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Is Arminianism Heretical? (An analysis and guest post from James Quiggle)

Is Arminianism Heretical? (An analysis and guest post from James Quiggle)

Many Calvinsts are quick to damn those who hold to Arminianism as heretics, but are they really? In this fascinating essay, Visiting Professor James Quiggle, a frequent and beloved guest, here, endevors to answer this question with technical precision and Christian charity.

Is Arminianism Heretical?

I understand Calvinism and Arminian soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). I am qualified to render an opinion on Arminianism as to heretical or not. If the details of theology are not your thing, keep reading anyway. We also need to look at some history.

Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) developed his soteriological views in opposition to the supralapsarianism order of God’s decrees (respecting salvation) which were developed by John Calvin (1509–1564) and others, of what today is known as high Calvinism.

In the supralapsarian order of God’s decrees (respecting salvation) an election to both salvation and to reprobation is the first decree. The supra- order is: decree to elect to salvation and reprobation (damnation); decree to create; decree to permit the fall; decree to send Christ to redeem those elected to salvation; decree to send the Holy Spirit to effect salvation.

Here is the significance: in the supralapsarian order no human being was seen by God as a sinner when God elected some to be saved and some to be damned. The supralapsarian order is based solely on God’s sovereignty, at a time in the order of God’s decrees when no human being was seen by God as a sinner. The Arminian view of soteriology was developed to oppose the supralapsarian view that non-sinners were elected to reprobation (eternal damnation).

The “Five points of Arminianism” were developed a few years after Arminius’ death by his followers, as a means to systematically express their disagreement with the, at that time, prevailing supralapsarian view. The Synod of Dort and its Canons (doctrines) were a direct response to the Arminian five points. Is it important? The Synod thought so, they took seven months (Nov 1618 – May 1619), and 154 open-to-the-public sessions (and many side conferences), to discuss the issues.

The “Five Points of Calvinism” were developed *after* the Synod, based on their Canons. The ideas were in the Canons, but not stated in five points. Those five points *do not* express supralapsarianism, but express an order of God’s decrees that came to be known as infralapsarianism. (Both the Arminian five points and the Canons of the Synod of Dort are available online.) (BTW, the earliest known, documented use of the acronym TULIP was 1905.)

The word “lapsarian” means “after the lapse.” The “lapse” is the fall of humankind into sin. The word “supra” means “above, before.” “Supralapsarian” means “before the lapse, i.e., God elected some to salvation and others to damnation before the fall into sin. The word “infra” means “below, after.” Infralapsarian means “after the lapse,” i.e., God elected some to salvation after the fall into sin. There is no election to reprobation in infralapsarianism.

The infralapsarian order of God’s decrees is this: decree to create; decree to permit the fall; decree to elect some to salvation (no election to reprobation); decree to provide a redeemer for the elect; decree to send the Holy Spirit to effect salvation.

There is third order in Calvinistic soteriology, the sublapsarian order: decree to create; decree to permit the fall; decree to provide a redeemer; decree to elect some to salvation; decree to send the Holy Spirit to effect salvation.

Supra- sees no person as a sinner when God decreed his election. The significance of infra- and sub- is God saw all persons as sinners before he elected some to salvation, and left others are they were, as non-elect sinners. The difference between infra- and sub-, is when God decreed to provide a redeemer in relation to the decree of election. In infra- the redeemer is provided after election. In sub- the redeemer is provided before election.

Many Calvinists’ opposed the supra- election to reprobation, is why the infra- and sublapsarian views were developed. Is the difference between sub- and infra- important? Yes, in infra- the benefits of Christ’s propitiation of God for sin are directed only toward the elect. In sub- the benefits extend to all humankind: mercy and common grace to all human beings; salvation to the elect. As the Synod of Dort stated: Christ’s propitiation was sufficient for all, efficient to salvation for the elect.

Calvinistic ”Unconditional Election” is sometimes described as “God elected on the basis of his free grace.” No, “free grace,” aka, sovereign grace, is the consequence of election, not the basis of election. Here is genuinely biblical Unconditional Election: God chose some to salvation for no reason explained in the Scripture—we don’t know why.

