DISTINGUISHING CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM FROM SEMI-PELAGIANISM: AN ATTEMPT TO LIBERATE JACOBUS ARMINIUS FROM FALLACIOUS CLAIMS AND POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HIS THEOLOGY
“Professor Olson, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not a Christian.” These were the alarming words from a student to author and professor, Roger Olson, an Arminian theologian. When Olson asked the student “why,” the young scholar replied, “Because my pastor says Arminians aren’t Christians.” Undoubtedly, the theological system of Arminianism has been labeled with quite a few alarming statements, perhaps some being true, while others have been misappropriate. A frequent conception of Arminian theology is to equate semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism as being synonymous. The responsibility for twenty-first century Christians, then, is to examine the evidence of what truly consists of Arminian doctrine, namely the propositions of Arminius and of those who have espoused the same, or at least similar, theology. Presently, many Christians are led to believe that Arminianism inherently is a system that upholds the doctrine of “free will” as the “guiding motif.” Thus, leading many to believe that Arminianism could be properly equated with semi-Pelagianism or even Pelagianism. Needless to say, it is pertinent to sufficiently examine the theology of Jacobus Arminius in order to arrive at what Arminianism actually teaches. After doing so, it will be shown that evidence very clearly reveals that Arminianism is noticeably different from semi-Pelagianism; thus, the roots from contemporary misconceptions will also be exposed to properly comprehend the teachings of the Dutch Reformer, Jacobus Arminius.
The Life of Jacobus Arminius
The story of Arminianism begins with, of course, its founder, Jacob (also translated as James) Arminius, though his name is sometimes cited as Jakob Hermansz/Harmensz. He was born in 1559 in Oudewater, Holland, and was the son of an armor designer, Hermand Jacobszoon. Tragically, his father died around the time of his birth, and not much is known about his mother, Engeltje. Arminius, with a widowed mother, and several known siblings, suffered another tragedy in his early life when his mother and all of his siblings were murdered in the “massacre of Oudewater in 1575.” A year later, Arminius enrolled at the University of Leiden, which is where it was possible that his name was Latinized from Jakob Hermansz to Jacobus Arminius. He pursued further studies in 1582 at the Geneva Academy, headed by John Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza, but left a year later due to theological controversies. Arminius went on to Amsterdam and then became an ordained minister in that city by 1588. However, in 1603, Arminius became a professor at Leiden where he worked alongside of the Dutch Calvinist, Francis Gomar, who was frequently critical of the theological persuasions of Arminius, and did so until Arminius’s death in 1609. Specifically, Gomar disagreed with Arminius over the doctrines of God’s divine decrees in election and reprobation, though many theological opponents of Arminius accused him of Pelagianism and even Socinianism. Evidently, Arminian theology has consistently heard rather strong critiques and accusations from others, even from its inception with Arminius. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to observe the common suppositions put forth by those who discuss the theology of Arminianism.
Conceptions of Classical Arminianism
While the Calvinist “TULIP” acronym is commonly used for articulating soteriological doctrine, the “five points” actually came as a response to Arminius’s followers’ theological writings called “the Remonstrance.” Roger Olson explains, “The Remonstrance was prepared by forty-three or so (the exact number is debated) Dutch Reformed pastors and theologians after Arminius’s death in 1609. It was presented in 1610 to a conference of church and state leaders at Gouda, Holland, to explain Arminian doctrine. It focuses mainly on issues of salvation and especially predestination.” To counter these Arminian claims, Calvinists issued the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. Surprisingly, while the main tenets of the Remonstrance were critiqued by the Synod, there is simply no proof that the acronym “TULIP” was ever even used before the twentieth century. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the history of Arminianism traveled from Arminius, through the Remonstrance advocates, and then into other various circles. Therefore, it is important to focus attention primarily on five doctrines that are heavily debated with both Calvinist and Arminian theologians: (1) Total Depravity, (2) Unconditional/Conditional Election, (3) The Nature of the Atonement (4) Irresistible/Resistible Grace (5) Perseverance of the Saints. Before doing so, it is relevant to consider the words from Charles Hodge, “It was not until the Remonstrants in Holland, under the teaching of Arminius, rejected the Church doctrine of original sin, of the inability of fallen man to anything spiritually good, the sovereignty of God in election, and the perseverance of the saints, that the doctrine that the atonement had a special reference to the people of God was rejected.” History will now speak for itself as to which of these claims are true, false, and up for debate.
