How One Can Be Reformed and Arminian

This article intends to argue for the proposition that one can identify as Reformed and Arminian at the same time. First off, for the purposes of clarification, this should not be confused with Reformed Arminianism. The latter is synonymous with Classical Arminianism, that is Arminian theology closer to that which was held by Jacob Arminius himself[1]. Reformed Arminianism stands in contrast to Wesleyan Arminianism.

So, how can one claim to be Reformed and Arminian at the same time? Isn’t Reformed theology closely associated to or even sometimes used synonymously with Calvinism?[2] It is submitted that it all boils down one’s definition of Reformed. The same goes for concepts like “sovereignty” and “decree” in relation to God[3].

A) Defining “Reformed”

The problem with defining the concept “Reformed” is that even those who claim to be Reformed disagree on what constitutes “Reformed”. There are extremely narrow definitions, as well as extremely broad ones.

C. Matthew McMahon starts off with some basic principles of the Reformed tradition:

“Some good starting points in the consideration of this topic would be the following.

1] The Majesty and the Praise of God,

2] The Polemic Against Idolatry,

3] The Working Out of God’s Divine Covenant Purposes in History through justification by faith by the one and only mediator Jesus Christ,

4] Sanctification and a life of Holiness,

5] The Life of the Mind as the Service of God,

6] Biblical Preaching,

7] The order of Church Government and Pastoral Care,

8] The Disciplined Life, and

9] The Simplicity of the Gospel.”[4]

The problem with these definitions is that they can be readily affirmed by all Protestants. However, Reformed folks who hold to a narrow definition of what it means to be Reformed would not consider some Protestants as being Reformed. Case in point would be Methodists for their Arminianism.

Byron G. Curtis, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Geneva College provided his extensive definition on what it means to be reformed. He says:

“To be reformed means:

1) to confess with the orthodox churches the consensus of the first five centuries of Christianity, including:

a) Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.

b) Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.

c) Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.

d) Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.

e) The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt y the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.

The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

f) The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.

g) The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

2) to confess with the Reformation churches the four great “Solas:”

a) RE the source of authority: Sola Scriptura.

b) RE the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia.

c) RE the means of salvation: Sola Fide

d) Re the merit of salvation: Solus Christus

3) to confess with the Reformed churches the distinctives of the Reformed faith:

a) In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:

T = Total Depravity

U = Unconditional Election

L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption

I = Irresistible Grace

P = Perseverence [sic] and Preservation of the Saints

b) In worship: the Regulative Principle of Worship “Whatever is not commanded in public worship is forbidden.” God alone directs how he is to be worshiped in the assem- bly [sic] of the visible church.

c) In the Visible Church: Covenant Theology & Covenant Community. The Church is the New Israel, incorporating believers among Jews and Gentiles alike. Infant Baptism ordinarily follows from this understanding. Sacraments are not merely human observances, but acts of Jesus Christ, marking out the visible church.

d) In life: Life is religion: there is no sacred/secular destinction [sic]. As such Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings). Every calling is “full time Christian service,” because every Christian is a full-time Christian.

4) finally, in everything, as Christians everywhere joyfully affirm: Soli Deo Gloria. ‘To God alone be the glory.’”[5]

Richard Muller, shares a similar definition, though he adds belief in amillennialism into the mix:

“Any of these documents [i.e. Reformed Confessions and Catechisms], in addition to standing in substantial agreement on the so-called five points — total inability to attain one’s own salvation, unconditional grace, limited efficacy of Christ’s all-sufficient work of satisfaction, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints — also stand in substantial agreement on the issues of the baptism of infants, the identification of the sacraments as a means of grace, and the unity of the one covenant of grace from Abraham to the eschaton.

They also — all of them — agree on the assumption that our assurance of the salvation, wrought by grace alone through the work of Christ and God’s Spirit in us, rests not on our outward deeds or personal claims but on our apprehension of Christ in faith and on our recognition of the inward work of the Spirit in us. Because this assurance is inward and cannot easily or definitively be externalized, all of these documents also agree that the church is both visible and invisible — that it is a covenanted people of God identified not by externalized indications of the work of God in individuals, such as adult conversion experiences but by the preaching of the word of God and the right administration of the sacraments.

