Keith D. Stranglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 240 pages. ISBN: 978-0-19-975567-7
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted July, 04, 2013.
This is the ultimate introduction to Arminius. Apparently the authors have read everything ever written about Arminius, both pro and con. They have produced a thorough summary of the theology of Arminius, working from original sources and interacting with modern literature. While some sections tend to get heavy, there is always a good summary.
Their goal was to produce a counterpart to the classic biography of Arminius by Carl Bangs. However, while Bangs' work was primarily historical, this work is primarily theological.
The authors dismiss the distortion that Arminius was Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. Arminius upheld total inability agreeing with the Reformed position and taught that faith is God's first gift of grace. The authors also address the claim that Arminius was a Calvinist who merely rejected predestination. Arminius dealt with several important theological issues. His real break with Calvinism began over the interpretation of Romans 7. He believed that a regenerate person can no longer be described as "enslaved to sin."
Arminius was primarily a pastor and did not write as much as either Luther or Calvin. He wrote from a pastoral concern - even if his writing was academic. They conclude that Arminius wrestled with divine sovereignty and human freedom without sacrificing either on the altar of the other.
Not only did Arminius seek to reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom, but he was also concerned with the glory and goodness of God. God is not the author of sin. The predominate Calvinism of his day taught that God caused the fall and Arminius concluded this was the "highest blasphemy." Arminius held the core conviction that God is love and that no "secret will" could teach otherwise. The command of God to repent and believe cannot conflict with the decree of God. God cannot simultaneously command all people to believe and withhold the grace necessary for belief to the reprobate. Does God call the reprobate to believe in a gospel that was never intended for them? Arminius objected that such a doctrine imputes hypocrisy to God.
Influenced by Thomas Aquinas, Arminius held that God was the supreme or highest good and is in fact goodness itself. Arminius felt it was almost unthinkable and nearly blasphemous that God would so providentially order and govern the universe that it would, by divine design, result in ultimate destruction and ruin. The justice of God does not permit him to destine to eternal death a rational creature who has never sinned. Yet supralapsarianism holds that before creation God foreordained certain individuals to everlasting life and others to eternal destruction. Unless eternal perdition is somehow defined as good, the supralapsarian position holds that God decreed something for evil. In order to demonstrate his justice and mercy, God would have to do something that is neither just nor merciful. Arminius concluded that alternative systems within Calvinism, such as infralapsarianism, also fail to avoid the conclusion that God is the author of sin.
Arminius started with biblical authority. He upheld divine foreknowledge. By utilizing the theology of Molina regarding divine middle knowledge, Arminius affirms foreknowledge without determinism. In his omniscience, God knows all that exists and he also knows all that will be. Middle knowledge means that God knows the result of any contingent event under any hypothetical set of circumstances without necessarily determining that outcome. Arminius explained, "A thing does not happen because it has been foreknown or predicted, but it is foreknown or predicted because it is about to be." Thus, Arminius held to what is now termed libertarian freedom - a real choice between genuine alternatives, unconstrained by necessity, and therefore incompatible with determinism.
Arminius shows from Scripture that the grace of God may be resisted (Matt 23:37; Luke 7:30; Acts 7:51; 2 Cor 6:1; Heb 12:15). Arminius explained that God's antecedent will may be resisted, but his consequent will to save penitent believers and to reject impenitent unbelievers cannot be resisted. The debate at this point can be simplified by these two questions: Do we believe because we are elect? or Are we elect because we believe? Arminianism holds that divine election is conditional. However, Arminius did not exalt free will. He stressed free grace. His emphasis was on the freed will.
The atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who believe the gospel. Satisfaction for sins is not the same as the remission of sins. Faith is not a work of righteousness, but an active reception of the merits of Christ's atonement. Saving faith is produced by the Holy Spirit, whom Arminius calls the "author of faith."
Arminius defined the elect as a believer who perseveres. But while everyone who is elect is a believer, not every believer is elect. Arminius believed in the possibility of apostasy for a true believer. As long as they remain believers they cannot lose salvation. But certain sins are inconsistent with saving faith. A true believer can apostatize either by rejecting the faith or by committing sins out of a malicious heart that is inconsistent with saving faith. Arminius is clear that some who fall away can be brought back, while others cannot be restored. While Arminius denies the possibility of apostasy in the English translation of his Declaration of Sentiments, the authors claim this is an unfortunate addition into the text that is not substantiated in either the Dutch original or the Latin translation.
It should be noted that most of the writings of Arminius was in Latin. The only major text in Dutch was Declaration of Sentiments. Stephen Gunter has recently published a new translation of the Declaration, along with an introduction and commentary (Baylor University Press, 2012). This is the first translation done directly from Dutch to English.
While the Arminian does not have assurance of final salvation, he does have present assurance. As a pastor, Arminius was very concerned with those in his congregation who lacked assurance. The Calvinistic doctrines of God's secret will, temporary faith, and unconditional reprobation left many in despair. Arminius argued for the assurance of the believer based on the gift of faith, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the Holy Spirit struggling against sin, and the desire to engage in good works. But he was equally concerned about a careless or carnal security. The personal motto of Arminius was, "A good conscience is paradise."
Arminius died before the Synod of Dordt. While his followers were invited only as accused defendants and were ultimately dismissed as false teachers, removed from their ministries, and expelled from the country, the Arminians won the intellectual battle. Alvin Plantinga, the Calvinistic philosopher, believes the synod was mistaken in their evaluation of Arminianism.
While there are those who avoid the hard questions with the silly answer that they are "Calminians," the authors conclude that there is no middle ground between resistible and irresistible grace, conditional and unconditional predestination, and between God's saving intention for creation and his use of it as a means for destruction.
In a sense, this work could be called the New Perspective on Arminius. In my opinion this book should be declared "the book of the year for 2012." It is a wonderful analysis of a truly great theologian. And I am happy to report that Dr. Stanglin is working on a new critical edition of the works of Arminius. It will have a fresh translation alongside the original Latin and/or Dutch.