What is an Arminian?

Arminians and Calvinists have coexisted in the Southern Baptist Convention from its inception in 1845. While individuals from both camps have not always played nicely with each other, the general cooperation among the majority has been arguably quite productive over seventeen decades. I celebrate such cooperation, and I acknowledge that secondary matters (those doctrines that are not primary or essential to the Gospel) do not have to divide us.

In an earlier post, I argued for patience and kindness among Southern Baptists who might disagree on some secondary matters of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). In addition, I also suggested that deeper investigation would be helpful for anyone seeking to participate in the ongoing conversation. In an effort to spur on such investigation, I offer this brief introduction to the Arminian position.

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian during the later period of the Protestant Reformation. Arminius and his followers opposed Calvinistic theology. His followers (the Remonstrance) organized their opposition to John Calvin’s system around five particular disputed points, which became the five-pointed dividing line between Arminianism and Calvinism. Interestingly, the “five points of Calvinism” were not a bulleted theological structure until the Remonstrance made them the focus of their opposition (more on this in an article to come).

The Remonstrance presented the Arminian case at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), and codified the theological position. 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.

Arminianism has enjoyed both a minority and majority position among Southern Baptists over the years. It is also 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 in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Arminian view is widely embraced among 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.

May God correct, shape, and encourage us all as we dive more deeply into His Word.

Southern Baptists, Arminians, and Calvinists

Within Southern Baptist churches there exists a variety of people who claim to be Arminians or Calvinists. In my experience, many of these individuals do not actually affirm many of the propositions that are included in the historic theological systems represented by those names. Instead, the shorthand references seem to have been drained of some substantial theological cargo. More often than not, “Calvinist” and “Arminian” now simply float as hollow battleships representing differing views on the doctrine of salvation. This is unfortunate and less than helpful.

The rise in number and influence of those who might call themselves Calvinist has also caused no small amount of concern for many Southern Baptists. The reasons for all of this heartburn may be many, but I think that one major contributing factor is unfamiliarity. Anytime something is unfamiliar, it tends to make us uneasy – at least a little.

Ask the average Southern Baptist what he or she knows about Arminianism or Calvinism, and you are likely to get a puzzled look followed by a confused reply. Moreover, if some Southern Baptists do seem to know something about either or both of these camps, they will often have only a truncated or twisted perspective. If the Southern Baptists of today were as disinterested in theological investigation as the Southern Baptists of the 1950s-1990s (activity was their greater focus), then this misunderstanding would not be as much of a problem. However, there has been a dramatic rearrangement of the American cultural landscape, and the congregations who live and work on this new terrain have changed as well.

Since the Southern Baptist Convention was first formed in 1845, there have been both Calvinists and Arminians in the family. Particular Baptists (Calvinistic) and General Baptists (Arminian) both joined in cooperated efforts to proclaim the Gospel far and wide. Because of this diversity in the SBC, there have also been various times in which each theological camp has enjoyed the more prominent role in the convention. Of course, there have been vigorous debates and even family fights, but Southern Baptists have never shied away from a healthy debate or fight. The point is that the disagreeing sides of this particular theological debate have cooperated significantly in the past. I believe that we would be childish and foolish to think that this kind of cooperation cannot continue.

In order to work towards clarity and civility in the current situation, it will be helpful for everyone to investigate, think, and then speak (with patience and humility). By God’s grace, Southern Baptists (Arminians and Calvinists alike) can continue to unite under the banner of the Gospel, and we may continue to defend those Biblical distinctives that have made us Baptists.