Arminius Reconsidered: Contemporary Theological Discourse

From the concluding chapter of the recent book, Reconsidering Arminius: Beyond the Reformed and Wesleyan Divide, Dr. Keith D. Stanglin offers thoughts on Arminius' theology in conversation with contemporary theological discourse. Inspired from the 2012 conference Rethinking Arminius: Wesleyan and Reformed Theology for the Church Today, held at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

The book, Reconsidering Arminius, includes contributions from such scholars as Oliver D. Crisp, author of Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, Richard A. Muller, author of God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, W. Stephen Gunter, author of Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, John Mark Hicks, author of "The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in the Development of Seventeenth Century Dutch Arminianism," and Thomas H. McCall and Keith D. Stanglin, authors of Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace.

In this concluding chapter, Dr. Stanglin highlights the discussion of Arminius throughout history, including his own sixteenth-century context. More importantly, however, is how others might benefit from studying Arminius' theology, helping others avoid the errors of semi-Pelagianism and Open Theism, as well as appreciating the commonalities his theology has with certain aspects of a broad Reformed tradition -- most notably, covenant theology, total depravity, total inability and the sovereignty of God. Dr. Stanglin writes the following.

__________

To "reconsider" Jacob Arminius, and, as the conference's original title suggested, to do so for the purpose of theology today, is a task that few have pursued in the last four centuries. When Protestants have engaged in historically informed systematic theology, with few exceptions, they have not done so in conversation with Arminius. Not only have Arminius's writings often been neglected [as also noted by Richard A. Muller], but also the verdict on Arminianism -- pro et contra [pros and cons] -- has been decided without need for further examination.

In recent years, scholars have begun to discover anew the "historical Harmenszoon." [Jacob's given last birth-name Harmenszoon literally means "Harmen's son," Harmen being his father. The last name "Arminius" was adopted from the first-century Germanic chieftain Arminius (d. 21 CE) during his years in academia -- the replacement of his last name being a common widespread practice during his era.] These advances in scholarly, historical research, though, have not quickly influenced constructive dialogue in systematic theology. The goal of this book is to clarify further the historical picture and to move toward the theological implications, providing some possible models for how such historically sensitive theological dialogue might look. ...

Before contemporary theologians can begin a conversation with Arminius, they must learn his language [that would be helpful for any theologian, be he Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Episcopius or Limborch]. That is, one must attempt to understand Arminius and his writings on their own terms and in their historical context before attempting to evaluate or appropriate his thought. Simply by interacting directly with Arminius, the essays in the present volume have already advanced beyond many popular discussions of Arminianism. A few of these essays, echoing recent scholarship, have once again challenged some of the old myths about Arminius.

For example, in their essays, Richard Muller and especially Tom McCall underscore that Arminius cannot be fully appreciated without giving attention to his academic context and his own use of scholastic method -- even modal logic -- to treat theological and philosophical questions. The historical Harmenszoon, as with history in general, is more varied and complex than most textbook accounts would have it.

Another historical element that has not been as prevalent in recent scholarship, yet has surfaced in the essays by Jeremy Bangs and Stephen Gunter, is how rapidly and thoroughly Arminius was lost in the debates that followed his death, among both anti-Arminians and Arminians. In a highly polemical age, the fact that Arminius' opponents would misread him should come as no surprise, for Arminius himself while he was still alive, could scarcely quell the rumors and misrepresentations (willful or not) that were spread about his teachings and intentions. ...

In addition to the complex political machinations that threatened to subordinate all theological motives (not only those of Arminius) in the 1610s, the explicit theological concerns of the Contra-Remonstrants [Dutch Calvinists who opposed the Remonstrants -- Remonstrants referring to the early Arminians, and a remonstrance referring to a protest] leading up to the Synod of Dort were increasingly focused away from Arminius. During the second decade of the seventeenth century, Arminius's thought was directly treated, for the most part, only to the degree that it was accurately represented in the Remonstrance of 1610. Other controversies during Arminius's lifetime -- on Christology or justification, for example -- were mostly ignored in the later debates.



For the Dutch Contra-Remonstrants and their international allies, Conrad Vorstius, would-be successor to Arminius's vacant chair of theology, became the bogeyman, whereas Arminius and all things Arminian simply were [tragically and mistakenly] regarded as part of the Vorstian slippery slope. And since Vorstius's theology was undeniably a development beyond that of Arminius, Arminius's actual theology was obscured in the discussions though his name was continually invoked. Even after the Remonstrants distanced themselves from Vorstius, it was the Remonstrants, not Arminius, who were most frequently being read and assessed by the Contra-Remonstrants and Synod of Dort.

[ ... ]

However the dialogue should proceed, our contention is that Arminius is a figure well worth retrieving for contemporary theological and ecumenical discourse, and his works should be part of a Protestant and evangelical ressourcement. To this end, attention must be paid to the widely available writings of Arminius, and progress must be made toward publishing original-language and translated editions of his many writings that have never been published or used.

Reading and learning from the other side is one obvious way to initiate fruitful dialogue. It is safe to say that more "Arminians" have read Calvin than "Calvinists" have read Arminius. Certainly the writings of and information about Calvin are more readily accessible than those of Arminius, but the existing primary and secondary sources on Arminius have not been sufficiently utilized. Once the resources and ideas have been seriously engaged, rather than passing on the caricatures and misunderstandings about Arminius, Calvinists should challenge and correct them. Arminians should do the same for Calvin and Reformed theology.

[ ... ]

Thus the essays in this book offer some hints as to how an informed and fruitful dialogue may proceed and how -- or at least why -- Arminius may be worth reconsidering ... [A]s Hicks demonstrates, Arminius's doctrine of providence is quite different from, and certainly much more Reformed than, that of open theism. Indeed, open theism is more properly Vorstian than Arminian -- it is Trinitarian but advocates divine mutability and presentism. Muller's essay indicates Arminius's role as a contributor to Reformed covenant theology. There may be more similarity between Arminius's views and the Reformed view on free will than previously thought.

What other correlations might there be? Just as Protestants of all stripes have learned from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas with great profit without endorsing everything they said, it seems that Arminius could be granted a seat at the table as well. Even when one side cannot agree with the other, the concerns of each should be heard and appreciated.

__________

Keith D. Stanglin, "Arminius Reconsidered: Thoughts on Arminius and Contemporary Theological Discourse for the Church Today," in Reconsidering Arminius: Beyond the Reformed and Wesleyan Divide, eds. Keith D. Stanglin, Mark G. Bilby and Mark H. Mann (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 2014), 161-67.