Twenty-five years ago this month I defended my dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary. I remember that I was confident but somewhat intimidated at the same time. It was a weird feeling. One goal of a dissertation is to know more than your Professors on the topic. At the same time, they know some things you don’t and you don’t know which things they are. Thus, confident but intimated.
The title of my dissertation–this will thrill only a few, very few–is: The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in the Development of Seventeenth Century Dutch Arminianism. My point was that classic (or Reformed or “high”) Arminianism is something very different from late (or “low”) “Arminianism.” In fact, I don’t think we should use the same terms for both. I suggest that “Arminianism” is a title that should describe an evangelical, conservative theology such as that of Arminius himself (and Wesley to some degree) while “Remonstrant” describes the broader, more Enlightenment-shaped theology of later (much watered-down, fairly Pelagianized) “Arminianism”.
So, Arminianism is one thing and Remonstrantism is another. The latter developed from the former but was influenced by modernity (Enlightenment rationalism) which reshaped it. Arminianism has much more in common with Reformed theology than it does Remonstrantism. I would suggest Arminianism belongs to the Reformation era while Remonstrantism belongs to the Enlightenment era.
The original contribution of my study is the exposition of Philip van Limborch (1633-1712) who was the leading theological professor of the Remonstrant Seminary in the mid-to-late seventeenth century in Amsterdam.
Limborch is of some significance for students of Stone-Campbell history. He was John Locke’s favorite theologian and Limborch fully embraced Locke’s empircism. They were best friends from the time they met at an autopsy in Amsterdam. Further, Limborch’s theology reflects many of the themes of Stone-Campbell theology, including a kind of “word-only” theory, conversion as intellectual assent, similar understandings of covenant, etc. It is not surprising to me that Limborch and Alexander Campbell would have much in common given their modernity, traditional theological training, and acquaintance of Lockean empiricism.
For whatever it is worth–25 years later–I offer my dissertation to the virtual community. I wish I could rewrite it. I would prefer more inclusive gender language–I use “man” throughout rather than “humanity,” for example. It is wordy at places and imprecise. There is much to improve, but it is what it is. It passed, which was the most important thing at the time.
Abstract of Dissertation
The dissertation addresses the problem of the theological relationship between the theology of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and the theology of Philip van Limborch (1633-1712). Arminius is taken as a representative of original Arminianism and Limborch is viewed as a representative of developed Remonstrantism. The problem of the dissertation is the nature of the relationship between Arminianism and Remonstrantism. Some argue that the two systems are the fundamentally the same, others argue that Arminianism logically entails Remonstrantism and others argue that they ought to be radically distinguished. The thesis of the dissertation is that the presuppositions of Arminianism and Remonstrantism are radically different.
The thesis is limited to the doctrine of grace. There is no discussion of predestination. Rather, the thesis is based upon four categories of grace: (1) its need; (2) its nature; (3) its ground; and (4) its appropriation.
The method of the dissertation is a careful, separate analysis of the two theologians. Chapters two and three set forth Arminius’ understanding of grace. There is considerable interaction with secondary literature in an attempt to come to an informed understanding of Arminius’ theology of grace. Chapters four, fie and six attempt to understand Limborch’s theology of grace. Since secondary literature on Limborch is scarce, this is the most original work of the dissertation where the original Latin sources are brought to bear on the thesis of the dissertation.
After careful analysis of the respective theologians in the previous chapters, chapter seven compares the two according to their differences and similarities. They differ on the original state of man, the nature of the fall’s effects, the natural ability of fallen man, the nature of the Spirit’s work, the meaning of the death of Christ, the nature of saving righteousness, and the condition of applied righteousness. Arminius stands with the theology of the Reformation while Limborch’s theology shows the influence of the Enlightenment. While they have some similarities, including conditionality, synergism, and universalism, these similarities are governed by radically different presuppositions as the differences demonstrate. Consequently, it is not the case that Arminianism logically entails Remonstrantism.
The dissertation advocates a recognition of the fundamental distinction between Arminianism and Remonstrantism. It argues that the categories of historical theology ought to recognize this distinction. As a result, Arminius ought to be regarded as a theologian of the Reformation, but Limborch, and his Remonstrant brethren, ought to be seen as the advocates of a theology which undermines the distinctives of the Reformation.