Finally, they all agree, either explicitly or implicitly, that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is the kingdom of grace established by Christ at his first coming that extends until his Second Coming at the end of the world.”[6]

R. C. Sproul, well known amongst the narrow-definition-Reformed-folk as being Reformed, grew to accept postmillennialism as the biblical eschatological position [7]. Under Richard Muller’s definition, this would disqualify R. C. Sproul from being considered Reformed, although he checks the other boxes.

C. Matthew McMahon’s definition which includes infant baptism (pp.20-21), covenant theology (pp.28-29), and the Lord’s Supper as sign and seals (pp.29-30)[8] is less comprehensive but, just like the definitions provided before it, would exclude Reformed Baptists who affirm credobaptism. It would seem odd that individuals like John Bunyan (1628–1688), Alistair Begg (1952–), D. A. Carson (1946–), John Gill (1697–1771), Wayne Grudem (1948–), Albert Mohler (1959–), Arthur Pink (1886–1952), John Piper (1946-), Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892), and James White (1962-) would not make the Reformed cut.

Michael Allen adds to the discussion by arguing that, “By “Reformational,” we speak of those churches and persons who affirm the five solas (sola Scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, and soli Deo Gloria), the five points enumerated by the Reformed Synod of Dordt regarding the doctrine of predestination, and the importance of penal substitution as a crucial (though not exclusive) understanding of the atonement.”[9] R.C. Sproul takes it a step further and synthesises the Five Points of Reformed Theology as being just TULIP[10].

To include TULIP in the pre-requisite of being Reformed, or even to make it the sole criterion, might exclude the following individuals who are/were regarded as Magisterial Reformers. First off, Phillip Melanchton who studied under Martin Luther himself[11].  Leighton Flowers points out that, “… Calvin, though a close friend, took great issue with Melanchthon’s soteriology, as would most Calvinistic scholars today. Melanchthon affirmed a more corporate approach to the doctrine of predestination, while rejecting the typical Calvinistic view that God predetermines to save some individuals to the neglect of the rest. For instance, Melanchthon wrote,

“The eternal fate of individuals was in their own hands at the moment when they heard the Spirit-illumined Gospel promises. Altogether, therefore, the choice for a saving faith in Jesus had three origins: the Word, the Spirit, and the individual free will.””[12]

Gregory Graybill observes that, “In 1532, Melanchton’s gradually evolving doctrine on the will’s role in justification finally reached a tipping-point. In The Summary of Ethics, he was almost there. In The Commentary on Romans, he was there, and in the Loci of 1533-5, he strengthened his position. A subtle change had taken place in Melanchton’s thinking, marking a transition from a bound-will position to one of evangelical free will.”[13]

Secondly, “… it would appear likely that the chief Polish shaper of the Reformed church, Jan Laski, though he was involved only after his return from the West from 1556 until his death in 1560, remained somewhat Erasmian on predestination and free will.”[14] It has been noted that “few Reformed theologians were to turn sympathetically to Erasmus’s championing of free will, the exception being that independent-minded Erasmian Jan Laski.”[15]. Erasmus’s view of predestination and free will is contrary to that of Luther’s and the latter was a significant influence in Calvin’s view of soteriology, as seen in Beneficio di Cristo.

Thirdly, John Wycliffe who was quoted as having said: “And who knoweth the mesure of goddis mercy, to whom herynge of goddis word schal thus profits, eche man schal hope to come to hevene & enforce hym to here & fulfille goddis word, for sith eche men hath a free wille & chesyng of good and evyl, no man schal be savyd but he that wilfully hereth and endless kepith goddis hestis, and no man schal be dampnyd but he that wilfully & endeles brekith goddis comaundementis, & foraskith thus & blasphemeth god. & herynge of goddis word & grace to kepen it, frely govyn of god to man but gif he wilfully dispise it, is right weie to askape this peril & come to endeles blisse.”[16]

Wycliffe was basically of the opinion that “Although ‘trewe men’ acknowledge that ‘god hath ordeyned goode men to blisse’, this does not contradict the truth that he also ‘geveth to eche man a free wille to chese good or evyl & god is redi to geve hem grace gif thei wolen resceyven it.”[17]. This position seems to be in conflict with the U and I of TULIP.

