Is Arminianism a Different Gospel? – by Rev. Eric Kampen

The seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking can be a point of contention at times. It is not unheard of that in Reformed circles critical comments about Arminianism are met with blank stares, a degree of indifference, or even a degree of hostility. The hostility may arise as it is felt that the criticism is unjust, extreme, inaccurate, or, even if it is correct, unnecessary as despite the differences those holding to Arminian theology are still Christians.

In recent reading I came across some remarks concerning Arminianism which showed both the seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking and how it is incompatible with the Reformed faith which, after all, is the Scriptural faith. In essence, in Arminianism we have a different gospel (see 2 Corinthians. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-8), a gospel which denies salvation is the complete gift of the sovereign God who graciously justifies sinners through faith alone.

Just to refresh your memory, Arminian thinking, so soundly renounced in the Canons of Dort, denies God’s sovereign eternal election unto salvation. While affirming God’s grace, Arminianism claims that God merely offers salvation and it is up to man who decides to accept or reject the gospel. One author summed up Arminian thinking as follows,”….God was made dependent on free-will-equipped-men for whom He politely had to wait, looking to see whether the man would be so kind as to believe”[1].

Though the Reformers of the early 16th Century did not have to contend with Arminianism as such, since Arminianism arose late in the 16th century and early in the 17th century, they did have to contend with its theological cousin, Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that man is spiritually sick. As such he does need the help of God’s grace in order to get better. However, it is up to man to take the spiritual medicine which God offers. God must have man’s cooperation. In theological terms this was called “synergism”. You can see the similarity to the Arminian position. The Reformers responded to this by stressing the sovereign grace of God, as heard in the cry “Sola gratia”. God calls those dead in sin to new life (see Ephesians. 2:1-10). The Reformers stressed the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace. This was a point of unity between the Reformers despite differences about other issues. [2] In the Book “The Bondage of the Will” this was the point that Luther argued with Erasmus.

We should note then that Arminianism is a reincarnation of Semi-Pelagianism with its emphasis on man’s freedom. This explains why the churches acted so resolutely with respect to Arminianism. They saw it as a serious threat to the gospel and condemned it “as being in principle” a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought). Arminianism was,indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.”[3]

The Reformed faith thus teaches the helplessness of man in salvation. Arminianism, in typical Semi-Pelagian style, teaches self-help religion. It is sovereign God versus sovereign man. It is indeed the different gospel which Paul warned about. It is appealing because it extols the dignity of man. It is a lie because man is dead in sin, totally helpless.

While the aforementioned points show the seriousness of the Arminian teaching and how it stands in contrast to true Reformation theology, to what extent is it found today? One author stated that “Arminianism … has had American evangelicalism in a strangle hold since the days of Charles Finney.”[4] Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a >revivalist preacher who was very influential with his revival techniques. Another author states that 86 percent of American evangelicals hold to the Arminian position as comes out in their agreement with the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” [5]This comes out very clearly in the writings of the well known Billy Graham who has even written a religious self-help manual titled “How To Be Born Again” in which the various steps to salvation are clearly spelled out.[6]

The apostle Paul fought with great vigour against the “different gospel”. In that gospel they will speak of Christ and use words like grace, election, faith, regeneration, etc. Yet, it is not the gospel of sovereign grace received through faith but of grace received on the ground of one’s faith. The earlier mentioned reference linking Rome and Arminianism is worth drawing to your attention again. Actually,there is a common denominator in all false religion in that it ascribes ability and free will to man by which he can effect his own salvation if he so wishes. It displays the arrogance of sinful man,even more so when he dresses lies with words of the gospel. That makes the enemy all the more difficult to detect as he works in his subtle way. We can all the more understand Paul’s warning about Satan disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians. 11:14).

