Calvinists and the Guilt by Association Fallacy

The logical fallacy known as Guilt by Association is a form of ad hominem (link) and is committed by some Calvinists against Arminians today. A recent example is granted by Steve Hays, of Triablogue, in his opening response to the news regarding professor David Gushee's views of affirming homosexual relationships as reported by Jonathan Merritt, a male Christian noted for being attracted to his own gender: "Keep in mind that this is the very same Jonathan Merritt whose interview with Austin Fischer the Society of Evangelical Arminians was trumpeting last Spring." (link) Hays' clear agenda is visible for all to see.

Steve Hays is attempting to smear not only the reputation of the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA) -- and he has been hard at work on that for quite some time (link, link, link, link, link, link) -- by its indirect connection to Merrit's interviewing Arminian pastor Austin Fischer but also Arminianism in a very broad sense. Hays could gain credibility if the Society endorsed same-sex relationships. As a conservative evangelical group of Arminian believers the Society does not endorse gay marriage or same-gendered relationships. The group highlighted Jonathan Merritt's interview with Austin Fischer because the subject matter concerned the tenets of both Calvinism and Arminianism. 

Must the Society of Evangelical Arminians post only those authors or bloggers with whom they agree on every minutiae? If, for example, a progressive like Brian Zahnd makes valid and credible arguments in favor of Arminianism and against Calvinism, is the group not permitted to highlight Zahnd's arguments without it suggesting that SEA agrees with him on all other issues, as well? If not, then one must wonder why Hays, as an anti-Roman Catholic, highlighted a post from Roman Catholic apologist Ed Feeser critiquing Roger Olson (link). Is Steve Hays, and the other bloggers of Triablogue, in league with the Roman Catholic Church and Romish apologists?

Logical fallacies, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations of Arminianism as a whole are, remarkably, and quite regrettably, historical run-of-the-mill tactics for some Calvinists. For example, reading James Bradley and Richard Muller's Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods, with regard to an aspect of Arminius' confession concerning his library of Roman Catholic resources, Bradley and Muller implicate Arminius to having lied about possessing Roman Catholic books in his library, which is a very serious charge.

What surprised me most about the allegation is Dr. Muller's particular involvement in this charge, since he is not merely scantily familiar with Arminius and his Works, having written God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius; and, more recently, his article, "Arminius and the Reformed Tradition," in which he repeats this same error. Bradley and Muller explain how the critical historian "must recognize that documents can and sometimes will intentionally or unintentionally stand in the way of a clear understanding of their author's mind."1 They continue:
For example, Arminius's negative comments about scholastic theology as antithetical to true and apostolic Christianity and his statements that he never recommended works by the Jesuits but consistently encouraged students to read Calvin's Institutes and Scripture commentaries mask his significant appreciation and use of the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Francis Suárez, and Louis Molina -- all scholastics, and the latter two, Jesuits.2 
What is true in this comment is that Arminius never recommended Jesuit sources to his students, as will be demonstrated below, and he did in fact extol John Calvin's writings.

Though Arminius made negative comments about scholastic theology, must we conclude, then, that he was not permitted to have a respect or an appreciation for the writings of Aquinas, Suárez or Molina? Though I consistently make negative comments regarding the heresy of supralapsarian Calvinism; I, nonetheless, appreciate some particular aspects of the works of Theodore Beza, a supralapsarian. Am I being inconsistent? Was Arminius being inconsistent?



