Arminius–Review of a Recent Book

Given some recent comments, I thought I would share my review of a recent book that will soon appear in Restoration Quarterly. The author, Keith Stanglin, is a friend and former student (indeed, he was my Graduate Assistant for several years) at Harding University Graduate School of Religion. He now teaches at Harding University in Searcy, AR, after receiving his Ph.D. in historical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary (2006). Those interested in the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion might be interested to see his syllabus on that topic which has a significant number of helpful reading assignments and bibliography.

Keith D. Stanglin. Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. Brill’s Series in Church History, Volume 27. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007. 285 pages.  Price? Don’t ask.  :-)

2009 is the 400th anniversary of the death of Jacobus Arminius. While many have identified themselves as “Arminian” since his death, few have pursued scholarly and technical examinations of Arminius’ context and theology. Keith Stanglin’s thorough and substantive analysis is a welcome reprieve from cursory and superficial conversations about “Arminianism.” Indeed, this is the first monograph wholly focused on Arminius’ soteriology with special reference to its epistemology (how do I know I am saved?).

Based on his dissertation at Calvin Theological Seminary, Stanglin—who is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Harding University—makes several significant contributions to the study of Arminius. He contextualizes Arminius’ theology in the framework of Reformed theology and the debates that consumed his Leiden professorship from 1603-1609. This contextualization includes a comparison with the soteriology of Arminius’ contemporaries (e.g., William Perkins, Franciscus Gomarus). Further, he utilizes Arminius’ full Latin corpus, including unpublished Leiden disputations, as the basis for his analysis. This enables Stanglin to interpret Arminius’ soteriology in the specific context of his Leiden controversies. This has a significant impact on how one reads and understands this oft misunderstood Dutch theologian.

Stanglin argues that Arminius, despite his detractors, proposed a doctrine of assurance that was suited to the pastoral needs of believers. Arminius’ understanding of election is conceived in such a way that it preserves the love of God as the fundamental ground of the believer’s assurance. On this basis he rejected both unconditional election and irresistible grace, which are the primary soteriological differences between Arminius and Gomarus. Since faith is a “resistible gift, then defection from faith also may happen by free choice” (p. 141). According to Stanglin, apostasy was possible in Arminius’ soteriology.

Given the possibility of apostasy, what does assurance mean to Arminius? This is the major burden of the book and Stanglin rigorously explores Arminius’ “epistemology of salvation” (pp. 143-235). Assurance, for Arminius, is fiducia (a trusting tranquility that rests in God’s love for us) that avoids the twin pitfalls of desperatio (despair) and securitas (from sine cura, meaning, without care or careless; a kind of presumption). Arminius’ pastoral experience in Amsterdam from 1588-1603 alerted him to these dangers. He witnessed some despair as they suffered from the plague but also saw others arrogantly presume their election. While his contemporaries agreed with his concern about disperatio, Arminius “was a lonely voice in the struggle against securitas” (p. 152).

Stanglin demonstrates that securitas was usually understood as a negative quality arising from pride (e.g., Augustine and Luther). While Calvin used securitas and fiducia interchangeably (loosening the securitas from its historic moorings), he hinged securitas on the attitude of “godly fear” and distinguished between “simple security” and “carnal security” (pp. 163-4). Stanglin argues that early Reformed Orthodoxy (e.g., Gomarus) equated fiducia and securitas while Arminius wanted to preserve the historic caution against securitas as the fruit of pride. This did not undermine certainty (certitudo) but it did exclude presumption (praesumptio). Unfortunately, for Arminius, his assault on presumption took place at the moment when securitas had become a “new normal” for the Reformed understanding of assurance (p. 175). While characterizing securitas negatively, Arminius did affirm that fiducia yields assurance and certainty.

Interestingly, it is precisely because Arminius wants to avoid despair and presumption that he opposes unconditional election. On the one hand, Reformed soteriology may produce despair because ultimately authentic faith is practically indistinguishable from “temporary” faith (p. 183) and the despair this creates is “focused” on the believers’ inability to discern whether they are included in “God’s immutable decree” (p. 187). On the other hand, Reformed soteriology may produce an unhealthy security that leads to presumption due to a lack of godly fear about salvation. Unconditional election provides no functional deliverance from these two hazards.

Precisely because he rejects unconditional election Arminius affirms that fides yields fiducia which yields certitudo. The evidence or testimony that yields this conclusion is both objective—which is primary—and subjective. The subjective includes faith, testimony of the Spirit, good works, and the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit, which does not differ from his Reformed contemporaries (p. 204). The difference comes in the objective. For the Reformed the objective is God’s eternal decree. For Arminius it is the love of God.

