Arminianism on the Righteousness of Saving Faith

Recently a researcher in Europe asked for a copy of my article The Righteousness of Saving Faith: Arminian Versus Remonstrant Grace (published in Evangelical Journal in 1991) to assist his investigation of Arminianism. It gave me the opportunity to dig it up and put it on my website.  The article is based on my Ph.D. dissertation The Theology of Grace in Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in Seventeenth Century Dutch Arminianism completed at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1985. I have not yet put my dissertation online (perhaps soon).

The article argues for a distinction between Arminianism and Remonstrantism. In other words, there is a difference between Arminius and what often passes for “Arminianism” in contemporary discussions. Roger Olson’s recent Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (who makes significant use of my dissertation) seeks to help us make this distinction.  Classic or Historic Arminianism is much closer to Reformed theology than many of its contemporary expressions, including what we find in the Stone-Campbell Movement.

What I think is significant for the Stone-Campbell Movement in this discussion is that historically there have been at least two understandings of grace within the movement.  If we focus the discussion of grace on the “righteousness of saving faith,” the difference between Classic Arminianism and Remonstrantism rears its head within the Stone-Campbell Movement as well.

My published work on K. C. Moser illustrates this disagreement within Churches of Christ.  What I have called the “Tennessee Tradition” (e.g., R. C. Bell) pursues an Arminian understanding of grace and the nature of saving righteouenss.  What I have called the “Texas Tradition” (e.g., Guy N. Woods) practically reproduces the Remonstrant understanding of grace. (For those interested in the broader Texas/Tennessee contrasts, see Kingdom Come by Bobby Valentine and myself).

The critical difference is something like this.  Classic Arminianism affirms that the righteousness of saving faith is external to faith itself, that is, the righteousness that saves is from God and is a gift to us. Classically, this righteousness is the work of Christ imputed to us. Remonstrantism affirms that the righteousness of saving faith is inherent within faith itself, that is, our faith is a righteousness which God counts as obedient righteousness. Classically, Remonstrantism denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and affirms that our obedience is a cause of our own righteousness.  Those who grew up in Churches of Christ in the mid-20th century may have heard this as:  God has done his part (2 points) and now we add our part (2 points) so now we have salvation (4 points), that is, 2 + 2 = 4. Significantly, the “part” we play is, in fact, a contribution of righteousness through obedience by which we measure up to the “plan” that God has graciously enacted to save us.  In effect, our own righteousness saves us by our obedience, but it is viewed as “grace” because the plan is God’s gift.  God gives the plan (his 2 points), and we work the plan (our 2 points), and the result is we are saved (4 points). In effect, we save oursleves by our own righteousness–which is what Calvinists have always accused Arminians of believing.  But it is true of Remonstrants and others, but not of Arminius and Classic Arminianism.

I don’t intend to argue this here, but submit the publications on my website for your reading as you have interest.  The details of the argument are provided there.

17 Responses to “Arminianism on the Righteousness of Saving Faith”

  1.   markus Says:

    good article. thanks!

  2.   Gardner Says:

    Apart from classic Calvinism, does it have to be either (a) Christ’s personal righteousness imputed to us or (b) “Remonstrantism”? Seems like something between the two is closer to the concept seen in the scriptures. I’ve often used illustrations like Naaman and the blind man of John 9. The healing in both cases was 100% God’s doing (as opposed to “Remonstrantism” as you describe it.) However, a level of obedience was necessary on the part of Naaman and the blind man to receive God’s healing. The necessity of accepting conditions did not negate God’s grace or the fact that the healings were 100% God’s doing. I know you’ve heard that type of illustration, but it doesn’t seem to fit in either of the categories.

  3.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for the post. Do you see a role for “prevenient grace” in the Arminian view as you have described it? Also, if you have time, could you address any distinction between Remonstrantism and Semi-Pelagianism. It was my understanding the latter was the most prevalent view in the CofC of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

  4.   Philip Cunningham III Says:

    Thanks JMH. I look forward to digging into that article from EJ later.

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Classic Arminianism (including Arminius himself) affirms prevenient grace, that is, that God comes in grace to enable faith in the hearer of the Word. Limborch or Remonstrantism would not so affirm except in the sense that God gave the world his testimony in Scripture and that this is sufficient. In that sense, the Stone-Campbell Movement has agreed with the Remonstrants. That is a form of semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism, depending on how each of those terms are defined.

    John Mark

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    The point at issue is not whether there are conditions–all Arminians (from Arminius to its varied forms today)–agree there are conditions which Naaman and the blind man illustrate.

    Naaman and the blind man both received a gift to which they did not contribute. The gift was 100% God and they received that 100% gift through obedient faith. But the obedient faith did not contribute to the gift.

    The point of difference between Arminius and Remonstrants was the nature of the saving righteousness itself (the gift). Does it come from outside of ourselves so that we are saved by divine act and receive a gift of righteousness from God, or is the righteousness which saves our obedience, that is, we complied with the plan and the obedience itself was considered sufficiently righteous to save us.

