Arminius in the Reformed Tradition

The first two chapters of Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60–1609) have been very interesting. Today I’ve read more of Arminius than ever before, to distinguish him from the Dutch Remonstrants who slipped into all kinds of unbiblically liberal ideas. They show me again, I think, with a strong argument from the justice of God, why a supralapsarian doctrine of predestination is wrong. Against supralapsarianism, at least, Arminius is far less mushy than Arminians today, arguing in a rigorously Scholastic fashion and holding to penal substitution as the mode of the atonement; I wish those who considered themselves his followers would do the same.


4 responses to “Arminius in the Reformed Tradition

  1. What about a sort of Christological supralapsarianism, which puts the election of Christ (and, by implication, all in him) in the centre of the picture? Rather than focusing upon the election of a mass of individuals (and the reprobation of the rest), such a picture would focus on God’s eternal determination to perfect creation and humanity in his Son, rather than upon the group of individuals that will and will not be within this group. God’s purpose is primarily cosmic, seeking to gather all things together in his Son and bring the human race to completion, rather than principally about saving a group of individuals. Indeed, the existence of sin is not necessary to the fulfilment of this decree (the argument that sin is necessary for God to reveal his justice strikes me as theologically suspect on so many levels).

    God’s eternal purpose would thus be far more closely aligned with his revealed purpose in Christ. God’s salvation of some individuals rather than others would not be given the teleological primacy that it has in many frameworks: saving Joe and not saving Jack really isn’t central to God purpose. This could lead to a greater sense of the ‘contemporaneity’ of God’s purpose. History is not the print-out of God’s eternal purpose, everything fixed and in place, but something far more dynamic than that.

    Also, I wonder whether it is appropriate, from our position within history, to regard the future as largely open and not yet determined. Take the analogy of the author and the characters in her novel. The author determines all of the events. However, she does not operate from within the world of the novel itself. Furthermore, she chiefly operates in terms of the causal framework and dramatic coherence of the world that she has created. A character within the author’s novel would not be able to say that all of their actions were determined beforehand, as the plan of the author occurred in the author’s own timeline outside of the novel, not the timeline of the world interior to the novel.

    Of course, the purpose of God has been revealed within our timeline. However, my suggestion is that the precise way that this purpose will work out may not be thoroughly determined from the position where we find ourselves within our timeline. There is much left to be decided, and we are free means in God’s hand in the determination of this. The Fall of man wasn’t necessary with respect to the decree, nor was the reprobation of any individual. Rather, the historical shape that the outworking of the decree takes is far more dynamic and exciting than that, taking the form of covenant partnership, shaped by the constant working of the Spirit, rather than being just the manifestation of a stifling micromanagement on God’s part, in which human agency seems negated by a fatalistic, inscrutable, and inexorable decree that he seems doomed to outwork.


    • First time you’re commenting here, isn’t it? 🙂

      This supralapsarianism you’re talking about, I suppose it comports, then, with the ‘Incarnation anyway’ view of Irenaeus? Since God blessed and hallowed the seventh day as his Sabbath, presumably in preparation for a holy priesthood, I’m sure it has something to do with the concept of holiness too. But while I agree that the argument that God needs sin to reveal his holiness and justice is theologically suspect, it’s hard nevertheless for us now to know what holiness is without its opposite. If holiness is, as I understand it, a feature of the Creator-creature distinction, I don’t know what prelapsarian human holiness really means, except that in this cosmic supralapsarian scheme it’s realized in union with Christ. From what exactly are humans set apart, if not from iniquity? My best guess here’s that human holiness is entailed in the imago Dei.


  2. Yes, it was my first time commenting. 🙂

    In many respects my position would be akin to Irenaeus’, although I don’t give a whole lot of weight to other possible worlds. I don’t regard God’s outworking of his purpose as a choice between many possible worlds, but as a free act for which ‘choice’ as such is a poor category for understanding. Truly free acts don’t usually involve that much in the way of choice; choice is what happens when the will is unsure of what it desires.

    I believe that God’s purpose is ordered towards maturation, towards the creation of a bride for his Son, towards the removal of the veil between heaven and earth and the marriage of the two, towards the growth of mankind into adulthood, towards the gathering of all things together into Christ, towards the transformation of the garden into a garden city, towards the placing of the cosmos under mankind in Christ. Man was created in the image of God, so that one day he might be brought to share in the one who is the Image of God.

    Being set apart need not have sin as its background. One could be a clean Israelite without being set apart in the way that the priests were. In the same manner a good world need not be a perfected world, as a world without sin has not necessarily arrived at the maturity for which it was destined. In a related manner, sin does not arrived fully formed at the beginning, and neither does righteousness. In the Garden sin existed in a very basic and inchoate form. In the same way, righteousness hadn’t had much of a chance to be formed. The righteousness that a mature adult is capable of is far beyond that of which the toddler is capable – so it is in human history. In Christ we see the human story of faith brought to maturity.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, and it is well past my bedtime. I hope that this gives you a clearer idea of where I am coming from on this!


    • Ok, that makes sense of the Sabbath being the thing sanctified: that maturation into the preistly Sabbath is what’s really set apart, and in this way only is humanity sanctified, as mature rulers in Christ.

      A couple weeks ago, in Sunday school at Chinese for Christ Berkeley, Darren Hsiung showed a diagram of the six days of creation being two columns of an edifice, supporting the Sabbath on top as Nature’s realization.


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