Significantly, Stanglin argues, “Arminus views God’s love of humanity as something more than mere means (uti) towards the goal of his own glory (which is Reformed supralapsarianism, JMH), but as approaching enjoyment (frui), the beatitude of the creature as the end that God enjoys” (p. 220). In other words, the goal of God’s love is not his own glory as if God is egocentric but rather enjoying the communion of his creation. This is the fundamental ground of assurance—all believers know they are beloved. This belovedness, which Reformed believers cannot know absolutely since they cannot see into the divine decree, yields a present certainty without despair or presumption.

Stanglin has effectively and persuasively argued that assurance was not only significant for Arminius but it was his “principal” soteriological concern (p. 243). It was because the Reformed doctrine of predestination could not provide a “healthy doctrine of assurance” that Arminius dissented from the Reformed Orthodoxy of his colleagues. Assurance, then, was “both the point of departure and the conclusive goal of his system” (p. 244).

This is a significant book. It is one of only a few critical and substantial treatments of Arminius available. We can only hope that it will encourage others to follow Stanglin’s lead.



23 Responses to “Arminius–Review of a Recent Book”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Thanks for the review…now the only problem with a book published by Brill is that we need our own economic stimulus package just to afford the price:-).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      After such a great, succint review that gives you the theological heart and contemporary message of the book, why would you buy it anyway? :-)

      Kidding, of course. It is a book to remember in terms of research, understanding Arminius, and thinking about the historical understanding of “assurance.” But it makes the wonderful theological point that the love of God rather than the eternal decree of God is the ground of assurance. That goes to the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, in my opinion.

  2.   Matthew Says:

    The good news is that I show 94 libraries on WorldCat that already own this. That bodes well for ILL. Owning it may take some handy persuasion.

  3.   Marriage Help Says:

    I had a conversation about apostasy recently with a friend. He does not believe that we can ever lose our salvation no matter what we do or even if we choose to turn completely from God.

    His points were good but they seemed to be based more on philosophical concepts rather than scripture which is dangerous.

    I don’t see, however, how it could be a fellowship issue.

  4.   Jr Says:

    I don’t agree (shocker, I know) :) with the objective term used for the Reformed position. I am no master of the Reformed position by any means, though I find myself agreeing with it more and more; but the objective “evidence or testimony” is not only “God’s eternal decree,” but is found from the mouth of Jesus throughout John 10 (among other references). Specifically v.27-30 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father?s hand. I and the Father are one.”

    So the true (not false, 1 John 2:19) subjective elements are then held up with the objective that Christ died for the elect; period. He accomplished this at the Cross – that is the certainty of the atonement. “they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Can’t get anymore assured than that!

    The anchor for assurance, then, is God?s grace.

    Grace to you – (and MAN that’s an expensive book!)

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Indeed, it is expensive; it is designed for libraries.

      “Christ died for the elect.” I think you said it yourself, didn’t you? Only the elect can truly believe Jesus’ words so election is more fundamental than Jesus’ words since I don’t know if they apply to me if I’m not elect.

      Election is the objective root of assurance in Reformed theology (Stanglin demonstrates this in his book.)

      Now, I don’t have a problem with that if one recognizes that we know our election through faith. But in Reformed theology there is this thing called “temporary faith” (people who think they believe but they really don’t, but they don’t know that).

      If we can agree that assurance is grounded in the love and grace of God and we know that assuracne through faith, then Calvinist and Arminian alike can stand together on that platform.

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      If we are trying to understand the soteriological function of the term “elect” from the Gospel of John, then it seem that Jesus’ uses of “the world” in John 3 bear weight on just who the elect are that Jesus died for.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

      • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

        Rex, I think I would put it this way: “world” in John (which stands for the darkness and reigning relam of the prince of evil in John) includes both elect and non-elect. God loved the world–the whole world, and Jesus died for the world–the whole world (elect and non-elect) as per John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

      •   K. Rex Butts Says:

        Fair enough…I have no objections. Just like back at HUGSR…one of the reasons I hang out on this blog:-).

        Grace and peace,

        Rex

  5.   rich constant Says:

    thanks john mark
    i will read this a few times maybe i get some of it.
    :-)

    blessings rich

  6.   randall Says:

    “If we can agree that assurance is grounded in the love and grace of God and we know that assurance through faith, then Calvinist and Arminian alike can stand together on that platform.”

    I can agree with that. It does not even seem controversial to me.

    There is no problem standing side by side with either an Arminian or a Calvinist as all those that are saved are saved by grace, not by their understanding of doctrine, no matter if it be TULIP, DAISY or something else. None of us understand doctrine correctly 100% of the time.
    Peace,
    Randall

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      I agree with that. No one has a perfect understanding of doctrine…unfortunately I have served in a couple of churches that thought otherwise but that is another story.

      BTW, what does DAISY stand for?