Historical Observations from Arminian Data
Arminian scholar, Roger Olson, defends himself and Arminianism with this claim: “Arminians…emphatically do not deny total depravity (even if they prefer another term to denote human spiritual helplessness) or the absolute necessity of supernatural grace for even the first exercise of a good will toward God.” Olson’s assertion would, of course, just be wishful thinking if no proof could be found, but history does indeed align with what he is saying. Jacobus Arminius spoke these words in his Works: “In this [fallen] state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.” Additionally, one of his closest followers, Simon Episcopius, said:
Man hath not saving faith of or from himself; nor is he born again or converted by the power of his own free will: seeing in the state of sin he cannot so much as think much less will or do any good which is indeed savingly good…of or from himself: but it is necessary that he be regenerated and wholly renewed of God in Christ by the Word of the gospel and by the virtue of the Holy Spirit in conjunction therewith: to wit, in understanding, affections, will, and all his powers and faculties, that he may be able rightly to understand, meditate on, will and perform these things that are savingly good.
Later Arminians, such as H. Orton Wiley, have spoken in perfect harmony with Arminius as well, saying, “Depravity is total in that it affects the entire being of man.” Even the Calvinists who wrote the book Why I Am Not an Arminian have concluded, “Arminians together with Calvinists alike believe in total depravity.”
After such reports of documented evidence stating that Classical Arminians have espoused the doctrine of Total Depravity, the question that begs to be asked is, “How did the misconceptions arise?” While much could be observed, there are two major reasons for the misappropriating of the Arminian doctrine of depravity throughout the past few centuries. (1) Theologians in times past have adopted the title “Arminian” while they themselves have taken the liberty to step away from Arminius’s primary convictions of Total Depravity. Evidence points to Philip Limborch, a seventeenth-century Remonstrant leader, as being responsible for defecting from Arminius. John Mark Hicks comments, “For Limborch man is only deprived of the knowledge which informs the intellect, but the will is fully capable within itself, if it is informed by the intellect, to will and perform anything good.” Likewise, in the nineteenth-century came evangelist Charles Finney. In denying original sin, Finney stated man does not “have a nature sinful in itself, but merely that before regeneration they are universally and morally depraved, that this is their natural, as opposed to their regenerate state.” Finney would therefore align himself, based on his teachings, with the doctrine of semi-Pelagianism. Thus, the confusion in contemporary theological discussions is a strong result of Limborch and Finney, though many others have followed down the same path as well. (2) Theologians have also misunderstood the Arminian doctrine of “Prevenient Grace.” More will be said on this doctrine later on, but the simplest explanation is that Classical Arminians teach “divine/human” synergism, while semi-Pelagians hold to “human/divine” synergism. The difference between the two is that the former teaches that God initiates the salvation process by a work of the Holy Spirit, enabling people to willingly cooperate and respond to the salvation invitation. However, the latter considers the faith of man necessary to initiate the salvation process, apart from prevenient grace. It can be concluded, then, that unfortunately many people have been falsely persuaded to believe that Classical Arminianism is congruent with semi-Pelagianism due to an incomplete overview of what is genuinely “Arminian” doctrine.
