Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian during the later period of the Protestant Reformation. Arminius and his followers opposed some points of Reformed theology, which developed more robustly out of the writings and teaching of some of the Reformers. One of the most (maybe the most?) influential and monumental Reformed works ever written is John Calvin‘s “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
Though they never met (Calvin died when Arminius was 4 years old), Arminius had admiration for Calvin and his outstanding biblical hermeneutics. Arminius once said, “Next to the study of the Scriptures… I exhort my students to read Calvin’s Commentaries carefully and thoroughly… for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture.”
Arminius and his followers (originally called the Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort) did, however, disagree with some points of the Reformed teaching in the area of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Forty-two ministers organized their opposition to some of Calvin’s Reformed teaching, focusing in on five particular disputed points. These points became the five-pointed dividing line between what later came to be called Arminianism and Calvinism.
Ironically, the five-pointed dividing line became known as “The Five Points of Calvinism,” though Calvin himself had never arranged them as such. The five points or doctrines were not even a bulleted theological structure until after the Remonstrance made them the focus of their opposition – 50 years after Calvin died. Even then, however, the five affirmative doctrinal points were not arranged as TULIP. That didn’t happen until at least 200 years later.
The Five Articles of the Remonstrance represent historic Arminianism. An Arminian, in the popular sense, is someone who affirms the Arminian articles or points over against the Calvinistic or Reformed points.
The Five Articles of the Remonstrance are:
1) Conditional Predestination: God predestines some sinners for salvation, and this predestination is conditionally based on God’s foreknowledge about each person’s anticipated faith or unbelief.
2) Universal Atonement: Christ died for all humans, and God intended His sacrifice for all humans, but only those sinners who accept this atoning work will be saved.
3) Saving Faith: Sinful and Fallen humanity is unable to attain saving faith, unless he is regenerated and renewed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
4) Resistible Grace: The grace of God is effective, but it is resistible, so man must cooperate with God’s grace to bring about personal salvation.
5) Uncertainty of Perseverance: Although God’s grace is abundant, the sinner can lose that grace and become lost even after he has been saved.
It is important to note that some Arminians may not affirm all five of these articles, or they may not affirm each of them with the same fervor. In recent history, the Arminian system (or some variation of it) has been the most commonly held view among American Evangelicalism. Though, most Evangelicals are not aware of the historic grounding of their doctrinal views.
The Arminian view is widely embraced among many Southern Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, and Wesleyans today. C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tower, and Adrian Rogers are three notable men who affirmed (at least generally) an Arminian position. There are others, but these are significant voices, and each represents a distinct platform among culture and Christianity.
This brief article is only intended as a very simple introduction to this theological system. I suggest much further investigation for the interested Christian, and there are numerous books and articles that might be a help.
In my estimation, Wayne Grudem’s book, Systematic Theology, does a good job of explaining the various views of biblical salvation. This would be a great starting point for further study.
Whether you embrace this view or not, it is vital that all believers look to the Bible as the ultimate authority. It is also important that we humbly and graciously investigate the Bible alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ.