Mark Driscoll: What Christians Should Not Believe

A Calvinist friend of mine alerted me to yet another mistake in Mark Driscoll’s Death by Love. This time the information concerns Arminius himself. Driscoll, along with Gerry Breshears, writes, "As an aside, James Arminius [1559-1609] was John Calvin's [1509-1564] son-in-law, and greatly appreciated him."1 Did you take note of the dates of those two historical figures? When Calvin died, Arminius was only five years old, and yet he was Calvin's son-in-law? His daughter was quite the cradle-robber!

This historical error is not only embarrassing for Driscoll and Breshears but also Crossway Publishers, since no one at Crossway caught this blunder. I speculate that few at Crossway know enough of the history of Arminius to even recognize when errors are being presented about him. John Calvin's successor was Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Arminius' mentor, who was forty years Arminius' senior.

Occurrences such as this are common among many Calvinists. Given Richard A. Muller's stellar reputation with regard to Arminius, I was so very disappointed to read in his Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods, written with James E. Bradley, that Arminius denied having read Catholic authors, when he never denied having read Catholic authors: he denied having recommended Catholic authors to his students. The authors provide a reference to Arminius' Works, where he, allegedly, made the statement, but the statement is simply not there, which brings the integrity and motive of the authors into serious question. Why this blatant misrepresentation?

The caricaturing and misrepresenting of historic Classical Arminian theology (and even history) comes through the despicable comments of the likes of John Owen, Augustus Toplady, Abraham Kuyper (who lied about Arminius' Christology being derived from heretic Socinus), J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, John Piper and many other Calvinists; so much so that Arminians have come to expect it. However, we will not remain silent about their many misrepresentations and misunderstandings. Their lack of integrity and blatant disregard for accurately representing the theology of regenerate Christ followers is unacceptable.

Another error exists that is propagated in Driscoll's Death by Love and carried over in his Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, also co-authored with Gerry Breshears, and also published by Crossway Books, 2010. In both books, Arminianism is presented as holding to an "inherent" free will position.2

Regarding the doctrine of election, and its relation to synergism vs. monergism, Arminianism is touted as holding that God has elected those whom He foreknew would receive Christ Jesus as Savior by their "inherent free will." While there are some modern "non-Calvinists" and so-called Arminians who hold to this error, historically this is not true with regard to Arminius and his followers the Remonstrants -- nor with either John or Charles Wesley.

Should not Driscoll, Breshears, and those at Crossway know this? What "Arminian" sources are they reading which would lead them to such a conclusion? Are they reading Arminius, or Episcopius, or the Remonstrants, or Limborch, or Wesley, or Miley, or Oden? Are they reading modern Arminian scholars such as F. Leroy Forlines, or Robert E. Picirilli, or J. Matthew Pinson, or I. Howard Marshall, or Thomas Oden? Are they making absolute certain that those whom they are referencing -- assuming that they are referencing any Arminian scholars whatsoever, and not merely assuming what they think Arminianism is -- are the appropriate or accurate sources to consider?

For centuries many Calvinists have historically equated Classical Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism (which promotes the "inherent free will" position, which Classical Arminians reject), failing to distinguish properly between the two systems. While Driscoll and Breshears' Doctrine attempts to distinguish between Wesleyan Arminianism and Classical Arminianism, noting that the former subscribes to prevenient grace, they erroneously state that the latter holds to an "inherent" free will position, which semi-Pelagian Charles Finney promoted, thus not accurately portraying historic Arminianism, for it too holds to prevenient grace. 

The word "inherent" indicates the existence of an essential characteristic or attribute (Oxford). In other words, Driscoll and Breshears, among other Calvinists, think that Arminians hold that sinners have a natural ability through their own "free will" to respond to the message of the gospel. That, however, could not be farther from the truth. Arminian scholar Robert E. Picirilli notes that Jack Cottrell insists that "'the Bible does not picture man as totally depraved' and affirms that man 'is able to respond to the gospel in faith.'"3 We argue, against Cottrell, that the Bible absolutely does picture humanity as totally depraved, and is not able to respond to the gospel merely by free will (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-14). Cottrell does not hold to a classically Arminian view of Total Depravity or humanity's Total Inability to receive or trust in Christ Jesus, and there are perhaps many who name themselves "Arminian" who hold to Cottrell's semi-Pelagian view.


The equating of semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism is a serious error. Arminius notes that the will is not free to choose Christ, but must be freed from its bondage to sin by God's power and grace in order for one to trust in Him alone for salvation -- quoting Christ as saying, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). Arminius writes that the power of the will is "not only debilitated and useless unless [it] be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace."

After the death of Arminius, his followers (the Remonstrants), under the guidance of Simon Episcopius (1583-1643), constructed The Arminian Confession of 1621. In the Confession, regarding humanity's free will, the Remonstrants state the following:
Man therefore does not have saving faith from himself, nor is he regenerated or converted by the powers of his own free will, seeing that in the state of sin he cannot of himself or by himself either think or will or do anything that is good enough to be saved (of which first of all is conversion and saving faith). . . .

We think therefore that the grace of God is the beginning, progress and completion of all good, so that not even a regenerate man himself can, without this preceding or preventing [prevenient], exciting, following and cooperating grace, think, will, or finish any good thing to be saved, much less resist any attractions and temptations to evil. Thus faith, conversion, and all good works, and all godly and saving actions which are able to be thought, are to be ascribed solidly to the grace of God in Christ as their principal and primary cause.5
Arminian Professor of Theology at the Remonstrant Seminary (and friend to John Locke) Philip Limborch (1633-1712) states that the necessity of God's grace "appears sufficiently from considering the miserable and corrupt Estate wherein Men were before it: For they had no knowledge of things necessary to Salvation, upon which account they were styled 'Darkness,' and said to be 'blind'; nay they directly erred from the true Knowledge of God" (link). Even one hundred years after the death of Arminius we find his followers still teaching the need for God's power and grace operative in the sinner's heart in order for someone to trust in Jesus for salvation. Hence Arminianism, in its original state and in its true form today, does not advocate an "inherent" free will position. So-called "Arminians," who persist in Dr. Cottrell's thought on this matter, are semi-Pelagians, not Arminians.

Because of some prominent Calvinists who either neglect or refuse to distinguish between historic Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism (à la John MacArthur, James White, John Piper, J.I. Packer et al.), including those semi-Pelagians who do not know any better and yet call themselves "Arminians," many have concluded that Arminianism is a graceless theology. We do not have to wonder too greatly, then, at Driscoll, Breshears, and other Calvinists who suggest that "Arminianism" holds to a teaching of "inherent" free will when many who call themselves Arminians confess as much! I think Classical, Arminians need to start better-articulating and concentrating on their own doctrines, refuting the errors of semi-Pelagianism, Open Theism, Universalism, and whatever else is contrary to sound Arminian theology. In this way, Calvinists will better understand Arminianism, and perhaps not misrepresent it, and semi-Pelagians will better understand that they are not Arminians. 

As for Driscoll and Breshears' misrepresentation of Arminianism, we have witnessed ample evidence of historic and modern Arminians who hold to prevenient grace and reject an "inherent" free will theory. Driscoll and other Calvinists are right to correct those who call themselves Arminian but deny Arminianism's tenets, if only they would. More often than not, they misrepresent Arminianism and embarrass themselves. I wish more Arminians would correct those who call themselves Arminian but deny Arminianism's core tenets. We must all be careful to distinguish between historic semi-Pelagianism (John Cassian, Charles Finney) and historic Arminianism (James Arminius, Simon Episcopius), just as we should clearly distinguish between hyper-Calvinism (John Gill), supralapsarian Calvinism (Theodore Beza), and historic Calvinism (John Calvin), for they are clearly not the same system respectively. 

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1 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 170.

2 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010), 268.

3 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 151.

4 James Arminius, "Twenty-Five Public Disputations: On the Free Will of Man and its Powers," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:192.

5 The Arminian Confession of 1621, Princeton Theological Monograph Series, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 107-08.

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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.