B. Election and Predestination
A major division line between a Calvinist and Arminian is based on the doctrine of election, namely “Conditional” (Arminianism) or “Unconditional” (Calvinism/Modified Calvinism). According to Roger Olson, “Classical Arminianism teaches that predestination is simply God’s determination (decree) to save through Christ all who freely respond to God’s offer of free grace by repenting of sin and believing (trusting) in Christ. It includes God’s foreknowledge of who will so respond. It does not include a selection of certain people to salvation [unconditional election], let alone to damnation.” However, he distinguishes the doctrine of “predestination” with “election,” which is “corporate.” Jacobus Arminius was certainly not opposed to predestination (in his preferred terms), and stated, “[Predestination is] the foundation of Christianity, and of salvation and its certainty.” In defining the doctrine of predestination, he writes, “[Predestination] is the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, by which he resolved within himself from all eternity, to justify, adopt and endow with everlasting life, to the praise of his own glorious grace, believers on whom he had decreed to bestow faith.” He then writes that God’s decree to elect “has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [prevenient] grace, believe, and through his subsequent grace would persevere…he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.” Therefore while most claims against Arminianism relate to Total Depravity and the resistibility of grace, it is clear to see that Arminius’s understanding of election was God’s choice, not man’s – even though, to Arminius, God’s choice was based on foreseen faith – nor did he pronounce all to be elect, namely universalism.
C. The Nature of the Atonement
When it comes to the doctrine of atonement, the critical issue that needs to be addressed is Arminius’s view of the nature of the atonement, either substitutionary atonement or the “governmental theory.” To put the matter simply, the historical debate over which view Arminius held to is quite chaotic. Yet, tracing the evidence throughout history will reveal the answer sufficiently. In his Works, Arminius responds to the criticisms of William Perkins, including issues relating to the atonement. In defending his understanding of the atonement, Arminius writes, “The death and suffering of Christ…is reconciliation with God, obtainment from God of remission, justification, and redemption; by which it is effected that God may now be able, as Justice, to which satisfaction has been made, interposes no obstacle, to remit sins and to bestow the spirit of grace upon sinful men.” Arminius makes things even clearer when he states that when Christ died on the cross he provided redemption while “suffering the punishment due to them.” It seems to be quite clear that Arminius held to a substitutionary atonement view. The discussion on Arminius’s view of the atonement, of course, does not end with the very words he has spoken.
An early supporter of the Remonstrants, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), propagated the “governmental theory.” Remonstrant proponent (though full of deviations from Arminius’s doctrines), Philip Limborch, espoused the “governmental theory” as well. Likewise, Charles Finney, who was definitely semi-Pelagian or worse stated, “The atonement of Christ was intended as a satisfaction of public justice.” It is also helpful to note that John Miley, though he personally held to the governmental theory, resolved, “Arminius himself maintained both penal substitution and a real conditionality of forgiveness.” To make matters difficult, however, H. Orton Wiley, “mistakenly attributed the beginning of the governmental theory to Arminius.” Fortunately, there are many Arminian voices that defend Arminius’s atonement position and personally believe it themselves. These include: John Wesley, Richard Watson, William Burton Pope, Thomas Summers, and Thomas Oden. Therefore, after observing the wide range of opinion and deviations from Arminius’s theology, it would be most reasonable to conclude that the “moral government” theory of the atonement is not distinctly “Arminian” and should be classified as a theory formulated by Hugo Grotius instead.
D. Resistibility of the Holy Spirit
It is quite possible that the key to understanding Arminian doctrine is to understand the doctrine of “prevenient grace.” Arminius states this claim:
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.
What truly separates Classical Arminians from semi-Pelagians such as Charles Finny, who, according to Roger Olson, denied prevenient grace, is that this work of the Holy Spirit “makes repentance and faith possible.” And, if not understood properly, Arminianism can easily appear to be a soteriology that does not require God’s initiation. In this particular area of doctrine, Philip Limborch once again deviates from Arminius, and consequently is responsible for more theological disorder. This time, Limborch, who already weakened the view of total depravity, confused prevenient grace with common grace. It would appear that even Henry Thiessen made the same mistake as Limborch, but after observing his explanation and context, that possibility should be rejected. Thiessen proposes, “Common grace is not sufficient for salvation, yet it reveals the goodness of God to all sinful creatures. This is true, but why stop there? We believe that the common grace also restores to the sinner the ability to make a favorable response to God. In other words, we hold that God, in His grace, makes it possible for all men to be saved.” He further clarifies, “It does not mean that prevenient grace enables a man to change the permanent bent of his will in the direction of God; nor that he can quit all sin and make himself acceptable to God. It does mean that he can make an initial response to God, as a result of which God can give him repentance and faith.” Therefore, it must be concluded that the Arminian position of understanding “prevenient grace” rejects the notion that man’s will is free and able to respond in saving faith by his own doing. There is certainly, as H. Orton Wiley states, “The co-operation of the human will” involved in responding to God’s message of salvation, but “that every movement of the soul toward God is initiated by divine grace.” With the available evidence known, it seems to be that a portion of the confusion about linking semi-Pelagianism to Arminianism is simply a result of ignorance to the writings and theology of Arminius and many of his followers, with the exception of Limborch and those who followed with his much more optimistic view of free will.