    While imputation of Christ’s righteousness illustrates the former (gift of righteousness external to us), it is not the only way to construe the gift of righteousness. We might generalize it to say something like–the gift of righteousness is something God does so as declare us righteous without any contribution of righteousness on our part. In other words, the righteousness by which we are justified is 100% divine and 0% our own. This is the point of Classic Arminianism as well as the Reformed faith.

    The difference as I see it, in the Remonstrant position is that it is no longer 100% divine act, but rather my human obedience actually contributes righteousness so that one can say “I am righteous because I obeyed” and the nature of that righteousness is something that is inherent in the obedience. Consequently, it is human righteousness that partly justifies.

  7.   rich Says:

    a ?
    did Able have righteous faith in GOD?
    did Cornelius righteous faith in GOD?
    Act 10:1

    Act 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
    Act 10:35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

    without coming to terms with God’s meadeator,KING,PREIST.

    is having righteous faith in God, At This Present Time Enough.

    Act 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.


  8.   rich Says:

    IF>>>i understand{(which is subjective of course)no pun intended john mark}Rom.3:26,27…
    saving faith in god PRIOR TO god’s ATTESTING to christ’s righteous faithful act,rom.5:18 (of hanging on a tree and suffering THE DEATH).through redemption.
    that faith is not = the faith of christ at this present time that we are called to emulate in the Spirit of life.

    Prior is he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

    at this present time we are called to emulate the divine nature.THE FAITH OF CHRIST.

    that is saving justified faith


    Rom 3:25 whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God,
    Rom 3:26 for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus.

  9.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I would suggest that the “righteousness of faith” for both Abel and Cornelius was not that their faith was itself righteousnes but that they received righteousness through faith. This is explicit in the case of Abel (Heb 11:4) where it is through the faith-prompted offering of his gift that he is accounted righteous. This righteousness did not arise out of his own faith as if his faith was so good that God had to treat him as righteous.

    Rather, I would suggest that the righteousness tht saves us is the obedience (faithfulness) of Jesus. “The faith of Jesus” (or the faithfulness of Jesus) is our righteousness, and we receive God’s gracious saving righteousness as a gift through faith. Our faith does not contribute to that righteousness but rather our faith receives the righteousness (saving actions of God) which God gives as a beggar receives help from others.

    John Mark

  10.   rich Says:

    was not Able’s faithfullness a compared to “what”
    and that was considered good by god.

    in our discussion how would i use belief in place of faith? how are these words different or are they synomous?

    blessings to-day all

  11.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    My supposition is that faith is used in relation to Abel–and we don’t have a lot of information about it, do we?–to express his submissive, trusting seeking of God. This is the relational kind of faith that lives in communion with God.

    Cain’s “faith” was an arrogant, self-willed, prideful assertion of his own interests.

    It is not, in my opinion, that God considered Abel good (righteous) and therefore accepted his sacrifice and that he considered Cain bad (unrighteous) and thus rejected his. Rather, it seems to me, Abel approached God in submissive trust whereas Cain approach God in willful arrogance. God gives righteousness (salvation, acceptance) through faith (submissive trust) but rejects those who seek him through self-interested willful arrogance.

  12.   rich Says:

    john mark

    does a righteous faith with doing good works because Able believed in god eqate with a person to day who hears the gospel (god’s story{mystery revealed}his righteous fathfullness to his word).and
    he believes,
    excatly what must a person here and do to be counted alive from the dead with christ.

    i do believe i am in agreement with moser,there is more to teach than the 5 points and then say there ya go …….

    how much is put on the teacher, and lets call it a premature birth… shouldn’t he be aware of that condition before fathering a child(metaphore)…

    so then rom10
    Rom 10:17 Then faith is of hearing, and hearing through the Word of God.

    or is that the word of christ to day

    i think you understand that moses told everyone to put blood on the door post.

    it seems we all ask moses which side? the top only?or are you sure he said that.

    we all know the result of that attude.

    blessings to day john mark

    i do believe

    as told by peter acts 2 then are led to to say the “the sinner’s prayer”?

  13.   rich Says:

    Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch:
    finially read this till i got it,2 hrs boy!
    philip van limborch, thanks …
    you explained his views on attonement very well for me.
    i wonder how does that happen? i am sure mail was slow…. :-).

    i should be a little more careful with your time
    for give me… i will study a little more before putting down my misspelled and in this case,again
    john mark deep in right feild.

    blessings john mark
    your piggish pal packed full of goodies and good treats.

  14.   Seeking Disciple Says:

    Great article. Thanks for posting this. I do hope you will post your dissertation. I would love to read it.

  15.   Nelson Says:

    I am a mamber of SEA, “Society for Evangelical Arminians.”

    I would very much be interested in your dissertation, “Theology of Grace in Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch” (for personal study)if you have the time to either send me a copy or post it on you website online. Thanks.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      It is not now in a form that is presentable. It needs reformating, etc. I have it underway, and hopefully I will post it on the website sometime in June, towards the end of June (I imagine). Thanks for your interest.

  16.   rich constant Says:

    limited atonement is flat sophistry now to me period

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