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

    •   Howard Holmes Says:

      If (as you suggest) those who are saved are saved by grace rather than correct understanding of doctrine, I assume those who are lost are not lost through incorrect understanding of doctrine but rather “insufficient grace.”?? In other words, what is it that distinquishes the lost from the saved? Surely it could not be God’s grace? Surely it could not be something they either have done or left undone? What exactly is it?

      •   randall Says:

        Howard,
        I believe scripture teaches those who are saved are saved by grace, not by being brilliant in their understanding of doctrine. Indeed, I find nothing in scripture to suggest that being smart or particularly well read is an advantage before God.

        What is it that distinguishes the lost from the saved?

        Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. God has worked in the lives of the saved to bring them to faith and a saving knowledge of Jesus. He has opened their hearts (as he did Lydia’s heart) to receive him and they have come to love him.

        The lost do not “know” God and are not “known” by him. They are fallen, corrupt creatures (as was I) that do not love God. They are spiritually deaf, blind, dead and the enemy of God.

        So the short answer to the question is yes, the difference is God’s grace.
        Peace,
        Randall

        •   Howard Holmes Says:

          You said that it is the difference in God’s grace which distinguishes the lost from the saved. I would assume you believe that God’s grace is sufficient to save all and available to all, so certainly it is not the sufficiency or availability of his grace. It must be something else. What else is it that distingushes the saved from the lost?

          Thanks.
          Howard

  7.   randall Says:

    Rex,
    What does DAISY stand for? I thought no one would ever ask. You already know TULIP so here is DAISY:

    Hold a daisy in your left hand and while holding the flower begin to pluck off the petals one by one with your right hand, all the while repeating the words “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not… :-)

    Sometimes non Calvinists make fun of (ridicule?) P – perseverance of the saints – so this is a Calvinist’s response saying that if God has ever loved me he shall always love me. He loves me unconditionally so he will not stop loving me when I mess up.

    I found it humorous because I was raised with the understanding that one could pass from saved to lost and back again frequently/occasionally so one never had much assurance of where they stood. Many Calvinists believe scripture teaches that God is the one that brought us to faith and he is the one that keeps us faithful. I recall many times when folks were asked if they were saved and the best answer they could muster was “I hope so.”

    BTW, I know you have seen posts on another blog regarding the letter to the Hebrews and losing one’s salvation. I did not see whether it addressed if one could ever be restored to the faith again after having been saved and lost one time each. You notice the CofC does not teach UNconditional love.

    Thanks for indulging me brother. May God bless you and your ministry.
    Grace and peace,
    Randall

  8.   randall Says:

    JMH and Rex,
    I love you guys and I am convinced God loves y’all too.
    Peace,
    Randall

  9. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Same here, my brother.

  10.   kamelhaarjoe Says:

    yeah, stanglin was in germany a few months back and i had asekd him to bring me a copy and sell it “under the counter”. but he did not have any extras. ;(

  11.   ToneRanger Says:

    John 10:26-27 should be understood in the context of John 10, starting with the ‘key’ to the passage, i.e., verse 1: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.”

    Note the emphasis on identifying the ‘thief and a robber’. The latter does not go in by the door.

    Why does He bring attention to this?

    Jesus is deliberately identifying Himself as God the Father, who likens Himself as a Great Shepherd Jeremiah 23.

    1″Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD.
    2Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the LORD. 3″Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.”

    Note especially, verse 3, where God says “I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock”. It is with this beautifully reassuring Messianic prophecy that Jesus addresses the Pharisees who are seeking to corner him…

    Notice the irony in the address: The lamb of God, being surrounded by a pack of wolves, trying to snatch Him from the Father’s hand.

    And yet Jesus gives them in no uncertain terms a clear rebuke in two ways: First, He clearly answers their question “Are you the Christ” by drawing from Jeremiah 23 and the shepherd identification. Second, He tells them they will no longer be able to snatch God’s people and devour them (Mark 12:40 for instance).

    Snatch here carries the connotation of forcefully plucking out or dragging the sheep out of His hand. What a wonderful assurance we have! We are protected from the ones who would forcefully snatch us out of His hand.

    So I understand 10:27-28: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” as all being inter-related to one focal thing: the snatching out of His Hand. Note that Christ as Messiah is saying with extreme authority that NO ONE SHALL SNATCH them, in other words “I Myself will gather My flock…” from Jeremiah 23.

    But there is a clear distinction to be made between snatching and a willful departure out of His hand. He is NOT saying they can never wander away and get lost of themselves!

    In fact Matt 18, the parable of the lost sheep, clearly shows that Jesus teaches that it is possible for one of His sheep to wander away and get lost. The only way for His sheep to avoid this is to abide in Him, that is to remain in a intimate closeness to Christ, the Shepherd.

    John 15:5-6
    ” 5″I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned”

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