Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (in Review)

Derek Ouellette —  October 15, 2010

Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation
By Carl Bangs

5 Star (out of 5)

I am having difficulty containing how much I like this book. At the risk of tipping over the top let me go on record in saying that Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation is quite simply the number one book I’ve read (so far) in 2010, and in all probability it is the best academic biography I have ever read!

Carl Bangs sifts through old church archives, marriage records, municipal records and birth certificates in his investigation into the life and times of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609). Through this study you will discover the very sad upbringing of young Jacob, the tragedy of his hometown Oudewater with the massacre of his family. You will also learn about the socio-political context of Holland, particularly Amsterdam and Leiden. As this context is laid it will quickly become evident that the Dutch Reformation was unlike any other places of Reformation, such as France, England or Germany, in that the Dutch spirit was one of religious tolerance within the Reformers circles. It is largely because of the Dutch spirit – both in the Church and in the political magistrate – that Arminius was able to fairly defend himself against his critics and – on most all occasions – silence them through reasoned arguments and scripture.

But you will also discover, as the context is laid, how it is the by 1618-19 the Reformers were able to hold a non-tolerant Kangaroo court which – for a brief period – led to the persecution of Arminius’ friends. So much change of the political landscape of Holland – and particularly Amsterdam – in between 1590 and 1610, with the rise of the East Indie Trade Company and many other external factors, which resulted in an influx of non-Dutch Reformers (mostly from places like France) that political arm-wrestling began between the older tolerant Reformers/magistrates and the new influx of non-tolerant Genevian-styled Reformers. Arminius found himself in the epicenter of that clash.

Carl Bangs also clears away the debris of folklores, tall-tales, rumors and slanders which have been circulating about Arminius for centuries by those who opposed him theologically. And as an add-on, Bangs devotes whole sections of the story, during the development of a particular event, to look at Arminius’ theology of that time based on the writings. The book also concludes with an overview, section by section, of what Jacob Arminius believed. So this is not only a history book or a biography, it is also a theology book!

Arminius should be required reading of all who claim to follow in the tradition of Jacob Arminius; all who resist Arminianism ought to read this book to know precisely what it is they are resisting, and anyone interested in the era of the Reformation, or who has done a serious study of Luther or Calvin, needs to read this book and hold it on par with them.

Of all things, I believe what impressed me most was the character of Jacob Arminius. Rare is it that one finds, in this whole era (1500-1600), a leading reformer who is also equally as tolerant, wise, intelligent, but also transparent, humble and – to the surprise of many – non-confrontational. Arminius was a scholar/pastor with a shepherd’s heart and a back-bone. Perhaps that is why so many opposed him without being able to find fault with what he actually taught or believed.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.