Monday, September 08, 2014

Jacob Arminius

I feel comfortable calling myself an Arminian, but I've never read any works by the man behind the label . Now, at least, I've read a book specifically about him. The authors of this book set out to write a "one-stop source of information for ministers and theologians interested in Arminius." Some of you might be wondering... who is Arminius? Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) was a Dutch theologian whose theology is known today as an alternative to that developed by John Calvin.

The book begins by commenting on the general neglect or misunderstanding of Arminius. Too many people take him to be a heretic or a saint without actually knowing anything about the man and his beliefs. The authors want to provide an objective, contextual & comprehensive resource to counter these deficiencies.

Chapter 1 is biographical in nature. It briefly tells of his development, influences, controversies, and eventual death (due to what was probably tuberculosis) at about 50 years old. This information sets the context for the next 3 chapters which are devoted to his theology (chapter 2 on God & creation, chapter 3 on providence and predestination, and chapter 4 on sin and salvation). Rather than trying to provide an overview of their overview, I'm going to comment (below) on the things that stuck me throughout these chapters:

1. I was interested to find out that Arminius has a set of 10 axioms and arguments for God's existence. The book does not list them, but points to where they may be obtained.
2. The authors represent Arminius as being far, in his theology, from what today would be called open-theism. Arminius held to classic theism. Their section on God's impassibility and immutability left much to be desired, in my opinion. They (and apparently Arminius) too easily dismissed the concerns of contemporary open theism.
3. They suggest that Arminius endorsed the molinist view (middle-knowledge). As I said, I've not read Arminius. I do know, however, the Roger Olson is an Arminius scholar. And he is not so sure that Arminius held to molinism. Overall, it seemed like the authors were, themselves, Molinists.
4. I had mixed feelings about the section on the Trinity. I liked the footnote (#216) which stated that there were some lingering questions regarding Arminius' Trinitarian theology because he inherited a problem and while furthering the discussion did not fully resolve the issues.

5. Arminius believed in libertarian freedom, but it wasn't a priority in his theology. The priority was the character of God.
6. It was his defense of the character of God that led Arminius to refute the doctrine of supralapsarianism (the idea that God pre-ordained certain individuals to everlasting life and others to eternal destruction without any regard whatsoever to their future lives).
7. Arminius finds love at the core of his doctrine of God. Even God's hatred toward sin (and wrath) is a contingent expression of God's holy love.
8. Liked these quotes a lot: "Arminius refers to Christ as the foundation of election, not merely a means for election." "Being in Christ, therefore, is the conditional basis for election and salvation."

9. Arminius believed in the doctrine of original sin, but not in the exact way of Augustine. Instead, original sin was primarily viewed as a lack of original righteousness. It passes on consequences (punishment), but not guilt.
10. The authors somewhat helpfully flesh out the meaning and reasons for believing in the doctrine of prevenient grace.
11. Arminius emphasizes God's desire to partner with people. Grace is not coercive. God does not perfect us without us.
12. A recurring theme is that humans have to opt-out of God's grace (especially since it is extended to all).
13. Arminius may not, fairly, be called a Pelagian. It is doubtful, even, that he could rightly be considered a semi-Pelagian. For Arminius, grace always precedes progress.
14. Arminius had helpful and healthy ways of distinguishing between justification and sanctification. The link between them is faith (the reception of grace).
15. As a minister, Arminius was concerned to help people who had no sense of assurance of salvation, but he was also bothered by those who took it for granted despite any commitment to sanctification.
16. The Latin word for security (as in 'eternal security') literally means 'carelessness.' Arminius was adamant that nobody treating their Christian life carelessly should have any sense of assurance.

The authors conclude the book by telling the story of what happened after Arminius' death. His followers (the Remonstrants) continued to develop his theology (sometimes in directions he probably wouldn't have agreed with). His theology was officially opposed (at the Synod of Dordt, for instance) by some Christians, while others (like the Methodists) endorsed it whole-heartedly. In the end, Arminius has proven to be a very influential theologian, one who provided a legitimate alternative to certain elements of Calvinist theology.

Again, having not read Arminius directly, I can hardly comment on how well they have summarized his life and theology into 1 readable volume. It may be that I have some slight disagreements with Arminius (who agrees with anyone completely???). It may be that the authors are wrong about Arminius on a minor point here or there (or simply wrong in their emphasis). But, overall, I'd say this is a helpful resource and one that I would recommend for introducing someone to Jacob Arminius.

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