17th Century Dutch Arminianism: Dissertation Posted

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.

24 Responses to “17th Century Dutch Arminianism: Dissertation Posted”

  1.   eirenetheou Says:

    It is always well to remember that a dissertation is not a book. It is an academic exercise. Your supervisors want to know that you can understand a problem and know why it is a problem; they want to know that you can do research, understand the research you have done, and come to some plausible conclusion about the problem in light of your research.

    The process of composing a dissertation is like building a house inside-out: the framing, the wiring, and the plumbing are all on view, because that is what your supervisors want to see. Just as we would not want to live in a house like that, most of us would rather not try to read a text composed like that. The author’s mother will treasure it, of course, and the three specialists who understand the problem and other dissertation authors in the same topical area will have to look at it, because they will be asked about it. The rest of us will wait for the author to write a book.

    God’s Peace to you.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      You are, no doubt, correct. Unfortunately, I never turned it into a book. I did, however, write an article which is available on my Academic page. I moved quickly into writing on Stone-Campbell concerns rather than Arminian. I feel like, however, returning to the Arminian historical discussion, especially the link between England and the Netherlands (particularly the relationship between John Locke and Limborch).

      •   rich constant Says:

        that to me would be very interesting john mark.
        i read a little of john Locke when i was about 18 or 20 probably between the hobbit and the mouse that roared and the animal farm(think that was what it was called)and lord of the flies.
        along with a bunch of other classics, boy oh boy, that led into my wayward self styled idealistic way of life.on the path of destruction into self actualized authenticity through the use of mind expanding chemicals.
        need less to say hear i are…:-)

      •   rich constant Says:

        by the by never drank a beer till i was 18 at 20 years old that was 1967 and by 22 years old i was married and done with that phase of my life and married

  2.   Terrell Lee Says:

    Thanks for posting your research, especially since you recognize some areas you’d like to improve. That’s admirable.

    Academics continues to help develop our intellect but humility is where I’ve grown most. While God wants us to love him with our minds he also wants our characters developed. Therefore, your humility will stand along side your posted dissertation. Academic accomplishment answers some questions, creates new or even better questions, eliminates previously plausible answers but fails without growth in humility.

    Perhaps you didn’t have this in mind when you posted but this is what strikes me again and again about you–solid research and humble presentation. Thanks.

  3.   Clark Says:

    Stone-Campbell theology teaches “conversion as intellectual assent?” I guess I have to differ with “Stone-Campbell theology” in that case. Is this topic discussed anywhere with primary sources?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Generally speaking, the dominant movements of Stone-Campbell theology have prioritized the intellect in the conversion process. The priority of the intellect is seen in the definition of faith, the ability of the unregnerate to hear and understand the gospel, and the exclusion of the direct work of the Spirit in conversion.

      •   rich constant Says:

        sometimes i wish i would have gone to school. although some though need a dark room to make them willing to turn on a light or look for the swich.like myself 40 years later….

      •   Clark Says:

        I am particularly interested in the definition of faith, which is certainly not just intellectual assent. Any references on that point to historical writings in the Restoration Movement? I am not doubting what you say, I just want to nail down the details, because I might publish my own rebuttal of the weak definition of faith in some brotherhood publication in the future. Thanks.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        One example is Campbell’s “Christian System”. Note his defintion of faith prioritizes the intellect. http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/tcs2/TCS214.HTM

        Whenever Campbell discusses conversion and its relation to the Holy Spirit, he clearly identifies the human intellect as capable of apprehending and assenting to the gospel without any direct work of the Spirit. This prioritizes the intellect, it seems to me. There would be many examples of this. See my article at http://johnmarkhicks.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/hickschapter.doc for some details on this point.

      •   Clark Says:

        Thanks for the links. I agree that the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion has long been minimized in Restoration Movement writings. But the definition of faith from Alexander Campbell that you linked definitely emphasized a biblical understanding of the nature of faith, namely that faith means the placing of trust and not just intellectual assent to some doctrines or propositions.

        I don’t think that saying that Stone-Campbell theology teaches that faith is intellectual assent can be reconciled with what Campbell wrote in the link you posted. You can say he minimized the role of the Holy Spirit, but that is not the same thing at all.

      •   rich Says:

        i like the word synergistic,the SPIRT LEADING the way through the what we call the provdance of the soverenty of gods purpose to do good through the weakness of love and faith definded heb.11.1 and consumated in 13.5-6.
        blessings rich

  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    So what was it like subscribing to an holding an Arminianistic perspective and writing a disertation on Arminianism in an institution that holds a Calvinistic perspective?

    Grace and peace,


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      The Westminster community was very hospitable and welcoming. I was not treated negatively in any way. Westminster in the late 1970s and early 1980s was, of course, thoroughly Reformed but also quite pietistic; devout by any measure, and kind to all. I had no problems.

      •   K. Rex Butts Says:

        That is good. One of the things I always loved about the HUGSR community was that it seemed encouraging, hospitable, and gracious to all students – even the ones who did not come from a CoC or Restoration background. At least I never heard anyone from a different backgroun make any complaints.

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    BTW… off subject here but do you have any prophetic utterances regarding our beloved Cubs for this season?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      keep hope alive…always before the season starts..rarely at the end of May…and small moments of eschatological joy in September…but it is always over the first week of October. 🙂

      •   K. Rex Butts Says:

        Well, just remember…if God can raise the dead than maybe their is an ounce of hope for our Cubbies this year. If not…as we say “wait ’till next year.”

  6.   Clyde S. Says:

    Thanks for posting this. It is really wonderful that you share this material online, and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to get your resources out there for folks. May God bless you in your ministry!

  7.   rich Says:

    John mark,how does the blood of RIghteous able work as a type,with the 3 points of total depravely as stated,also rom.5 sin Not imputed but death to all because all… ,seperation,from GOD. and the LIFE that was given befor the fall.STORY OF GODS VERY GOOD VINDACATED,BY GRACE AND FAITHFULNESS
    Looking back as we do after easter,and faith in god by doing good ,tree, faith seems as relitive to god before the flood.judgement unbelief,and a hart of oposit of good. Hense god got mad.
    Anyway.T.D BY DEFINATION,seems a flaWded Theory in the story Of gods deliverance. through CHRIST Which was purposed BEFORE THE foudation of the world,through faith in god doing GOOD.

  8.   Clyde S. Says:

    Now we can all see that Roger Olsen was right when he said you were right. 🙂

  9.   Steve Mahoney Says:

    John Mark,

    I recently read Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, and he certainly makes good use of your dissertation. I found it to be a helpful book, given the prevalence of Calvinism in evangelicalism and in the mid-Atlantic region of the US (no doubt due in part to Westminster).

    I’m taking a class there now. There are a couple of students from Stone-Campbell backgrounds, along with one lecturer in Greek. It’s a fantastic seminary community – and what a wonderful library.

  10.   rich constant Says:

    reread total dep. aint right to me
    being a sinner not abiding in good learned from eating the fruit,does not
    make one unfaithful or believe in god,which i feel should be the perspective from god in christ before the foundation ,,, look to acts 10
    what about cornenilus…that should blow it all off.
    i pretty much think faithfulness and doing gods good was the snare of satan and his boys in the heavenlies,and those likeminded boys called humans

    blessings rich

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