To include TULIP in the pre-requisite of being Reformed, or even to make it the sole criterion, might exclude ... individuals who are/were regarded as Magisterial Reformers Click To Tweet

Roger Olson acknowledges the definitional problem at hand. He articulates that, “On one end of the spectrum of defining it, “Reformed” requires affirmation of and adherence to the “three symbols of unity”—The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort. By that definition, Presbyterians are not Reformed. (Which is why, for example, the publisher Presbyterian and Reformed is so named.) Everyone agrees that they have much in common, but some Reformed scholars define “Reformed” in such a way as to exclude even Presbyterians.

At the other end of the spectrum of defining “Reformed” is the traditional Lutheran approach. For many “old school” Lutherans (e.g., Casper Nervig in Christian Truth and Religious Delusions ) all Protestants are either Lutheran or Reformed with Anglicans being sort of a hybrid. Anabaptists aren’t Protestant. But Methodists are Reformed (in this taxonomy)!”[18]

Perhaps the solution is to embrace a broader definition which encompasses that which the Protestant Reformation stood for. The spirit of the Reformation was Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (‘The church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God’). C. Matthew McMahon notes that, “The term “Reformer” was used to describe those men who desired to reach back to the foundations of the Word of God and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in contrast to human traditions and ecclesiastical corruption.”[19]

Perhaps the solution is to embrace a broader definition which encompasses that which the Protestant Reformation stood for, a mere-Reformed definition if you will Click To Tweet

Tim Challies agrees when he says that, “It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament.”[20] According to John Barber, “the message of the Lutheran and Reformed theologians have been codified into a simple set of five Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).”[21]

As such, anyone who, embodies the spirit of the Reformation and by extension, affirms the five solas, should be entitled to refer to himself/herself as Reformed. This would, undeniably, include Arminians. Carl Bangs, an Arminius scholar, notes that “Arminius stands firmly in the tradition of Reformed theology in insisting that salvation is by grace alone and that human ability or merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. It is faith in Christ alone that places a sinner in the company of the elect.”[22]

... anyone who embodies the spirit of the Reformation, and by extension affirms the five solas, should be entitled to refer to himself/herself as Reformed. This would, undeniably, include Arminians. Click To Tweet

B) Why Reformed?

In light of fact that the term “Reformed” is historically and theologically loaded, why would an Arminian want to identify as such? The simple answer is that Arminius himself was Reformed. Arminius scholar, Keith D. Stanglin, asserts that “… Arminius and the Remonstrants before the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) considered themselves to be Reformed.”[23]

So why would Arminius consider himself to be Reformed? Arminius “studied under Calvin’s successor Beza in Geneva and was given a letter of recommendation by him to the Reformed Church of Amsterdam. It seems highly unlikely that the chief pastor at Geneva and principal of its Reformed academy would not know the theological inclinations of one of his star pupils.”[24]

Arminius also taught at the University of Leiden/Leyden[25] which was “a centre of Dutch Reformed theology and of science and medicine in the 17th and 18th centuries,”[26] and affirmed the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism[27]. Furthermore, “… the contemporary Dutch denomination known as the Remonstrant Brotherhood, which stems from the work of Arminius and his followers, is a full member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches!”[28]

In consideration of all that has been said, Arminians should not be afraid or embarrassed to embrace the Reformed label. Their theological tradition stands squarely within the framework of historical Reformed thought. Whether or not they wish to take up the designation is an entirely different matter.

Arminians should not be afraid or embarrassed to embrace the Reformed label. Their theological tradition stands squarely within the frame of historical Reformed thought. Click To Tweet

[1] For further elaboration, see Matthew Pinson, “Meet A Reformed Arminian.” TheGospelCoalition.org. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/meet-a-reformed-arminian/

[2] Tim Challies, “Defining My Terms: Calvinist and Reformed.” Challies.com. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://www.challies.com/articles/defining-my-terms-calvinist-and-reformed/: “I will treat the terms “Reformed” and “Calvinist” as being synonymous. While some may disagree with this, I believe it is beyond dispute that most people use the terms interchangeably.”

[3] With regards to “sovereignty,” Calvinists, Arminians, Provisionalists/Traditionalists, Lutherans, and Molinists would affirm that God is sovereign, but they do not necessarily share the same conception of it.

