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Yes, Arminianism is respectable!

Calvinists, alas, have a shocking reputation for sneering at Arminian theology as biblically unsustainable and ill thought through. They should be ashamed of themselves, because the truth is very different, and this book sets out to put the record straight. It is: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olson (IVP Academic, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2841-8).

The ten myths it tackles (with both firmness and courtesy) are:

  1. Arminian theology is the opposite of Calvinist/Reformed theology. It isn’t. Both stand squarely in the Reformation tradition and in fact have a great deal in common.
  2. A hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is possible. It isn’t. In spite of their common ground, the two systems are fundamentally incompatible.
  3. Arminianism is not an orthodox evangelical option. It is. Indeed, it is mainstream and, despite accusations that it is Arian and/or liberal, it is in fact neither.
  4. The heart of Arminianism is belief in free will. No, it isn’t. The heart of it is an insistence on the love and justice of God’s character, who wants all to be saved.
  5. Arminian theology denies the sovereignty of God. It doesn’t at all, though it does interpret his sovereignty and providence in a different way from Calvinism.
  6. Arminianism is a human-centred theology. No, it is as strong as Calvinism on human depravity, including bondage of the will.
  7. Arminianism is not a theology of grace. On the contrary, it insists that salvation is entirely by God’s grace, and makes much of ‘prevenient grace’.
  8. Arminians do not believe in predestination. Not true, though they do interpret it differently from Calvinists.
  9. Arminian theology denies justification by grace alone through faith alone. No, it affirms both.
  10. All Arminians believe in the governmental theory of the atonement. No they don’t. Some do, while others hold the penal substitution theory.

The above are the ‘filling’ in the sandwich. The two slices of bread are, at the beginning, a short primer on Arminian theology to set the scene and, at the end, some suggested ‘rules of engagement’ for both Calvinists and Arminians when they talk and write about each other.

While the book’s avowed aim is to dispel the ten myths rather than to be a manual on Arminianism, it in fact also serves the latter purpose well and I recommend it strongly to anyone wanting to get a grasp of the basics of a theological viewpoint that for too long has been looked down upon. Olson quotes widely from Arminian theologians of every era, and he also has a sound grasp of Calvinist authors both ancient and modern—including the likes of R.C. Sproul and John Piper.

Read this book. You might even find that what it proposes is, in fact, what you have really believed all along!

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers]

According to Arminians…it is impossible to affirm unconditional selection of some to salvation without at the same time affirming unconditional selection of some to reprobation, which, Arminians believe, impugns the character of God.  (117)

When Arminianism is used, it will connote that form of Protestant theology that rejects unconditional election (and especially unconditional reprobation), limited atonement, and irresistible grace because it affirms the character of God as compassionate, having universal love for the whole world and everyone in it, and extending grace-restored free will to accept or resist the grace of God, which leads to either eternal life or spiritual destruction.  (138)

People who say that Calvinists teach predestination and deny free will, and that Arminians deny predestination and teach free will are simply wrong. Both teach both! They interpret them differently.  (168)

Finney vulgarized Arminian theology by denying something Arminius, Wesley and all the faithful Arminians before him had affirmed and protected as precious to the gospel itself—human moral inability in spiritual matters, and the absolute necessity of supernatural prevenient grace for any right response to God, including the first stirrings of a good will toward God.  (263)

Only those will be saved…who are predestined by God to eternal salvation. They are the elect. Who is included in the elect? All who God foresees will accept his offer of salvation through Christ by not resisting the grace that extends to them through the cross and the gospel. Thus, predestination is conditional rather than unconditional.  (361)

Prevenient grace is simply the convicting, calling, enlightening and enabling grace of God that goes before conversion and makes repentance and faith possible.  (369)

Cooperation does not contribute to salvation, as if God does part and humans do part; rather cooperation with grace in Arminian theology is simply non-resistance to grace. It is merely deciding to allow grace to do its work by laying down all attempts at self-justification and self-purification, and admitting that only Christ can save.  (384)

The logic of the argument that a gift freely received (in the sense that it could be rejected) is not a free gift boggles the Arminian's mind.  (400)

Whatever happens is at least allowed by God, but not everything that happens is positively willed or even rendered certain by God. Thus synergism enters into the Arminian doctrine of providence as well as predestination.  (416)

Two areas where Arminius's theology stayed close to Reformed theology and the standard Calvinism of his day are its emphasis on God's glory and its use of covenant or federal theology.  (567)

Calvinists and Arminians believe that the atonement is both universal and limited, but in different senses. According to Calvinism the atonement is universal in value; it is sufficient to save everyone. According to Arminianism it is universal in intent; it is meant to save everyone. According to Calvinism it is limited in scope; it is intended to save only the elect and does save them. According to Arminianism it is limited in efficacy; it actually saves only those who accept it by faith.  (720)

