Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review - Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall

The book begins with a brief but helpful account of the life and times of Jacob Arminius, but points readers to Bangs work for a more detailed biography (Bangs, Carl.  Arminius – A Study in the Dutch Reformation.  Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998).  Then it dives into the foundation of Arminius’ theology - his explanations of God’s attributes.  On the simplicity of God, Aquinas taught God’s attributes are distinct only in the way we think about them, but are really united in God, but Arminius disagreed and rather followed John Dun Scottus who taught God’s attributes really are distinct in God even though they are absolutely inseparable.   On omniscience, Arminius followed Luis De Molina in affirming middle knowledge – and this book is the first I have seen to acknowledge that Arminius’ view of predestination is based on God’s middle knowledge of faith rather than so called simple foreknowledge.  Then in a rare low point in the book - Arminius is accused of denying Christ aseity (i.e. denying passages like John 8:58), but the accusation is based on what the authors see as the implications of Arminius beliefs even though Arminius denies the implication.   The chapter closes with Arminius’ view of creation; which Arminius sees as God’s freely communicating His goodness to whatever He creates.  Thus the idea that God creates people for hellfire troubles Arminius.

Arminius sees God’s providence as meticulous.  God provides for what He created through preservation, concurrence and governance of all that happens.  God permits rather than causes sin – Arminius is concerned with making God the author of evil.  Arminius holds to what we call libertarian free will and offers a free will defense similar to Plantinga’s account (Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil.  Eerdmans Publishing, 1974); using middle knowledge to reconcile God’s plan with man’s freedom.

On predestination, Arminius’ main opponents (Gomorus & Perkins) said that election logically precedes the fall (i.e. supra-lapsarian Calvinism).  Arminius is concerned that this doctrine wasn’t taught by the Church Fathers or in the early councils.  Arminius sees supralapsarianism as contrary to God’s justice, wisdom and love, since God subjects the innocent to hell.  This also removes man’s free will and makes God’s offer in the gospel insincere.  Rebellion against God isn’t really rebellion if God wants it to happen and acts to make it necessary.  Grace is resistible and it restores man’s nature in a way suitable to accomplish God’s purpose in creation: for us to know and love God.  Supralapsarianism subordinates Christ’s election to ours – making Him just the means rather than the foundation of election.  It implies Christ didn’t die for all, which is unbiblical.  Arminius sees Jacob and Esau in Romans 9 as types for justification by faith and pursuing righteousness through works.  Arminius sees predestination as Christocentric and conditional on foreknowledge. This harmonizes with God’s love us His own justice and His love of us and it wards off overconfidence and despair.

Arminius held that God permitted the fall and Adam was able to avoid sinning.  He understood Adam to be the recipient of grace, which God removes after the fall.  All of mankind received all the penalties Adam received, leaving us unable to think will or do anything truly good, including believe.  Without grace we are free from external and internal necessity, but not from our slavery to sin. God must take the initiative through prevenient grace, and if we don’t resist, through subsequent grace.  God’s grace is sufficient meaning He gives us everything we need to be able to respond.  Romans 7 describes a pre-regenerate state.  Both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith.  Final apostasy is possible but Arminius denied teaching that it ever actually happens.  Arminius disagreed with Calvin that assurance is part of the definition of faith.  Arminius had pastoral concerns that Calvinism leads to overconfidence and despair.  

Overall, I really enjoyed the book.  The authors made good decisions on what to include and provide a wealth of footnotes and references for further study.   It joins Bang’s bibliography, Stanglin’s first book on Arminius and Assurance and Muller’s God, Creation and Providence in the thought of Jacob Arminius as one of the premier accounts of Arminius and his theology.  

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