Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In 1608, when theological differences arose over predestination and threatened civil war, the Dutch national legislature called Dutch Reformed minister and professor of theology Jacobus Arminius to explain why he rejected Calvinism. After hearing both sides of this issue, the government decided that since the controversy had no bearing on the main points pertaining to salvation, each side should tolerate the other. Arminius died the following year, but his ideas were developed and championed by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Later thinkers who opposed Calvinism called themselves Arminians and advocated Unitarianism (the rationalistic belief that God exists only in one person) and Pelagianism (the denial of Original Sin and the belief that human beings have perfect free will to do either right or wrong), two movements that Arminius himself had repudiated.
In A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius (also known as the “Just Man’s Defense”), Arminius explains the doctrine of predestination as taught by his opponents. It has four main points:(1) Before the creation of the world, God chose to make certain individuals in order to give them eternal life in heaven, and others in order to destroy them in hell. He did this to show his mercy and his power, and nothing in the individuals themselves can account for the destiny God chooses for them. (2) In order to carry out his plan, God created human beings and then made them commit sin. (3) God brings those whom he has chosen to save to faith in Christ by irresistible grace, so that it is impossible for them to avoid going to heaven. (4) God withholds grace from those whom he has chosen to damn, so they cannot believe and be saved.
Arminius then gives twenty reasons for rejecting this view of predestination. They may be condensed into eleven:(1) No council of the early church, church father, or contemporary church creed holds this doctrine. (2) It is repugnant to the nature of God, especially his justice and goodness: to his justice, because it teaches that God determined to punish some people even before they became sinners; to his goodness, because it states that from eternity God willed the greatest evil to some of his creatures. (3) It is contrary to the nature of humanity, which God created in his image, whom he endowed with free will, and in whom he instilled the disposition and aptitude for enjoying eternal life. (4) It is diametrically opposed to the act of creation, because the purpose of creation is to communicate good. According to predestination, some people are created only for the purpose of damnation, so creating them does not communicate any good. (5) It is at open hostility with the nature of eternal life, which the Bible calls “the reward of obedience” (Hebrews 6:10). (6) It is opposed to the nature of eternal death, which the Bible says is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). (7) It is inconsistent with the nature and properties of sin, which the Bible calls “disobedience” and “rebellion,” because a person who has no choice cannot...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Sources for Further Study
Bangs, Carl. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1971. A theological biography explaining Arminius’s work in its historical setting.
Forster, Roger T., and V. Paul Marston. God’s Strategy in Human History. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1974. A modern presentation of Arminian theology.
Hunt, Dave. What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. 2d ed. Bend, Oreg.: Berean Call, 2004. A somewhat simplistic refutation of Calvinism.
Peterson, Robert A., and Michael D. Williams. Why I Am Not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004. A modern presentation of the objections to Arminianism.
Slaatte, Howard A. The Arminian Arm of Theology: The Theologies of John Fletcher, First Methodist Theologian, and His Precursor, James Arminius. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979. A work showing how Fletcher’s theology influenced Arminius and John Wesley and Methodism.
Walls, Jerry L., and Joseph R. Dongel. Why I Am Not a Calvinist. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004. A modern presentation of Arminian and other objections to Calvinism.