Why do Arminians never admit they are one?

There has been a real move in recent years towards reformed theology. Most people who are theologically reformed seem to have no problems owning the label. It is a useful shorthand.

Different people define reformed in different ways. Some of my Presbyterian friends will argue ‘reformed’ really means Presbyterian. Others will point to the shared views that were common among the reformers – Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, et al – and say those are the defining features of being reformed. Others still, not least Baptists who subscribe to reformed theology (like me), would argue ‘reformed’ is those who subscribe to the doctrines of grace. But however one defines it, most are happy to wear the term.

By contrast, nobody seems willing to wear the term Arminian. I have met lots of people who are, without doubt, not reformed. They don’t subscribe to the views of the reformers in any of the ways it is typically defined. They seem to subscribe to the Five Articles of Remonstrance, written up by the supporters of, and in line with the views of, Arminius. Those five article are these:

1. Salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;

2. The Atonement is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer…” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;

3. “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will”, and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;

4. The (Christian) grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good”, yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and

5. Believers are able to resist sin through Grace, and Christ will keep them from falling; but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace… must be more particularly determined from the Scriptures.”

In other words, they believe in:

  1. Conditional election (as opposed to unconditional election)
  2. Unlimited atonement (as opposed to limited atonement, or particular redemption)
  3. Total depravity
  4. Prevenient grace (as opposed to irresistible grace)
  5. Conditional preservation (as opposed to the perseverance of the saints)

Of those, only one (total depravity) lines up at all with Reformed thought. Whilst those who subscribe to such positions are more than happy to affirm they are not reformed, they seem loath to sign up to the term Arminian even though that is clearly what they affirm in line with the Remonstrants.

Now, you may affirm or reject any of those that you like. You may deny as many of the doctrines of grace as you will. But if you reject them, it is difficult to affirm that you hold to reformed theology. Notwithstanding total depravity held in common, if you accept any of the other doctrines above, you are in line with the Arminian Remonstrants. You are Armianian.

It is naturally the case because those things do stand or fall together. If election is conditional then the atonement must be unlimited and if it is possible for us to choose to believe it must be possible for us to resist God’s grace and even to fall away, choosing to follow no more. Once you adopt the one, it is hard to maintain the others consistently.

Many like to think that they merely reject limited atonement (as Amyraut claimed) but an unlimited atonement necessarily falls back onto conditional election. If Jesus’ death is offered to all, then it necessarily follows that only those who choose not to receive it do not receive it. That means God cannot unconditionally elect, but rather his election is based on prior choice. Otherwise, God’s unconditional election becomes a nonsense. He sent Jesus to die for everybody but, on the Amyraldian view, not everybody receives it. God sends Jesus to die for all but then elects some so that all would and could never receive it. God, on the one hand, offers to all and doesn’t offer to all. If God has unconditionally elected some, Jesus’ death is not meaningfully for all, but only those he elects. If the atonement is unlimited, election is necessarily conditional. These doctrines push into each other and is precisely why the Remonstrants denied all but one of the doctrines of grace.

Now, you may or may not hold to the doctrines of grace. You may prefer what the Remonstants had to offer. If the latter, I happen to think you are wrong. But you have every right to your convictions. But what I don’t understand is why nobody seems willing to wear the Arminian label. For if you stand with the Remonstrants, that is what you are. But I’m yet to meet the Arminian who is happy to be called one.

Why is that, I wonder?