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Arminianism is a school of soteriological thought in Protestant theology founded by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. It is perhaps most prominent in the Methodist movement and found in various other evangelical circles today.

Origins Edit

The original Arminian party arose within the Calvinist churches in the Netherlands, to advocate a revision of the Reformed doctrine of predestination, in favor of an idea of predestination that was more agreeable to reason and Roman Catholic tradition. They charged that the Calvinist party, especially the followers of Theodore Beza and the University of Leiden professor, Franciscus Gomarus, had developed a system of doctrine that made God the author of evil as well as of good. The Arminians attempted to formulate a consistent system, and proposed five corrections of the Reformed doctrine which would better express the important proposition that all good originates with God, but sin in no sense originates with Him. These became known as the Arminian Articles of Remonstrance (1610), and their proponents became known as Remonstrants (correctors or reformers) giving rise to the Quinquarticular Controversy and the Synod of Dordt. The Arminians also questioned the Calvinist understanding of the free will of man and the Calvinist understanding of the doctrine of original sin.


The Remonstrants (who resisted being called "followers of Arminus" or "Arminians") offered five articles which showed their understanding of divine grace. Each of these articles was intended as a corrective to Calvinist theology as taught at Leiden. They are

  • Free Will with Partial Depravity: Freedom of will is man's natural state, not a spiritual gift - and thus free will was not lost in the Fall, but cannot be exercised toward good apart from the grace of God. Grace works upon all men to influence them for good, but only those who freely choose to agree with grace by faith and repentance are given new spiritual power to make effectual the good they otherwise impotently intend. As John Wesley stated more forcefully, humans were in fact totally corrupted by original sin, but God's prevenient grace allowed free will to operate. Contra the Calvinist view of depravity which denies universal prevenient grace and moral ability to turn to Christ.
  • Conditional Election: God has decreed to save through Jesus, out of fallen and sinful mankind, those foreknown by Him who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in Christ; but God leaves in sin those foreseen, who are incorrigible and unbelieving. Contra the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.
  • Universal Atonement Applicable Only to the Believer: Christ's death was suffered on behalf of all men, but God elects for salvation only those who believe in Christ. Contra the Calvinist doctrine of Limited atonement.
  • Resistible Grace: The grace of God works for good in all men, and brings about newness of life through faith. But grace can be resisted even by the regenerate. Contra the Calvinist's Irresistible grace.
  • Uncertain Perseverance: Those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith have power given them through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit, sufficient to enable them to persevere in the faith. But it may be possible for a believer to fall from grace. Contra the Calvinist's perseverance of the saints.

Calvinist reaction Edit

The Calvinists responded in 1618 - 1619 to the Arminian position at the Synod of Dordt, with a rebuttal against the charge that Calvinist churches relieve humanity of responsibility for their own sin, or teach that God is the author of evil. The Synod also rejected the Arminian proposals as a republication of the error of Semi-Pelagianism, and reaffirmed the Calvinist position on the five points of Arminianism, without requiring the doctrine of predestination as advocated by Gomarus. The Synod's point-by-point rebuttal of the five articles has since been popularly referred to as "the five points of Calvinism".

Wesley and Finney Edit

The Wesleyan revival in England, which was part of the First Great Awakening in America, recovered the Arminian emphasis on personal responsibility. The Second Great Awakening, beginning approximately sixty years later, brought a widespread overthrow of Calvinism in favor of Arminianism in much of America, especially through the influence of the burgeoning Methodist movement and the Presbyterian revivalist Charles Grandison Finney, who aggressively advanced his own version of Arminianism as an antidote to hypocrisy and religious apathy.

Protestant denominations that traditionally adhere to Arminianism include most Methodist and related denominations. The two early leaders of the Methodist revival were John Wesley (Arminian) and George Whitefield (Calvinist) and the two honed their doctrinal differences by debate, but eventually agreed to disagree. There are still some Calvinistic Methodists who are spiritual descendants of Whitefield, but Wesley's views have predominated worldwide.

Arminianism among Other DenominationsEdit

Advocates of both Arminianism and Calvinism find a home in many Protestant denominations. Denominations leaning in the Arminian direction include Methodists general Baptists and Pentecostals. Denominations leaning in the Calvinist direction include particular Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and Anglicans. The majority of Lutherans hold to a mediating view taught by Luther, and Philip Melanchthon.


Traditionally, Arminians have held to the governmental theory of the atonement. A substitutionary view, this doctrine says that Christ suffered as a propitiation in order to demonstrate the seriousness with which God views sin. This is in opposition to the Calvinist penal-satisfaction theory which maintains that Christ died in the sinner's place and stead bearing the punishment due the Elect. Arminians generally have believed that if Christ took humankind's punishment, then forgiveness would not be possible; they believe that punishment and forgiveness are mutually exclusive. (See Hugo Grotius, John Miley, J. Kenneth Grider).

In practice among evangelical denominations holding to a more Arminian view of salvation, the view of atonement is that Christ's death was both penal satisfaction for God's wrath against humanity for its sins and a substitutionary death (in potentiality) for all those who would accept it; those who reject it would receive death as the "wages of sin" by their own choice.


See alsoEdit

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