true as far as the go, and its in denying that any more specific statements can be made--or in affirming that the more specific statements are wrong--that the wrong doctrine shows up.

Isn't that what all the creeds did?

No, the creeds didn't use intentionally ambiguous language. They were all drawn up against specific false teachings of their time, and they used intentionally pointed language opposing whatever false teaching they were drawn up to stand against.

They may seem ambiguous today because we aren't fighting those particular heresies, but they were written with the language they used quite purposefully so that those who held to the false teachings wouldn't be able to "sign on the dotted line".

That's more or less what Dordt does (even though its not a creed, and is much more detailed than a creed would be) The Dutch church, in Dordt, was opposing what they saw as the false teachings of Arminius's followers--teaching they didn't want taught in the Reformed churches.

The Synod finally managed, with effort, to obtain a clarification of the five points of difference advocated by the Arminian party. This clarification of opinion was grudgingly surrendered, but apart from it, there is no way to fairly evaluate the Canons of the Synod.

I'd never read Dordt before, but I just looked through about half of it. Every now and then there's an unfair portrayal of Arminians as holding views virtually no one has ever held, and at one point there's a denial of a view that I've been arguing Calvinists should hold, so I'm maintaining my conviction that these guys really weren't made of the same stuff as Calvin and Luther.

Mark, what you just linked to is what I've been discussing in most of these comments since Macht linked to it in the first comment.


Mark, what you just linked to is what I've been discussing in most of these comments since Macht linked to it in the first comment.

Sorry; I moment's reflection reminded me of that, after I sent it. Still, these need to be compared to what the Canons say, to see that the Canons refer to these opinions directly, rather than to the more vague statements of the Five Points of Remonstrance.

Furthermore, these opinions need to be compared to the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism, which were up to that time the secondary standards of the church. It was to those documents that the Arminians were claiming to be in conformity; and that is the background of the case finally being brought into the tribunal.

As for whether this is up to the standard of the earlier Reformers, I suppose that this is a matter of opinion. The contexts are so different; and ours is a different circumstance again. It's hard for me to judge. Shall we compare it to Luther's conduct of the eucharist controversy? or the Reformed handling of the Anabaptists?

In principle, it's certainly proper to seek the peace and purity of the church. They attempted to do this by appeal to the Scriptures, rather than by presuming the correctness of the doctrinal standards that they were defending. It is an example of the use of power. Just as the earlier Reformers are judged most harshly as wielders of power, the same is true of the Synod of Dort (and the Westminster Puritans, too).

Every now and then there's an unfair portrayal of Arminians as holding views virtually no one has ever held

I don't think that the framers of Dordt considered all the doctrines they opposed in the Canons to be coming from the Remonstrants. It seems that as long as they were there defining what they believed and what they opposed, they cast a pretty wide net for any false teachings--even more obscure ones (although I don't think it's fair to say that virtually no one has ever held them--there were a lot of little groups around teaching all sorts of odd stuff, and I think it's probably true that if they saw fit to include a denunciation in the Canons, then it was being taught somewhere).

May I suggest that people read my newly published Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP)? I think it would clear up some misconceptions that are swimming around here. For example, the Remonstrants did not want their points adopted as the official theology of the Reformed Churches of the United Provinces (Netherlands). All they wanted was freedom to preach and teach in accordance with these views rather than the views of Gomarus, et al. Up until the Synod of Dort the Reformed faith of the United Provinces was very broad. Basically it included as its sole (required) confession the Heidelberg Catechism which any good Arminian can affirm with a few qualms. The Remonstrants wanted the Heidelberg Catechism revised, but not without full consent of all the faithful. For merely suggesting that and holding the views they held they were put in chains and not allowed to respond to the lengthy diatribes read over and to them. They were exiled or imprisoned (Hugo Grotius was imprisoned but escaped), but as soon as Prince Maurice died they returned in 1625 and founded the Remonstrant Brotherhood which still exists in the Netherlands and is a member denomination of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Roger E. Olson Professor of Theology George W. Truett Theological Seminary Baylor University Waco, TX 76798 Roger_Olson@baylor.edu

Leave a comment

Contact

    The Parablemen are: , , and .

Archives

Archives

Books I'm Reading

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

Books I've Been Referring To

I've Been Listening To

Games I've Been Playing

Other Stuff

    jolly_good_blogger

    thinking blogger
    thinking blogger

    Dr. Seuss Pro

    Search or read the Bible


    Example: John 1 or love one another (ESV)





  • Link Policy
Powered by Movable Type 5.04