Thursday, July 25, 2002

Five Points of Arminianism

Craig Schwarze has an interesting post on Calvinism vs. TULIP-ism. I think he is a bit too harsh on TULIP, but his point that it (TULIP) is not really a Calvinistic “creed” is worthy of investigation. Craig writes:
TULIP was derived, not from Calvin, but from the Canons of Dordt in response to a theological controversy

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at that controversy to get a better understanding of the origin of TULIP.

The principals in this history are John Calvin 1509-1564 and James Arminius, 1560-1609. TULIP, we shall see, was developed just after Arminius’s death. About a half century after the death of Calvin.

James Arminius

James Arminius went to staunchly Calvinistic Geneva to study theology at the Academy. Calvin had already died, and leadership of the Academy had passed to Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Arminius was a gifted scholar and ultimately, after serving as a pastor, became a theology professor in Leiden.

At this time, the majority of Protestants were strict Calvinists. Very strict: there was intolerance toward even slight deviations. Arminius argued against Calvinistic dogmatism, writing:
There does not appear any greater evil in the disputes concerning matters of religion, than the persuading ourselves that our salvation or God's glory are lost by every little difference. As for me, I exhort my scholars, not only to distinguish between the true and the false according to Scripture, but also between the essential articles of faith, and the less essential articles, by the same Scripture.

Arminius’s radical “tolerance” is now widely accepted. On the essentials of the Christian faith there is no compromise. In other areas, such as eschatology, there is charity in dealing with different views.

In addition to more tolerance, Arminius championed a more “practical” faith, more of a role for the believer, and less emphasis on esoteric doctrine. Although once a dedicated Calvinist, he ultimately objected to the Calvinistic view of sovereignty and predestination. Back in the Netherlands he developed a substantial following of believers who were known then, as they are today, as Arminians.

A Remonstrance

Shortly after the death of Arminius, his followers engineered a Remonstrance (formal protest) and presented five articles of faith to the state church in Holland. They sought to have the Church of Holland revise both the Catechism and Belgic Confession. Here are the five points of Arminianism as summarized by Roger Nicole1:
  1. God elects or reproves on the foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary to bring man unto faith.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether or not all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere requires further investigation.2

It is very likely that these five points seem quite reasonable to you—they enjoy widespread acceptance in many churches today.

The Synod of Dordt

A synod was called in 1618 to address the Arminian “problem”. Seeing no way to reconcile the five points of Arminianism with scripture, the synod unanimously rejected the views of the Remonstrants. To counter the five points, they developed (54 years after the death of John Calvin) the five points of Calvinism:
  1. God unconditionally elects, from the foundations of time, some unto salvation.
  2. Christ’s Atonement was intended to be efficacious only for the elect.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary and sufficient to bring man unto faith.
  4. This grace can not be resisted.
  5. All who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere.

These five points were later “fit” into the acrostic TULIP, with (in my opinion) some violence to item 2 in order to make it begin with ‘L’ for Limited Atonement.

There is certainly more to Calvin that is present in TULIP, but I must disagree with my friend Craig. I think TULIP, when each of the five points is investigated in depth and not just used as a slogan, does capture the essence of Calvinism and Reformed Theology.

1 David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, 1963.
2 Later modified to affirm that a regenerate believer could, through unrepented sin, lose his salvation. However, modern day Arminians are still split over this point.

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