Personally I don’t enjoy having to harp on the point of the Arminian danger. I fear, however, that it is necessary because it is not realized how serious and extensive a threat it is. The true church glories in the gospel of sovereign grace where God rescues dead sinners and grants them the righteousness of Christ through faith. Let me conclude quoting in full Paul’s words in Gal. 1:6-9,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel –not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again,If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Footnotes

1. K. Schilder, Extra-Scriptural Binding – A New Danger (In American Secession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism & Extra-Scriptural Binding). (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1996. p. 131.)
2. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Cambridge: James Clarke/Westwood, N.J.: Revell,1957, pp. 57-58)
3. Ibid. p. 59
4 R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997) p.180
5. M. Horton, In the Face of God. (Word Publishing, 1996) Appendix CURE (Christians United for Reformation).
6. To give just two examples, Graham writes “The context of John 3 teaches that the new birth is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God”, and “He gives the Holy Spirit to draw you to the cross, but even after all this, it is your decision whether to accept God’s free pardon or to continue in your lost condition.” (B. Graham, How To Be Born Again. Originally published 1977. Quoted from the 1989 edition by Word Publishers, pages 150, 162)

19 responses to “Is Arminianism a Different Gospel? – by Rev. Eric Kampen

  1. Dan,

    I know you won’t publish my comment. No problem. But I need to point something out.

    1. No one disputes scripture on either side.
    2. Differences of opinion of what it is interpreted to be is what the difference is.

    Here is the example from the article that you post:

    1. You state that the Arminian gospel is a false gospel. First of all, the only gospel is that Jesus died on a cross to save sinners and that he rose again to prove eternal life (1 Cor 15), so, just because Arminian has issues with Calvinism has nothing to do with the word “gospel”.

    But your article states:

    “a gospel which denies salvation is the complete gift of the sovereign God who graciously justifies sinners through faith alone.

    Dan…no one denies that salvation is a gift of the sovereign God who graciously justifies sinners thru faith alone.

    The difference is in the interpretation of “sovereign” and “faith”.

    Your sides interpretation of the definition of the words “sovereign”, “faith”, “election”, along with a whole slew of other words are different, including the word “work”, as Calvinism thinks that if we say that we have faith accompanied by the words free will, Calvinism interprets us as that our effort of faith is a work. So, the word “work” is misapplied, as faith is not a work. Work is in the “self righteousness” of being obedient to the law of Moses, and the law is not of faith, so there is no way that faith is a work to begin with.

    You state:
    Arminian thinking, so soundly renounced in the Canons of Dort, denies God’s sovereign eternal election unto salvation.

    Of course they do. All because of interpretation the difference between Calvinism interpretation of definition of words. But no one is disputing the gospel, so how can what we believe be a false gospel? There is only 2 aspects to the gospel, and it is spelled out in 1 Cor 15.

    1. Jesus died
    2. Jesus rose from the dead

    So how can what Arminians believe be a false gospel if they believe those 2?

    What constitutes a false gospel?

    Ed

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    • Ed,
      First of all, you should say something like “the article author states” instead of attributing his statements to me. I posted an article and did not interject personal opinion. Then you quoted partial statements and offered your rebuttal. Fine. However, let’s consider a complete section of the posted article, and emphasize “different” nature of the Arminian gospel:

      “Just to refresh your memory, Arminian thinking, so soundly renounced in the Canons of Dort, denies God’s sovereign eternal election unto salvation. While affirming God’s grace, Arminianism claims that God merely offers salvation and it is up to man who decides to accept or reject the gospel. One author summed up Arminian thinking as follows,”….God was made dependent on free-will-equipped-men for whom He politely had to wait, looking to see whether the man would be so kind as to believe”

      That God merely offers salvation which is dependent upon man’s ‘free will’ decision is a ‘different‘ message than the message that Christ actually and perfectly secured salvation those for whom he died that day on Calvary. In other words, one ‘gospel’ is monergistic in nature and completely a work of God, including sovereignly bringing his elect to a point of willing repentance and trust in Christ. The other is a ‘synergistic’ work in which man, of his own ‘free will’ cooperates with God to secure his own salvation. One can even logically surmise that man in essence ‘saves himself’.

      Anyway, that’s the argument at hand. Also know that I could have said what I just said and completely disagreed with it, since I am discussing the argument made in the arrtlcle.

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      • Sorry about my stating your article instead of someone else’s. However, I would like your interpretation of “gospel” in order to determine what “false gospel” is to the Calvinist.

        People have disagreements about many things, but no one disputes gospel, unless they redefine what it is. And that was my point. Non Calvinists and Calvinists alike believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose the third day. That is the gospel, according to 1 Cor 15. We all believe the gospel. So, what is false gospel, and why is that phrase being used flippantly, many people, not just the author of the article.

