Arminius on Enjoying God

Like many believers, Arminius was not interested in abstract theories, or speculative theology. Though he was "in almost every way a product of his theological era, especially in method -- long, drawn out close reasoning characterized by syllogistic logic,"1 he held firmly to the concept of sola scriptura, and was "of the opinion that undue commitments to 'man-made forumlae' endangered this Reformation principle."2 For example, one could not, in his opinion, dogmatically insist on a formula of the eternal decrees of God that could not explicitly be found in Scripture.

Since theology is a "conception or a discourse of God Himself . . . or a discourse about God and things divine,"3 the immediate object of which is "not God Himself, but the duty and act of man which he is bound to perform to God,"4 the goal of theology is "the blessedness of man; and that not [merely physical] . . . but spiritual and supernatural."5 For the fruit of theology consists of "a perfect, chief, and sufficient Good, which is God."6 If God is the perfect, chief and sufficient Good, then what we can know about God's character derives from this presupposition.

This is not to suggest that practical theology does not maintain its goal of glorifying God. Theological truths, or "the science of the truth which is according to godliness, and which God has revealed" to us, is of such a nature that one may "know God and divine things, may believe on Him, and may through faith perform to Him the acts of love, fear, honour, worship and obedience . . . [and] may in return expect and obtain blessedness from Him through union with Him, to the Divine glory."7

Practical theology brings glory and honor unto God for the fruit it bears in the believer's heart, mind, and life -- a feat that is impossible to be accomplished by abstract theories and speculative theology:
Theology is not a theoretical science or doctrine, but a practical one, requiring the action of the whole [person], according to all and each of its parts -- an action of the most transcendent description, answerable to the excellence of the object [which is duty, including obedience and worship, toward God] as far as the human capacity will permit.8 
For Arminius, and Arminians, Calvinism presents the believer with too much of the theoretical, the speculative, which does not benefit the child of God, allow one to sufficiently enjoy God, or bring God glory. Speculation, by its very nature, does not permit one confidence concerning the object under scrutiny. Speculation, then, actually hinders one's enjoyment, since one can never be sure of the truth regarding the object under scrutiny, which in this case concerns God. Hence speculative theology does not properly glorify God.

We do not merely gain knowledge about God, or divine truths from theology, knowledge that has no other goal but discovery in itself. Due to the cause of this blessedness, that being "God Himself, uniting Himself" with us, God is "giving Himself to be seen, loved, possessed, and thus to be enjoyed" by us.9 (emphasis added) Such blessings -- loving, possessing, and enjoying God in Christ -- cannot be attained theoretically; only that which is practical can be experienced; hence the relational aspect of one's union with God in Jesus.



Enjoying God grants a two-fold consequence: 1) it demonstrates "the glorious wisdom, goodness, justice, power, and likewise the universal perfection of God;" and 2) it brings glory to Him "by the beatified."10 How is God to be known? For Arminius, God has communicated all spiritual truths which He deemed suitable for us to know through His word, whether oral or by writing, stating:
For neither with respect to the whole of religion, nor with respect to its parts, is God confined to either of these modes of communication; but He sometimes uses one and sometimes another, and at other times both of them, according to His own choice and pleasure. He first employed oral enunciation in its delivery [cf. Heb. 1:1, 2]; and afterwards writing [Exodus 17:14], as a more certain means against corruption and oblivion [2 Pet. 1:19-21]. He has also completed it in writing; so that we now have the infallible word of God in no other place than in the Scriptures [2 Tim. 3:16], which are therefore appropriately denominated "the instrument of religion."11
Arminius' practical theology is an intentionality that is "formed in the crucible of fifteen years as an Amsterdam pastor . . . His intention is to render the gospel of Jesus Christ as Savior more intelligibly, in order that it may be appropriated and lived out by [disciples and followers of Christ] so that they will worship the one true God."12 Enjoying God and rightly appropriating and living out the Gospel is only possible through a viable and vibrant theology void of speculation and brimming with applicability and an opportunity at being incarnational.

This, we believe, is where Arminianism shines best, offering believers a truly incarnational and practical theology, exhibited in the lives of its adherents. It cannot offer perfection of one's fallen or redeemed nature (only God in Christ through glorification will accomplish our perfection); but the practicality of Arminianism offers believers a means of truly enjoying God without any conception of anxious, speculative suspicion of the character or motives of God Himself, as we find in supra- and infralapsarian Calvinism. We believe that our practical theology best serves the redeemed at enjoying our glorious God through Christ Jesus our Lord by means and the power of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

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1 W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012), 161.

2 Ibid.

3 Jacob Arminius, "Twenty-Five Private Disputations: Disputation I. On Theology," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:318.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 2:320.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 2:319.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 2:321.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 2:323. "The Primary Cause of these books is God, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit. The Instrumental Causes are holy men of God, who, not at their own will and pleasure, but as they were actuated and inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote these books; whether the words were inspired into them, dictated to them, or administered by them under the Divine direction." (2:324)

12 Gunter, 161.

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.