Predestination: Summary of the Arminian Views

Derek Ouellette —  June 23, 2010

The following is an excerpt taken from Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s book, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology and is posted here for the sake of discussion:

Arminius did not reject the fact of predestination or the biblical teaching regarding it, but he showed by careful exegesis that Beza’s interpretation of predestination was not biblically sound. The source of the supralapsarian theory of decrees (or any system of decrees which gives specific direction to a theological system) was twofold: (1) It assumed certain things about God and His method of operation about which the Bible gives us no revelation. At this point, human knowledge must always bow in humility before God, but it is at this point where men are often the most dogmatic; (2) The related error was in supposing that (a) God’s method of operation was by means of decrees, and (b) that men could know the order in which God arranged them. That which is done in the “eternal secret council of God’s own mind” is assumed to be revealed by human intelligence, which then becomes the standard of orthodoxy.

The concept of “particular” predestination naturally suggests the need for decree; else how could God predestine anything? The concept of decree reveals the theologian’s concept of God. It is here that Arminius felt Beza’s philosophy was defective. Actually, what is a decree? God may or may not order the affairs of the universe by decrees, or at least by man’s interpretation of decree. But it is most certainly the case that the Bible does not give us any hint as to the nature or sequence of His decrees; therefore theological differences arising from the various orders of decrees are not proper sources of theological differences and breaks in Christian fellowship.

A more recent Calvinist, Dr. A.A. Hodge, has modified the more extreme concept of divine decrees: “We believe that the Decree of God is one single, eternal intention. There cannot be an order of succession in His purpose. The whole is one choice…. The question therefore, as to the Order of Decrees is not a question as to the order of acts in God’s decreeing, but it is a question as to the true revelation sustained by the several parts of the system which he decrees to one another.” This makes clear, however, that the relationship of parts to the whole is a theological problem, not a biblical problem. And the theological systems arising out of a supralapsarian or sublapsarian concept of the decrees results in significant and irreconcilable soteriological contradictions.

The various philosophically determined orders of God’s decrees confuse the truth of the biblical doctrine of predestination. The biblical doctrine of predestination  stands guard against any theory of man’s natural ability intended to defend the absolute sovereignty of God against Pelagius’ teaching that man is not absolutely dependent upon God’s grace. God is sovereign. This truth was shared by the Reformers, Calvin, Beza, Arminius, and later by Wesley.

Calvin’s doctrine of predestination stood against the Catholic error of salvation by the Church, and one’s own good works. This is surely a proper motive. But when, by the intrusion of man’s concept of divine decrees, predestination becomes a speculative doctrine which presumes to know the inner secrets of God’s mind, then it no longer serves the interests of Christian theology.

Arminius’ teaching was an ethical criticism of the supralapsarian concept of predestination. The implications of the theory tend to relax moral integrity. If God is the author of sin as well as of salvation, why should man attempt to reform his evil ways? The implications inherent in supralapsarianism tend to rob Christianity of its dynamic evangelism as well as high ethical discipline.

Arminius stressed an interpretation of predestination which understood God’s grace as strengthening moral life rather than weakening it. Grace is God’s love and moral energy available to all men. Grace is not, he thought, an arbitrary imposition of the will of God on passive man. Grace is not an arbitrary divine cause but the free gift of God’s enablement.

To Arminius, predestination must be, as it is in Scripture, Christ-centered, as all theology must be Christ-centered. This emphasis on Christ was the major corrective of Calvinism’s errors and the major Arminian emphasis.

Final authority for Christian faith and theological truth is God’s Word. In fact, God’s Word must become the judge of the creeds. Therefore theology and the creeds are not to make authoritative proclamations about God’s nature and work before thorough exegetical work in the Scripture is done. Here alone is this kind of revelation to be found. And theology must always stand under the judgment of the Word of God. – pp.55-57

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Derek Ouellette

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

    First, how can a doctrine of predestination that speaks of God’s foreknowledge (about which we can know nothing; not even that it exists in the fashion we think it might) “stand against” false teaching within the Church that has nothing to do with foreknowledge? That’s comparing apples and oranges. The doctrine of predestination naturally is in conflict with a doctrine of free will for by the one, God ordains who lives and who dies before the foundations of the earth; and by the other, man freely repents and turns to God (God’s instigation of this is up for debate). Predestination denies human involvement and makes God out to be a puppeteer while “free will” allows for human responsibility and, yes, effort. We are not justified by our effort, but our salvation is to be worked out here on earth. Effort is involved, but we are saved by grace through Christ’s faithfulness (and not “our faith” or “our works”; both are heretical).

    Second, this comment seems silly: “Therefore theology and the creeds are not to make authoritative proclamations about God’s nature and work before thorough exegetical work in the Scripture is done.” The creeds existed before many of what we now know as Scripture was canonized (and, in some cases, written!). Do we take what comes first or last; what is the role of the “teaching of the apostles” when it comes from tradition and the creeds instead of Scripture? I agree that they should not contradict each other, but we do not need to order them thusly: read/interpret Scripture first, make proclamations second. Quite often it is (and has been) the teachings of the Church (orthodox, catholic, universal) that best interprets Scripture to our limited Western post-modernist understanding.