E. Perseverance of the Saints
On the final doctrine of examination, the perseverance of the saints, arriving at a strong conclusion of genuine Arminian theology will be a little more difficult. However, there have been erroneous and poor claims concerning Arminianism and the security of the believer (perseverance of the saints) as well that require a response. In Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology, he surveys the “Arminian” view of security. First of all, he commits the fallacy of attributing Arminius’s view of total depravity as being a “pollution” and not “total.” But then he says, “Arminianism clearly teaches that a believer may lose his salvation.” He proceeds to quote Arminius, “I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith and perish; yet I will not conceal that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect.” First of all, this is not a “clear” teaching of a Christian losing salvation, for Arminius “never taught” conditional perseverance (loss of salvation). Additionally, Ryrie fails to include in his book what Arminius articulates just two sentences later. Arminius says, “On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.” What can be synthesized, then, of Arminius’s doctrine of perseverance of the saints (whether salvation can be lost or not) is that he “never settled the matter. His strongest statement about it was that ‘I should not readily dare to say that true and saving faith may finally and totally fall away.’” Olson also writes, “Methodists and all their offshoots followed the Remonstrants and Wesley, who believed total apostasy is a possibility, while many Baptists followed Arminius or even held onto the Calvinist’s perseverance.” If anything, it would be best to simply be cautious about attributing the doctrine of conditional perseverance (potential to lose salvation) to Arminian theology. While Arminius was not dogmatic about his position, it would be incorrect to assume that all Arminians believe they can lose their salvation.
While certainly much more could be said of Arminianism and its distinctions from semi-Pelagianism, the evidence presented has proposed several reasons why the two systems of theology are to remain separate. Additionally, there can be plenty of application drawn from studying the claims regarding Arminianism, though just three will be presented for succinctness. First of all, the distortion of theological movements can be a result of either internal or external error. That is, “internally” anyone can assume the title of “Arminian” while straying from major tenets of the originator, namely Jacobus Arminius. And externally, opponents and skeptics can misinterpret or misapply the originator and his followers. Secondly, a lesson to be learned is that tracing history back to the beginning is necessary for accurate theological discussions. For example, “It is no fairer to blame Arminius or Arminianism for the later Remonstransts’ defection than to blame Calvin or Calvinism for Schleiermacher’s departure from Orthodoxy.” Finally, doing sufficient research on a certain theological system will make for much more intellectually honest and respectable discussions with opposing viewpoints. What has been presented and established is that Arminianism is distinct from semi-Pelagianism. What is left to be discussed afterwards, however, is whether or not Arminianism is biblically accurate. After all, the Bible is the source of which all theology should be derived; and thus, studying Arminius (or for that matter, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Edwards and all others in church history) and his writings should propel all listeners to compare his writings with biblical exegesis for the goal of accurate theology and the glory of God.
 Roger Olson, Aminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 9.
 Rick Rithie, “A Lutheran Response to Arminianism,” Modern Reformation 1 (1992): 9.
 Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 17-18, explains the difference between these two heresies, “[Pelagianism] denies original sin and elevates natural and moral human ability to live spiritually fulfilled lives. The latter [semi-Pelagianism] embraces a modified version of original sin but believes that humans have the ability, even in their natural or fallen state, to initiate salvation by exercising a good will toward God.”
 It should be noted that this research is not a defense of proving Arminian theology to be the most valid theological system, nor is it an attack on Calvinism/Moderate Calvinism. Instead, this research is simply attempting to give Arminianism an academically and historically honest overview in order to clear up popular misconceptions for the purpose of discussing theology more accurately.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 108.
 Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1971), 26-27.