[4] C. Matthew McMahon, The Reformed Apprentice: A Workbook on Reformed Theology (2013), p.27

[5] Byron G. Curtis, “A “Reformed” Definition.” Fivesolas.com. Accessed May 17, 2018. http://www.fivesolas.com/ref_defn.htm

[6] Richard Muller, “How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 427

[7] Kenneth Gentry, “Recent Developments in the Eschatological Debate.” ReformationOnline.com. Accessed May 17, 2018. http://www.reformationonline.com/debate.htm: “A recent noteworthy “convert” to postmillennialism is R. C. Sproul, who invited me to speak on postmillennialism and preterism at his 1999 National Conference in Orlando”; see also “The End? Finding Hope in the Millennial Maze: 1999 National Conference.” Ligonier.org. Accessed May 17, 2018. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/orlando_1999_national_conference/postmillennialism/

[8] C. Matthew McMahon, The Reformed Apprentice: A Workbook on Reformed Theology (2013)

[9] Michael Allen, Reformed Theology (2010), p.6

[10] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?: Understanding the Basics (2005)

[11] “Phillip Melanchton 500th Anniversary Exhibit.” LutheranHistory.org. Accessed May 17, 2018. http://www.lutheranhistory.org/melanchthon/: “At Wittenberg Philipp Melanchthon studied theology under Dr. Martin Luther. In September 1519 he was granted his first degree in theology: baccalaureus biblicus. Melanchthon turned out to be a popular lecturer. And Luther, who was fourteen years his senior, recognized Melanchthon’s remarkable abilities.”

[12] Leighton Flowers, “Is Reformation Day only for the Calvinists?” Soteriology101.com. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://soteriology101.com/2016/10/31/is-reformation-day-only-for-the-calvinists/

[13] Gregory Graybill, Evangelical Free Will: Phillipp Melanchthon’s Doctrinal Journey on the Origins of Faith (2010), p.199

[14] George Huntston Williams, The Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society, Volume 18 (1976), p.586

[15] Zwingliana: Beiträge zur Geschichte Zwinglis der Reformation und des Protestantismus in der Schweiz (2005), p.175; see also Samuel Fiszman, The Polish renaissance in its European context (1988): “But significantly, perhaps of all the classical Protestant luminaries of first orsecond magnitude, Jan Laski was the most Erasmian in mitigating this major thrust of classical Protestantism in his interest in free will”

[16] ‘Speculum de Antichristo’ in The English Works of John Wyclif, ed. F. D. Matthew (1880), p.111

[17] D. Andrew Penny, Freewill Or Predestination: The Battle Over Saving Grace in Mid-Tudor England (1990), pp.16-17

[18] Roger Olson, “Is Arminianism “Reformed?”” Patheos.com. Accessed May 15, 2018. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/02/is-arminianism-reformed/

[19] C. Matthew McMahon, The Reformed Apprentice: A Workbook on Reformed Theology (2013), p.19

[20] Tim Challies, “What It Means To Be Reformed.” Challies.com. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://www.challies.com/articles/what-it-means-to-be-reformed/

[21] John Barber, The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture (2008), p.233

[22] Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (1971), p. 198

[23] Keith Stanglin, Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609­ (2007), p.14

[24] Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (2009), p.48

[25] see William den Boer, God’s Twofold Love: The Theology of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) (2010), p.21: “Following the events of this assembly as recorded above, there appeared today in the same assembly Dr Jacobus Arminius, Doctor and Professor at the University of Leiden”; see also Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609) (2009), eds. Theodoor Marius van Leeuwen, Keith D. Stanglin, Marijke Tolsma, p. IX: “In any case in October 2009 at Leiden University, where Arminius was a professor from 1603 until his death, a conference was held in honour of him.”

[26] “Leiden.” Britannica.com. Accessed May 17, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/place/Leiden

[27] After citing the 14th and 16th article of the Belgic Confession and questions 20 and 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Arminius says the following: “Since these are the actual statements of our confession and catechism, no good reason can be foot put forward by those who defend these ever mentioned sentiments on predestination to force these doctrines on their colleagues or on the church of Christ; nor should they be offended and place it in the worst possible light when something is taught in the church or university that does not exactly correspond to or is in opposition to their position.” [Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation With Introduction and Theological Commentary, ed. W Steven Gunter (2012), p.112]

[28] Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (2009), p.16ff

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