But this charge pales in comparison to what follows. While remarking about objectivity in historical study, the authors argue: 
But the student should not ask whether or not Arminius is ultimately doctrinally right or wrong. Rather, the question is, "Why does he say what he says?" One can find out a lot about why he says what he says by comparing his thinking to the Reformed thinking of his day, and then asking the objectivizing questions, "What is the reason that he moves in one particular direction as opposed to another? What is going on in his mind that leads him in this other direction?"3 
I think these are excellent questions, and that they move the student as well as the historian in the correct direction regarding the thought processes of anyone in Church history, Arminius in particular. The authors, partly quoted, continue:
These questions raise the further question of what is fact and what is interpretation. Several elements of the written record are data and fact. We have (1) Arminius's own comments about his own theology, what it is and what it is not, including his comment that he did not read Roman Catholic authors [emphasis added] and that he admired John Calvin as much as anybody else. We have (2) the printed catalogue of his library as auctioned off by his widow after his death. In his library we find a wide selection of Roman Catholic books, by the very authors that he said he did not read [emphasis added] and did not recommend to his students: Aquinas, Bellarmine, Suárez, and Molina.4
But are Bradley and Muller being honest here? They claim that Arminius himself admitted "he did not read Roman Catholic authors." They give the source of this alleged confession from his Works, Volume One, pp. 295-301. As anyone would expect, I read those seven pages in their entirety and found that Bradley and Muller have not been honest whatsoever with regard to Arminius' own words or confession. One can only speculate as to why.

The Guilt by Association fallacy springs to mind. In the reference given by the authors from his Works we find the following:
Another rumour, nearly allied to this splendid falsehood [that the Pope had written a letter to Arminius and his colleagues to promote Roman Catholic teaching], was one which at the same time was circulated among the populace: Arminius, it was said, usually recommended to the students under his care, not only the productions of Castellio and Koornhert [anti-Calvinists], but likewise and principally those of Suárez and other Jesuits; and he spoke contemptuously of the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and other eminent divines of the Reformed Church. . . .

The following is an extract from a letter which he addressed, May 3, 1607, to Sebastian Egberts, the principal Senator in the government of Amsterdam: "I can bestow no other title than that of 'Falsehood' on the report which is in circulation, that I persuade the students to read the books of the Jesuits and of Koornhert: For none of them have interrogated me on this point, and I never of my own accord uttered a word on the subject. 

"But, after the Holy Scriptures (the perusal of which I earnestly inculcate more than any other person, as the whole University as well as the consciences of my colleagues will testify), I exhort them to read the Commentaries of Calvin, on whom I bestow higher praise than Helmichius [a Dutch theologian] ever did, as he confessed to me himself. For I tell them, that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the Ancient Christian Fathers: So that, in a certain eminent Spirit of Prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all. I add, that, with regard to what belongs to [Melanchthon's] Common Places, his Institutes must be read after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as a more ample interpretation. But to all this I subjoin the remark, that they must be perused with cautious choice, like all other human compositions.

"I could produce innumerable witnesses of this my advice; while they cannot produce one, whom I have advised to read Koornhert or the followers of Ignatius Loyola. Let them bring forward a single witness, and the falsehood will immediately be manifest: So that, on this point, a history, or rather a fable, arises out of nothing."5
Not once did Arminius confess to having not read Roman Catholic authors, as Muller and Bradley insist, not once! Many times he quoted Roman Catholic authors in an effort to refute their errors. How could Arminius quote them, in an effort to refute them, if he did not read them? Hence Bradley and Muller are guilty of siding with those who sought nothing more than to calumniate Arminius' stellar reputation, and implicate him of lying about his library and having not read Roman Catholic authors. Though typical, this is unacceptable.  

When people read a Church History textbook, they should be able to read it as a source of objective fact, at least as objective as humanly possible. Such is not the case with Bradley and Muller's Church History where Arminius is concerned. They imply that Arminius was lying, when he clearly was not lying, and are found to be falling short of the truth themselves regarding Arminius' own words (or lack thereof). How did Bradley and Muller conclude that Arminius confessed that he did not read Roman Catholic authors from his statement that he did not recommend those authors to his students? The two are not synonymous.

This is yet another example as to why some Calvinists cannot be trusted with many accounts in Church history, and especially where Arminius, the Remonstrants, and Arminianism are concerned. If some of them are not misrepresenting the history, or the theology, then they are resorting to unwarranted attempts at guilt-by-association methods as a means of discreditation. The only peaceable solution to this problem is for all parties involved to adhere and pay special attention to the arguments, explanations, interpretations and hermeneutics of each respective system and to measure them all by the Word of God.

__________

1 James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 36.

2 Ibid., 36-37.

3 Ibid., 50.

4 Ibid.

5 The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:295-96.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.