It appears that people are not Calvinists or Arminians because one side has proven itself right, but because these people can find one set of mysteries (or problems) easier to live with than the other.  (806)

The true divide at the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian split is not predestination versus free will but the guiding picture of God: he is primarily viewed as either (1) majestic, powerful, and controlling or (2) loving, good, and merciful.  (829)

Arminians consider both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism heresies.  (912)

Does synergism contradict sola gratia and sola fides? Arminians do not think so; they hold a form of evangelical synergism that sees grace as the efficient cause of salvation and calls faith the sole instrumental cause of salvation, to the exclusion of human merits.  (1092)

Perhaps the most damaging calumny spread by critics against Arminianism is that it begins with and is controlled by belief in freedom of the will.  (1110)

The real reason Arminians reject divine control of every human choice and action is that this would make God the author of sin and evil. For Arminians this makes God at least morally ambiguous and at worst the only sinner.  (1126)

Arminianism begins with God's goodness and ends by affirming free will. The latter follows from the former, and the former is based on divine revelation; God reveals himself as unconditionally and unequivocally good, which does not exclude justice and wrathful retribution. It only excludes the possibility of God sinning, willing others to sin or causing sin.  (1134)

[Arminius’s] basic theological impulse is absolute: commitment to God's goodness. His theology is Christocentric; Jesus Christ is our best clue to the character of God, and in him God is revealed as compassionate, merciful, loving and just.  (1166)

Arminius's most basic guiding principle in these debates is that God is necessarily and by nature good; God's goodness controls God's power.  (1172)

Who is to say that sovereignty necessarily includes absolute control or meticulous governance to the exclusion of real contingency and free will? Does sovereignty entail these meanings in human life?  (1335)

God's concurrence is his consent to and cooperation with creaturely decisions and actions.  (1342)

If God is the all-determining reality and creatures have no incompatibilist (libertarian) freedom, then where did that first evil motive or intent come from? If the Calvinist says from God, which is logically consistent with divine determinism, then God is most certainly the author of sin and evil. If the Calvinist says from autonomous creatures, then this opens up a hole in divine determinism so large that it consumes it.  (1579)

Arminians do not believe that salvation is ultimately in their own hands. It is all of grace.  (1620)

Prevenient grace…restores free will. The free will of human beings in Arminius's theology and in classical Arminianism is more properly denoted freed will. Grace frees the will from bondage to sin and evil, and gives it ability to cooperate with saving grace by not resisting it. (Which is not the same as contributing something to its work!)  (1650)

The key distinctive doctrine of Arminianism is prevenient grace. It may not be a biblical term, but it is a biblical concept assumed everywhere in Scripture. It is the powerful but resistible drawing of God that Jesus spoke about in John 6.  (1865)

Isn't the bare human decision to accept and not resist God's grace and mercy unto salvation a meritorious work? Arminians respond with a resounding no.  (1881)

Calvinists argue that if grace is resistible, salvation is not all of grace. Arminians simply do not see any sense in that claim. A gift that can be rejected is still a gift if freely received. A gift freely received is no less a gift than one received under compulsion.  (1905)

Arminians interpret predestination in light of Romans 8:29, which connects predestination with God's foreknowledge of believers.  (2114)

Arminians interpret the biblical concept of unconditional election (predestination to salvation) as corporate. Thus, predestination has an individual meaning (foreknowledge of individual choices) and a collective meaning (election of a people). The former is conditional; the latter is unconditional.  (2119)

If some particular individuals have already been foreordained unconditionally by God for damnation, then the universal call for them to believe in Christ cannot be sincere.  (2140)

Wesley insisted that God's foreknowledge is not determinative or causative. God simply knows because things are. In modern terms Wesley's view is "simple foreknowledge."  (2227)

Just as Calvinists often claim that they are biblically warranted to believe in both unconditional foreordination of sin and human responsibility for sin, so Arminians claim they are justified in embracing both exhaustive and infallible divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will because both are necessary for a sound biblical worldview.  (2357)

In many books of Calvinist theology the governmental theory, first articulated by early Remonstrant leader Hugo Grotius, is called the "Arminian theory." It is not.  (2660)

Christ's death, for Arminius, was no mere demonstration of justice to uphold God's moral government as he forgave sinners. It was the infliction of the just punishment for human sin upon Christ so that the demands of righteousness could meet the desire of mercy and reconciliation be accomplished.  (2723)

I confidently assert that Arminianism is a legitimate evangelical theological option and that Arminians should not be ashamed to wear that label proudly.  (2882)

Roger Olson is also the author of Against Calvinism, which I have reviewed here.

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