        Ed

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  2. Dan,

    Just yesterday, I watched a conversation between two Southern Baptist leaders, one a supposed Calvinist and the other a “Traditionalist.” I was amazed as I listened to the supposed Calvinist who is quite well known and respected. He agreed with the Trad that we can all seek denominational unity [whatever that is] because, after all, we all preach the same gospel. I felt like tossing my cookies. No Calvinist worth his salt should believe the message we preach is the same as the Arminian message. There is a vast difference between “Jesus loves you and died for you, IF ONLY. . . .” and “Jesus has secured eternal redemption for the most guilty rebel who will repent and trust God’s gospel promises.” There is no “if only” in the gospel offer in terms rendering God’s work effectual. God’s work has been and is effectual and it is based on that effectual work that he calls on sinners to repent. It is high time people understand that it is impossible for a true Calvinist to proclaim an Arminian “gospel.” This is especially important for those in leadership positions in major denominations. You don’t suppose they care more about “denominational unity” that they do about truth, do you?

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    • I think I heard someone say that saved Arminians are closet Calvinists. We might both quote 1 Cor 15:1-4, but to say that Christ died to make salvation possible is not the same as Saying Christ’s death and resurrection infallibly secured the salvation of those foe whom he died. I know a lot of professing Arminians whose salvation I do not doubt, but I will not hesitate to share with them the beauty and glory of sovereign grace any way I can.

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      • Dan,

        Please understand that I am not suggesting that Arminians are unconverted. As I heard someone say recently, “They are saved through a happy inconsistency.” If they really believed what they preach, they could not believe that Jesus secured salvation for them on the cross. It could not be by his work alone, since, in their view, he did no more for them than he did for those who are perishing in hades. It must be by his work plus. . . .

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        • I knew that! 🙂 Sadly, when I was doing a bit of research, I discovered that there are some who would tell us that they are all happy heathens. I haven’t actually met one of those sorts and am not eager to do so. 🙂 I well remember my ‘Arminian’ years and my enthusiasm for spreading the gospel even then.

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  3. IMHO the contention is at the point of free will. Do sinners really have free will? Will they really choose Christ given the chance? The Scriptures, particularly the gospels show that this answer is no! What did Jesus Christ say or do that could possibly turn sinners away from Him? He preached the gospel, He healed the sick, He raised the dead, He fed the multitudes, and yet when He stood before the people falsely condemned they preferred an insurrectionist to the glorious Son of God. What more proof do we need?

    I can give more. Look at your own heart before being saved. Did you have warm thoughts towards God? Did you want to know Him and obey Him? Did you want to leave off your sin to follow Him? Did you just suddenly decide one day that you wanted to know God?

    I said that as a teenager, but what did I do? I followed a life of willful sin; I was helpless in my sinfulness and dead in my transgressions. That is what makes Ephesians chapter two so powerful, sinners are described and the solution is given, and it isn’t just try your best or work up your feelings for God.
    No, it says, but God who is rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins has made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved.

    Then the greatest declaration in verses 8-10 are given:
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that no of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

    Where is the work of the sinner in that passage? It is completely excluded. We are, however, held accountable to believe the gospel and persevere in that belief as attested by 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:

    1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believe in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

    How do we reconcile our accountability to believe the gospel and God’s sovereignty? Is that something we have to do? I don’t think so. We are just called to believe what God has told us in His Word. He made us, He calls us to repent and believe the gospel, He saves us, and He keeps us. Praise His name! Amen!

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  4. Calvinism and Armenian are two different and apposing gospels when you get past Jesus died and rose. How many cults even believe that? So that is not a good argument to try to bring the two together.

    TULIP is the heart of Calvinism and it is repulsive to those who hold the Armenian view. Even though you never said Armenian is a false gospel, one of the two is. They are on opposite ends of the magnet. They can’t and won’t fit together.

    I should say parts of TULIP are even offensive to Calvinist. I think I have only met one real 5 point Calvinist, but a meet a bunch that call themselves 3.5, 4.0 4.5 etc.

    Like

    • I just posed the question to stimulate thought and discussion. I would agree that they are different messages. Calvinism says that God alone saves. Arminianism man cooperates with God in salvation. I think that TULIP is a poor acronym. There are better definitions of each letter.

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