Arminius And The Reformed Tradition -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Arminius And The Reformed Tradition
Author: Richard A. Muller


Arminius And The Reformed Tradition

Richard A. Muller

Richard A. Muller is the P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I. Arminius and the Reformed Tradition: A Historiographical Problem

One of the questions fairly consistently raised by modern studies of Arminius’s thought is the question of his relationship to the Reformed tradition and, specifically, to Dutch Reformed theology.1 To pose the question succinctly, was Arminius Reformed? The answer is quite complex. Arminius certainly understood himself as Reformed—and his appointment both to the pastorate in Amsterdam and to the faculty at Leiden indicates a similar assumption on the part of fellow clergy, professors, and university curators. In both of his callings, first as pastor and preacher, second as professor, Arminius’s teaching became a focus of controversy between him and various of his colleagues. At the center of the controversies lay the question of his adherence to the confessional standards of the Dutch church.

As the records of the seventeenth century indicate, the debate over Arminius’s theology was intense, acrimonious, and proceeded on an ad hominem as well as on a confessional and dogmatic path. The level of anger and recrimination in the original debate can easily be seen in a comparison of the alternative histories of the controversy, notably the Reformed history presented as a preface to the Canons of Dort and the Remonstrant narrative written later by Limborch in response to the Reformed history. On the theological side, the debate consistently

raised the issue of the relationship between Arminius’s theology and the doctrines of the Dutch churches, while on the ad hominem side the disputants consistently raised the question of Arminius’s character.2

Several Arminian writers of the last century pressed these questions in yet another direction. Given Arminius’s profession of agreement with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, his antecedents within the Dutch church, and his argument both that his views could be supported by the confessions (in his own view, far better than the views of his supralapsarian colleagues) and that the synods and classes of the Dutch church had proposed a national synod to edit and amend the Belgic Confession, these writers argue that Arminius ought to be considered as a “Reformed theologian” despite the debates over his theology during his tenure at Leiden and despite the decision of the Synod of Dort. According to this argume...

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