Arminius on the Gospel -- The Gospel for All God's Creatures

From my point of view, this post is one of the most significant on this site, for herein all the complaints from anti-Arminian Calvinists is laid to rest once for all. Calvinists, both historic and modern, complain that Arminius' theology is a betrayal of the Gospel, that its adherents detract from the glory and sovereignty of God, exalting man, free will, and an innate ability at keeping oneself saved. (See the post by Roy Ingle, of Arminian Today, addressing the same topics: "Old Calvinist Arguments.") Those arguments are refuted here and, thus, disallow any Calvinist who reads this post from ever repeating such errors.

What must be first noted as a proper framework for the Old English word Gospel, Gōdspel, its Greek form being εὐαγγέλιον, is the reference to good news. This good news most often marks the coming of Jesus as Messiah, but at times expresses the giver, God the Father, as well as the human conveyor of the good news, such as an apostle or an evangelist. The Gospel is also referred to as the entire Bible and not merely to the Messiah event. (link)

The Gospel -- not to be confused with a narrowed strain of the term, merely referring to the Plan of Salvation -- is properly contextualized for us by Scot McKnight: The Gospel "is to declare something about a Person, about God in his revelation in Jesus Christ, and about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ."1 But there is more: The Gospel "is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel's Story," and we "dare not permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the Plan of Salvation."2 This is exactly what Calvinism accomplishes: narrowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Plan of Salvation, thus cultivating a salvation culture, rather than a Gospel culture.

In Calvinism, the Gospel is unduly recast as God's Plan of Salvation, which happens by His own stern decree without granting us, as human beings created in His image, a second thought in a personal sense. We are mere objects -- not cherished image-bearers but mere loathable objects -- of either God's arbitrary unconditional pre-selection unto salvation or of His wrath against sinners He decreed to sin. What we are presented with today is a Gospel-Coalitionist, neo-Calvinist group that depletes the Gospel, rendering it anemic, by a focus on unconditional predestination. Unconditional election is not the Gospel.



More fully understood, the Gospel culture inspired by Arminian theology is one that is "shaped by the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus Christ, a story that moves from creation to consummation, a story that tells the whole Story of Jesus and not just a Good Friday story, and a story that tells not just of personal salvation but of God being 'all in all.' It tells the story that Jesus, not any human ruler, is the Lord over all."3 Calvinists have demonstrated for us that they can gain converts to Calvinism, even to a zealous defense of the TULIP-inspired Plan of Salvation, but to call that the Gospel is to render the Gospel bulimic.

To suggest that Calvinism is the Gospel is to redefine the Gospel -- a plight of which no genuine believer ever wants to find him- or herself guilty. Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is the Gospel: Jesus is the Gospel: "Jesus declares he is at the center of the kingdom of God."4 (emphasis original) By recasting the Gospel as the Plan of Salvation, and by framing the Gospel within the theological confines of Calvinism, the focus then becomes a method of salvation -- i.e., unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace -- while the story of God, the story of Israel, and the story of Jesus is a tragic yet effectual afterthought. The center, then, is a Decree and not Jesus Christ Himself.

This undermining of Jesus as the center Arminius will not abide. While Jesus is the center of the Gospel, God the Father and God the Son, the Christ, are the personal objects of Christianity, and such truths are inspired within us by God the Holy Spirit through the instrument of the infallible Word of God.5 As the innate center of the Gospel, the Kingdom and Salvation, we properly infer that our triune God is sovereign over the universe and the creatures He created in His own image. "But the dominion of God is the right of the Creator, and His power over the creatures; according to which He has them ... as His own property, and can command and use them, and do about them, whatever the relation of creation ... permit."6 God is sovereign in an absolute sense7 and, yet, His sovereignty is also governed by His nature -- by His being just, holy, and good.8 In other words, God has no vested interest in decreeing sin or wickedness, as such undermines His integrity, His kingdom, and harms those created in His image. Arminius allows no one to redefine the truth of the sovereignty of God.

