You’ve likely heard of five-point Calvinism, popularized through the acronym TULIP:
- Total depravity
- Unconditional election
- Limited atonement
- Irresistible grace
- Perseverance of the saints
Arminians, especially Wesleyan Arminians, agree that man is totally depraved and thus unable to choose Christ (see “Do Wesleyan Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?”). But in the logic of five-point Calvinism, this means that God simply predestined certain people to be saved (unconditional election), sent his Son to accomplish their salvation and theirs alone (limited atonement), and causes them to be born again in such a way that they will not resist him (irresistible grace), but will press on to final salvation (perseverance of the saints).
What few people know is that before the five points of Calvinism, solidified at the Synod of Dort in 1618–1619, came the five points of Arminianism. In 1610, one year after the death of Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), the Arminians or Remonstrants published the following articles.
Article 1: Predestination as God’s Purpose to Save in Christ
The Arminian Articles of 1610 begin with a positive and Christ-centered approach to the doctrine of predestination. Far from the popular notion that Arminians don’t believe in predestination, the Arminian Articles reflect Jacob Arminius’s belief that predestination is “the foundation of Christianity.” The articles evidence the main objection that Arminians have to the Calvinistic understanding of predestination: it’s not sufficiently Christ-centered or gospel-centered. Arminians believe that predestination is God’s purpose before the foundation of the world to save believers in Christ and to condemn unbelievers outside of Christ. In other words, predestination is the gospel:
That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the gospel in John 3:36: ‘He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him,’ and according to other passages of Scripture also. (Article I)
The Arminian Articles reflect Jacob Arminius’s belief that predestination is “the foundation of Christianity.”
Article 2: Unlimited Atonement Applied Only to Believers
Since God’s predestined purpose is to save believers in Christ, he sent Christ to die for all, so that whosoever believes in him might be saved. The propitiation or atonement of Christ is not limited to an unconditionally elect or predestined group; it is for the whole world:
That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (Article II)
Article 3: Regeneration Necessary for Right Use of Free Will
The next point is crucial. Lest we conclude from the previous two articles that salvation is ultimately in man’s hands, and God is just waiting around for us to choose him by our own free will, the Arminian Articles are clear on man’s total depravity and inability. There is no hint of a full-fledged synergism in which God has done his part and is now waiting for us to do our part. Rather, man is unable to take a single step towards God and needs grace in order to rightly use his free will:
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5: ‘Without me you can do nothing.’ (Article III)
There is no hint of a full-fledged synergism in the Arminian Articles.
Much of the language in the Arminian Articles is drawn directly from Arminius himself, especially his Declaration of Sentiments. On “The Free Will of Man,” Arminius declares,
in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.
Article 4: All is Of Grace, Yet Not Irresistible
Grace, grace, grace—all is of grace. On this point, Arminians and Calvinists agree, and Article 4 goes above and beyond to make this clear. The word “but” signals the point of disagreement: Arminians believe that, according to Scripture, the grace which regenerates and saves is not an irresistible force. This is crucial to understand: according to Arminius, “the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, ‘is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’”:
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Spirit. Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places. (Article IV)
God’s prevenient grace makes it possible to yield to regenerating grace. Those who resist will be lost, but those who do not resist will believe and be saved as a gift.
While every illustration breaks down, Roger Olson makes clear that Arminians do not believe in a model of salvation where God has thrown out a life rope to two drowning men, and the one who grabs on to the rope of his own free will is saved. Rather, both men are unable to grab the rope in their own strength. They are more like two men at the bottom of an empty well into which the water of divine grace is poured. The one who relaxes will be carried by grace to salvation; the one who kicks and screams and fights the water will be drowned.
Even after a person is born again, as was the case before the fall, nothing good is possible without grace. Arminius writes,
I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will.
It is a myth, or at best a dangerous oversimplification, that Calvinists believe in predestination while Arminians believe in free will. This distortion of Arminian theology is sometimes promoted by Calvinists who haven’t taken the time to seriously study Arminianism. Yet I cannot blame my Calvinist brothers and sisters too quickly. Arminians are often confused about their own theological tradition and function pragmatically as semi-Pelagians (see “Four Views of Salvation, Part 1: Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism” by Chris Bounds).
Arminians are often confused about their own theological tradition and function pragmatically as semi-Pelagians.
Article 5: Perseverance through Assisting Grace
Finally, the Arminian Articles leave open the question of the perseverance of all the saints, as did Arminius. However, they emphasize personal responsibility and express doubt about whether or not such a doctrine is taught in Scripture:
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’ But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds. (Article V)
Wesleyan Arminians would later conclude that it is indeed possible to be truly regenerated and yet fall away and ultimately perish. Arminians thus deny three of the five points of Calvinism, while Wesleyan Arminians deny four of the five.
In summary, the Arminian Articles teach that although man is totally depraved and unable to come to God by his own free will, God chose before the foundation of the world to save those who believe in his Son. God sent his Son to atone for the sins of all without exception, then poured out his Spirit to regenerate all, provided they do not ultimately resist God’s grace. Believers are empowered for victorious living and enabled to persevere to the end.
Though I haven’t come up with a neat acronym, the five points of Arminianism are:
- Total depravity (including total inability)
- Predestination as God’s purpose to save in Christ
- Unlimited atonement
- Free but resistible grace
- Perseverance through assisting grace
The Arminian Articles conclude,
These Articles, thus set forth and taught, the Remonstrants deem agreeable to the Word of God, tending to edification, and, as regards this argument, sufficient for salvation, so that it is not necessary or edifying to rise higher or to descend deeper.