“Jacobus Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming” is the next essay in Grace for All. It is written by J. Matthew Pinson, the President of Welch College and the author of the book Arminian and Baptist (reviewed here). The focus is on presenting Jacob Arminius as a Reformed theologian who held to the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism.
In order to defend Arminus as a Reformed theologian, Pinson examines Arminius’ writings showing where his views either fit or strayed from Reformed confessions.
the primary doctrinal difference between Arminius and his strict Calvinist interlocuters [was] how one comes to be in a state of grace or not, that is the doctrine of predestination.
Since the primary area of disagreement is predestination, and that has been the focus of the last two essays in Grace for All, we will briefly look at that aspect of Arminius’ theology.
The problem, as Arminus describes it in Declaration of Sentiments (link), was that Calvinist views on “predestination are considered, by some of those who advocate them, to be the foundation of Christianity”, yet this doctrine “comprises within it neither the whole nor any part of the Gospel”.
For Arminius, the primary problem with the strong Calvinist views on predestination, whether supralapsarian or infralapsarian, is that they did not root predestination in the mediatorial work of Christ.
How does Arminius arrive at this conclusion?
[In the Calvinist view on predestination] God decreed first which individuals would be elected and which would be reprobated. Only then did he decree to appoint Christ as mediator for the salvation of the elect.
Is Arminius correct?
In order to assess this assertion we need to look at the ways in which Calvinists present the ordering of God’s decrees. The two primary views on the decrees can be seen in these summary tables.
These tables are based on an article by Phillip R. Johnson, the executive director of John MacArthur’s Grace to You ministry and this post on the Got Questions site. Reformed apologist, James White’s Alpha & Omega Ministries also cites Johnson’s ordering of the decrees.
At issue is whether people are outside of Christ when they are elected or whether they are in Christ when they are elected.
In Examination of Perkin’s Treatise, Arminus explains:
It can not be said, then, that we are elected in him to grace and salvation, but only that we, having, out of Christ, been previously elected to grace and salvation, are by Christ made partakers of them.
In the Calvinist system election is unconditional, it is not founded on a person having faith or being in Christ. These would be considered conditions. Rather an individual, on the basis of being elect, will receive an efficacious call that will enable a person to have faith, which in turn allows a person to be placed in Christ. That election, in the Calvinist system, is not founded on being “in Christ” is also clear because the act of electing precedes both the provision of Christ as mediator and the efficacious call.
So are people elect in Christ or into Christ, that is the question.
In Declaration of Sentiments, Arminius argues that the Heidelberg Catechism supports the view that we are elect in Christ and not elected so that we can be placed into Christ.
‘salvation through Christ is not given to all them who had perished in Adam, but to those only who are engrafted into Christ by faith, and who embrace his benefits.’ From this sentence I infer, that God has not absolutely Predestinated any men to salvation; but that he has in his decree considered [or looked upon] them as believers
And in Examination of Perkin’s Treatise, Arminius argues that Scripture is clear that “God acknowledges, as His own, no sinner, and He chooses no one to eternal life except in Christ, and for the sake of Christ.”
One of the verses used to show this is Ephesians 1:4.
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.
Arminius then gives a logical argument summarized here:
- (P1) God acknowledges, as His own, no sinner, and He chooses no one to eternal life except in Christ, and for the sake of Christ.
- (P2) no one is in Christ, except by faith
- (C) It follows then that God chooses to eternal life no sinner, unless He considers him as a believer in Christ and as made one with him by faith.
How would Arminius see the order of decrees?
Here is my revised summary of what he outlines in Declaration of Sentiments.
- Decree to Create
- Decree to permit the Fall, which is foreknown
- Decree to provide salvation through “his Son, Jesus Christ, [appointed as] a Mediator, Redeemer, Saviour, Priest, and King, who might destroy sin by his own death”
- Decree to save “those who are engrafted and incorporated into Christ by faith” and reprobate those who remain outside of Christ.
- Decree to administer “the means which were necessary for repentance and faith”
- Elect and reprobate “certain particular persons, founded in the foreknowledge of God”, by which he knew those who would meet the condition of faith and thus be placed in Christ and those who would not.