The Gospel begins and ends with the Story of our triune God, the Father in Christ, through the effectual agency of the Holy Spirit. The Plan of Salvation is one component of the Gospel and not the Gospel in toto. The call of God to totally depraved and utterly helpless sinners unto salvation is "a gracious act of God [the Father] in Christ, by which, through His Word and Spirit, He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of the [natural, fallen] life, and from the pollutions and corruptions of this world."9 Because humanity remains in an altogether depraved and wicked state of sin, the powers of free will being "imprisoned" and in spiritual bondage to sin, "destroyed and lost,"10 then an essential and sufficient means for one to respond to this gracious activity of God's Spirit must first be granted.

The ultimate objective in this gracious activity of the triune God is "the Salvation of the elect and the Glory of God, in regard to which the very vocation [call] to grace is a means ordained by God, yet through the appointment of God it is necessary to the communication of salvation." When God calls, He is willing to save. Arminius continues:
But the Answer [or response] by which obedience is yielded to this call is the condition which, through the appointment of God, is also requisite and necessary for obtaining this end. ... The Glory of God, who is supremely wise, good, merciful, just, and powerful, is so luminously displayed in this communication both of His Grace and Glory, as deservedly to raise into rapturous admiration the minds of angels and men, and to employ their loosened tongues in celebrating the praises of Jehovah.11
Who are the elect? The elect are those who by grace believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.12 Quoting St Luke, that, "known unto our God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18 KJV), Arminius and Arminians insist that God "does nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do," so that the call unto salvation "is likewise instituted and administered according to God's eternal decree."13 In this manner of theological thinking, God remains eternally sovereign, eternally and presently gracious, without sacrificing either His goodness or His justice. For He will demonstrate His justice upon all who spurn the Son of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. (John 3:36; Heb. 10:29)

All glory is reserved for God in salvation not because He arbitrarily and unconditionally pre-selected to save some and not others but because He freely, lovingly and graciously enables helpless sinners to freely trust in His Son Jesus Christ and to freely love God, without which grace no one can be saved. Should this theology be tagged "man-centered" and robbing God of His rightful glory then the entirety of the early Church itself was man-centered and robbed God of His rightful glory.

We must always contend with the historical fact that Arminianism "was nearly the universal view of the early church fathers and has always been the position of Greek Orthodoxy."14 Pure Augustinians and Calvinists are the novel innovators of theological heterodoxy and, yet, the same write and speak as though Arminianism is the new (heretical) kid on the Church-historical block. Quite the contrary. While modern-day neo-Calvinists like John Piper and the Gospel Coalition crowd make much of "the Gospel," such is a recast, redefined, and recontextualized view of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Stated briefly and bluntly: Unconditional Election is any other notion than Good News. But Conditional Election grounded upon necessary and sufficient grace, rooted in the love and justice of God Himself, is quite the Gospel -- the Gospel for all God's creatures!

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1 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 93.

2 Ibid., 51.

3 Ibid., 62.

4 Ibid., 98. "Let this be said over and over: the apostolic gospel was framed in such a way that the story was centered on and revolved around Jesus. Jesus was (and is) the gospel." (123) (emphasis original)

5 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XIII. On the Christian Religion with Regard to the Matter Generally," and "Disputation XIV. On the Object of the Christian Religion: And, First, about God, Its Primary Object, and What God is," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 334-37.

6 Ibid., 2:365.

7 Ibid., 2:365-66; cf. also 2:227, 235, 350, 368.

8 William den Boer, "Defense or Deviation? A Re-examination of Arminius' Motives to Deviate from the 'Mainstream' Reformed Theology," in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), eds. Aza Goudriaan and Fred van Lieburg (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 28-29.

9 Arminius, Works, 2:231-32.

10 Ibid., 2:192.

11 Ibid., 2:234.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 2:235; cf. 2:227, 350, 368.

14 Kenneth D. Keathley, "The Work of God: Salvation," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 703.

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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.