Pushing up DAISY: Arminianism in Brief

Arminianism actually developed from an attempt to defend Calvinism. Joseph Arminius studied in Calvin’s theological school and was troubled by people attacking what would later be known as Reformed theology. He set out to study Scripture to rebuff those attacks. He was surprised to find his reading of the Bible did not match his Calvinist theology, so he began to develop a theological framework of his own.

After his death, his followers, the Remonstrants, developed and published five points to serve as the basis for their theology. It was in response to these five points that the Calvinist Synod of Dort developed what became the Calvinism TULIP.

It was not until John Wesley began his preaching ministry during the Great Awakening that Arminian theology was fully developed and began to have a truly mass appeal. Through out history, most Baptists had been Calvinistic in their theology. However, from the time of Wesley forward Baptists had a much more Arminian influence and not just in the Free Will Baptist denominations.

So what does it mean to be an Arminian?

The following DAISY is developed from a Calvinistic perspective. It starts from a Reformed understanding of the terms and then points out the differences that way. That is a bit unfair, so while I will use the acrostic at the beginning, I will also include another version that seems more fair and will also bring up the actual five Remonstrant points that started it all.

D: Diminished depravity – Humanity is depraved, but God uses prevenient grace to restore man’s ability to respond to Him.
A: Abrogated election – God bases His election on His foreknowledge of those who freely choose Him.
I: Impersonal atonement – Christ died for everyone, making salvation possible for everyone.
S: Sedentary grace – God calls everyone to salvation, but many freely reject it.
Y: Yieldable justification – The saved can fall from grace and lose their salvation.

A different DAISY formulation is:
D: Deliberate sin – Humans choose to sin based on their own will, not their sinful nature.
A: All-encompassing call– Salvation is available to everyone who seeks or desires it.
I: Infinite love – God desires for everyone to be saved, not just the “elect.”
S: Spontaneous faith – Faith, while a gift of God, is brought about by a human choice.
Y: Yieldedness of the Saints – It is possible for someone who is “saved” to lose their salvation.

The actual five points, though similar, have some distinctions from the modern ideas about Arminianism.

  • The divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute.
  • The atonement is in intention universal.
  • Man cannot of himself exercise a saving faith.
  • Though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort it does not act irresistibly.
  • Believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.

From these five points let’s look at:
Conditional Election – God chooses the elect based on His foreknowledge of their decision. Some Arminians would say that God corporately elects the Church and then individuals can become part of that election through accepting the Gospel. Others would say that God elects individuals but it is based on their foreseen faith.

The strengths of this idea are that it affirms human free will and personal responsibility. It fits with our experience that we do actually have free will and it seems more fair and just to say that a person’s eternal destiny is based on the actions they willfully chose.

Universal Atonement – Jesus died for everyone. His death opened the door for salvation. It provided access for “whosoever will” to come to Him and receive eternal life. This does not mean, as we will see later, that Christ’s death is applied to everyone, therefore making everyone “saved.” It simply means that Jesus’ sacrificial death made a relationship with God available.

Saving Faith – This is where too many Calvinist caricature the Arminian position. Classical Arminianism does not say that man can come to God whenever and however he wants. The version developed by Wesley does not say that either. Both views hold that man is depraved and cannot come to God apart from His grace working in their life.

Wesley fully developed how this worked with his idea of prevenient grace. God knows that everyone is dead in sin and cannot respond to His call in their current status, so He extends prevenient grace to everyone enabling them to make a free will decision on the Gospel. God provides the way and the sinner is responsible for recognizing his condition and committing himself to Christ.

Resistible Grace – Because prevenient grace is extended to all, we know that it can be resisted because not everyone accepts the Gospel. Again, this idea places the blame for rejecting salvation all on the human. It is not that they were not chosen by God. It is that they were offered grace, had the ability to respond and freely chose to ignore Christ and live in their sin instead.

Falling Away – Since believers have the free choice to accept Christ, they also have the free choice to leave Christ and go back to their sin. Classical Arminianism holds that those who do so have no other chances. They have sealed their fate. Wesleyan Arminiansim says that believers may fall away and come back numerous times.

As with Calvinism, some objections have true merit, others are merely pointless digs from the other perspective.

Arminianism is the same as Open Theism. This charge is absurd for obvious reasons. Open Theism denies God’s foreknowledge, saying that God cannot know what will happen in the future. Contrast that with Arminian theology which finds much of its basis in God foreknowing those whom would choose Him.

It promotes works based salvation. Someone should really inform Paul that he is wrong to contrast faith with works, then. The Bible constantly portrays faith as the antithesis of works. Arminian theology does not require works for salvation, but says that man must exercise faith. Those are two very distinct things.

It elevates man above God. This appears to have substance on the surface, but their is not much depth to the charge. Yes, Arminian theology does say that the final choice of whether to accept salvation or not lies in the hands of man. However, man only has that choice because of the work of Christ on the cross, the drawing of the Holy Spirit and the Father dispensing prevenient grace.

Arminianism empties “election” of all its meaning. This has much more merit. If Calvinism has to redefine free will to allow for the existence of the term in its theology, Arminianism has to do much the same with election. Scripture is clear about God’s election. Arminian theology takes that concept and simply makes it God affirming our choice. You can call that election, but it means something much different than what the word would obviously mean.

Universal atonement makes Jesus our possibility, not our Savior. If Jesus did die for everyone, then his death does not provide salvation for the saved. It provides the opportunity to be saved. If it actually provided salvation, then everyone would be saved and neither orthodox Calvinism or Arminianism holds to that.

Falling away from grace eliminates the existence of eternal life. Upon our conversion, God gives us eternal life. If we can fall away, then the “eternal life” is not so eternal. How can eternal life be something that starts, then stops and, for some Arminians, starts again. Something cannot by definition be “eternal” if it ends.

Arminianism, despite many claims to the contrary by some Calvinists, is well within orthodox Christianity. It does have much to offer Christianity. It provides a logical motive to evangelism. It does however have many issues that make it difficult for me to accept. There are several logical and Scriptural issues that prevent me from embracing it.

Comments are closed.

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.