December 5, 2008

Why I Am An Arminian
Part I: History

Finding Scotia

I grew up in a village called Scotia. When I was a child, all I really knew was my home, my school, and some sites from my car. I knew my home was located in Scotia, but I didn't really know what Scotia was like, or where it was.

Soon, I got my first bicycle. I began to ride through the streets, learning the street names, the sites, and the feel of the village. As I grew, I became more and more familiar with my surroundings, and I developed a greater appreciation for my home.

When I became a teenager, I started to learn the area around Scotia. I understood where it was in relation to the various towns around me. Slowly I developed a better sense of where my home really was.

Finding Arminianism

For me, discovering Arminianism was much like discovering Scotia. I didn't grow up in a Calvinist church, or was converted to Calvinism when I came to Christ. Nor was I raised in a Semi-Pelagian Church thinking that is was Arminian. My church was legitimately Arminian; I just didn't know that is what it was called. Calvinism was just this ancient heresy that I had heard about once or twice, but never really gave it much mind.

Then in college, I remember being told that a band that I listened to was Calvinist. I was shocked. I did not suddenly think they were bad or anything. I was just shocked that it was still around. I then got involved with an on-line debate site called carm.org which is run by a Calvinist. I wasn't really that concerned with the topic though, I was more concerned with talking to atheists and cult members.

As time went on, I became more and more frustrated with the Calvinists at carm. I knew they weren't all bad; I liked the guy who ran the site for instance. But I found I had to keep cleaning up their messes. The Calvinists were pushy, rude, and were giving Christianity a bad name. So, I began to ask them questions.

I found that what I believed in was called "Arminianism". I had never heard the term before. However, when they tried to explain Arminianism to me, it never sounded like what I believed in. When I described what I believed, they assured me that I was Arminian, but "one of the good ones". This somewhat disturbed me since many of their descriptions of "other Arminians" were clearly unbiblical. So I began to investigate.

By this time I was in seminary, and to understand things better I took a course about Arminianism and Calvinism (taught by an Augustianian Catholic. I had a very fun seminary). I was hoping that if I understood the two systems better, and test my own beliefs.

From seminary, I learned that what the Calvinists were describing as Arminianism wasn't Arminianism at all. It was called Semi-Pelagianism. Ancient Arminianism was actually referred to as Semi-Augustianism. Furthermore, I learned that the Synod of Dordt (which they claimed was a significant historical document backing up their claim to orthodoxy) was a local council with little authority. I also learned the teachings of Arminius himself, as well as John Wesley. In these two men, I found not only clear wisdom and piety, but true devotion to Scripture.

Defending Arminianism

From all of this, I was greatly disturbed at the slander and libel that I was encountering on-line. Calvinists were constantly equating Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism, while occasionally equating it with every other heresy ever conceived. Most of these were deceived, but behind it all were many deceivers.

I accepted the label and began defending Arminianism, not because I wanted to label myself, not because I am so committed to Arminius, and not because I hate Calvinism itself. It is simply because these particular people there are using Calvinism for their own ends are damaging the name of Christ and need to be opposed. I've never seen myself in opposition to Calvinism, but in opposition to a movement which happens to be Calvinist.

My passion is a passion for truth and honesty. I want to the truth taught, but I also want people to think clearly, and be honest with their own motivations and beliefs. This movement is disrupting the integrity of the faithful, dispossessing them of the heart of Scripture, and robbing them of their minds. This is the conviction that I have come to. Some of you may be offended at that, but this is where I am right now, and I have to follow where it leads me. So I will continue to fight the fight, and promote an honest reading of Scripture.

9 comments:

Pizza Man said...

Interesting read, my experience has been somewhat similar. I'm looking forward to the series.

t-ham said...

Hello JcF,
The Spirit does work in amazing ways. I've followed Ben Witherington's blog for a bit now, and found you by tracking you backwards through a comment you left. I came to Jesus Christ about a year ago, and being a voracious reader, have been devouring whatever I can get my hands on ever since. I recently became aware of the Arminian/Calvinism tension and have been digging in that direction recently. Google sent me to the SEA site(bookmarked), but this is much better, having a "live" blog to go to, not to mention your list of blogs you follow.
I've read all your rules and I understand your "verbosity" regs, so the next comment won't be so long. I would have preferred to email you with some questions but couldn't find one listed, so I just wanted to let you know that you've gained another reader.

Jc_Freak: said...

Thanks t-ham. Your length is fine. My point is simply to avoid rants, but feel free to use the space you need in order to make your point. Instead of holding back, I would prefer if you pushed the boundries, and just let me tell you when you go too far.

If you have any questions about Arminianism, you can send an email to the SEA website, requesting me. I would prefer that than posting my email here. You'll see "Contact us" in the upper box on the left.

For a good understanding of Christianity in general, focus on Scripture and historical writings. But more concerned with works that have withstood the test of time rather than what's new and sounds good. Thomas Oden is a great guide for learning who to read. For understanding Scripture, I would recommend "How to read the Bibld for All Its Worth" by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. It is a fantastic introduction into hermeneutics.

TrueHope said...

JC,

Thank you for sharing the story of why you're an Arminian, and thank you for your weekly devotionals in SEA.

t-ham,

Like JC, I also recommend the book "How to read the Bible for All Its Worth". This book really helped me mature as a Christian.

t-ham said...

JcF, TrueHope,

Thanks for the tips.

Oden's Systematic Theology was probably the most beneficial set of books I've found so far. I couldn't put it down.

Additionally, historical writing, and early church history is what I am most drawn to, exactly for the reason you mention, the test of time.

So apparently I'm on the right track, even while I keep in mind the primacy of Scripture. I think some people are reluctant to explore early writings because they are uncomfortable with their non-canonical status. I think it might start with pastors who never use the material in sermons, the congregation is then unexposed and unfamiliar with, let's say the Anti-Nicene Fathers, and then, when exposed to them, they seem too strange, or somehow not quite right(if it's not in the Bible, is it legitimate?).
At my church, I would say less than 10% attend Bible Study on a regular basis. From what I've seen, they seem to be the more pro-active individuals in the congregation, yet even there, several people sent me emails stating they were unfamiliar with the whole field of extracanonical writings until I handed out some books I found on sale.

Thanks again, you are bookmarked for my daily rounds.

Pizza Man said...

Welcome t-ham!

RE: Thomas Oden - I'm currently working my way through "The Transforming Power of Grace". I love it, but he pushes my comprehension level.

Mason said...

JC,
I just found your blog through Witherington's, and it definitely peaked my interest. I'm posting through the Calvinism/Arminianism issue myself right now, specifically my struggles with the TULIP points as one with Reformed leanings, so I was happy to see a well done take on the Arminian side here. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on a very complex issue.

P.S. I was glad to see that in an earlier post you mentioned that Calvinism and Arminianism are not polar opposites but instead relatively close (and historically interrelated). I tire of hearing the debate framed with what in the end are straw men of either side in order to make the person writing seem more correct.

Mason said...

Also, I am sorry that you have such poor experiences with Calvinists online. Don't let that give you the impression that all people who seem themselves as theologically Reformed/Calvinist are like that.
I'm a Calvinist, though have my criticisms of it, and I am as disgusted as you are by the way I have seen the militant/radical wing of Calvinism attack people and give the rest of us a bad name.
There really are Calvinists who are a bit more humble and thoughtful about their theology, and who don't see Arminians as the enemy or as raving Pelagians.

Jc_Freak: said...

Actually, my next post is essentially about that militant wing. It's taking longer than I had anticipated in part by my trying not to say that I believe it represents all Calvinists. It is a very fine line to tote.