Book Preview: Arminian Theology

I’ve recently been reading the book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olsen. I’d highly recommend this book to Calvinists and Arminians alike. The author rightly distinguishes popular Arminianism (which is actually Pelagianism) from classical Arminianism, and then proceeds to dispel common myths about Arminianism. The table of contents will give you a taste of the substance of the book:

Myth #1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology
Jacob Arminius and most of his faithful followers fall into the broad understanding of the Reformed tradition; the common ground between Arminianism and Calvinism is significant.
Myth #2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible
In spite of common ground, Calvinism and Arminianism are incommensurable systems of Christian theology; on issues crucial to both there is no stable middle ground between them.
Myth #3: Arminianism is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option
Classical Arminian theology heartily affirms the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy and promotes the hallmarks of evangelical faith; it is neither Arian nor liberal.
Myth #4: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Free Will
The true heart of Arminian theology is God’s loving and just character; the formal principle of Arminianism is the universal will of God for salvation.
Myth #5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God
Classical Arminianism interprets God’s sovereignty and providence differently from Calvinism without in any way denying them; God is in charge of everything without controlling everything.

Myth #6: Arminianism Is a Human-Centered Theology

An optimistic anthropology is alien to true Arminianism which is thoroughly God-centered. Arminian theology confesses human depravity, including the bondage of the will.

Myth #7: Arminian Theology is Not a Theology of Grace
The material principle of classical Arminian thought is prevenient grace. All of salvation is wholly and entirely of God’s grace.

Myth #8: Arminians Do Not Believe in Predestination

Predestination is a biblical concept; classical Arminians interpret it differently than Calvinists without denying it. It is God’s sovereign decree to elect believers in Jesus Christ and includes God’s foreknowledge of those believers’ faith.
Myth #9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone

Classical Arminian theology is a Reformation theology. It embraces divine imputation of righteousness by God’s grace through faith alone and preserves the distinction between justification and sanctification.
Myth #10: All Arminians Believe in the Governmental Theory of the Atonement
There is no one Arminian doctrine of Christ’s atonement. Many Arminians accept the penal substitution theory enthusiastically while others prefer the governmental theory.

The book is a historical explanation of Arminian thought in which the author moves easily from Arminius himself, to Wesley, and finally to modern Arminian thinkers. He explains Arminian thought and judiciously shows how it compares and contrasts to Calvinist thought. This book is needed because Arminianism is often demonized by neo-reformed thinkers who equate Arminian thought with the heresy of Pelagianism. It can be embraced by Calvinists for at least three reasons: (1) Calvinists will be educated as to not misrepresent Arminianism so that genuine dialoge and critique can take place, (2) Calvinists can earnestly hope that the large number of people who Olsen rightly recognizes to be Pelagians will be converted to classical evangelical Arminians, and (3) Calvinists may realize that they are closer to Arminian thought than they once realized. Arminians will appreciate this book as an excellent historical statement of their views which will dispel the Pelagianism that has infiltrated our culture. And finally, those who read this post without an understanding (or perhaps only a vague understanding) of the terms “Arminian,” “Calvinist,” and “Pelagian” will appreciate this book because it will help them grow in their understanding of theology, salvation, and God Himself.

2 thoughts on “Book Preview: Arminian Theology

  1. Thanks Nige, another helpful review… although I am still looking up some of the words you used, like “incommensurable”.

    Your thoughts help me to approach “popular Arminians” (which as you say are actually Pelagians) in the same way as I might approach Roman Catholics… as those who don’t necessarily understand or even hold to the basic tenets of their own theology.

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