The unconditional election of some to salvation but not others was not based on any merit or lack of merit in the person, thus not based on foresight of who would or who would not believe. God chose for reasons known only to God that suited his purpose in creating. The choice was neither arbitrary nor unjust: God viewed all persons as sinners before electing some to salvation, choosing to leave others as they were. Election does not prejudice God against the non-elect; they could be saved if they would come to God with faith in God and his testimony as to the way of salvation. They are not saved because they desire their sin more than a relationship with God.

The Arminian “Conditional Election” was not specifically written to oppose sovereign grace, but to oppose the supralapsarian election to reprobation. The Arminian view of election is known as “foresight election”: God foreknew who would believe and then elected those people to salvation. The Arminianism “Conditional Election,” naturally opposes supralapsarian election to salvation and election to reprobation. But Arminian “Conditional Election” also opposes the infralapsarian, sublapsarian, and biblical views of unconditional election.

Arminian soteriology does believe salvation is by God’s grace, but they differ from Calvinism in how that grace is applied. In Calvinistic salvation God’s prevenient grace (Ephesians 2:8) is applied to specific individuals whom God elected to receive that grace. That prevenient grace is efficacious to save: every sinner receiving God’s efficacious grace will infallibly believe.

In Arminian salvation, God’s prevenient grace (Ephesians 2:8) is applied indiscriminately to everyone. That prevenient grace makes it possible for anyone to choose to believe. In Calvinistic soteriology, prevenient grace is necessary because sin makes the sinner unable to believe to salvation. In Arminian soteriology, prevenient grace makes salvation possible for all, sin does not make the sinner unable to believe, so anyone can believe, or not believe, as he or she chooses.

With that historical and theological background, I can now accurately state the thing in common between any system of Calvinistic soteriology (supra-, infra-, sub-) and Arminian soteriology. In both Calvinism and Arminian views of salvation, Christ propitiated God for sin, God elected, and God must give prevenient grace (Ephesians 2:8) for a sinner to be saved. Thus both soteriologies agree sinners are able to be saved. But both differ significantly in the details of how a person is saved.

If, **which it is not**, the differences between Calvinism and Arminian soteriology were the only defining quality between heretical and not heretical, then the Arminian soteriology is not the biblical soteriology. But, and this is important, neither is the high Calvinism supralapsarianism. Both are wrong for different reasons. In Calvinistic supralapsarianism God is a monster who arbitrarily elects to damnation people who have not sinned. In Arminian soteriology God is not the sovereign God who initiates salvation but the helpless God who responds to the choices of his creature.

What is biblical soteriology?

Unsaved sinners have Total Inability to initiate their salvation, because the sin attribute dominates every aspect of human nature;

God, for reasons not stated in the Scripture, chose to give some sinners his gift of Prevenient Grace, Ephesians 2:8, thereby effecting the means to their salvation; there is no corresponding election to reprobation;

God’s gift of prevenient grace is Efficacious Grace: it infallibly accomplishes the end for which it was given, which is the salvation of the chosen sinner;

Christ’s all-sufficient Propitiation of God (aka: atonement) for all human sin has benefits to all humankind (mercy, common grace), but is efficient to salvation only toward those whom God chose to receive its merit by his Efficacious Grace, through the person’s faith in God and God’s testimony; this is known as Limited Redemption;

All those whom God has saved will Persevere in the faith by faith to the end of life and beyond, because each is and will be endlessly maintained by the merit of Christ’s propitiation through God’s Efficacious Grace.

Or: Free Will Dominated by Sin; Christ’s All-sufficient Propitiation; Limited Redemption by Election; Enlivened by Efficacious Grace; Faith that Receives Salvation; Perseverance in the Faith by the Faith to the End.

Is the Arminian view of salvation heretical? No, but just barely. Arminian soteriology teaches God elected some to salvation, that salvation occurs because Christ propitiated God for sin, and God gives prevenient grace to salvation. The Scripture opposes other aspects of Arminian soteriology. But any soteriology that teaches salvation of the sinner through the forgiveness of sins based on the propitiation of Christ, which Arminianism does, cannot be judged wholly heretical.

Arminianism- The F.A.C.T.S.

Arminianism- The F.A.C.T.S.

Many of my Calivnist Brethren, in their zeal to defend Scriptural Truth, often  and unfortunately mischaracterize the soteriology of the Arminians.

 

While I do disagree with them, as a Calvinist my own self, I emphatically oppose characterizing Arminians as heretics. In the link below, Dr. Brian Abasciano lays out Arminian Soteriology on behalf of the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

 

The F.A.C.T.S.