 Ibid, 26.
 Ibid. 25.
 J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell. Who’s Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 36.
 Cross and Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church, 108.
 Douglas, Comfort, and Mitchell, Who’s Who in Christian History?, 36.
 Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 31.
 Michael Horton, For Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 20.
 Ibid., 26.
 The debate between “limited” and “unlimited” atonement could be considered another controversy related to the subject at hand. However, many professing Calvinists also hold to unlimited atonement. For this reason, and for sake of space, only the “nature” of the atonement will be addressed.
 Charles Hodge, vol. 2, Systematic Theology (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 548.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 17.
 Jacobus Arminius, Works, trans. James Nichols(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956), 2:192.
 Simon Episcopius, Confessions of Faith of Those Called Arminians (London: Heart & Bible, 1684), 118.
 H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 1941), 2:98.
 Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not an Arminian (Downers Grove: Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 163.
 John Mark Hicks, The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in the Development of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Arminianism (Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985), 34.
 Charles Finney, Finney’s Lectures on Systematic Theology, ed. J.H. Fairchild (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1878), 245.
 See Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: Vol. 3 (Detroit, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), 38. McCune writes, “This [view] holds that man has some natural ability, perhaps some faint natural desires to be saved, and God through the Spirit joins in and helps man to Christ.” Also, it is clear that Finney even maintains ideas of full Pelagianism, namely the denial of a sin nature. Wayne Grudem writes in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), that the “Pelagian position rejects the doctrine of ‘inherited sin’ (or ‘original sin’) and maintains that sin consists only in separate sinful acts” (pg. 499).
 See Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 17-18 for a proper distinction between views of synergism and how prevenient grace, according to his theology, is necessary for the salvation of totally depraved (by nature and choice) people.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid. Olson adds, “Election is…God’s determination of Christ to be the Savior of that group of people who repent and believe (Eph 1).” Italics added.
 Jacobus Arminius, Works, 1:248.
 Ibid., 565.
 The reason why this last point concerning universalism was included is because historically, there have been professing “Arminians” who have drifted from Orthodoxy into liberalism, particularly “Socinianism” and “Unitarian Universalism.” Certainly these unorthodox “drifters” were not Classical Arminians by any means, but were essentially products of Enlightenment thinking. See Michael Horton, For Calvinism, 34. Roger Olson even agrees; see Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 17.
 According to Grudem, the governmental theory “holds that God did not actually have to require payment for sin, but since he was omnipotent God, he could have set aside that requirement and simply forgiven sins without the payment of a penalty…Thus Christ did not exactly pay the penalty for the actual sins of any people, but simply suffered to show that when God’s laws are broken there must be some penalty paid.” (Systematic Theology, 582)
 Jacobus Arminius, Works, 3:352-353.
 Quoted in Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 229.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 229.
 Ibid., 230-231.
 Charles Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology, 207.
 John Miley, Systematic Theology, (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1989), 2:68.
 H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, 2:252.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 231-241.
 Jacobus Arminius, Works, 1:252.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 27, 35.
 Ibid., 148.
 Henry Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, 7th ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 155.
 Ibid., 156. From Thiessen’s writings, it would perhaps be acceptable to summarize his understanding of prevenient as grace as having two levels, or that there is a “special” kind of what he calls “common grace.” For example, he exchanges the phrase “common grace” with “prevenient grace” as he continues on in his argument. Most certainly, Thiessen is not semi-Pelagian in his theology, particularly in man’s depraved condition and in his ability to respond to God without prevenient grace. Whereas Limborch, at least from secondary sources, does not quite reach a point of a special divine grace, namely the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and initiation of the salvation offer by means of restoring the will to making a soteriological decision.
 H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, 2:356.
 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 381.
 Ibid. Italics added.
 Jacobus Arminius, Works, 1:254.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 187. Quotation includes Jacobus Arminius, Works, 3:454.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 187.
 Examples that have been included are Philip Limborch, Hugo Grotius, Charles Finney, and on certain points, even H. Orton Wiley and John Miley, though plenty of others could be cited as well.
 See the quote from Charles Hodge on page six for an excellent example.
 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology, 24.